Godalming Museum, ref: NN002


This floor-standing wooden abacus was found at the Adult Education Institute (now a nursery school called 'Major Minors' ) in Bridge Street. Godalming. This building was constructed in 1872 for The British School, replacing an earlier wooden structure, and continued to be occupied by the school for the rest of the nineteenth century and beyond.

The age of the abacus suggests that it would have been used by pupils and teachers at the school. It is a tool for learning mathematics by sliding and arranging the wooden balls along the rows of metal rods. Patterns are formed which make it possible for mathematic problems of varying difficulty to be understood. This object is on open display in Godalming Museum and visitors are encouraged to try solving number problems through a series of instruction cards, which are found next to it.


This school was set up following a meeting of various dignitaries and prominent inhabitants of Godalming, which was held at the Kings Arms in December 1812. It was set up at a time when there was no state assistance for schools and, initially, had to be funded through public subscription and enthusiastic (and sometimes highly imaginative) fundraising efforts by its supporters. The Kings Arms meeting passed a resolution to, "...establish a school on the Royal Lancastrian Plan". This plan was named after its architect, Joseph Lancaster who had started his educational work in London fourteen years earlier.

At first the school (at this stage for boys only) was housed in Harts Yard just off Godalming High Street. By 1813, though, its supporters had managed to provide a purpose-built school in Bridge Road, which included both a boys and a girls school. The two schools were housed in separate wings of the building and were also managed separately. Later, they were combined and an infants school was added.

The schools were run using a monitor system. Older pupils became monitors and were charged with helping younger pupils in their lessons and overseeing their behaviour. In 1815 the boys school committee decided to reward good attendance and behaviour by issuing , "...tickets to the value of half a farthing...". These "tickets" could be exchanged for money at the end of every week by the "...boy who is reported to have behaved well by the monitor general."

By the 1830s, the government was beginning to offer assistance in the form of buildings grants to such schools and in 1856, with the setting up of the Department of Education, regular school inspections became a condition of funding, which, by now, could also be used to help pay teachers' wages. School attendance became an issue of concern to the government and in the 1870s, payments to schools were partly linked to the numbers of under 10 year-olds attending. The Godalming British School did not escape this concern and in January 1875 the school's management issued a sternly-worded handbill. The bill was sent around the town and it urged parents to fulfil their "duty" to have their children educated and asked local employers to play their part in encouraging parents to regularly send their children to the school. The school managers made the link between a lack of education and poverty and high crime rates (and the monetary costs of these to society).

"...To a society at large, ignorance means higher poor rates, high county rates, high
police rates for the detection and punishment of crime. The school properly carried
out is the teacher of thrift, or foresight, of industry and self-restraint..."

Changes in the law in the late 1870s made it compulsory for parents to ensure their children were being educated in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. A law was also passed making the employment of children under 10 illegal and regulating the employment of children between the ages of 10 and fourteen.

By the early 1900s government had made local and county authorities responsible for education provision in their areas and Godalming's British School passed into the control of Surrey Education Authority in 1904, later becoming known as the Central School, the County Junior School and, in its current home, the Meadrow Primary School. The links to its past as a British School (and the work done by the school in providing free education for all children) have been remembered and celebrated up until the present day.


'English Schools - An Outline of their History' in, Extracts from Records Illustrating the History of Education in Surrey, Surrey Educational re Association (Surrey County Council, 1962)
Available for reference in Godalming Museum Library

Copy of, 'An ADDRESS to the Inhabitants of the Parish of GODALMING, from the MANAGERS of the BRITISH SCHOOLS' to be found along with other printed and photographic memorabilia relating to Godalming British School in an album in the Godalming Museum collections available for reference, on request, in the Museum library.

Minute Book of the Godalming Lancastrian School, Presently held by Godalming Museum and available for research on reference - due for transfer to The Surrey History Centre, Woking.


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