Friday 6 October 1989

Spending The Whisky Money


"Spending the Whisky Money" was the humorous sub-title of a lecture given to the Warminster History Society, at Warminster Library, on the evening of Monday 2nd October 1989, but the serious title was "The Birth of Technical Education in the County of Wiltshire during the year 1891."

The connection comes from the fact that in November 1890, £743,200 was taken from excise duty on beer and spirits and given to County Councils to administer technical education.

The speaker, Michael Lansdowne, was editor of the Wiltshire Times for over 20 years, and to provide material for his lecture he had perused the newspapers which came out during 1891.

His reading of extracts made the problems of this year very immediate: technical education in the county did not have an easy birth, but of the 13 towns in Wiltshire eligible for a slice of the financial cake, only Melksham was not able to establish a school. This was a source of continuing regret until the introduction of comprehensive education.

The problems of deciding exactly what was appropriate and how much was to be spent in each place were enormous, and the unattractive spectre of self-interest raised its ugly head time and time again. Sometimes the divisions were of class, sometimes of religion, and sometimes of personality. The fact that by the end of the year the success of the venture was so widespread was a vindication of democracy and of the committee system.

The industrial towns introduced a curriculum of weaving, dyeing, ironwork, textiles and similar subjects of practical use, while agriculture was included in some schools.

In Warminster the preliminary meeting was called by Mr. W. Frank Morgan who recommended the establishment of a School of Art and Science which excluded the classics. The motion was moved by Mr. W. Bates, headmaster of the British School (held in the building now known as Dewey House) and seconded by Mr. E.S. Beaven, who was anxious that chemistry should be taught. He was concerned that so much food was being imported and that Britain was lagging behind in agriculture.

From the rather dry press reports of the subsequent meetings a human note was sounded in that Mr. Morgan suffered the loss of both his mother and his wife during this year. The latter was the daughter of the well-known educationalist Harriet Martineau and she had taken an active interest in schools in the area.

Once in existence it was incumbent on the government to continue funding these schools so the year provided an important landmark in the history of education in this county and in the whole country.

Report written by Danny Howell.