Penketh Wesleyan Day School

Today’s blog entry will be looking at Penketh Wesleyan Day School. The image above shows children and teachers at the school around 1900.

There isn’t space here to go into the origins of Methodism in the village in any detail, but briefly speaking, the first Methodists appear to have developed in the early 1800s and to have met in the cottages of George Percival and William Gandy. By 1818 a plot of land had been bought on the corner of Stocks lane and Warrington road and the next year a small chapel was opened. This chapel served the Methodists of Penketh until 1860, when it was found to be infested with dry rot. The church was already in substantial debt and so it was decided to sell off the building and plot and to build a new meeting place on what is now Chapel road (but was then known as Red Lion Lane). The cost of the new building was supported by various local dignitaries including the Penketh family of Cabinet making fame, the Garnetts.

One year later, in 1861, the Day School was opened consisting of one room of un-plastered brick and a small schoolmaster’s house. The school and chapel were both enlarged in subsequent years.

The flyer shown below is an advertisement for the recently opened Penketh Wesleyan Day School.

Issued in 1863 this advertisement is asking for new pupils for the school. It tells parents that the school teaches all usual subjects, including reading, writing, and arithmetic. But that it also offers sewing and knitting taught by a committee of local ladies and regular Bible lessons.

The flyer states that children must be punctual and regular in their attendance, and that “nothing prevents a child’s progress more than being kept at home a few weeks or even a few days”. Remember that Penketh was still a rural community in 1863 and it was common for children to be kept out of school during harvest to work on local farms.

The fees are listed as three pence or four pence a week, with additional siblings at half price. The reason for two different fees is not given.

Perhaps most interesting of all is the statement that “the moral character of this village, in the future, depends upon the efforts put forth in the training and education of the present children”. The idea that ‘the children are our future’ is quite forward thinking in an age of child labour and grinding poverty, where children were often seen as a commodity from a very young age.

One further item I wanted to share with your today is the lecture “On Evolution and Some of the Objections to Darwinism” given in 1892. Alongside the children’s schooling which I have talked about,  Penketh Wesleyan school also offered a range of adult education through its “Mutual Improvement Association”. Part of this association’s activities was a series of regular lectures, one of which was the above talk on Darwinism given by John Dignum and later printed in Warrington for sale.

Dignum gave an lecture disputing Darwin’s claims regarding evolution. He concludes his lecture at Penketh with Ten ways in which Darwin’s theory is “utterly inadmissible”. Some of his hypotheses are scientific or mathematical in nature, such as point 10: that he considers the earth to have not been in existence long enough for the many variations of species to have developed, or point 4: that the chances of the evolution of the human eye into its current form from the point of not existing are so infinitesimally small that they cannot be considered even vaguely likely.

Other points are more religious in nature, such as point 1: “It is a bungling, discreditable theory, representing the divine Creator as not knowing what He was about; with no purpose or design in His handiwork; but having called into being a number of primordial germs, He leaves them to evolve in a blind, hap-hazard fashion, utterly unintentional as to the issue.”

Where you stand on a matter of religion and science was then and is now a matter for your own beliefs, but it is fascinating to see that such a level of debate was taking place in a village like Penketh in 1892 and that discussing important matters of the day was seen as “mutually improving”.

The photograph and documents we have looked at here give a brief glimpse of a community putting great importance on education. A community who believed that well educated people were good for society. Something I’m sure most people in Warrington still feel today.

This article was originally posted on Friday, June 16th, 2017.