Fifehead Magdalen School, Dorset, England


The Old Schoolhouse, Fifehead MagdalenFifehead Magdalen village school was founded in the building opposite Church Farm in Fifehead Magdalen in the dwelling now called Home Farm.

Home Farm was one of the old farmhouses of the Manor, occupied by members of the Newman family in earlier periods, and later by their tenants, but becoming linked with and subordinate to Church Farm.

About 1780 the house was leased to a family named Hunt and during their occupancy it was re-faced with dressed stone and called THE VILLA. Mr and Mrs Hunt, and later their daughter, carried on the school at their premises but their two sons farmed extensively in West Stour.

In 1840 the school was being conducted by Miss Sarah Hunt, assisted by a Miss Dowding of the Fifehead Mill family.

The Old Schoolhouse,Fifehead MagdalenIt had 28 boarding pupils between the ages of 7 and 15, 9 boys and 19 girls, and in the first four censuses of the century, when individual names were not recorded, the Fifehead figures are inflated by numbers of this order, quite a high percentage when there were only sixty or so village children.

This was the school where selected children were taught to read and write in the period 1785~1804, with their fees being paid by the parish. In addition to the boarding pupils, the school also taught up to ten village children whose fees were paid from the poor law rate income.

The pupils were taught to write and/or read, not always both, and the fees were 1 a year for writing lessons and eleven shillings a year for reading lessons. The building continued to be used as a school until 1856 and then became the home of persons whose names were included in the section of the local directory which was reserved for the details of gentry. In the directory's editions of the next fifty years Fifehead had just three such entries - the names of the residents of Fifehead House, The Villa and The Vicarage.

After 1856 the vicar developed the village school, building it up from the Sunday school and "Lame School" which had subsequently been carried on in the carpenter's shop premises. He provided a new school and school house at his own expense and obtained financial help with its maintenance from an ecclesiastical charity.

When the Education Act of 1870 brought about the introduction of state education, he formed a School Board to obtain government grants for the school but it was never a church school and, after School Boards were abolished in 1903, it became the responsibility of the Dorset County Council which closed it in 1911.

The school was built to hold sixty pupils but, as far as can be ascertained, it never catered for more than half that number and this was presumably the reason for its comparatively early demise.

The schoolmistress moved from the school-house and The Villa, too, experienced several changes of fortune, as if to conform with its no longer being dignified with the directory's classification as a home of gentry, before once again becoming a farmhouse in the 1930s.

Our Great Great Grandmother Albetina Hunt attended the village school in Fifehead Magdalen, Dorset and appeared on the census there in 1851 aged 12.

At that time here were only 14 girls mainly 9 - 16, and 2 - 7 year old boys boarding at the school.

The staff seemed to be -
  • Sara S. White, Head, 27, School Mistress, born Hampreston? Dorset
  • Mary White 23, Governess.
  • Ellen White 32, Farmer's daughter.
  • Elizabeth, Servant, House Servant
  • Martha Bennett, Servant, House Servant.

In 1848 Fifehead Magdalen was described as follows:

FIFEHEAD-MAGDALENE (All Saints), a parish, in the union of Sturminster, hundred of Redlane, Sturminster division of Dorset, 6 miles (W. by S.) from Shaftesbury; containing 229 inhabitants. All Saints Church Interior

This place belonged to the celebrated abbey of St. Augustine, Bristol, and in the 34th of Henry VIII. was, with the advowson of the vicarage, granted to the bishops of Bristol, under whom the manor was held for several generations by the family of Newman.

The parish is situated on the river Stour, near the road from Exeter, via Yeovil, to London, and comprises 956 acres by measurement; the land is fertile, and principally pasture.

The living is an endowed vicarage, valued in the king's books at 7, and in the gift of the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol: the tithes have been commuted for 245, and the glebe comprises 24 acres.

The church has been repaired; the walls have been raised, the building new roofed, and a tower added.

From: 'Fetcham - Fincham', A Topographical Dictionary of England (1848).

On the 1841 census the following were recorded at the school

  • Sarah HUNT; f; 50; Conducting a School;
  • Mary DOWDING; f; 35; Ind;
  • Emma HUNT; f; 11; Pupil;
  • Mary HUNT; f; 10; Pupil;
  • James HUNT; m; 7; Pupil;
  • Charles HAYTER; m; 11; Pupil;
  • William HAYTER; m; 9; Pupil;
  • Samuel HAYTER; m; 7; Pupil;
  • Sarah COOMBS; f; 13; Pupil;
  • Elizabeth DAVIS; f; 12; Pupil;
  • Mary DAVIS; f; 10; Pupil;
  • Amelia DAVIS; f; 7; Pupil;
  • Susan DORE; f; 11; Pupil;
  • Ann FRY; f; 12; Pupil;
  • Francis FARNHAM; f; 15;
  • Isabel JEFFERY; f; 15;
  • Elizabeth LAPHAM; f; 14;
  • Mary MILES; f; 13; Pupil;
  • Frederick MILES; m; 11;
  • Elizabeth MEATYARD; f; 8; Pupil;
  • Joseph MITCHELL; m; 10; Pupil;
  • Emma REBBECK; f; 10; Pupil;
  • Martha SENIOR; f; 11; Pupil;
  • James SNOOK; m; 9; Pupil;
  • John SNOOK; m; 7; Pupil;
  • George STACEY; m; 10; Pupil;
  • Mary YOUNG; f; 10; Pupil;
  • Susan YOUNG; f; 8; Pupil;
  • Rebecca YOUNG; f; 6; Pupil;
  • Elizabeth ROBERTS; f; 13; Pupil;
  • Samuel ROBERTS; m; 11; Pupil;
  • Elizabeth FIFETT; f; 20; F.S.;