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John Irvine Curate and Schoolmaster

Barwicker No. 38 June 1995

We know little about the lives and character of the many curates who assisted the rectors of Barwick. We are fortunate that Edmund Burlend in his poem 'Barwick-in-Elmet' published in 1868 tells us something about a past curate and schoolmaster who clearly had a great influence on him when he was a boy.

John Irvine was born 21 November 1776, the son of Robert and Jannett Irvine (neé Telfer) of Saughtree in Liddesdale in the Border Region of Scotland. From 1811 to 1815 he attended Aberdeen University. He was then appointed Master of the Free Grammar School in Allendale, Northumberland, and while there in 1817 he was ordained deacon. He later became curate of High Hoyland, West Yorkshire, with a salary of £50 per annum.

In 1819, John Irvine became curate of Barwick-in-Elmet. In 1821, he was appointed Headmaster of Barwick School by the rector, Willam Hiley Bathurst, after the death of Edward Rawlinson. The rector enlarged the school, which was then on the north side of the church in what is now part of the churchyard, by incorporating the schoolmaster's house. He also introduced the National System of education based on the teaching of the Church of England, a very controversial scheme (see 'The Barwicker No.10).

Edward Burlend, born in 1813 in Horsforth, was at that time a pupil at Barwick School, "where Irvine ruled and taught with kindly care". His first task was to re-establish order at the school.

"His first achievements painted him severe,
Because a reformation, needed much,
In discipline and morals, he designed.
His mission was to rule and then to teach,
And well that noble purpose he achieved.
The sluggard did not thank him for his pains
And slip-shod mothers murmured loud and long
Because their children did not love the school
Where all who entered were required to learn.
Yet he was really kind, when kindness could,
Subservient to duty, be employed."

Burlend was a schoolmaster in Swillington until he had to retire because of ill health. Perhaps he wrote the following passage with detailed knowledge of those members of the teaching profession who were more interested in lining their pockets with gifts from grateful parents than imposing necessary discipline.

"Teachers there are, if such deserve the name,
Whose purpose is to profit but themselves.
'Tis theirs to please mammas with phrases soft,
Gentility to serve with bows polite,
And make respected what they feign to teach
By charges wordy as a lawyer's bill
Written on tinted paper, rich in scent."

By contrast Burlend recalls that:
"Irvine was made of stouter better stuff,
For whom he could not please he strove to serve.
His love of independence made him scorn
To flatter wealth or bow to vulgar pride.
More pliant and more plastic had he been,
He might have better served his private means,
Have gained preferment, such as flattering finds,
And finished life in affluence and ease."

During his time at Barwick School, on 14 December 1823, John Irvine was ordained priest. His view of the all-encompassing love of God is expressed in Edward Burlend's poem:
"Look at the Heavens," said he "and learn
How yonder sun enlightens all the earth;
How the bright moon diffuses her mild beams
For all mankind, or Christian or Jew.
The God we worship, God of Nature is,
The universal Father, friend to all
Whose love and goodness all his creatures share."

John Irvine resigned as Headmaster in 1824 to be replaced by Samuel Beanland, but he remained as curate until he left Barwick in 1827. Edward Burlend was then only 14 years of age and it is remarkable that he retained such a clear picture of Irvine's work and thoughts after 40 years. He recalls that Irvine was not fully appreciated in Barwick until after his departure.

"The time has come when numbers who maligned
The honest Scotchman, now maintain his worth,
And think with me; 'that take him all in all
We ne'er shall look upon his like again'."

We know nothing of Irvine's later life but in 1850 a John Irvine was British Chaplain in Genoa. Perhaps after all the Barwick curate and schoolmaster had, as Burlend said, "finished life in affluence and ease."
From the works of EDWARD BURLEND.

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