Madrepore School' part of education history - or was it 'Pimlico?

Madrepore Place Blue Plaque

Madrepore Place Blue Plaque - Credit: Torbay Civic Society

The first voluntary elementary school in Torquay was built in 1830 and then demolished in 1972, leaving a derelict site for over a decade until eventually purchased in 1983 by the Westcountry Housing Association.  

They created (or was it developed) a total of twenty - one bedroomed flats for letting to the elderly on a "Fair Rent" scheme. The building would gain a Blue Plaque in 1989. 

Their so-called Sheltered Housing development still features our prominent Civic Society Blue Plaque on its front wall in Madrepore Road, Torquay, being a rather fine building behind what was originally Torquay's main Marks and Spencer store in Torquay, before the site was taken over by WH Smith's and Waterstone's book stores.  

We know that Madrepore Road School was Torquay's first voluntary elementary school and that its Blue Plaque would have been likely supported by the Central Library, Torbay Council and the Torquay Museum.  

By 1989, we had established about 22 plaques around Torbay, our earliest including one at the home of the Rev. H.F Lyte (now Berry Head Hotel) and at Ilsham Chapel (in the grounds of Stoodley Knowle) and the home of Beverley Nichols (now Riviera Court on Lower Warberry Road). 

Correspondence more recently found relates that the Worshipful Mayor of Torbay Council Councillor Mrs Eileen Salloway, accompanied by her escort, formally unveiled the Madrepore School plaque at the new Warberry Church of England Primary School in Cedar Road Torquay on Monday 22nd January 1990 at 10.30am, together with our then Chairman, Mrs Ena Hocking. The plaque was then taken away to be erected on its permanent wall at Madrepore Road School. 

The original pamphlet to accompany the plaque was written by Society member - Mr Denis Walton (with a grateful acknowledgement to the one-time Head of Warberry Primary School - Mr Jim Boddy), who explains that references to the Madrepore School, even as late as 1989, were hard to research. Fortunately for readers of this article, copies of his publication, which was published by Torbay Council, are still available (see below). 

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Hisroically, it was not until 1870 that the Education Act was formally successfully passed by Parliamentary members, so that the State recognised that children should not now be subjected to the appalling conditions which had been created by the so-called Industrial Revolution. Up until that Act, educational support was generally provided by the Church, who assisted with particularly children from the poorest families.  

Yet, large numbers of men eventually taking Holy Orders would have had the exclusive care of the Church until Sunday Schools were established when older children tended to be seen as beneficial to the principle of teaching the young.  

Dr Andrew Bell, an Anglican clergyman serving in, of all places, Madras, plus a Joseph Lancaster (an English prominent Quaker), eventually opened schools that used senior children to teach younger pupils.  

In Devon, what was termed a "National School" placed an advertisement in the Exeter Federation Press during 1813 requesting - "Wanted at Torquay a Master to conduct a School - based upon Dr Bell's plans. Besides a regular salary, he (note the he) will have the great advantage in teaching private pupils the principles of navigation". Applications had to be sent to a Mr Cosserat at Torquay", who was a Member of the Select Vestry. 

This led to the town’s first National School in Torquay, which today we know was called Madrepore Road School. Opened in 1826, it catered for108 boys and, amazingly, 120 girls. Being situated just below the stream from the old Grist Mill (a Corn Mill), this led into the River Fleete (sic) near the Pimlico and Union street today, which were then mere meadow land.  

The Fleet provided the power needed by the school. Colloquially, the school was initially referred to as Pimlico and later Madrepore, which derives from what were then recent white coral fossils found all along our coast.