The History of Manning’s School

The history of the Manning’s School dates back to a quarter of a century before the actual setting up of the school when in 1710, Thomas Manning, a Westmoreland planter, bequeathed a gift of land for the setting up of a free school in the parish of Westmoreland.

The legal formalities which facilitated the effecting of his will were formalised in 1738 when the Jamaica Assembly made this possible by the passing of an Act, Eleventh George II chapter 9, after which the Free School was formally established.

It is interesting to note that the school was established on the present site near Savanna-la-mar instead of on the lands left by Manning at Burnt Savannah Pen at the northern end of the George’s Plain.

In 1780, a hurricane did extensive damage to the school and the Board petitioned the House of Assembly for help to effect repairs.

As the years progressed, the 20th Century led to the reorganization of the School into a Modern Grammar School. The oldest existing part of the School which was built in the early 20th Century is known as the Thomas Manning Building, named in honour of the School’s founder. It is the most outstanding building on the entire School property and is currently used as library and classrooms.

The Thomas Manning Building is a delightful structure which is constructed from timber and the rest on a masonry plinth. Typical of the Georgian architecture, the building is perfectly symmetrical in elevation. However, for its function in the tropics, the Architect has added several features. On all sides the building has been fitted with deep verandas to add shade. The vented steep gable roof expels hot air, and a cupola with fixed jalousies provide relief for any warm air trapped in the roof. The features combined have created a perfect example of colonial architecture.

1710 – 1800

In the period before emancipation there was a lack of public education in Jamaica as well as in other British West Indian Colonies. This problem was created by a society which allowed personal prestige to the white plantocracy who wherever possible sent their children to Europe for an education or alternatively employed the services of private tutors. This meant that little or no concern was given to the provision of local schools since the negroes were generally slaves and the coloureds were not given the type of consideration which would lead to the provision of schools for them.

Although the idea of establishing free public schools was scoffed at by the wealthy a number of donations were left by wealthy planters sympathetic to the cause of education especially for poor whites.

One such donation which found fruition was that of Thomas Manning a slave owner of Burnt Savannah in Westmoreland who by his Will of 1710 left certain real and personal property which were to be appropriated to the use and encouragement of a “tutor or tutors and the keeping of a free school, in the parish of Westmoreland.. to instruct and educate the youth”

The bequest was left idle for some time and in 1738, an Act, Eleventh George 11 Chapter 9 was passed by the Jamaican Assembly constituting the Manning’s Trust and allowing for the erection of a building for the purpose stated in the will of Thomas Manning. The erection of the school took place in the same year on a piece of land one mile from the centre of Savanna La Mar the capital of the Parish and not on the 96 acres of land owned by Manning at Burnt Savannah Pen.

In July 1738 the school bearing the name of its benefactor began operation under the supervision of a Board of Trustees called the Trustees of Manning’s Free School. Their responsibilities included the appointment of a Master fit to teach the youth, the planning of a curriculum, deciding on the number of students to be admitted and the supervision of financial as well as other important matters relating to the school. The first subjects taught were reading, writing, arithmetic, Latin; Greek and Mathematics. At this time there was a single tutor.

The first students were called foundationers and the age of entry was 9 years and the age of departure 14. The Trustees were empowered to remove any student who showed slow progress or poor conduct and they could allow those excelling academically to remain after they had arrived at the age of fourteen.

For the rest of the century the School continued to serve the white community providing for some children their first exposure to formal education. In his work on Creole Society in Jamaica Dr. Edward Braithwaite makes the following observation. “In 1780 Manning’s Free School in Savanna La Mar was destroyed in the Westmoreland hurricane. On the 6th July 1781 the Trustees of the school presented a petition to the Assembly for a grant of £405. On the grounds that the school house was utterly demolished and the offices there at were very much damaged”

Although the records do not say whether or not the money was granted the school record of Headmasters show no break in the list for that time and we are left to conclude that by one means or the other the school was rebuilt and continued to operate changing four Principals by the end of the century.

In 1801 the Headmaster Rev. W. Stewart retired from his post which he held for 8 years. His successor Richard Combauld served for twenty-two years retiring in 1823.

His retirement made way for the appointment of Rev. Daniel Fiddler C.D. as the first Headmaster on record with university qualifications.

Rev. Fiddler served for a term of forty years 1823 – 1863 during which Manning’s became the leading school in the island with its reputation extending to other parts of the West Indies. This period is outstanding for four main reasons:

  1. It was characterized by a significant increase in the number of students on roll
  2. There was a marked improvement in the standard and quality of education offered.
  3. It saw the opening regardless of colour, of the door of the school to all students
  4. The school lost its parochial character and began to draw students from neighbouring parishes such as St. Elizabeth, St. James and Hanover. Just before Rev. Fiddler’s arrival a resolution was made to admit “six children of colour” This resolution was carried into effect on Fiddler’s arrival and by 1824 there were 18 coloured children on roll.

In 1835 one year after The Bill of Emancipation was put into effect Rev. Fiddler was instrumental in abolishing all colour distinctions in the school. Although this was done three full years before the coming of full freedom it is said that Rev. Fiddler’s gesture was designed to increase enrollment-rather than to promote equality or to make education available for blacks or coloureds.

