THE FOUNDING OF THE LONDON & BIRMINGHAM RAILWAY’S
SCHOOLS AT WOLVERTON
Peter S. Richards
Until the 1870 Education Act, popularly known as Forster’s
Act and passed by a newly elected Liberal Government, all education
in England was provided by ‘voluntary bodies’, mainly,
with few exceptions, and one partial exception will be noted here,
the Christian churches. There were two bodies: The National Society
for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the
Established Church (founded in 1811) and the British and Foreign
Society which was Non-Conformist (founded in 1814).
These two bodies shared, equally, the first Government grant to
education, £20,000. The grant has been maintained ever since,
and the amount has risen continuously. Unfortunately these two bodies
were bitter rivals, and it must be stated, frequently unchristian in
The 1870 Act was designed to ‘fill the gaps’:
‘Board Schools’ could then be set up wherever there was a
need which the voluntary bodies could not fulfil. A prelude to
In 1833 the first of many major and effective Factory Acts,
Althorp’s Act, was passed by the Reformed Whig Government.
There had been factory legislation before this, such as the Health
and Morals of Apprentices Act of 1801, sponsored by Sir Robert Peel
the Elder. This, and others, were largely ineffectual and limited in
scope. Althorp’s Act provided for inspectors, but only four to
cover the whole country and at a time when communication was poor.
Nevertheless it was a start. Henceforth children under nine were no
longer allowed to work at all, and the hours of those aged between
nine and thirteen were restricted to forty-eight a week, and no more
than nine in any one day.
In 1836 the Act for the Registration of Births, Deaths and
Marriages was passed. This made it easier to enforce factory
legislation. No longer was a child’s age determined by
guesswork on the part of doctors who might easily be bribed by
parents who desperately needed the money their children could bring
in. Now children were prohibited from paid employment the problem
arose as to what to do with them.
The London & Birmingham Railway Company established their
‘Grand Central Station and Depot’ at Wolverton, midway
between London and Birmingham. They needed to attract much labour,
especially clerks and mechanics.
At a meeting of the Board of Directors on 20th December
1839, when the London & Birmingham Railway’s line had only
been completed the previous year, the