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Chapel renovation stirs century-old school history

13:40 08 August 2012

St Anne

St Anne's Chapel


Drills in the pannier market and art in the High Street were part of school life.

THE restoration of St Anne’s Chapel has stirred fascinating details about education in Barnstaple at the turn of the twentieth century.

Sporting ‘drills’ in the pannier market and art lessons in the High Street were once a part of school life for youngsters attending the chapel, used as a grammar school from the early part of the 17th century.

The 700-year-old Grade I listed building, which reopens on Saturday following a 20-week restoration project, was finally replaced by a new grammar school in Newport in 1910.

Its refurbishment has already revealed a wealth of treasures beneath the floorboards including scraps of Latin homework, slate pencils and paper darts.

And after reading about the project in the Gazette, reader David Fennell, 83, of Sticklepath, got in touch to tell the story of his father Ernest’s time as a pupil at the school.

Ernest Fennell won one of only two three-year scholarships to St Anne’s Grammar School in 1901.

The 13-year-old, whose father worked as a train driver on the Lynton to Barnstaple line, studied a range of subjects including Shakespeare, arithmetic, grammar, algebra, shorthand, writing and dictation, French and geography.

Mr Fennel said he had some memories of things his father told him about St Anne’s, including the physical education of the day – sprints from one end of the pannier market to the other.

He said his father had told him they used sit on benches and worked at ‘forms’ and that they only moved up a form through results and not simply because of age.

“To us it all seemed very quaint,” he told the Gazette.

Mr Fennell passed on a lot of his father’s school certificates and prizes to the athenaeum in 2005 but has donated the last of his father’s artefacts – including a history textbook, hand written test paper – to exhibit at the chapel.

The chapel will begin a new chapter in its history at a special launch event taking place on Saturday.

The £230,000 renovation, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Devon County Council and Barnstaple Town Council, will open the building up to a number of new community uses.

Mayor of Barnstaple Lesley Brown, who will be officially reopening the chapel at 10.30am, said: “It has long been an ambition of Barnstaple Town Council to use the building for the benefit of all communities and the heritage committee has worked very hard to make this happen.

“The council is grateful both to Heritage Lottery Fund and to Cllr Brian Greenslade for obtaining funds from Devon County Council to enable this project to materialise.”

Saturday’s launch event is being billed as a ‘Historical Spectacular’ with historical characters; dart-making workshops; Victorian story telling; and performances by the Barnstaple Ladies Choir and Sorrelli Strings.

For more information visit 01271 373311.


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