His gesture was almost negated by the fact that be made no attempt to alter the curriculum nor the entrance examination which, the newly freed blacks were hardly expected to pass since they were just being exposed to formal education in some cases.

For over 100 years the school had built up an image as a white institution and this was to change very slowly. In 1848 of the 110 students on roll 100 were white with the other ten being coloured. Through hard work however blacks began to form more than twenty-five percent of the student population by the 1870s. Although there were over 150 private students on roll in 1834 there was a gradual decrease in numbers. This was due in part to the emancipation of the negroes on surrounding Estates who were no longer available to take food into town to the children who were boarders.

The subjects taught to the foundation students included English, English grammar, History of England, Enfields Speaker, Writing, Arithmetic and the reading of the Bible. Only those students interested in entering the higher professions of Law and the Ministry showed any interest in the Classics.

During Rev. Fiddler’s term of office the school was also opened to charity or poor pupils but their presence was offensive to the wealthier parents who did not wish their children to be associated with those whom they termed ‘mere charities. In an attempt to cope with this situation, the Rev. Fiddler separated the desks of the private pupils from those of the “charities” and prevented any association between them outside of classes.

The addition of a girls school, the admission of private pupils who paid school fees and the opening of an elementary department to serve as a feeder for the high school are other notable achievements under Rev. Fiddler.

In 1844 of the 175 students on roll some were private students paying 16 shillings per quarter as well as 37 girls.

There was one entrance examination for boys and girls except that for the girls, Latin, Algebra and Euclid were omitted.

Before the end of the century dress-making was introduced for girls.

The absence of an elementary school in the Parish caused the school authorities to offer a kind of elementary education for the first formers.

The popularity of the school at that time was expressed by various persons. In 1848 the Rector of the Parish addressed a letter to the Secretary of the Board of Education in which he claimed that the only daily schools are “The National School and Manning’s School and yet the district bears advantageous comparison with many others on account of its good fortune in possessing so excellent and deservedly popular an endowed school”.

The examiners report to the Governor in 1860 was equally complimentary.

“Two of these institutions (Number 8, Manning’s, number 14 – The Presbyterian Mission School in Montego Bay) are well known and stand in such high repute that it might be regarded as presumptuous in me to offer any remarks in condemnation of these schools.”

Rev. Fiddler was followed by two other Ministers Rev. Pearce B.A. 1863 – 64 and Rev. E.Clarke 1864 – 80. In 1879 the Jamaica Schools commission drew up a new scheme for the school providing for the maintenance of a Boys and a Girls school providing a good middle class education to the Cambridge Local examination standard. The amending of the Bye Laws left only 15 boys and 15 girls to be provided with free education.

A new scheme was introduced in 1883, reorganizing the school into a modern grammar school with both classical and Commercial Schools.

In 1885 the first School Library was opened with about 70 books. The examiners reports during this time showed satisfactory performance in the different subjects offered. Under W.A.Milne, 1887- 1903, Agriculture, Book-Keeping and Botany were added to the curriculum. A regular feature of school life during this time was the Speech Day and Inspectors Report.)

1901 – 1979

Although the twentieth century has witnessed the greatest amount of change in the school the first quarter saw the school operating with fairly narrow limits with regards to size and activities..

In 1901 a new scheme was drawn up by the Schools Commission and approved by the Governor. It stipulated that Foundationers be between the ages of 9 and 14 and that paying students would continue to pay £8 annually or £6 in case of students from the same family. No scholar should be admitted under 9 years or kept over 16 years unless showing marked ability and recommended to the Trustees by the Headmaster.

In 1903 a junior department was started in the Headmaster’s residence which was then a two story wooden building adjoining the school compound. The Castle as it was called was supervised and taught by a second Mistress with the assistance of the Headmaster.

There were 70 pupils on roll in 1907 and for the next 32 years the number varied upwards and downwards from this figure reaching a peak of 95 between 1914 and 1919 and 57 in 1939.

The decline in numbers was due to the opening of schools such as St. Hildas, Munro and Jamaica College in other parts of the island which offered superior boarding facilities and instruction in Science subjects.

The period around 1915 saw the erection of the old Building, the present Library and the Headmistresses house (now the Personal Development Centre) as well as the ‘buggy house” (the old Library) These buildings have remained as outstanding landmarks on the Manning’s Compound.


DATED 1710

“Also I give and bequeath unto my Trusty Friends Rowland Williams Gent, Capt. George Goodwin, Doctor Hugh Kirkpatrick and William Dorrill and their several heirs for the use and trust hereafter mentioned forever thirteen Negroes and an Indian named Tom, Ruan, Chibba, Pica, Daniel, Margaritta, Hagar, Dido, Isaac, Rose, Kate, Pruna-ss Maria and Dick with their increase and also my run of land in Burnt Savannah in the parish of Westmoreland and said Island bounding upon the lands of William Claver Esq. John Goarly, John Stevenson and Capeborratta River with all the houses, buildings and Plantations upon the same together with one Penn of neat Cattle upon the said land being about the number of one hundred head with two riding horses, two mares and two colts which said slaves labour with the produce of my land and profits of my Penn of Cattle my will is that the Benefit and income arising from the same my trustees before hand shall appropriate to the use and encouragement of a Tutor or Tutors and the keeping of a free school, in the Parish of Westmoreland in the afore said Island to instruct and educate the youth.”