George Jarvis was born in 1704 at The Green, a farmstead in Staunton-on-Wye, and later lived at Old Weston in Bredwardine. When he was 13 or thereabouts he decided to join his older brother in London as an apprentice currier, and he is believed to have walked there with cattle drovers. He prospered as a currier and leather cutter, and bought properties in central London and Weston Green in Surrey. He married three times but died a widower with just one surviving daughter, Mary. She married a spendthrift who died young, but not before giving George four grandchildren.
Sadly, this family appears not have impressed George and he made various changes to his will in the years preceeding his death in 1793. Much of the estate and the residue (amounting to the huge sum of 75,000 pounds) went into a charitable trust where the income each year would be divided among the poor inhabitants of the Parishes of Bredwardine, Staunton-on-Wye and Letton in the proportion 13:11:6. Brobury, which lies between these three villages, was omitted from the benefit, without a clear reason from Jarvis in his will. Richard Pantall, in the introduction to his book 'George Jarvis (1704 - 1793) and his Notorious Charity', reports that a Bredwardine parishioner got up at a meeting in April 1927 and said " When George Jarvis was passing through, no-one in Brobury would give him even a little water, and that is why Brobury was left out of his will." The account below relies heavily on Pantall's book.
The Charity was in limbo for 5 years because the will was contested by George’s daughter Mary (Lady Twysden) but eventually, in 1801, payments were begun, only to raise the problems of: to whom, how much, and what for? In 1802, the Lord Chancellor approved proposals from the four trustees (see plaque above) providing for: Physic and attendance to the poor; Clothing, bedding and bed clothes; Fuel; Food; Payment for Schooling; Payment to apprentice poor children; Portion of the salary of a Clerk; Occasional gratuities to servants and apprentices who shall conduct themselves well. Some further eligibility conditions were required to identify the needy and to discourage malingerers but thereafter funds were disbursed regularly, with schooling started in 1815 and medical provision from 1835. A further change in that year was that the parishes were no longer allowed to administer their own affairs, the task passed to the board of trustees and their clerk, who established a new set of rules in 1836.
Almost from the start there were allegations of unfairness and malpractice in charity distribution and, in the longer term, there was said to be a depressing effect on the morality and diligence of the local population, which had increased considerably in numbers as a result of the charity. A group of houses sprang up at Crafta Webb in Bredwardine, and the Rev. Kilvert records his visits to their occupiers, but today nothing remains of the buildings.
Problems arose between the Charity and the local church representatives, who had no say or local control of administration of the Jarvis Charity. Allegations of impropriety were made against the Medical Officer and the Bredwardine schoolmaster by the rector and his supporters. There were many villagers who stood by the two accused but in the end they were dismissed in 1841, and an appeal for reinstatement rejected.
Reflecting on the first 40 years of the Charity, during which the trust fund had built up quicker than it could be dispersed, the trustees in 1840 announced that they were to apply for leave to bring a Bill before Parliament to alter and extend the Trust and Administration, to authorise the purchase of land and the erection of buildings necessary for the purposes of the charity. Much dissatisfaction had arisen under the Trustees’ administration and the Charity Commissioners were also finding fault with the system. The High Court of Chancery sent a solicitor (The Master) to examine how the funds had been administered on the ground in the three parishes, and he produced a damning report which mentioned impropriety and demoralisation through injudicious distribution of the benefits. Subsequently he took into account the views of the trustees as to how the charity could be improved, and this included centralization of the medical and educational facilities with new buildings for these, for administration and for administrators. This conclusion went directly against George Jarvis’s will which stated “But my mind and will is that none of the said trust monies be appropriated in erecting any public or other buildings whatsoever” . This notwithstanding, the scheme proposed by the Master was approved by the Attorney-General, the bill was presented to Parliament and given assent in June 1852.
Land purchase began in 1853 with Staunton-on-Wye as the centre of activities (infant and boarding schools; almshouses; medical officer’s house and dispensary; clerk’s house, store room and offices; and a plot for clay extraction for making the large quantity of bricks needed). Plots for infant schools were purchased in Bredwardine and Letton in 1854. Brickmaking started in 1857, building contracts were signed from 1858 and the buildings were occupied from 1860.
All the buildings, but especially the boarding school, were considered by most to be much grander than necessary and worse, the boarding school was undersubscribed, and became a veritable white elephant. Over the years, these buildings needed more and more maintenance at increasing cost which had not been allowed for in the bill, yet the Charity Commissioners initially refused to allow release of further funds for upkeep, with the result that donations to the poor were compromised. The Charities Commission had become responsible for administering the funds of the charity following the Parliamentary bill, and this engendered considerable to-ing and fro-ing, delays in decisions and general frustration for the trustees. The Commission put pressure on the trustees to open the school to older children from outside the parishes, and this debate continued for more than 25 years. There was a Public Local Inquiry in 1888, at which the poor parishioners case was strongly put, but the Charity Comissioners came back again in 1894 with a "New Scheme" to split the Charity into A "Herefordshire Educational Endowment", and a "Jarvis Foundation (non-educational)", which they intended to impose within two months. There was fierce opposition locally which led to the proposal being rejected by the House of Commons in 1895. In the following year the Trustees put the boarding school at the disposal of the newly-formed Herefordshire County Council to be used as a technical school for girls, and by 1900 there were 18 girls in residence.
The Charity Commissioners were still not satisfied, and in 1904 they sent another ultimatum to The Jarvis Trustees saying that they intended to separate the Jarvis Charity into two parts: (a) the Jarvis Eleemosynary Charity and (b) the Jarvis Educational Charity with equal endowments. "Eleemosynary" means dependent on alms or charity, so the clever Commissioners must have liked the sound of the Jarvis Charitable Charity (while a cynic might think that perhaps they hoped that a name which was difficult to pronounce and spell might disappear, along with the original idea of George Jarvis's charity!). Despite another Petition from the villagers, the scheme was accepted by the Trustees. As a result, Herefordshire Council closed down the Technical School in 1904. The school became inactive again because of lack of interest from the National Board of Education, and it was not until 1913 that it opened as Staunton-on-Wye Main School. Since then the twists and turns have continued in the relationships between the Trustees, the Charity Commissioners, and county and national education authorities. Today the debate continues, this time regarding the possible establishment of a completely new school in Staunton in which the Jarvis Educational Charity would be involved.
The Charity Commissioners added yet another part called the Jarvis Recreational Charity in 1982. This was specifically aimed at residents of the three parishes, as distinct from the Eleemosynary Charity which was open more widely to poor people of Leominster or South Herefordshire Districts.
The two "Jarvis" buildings in Bredwardine have become private dwellings. The larger of the two, now called Bredwardine Lodge, was used as a centre for adventure holidays and field studies for schools and youth groups.