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Wiltshire Community History

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West Lavington

Dauntsey's Aided Primary School, West Lavington

Dauntsey's Aided Primary School, West Lavington Date Photo Taken 2005
Uploaded 07/02/2006 12:01:20
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Original Media Location: Michael Marshman

Following a successful career in London, West Lavington born William Dauntsey, a member of the Mercer's Company, left property in London for the building of a school and almshouse at West Lavington. His will was dated 1542 and a schoolhouse was built in 1553 with his charity administered by the Mercer's Company. The schoolmaster, who was provided with one of the almshouses, was paid £10 per year, which was raised to £15 in 1598 and this had risen to £30 by 1801. Later it was increased to £70. The school, which was near the vicarage, was for only for boys.

Between 1810 and 1831 £2,500 was spent on rebuilding the almshouses and making alterations to the school building. By 1832 the school master was receiving £120 a year, plus £60 in extras, with house rates and tax paid; for this he only taught religious knowledge, with other subjects taught by his assistant, a 12 year old boy. The appointment was made by the owners of the Dauntsey estate who specified that school work should interfere as little as possible with agriculture. This was so effectively adhered to that the average school leaving age was 9. Apart from religious knowledge only the 3 Rs were taught and it was said that there was no demand for classes.
The school and the master's house were rebuilt in 1856 and the almshouses repaired. In the inspection report of 1859 it was stated that there were 50 boys, who were taught reading, writing, arithmetic and religious knowledge. The master, a clergyman, was paid £150 a year, with a house, and an assistant, who was a certified schoolmaster, was paid £40. The school was nominally a grammar school but it only provided elementary education and the average age of the top form was only 12 years. In the 1860s and 1870s slackness and degeneration were noted. The headmaster was the vicar of Erlestoke but all teaching was done by the assistant master. The HM Inspector considered the school to be 'a very doubtful benefit to the parish. In 1875 £500 was spent on enlarging the school, despite the fact that local farmers did not send their sons there.

In 1855 a Parochial School for girls and infants had been opened at the eastern corner of Sand Ground on the Devizes road. This provided elementary education for girls but the boys would have gone to Dauntsey's School, or another village school, when they were about eight years. It was felt that Dauntsey's School had been a hindrance to any move to open a National School in the parish but change came with a reorganization of Dauntsey's charity in 1887. The maximum amount allowed for education was to be £1,800 with not more than £400 for an elementary school and the rest for the founding of Dauntsey's Agricultural College.

It would appear that elementary education for boys continued in the old building but at some time in the 1890s the boys moved into the Parochial School on the High Street. In the log book for the boy's school there are references to a year of alterations to the building (1897-8) and on March 21st 1891 workmen were putting together new desks for the Boys', Girls' and Infants' Departments. A note on 29th March says that the builders have finished The implication would seem to be that boys, girls and infants were all taught on one site from Easter 1898. On March 1st 1899 the Boys' and Girls' Departments were united as the managers decided to run the school as a mixed school.

The log books for the boys' school survive from 1888 and provide a picture of school life at the end of the Victorian period. Until 1892 parents paid weekly fees for their children to attend school, a penny (0.4p) or twopence (0.8p) a week, but from 23rd February the school managers ordered that attendance should be free in future. During the 1890s some of the best boys gained scholarship to Dauntsey's Agricultural college - these were worth £25 a year.

The HMI annual reports are uniformly good as regards order, conduct, knowledge and teaching but there were attendance problems, particularly among the older boys. There are also complaints about the state of the decoration and dampness in the toilets.

Subjects taught included the elementary ones of reading, writing and arithmetic, along with geography, drawing, history, singing and scripture. Drill (physical exercise) was taught, and needlework when the classes became mixed in 1899. The younger children had object lessons on such topics as, Useful Grasses, the Human Body, the Bee, Hay, Animals at the Farm, and the Air. From Oct 1896 standards II and upwards were taught both French and shorthand but in 1898 the government decided to withdraw French from the timetable. The headmaster substituted lessons on English grammar.

Annual holidays were two weeks at Christmas, a week at Easter, a week at Whitsun and five weeks Harvest Holidays in the summer. August bank holiday was also given and there were some special holidays, such as for a royal wedding on 16th July 1893, Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee on 22nd June 1897 and a half day on 1st February 1901 for the funeral of Queen Victoria. Children also took other unofficial days off, such as on 3rd August 1891 when the master noted, 'The Duke of Connaught visits Devizes today. So do many of my scholars I am sorry to say.' There were also regular absences for seasonal work among the older boys. These included, potato planting (April) sheep washing (May) haymaking (June) and pea picking. Children were also kept at home to look after younger brother and sisters.

In August 1890 there were 61 boys on the register but average annual attendance was around 50. This remained roughly the same through the 1890s. There was a headmaster and an assistant master while in December 1896 an 18 year old pupil teacher was appointed to train to become a teacher. Bad weather often affected attendance, particularly heavy snow which caused the school to be closed on several days in December 1890, February 1898, and February 1900. With only smallpox vaccination reasonably common there were epidemics of diseases that caused the school to close. In 1889/1890 the school was closed for 4 weeks owing to a measles outbreak while the disease meant no school for all of December in 1893 and most of November in 1898. Four weeks of school were lost in February/March 1897 because of whooping cough while chicken pox was a problem in July 1899.

In 1898 new furniture, including two masters' desks, a storage cupboard and two armchairs, was received. There were complaints in April that several of the new desks for pupils had been scratched over the weekend and the Sunday School Scholars received most of the blame. In June the desks in a small room, not yet used by pupils, were marked as if bread had been sliced on them; the village festival dinner had been held in the school over the holidays.

Some children did not attend school for long periods. In 1899 one girl did not attend for nine weeks while in July 1898 a 12 year old boy was admitted who had been absent from school since December 1896. The master noted that he was not even fit for the infants' school and had been working on the land. The school attendance officer does not seem to have made regular visits to the school and when he did does not seem to have been effective in many cases.

When the school became mixed in 1899 the mistress, assistant, mistress, and pupil teacher from the girls' department joined the boys' teachers. On May 28th 1900 they all took small parties out into the playground to watch the eclipse of the sun. At this time there were about 120 children on the school register in accommodation adequate for 400. In 1902 the average attendance had risen to 139 and by 1907 the school was known as West Lavington Dauntsey Elementary School and was said to be full. Changing standards meant that accommodation was reduced to 286 by 1950 (184 mixed, 102 infants) but the average attendance was still only 139, as it had been in 1907.

An increase in the number of pupils meant that the school hall had to be used as a classroom. In 1996/7 there were 165 pupils, aged 4-11 years in a six class school. A new school was built at Sandfield in 1998-9 and in 2005 there were 155 pupils here.

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