Public Services

Modbury School

Schools in Modbury have existed for a long time – as far back as Charles II and by 1818 there were reportedly 7 dame schools in the town. In 1875 a school board was set up as a direct result of The 1870 Education Act, which established compulsory primary education. The present Victorian building at Palm Cross proudly bears the date 1881, and was opened officially on 16 January 1882; it was designed for 250 mixed pupils and adjoined the former National (or Church of England) School which had become extremely overcrowded after the Act.  Mr George Pearse continued as Head Teacher at the main school with Miss Shephard in the separate Infants’ Department built on the site of the present school hall. The County School Inspectors had made repeated complaints that infants should not be taught in the same school as the older children.

The Admissions Register goes back to 1854 with the same family names recurring right up to the present day. Parent’s Occupation was listed against the early admissions and illustrates the breadth of skills needed in the town: silversmith, miller, tanner, tailor, chemist, wheelwright, blacksmith, shoe maker, tinman, harness maker, stonemason, thatcher, gas burner – as well as labourer, farmer, baker, sailor etc. The school log books make for interesting reading:

1872:  Modbury Fair…. One girl at school.
1872:  August – Many children absent for gleaning.
1875:  Annie Bartlett kept from school as her mother refused to pay 2d instead of 1d, Annie having passed her 7th birthday.
1875: Mr Harris came to pay fees for the children under the supervision of the Poor Law.
1876:  Alteration of School Fees. Annie Foale left school when she reached 13 years old because 6d a week was too much.
1883:  F. Paige sent home for refusing to pay 2d a week.
1888:  Board reduced price of copybooks from 2d to I d.
1893:  Two girls – Annie Rogers & H. Rogers. 12 years old, examined for Labour Certificate — both passed
1900:  School closed for diphtheria.
1908:  Miss Shephard passed away. Mistress at Modbury Infants School for 47 years.
1909:  School closed from July till September for measles epidemic.
1914: £15 raised from a bazaar was donated to refugees in Bigbury.
1915:  In November, a concert was held to provide comforts for Devon men on active service.

In September 1891 the Free Education Act ended school fees but there was still regular absenteeism during haymaking and harvest: “Reg & Claude Treeby are employed as cowboys. The elder boy frequently falls asleep during the morning, he has to be at work at 6.00am”. “Ernest Steer was absent for a drawing examination, his excuse was that he had been planting potatoes.”

In 1903 the County took over from the School Board. Records then show the appointment of Alfred Henry Salway as head teacher on a salary of £125 per annum with a house plus PP Grant. The average attendance of the school was 70. Sarah Husband had been appointed in 1883 after nine years at Brownston School and her salary in 1903 was £90 on an average attendance of 61pupils. Uncertificated Assistants received £60 per annum.

Over the years the building needed attention. The closets and urinals became choked and this was accentuated during dry spells (they were flushed by a rainwater cistern). In May 1897 the school was closed for three weeks and the drains repaired, although they had to be re-laid again in 1909. In 1930 a wooden, sliding partition was put up to divide the main classroom and this still stands today. The school was closed from January till September 1936 for extension work, providing a hall, a kitchen, two large classrooms, and a head teacher’s office as well as a central heating system. The children were accommodated on five sites during this period – Brownston School, the Methodist School Room, in Mcllwraith Hall (where the old Galpin Street British School had been), at Traine House, and the Infants at the Baptist School Room. The present infants’ building was built in 1949.

Aerial photo of the school site in 1920s showing children playing on the Green and the dividing wall between the boys’ and girls’ playgrounds. Later, after an accident, the small gate into Barrack’s Road was always kept shut.

The original building had had a weather vane on top of its turret, turning in the wind since 1881. This was taken down in 1954 and judged to be past repair.

In 1958 Modbury ceased to be all-age, when children over 11 years moved to Ivybridge Secondary School and Modbury became a County Primary School. In 1997 there were 197 children in seven classes.

