The Brookfield Agricultural School is located on the outskirts of a village in Northern Ireland. It opened in 1836 as a Quaker School for children who had been disowned from the Quaker society. The purpose of a Quaker School is to educate children as well as instil values of community, spirituality, responsibility and stewardship. This specific agricultural school was somewhat different, however. The purpose of this agricultural school was to “train young people up in religious life and conversation” but it also taught agricultural skills. Unlike regular Quaker Schools, this one was only for children of those who were connected to the Quakers but not in membership. At the time, Quakers who married non-Quakers were automatically disowned.
This Quaker agricultural school had been established by an extremely wealthy local Quaker family who was already financing another similar school not too far away. It was built on a farm consisting of 24-acres and it first opened with just ten pupils. First of all, the agricultural school was simply an experiment but the result of the experiment was satisfactory and funds would be raised for the school to become permanent. After the agricultural school was built, a meeting house and a day school were built beside it. Children who attended the agricultural school would receive an education as well as technical training and agricultural training.
The boys of the school would typically work five hours daily on the farm, in the carpenter’s shop, at printing and also in gardening. They all had a variety of different roles, depending on their age as well as their strength. The girls of the school would also work five hours a day and would work in various departments of household work, including dairying, needlework, cooking and cleaning. On some occasions, they would do “light work” outdoors which included laying potatoes and weeding.
Each morning, the students would wake up at 5AM, make their beds and prepare for the day ahead. The school day began at 6AM and then breakfast was served at 7:30AM followed by family worship. From 8AM to 9AM, the students would return to classes. Then from 9AM to 12PM, they would work on the farm before being served lunch at 12:30PM. From 1PM to 4PM, they would be in class before returning to their agricultural duties from 4PM to 6PM when dinner would be served. The remainder of their evening was spent recreationally. The school was furnished with a library which many of the students took advantage of during their time off.
During their classes, students would be taught reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography and scripture. They would sometimes be taught general history, natural history, natural philosophy, astronomy and mechanics but this was mostly taught through books in the school’s library. The farm consisted of many crops included wheat, clover, oats, potatoes and turnips while the animals on the farm included cows, pigs and horses.
There would be a number of people within the community and further afield who argued that the combination of educational, outdoor and domestic work would interfere with the primary object of education but the school was said to be very successful in terms of education. One report read: “It is as good, if not better, than that of the children at other schools, where they have nothing to occupy their time but their studies.” A report would find that the labour of the children yielded more then one-third of the cost of their maintenance and education.
The front of the agricultural school was very impressive; it was 107 feet long by 20 feet wide and 20 feet high. The back building was 32 feet long by 18 feet wide and 19 feet high. On the first floor was the school room for boys as well as the dining room which was also used as the school room for the girls. On the upper story was the dormitories and in the back building was the kitchen; wash house and dairy, with a committee room and store room on the floor above. The old buildings on the property were used as cow-houses, piggeries, stables and barns.
Finally, in 1922, Quaker links to the agricultural school ended and then in 1930, it closed for good.
When we visited, we were amazed by the physical appearance of this place. While the agricultural school had become victim to the elements and was completely overgrown, the grandeur that this place once exhibited was still evident. Despite the fact that it was essentially an empty shell, there were still a number of original features, including the massive clock tower, fireplaces, large wooden doors and even two vintage bike frames from the 1900s.