Brindle Schoolmaster – Samuel Marshall,1871 to 1896

by Ralph & Wal McMullen

In the summer of 1871, a young man set off from his birthplace of Great Yarmouth to make the train journey north to the distant village of Brindle. He was accompanied by his wife Elizabeth; following behind were trunks and cases with all their possessions, for this was no fleeting visit. On the 8th August, they arrived at the old vicarage of St. James’ where they were met by the incumbent, Thomas Lund, and later shown the way down Water Street, beyond the churchyard, to the house and garden which was to be their home for longer than they could have imagined.

Samuel Marshall was the new master of the village school and two days later, on the 10th August, he commenced his duties; no doubt with the same blend of apprehension and curiosity with which his 58 pupils entered the same large schoolroom on that first morning. Any misgivings he might have had would not have been shared by Rev. Lund whose feelings could have been only of huge relief that a man would travel so far to take up a responsibility which, in the last year, had become burdensome to the family at the Rectory. During this time the untrained schoolmistress, Annie Tuson from Holt Farm, had provided a heavy diet of scriptural teaching flavoured with a belief in the waywardness of children and their need for frequent chastisement.

The school log book regularly records the saga of unhappiness – May 21st was a typical example… “Punished a boy severely for deceit and spoke to the whole school of deceitful actions. Gave a scripture lesson on Set and his descendents”. The conflict came to its inevitable end one day in June when the vicar’s daughters, Margaret and Grace (who were frequent and kindly helpers in the classroom), found the children “Extremely noisy and excited”. That afternoon, Miss Tuson wrote “I resign my situation as mistress of Brindle School”.

How, within a month, Thomas Lund managed to attract Samuel Marshall from Norfolk remains a mystery: perhaps his past connections with Ely Cathedral had something to do with it. Perhaps the prospect of a substantial house, Beech Cottage, and the chance of his own school persuaded Samuel; or, as in most things in life, his wife made the decision for him coming to the conclusion that the two nearest villages to her own in Suffolk were called ‘Thorpe Green’ and ‘Preston’, Brindle in Lancashire might not seem as foreign as the distance seemed to suggest. Whatever the reasons, the arrivals of the Marshalls was a signal moment for the village. They came and stayed for 50 years in the same home, and were to have a profound and happy influence upon generations of Brindle children.

The new master arrived not only with his household possessions, but also, it seems, with a fully formed view of what made for a good education and for the next 25 years he recorded in the school log book the practical results of his beliefs.

Samuel did not favour the popular opinion, “It is possible to teach the peasant boy all that is necessary for him to possess by the time he is ten or eleven”. His answer to that was to start a night school on Monday evenings. He was equally unimpressed by the physical state of the building. As November took its toll on the village he wrote, “There is a great deal of sickness among the children. The causes are cold weather and the state of the windows of the school. There is scarcely one par to f the room free from draughts”. By the following winter, the windows had been replaced, a door blocked up and a new classroom created for Elizabeth to teach the younger children.

The holders of the keys to the church coffers seemed well disposed to support his requests for improvements. When next he turned his attention to what children should be learning and the range of books and materials needed to do the job; some church council members may well have begun to feel a little nervous about the financial implications being raised by this determined young man’s aspirations for his pupils.

The log book entries for 1872 began to record a significant widening in the range of subjects taught. The national system, which had been put in place some 10 years before, demanded that only a narrow reading, writing and arithmetic curriculum be pummelled into pupils. It was then tested and inspected annually with the school’s financial future hanging upon a pupil’s success or failure. A pass in all three subjects earned eight shillings (40p) for the school. The crippling effect of this approach only slowly became apparent, but teachers like Samuel Marshall with confidence in their convictions began to anticipate the easing of the harsh “payment by Results Code”. He records in April, 1872 “We have received a set of reading books… one dozen ‘Milton’s Paradise Lost’… One large map of Lancashire… New sets of pens… Lawson’s Geography books”. As time moves on, Science appears in the form of object lessons on such as “Coal, Tin Night & Day”; and for the infants, “Recognising coins… Good manners… Laying the dinner table”. Poetry was introduced – ‘Pet Lamb’, We are Seven’, ‘The Wreck of Hesperus’, ‘The Village Blacksmith’ and ‘The Deserted Village’.

Some of the poems were not a cheerful selection; ‘We are Seven’ is a particular sombre poem as this extract shows… “The first that died was little Jane, In bed she moaning lay, Till God released her of her pain, And then she went away. So in the churchyard she was laid, And all the summer dry, Together round her grave we played, My brother John and I”. Together we would consider it inappropriate for eight year olds, but when placed alongside other log book entries, gloomy Victorian preoccupations are more easily understood.

September 8th, 1873 – “Scarlet Fever creeping towards Brindle. Doctor Rigby visited school”. Just over a year later on the 24th September, 1874 “Half the school absent with Scarlet Fever. Very bad at Top o’th’ Lane. Carbolic acid given to school” (Children from the closed community at the Workhouse still attended the school and this no doubt aggravated the problem). Similarly in November, 1874 – “Epidemic of fever. School closed for a whole month. Severe snow, roads impassable”.

In spite of these hardships, the school continued to broaden its approach and raise standards. Singing and sewing, provided by Samuel’s wife, Elizabeth was now available – “Of a decidedly superior character”, the Inspector noted. When Mr. & Mrs. Marshall took over at St. James’ in August, 1871 the children were found to be, “Very backward in every subject”. By 1885, the Inspector wrote “This village school is taught with good method and unwearied patience. I have no hesitation in calling the school Excellent one of its class”. The ‘Unwearied patience’ is worth noting; unlike most of his immediate predecessors and some that followed, Samuel Marshall recorded only positive and understanding observations about his pupils.

On the 30th September, 1896 the following entry appears in the school log: “I have this day resigned my duties as master of this school after a period of twenty five years”. The last Inspector’s comment reads: “It may not be our place to express regret that the school is about to lose the services of Mr. Marshall who for 25 years has conducted it with so much conscientious care and diligence”.

Samuel Marshall lived in the village until his death in November, 1921; he is buried in the churchyard. Besides being the schoolmaster, he stood for election to Brindle Parish Council at its formation in 1894 but was unsuccessful. However, he served as Churchwarden at St. James’ from 1897 until 1910, and again from 1914 until 1921. He was also Registrar of Births and Deaths for the Parish, and collated information for the 1891 and 1901 Census.

The ‘Chorley Guardian’ wrote in 1923 that “Samuel Marshall resided in Brindle for fifty years. He was master at the Parochial school for 25 years. On his retirement he was presented with a gold watch by scholars and friends, and on retiring from the position of Registrar of births and deaths for the district of Brindle, some three or four years ago, it was stated at a meeting of the Chorley Board of Guardians that he held the position for 45 years and had never been known to make a mistake. His death is a loss that will yet be long felt in Brindle”.