For some years before 1851 this building was used as a school for ‘six poor children from the parish of West Wittering’.It was financed and run by the Oliver Whitby Charity, which also ran the Bluecoat School in Chichester.
In his will dated 16 February 1702, Oliver Whitby (son of an Archdeacon of Chichester) bequeathed his properties in West Wittering as an endowment for a charitable trust — the Oliver Whitby Foundation — to set up a school in Chichester for twelve boys, four each from Chichester, Harting and West Wittering, and to make an annual payment to the parish of West Wittering for the teaching of six poor children. The school in Chichester, known as the Bluecoat School, opened in 1712 and continued in operation until closure in 1950.
The first record of a school at West Wittering occurs in the Trustees’ accounts in 1712, when the vicar is given credit for £1 14s. paid to Goody Light (also called Good-wife Light) for the schooling of six children for one year, and also 7s. 11d. for books. After 1721 the Trustees paid ‘the School Dame’ one shilling per week, and this arrangement continued until 1851. In about 1830, the Commissioners on Education for the Poor confirmed that the Trustees were making an annual payment of three pounds to a school mistress to teach six poor girls of the parish reading and needlework. The school-mistress from 1827 to 1851 was Mrs Jordon.
The building reconstructed at the Museum is of two dates. Originally it seems to have been an open-ended cartshed with a hipped roof, possibly dating from the 18th century. When it was converted to a school, which may have been in the late 1820s, the open end was filled in and gables added to the roof. The new flint and brick walls were built with hard cement mortar and given characteristic raised pointing, making them easy to identify. The interior walls were plastered and the plaster was lined in imitation of stone blocks. The floor was paved with stone slabs and a chimney was provided for a stove. Outside is a yard, with evidence of other lean-to buildings, and a stable, possibly used for the schoolmistress’s horse.
In 1851 the new ‘National School’, paid for by the Oliver Whitby Foundation, was opened near the parish church, and at this date the older building would have ceased being used as a school. When it was dismantled by the Museum in 1981, it had been empty and unused for many years and was on the verge of collapsing into the road.
The West Wittering school is a good example of the ad hoc provision of elementary schooling in the early 19th century. The parish was fortunate to have any school at all — many others had none. Only the most basic instruction would have been given, and children from dissenting or Roman Catholic families were barred from attending. On a national level educational reformers made slow progress in the teeth of fierce opposition. In 1833 the Government made its first grant of £20,000 towards education, for building purposes only, and it was not until the 1870 Education Act that the provision of schooling by the state, in addition to the voluntary sector, became public policy.