A gazetteer of the North Riding of Yorkshire for 1840 reported that the 80 free scholars of Fremington School in upper Swaledale were taught by the Madras System.
This once widespread but now obsolete system was the invention of Andrew Bell, an Anglican priest and mathematics graduate of St Andrew’s University. He served in India in the 1780s and 90s where he ran an asylum for illegitimate and orphaned sons of British army officers. He had witnessed native children learning informally by the older and brighter ones teaching the younger and less able ones. He formalised and developed the system in his asylum.
On returning to England he published an account of his ‘Madras System’ and worked hard to have it adapted in the ever-increasing number of newly founded Church of England schools. His work led in 1811 to the creation of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church in England and Wales. Schools founded by the society became known as National Schools, as opposed to those founded by the rival British and Foreign School Society, which were known as British Schools.
As the Madras System developed it became better known as the Monitorial System. The brightest boys, the monitors, would be given extra lessons after school, and would then teach the same learning points to other children the following day. Later, the most able pupils who reached school-leaving age could be invited to stay on as pupil teachers; working in return for their continuing education. The 1861 census recorded two pupil teachers living in the Fremington area. One was 16-year-old John Graham Wood, the son of a carpenter and farmer of Grinton, and the other was William Bell, also 16, the son of a Reeth grocer.
For more information about life in the period in Reeth and upper Swaledale go to Life in the 1840s.