The original Silkstone endowed school had been built in 1725 through public subscription. This was much later than some townships in the district which had been making arrangements for various kinds of education from the early 17th century. Bolsterstone had its first school in 1622 and between 1660 to 1720 Darton, Royston, Barugh, and Wentworth acquired their schools. The school was rebuilt in 1860, again by public subscription. There was also provision for a school masters house. The image above is of the old school, taken in 1980, and now houses Silkstone Pre-School.
There was no provision for paying a school master. In 1735 Rev. John Clarkson, vicar of Silkstone, at a cost of £100 bought property and land to be held under a 500 year lease. The rents were to be used to pay ‘the master of the school in Silkstone for the time being as a recompense for instructing in reading, English and writing, and the first four rules of arithmetic, any number of poor children belonging to or resident within the township of Silkstone, not exceeding 9 at a time to be nominated by John Clarkson and following by the vicar of Silkstone.’
Initially it was the children from the richer Silkstone families who took advantage of the school. Compositions written by pupils between the years 1812 to 1813 are stored in Barnsley Archives; one is by Robert C. Clarke, on the subject of ‘the proper use of our short lives’. By the age of 7, children were working down the mines owned by Robert Clarke’s family, with no time for education. Many large families couldn’t have afforded the cost of sending their children to school.
Following the Husker mining disaster of 1838 a Royal Commission was set up to investigate the use of child labour in the country’s coal mines. The Commission looked into forms of education in Silkstone at the time. This was largely provided by Silkstone Day and Evening School plus three Sunday schools connected to the church, the Methodist chapel and the Wesleyan chapel. It was found that children stayed about two years at the day school learning basic reading, writing and arithmetic. Silkstone children usually attended Sunday school for about five years. The Sunday schools taught basic reading, writing and bible study and were quite successful. After long days working down the coal mines very few children wanted to attend school in the evenings, they were far too tired.
The 1842 Mines Act made it illegal for women and children under ten to work underground. Silkstone children now had the opportunity to attend the village school where John Ford was the school master. Eventually John’s wife Martha joined him as a teacher and two of their daughters were assistant teachers and one son a pupil teacher. Silkstone church marriage registers show that few villagers were literate and the majority signed the register with a cross. By the mid 1850s most were able to sign their own name. Although the majority of boys went down the pits at age ten an education meant that many were able to obtain better positions within the mining industry as book keepers and clerks. At least one boy went on to be a school master obtaining a position at Felkirk. The girls went into service or worked in the woollen mills in the Holmfirth and Huddersfield areas; one girl became a milliner and one a dressmaker.
In 1850 Sarah Ann, the widow of mine owner Robert C. Clarke, funded the building of the National Infants School opposite the church. Staffed by a head teacher and two teachers the school remained open until 26th July 1963 when it closed for good. The building now houses Silkstone Pharmacy.
The 1891 Elementary Education Act introduced free elementary education for all by requiring central government to pay a ‘fee grant’ for each child between the ages of 3 to 15. From 1891 income from the Clarkson Charity was then used to fund repairs to the school estate. Help was also given to the children of lower income families. Silkstone Charities account book shows that money was made available in the form of ‘grants towards children attending Penistone Grammar and Barnsley Girls High – those not able to afford fees.’ In 1911 an application was made to give every child under fourteen 6d (2.5p) to mark the coronation of King George V. Even today grants are available to help Silkstone students purchase book to help with their university courses.
For many years the school was known as Silkstone Council School. On 1st September 1952 the school became Silkstone County Secondary School, taking pupils up to age 15. It ceased to be a County Secondary School on 19th July 1968 and the existing pupils moved to either Penistone Grammar school or one of the secondary schools in Barnsley. When the new school year started on 26th August 1968 the school was then called Silkstone Primary school. Eventually, where there were once productive school gardens, a new primary school was built. The old 1860 school building still stands next to the new school and is used by Silkstone Pre-school children.