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Reading & Wokingham School District, Berkshire

An 1844 Act of Parliament allowed Poor Law Unions within a fifteen-mile radius to form a School District to facilitate the setting up of large joint schools for pauper children. The Reading & Wokingham School District, which officially came into being on 28 November 1849, was one of the few such Districts that were ever formed. The others included Farnham & Hartley Wintney, South East Shropshire, Walsall & West Bromwich, plus half a dozen in London.

The Reading & Wokingham District School was set up in a former workhouse building at Wargrave.

In 1858, a report by Poor Law Board Inspector, Mr Pigott, noted:

This district school, although unfavourably circumstanced in respect of its locality and the imperfect construction and arrangement of the buildings (the old Workhouse of the Wokingham Union), continues, notwithstanding, to improve yearly in efficiency under the excellent management of the present Superintendent and Matron, Mr. and Mrs. Preeseman. The total number of children now at Wargrave is 155; 69 boys, and 86 girls. They are in excellent health; and the School Inspector reports very favourably of their intellectual progress. Great attention is paid to their instruction in such industrial occupations as may tend to enable them at an early ago to gain a livelihood. The girls perform all the household duties, laundry work, &c.; and a certain number are regularly employed in the kitchen and dairy. For the boys the Guardians occupy ten acres of land, which are wholly cultivated by them ; and they keep thereon four cows and a number of pigs. The net profit on these ten acres for the year ending Lady-day 1857 (after deducting 4l. an acre for the rent and the rates and taxes) was 182l. 15s., or 18l. 5s. 6d. per acre, Great as this profit may appear, I have carefully examined the accounts and stock, and am quite satisfied that there is no error or exaggeration. In the course of the current year, ending on the 1st January 1858, fifteen boys and girls have got out to respectable service, and have retained their places."

A further report the following year was equally congratulatory:

I am glad to be able to report the ... prosperous condition of the Reading and Wokingham District School, that has existed since the appointment of the present superintendent and matron, and which is to be mainly, if not entirely, attributed to their excellent management of the children and establishment. Indeed, I consider its success as a pauper educational establishment to be complete, notwithstanding many disadvantages of locality, and in the arrangement and position of the buildings. The children are healthy, intelligent, well conducted, and cheerful. Their progress in the ordinary school instruction is on a level with that of the best workhouse schools. A certain number are regularly taught tailor's and shoemaker's work ; but the principal occupation of the boys is the cultivation of ten acres of light, fertile land, with the tending of three cows and a number of pigs, by means of which they become healthy and strong, and fit for useful service ; and, moreover, the profit from their labour has enabled the managers to reduce the cost of each child for food and clothing from 3s. 8d. to 2s. 4d. per week, and thus to effect a saving (on the average of 150 children in the school) of about £500 per annum. The total number of children in the school at this time is 143 — seventy-two girls and seventy-one boys. The system pursued with the girls is equally judicious. They perform (with the aid of the cook and the laundry maid) all the household duties, and get readily into respectable service.

The school location and layout are shown on the 1899 map below.

Reading & Wokingham District School site, 1899.

The school was closed in the early 1900s when large "barrack" schools like the one at Wargrave were falling out of favour. The Reading and Wokingham unions then began housing pauper children in smaller 'cottage' and 'scattered' homes. The Wargrave school buildings no longer exist.

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