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Wiltshire Community History

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Axford Board School, Ramsbury

Axford 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

Until the 1870s children from Axford had to walk to Ramsbury or Mildenhall if they were to have any schooling. In 1872 a meeting of ratepayers from both Ramsbury and Axford agreed to ask the government for the power to set up a school board. The board was established on 16th September 1872 and began to raise money for building a school in each community. In Axford a mixed school for 75 pupils was built in the eastern part of the village and opened in 1874. A schoolhouse for the head teacher was attached and the total cost of both schools and schoolhouses was £4,000.

By 1875 there were 50 pupils being taught by the schoolmistress Elizabeth Holbrooke, who continued at the school until the mid-1890s. She was assisted by pupil teachers, whom she taught outside the normal school hours of 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. and who took examinations to qualify as teachers over a four year period. The school concentrated on the elementary subjects of the '3Rs' of reading, writing and arithmetic, along with religious knowledge, needlework, singing and geography for the older (9-12 years) pupils. Later, history was added to the curriculum, and also drawing by 1900. Attendance at the school was never high and remained in the low 40s from the late 1880s until around 1900. By 1903 it had risen to 53 and reached a high point of 59 in 1906-07. From then there was a steady decline in numbers.

Judging by the early H.M.I. reports teaching and pupil attainments were slow to improve; possibly some of the children attending the school had previously received little education. The 1876 report indicated that there was much work to be done, while in 1877 the pupil teacher standards were poor. However by 1879, although the arithmetic was still weak, the general school results were fairly successful, order was good, and the instruction of the Infants satisfactory. By 1880 'the order and general working do the mistress great credit', although it was noted that there were no children above the 3rd standard (there were six standards in all). The school improved greatly through the 1880s, probably because most children had now started in the school aged three or four. In 1886 the pupils were in very good order, writing and arithmetic were successfully and methodically taught, spelling was fairly good, and needlework very good. The older Infants' work was good and the younger fair. By 1887 drill (physical exercises) had been introduced but the report regarded the standard achieved as 'defective'. In 1888 it was felt that attention should be paid to music and method in singing and that discipline was occasionally lax, in an otherwise good report.

Reports in the 1890s were not quite so good and in 1892 it was pointed out that boys and girls should be effectively separated. In 1894 Thomas Jenkins had taken over as schoolmaster and initially there seems to have been some improvement, after a poor report in 1893, although it was noted that there was a serious organisational fault with the Infants being left in the charge of a boy. In 1895 it was said that the results of the examinations were unsatisfactory, even allowing for illness and that the Infants had had no proper teacher for some time. Matters did improve and Thomas Jenkins remained headmaster until 1920.

Parents paid twopence (0.8p) a week for each child's schooling until 1891 when elementary education was made free. School hours were 9.00 a.m. to 12.00 noon, and 2.00 p.m. to 4.00 p.m. with most children going home for lunch. Holidays were similar to those of the late 20th century, within one week to 10 days for Christmas, one week at Easter, one week at Whitsun, and five to six weeks Harvest Holiday in the summer. Half-day holidays were often given for regular events such as, Sunday school treats, church tea parties, Shrove Tuesday and after H.M.I. examinations. Half days were also give for the funerals of adults associated with the school and for pupils, Marlborough ploughing match, confirmation services, weddings associated with the school, a local Calvary Review, and for Ramsbury Fair.

Children were often absent for various reasons, and sometimes for long periods. In 1875 several boys below school leaving age were working on farms and there were regular absences for early and late harvests. Bad weather also had a big effect on attendance; often poorer children did not have adequate clothing or boots for the cold or wet conditions. In late March 1878 heavy snow blocked roads, it snowed fairly heavily on 1st May 1879 and also in January 1881, March 1886 and February 1888. School was closed for a day or more on these occasions. On 3rd July 1883 there was a severe storm, with lightning, and the schoolroom was deluged with mud and water, while severe storms in January 1887 again flooded the schoolroom for some days.

Illness tended to be both more severe and more frequent than today. There were often epidemics of mumps, measles, whooping cough and chicken pox; sometimes children died from their illness, as in January 1878 and again in November 1881 when a girl died of bronchitis. Diphtheria and scarlet fever affected the village at times and in 1882 the school was closed from 11th September to 9th October because of scarlet fever.

The cane was used as a punishment and there seems to have been various cases of cruelty to wild animals that were punished. In 1878 one boy, who had broken windows was taken to court and given the option of a £1 fine or 14 days imprisonment with hard labour.

The school building seems to have been fairly successful although there were comments about inadequate heating in 1886 and 1887. A stove had been fitted into the large schoolroom in 1879 but was proving inadequate.

The school was taken over by Wiltshire County Council in 1902 and attracted an average attendance of 50+ until the First World War. After that numbers declined and by 1927 there were only 28 pupils. The school was closed in 1931 and the pupils transferred to Ramsbury School.

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