History enthusiast and Parish Councillor Elaine Pritchard became interested in William Shrewsbury after attending the Stretton school named after him. When she saw his grave in St Mary’s churchyard looking the worse for wear she asked the Parish Council if it could be restored as a tribute to a man who achieved so much in his 40 years as Stretton’s headteacher. That restoration work has now been completed. Here, Elaine writes about this remarkable man who was loved by generations of Stretton people for the start in life that he gave them.
William Shrewsbury was headmaster in Stretton from 1879 to 1919 and he is remembered by the name of the current primary school on Church Road. He also devoted many years to helping and supporting those in need.
Stretton National School was built in 1842 on the corner of Bridge Street and Church Road, where the Millennium Garden and the war memorial now stand. Initially, pupils paid one old penny a week to attend, which not every family could afford. The 1870 Education Act established the importance of education for children but stopped short of making it compulsory or free. The original school became a Sunday school and church hall when a new school was built alongside it in the 1870s.
William Shrewsbury was born in Smethwick in 1855. He trained as a pupil teacher in Heanor, Derbyshire, before moving to Saltley College in Birmingham for two years. He then taught at Burton’s Grange Street schools when they first opened in 1878 and moved to Stretton a year later to become headmaster of Stretton National School. In those days there was an active church Sunday school too, which William also led.
Responsible for educating more than 16,000 children
The 1880 Education Act made school attendance compulsory for all five to 10-year-olds, but by the early 1890s truancy was a major issue and only 82 per cent of children went to school regularly. Many had jobs and their parents could not afford to lose the income. In Stretton, William’s work to support poorer families was instrumental in ensuring that its children received a good education and were healthy and happy. In his 40 years at Stretton, between 16,000-17,000 children passed through his school.
As well as demonstrating huge care and concern for the education, safety and wellbeing of his pupils he was an active Stretton parish councillor, serving as chairman. He was a member of the Burton School Board Teachers Association, serving as chairman and vice chairman in the 1880s. In 1883, William married Mary and they went on to have five children, four girls and a boy. He was a leading figure in Stretton Cricket Club and a keen oarsman and member of Leander Rowing Club
For many years he held roles with the local lodges of the Oddfellows organisation. Before the National Health Service and the welfare state, Oddfellows lodges protected and cared for their members and communities in general, providing sick pay and pensions. They also supported local charities. William was honoured several times for his hard work and diligence in supporting local families and charitable groups.
Visited his son in Australia thanks to former pupils
When school broke up for Christmas 1919, 65-year-old William Shrewsbury spent his last day as headteacher. Former pupils donated to a fund which raised £50 – the equivalent of about £3,300 in 2023 – showing the affection in which they held him. This gift enabled William and his wife to travel to Australia and stay for a year with their only son, now Captain William Arnold Shrewsbury, who lived out there.
The Burton Observer and Chronicle reported: “While he has been in the village, he has taken an active part in almost every phase of social and religious work and it has come to be a common phrase among the folk in the vicinity: ‘If you want to know anything – or want anything done – ask Mr Shrewsbury the school master’.”
Stretton’s oldest resident
He remained closely interested and involved with the school until well into his 80s and died on January 24, 1947, in his 92nd year. At that time he was Stretton’s oldest resident, according to the local newspaper. Members of the Oddfellows organisation formed a guard of honour at his funeral at St Mary’s, where William had been a regular worshipper.
He was only survived by his son and one of his daughters, Mrs W Throssell. His wife Mary died aged 71 on March 18, 1930. Buried next to them in St Mary’s churchyard are two of their daughters. Victoria died on October 31, 1927, aged 26 and Emily died on December 6, 1928, aged 36.
William’s reputation meant that 11 years after his death, in 1958, Stretton National School was renamed the William Shrewsbury School in his honour. Work to build the current Church Road school began in the mid-60s with the site opening to pupils in 1967. For some time it ran in tandem with the Bridge Street school, which looked after the under-8s until the infants school closed completely and was demolished to make way for the flats that now stand on the site.