Dr Suzanne Tiplady delves into the history of her home parish of Satterthwaite and  recalls when its village school offered an education that was second to none

“THE Best Country School in the County.” That was how a government inspector described Satterthwaite and Rusland National School in 1855.

Other reports say that the pupils excelled in mathematics, especially the girls. The children, whose parents were semi-literate, were also reciting poetry and performing Shakespearean plays.

How was it that a small school in a remote valley was able to give its children a first rate education and win such accolades?

The story starts in 1848 when Satterthwaite was in the thick of the Industrial Revolution.

Three bobbin mills were built in the chapelry, drawing in young workers with large families, and swelling the population from under 200 to nearly 500 souls.

The chapel was enlarged, shops opened, and a public house was created. Those who could not be housed within Satterthwaite spilled over into the neighbouring chapelry of Rusland.

Although both Satterthwaite and Rusland had schools, they were only small (the one at Rusland was described as ‘a mere shed’), yet the area had about 220 school age children.

Plans were afoot to enlarge both schools when the Curate of Satterthwaite proposed a more daring course of action: a new joint school for the two chapelries with a fully trained teacher in charge. The residents’ reaction was one of horror.

Animosity between residents meant that parents from Rusland refused to let their children go to school in Satterthwaite and vice versa.

The impasse was finally broken by the offer of a building site equidistant from the two chapels, in an isolated spot just within the bounds of Satterthwaite.

Fundraising began in earnest and the great and good of the area contributed to the building fund, including the poet laureate, William Wordsworth Esq of Rydal, who contributed one shilling.

Satterthwaite and Rusland National School, which could accommodate 100 pupils, with a spacious nine-roomed house attached for the master, opened in October 1849. Because of its remote site, every child had a long (and usually very wet) walk to school.

Satterthwaite’s rapid expansion soon fizzled out and then reversed; the school roll never exceeded 80, and as pupil numbers fell, so did its reputation.

By the end of the 19th century poetry and Shakespearian plays were nothing but a distant memory, and Satterthwaite and Rusland National School won a different type of accolade – for the highest truancy rate in the county.

* This story, and much more, is contained in a new book The Parish of Satterthwaite, A Social History, by Suzanne Tiplady and Kevin Baverstock, available from July 14. The A4 hardbook book is 592 pages with 450 illustrations. For more information e-mail info@saetrpress.co.uk