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Mere - William Barnes's School, Mere

The Dorset Poet, linguist, philologist, antiquary and artist ran his first two schools in Mere. In 1823 he left his beloved Dorchester and his wife to be, Julia Miles, and opened a school in the Old Cross Loft over the Market Hall. This was the first floor of the medieval market house and was the traditional home for one of the town's middle class schools. He was unable to take boarders and had difficulty in finding pupils, as he was young and new to the area. Eventually he had ten boys paying three guineas (£3.15p) a year to whom he taught reading, plain and ornamental penmanship, geography, arithmetic and English grammar plus drawing, Latin and music if required. From his youngest days Barnes was a very good teacher and many of his educational methods were well in advance of his time. By August 1823 he had 24 pupils but as he did not collect fees in advance some of these were withdrawn when their parents failed to pay the fees.

This school continued for four years until Barnes was able to lease Chantry House at 20 guineas (£21.00) per year. He set this up as a boarding school, buying bedding at the local linen mill and opened it after marrying Julia Miles, who had been teaching in a Dorset school. At first this was a school for young gentlemen to whom Barnes taught reading, writing, grammar and geography; for extra fees he would also teach 'the Latin, French, Italian and Spanish languages with the mathematics and drawing'.

By July 1828 the school was advertised as Chantry House Academy, housing Mr. and Mrs. Barnes's schools for boy and girl boarders. Barnes offered to teach Latin, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Swedish and Danish languages; a remarkable range for a young man. In January 1830 the school became the Mere Boarding School although it is thought that there were probably never more than 10 or 12 boarders. In a return of 1833 William's school had between 15 and 30 boys aged from 6-15 years old and including day boys and boarders. Julia's school had between 15 and 30 pupils aged from 5 or 6 to 14 or 15 years. There were all day girls whose parents paid 3 guineas (£3.15p) a year. During his time here William Barnes transformed the one-acre wilderness that came with the house into a prolific garden and orchard. He later remembered it in one of his most famous poems as 'my orchard in Linden Lea.' The Barnes's left Mere in 1835 to open a school in Dorchester.

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William Barnes's School, Mere
William Barnes's School, MereImage Date: 2003
Image Details: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham
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