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Wiltshire Community History

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Shrewton

National School, Shrewton

National School, Shrewton Date Photo Taken 2004
Uploaded 25/10/2007 08:29:35
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham


By 1847 children from Shrewton were attending the school in Maddington. In 1855 a building in Shrewton was adapted as a National School for the Shrewton children. In 1858 a division was made with the Shrewton School being used for boys from Shrewton, Maddington and Tilshead with the girls and infants attending Maddington School. As the Shrewton and Maddington villages had grown together this did not present a problem. Attendance at Shrewton in 1858 was between 20 and 30 boys and this does not seem to have risen above 45 until a new mixed school was opened in 1869. In the early 1860s attendance was often low with many boys not turning up for school. Sometimes the classes were all grouped together because there were so few boys.

The H.M.I. report for 1863 stated, 'discipline of the school is good and boys of the first two classes [the older boys] are intelligent and do their work very fairly the younger children are at present backward in their work'. In 1865 the inspector noted, 'The work of the school in general is very fairly done and the boys have improved in religious knowledge. The writing on paper might be better'. In 1863 the master, Charles Cooper, introduced a 5 minute break between lessons at 10.30 am and 3.00 pm, while the older boys took part in the Prize Examination Scheme held at Maddington School annually. An evening school, for boys who were working existed by 1864, although as only 26 meetings took place in the winter of 1864/5 the school did not receive a grant for this.

A new school and teacher's house, to replace both the Shrewton (boys) and Maddington (girls and infants) schools was built in 1868/9. It was opened on 5th April 1869 and took children from Shrewton, Maddington and Rollestone, plus a few from nearby villages. The new school was built at the south end of Shrewton High Street, accessible to families in both Shrewton and Maddington, with the aid of the Anne Escourt charity. By the 1870 when Samuel Harris took charge there was also a sewing mistress (Mrs Harris), a pupil teacher and monitors. Pupil teachers were taught by the master, outside school hours, and took examinations to become qualified teachers. Monitors also received extra lessons of a simpler kind.

It was noted, in 1870, that discipline was lax and talking incessant; the girls in the upper class were very talkative and there was so much noise at the start and end of lessons that special lessons in entering and leaving the room were given. Mr Harris warned that he had a cane in his desk and would use it. He records that he only used it slightly once but this seems to have changed later on as he records severe canings, whippings and floggings on the shoulders, particularly for truancy. Sometimes boys were punished for truancy at the request of their parents. The H.M.I. report for 1870 notes, 'The percentage of passes in reading, writing and arithmetic is low but there is every reason to believe that this school will make good progress under the new master who appears to be both zealous in the discharge of his duties and efficient as a teacher. The new school buildings are very good and are well fitted with all the requisite appliances.' An improvement came in 1871 when, 'children in good order and are being carefully taught. They have made progress during the year but the arithmetic of the 3rd and higher standards is still somewhat weak. The Evening School have done their work well. The Infants are being carefully taught and are in good order'.

On 13th June 1871 the foundation stone of a new infants' room was laid by the vicar and on 13th November 1871 the room was used for the first time, although it was noted that it was a disadvantage that the gallery could not be opened up the middle. There was now a separate mistress for the infants and the other staff were 2 pupil teachers and a sewing mistress as well as the master. By January 1872 there was a completely separate infants' department on the site while the older children were taught in the 'Upper Room'. At this time the total average attendance was 95. The school day was from 9.00 a.m. to 12.00 noon and from 1.00 p.m. to 4.00 p.m. Many children brought their dinner with them and ate in the school grounds. In 1875 the Mixed (older children) School's report stated, 'The present Master has shown considerable skill as a teacher and keeps his scholars in good order. Elementary subjects, except the arithmetic of the 3rd standard, have been well done.'

Children received prizes for good attendance and examination passes, and in 1876 prizes of books were given to 42 children in the Upper Department for passes in reading, writing and arithmetic. Attendances increased during the 1870s and in July 1880 the average for one week was 102 children. By 1881 attendances could be over 110 and at some point before 1883 the Shrewton British School must have closed, as in late 1883 the attendance was 163, a figure that must have included the former British pupils. H.M.I. reports for the 1880s are fairly good and by the 1890s they are definitely good.

