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The School for Girls, Ramsbury

The School for Girls, Ramsbury Date Photo Taken 1877
Uploaded 25/10/2007 08:48:23
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

Pictured here are the instructions for the completion of the school register.

Miss Read's School, built in 1852, on the south side of Back Lane, was given by her to the parish in 1855 to be run by the vicar and churchwardens. The school and schoolhouse were in flint and banded brick in a plain Gothic style. In 1859 the school had between 55 and 65 girls and needlework was the most important subject. The girls made their own clothes and also garments for the vicar to give to the poor of the parish. Attendance remained fairly constant for some years, the average in 1873 being 65. It was noted that each September the older girls were absent collecting leaves, acorns and sloes. The school was kept financially secure by Miss Read of Crowood House and, on her death in 1879, she endowed it with £3,000 which provided £60 a year for its upkeep.

The school logbooks begin in January 1874 and provide a picture of life there in the last quarter of the 19th century. Although the school had been built for 120 children, rising standards reduced this number, as more space was required for each child. In 1889 the average attendance was 88, it had dipped to 76 in 1895 but risen again to 90 in 1899. This must have been very close to full capacity. The schoolmistress in 1874 was Mrs Maria Edwards with Ann Watts and Fanny Edwards as monitors. Annie, presumably Maria's daughter, qualified as a teacher and she returned as assistant mistress in 1882. The two teachers remained until 1894 when Maria resigned and Annie took over as the new schoolmistress the following week. She continued in this post until April 1910.

Subjects taught at the school were the elementary '3Rs' of reading, writing and arithmetic, religious knowledge, needlework, and, for the older girls, geography. Much learning of reading and writing was undertaken by means of repetition and dictation. The former often meant learning poetry and in 1883 the standards were set the following (Standard I were the youngest girls);

Standard I 'Such a Sweet Canary'
Standard 2 'The Wood Mouse' by Mary Howitt
Standard 3 'We are Seven' by William Wordsworth
Standard 4 and 5 'The May Queen' by Alfred Lord Tennyson
'The Village Blacksmith' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Standard 6 The same as Standards 4 and 5 plus 'The Loss of the Royal George' by William Cowper

The H.M.I reports on the teaching and discipline in the school are very good and the Edwards family made an excellent job of teaching the girls of Ramsbury. 'The general school work is very satisfactory and promising and the discipline is good.' (1874). 'The reading is thoroughly good and sums and dictation very fair, handwriting is well taught, needlework good.' (1876). 'This is in every respect an excellent school' (1884). However by the 1890s the structural state of the school was beginning to cause concern. In 1893 the report stated that the lighting was poor, the classroom ceilings low and the small (8 feet 6 inches by 13 feet) classroom could not count in the area of the school used to determine the number of pupils that could be accommodated. They requested that the managers increase the size of the windows and provide more light and ventilation in the two low-ceilinged classrooms. Nothing seems to have been done about this as, in 1895, they threatened that the school would no longer be considered as providing adequate accommodation unless improvements were made. This seems to have had an effect as in the year ended April 1896 new classrooms were built and completed later in 1896.

School holidays were similar in timing to those of the late 20th century, with one week at Christmas, one week at Easter, one week at Whitsun and six weeks Harvest Holidays in the summer. Half-day holidays were given for Ramsbury Fair, on 1st May, the Summer Treat in July, and after each H.M.I. visit and examinations. The girls also had a day off school whenever there was an election as their building was used as a polling station.

Although attendance at school was fairly good there were various causes of absence. Sometimes girls were kept away to help their mothers and at other times they were away for seasonal work. Potato planting in April, haymaking in June, collecting acorns, blackberries and sloes in September and the Fall Fair and potato picking in October. Bad weather affected attendances with floods in January 1877, February 1883 and November 1894, while heavy snow caused the school to be closed in January 1881, January 1891 and January 1895.

Illness tended to be more prevalent and serious than today. There were outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, mumps and chicken pox, while coughs and colds were very common in the winter. The school was closed from 11th September to 9th October in 1882 owing to a scarlet fever epidemic, and scarletina made an appearance in December 1891. In February 1890 several children were forbidden to attend school and Dr. Woodford inspected the drains at the school as source of infection for diphtheria. In 1899 the school closed on 4th January and did not re-open until 10th February because of a measles epidemic.

The girls had occasional treats and special events. In April 1875 the children had tea and buns when 13 girls received the prizes for needlework awarded by Baroness Blundell-Coutts. A holiday was given to celebrate the wedding of Princess May on 6th July 1892 while in June 1897 the school closed for two days to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Other treats were often associated with the church and the Sunday school.

By 1900 history had appeared in the curriculum and there were more lessons in geography. The school was taken over by Wiltshire County Council in 1903 but remained a Church of England school, with local managers, until 1926 when the girls joined the boys and infants at the Board School. The church continued to pay for dentistry and glasses for the girls when they were in the Board School.

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