Revd. John Baylie, early 19th century
One of the oldest and most important features of Bloxwich life is the popular Victorian ‘National’ School on the High Street, now Bloxwich C.E. Primary School, which celebrated its 175th Anniversary in May 2003.
The driving force behind the founding of the ‘National’ was Revd. John Baylie, M.A., who did much to promote education in Bloxwich, and the legacy of ‘his’ school has stood the test of time over many generations.
Formal education in Bloxwich goes back to 1616, when Bloxwich man William Parker, a London merchant tailor, left land to the Merchant Tailors Company to provide a stipend of £20 for the minister of Bloxwich Chapel. A condition of the bequest was that the minister should, free of charge, teach the boys of Great and Little Bloxwich and Harden to read English, both printed and handwritten.
The school was to be held in the chapel or the minister’s house. By the early 19th century the minister was paying £8 of the stipend to a master who taught 15 poor boys to read and lived in the non-resident minister’s house rent-free. In 1826, Revd. John Baylie, the newly appointed minister, decided to occupy the house, and the church school declined into a Sunday school, meeting in public house club-rooms.
John Baylie had formerly been a lecturer at St. Matthew’s Church, Walsall, and was, controversially, appointed to Bloxwich by Bishop Ryder of Lichfield, who overruled the local principle of ‘election by the congregation’, an arrangement with Revd. James Holloway, D.D. having fallen through. Revd. Baylie became ‘Perpetual Curate’ at Bloxwich Chapel, and in 1842 was appointed the first titular Vicar of Bloxwich, which living he held until 1865.
In the 19th century, National Schools were set up by the National Society, a denominational organisation, belonging to the Church of England, which promoted (as it does today) popular elementary education in England. The funding of such schools was shared between church, school, and state grants, and preceded the setting up by the state of local Board Schools.
The 1828 Bloxwich National School, pre-1862 (WLHC)
Baylie became prime mover behind the founding of the ‘National’ in Bloxwich and its association with the National Society, when he re-established the church school in 1828 as a National School for boys and girls. Built on the present site off High Street, on land given by Lord Bradford, it was a neat, brick building, surmounted in the centre by a handsome clock, the gift of Stubbs Wightwick, Esq.
Fees of 1d or 2d a week were then charged at Bloxwich but 15 boys were still taught free of charge as per the Parker bequest. In 1833, 108 boys and 70 girls attended on weekdays, and 140 boys and 80 girls on Sundays. That original National School catered for boys and girls separately, with ages up to 9 years, and with much energetic work from Revd. Baylie and the staff of a schoolmaster and schoolmistress, achieved high standards over the years.
John Baylie strongly supported the school, and wrote frequently to the National Society, asking for financial support and referring to the fact that Bloxwich was a “mining and manufacturing area” and therefore “poor”. ‘The National Schools, Bloxwich’ by Roger Butt includes a sketch of the proposed 1828 school incorporated in Baylie’s first letter to the Society, dated February 13th, 1828, as well as a copy of the Application for Union. In 1844-5, aided by grants from the National Society and the government, a classroom and infants schoolroom were added, and in 1846 a teacher’s house was built.
The ‘new’ National School, late 1800s.
Following a gift of land in 1860 by the Earl of Bradford for a new school, in 1861 the original school building was demolished. On September 18th, 1861, the foundation stone for a new National School was laid by Miss Russell of Wallington House, Bloxwich, paving the way for the present building to be built on the same site, and so it was that the new school opened on April 24th, 1862.
The school was enlarged in 1900 and in 1931. By this time known as Bloxwich Church of England Schools, it was reorganised as senior mixed and junior mixed and infants schools. The senior school became a Secondary Modern after the 1944 Education Act, and in 1974 it was closed and its buildings taken over by the junior and infants school. Its senior functions were transferred to T.P. Riley School in Field Road, now itself being rebuilt as Walsall City Academy. The ‘National’ then became what is today Bloxwich Church of England Primary School, which still maintainis the ethos and high standards of its historic past.
Bloxwich C.E. Primary School today (SW)
Today, the dear old ‘National’, much-loved and respected by generations of Bloxwich folk, remains at the heart of the village, just off Bloxwich Park (once the ancient village green). It stands proudly as a fine monument to generations of teachers and children, and to Revd. John Baylie, standing for tradition and heritage in a world changed out of all recognition, while still keeping up with the times.