Dame School, Raisbeck MYD63849 (c) WDLPS, 2023
The Dame School was built in about 1780 by Yeoman farmers of Raisbeck. It is located on a site still known as “The Green” which was common land excluded by the Enclosure Act in 1769. The building is now in the ownership of Orton Manor Court. [Manor Courts were the lowest court in the land and were an important source of justice for misdemeanours. Most ceased to function in the early 20th century. Orton is perhaps the last place with a functioning Manor Court, but they can no longer issue fines or punishments.]
The former school is a small two-storey stone building with a roof of local slate. It has one room upstairs and one room downstairs. The walls are built with coursed, squared rubble with quoins. There is only one fireplace, with the chimney on the north-east gable end.
Dame Schools refer to small private schools for young children (kind of the pre-cursor to nurseries or primary schools), that were typically run by women. They probably date from around the 16th century and continued in use until the second half of the 19th century, at a time when there was little formal education for working class children in England and Wales. The majority are found in rural areas. The school was often located in the home of the teacher (though this was not the case in Raisbeck). The amount of education given could vary – from little more than day care facilities to a good foundation of the basics. The curriculum would have likely included the church catechism, reading, knitting, and sewing, as well as anything else the trustees thought suitable.
The schoolhouse was repaired in 1857 after it had been declared to be in bad repair and unfit for use. A sum of nearly £30 was raised to carry out these repairs. However, from 1862 to 1867 the school was let to a local man. It is unclear why this occurred so recently after the renovations, and the census of 1861 shows there were a number of children of school age. The Education Act of 1870 and the subsequent moves towards the provision of compulsory education had probably signalled the end of the building as a school.
The former school building found a number of different uses around the turn of the century. In the 1890s more repairs were undertaken. In the early 20th century the room was used a clubroom by the many hired hands working on the farms in the area. It was then used as a temporary residence in the mid-1920s. By the 1970s the old school building was in a bad condition. It is thanks to Michael Ffinch and local supporters that the building was designated (listed Grade II) and restored.
- N. S. Smith, ‘A Dame School of Old Westmorland’, http://www.otlhs.ukme.com/Articles.html (accessed April 2020)
Historic England, https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1326755