The opening of Morley Memorial Primary School – purpose-built for Homerton College, Cambridge – Part 1

It’s easy to forget that when Morley School, Cambridge opened in 1899, it was less than 30 years since the passing of the Education Act 1870 which for the first time made provisions for the compulsory schooling of children at elementary/primary age. It was also a time of significant sectarian differences within Christianity in the UK – in particular in the fields of education. The Anglican Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1869, and would soon be followed by the Church of Wales in 1914 – a policy that led to antidisestablishment protests in Cambridge.

Above – antidisestablishmentarian protests in Cambridge – not about the use of long words in the dictionary but used in the historically correct context!

Five years later, Arthur Balfour’s Conservative Government would pass the Education Act 1904 which favoured Church of England schools over schools run by the non-conformist churches. Such was the furore created by this move that Balfour’s party lost the 1906 general election by a landslide – one that brought in Stanley Buckmaster KC as the first modern-day Liberal MP for Cambridge.

Homerton New College takes over Cavendish Old College

Homerton took over the buildings originally built for Cavendish College, Cambridge. You can read the brief history of Homerton here. Most of the buildings that date from the Victorian times are that of what was Cavendish College. Homerton moved to Cambridge in 1894. That the interested parties managed to negotiate for the financing and construction of a new primary school run on non-denominational lines is quite an achievement given the political strife that was happening at the time – strife that could easily have sunk the project.

The Foundation Stone Ceremony

The British Newspaper Library has a couple of extensive articles on the events of the foundation stone ceremony, and the formal opening of the school a few months later. What follows is from the Cambridge Daily News of 08 July 1899 in the British Newspaper Archive.

The Cambridge Daily News writes:

“It was peculiarly appropriate that Mr Samuel Hope Morley, son of the man whom the school commemorated [Samuel Morley snr], should be asked to lay the memorial stone. The ceremony was commenced at two o’clock in the presence of a good number of spectators, among them who were: –

  • Mr S. Hope Morley
  • Mr G.D. Jennings (Chairman of Homerton College Board)
  • Mr J.C. Horobin (Principal of Homerton College)
  • Prof. Rendel Harris
  • Rev. G Snashell,
  • Rev. J George (Vicar of St John the Evangelist)
  • Rev. C Joseph
  • Rev. A.W. Ayres
  • Rev. J.A. Barnes, Messrs J. Clark, A. MacIntosh, Warmington, & Maris.

“The Rev. G. Snashall having opened with prayer.

“Mr J.C. Horobin said the school of which the memorial stone was now to be placed by Mr S. Hope Morley was only a continuation of the Board which began many years ago. The school was to be a practising school for the students of the college, but at the same time it would furnish accommodation for the children in the neighbourhood, and he wanted to express on behalf of the board their appreciation of the kind help received from the Vicar of the parish, and also the managers of the infants’ school, in enabling them to come to an arrangement whereby they could work in harmony in the one work which ought to bind them all together – namely the education of the young.

“He reminded them that the best prophet for the future was the past. The past of the Congregational Board of Education had been one of constant effort to advance. That building, both in its stone work, brick work, its general arrangements, decoration, and the curriculum which would be followed out, would, he believed, mark an advance in Cambridge. (Hear hear!).

‘It had been said that Cambridge and Oxford, Cornwall and Wales, the dour most religious places in the British Isles, had the worst system of elementary education. That was not the fault of the teachers therein; it was the fault of the managers, or perhaps of the State, who did not provide them with the necessary money to do the work well. The Congregational Board was in the happy position of having a strong system of finance, and they hoped therefore, to set an example to the managers in the other districts”

The stone was then formally laid

…though I’m not sure what happened to the trowel!

Following remarks by Mr Hope Morley, which was mainly on the pre-Cambridge days of Homerton, and on his father, the Rev Charles Joseph for the Cambridge Free Churches stepped forward.

“The Rev Charles Joseph sald all Free Churchmen of the borough and the district would wish him to congratulate the Governors of Homerton New College in general, and their friend and neighbour Mr Horobin, in particular, upon the history of this institution and upon that new departure. At the very commencement of this century Nonconformists were setting their hards and hands to the great work of popular education.

In the name of the Free Church brethren they reciprocated very heartily the good feeling of the vicar of the parish, and whatever troubles there may have been, and might still perhaps arise between the Established Church and the Free Churches in regard to educational policy, they were very glad that under the shadow of Homerton College, and within the parish there was no strife, and that the vicar of the parish and the principal of the college were working side-by-side, shoulder to shoulder in seeking the best interests of the young.”

There then followed a formal ceremony to unveil a portrait of the late Samuel Morley MP

This took place in the great hall of Homerton College. The chair of proceedings there was Prof Rendel Harris. What we learn from his remarks was that Samuel Morley MP was the benefactor of Cambridge’s first YMCA building, opened in 1870 – Morley having laid the foundation stone that previous year. The building that contained Alexandra Hall, the music venue, was the last building standing until it too fell to the Lion Yard wrecking ball a hundred years later.

Above – from the British Newspaper Archive citing two buildings Samuel Morley contributed financially towards – the Congregational Church now in the ownership of Pembroke College.

One of the final speeches was from the Congregationalist Theologian Peter Taylor Forsyth.

Above – from the British Newspaper Archive.

His remarks are striking given the prominence that religious institutions had in civic society at the time.

“One could not stand there on an occasion like that and in such rooms, without realising the enormous difference, and the enormous improvement, which had taken place since Mr Morley put his hand to the work which was carried on there. The public was very much more alive now than it was then to the necessity, value, and seriousness of the work of education. Education was now scientific, it was serious, and it was sympathetic. Education was conducted on scientific principles to the extent which it never before reached. The psychologies was called in to aid the teacher, the experience of the teacher itself was being organised, and the whole business was becoming very much more scientific; the whole institution of teaching had now become an instrument of precision.

“Teachers were being taught education was essential to national prosperity. They found education paid – it reduced crime, it saved rates, it kept us abreast of other nations, and it paid morally. Education was a serious thing because it was involved in the moral future of the community. They now learned that education, if it was to be successful, must be sympathetic and not mechanical – it must not be perfunctory. Teachers must be aware of professionalism, and, if he might coin a word, “coldism.” There must be great confidence between teacher and taught – nay, something more, there must be love.”


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