From a lease of nearly 250 years ago!
We have recently transcribed this lease which is in the Dorset History Centre. It confirms that in 1773 the trustees of the school were active and looking after the free grammar school of Milton Abbas, which was then already 250 years old. In fact this grammar school was founded in 1521 so would be celebrating its quincentenary this year.
The income for the school to pay the master and maintain the buildings was considerable at £129 per year plus £5 per year for every acre of meadow at Little Mayne Farm. The school would have been considered well endowed indeed. We have not found any evidence that the pupils at the school paid any fees – hence its status as a “free school”. However since most children were at this time needed to help with the land, it is likely that only those of the better off tradesmen and farmers could take advantage of the education.
Little Mayne Farm had been endowed to the trustees to run the Milton Abbas Free Grammar School since 1521 and this endowment paid for the running and maintenance of the school..
The trustees were the great and good of Dorset, with the exception of Joseph Damer, Lord Milton, who the trustees never accepted to join them despite his demands to do so.
The thirteen trustees named in this lease of 1773 were:
- Sir William Hanham, Baronet, of Deans Court, Wimborn Minster
- George Chafin, Esquire, Chettle
- Henry Bankes, Esquire, Kingston Hall (Kingston Lacy)
- Thomas Gundrey, Esquire, Dewlish
- Edward Berkeley, Esquire, Winfrith
- Edmund Morton Pleydell, Esquire, Milborn Saint Andrew
- Henry William Portman, Esquire, Brianston
- Richard Bingham, Esquire, Melcombe
- Henry William Fitch, Esquire, High Hall
- Radford Gundrey, Esquire, Dewlish
- David Robert Michel, Esquire, Dewlish
- Jonathan Morton Pleydell, Esquire, Bath
- George Bingham, Esquire, Batchelor in Divinity
The Trustees were soon to be involved in a long running legal battle with Lord Milton, who claimed to his peers in the House of Lords that the school was ‘much decayed’, which the evidence from this lease shows was not the case.
The grammar school continued until 1929 despite being moved by Lord Milton to Blandford in 1785.
Little Mayne Farm
Is in West Knighton parish, 3½ miles east of Dorchester. Its recorded history begins in Domesday Book, but it passed through several owners until it was acquired by the Abbot of Middleton from Thomas Kirton in 1521. There was once a medieval village here and the remains lie in the area to the north, south and south-west of Little Mayne Farm.
About the document
This is called “An Indenture”, and many deeds and other legal documents started with this phrase. It simply means that it was copied on to one sheet and then the copies separated with a wavy knife cut, a copy given to the two parties involved.
Note that there is no punctuation, nor paragraphs in the document, which is typical of legal documents, so that the meaning could not be changed by inserting a punctuation mark or extra words. There are many repeats, for example the full list of thirteen trustees are listed fourteen times, this makes it very tedious indeed to transcribe. Many words of the 18th century, especially legal terms, have different meanings to our modern understanding – see the glossary below
Certain key words are highlighted in bold, such as Witnesseth – these separate the parts of the deed.
What it means in modern English
This is a lease for 8 years to a farmer. The owners of the land are the trustees of Milton Abbas Grammar School. The master of the school had to maintain the school buildings and teach the pupils, but probably had direct access to the money from the rent.
There were a lot of conditions on the farmer as to what he could do with the land, he did not have any rights over the trees, he had to supply 200 reed sheaves for thatching the farm buildings, he had to provide two days carriage with his horse and cart, and he had to maintain all the buildings, fences and gates on the farm. If the rent was more than 28 days late then the trustees could repossess the farm.
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There will be more information on Milton Abbas Grammar School at our planned exhibition – 28 – 30 Aug 2021.