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Whilst visiting an aunt recently, she showed me a bible belonging to her grandfather Alfred Purton. Inside was the inscription

"Presented to Alfred Purton by Her Majesty the Queen

For diligence and punctuality in attending

The Prince Consort’s Shaw Farm Evening class during the season ending April 1874"

This inscription intrigued me so I set about researching the evening classes mentioned.

Alfred Purtons Bible 1874 (courtesy Jane Barrett)
Alfred Purtons Bible 1874 (courtesy Jane Barrett)

Alfred Purton was born in April 1856, son of George and Charlotte, and lived most of his life in Enborne, Berkshire. He ended his working life as a platelayer on Great Western Railway, but in the 1871 census, he was a 14-year-old farm servant working for Charles Kimber at Wash Farm, Enborne near Wash Common.

It would seem Albert then went to work at the Crown Estates in Windsor according to information from Colin Parrish, Research Room Assistant at the Royal Archives. He wrote that the Shaw Farm Evening Classes were begun by Prince Albert in about 1855 for the employees of Shaw Farm and the Royal Dairy. They were held throughout the winter months each year until 1901, by which time the improvement of the national educational system had rendered them unnecessary.  They were, basically, adult literacy classes. Prince Albert was very concerned all his life for the welfare of Estates should be models of good management. He designed the farms themselves along with accommodation for the workers and took particular interest in Shaw Farm which adjoined Windsor Castle.

According to John Chalmers Morton’s book The Prince Consorts Farms: an agricultural memoir (published London, 1863),

 ‘This evening school is earnestly and laboriously conducted. A schoolmaster, Mr Bembridge from Windsor, comes at night, three times a week during winter: and the award of a bible or of a money prize at the end of the season is regulated by the attendance of the scholars, of whom twenty to twenty-five are generally present, as well as by the specimens of their work in writing and arithmetic, which have been annually submitted by Sir Charles Phipps to the Prince [until his untimely death in 1861]…… The prize awarded to any of the labourers attending this school was always, in the first instance, a bible, bearing on it’s title-page the intimation that it was the gift of the Prince; in subsequent years a money prize was given if deserved.

Alfred Purton (courtesy Jane Barrett)
Alfred Purton
(courtesy Jane Barrett)

Alfred received his bible when he was just 18 years old.

Alfred later married Sarah Pibworth in 1884, and they had 13 children. He died in May 1927 aged 71, after ‘a long illness patiently borne’.

With grateful thanks to Colin Parrish for the above information and references.

Berkshire Family History Society

Berkshire Family History Society

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