Wallsend's Co-operative School

Event date(s)

1 November 1871 to 6 August 1875

Description/importance

The only elementary school that appears to have been opened by an English co-operative society in response to the 1870 Education Act could be found at Wallsend from May 1872 until August 1875. Originating in discussions arranged by the Wallsend Co-operative Society's mutual improvement class and education committee in November 1871, the school was based in the 'new Temperance Hall', on the corner of North Road and Blenkinsop Street, Wallsend. Little detail about the daily life of the school survives, though the co-operative society employed school teachers and secured a small Government grant under the 1870 Act to contribute towards the running costs. There were 143 children on the school roll in 1873, but it seems to have been difficult for the teachers to maintain discipline and control (not uncommon in new schools at the time). An inspector had the grant withdrawn and the co-operators funded the school for a further year when it closed 'after many vicissitudes'.

The school was part of a continuing commitment to Owenite community building shared by the Wallsend Co-operative Society's founders from their beginnings in 1861. As the retail success of the Society grew, the co-operators opened a library for members in a house at 119 High Street West in July 1871. The first item of furniture bought for the library, a bust of Robert Owen, was a clue to the members' outlook. Organising public lectures on women's equality and immediate support for the foundation of the first North East branch of the Women's Co-operative Guild in 1883 confirmed a radical strand of thinking within the Society. The Society also supported the Ouseburn Engineering Works in the early 1870s as a form of workers' co-operative. Houses were built for the Society's members from 1868-69, and allotments opened, as part of a co-operative estate that included the Temperance Hall and school. The neighbourhood can still be seen with its terraced streets named Rochdale, Mutual, Equitable, Industrial, and Blenkinsop and Douglass Streets were named after two of the Society's early leaders.

Location/map point

Address

Blenkinsop Street
Wallsend
Tyne and Wear
NE28 8LJ

Directions

The building used by the school is on the corner of Blenkinsop Street and North Road, Wallsend, and has been used recently as a Jehovah's Witness Hall.

Further reading

Nigel Todd, 'The Wallsend Owenites' in Forum for Promoting 3-19 Comprehensive Education, vol. 55, no. 2 (2013), special issue on 'Co-operative Education for a New Age'; Wallsend Industrial Co-operative Society, Jubilee History and Handbook (1862-1912) (Pelaw: CWS, 1912).

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