Hungate Hospital and School

The precise date of the building at the cross at the centre of Sherburn, now the medical centre, is unknown but it was most likely constructed about 1650. The Hungate coat of arms is displayed above the door and its original purpose was as the Hungate Hospital and School. At that time the term Hospital did not have the same meaning as it does today but meant that it was an orphanage.

It was founded by the will, dated 1619, of Robert Hungate who was a lawyer. His father was William Hungate of Saxton. Robert’s will directed that his Executors, his nephew Sir William Hungate and his niece Margery, should purchase land and from the income build a hospital (orphanage) with a school house and rooms within the town of Saxton or Sherburn. The hospital was to house up to 24 orphans who would be allowed £5 for their upkeep and the school would be free for the orphans and boys aged between 7 and 15 years old from Sherburn and Saxton. Orphans from Sherburn and Saxton were to be given preference and then those from Sand Hutton could be considered and, only as a last resort, those from York or elsewhere.

The will also stipulated the employment of a schoolmaster, an usher and a man and his wife to provide for the boys. In addition the income from the lands were to provide for the maintenance of 4 boys from the school at St John’s College, Cambridge until such time as they had taken Master of Arts degrees.

As a good example of the prejudices at that time, after the deaths of the Executors the responsibilities were to be undertaken by the male heir of William Hungate (Robert’s father), providing he was not a “popish recusant”. In default of a male heir, or if he was a Roman Catholic, then the Dean of York was to administer the charity until such time as a Protestant male heir was available to take over again.

The Executors seemed reluctant to make any progress despite decrees by the Commissioners of the Court of Chancery instructing that the terms of the will to be enacted firstly by November 1625 and then by November 1629.  Both of the Executors had died by 1634 and the because the Hungate heir, Sir Francis, was a Catholic the charity was administered by the Dean of York.

A decree by the Court in 1665 suggests that the School had been in existence for some years. It addressed various shortfall in payments that Sir Francis Hungate should have made and which enabled the Dean of York to buy further land to provide the necessary income. A further decree in 1667 established a succession of ‘Visitors’ to oversee the management of the charity.

A document of 1697 showed that the income from the lands that had been purchased amounted to £202 pa from 38 different tenants. This money had been spent on the Schoolmaster (£30), the Usher (£13), keeping the orphans (£120), the Master of the Hospital (£13) and the students at Cambridge (£27).

The Dean of York remained as the Patron of the charity until 1780, at which time Sir Thomas Gasciogne, whose father had married Mary the heiress of the Hungate estates, and who qualified as a Protestant, took over as Patron until his death in 1810.

The Gascoigne family considered that their liability was only to provide funding at the original amount established in Robert Hungate’s will. Inflation since that time meant that this was insufficient leading to the number of orphans dramatically reducing such that there were only 6 in 1826. In 1832 the Court of Chancery decided that the owners of the lands were entitled to keep the surplus rent and only pay the fixed charge of £225 pa.

In the 1830s Sherburn had a population of 1,155 and there were six schools in which 150 children were taught. There were 4 Dame Schools, a school which had been endowed in 1731 by the will of Rev. Samuel Duffield which provided for 6 female orphans and Hungate which taught 50 children and had 6 male orphans. In general parents were expected to pay for their children education.

In 1834 the four scholarships to Cambridge University were abolished.

Hungate continued to struggle financially and in 1860 a new scheme was proposed by the  Charity Commission and the Dean of York, who had once again become Patron of the charity, and the vicars of Sherburn and Saxton. Only 4 orphans were to be retained and the master was to receive a salary of £100 pa and would take the role of Overseer of the Hospital (orphanage) without further remuneration. £15 pa was to be paid out of the charity for the provision, maintenance and clothing of the 4 orphans. It was proposed that there should be an Upper School for the education of both sexes between the age of 10 to 16 years in a addition to the Lower School for boys from the age of 7.

In 1864 the Upper School was deemed a complete failure and it was reported that the school was being conducted mainly as an  elementary school. Fees were set at no more than 3d. a week for the Lower School. This year also saw the appointment of John Lee Cover as Headmaster and overseer of the Hospital who remained headmaster until 1907 and Overseer until he died in 1926.

In 1874 a School Board was established for the Parish of Sherburn and it provided for the construction of a Girls’s School at a cost of £2000 which was competed in 1876 for 268 girls and infants.

In 1880 the School Board complained about the unsatisfactory condition of the Hungate School which at the time provided education for 126 boys and still had 4 orphans in the Hospital. John Lee Cover had brought about an improvement in standards but the emphasis was still on religion and ensuring the boys new their place in society. Teacher training was rudimentary, with fewer that half having formal qualifications, and attendance was low with boys being kept out of school for the potato harvest and pea picking as well as frequent illness.

At the beginning of the twentieth century there were 3 teachers, the headmaster taught the highest class with 48 boys and the two lower classes (39 and 38 boys) are both taught by unqualified teachers who did later go on to obtain certification.

John Lee Cover retired in 1907 and was replaced by William Henry Thompson who was less than impressed by his inheritance. Although some improvements were noted by school inspectors in subsequent years, standards of reading and arithmetic remained low with many in the lower school still not able to read at all.

The school was officially recognised as a public school in 1914 and improvements were made to the building and a library was stocked. Standards continued to improve despite  one of the teachers, Mr J T S Potts, being absent on military service from 1916 to 1919 with the headmaster’s  wife having to cover for him. Mr Potts became headmaster in 1926  and remained so until 1946. The school inspectors during this period praised the improvement in standards and were particularly complimentary about both Mr Potts and Miss E Atkinson  who had joined as an uncertified assistant and was a former pupil of Sherburn Girls’ School.

After World War I the orphanage gradually declined. There were still 3 boys in 1920 but by 1924 there were none. One to two orphans were cared for in the thirties but the last one left in 1937 and the premises were eventually converted into accommodation for the teaching staff, one of which was occupied by the final headmaster, Mr Gudgeon.

In 1947 the compulsory school leaving age was raised to 15 and the school had to provide courses for the extra year. A few years later however, in 1954, all boys older than 11 were transferred to the new secondary modern school in Aberford and Hungate School become a junior school until its eventual closure in 1970.

Complied by K Sibson from ‘A history of Sherburn Hungate School and Hospital’ by Peter Boardman