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Wiltshire Community History

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Ramsbury

Boys' Board School, Ramsbury

Boys' Board School, Ramsbury Date Photo Taken c.1905
Uploaded 25/10/2007 08:48:23
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham


The church and National schools were insufficient for the number of children in Ramsbury and the Congregational minister, John Audley Harrison, was instrumental in setting up the non-denominational board school. A meeting of 40 ratepayers in June 1872 agreed to ask the government for the power to have a school board under the recent Act. A school board of five members was established on 16 September. They set about raising money for building a school on a site opposite the girls' school in Ramsbury and another one in Axford. The Ramsbury school was designed by Samuel Overton of Marlborough and built by H. Dyer of Ramsbury. The boys' schoolroom was 54 feet by 18 feet, accommodating 150 boys, and the infants' classroom was 20 feet by 70 feet, accommodating 170 infants. Accommodations rates were worked out on the amount of space allowed for each child - the amount of space increased as time went on. There were houses for the master and mistress and the total cost, including the Axford school, was £4,000.

The school opened on 4 January 1875 and the school logbooks exist from that day. School began with 54 boys in the morning and 57 in the afternoon and within six weeks this had increased to 84 boys. Attendance remained steady in the 80s and 90s and had increased to over 100 by the 1890s. The first master was Benjamin Redston, with Frank Carter as a pupil teacher. In February 1876 the Board appointed Henry Rosier as a monitor at two shillings (10 pence) a week. By 1879 Henry Rosier had become a pupil teacher and was in his second year, alongside Thomas Orchard, who was in his fourth. Pupil teachers were taught by the master outside school hours, undertook practical teaching through the day and sat examinations every year, eventually becoming qualified teachers. By 1881 there was an assistant teacher, Alice Smith, and one pupil teacher.

Later Thomas Orchard returned as master but was not considered a good teacher and was relieved of his post. He was a local man and there was much aggravation over this, causing the Chairman of the Board to resign. The new master in 1885 was Edward Pole, whose son Felix was to become general manager of the Great Western Railway in 1921 at the age of 44 and who grew up in Ramsbury. There was still dissatisfaction in the village with the Board and the Education Rate with a new non-conformist Board elected, some of whom had little interest in the village, and unhappiness continued throughout the century until the 1902 Education Act handed control of the school to Wiltshire County Council. At that point older children went on to schools in Marlborough.

The H.M.I. reports are generally good but there were some problems in the first 10 years; the 1st standard tended to be very large, with boys not progressing to the higher standards. In 1879, 'This is a thoroughly good boys' school. The boys are well behaved, diligent and interested.' In 1886, 'The discipline is very commendable and the instruction is producing good results. There is much carefulness shown in the paperwork, particularly the arithmetic; the spelling has received due attention and the geography is sound and exact.' In 1891 it was noted that 'the musical drill is smartly done but the singing needs more cultivation, for which an instrument would be a great help.'

The main subjects taught were the elementary ones of the '3Rs' - reading, writing and arithmetic. In addition geography, drawing, history, singing and drill were also taught, although the first three subjects were mainly for the older boys. In 1878 the list of eight songs presented for the inspectors included 'Now we pray for our country', Men of Harlech' and 'Wildwood Flowers'. History included the Romans and Saxons, while in 1883 the oldest boys studied North America in geography. The master taught Latin grammar to the pupil teachers.

Annual holidays were similar to those of the late 20th century with between one and two weeks for Christmas, one week for Easter, one week for Whitsun, and five or six weeks Harvest Holiday in the Summer. Half-day holidays were given after H.M.I. inspections and the school also closed for Sunday school treats, August Bank Holiday, Ramsbury Michaelmas Fair, and the May Fair. The school was also closed when it was required for use as a polling station, when the teachers attended Edington Music Festival and when, in 1887, Mr. Pole had to go to the Hungerford Union to have the Little Bedwyn rate books audited. In 1885 a day off was given when the circus came to Ramsbury and in 1887 a whole week off was allowed for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.

Although attendance was generally good there were seasonal occupations that caused the absence of older children. These included, gardening and potato planting (April), hay-making (June), gleaning (September), potato picking (October) and collecting leaves (November). Other reasons were boys following the otter hounds on the river Kennet, and beating the bounds of the parish with their fathers. When a half-day holiday was not given on the occasion of a Sunday school treat, numbers at school tended to be low.

Bad weather often caused poor attendance, sometimes because poorer children did not have adequate clothes and boots for cold or wet weather. There were heavy snowstorms in 1875, 1882 and 1886 while in 1881 the school was closed from 18th-24th January because of deep drifts of snow, and in February 1888 for 11/2 days. Wet, cold and stormy weather reduced attendances and in October 1877 a strong gale blew down a number of trees and some boys were absent gathering boughs for fuel.

Illnesses were often more serious and more frequent than today. Apart from the usual colds and coughs, measles, mumps, chicken pox and whooping cough could be endemic, and ringworm was common - one boy was away for 17 weeks with this. In 1882 the school was closed from mid-September to 9th October because of an outbreak of scarlet fever while diphtheria was present from January to October 1890, and scarletina from November 1891 to February 1892.

Until 1891 parents paid twopence (0.8p) a week for each boy at school. In October that year schools fees were abolished nationally and in Ramsbury the Vicar told the boys that the Board were starting a penny bank and that they could still bring their school fees but save the money in the bank. This began on 19th October with 25 boys taking part. Other interesting points from the late 19th century logbook includes:

December 1876. The schoolyard was gravelled and repaired.
3rd May 1878. Mr. Cannon of Swindon photographed the boys and infants together and separately.
July 1881. A half-day holiday was given to allow the boys to play cricket against St. Peter's School in Marlborough. In a closer match of two innings a side Ramsbury won by just two runs. They got off to an excellent start by taking the first four Marlborough wickets with the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th balls of the first over. Sir Francis Burdett gave five shillings (25p) to the boys' cricket fund.
April 1882. There were 26 candidates for the post of assistant master.
July 1887. The schoolroom had been used for the Golden Jubilee Dance in June and the floor had been polished, with beeswax, for dancing. On the boys' return the floor had to be well sanded to stop them falling over and they also had to carry their own desks back in before 9.00 a.m.
June 1889. The school was cleaned and whitewashed during the Whitsun holiday.
January 1891. The school was very cold and frosty and it was difficult to keep the boys warm.
March 1892. In an example of early advertising to the young, the school received two pictures, 'The Story of Fry's Chocolate' and a picture of a Cocoa tree, from Messrs. Fry & Sons.

Apart from the usual Sunday school treats there were other entertainments for the boys. On 28th April 1884 Lady Burdett sent a large bun and an orange for every boy - 131 boys turned up in the afternoonfor this. Later that year it was recorded that the children were very restless and inclined to talk, probably owing to the village arrangements for celebrating Guy Fawke's Day.

From 1883 the cane seems to have been used for more severe punishments and there are lists of boys punished. In February 1886 the use of catapults was forbidden in the playground after two windows were broken. Sometimes parents objected to the punishments but more often did not and were likely to be much more severe themselves than the schoolmaster. In November 1890 a boy was kept in at dinner time for playing truant; his mother came to school at 1.30 p.m. and was very pleased that he was kept in and wished him to be severely punished if he played truant again.

After 1902, when the school had been taken over by Wiltshire County Council, the school only took boys up to the age of 11, the older ones travelling to schools in Marlborough. In 1926 the girls joined the boys and infants at the Board School and it further expanded in 1931 when Axford School closed and the children were transferred to Ramsbury. It became a County Primary School in the late 1940s and further information can be found under Ramsbury Primary School.






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