Thomas Cleave, citizen and haberdasher of London, came to Yalding with his family in the early 1630’s to seek refuge from the plague. He died there in 1637, as stated in his will, which gave details of an endowment charity for the poor of the village. His son William inherited the house and land which his father had purchased. Later thinking England to be free of the plague, William returned to the city of his childhood, where he was also classed as a citizen and haberdasher, but he suffered a fate similar to thousands of others and died 1667.
In his will dated 11th of May 1665, William Cleave, left all his lands and tenements in Yalding, 'towards the erecting of a Free School in Yalding for the use of that parish, together with £ 100 for building a school house there'.
The land he left, the rents of which were to maintain the school for over 250 years, totalled 49 acres in Yalding and Laddingford.
The house consisted of six rooms in all, three up and three down. The ground floor was the master’s drawing room and behind were the kitchen and general purpose room, which became a dining room at meal times. On the upper floor there was the master’s bedroom, the maids’ bedroom, and a general bedroom that was bunked as it was the sleeping place of the children and any visitors. There was no stairway, just a ladder.
The school initially had one large room downstairs, the ceiling of which was supported by three baroque pillars, and upstairs were two dormitories which between them could sleep about eighteen or twenty pupils, with the head prefect using an attic on the top floor as a study.
This view shows Cleaves at the top of the High Street, on a print dated 1888. It shows the building before additions in the 1890’s to the school and house. Also note the presence of tollgates and toll keepers cottage in front of the school.
The school had a very chequered career, but on the whole was a well-respected institution, both within and outside the village. Boys, whose main qualification for entry was noted in 1818 as the ability to 'read a little', learnt the three 'R's: 'English, writing and accounts and their catechism', and generally attended the school between the ages of 7 and 14.
From 1604, schoolmasters were required to be licensed by the bishop as the following item from the County Archives shows:-
“School Master’s Licence 1744 – Testimonial by the minister and churchwardens of Yalding stating that John Manly of Cleaves School is competent to teach writing, arithmetic, and English, and is well affected to the present government in church and state. The document bears the bishop’s order in Latin for a school master’s licence to be issued.”
1748 JOHN GIBBONS He is buried at West Farleigh churchyard just beyond the east window a square stone that reads:-
‘Under this Monument are deposited the Remains of JOHN GIBBONS late Master of the Free-school in Yalding who departed this life the 24th day of Dec 1800 Aged 75 years. He went to Yalding school in the Year 1748 and kept it 51 Years.’
A county archive Tithe statement reads:-
“1815 Agreed that Mr William’s School House should not be assessed.
The 1841 census records William Williams aged 75 as Headmaster, Edward Williams aged 35 as assist school master, with wife Eliza aged 35, and children Rosa 10, Ellen 8, Jane 6, Susan 5, and Thomas born in 1842.