The buildings that form the South Ribble Museum and Exhibition Centre have been through many changes over the centuries. Although the exterior is of seventeenth-century hand-made brick, the interior is much older and may be the remains of a timber framed and largely wooden building.
An extension was added to accommodate the schoolmaster, erected 'By the Liberal contributions of the gentlemen of this parish and others in the year of 1790'. The little house was built on the plan of a hand loom weaver's cottage, complete with cellar-workshop and wide windows. The entrance to the school was originally on the western graveyard side but in 1824 a new east door was provided.
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The Buildings History
In 1524 Sir Henry ffarington drew up the deeds of his chantry; this was an institution in which a priest was to be paid to pray for the souls of his ancestors for ever, and in this case teach a 'school'.
The chantry was swept away by the reformation, but the school was allowed to continue (1546), though the salary of the master Thurston Taylor was reduced from £4-5-9d to £3-17-0d per year. This sparse salary was boosted by various bequests - Peter Burscough left £100 in 1624 - which by 1800 provided an additional income of around £15.
Throughout the seventeenth century the school prospered and the quality of the teachers was very high. The list of 22 known masters from 1524 to 1874 is fairly complete. William Walker 'bachelor of Musicke' left 'one halfpenny in silver' to each scholar in his will (1588). In the 145 years from 1716 the school had only three masters. Thomas Moon (60 years), Edward Marsden (56 years) and John James (29 years). Many are buried beside the old school door on the west side. Interesting pupils include the historian Dr. Kuerden [More Here], and the catholic martyr John Woodcock [More Here].
The children had 27 hours of school each week with six weeks holiday a year. Discipline was maintained through corporal punishment, 'exercises' and detention. A good description of the school in the 1860s is provided by an educational commission of 1865 which states 'Reading and spelling were not very good, five boys were fair in arithmetic: the head girl could not do an easy sum in the addition of money. Geography and English grammar were poor, the children showing very little intelligence. The Scholars seem to be socially of a higher class than is commonly found in such a school: of thirty-five present, ten stated to be children of people with independent means, professional men and land stewards, nine tradesmen, eight farmers and eight of working men'.
The location of the school in the corner of the churchyard did not lend itself to expansion and it is doubtful if the school ever had more than 50 scholars, around 20 might be a more accurate figure before 1800. The churchwardens were generally reluctant to spend money on upkeep, and this may have been a factor in the closure of the school in 1874. With the passing of the Education Act of 1870 the old parish grammar school had become an anachronism. By this time Moss Side School had been established by Samuel Crook in 1770, and Richard Balshaw had founded his school on Golden Hill Lane in 1782. The infants School on Fox Lane was built in 1837. It was suggested that the school merge with Balshaws, but in the event it was closed and the endowment used to establish a prize fund there. This survives to this day as Balshaws Foundation Fund and provides a living link with the original grant of 1524. The building was used for church meetings, and the teacher's house was rented out. In the 1960's the site was abandoned and after much discussion it was purchased from the church for £1 and restored by the local council for its present use in 1977.
The museum buildings are precisely those of the school and have changed very little over hundreds of years.