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Wiltshire Community History

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Church of England School, Sherston

Church of England School, Sherston Date Photo Taken c.1907
Uploaded 25/10/2007 08:45:01
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

With a non-conformist schoolroom in the village from 1844 there was pressure for a Church of England School to be established. The rectory barn, behind the Rattlebone Inn, was demolished in 1845 to provide a site for a National School. A mixed school was built in 1846 to accommodate 270 children. It had separate entrances for boys and girls (the 2 porches) and a playground at the rear. By 1858 there were 200 children being taught by a master and 3 pupil teachers, but by the late 1860s there was a master for the boys' school and a mistress for the girls' school. There was also a mistress for the infants' school by 1875.

In the latter part of the 19th century the school became Sherston Church of England School and log books exist from 1890 (deposited in the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office). These provide an interesting, though incomplete picture of school life at that time. Lessons included arithmetic, reading, writing, grammar, spelling, recitation, history, geography, drawing, religious instruction and some science lessons. In addition there were 'object lessons' where classes were taught all about a certain object such as, a cat, a mouse, a squirrel, a mackerel, cold, a steel pen, a book, a bee, a grocers' shop, a policeman, lighting a fire, making a bed, time and light. By 1897 these lessons had been expanded and would include 'What is a fish? - how fish are caught, the herring, the plaice, the shrimp, the oyster' or 'What is water? - the air we breathe - air and water compared - air currents - how water turns to vapour - how vapour turns to air'. Poetry was learned for recitation, ranging from 'Good Night' by Lord Houghton for the infants to 'The Fields of Waterloo' by Sir Walter Seath for Standards 4-6.

School holidays were, 2 weeks at Christmas, from noon on the Thursday before Good Friday to 9.00am on Wednesday after Easter Monday (3.5 days), one week at Trinity (Whitsun) and four weeks Harvest Holiday in the summer. By the mid 1890s a whole day's holiday was allowed in late August when Silkwood was opened for nutting and a day off was allowed when the Beaufort Hunt races were taking place, The school was also closed at elections because it was used as a polling station and the headmaster was the polling clerk.

Children suffered from a range of illnesses, including diphtheria (one child died in 1890), German measles, scarlet fever, measles and mumps, besides the usual coughs, colds and stomach upsets. Sometimes the school was closed during an epidemic as in November/December 1896 (5 weeks for measles) and in June/July 1899 (4 weeks for diphtheria). Some children suffered from ringworm and others from vermin in their hair and clothes. More seriously one girl died of croup in 1895 and one boy of influenza in 1900.

There were many other absences from school and at one time there seem to have been 22 fairly regular truants. Excuses ranged from "wanted at home" and "minding the horse" to "didn't get up early enough". There was a low attendance during potato planting and harvesting and also for nutting, other than on the official holiday. The headmaster recorded the most original reason he had heard when an elder brother said, "Please sir, mother says his top teeth are rotting so he must stay at home". In 1899 many families went to Badminton to try to see the funeral of the Duke of Beaufort but the afternoon parade for the relief of Ladysmith seems to have had official blessing.

Inspectors regularly visited the school and in 1893 commented that the roof needed repair and the woodwork required painting. There was no proper cloakroom and an extra classroom was needed. In 1894 the house opposite the school was made ready for the headmaster and provided better accommodation than his previous house. The British School closed in July 1895 and in September the pupils were transferred to the Church School. Building work to provide accommodation had taken place with a classroom for the infants (on the right when seen from the street) and an extra classroom at the rear of the original school. In 1896 the playground at the rear was extended and a block of toilets built.

Possibly owing to these disturbances the H.M.I. report for 1896 was not good. 'The children are orderly but they show very little intelligence. On the whole the scholars are backward in the elementary subjects and special attention must be paid to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th standards. The class subjects and recitations are fairly known. Needlework and singing are good'. The report expressed the hope that standards would improve once the school settled down after its disruptions and this is borne out by later reports.

There were a few special occasions. In 1894 the vicar arranged for the whole school to be photographed and this took place at 11.30am November 13th. In January 1897 a collection for the Indian Famine Fund raised £1 7s 7d (£1.38p) with about 190 children bringing in their pennies and half pence.

Separate log books exist for the infants' school and from those we learn the following. Children began school when they were 4 and were divided into 4 classes. Apart from reading, writing and arithmetic they learned such things as embroidery, mat weaving, straw and paper threading (probably plaiting), singing and drill. Object lessons included, the monkey, a knife and fork, fender and fire irons, haymaking and a plum pudding. In the 1890s attendance averaged 60-70.

In 1897 there were complaints that the infants' classroom was too cold and in February 1898 a stove was fixed into the room. All classes were taught in the one large room by a certified teacher, a mistress and a pupil teacher. This led to the following comments in the H.M.I. report for 1897. 'the Infants are being carefully taught, but the staff is not strong enough for really satisfactory progress to be made. A third adult teacher is greatly needed. The classes are all large and not one of them can be satisfactorily taught by a young mistress. A curtain is needed in the centre of the room to prevent the distraction of attention caused by 3 large classes working in the same room'. It also stated that a separate toilet should be provided for the infants. A screen to divide the infants' classroom was erected during the Easter holidays in 1901.

By 1903 there were 210 children in the whole school up to the age of 14, and by 1931 five separate classrooms had been provided. This plan of the school is from c.1907, after the school had been taken over by Wiltshire County Council. The school day began at 9.00am when the register was called. This was followed by an Assembly, with hymns and prayers; after which were the various lessons of arithmetic, reading, writing, spelling, grammar, history, geography, science, art, crafts, singing, etc. Children came to Sherston from other local village schools when they were 11 and all children left school at 14 unless they went to Malmesbury Grammar School. Sherston remained an elementary school for all ages until 1954 when it became a junior school with children over 11 years going to school in Malmesbury.

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