Mary Barker had left money to be put towards teaching “poor boys and girls” to read and write. Elizabeth had later bequeathed money in her will specifically to build a school to achieve this aim, and also to pay a teacher. Despite Mary’s request, the school was originally for boys only, with girls being catered for only from 1815 (and then kept strictly separate from the boys).
The school aimed to create useful members of society, as can be seen from the following advert, placed in the Oxford Journal on 5 March 1825:
“The Parents of some Boys who have been educated in the Free School at Fairford, are desirous of placing them out as APPRENTICES to some plain useful Trade, with Masters of established credit, who are householders, married men, and Members of the Church of England, and who have constant employment. – A suitable premium will be paid with each of them. Apply (if by letter, post paid) to Mr Adams, Fairford, Glocestershire.”
In 1851, the girls’ part of the school was run by 42-year-old local woman Jane Iles, assisted by her sister Elizabeth. They were presumably part of the same Iles family that were running Fairford’s mental asylum, The Retreat, around the same time. As was usual for the time, all the teaching staff at the girls’ school were unmarried women, the other two teachers being an 18-year-old from Manchester, Mary Hill, and Ellen Booker, 17, from Wiltshire. They may have been former pupils, who had graduated to become teachers at their old school – as happened with Charlotte Bronte, for example. There were around 20 pupils in 1851, aged between 8 and 15, and including several sets of sisters.
The girls were taught the skills that a female was supposed to find useful in her adult life. Jane Iles advertised the school’s curriculum in 1859, to mark the start of a new term at the school:
“FAIRFORD LADIES’ SCHOOL. Miss Iles begs to express her best thanks for the favours she has so uniformly received through a considerable period of years, and announced to her friends and the public that the next Term will commence on Wednesday the 19th of January 1859.
Miss Iles would just observe that, in addition to a solid English Education, she is enabled under her present arrangements to offer her Pupils, punctually, two lessons a week in Music, Drawing, French and German. Cards of charges will be forwarded on application, and references given, if required.”
Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 15 January 1859
In 1861, Jane Iles was now described as “governess” in the census, but still seems to have been the school head, with her assistants and pupils being listed with her. By 1881, she had retired, living on Mount Pleasant in the town with a female boarder and a servant.
The girls’ school remained separate from the boys until 1922; the combined school then moved to its current site on the edge of Fairford in the 1960s, where it is now Farmor’s School – its name a lasting legacy of Elizabeth Farmor’s desire to encourage the education of local children.
For a comprehensive history of Fairford Free School, visit the Fairford History Society website.