350th anniversary 1670-2020
Robinson's School building, home to Penrith and Eden Museum celebrates its 350th anniversary this year. The school was named after William Robinson, a native of Penrith. He moved to London where he became a wealthy merchant, Freeman of the Grocer Company, and a substantial property owner. He did, however, maintain his contacts with Penrith.
Foundation and early history
In his will dated 6 August 1661, William Robinson left a benefaction of £55 to be paid annually by the Grocers' Company to the town of Penrith. This was out of the income of his London properties. Some of the money was to be used by the Penrith Charities to help the poor. The sum of £20 per annum, for ever, was to go to the Church Wardens of the parish of Penrith. "... for educating and bringing up of poor gerles (in a Free School) to Read and Seamstry Worke, or such other Learning fitt for that sex being the poorer sort whose parents are not able to pay for their Learning".
It is assumed that the school opened in 1670. This is the date seen in the inscription above the doorway. The building itself may date from the earlier years of that century. Nothing definite is known about the school until 1700. This was when the Register Book was first written. The school rules were set down and a list made of 29 girl pupils.
The rules required that the dame or mistress should be of "grave, modest and matron-like behaviour". She should be "well skilled in teaching young girls to read, work lace, knit and other matters proper for young girls to learn and practice". School began at seven in the morning between Michaelmas and Shrovetide, and at six in the morning the rest of the year. The children who were very poor wore a badge 'PS' (Poor Scholar). They were allowed to go about the town at certain times to ask for charity. This was until they were able to work. The regulations also say that the children had to 'refrain from swearing, lying, stealing, and quarrelling', upon pain of being severely punished by the mistress. If any broke the school windows, 'the offender had to repair them'.
A separate Spinning and Knitting School was also established in the upper room of the school. The room was removed after the 1870 Education Act. The building was remodelled in order to make it more suitable for an Infants School. In 1894, the Education Department condemned the school. It complained that there was no room for marching! This resulted in further improvements being carried out, including the addition of a classroom and cloakroom.
The heavy emphasis on the three Rs: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic continued throughout the School’s history. Its original role in encouraging pupils to learn the rudiments of needlework and similar skills still featured in the classes. Normally, the school had about 60 pupils but during the war years the figure was increased by evacuees from the North-East. The last headmistress of the school was Miss Kathleen Shaul, who had joined the school as a teacher in 1939.
Tercentenary and closure
In 1970 the school celebrated its 300th anniversary with a service in St. Andrew's Church, Penrith. Pupils marched in procession to St. Andrew's, led by the headmistress and the Vicar, Canon Stewart. Carried at the head of the procession was a special banner bearing the Latin inscription above the school doorway. The School closed on 1 April 1971. The children moved to a new school on the Scaws Estate, now the Beaconside School. Pupils staged a surprise presentation to their two teachers, Miss Shaul (Photograph: Miss Shaul, headmistress (back row, far left), pupils, and their matchstick model of the school building. c.1965) and her assistant Mrs Greta Miller. In 1978, Penrith Civic Society, with the help of a Job Creation Programme, created a leisure area from the former school yard. This opened up a view of Thacka Beck flowing behind the building. The area was officially opened on 13 May 1978 by Miss Shaul, the School's last Headmistress.
Penrith and Eden Museum and Tourist Information Centre
In 1978, Penrith Civic Society, with the help of a Job Creation Programme, created a leisure area from the former school yard. This opened up a view of Thacka Beck which flows behind the building. During the years following the school’s closure, plans were made for the old building to take on a new role as a museum and information centre. A small exhibition area was set up in 1984. In 1988 Eden District Council decided to undertake a scheme of major alterations and extensions to the building. It re-opened in 1990 with additional office and storage space for the Museum. The collections from the old Penrith Museum which had been housed in the Town Hall prior to its closure in the 1960s were moved into the new storage room. These arrangements also provided new accommodation for Penrith Tourism Information Centre.