Analysis of North Tawton Oath-takers, 1723

By Jean Shields


How literate were they? Of the 93 who signed, 37 did so by name, two by mark, and the rest (54) signed with one initial, and in one case two initials. Therefore, just over a third of those inhabitants who signed produced a proper signature. Broken up into men and women, just over 41% of men signed by name and just over 22% of the women. Where did they learn to read and write, if indeed they could write other than their names? There certainly was a "publick school not endowed but maintained by the Lord of the manor and the Rector" in the town at the time of the Replies to the Bishops Queries in 1744, and earlier. This became the endowed Charity School in 1746 (R. Bovett, Historical Notes on Devon Schools, Devon County Council, 1989). Also, one of the signatories in 1723 was William Hawkins, who had been licensed as a schoolmaster in North Tawton in 1712, (DHC, Moger Faculties, Supplement 1) and is described as such on several documents of the period. The school may even date from 1688, when one Christopher Rowe, described as a weaver, was granted a 21 year lease of the upstairs room of the Church House by the churchwardens. Mention is made of his "schollars" who were to have "liberty to come and go at all times". This school (if such it was), eventually became the endowed Charity School mentioned above, which continued the practice of also taking paying scholars. Even as late as 1833, the charity pupils learnt only reading, while the paying pupils learnt writing and "ciphering" as well. Doubtless there were also private schools. Later in the eighteenth century there was a school for younger children five to nine or ten years according to the memoirs of a North Tawton man, George Durant, born 1776, and at least two private boarding schools for boys advertised in the . Exeter Flying Post (13 Jun. 1799 & 20 Dec. 1794). These latter schools purported to teach a wide variety of subjects including Latin, Greek, geometry and land surveying, with another school for girls who learned less academic subjects. (Exeter Flying Post 25 Jun. 1795).

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