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In medieval times the main sources of education in Dartford were provided by the Church, either the nuns at Dartford Priory or the vicar. The period between 1500 and 1800 saw a gradual move away from the Church towards educational facilities provided and funded by townspeople. The successful establishment of schools depended on charity, either endowments (investments or legacies providing a regular income), or subscriptions in the local community. Three main types of school evolved during this period, grammar schools, charity schools and Sunday schools.

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Basic provision for education in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was made by the grammar schools, which made it possible for intelligent ordinary working- and middle-class boys to receive a traditional classical, literary education that would act as a passport to good professional jobs in commerce, the law or the Church.

During the reign of Elizabeth I the number of grammar schools expanded considerably. Protestantism emphasised the importance of education as a means to encourage ordinary people to read the Bible. It also placed responsibility on those with the necessary means and influence to help the poor and disadvantaged.

Throughout England the new merchants, traders and property owners, many of whom had become wealthy as a result of the Reformation, donated and bequeathed large sums of money for the foundation of schools. Successful scholars of humble background were even able to apply for places at the prestigious universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Dartford Grammar School, founded in 1576, provided a small number of boys from ordinary working class homes with the opportunity to receive a proper education.

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The foundation of Dartford Grammar School dates from the year 1576 when William Vaughan, Edward Gwyn and William Death, local gentry, donated land and property near the Market House in Dartford High Street. Income from this source was to be used to employ a schoolmaster.

Document 1: Click the link below to view the document.

Indenture of 1660 outlining the original terms for the founding of Dartford Grammar School.

Dartford Grammar School was for many years based in a small room over the corn Market House in Dartford High Street. The number of pupils taught there at any one time was small, rarely more than six. Pupils were given a traditional classical education with an emphasis on English grammar, reading, writing, arithmetic, Latin, Greek and French.

From about 1678 onwards, Dartford Grammar School stopped using the Market House premises. There is some evidence to suggest that the school ceased to function for over fifty years. No schoolmaster was appointed by the Trustees and rents received from the Market House tenancy were allowed to accumulate. Income was eventually invested in South Sea annuities worth 700 in stock. In 1765, James Sanham was appointed as schoolmaster. He ran a private school in Dartford but also agreed to take on a limited number of Grammar School foundation scholars.

By 1769, it was considered necessary to demolish the Market House which blocked the passage of carts and stage coaches through the town centre. Consequently, a new Market House was built in a more convenient town centre location. Unfortunately, the new building did not provide appropriate accommodation for the Grammar School, so alternative arrangements had to be made to accommodate the pupils. For a while, pupils were taught in the house of the schoolmaster.

The Trustees of the Grammar School appointed eight local boys annually to receive instruction, for which the schoolmaster received an annual salary of 40 - 50. The rate of pay was judged insufficient by the schoolmaster who, under an agreement with the Trustees, was allowed to take fourteen fee-paying ‘private’ pupils as boarders. The parents of the eight Grammar School charity boys (‘free boys’) had to pay for books used during the course of study. It was the responsibility of the schoolmaster to pay for pens, ink and heating.

Standards of teaching probably improved significantly in the second half of the eighteenth century, as John Dunkin reported in 1844:

"This School endowed for the sole use of the inhabitants of Dartford, is such an invaluable acquisition that it ought to be guarded with the utmost vigilance...its high branches of education were never intended for the multitude, but to facilitate the aspirations of every Dartford youth who should manifest a desire for erudition and be unable to attain it through poverty..."


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