One of the first, if not the first, purpose built Sunday School in England is to be found in Westgate. The building was erected in 1788 by public subscription “towards which the Earl of Egremont (the Lord of the Manor at that time) and several gentlemen in the neighbourhood have liberally contributed“. It was used both as a Sunday School and later as a Church of England day School.
Protestant Sunday schools were first set up in the 18th century in England to provide education to working children. William King started a Sunday school in 1751 in Dursley, Gloucestershire. Robert Raikes started a similar one in Gloucester in 1781.
Mrs. Elizabeth Fletcher, daughter of Miles Dawson of Oxton, recorded in 1875, that the three daughters of Mr. William Hill, of The Grange, had established (in Tadcaster) the second Sunday School that was taught in England, as early as the year 1784
Whilst the 1788 school followed, its claim to fame is that this was the first purpose built school rather than using existing premises.
The school is nowadays referred to as “The Girls’ Sunday School”, it was originally a Sunday School for all. As demand grew, it suffered from lack of capacity. In 1870, this was solved by the construction of a new Sunday School in Church Yard. This became the “Boys’ Sunday School” and the Westgate school became solely for the use of girls, hence the term “Girls’ Sunday School”.
The Girls’ Sunday School was used as alternative accommodation for other school activities. For example, when the Board School was being extended, Board School classes were held in these premises.
Dawson’s Charity was founded when Henrietta Maria Dawson, left £10,000 in her will of 1796. Some of this was to be used for education. Schooling was free. They made use of the Girls’ Sunday School for some of these activities.
Sunday Schools later existed in at least two Methodist Chapels in Tadcaster.
In later years the Westgate building was used by John Watson, an ironmonger, as a replacement for his shop which had been on High Street, where Gill’s now have their chemist shop.
After that it was used by Geoff Roe as a carpet shop before becoming the home for the Town Council. The Town Council moved from there when The Ark, which had been a museum, finally closed.
The Girls’ Sunday School building is now privately owned.