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Hall's Croft as a School

Hall’s Croft was once known as Cambridge House School, and it was twice a boys’ school and once a ladies’ college.

The sketch shows the house with outbuildings on the right, with a large garden behind and to the left (lawn surrounded by trees, a single tree in the centre) and two widely-spaced rows of buildings behind to the right. There is no hint of a town anywhere.
Sketch of Cambridge House

When was Hall's Croft Used as a School?

Between 1850 and 1883, Hall’s Croft was used as a private boarding school. Known as Cambridge House School, it was twice a boys’ school and once a girls’ college.

While Thomas Umbers was owner of Hall’s Croft, a boys’ school was established on the premises in 1850. Umbers had moved to Cheltenham in 1848, and after two failed attempts to sell his property, he let the house to Yorkshireman Thomas Egremont Gee. Gee converted it into Cambridge House School for boys. However, with only four boarders recorded in 1851, it was not very successful and by 1852 the building stood empty.

In the 1860s, the executors of Umbers’ will sold Hall’s Croft to John and Harriet Lane. The record of sale shows that at this time the Reverends John George Rablah Stephenson and Henry Valentine Scriven were occupying part of the house. The Reverend Scriven had come to Stratford in 1856 to become chaplain to the workhouse, and he took a permanent lease at Hall’s Croft in 1858. In that same year, he reopened Cambridge House School. The school seems to have been slightly more successful than Gee’s, as records show that in 1861 Hall’s Croft was occupied by Scriven, his wife, five children, seven boarders (all charged 35 guineas per annum), and two assistant masters.

Additions to the School

It is likely that the schoolroom and a playground were added to Hall’s Croft in the later 1850s, since a contemporary newspaper shows an 1859 advert stating that the school had been significantly enlarged. Shortly after this renovation work, Scriven left and Cambridge House School was then taken over by one of his assistant masters, Reverend Stevenson. Not long afterwards, Stevenson was served a notice by the Lloyds Banking Company to leave the property. By 1868, Reverend Stephenson, the last of the three school masters, had also moved on and the boys’ school was closed.

'As willingly as e'er I came from school'

— The Taming of the Shrew, Act 3, Scene 2
The school room is the largest room apart from the Hall (which is shown as hall and dining room, part-separated by a closet and a fireplace).. I it the first of the rooms under the gable end which stands out at the right-hand side of the building.
Floor plan of Hall's Croft in 1868 that identifies the school room

Changes to Cambridge School

But this was not the end of Cambridge House School. By June 1868, Stephenson had been replaced as tenant by Marian Stuart, widow of Reverend James Orchard Stuart. Marian continued to use the building as a school, this time for young women, with a governess teaching English, French, and German. An 1879 advert promoted Hall’s Croft as a private establishment for young ladies with ‘all the home comforts’. The school was even listed in Charles Eyre Pascoe’s handbook of Schools for Girls and Colleges for Women as being successful in the Senior and Junior Local Examinations for the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, and Glasgow; and successful in the Schools' examination of the College of Preceptors. By 1881, Marian shared Hall’s Croft with her three daughters and eight boarders.

Despite the promise of home comforts, the conditions at the school were allegedly sometimes unpleasant. In January 1872, the girls had to be evacuated to the Lanes’ house after a fire broke out in the cellars. Then in 1881, legal action was taken after one set of parents refused to pay the school fees because of their daughter’s treatment. The girl claimed there was no light in her bedroom, no fires during the week, that breakfast consisted of bread and salty butter, and that dinner was often inedible. The pupil recalled how the baked pudding was so hard that the girls could not cut it (1). When they complained to their teachers, they were told to eat it with their fingers. This legal case must have damaged the school’s reputation permanently, as in 1883 Marian closed Cambridge House School permanently.

The portion of the house that was once a schoolroom now serves as a cafe.

(1) Fogg, Nicholas. Stratford-Upon-Avon: A Biography. Amberley Publishing, 2014. 

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