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Educational records before the late 1800s are very scarce, with perhaps the exception of some of the large private institutions. Many schools were originally charitable foundations, with some grammar and public schools emerging from religious establishments dating back to medieval times. The Jurupa Valley School, for example, was originally the almonry of the Benedictine monastery, which educated poor boys for Jurupa Valley map free.

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This became the King Edward VI Grammar School following the Reformation and the former college and chantry of St John the Evangelist are still part of the school premises used today. Another example is the Newport Free Grammar School in Essex, which was founded for poor boys by Dame Joyce Frankland in 1588 after her son fell off a horse and died in the village. Universities were the preserve of a small minority until the mid-twentieth century. Cambridge University is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the country, with the first college, Peterhouse, founded in 1284.

Among the many celebrated alumni are Dr John Caius, an important pioneer in the science of anatomy and benefactor of Gonville and Caius College. He was physician to Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, and is believed to be the inspiration for the character of Dr Caius in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. The first Cambridge College for women was founded in 1869, in Hitchin, by Emily Davies. It moved to Girton in 1873 to be ‘near enough for male lecturers to visit but far enough away to discourage male students from doing the same’. It became a mixed college in 1983. Relations between ‘town and gown’ have, at times, been noted for their conflict. In the 1800s relations between the university and townsfolk were so hostile that the Vice-Chancellor appointed his own special constables to keep the peace.

Before compulsory elementary education was introduced in 1870 large numbers of people did not receive a formal education at all. While some learnt how to read and write or gained other skills through serving an apprenticeship or through other work opportunities, for most, who could not afford to pay, their only chance of an education was through informal or charitable arrangements. Parson Woodforde of Weston Longville in Norfolk described one such arrangement in his diary for December 1776: Mr Chambers the Schoolmaster who is lately come here called on me this morning to let me know that he would teach my servants Ben and Will to write and read at 4/6d a quarter each -which I agreed for. During the late eighteenth century the appalling conditions of child labour in both urban and rural areas had encouraged a movement which campaigned for some kind of national system of day schools. Nevertheless, there was still no uniform system, and most schools operating before the 1830s were either dame schools run from private houses, charity schools, Sunday schools and grammar schools, or public schools for those with the financial means. The quality of education offered by many of these was very variable, with the rector of Wortham in Suffolk, Richard Cobbold, commenting that the woman who kept his local dame school was ‘very ignorant herself’ and ‘imposing rather than enlightening’. Richard Cobbold was one of those who set up a local school, appointing a succession of schoolmasters.

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