The school logbooks survive from 1863 and show an interesting picture of school life. The traditional subjects were reading, writing and arithmetic with scripture and religious knowledge, lessons in the latter were often taken by the vicar. The pupils normally attended a church service one or two mornings a week at 11.00 am, and also went to service on Ash Wednesday, Ascension Day and various saints' days. On one occasion, 4th May 1863, the children attended a service at Shrewton church in the morning and one at Maddington in the afternoon. On other occasions the school might be divided between services at these two nearby churches. The basic 3 'R's included numeration, grammar, composition, dictation, recitation, spelling, writing exercises and mensuration and the children learned vulgar fractions, mental arithmetic, addition of fractions, compound addition and the tables of weights and measures among other topics. In scripture they learned the catechism, the collect and Old Testament history, and studied specific subjects such as the Flood and the life of Elijah. Non-elementary subjects included history, geography, music (probably mainly singing), poetry and sewing for the girls. In 1875 older girls did sewing every day. From 1875 object lessons on one particular subject were given; early ones included such large objects as an elephant and a whale. There appear to have been various changes in that year (a new master had taken over the school) as Standards III, IV and V began to use paper instead of slates for all their work and pencil cases were also introduced. Natural history also seems to have been introduced in the 1870s.

Homework was given to the older children from at least 1863; this might include letter writing as well as copying and learning things by heart. At one point children were learning extracts from Goldsmith's 'The Traveller' and Cowper's 'On Receipt of His Mother's Picture'. Apart from the Shrewton vicar and curate vicars from Maddington and Rollestone visited the church and many local worthies and school managers also called in. From 1875 a sewing committee made regular visits to the sewing class and brought materials. Some teachers were regarded highly; Mrs Pretty, the infant teacher, was presented with a 'handsome butter dish and silver knife', by the pupils on her leaving the school in 1876. Other teachers were not so good and sometimes a rapid turnover of masters, such as happened in the early 1880s, meant a lack of continuity in education.

Annual holidays were similar to the chief ones of today with about one week at Easter, 5 weeks Harvest Holiday in August and September and 10 or 11 days at Christmas. In the late 1860s a 2 day holiday was given in early June and by 1871 this had become a Trinity Week holiday in late May or early June. There were fairly regular half day holidays, including one after each H.M.I. inspection, and for the confirmation of children in the church. Other holidays were given for the Foresters' Fete, the school treat, the village Club Festival and as one off occasions for the Church Festival in May 1876 and for the consecration of an additional part of Maddington churchyard. A sad occasion in the early 1870s was when a day off was given for the funeral of the master's baby.

Apart from coughs and colds there does not seem to have been too much illness in the village although scarletina, mumps and whooping cough are mentioned. As well as illness bad weather had an effect on numbers attending school. Heavy rain and storms, very cold weather and snow kept attendances low. On 21st January 1881 there was a severe snowstorm and the children were sent home as they would have been cut off by snowdrifts had they stayed in the school. The school remained closed for 2 days. Other absences were at the design of the children or their parents. Children were often kept at home to help their parents or do manual labour in the fields. There were seasonal farming jobs that many older children would do including: potato planting (May), hay making (June), early harvest (July), gleaning [the gathering of fallen ears of corn from the fields to make the family's bread] (September), and potato picking (October). Some older boys did not attend school at all between March and October as they were working on the local farms. Other reasons for non-attendance included: amusements in the village (1836), attending Yarnbury Fair (every October), attending the British School Treat (after some pupils from the British School moved to the National School), and an old custom of 'going Shroving' on Shrove Tuesday. This was the practice of visiting houses and collecting the ingredients for pancakes or a little money. Sometimes parents were fined for the irregular attendance of their children, with two being fined 5 shillings (25p) each in 1881.

Apart from the church the school was the only public building in the village and was sometimes used for general events in the evenings, such as concerts in 1870 and an Entertainment to raise money for school funds in 1884.

In the early 20th century the school was taken over by Wiltshire County Council under the 1902 Education Act and further information can be found under Shrewton Church of England Primary School.


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