Document of the Month, May 2017: School bills and receipts, 1897

May’s Document of the Month has been chosen by our Learning from History Manager, Valina Bowman-Burns. Valina runs workshops for schools to help students discover the past through documents, maps and images from the ERO’s collections, and recently has been building a session for a Coggeshall school using records from their own local past.

This little bundle of receipts (D/NC 1/5/17) dates from 1897, and gives us an insight into the daily life of Coggeshall Congregational School in the late Victorian period. They are also aesthetically interesting, many of them featuring some beautiful artwork and lettering.

The Coggeshall Congregational School has its roots in a Sunday School that was established in 1788 with 200 places for children aged over 7 (there were 268 applicants, suggesting a great deal of local demand for education). The Sunday School movement began in the 1750s, running schools for children of poor families on Sundays as children were often needed to work during the week.

The Congregational School existed by 1855, when the school master was dismissed for drunkenness. By 1857 there were 90 children on the roll; this number was to rapidly expand over the rest of the century as education became compulsory, firstly for children aged 5-10 in 1880, and then up to age 11 in 1893, and up to age 12 in 1899. By the time this bundle of receipts was created there were 258 boys and girls on the school registers, with an average attendance of 190 (Kelly’s Directory, 1898).

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The documents will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout May 2017

The most numerous receipts are for purchases made from local coke and coal merchant William Sutton – hopefully enough to keep the pupils and teachers warm while they learned.

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This handwritten receipt records the items in everyday use within the school including slates and pencils, blotting paper and exercise books. Three dozen exercise books were purchased in February and twelve dozen purchased in April meaning that between January and June 180 exercise books were delivered, almost one for every child in the school.

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One way the school raised money was through the sale of needlework; one document records the sale of needlework items throughout 1897 raised £5 1s 5¾d (about £300 in today’s money). Mr Scott’s pillowslips fetched 1s 5d a pair, while Miss Unwin’s knickers made 1s 9d each.

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Among the receipts is this insurance certificate from the London & Lancashire Fire Insurance Company, insuring the school for £800, about £45,000 today, for a premium of 12 shillings.

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The school ordered items not only from local supplies but from those further afield. This bill is from school suppliers E.J. Arnold & Son who were based in Leeds, and had embraced new communications technology by having a telephone (they were contactable on ‘Nos. 33 & 331’). Directions to their works for visitors, however, were for people who were walking or riding.

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If you are interested in arranging a local history workshop based on real sources from our collections (where we do all the research for you!) do take a look at our Learning from History webpages to see how we can help bring history to life.

4 thoughts on “Document of the Month, May 2017: School bills and receipts, 1897

  1. Looking at these receipts reminds me of when I was at boarding school in the 1970’s in Sydney Australia, we had printed leave forms, and if I am not mistaken were printed by the school, a small two-piece form on white paper with blue printing, that you would fill in, later to be given to you at leave parade. In more recent years, being a family historian I knew I should have kept one of these, for the history value.

  2. In the last few weeks I have traced my ancestors back to a birthdate of 1784 (unknown place in Essex) but found a person of the same name with a birthdate of 1783 from Coggeshall. Likely the same person. And all within my search interest area. These dates would fit very well in the school records as they would be young children when the Sunday school at Coggeshall was established in 1788.
    Can anyone give me guidance to view the Coggeshall school records, or indeed, undertake this on my behalf?

    • Hi Doug, we do have some early records from the Coggeshall School – if you go to our online catalogue and then in the document reference box in the top right corner type in ‘D/NC 1/5’ you will see a list of everything we have relating to the school. D/NC 1/5/1 includes a list of pupils attending in January 1789, so it sounds like it would be worth having a look at that.

      You can visit us to view the records in our Searchroom (info on how to visit us here) or we also offer a Search Service to search records on your behalf. If you would like any further advice do please get in touch with us on

      Good luck!

  3. The paper receipts and other information all preserved on paper ,what a wonderful and basic thing paper is , would a PDF file or a email receipt or any electronic document survive ,over a hundred years and then be viewed as a historical document .

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