Modbury School has had a link with Imeli School, Tanzania since the mid 1980s and a close relationship with the head, Greyson Pius. The children of Modbury funded a well in Imeli – the first water supply to the village.

Each year, all Year 6 girls who live in Modbury vote for the May Queen from one of their number- all voting is secret.

The school has officially adopted Miss Husband’s Path. She had made the journey on foot each way between Brownston and Modbury for 27 years, until her retirement in 1910.


The school as it is today.

The Modbury Institute

The Modbury Literary and Scientific Institution was founded in 1840 by Richard King, who although born in Modbury, had left England and made his fortune in New York. During a return visit, he purchased the site in Brownston Street, erected an impressive building with Palladian-style exterior, plus two dwelling houses adjoining for endowment. He conveyed the property to trustees, as set out in the foundation deed:

For a library and museum and for reading and study and for lectures and discussion on subjects of science and learning, exclusive of, and unconnected with, polemical religion and state or party politics, to the end that all subjects as are found or are likely to excite anger of passion or a factious party spirit may be excluded

The first Minute Book itemises lecture subjects including ‘Electricity’, ‘Agriculture’, ‘Phrenology’, ‘The Physical Structure and Attributes of Vegetable Organization’, ‘Astronomy’, ‘Music’ (with the Modbury Band in attendance), ‘The Mental improvement of the Labouring Mechanic’, ‘Mesmerism’, ‘The History of the Present State of the English Language and Literature’, and one by a Mr Sinclair on ‘The Natural History of Volcanoes, Earthquakes etc.’ with experiments. However, when Mr Sinclair offered to give further lectures two months later, the committee declined, saying that the prospectus for the remaining half session was nearly full! Perhaps Mr Sinclair’s demonstrations had been particularly lively!


A members card to the Modbury Institution.

Minutes of a Meeting of Members in 1851 noted that the Committee were pleased with the number of lectures, books lent, and discussion meetings, which “cannot but be regarded as tending in no ordinary degree, to elevate and improve both socially and morally, the population by which we are surrounded”. However, it bemoaned that the Institute’s intellectual gratification was not sought after by the majority of the industrial population, and exhorted members to increased effort “in promoting the intellectual and moral improvement of the working class and a more cordial union and friendship amongst all classes”.

The monthly Committee Meeting Minutes of December 1859 decided that two daily newspapers, (“A conservative and a liberal organ”) in addition to the Illustrated London News should be provided for subscribers plus two weekly local publications: “The two daily newspapers were The Standard and The Star, the weekly local ‘organs’ were Woolmers’ Exeter Gazette and the Plymouth Journal”.

White’s Directory of 1850 stated that there were 500 volumes in the Institute’s Library, looked after by William Henry Dobell, the Institution Librarian, that there were 100 members with J. Andrews as President, and that the building was the “handsomest in the town with a front in the Doric order”.

The institution served a valuable function both as a social meeting place and as an instrument of higher education during the nineteenth century, but its founder’s hopes that this would be perpetuated were to be disappointed. The First World War initiated a gradual decline; membership dropped and costs rose. Finally in 1954 the Institution was wound up and the house was sold to become a private dwelling house. The assets were transferred to the Memorial Hall Trustees.

The Gas House

Modbury was first lit by gas in 1865, supplied by the Modbury Gas & Coke Company Ltd. from their works near Swanbridge Mill to the south of the town. The Company is believed to be the product of private enterprise -Secretary was William Henry Dobell who was also listed as a Resident at Traine.

Within two years a gas supply was fitted out in the church but, like the house and street supply, it was unreliable, going out during church services, when candles had to be found before the service could continue. By 1907 the gas plant had deteriorated to a point where the company was liquidated and sold, remaining in private hands until 1915; then sold again to the South Hams Gas Company. In 1920, a petrol gas plant was installed by Lakemans and used until 1932 when Modbury was connected to the mains electricity supply.

Author: Stephanie Linnell