In the early Victorian period a school existed at Harthill which was supported by Thomas Crallan of Bolesworth Castle, but there was no proper school building as such. Instead the children gathered in an old thatched outbuilding which was attached to a small farm on Harthill Lane. William Lea ran the farm and he was also the schoolmaster and parish clerk.
When Robert Barbour arrived at Bolesworth Castle he too was keen to provide an education for the local children, “My own view has always been to give the greatest amount of education possible in our schools, based upon Moral and Religious principles. Church and School should go hand in hand.”
He employed local architect Thomas Lockwood to design a school at Harthill which was completed in 1869. (see lithograph illustration 1869)
The following is an advertisement Robert Barbour placed in the national papers for the first Schoolmaster of the new school:-
“Wanted, for a mixed country school in Cheshire, a married man, as a Schoolmaster, his Wife to teach the girls sewing. The master to have a Government certificate and produce unexceptionable references. A Scotchman preferred. The school and master’s house are newly erected and the schoolmaster is under the direction of a landed proprietor in the neighbourhood.”
Robert Runciman and his wife Marion of Dunfermline became the first teachers at a joint salary of £70 a year, plus two tons of coal each January, all other coal for house or schools was to be provided at the teachers’ expense. However, the master’s house was free of rent and came with a small garden. There was also a payment of £3 a year for washing and cleaning the school. The parents, who were all estate tenants, paid a weekly fee for their children to attend the school.
Both teachers had to agree to attend Harthill Church regularly and if requested by the Rector they were to teach in the Sunday School too. “The Teachers by every means in their power are to promote the Moral and Religious interests of the District.” - Robert Barbour
The Runcimans did not stay very long because in April 1873 another advertisement was asking for “a certificated Master and Mistress (married) for a mixed country school, pleasantly situated in Cheshire. Attendance about 75. Salary £100 per year – capable of increase.”
Sadly the school buildings, which were not insured, suffered a devastating fire at Eastertime 1922. Robert Barbour’s grandson, Major Robert Barbour, set about rebuilding the school straight away, at a cost to himself of £3,500, using the same firm of Architects – Phillip Lockwood, grandson of Thomas. While the new school was being built an upstairs room was set aside at the Royal Oak Inn, Broxton, for use as a schoolroom at a cost of 10s (50p) per week. The new school opened the following year.
In 1956 the school was taken over by Cheshire County Council, but over the years the number of pupils dwindled until finally the school closed in 2008. However, over the last year the building has been renovated, reroofed (taking special care with the resident bat population) and is now a Cookery School run by Brian and Irina Mellor. It is good to know that the building has been restored to its original use – a splendid place of learning once more.
(from Bolesworth Castle Archives)