WHEN the Pictorial Guide to Weymouth was published in the late 1880s, the educational establishments within the town were described with great pride.

Of highest praise was Weymouth College, a private school in operation from 1862 until 1940, when concerns about its proximity to naval bases at Weymouth and Portland during the war forced its closure.

The college offered an education "at a moderate cost," which ranged from £21 to £30 per term for boarders and five to six guineas per term for day pupils. Located among surroundings that "promote the healthy pursuit of study," the school was comprised of classrooms and lecture rooms, a library, museum and laboratory, plus a carpenter's shop, covered gymnasium and playground - so not entirely dissimilar from the facilities offered within schools today.

Slightly different were the subjects on offer. All students were taught the old and new testaments, as well as the liturgy of the Church of England. Beyond religious studies, education "was mainly intended as preparation for the universities." Subjects included French and Latin, natural sciences, geology, botany, vocal music and drawing. Extracurricular activities were widely encouraged, with prizes awarded for proficiency in swimming and a silver medal given to each boy who could swim half a mile.

In addition to academia, special classes were allocated to boys preparing for Woolwich, Sandhurst and the Indian Civil Service, with the college claiming to have "already gained far more than average success" in the way of attendance at these top institutions.

1880 also marked the establishment of the High School for Girls in Greenhill in Weymouth, offering young women education "in a strikingly satisfying manner." The school was founded by the Girls' Public Day School Company in connection with the National Union for Improving the Education of Women.

Prior to then, the need for such education was keenly felt in the town and several leading families immediately sent their daughters to the school when it opened. By the end of the year, pupils numbered 50 and the institution's success was said to be "permanently assured." The girls' studies still differed significantly from the boys': while they also received religious instruction and were taught subjects such as Latin and mathematics, a large portion of their time was taken up with studying social economy, class singing and even needlework.

Another establishment receiving high praise in the Pictorial Guide is the Melcombe Regis School, the building of which now houses Weymouth Museum in Brewers Quay. The school sought to provide "a liberal education at a moderate cost," with an advertisement promising that "every attention is given to the pupils' moral training." Fees were significantly cheaper for boarders than Weymouth College, and, although it sounds strange now, boys were housed at the headmaster's personal residence in Royal Terrace. The school seemed to emphasise physical education over academic, with cricket and football grounds alongside a pavilion and modern gymnasium "offering every means for necessary instruction and recreation." Proximity to the sea was celebrated in the same way it is today, with the promise of "safe sea bathing" hoping to attract pupils to the school.

A short paragraph in the guide highlights the success of the town's national school, many of which were established country-wide at the beginning of the 19th century to provide elementary education, in accordance with the teaching of the Church of England, to the children of the poor. The pupils here were cared for "with wisdom and efficiency," and the desires of George III were said to be engraved on the school walls: "It is my wish that every poor child in my dominions should be taught to read the Bible."

It seems, in the 1880s, Weymouth provided quality education for the masses. From costly boarding colleges to girls' schools and free-of-charge institutions, the local community was largely catered for, and accordingly, the town had "great reason for pride in regard to the number and character of its educational establishments."