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Wiltshire Community History

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Church School, Upavon

Church School, Upavon Date Photo Taken c.1905
Uploaded 25/10/2007 08:45:14
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

A school master was present in Upavon in 1662 but there is no further mention of a school until a bequest of £9 was made by Benjamin Young for education in Upavon. Whether a school existed then is not known but there were two day schools in 1808 and one in 1818 with 30 children. The latter is presumably the school receiving income from the bequest and will be the Church School that had 56 pupils in 1846. At that time the schoolmistress was paid £10.8.0d a year that was funded by the endowment, voluntary subscriptions and fees. In the 1840s John Bildon, a builder from Rushall had built a hall and hired it out as a Sunday school and probably a day school. Presumably the church school was located here and in 1854 John Bildon sold the building to the vicar and churchwardens for £260. It was to be used by children and adults, or children only, of the labouring, manufacturing and other poor class of the parish of Upavon, and for no other purpose. In 1858 James Sherry left a bequest of £100 for the infants' school and this money was invested.

In the school inspection of 1859 there were between 40 and 50 pupils in the mixed (the infants' school may not have been started at this point) under a 'trained and intelligent mistress' in a brick built modern school room, measuring 34 feet by 18 feet. The floor was boarded and the desks fixed along the walls; the schoolroom had a 'furnished and comfortable appearance'. A house for the mistress was attached to the school. In 1864 girls stayed at the school until they were twelve years old but boys left at the age of nine, as they were needed to work in the fields. However there were winter evening classes for the boys to give them an opportunity to further their education. The school received more money with a bequest of £100 from the vicar, H. J. C. Crook, in 1884. Both sums were invested, the latter in a repair fund for the school.

The school log books survive from 1875 onwards and provide a picture of the late Victorian school. The elementary education consisted of the 3Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic with scripture also taught most days. The basic subjects included dictation, recitation, and poetry while singing was popular. On 5 May 1893 the mistress, Clara Giles, taught the children a new song 'A boy's best friend is his mother,' which had been written by Joseph Skelly in 1883. Other subjects taught included needlework, history, geography and musical drill. Object lessons on all aspects of one subject covered the oak tree, the eye, points of the compass, rice and wild flowers.

Children started school at 9.00 a.m. or 9.15 a.m., had up to one and a half hours for lunch (many went home while others ate a packed lunch at school) and finished at 4.00 p.m. The school holidays were similar to those in the 20th century but in the 1870s only a day was allowed for Easter although there was a week's holiday at Whitsun. Later on Easter holidays were increased to one week. There were two weeks for Christmas and five weeks, increased to six in the mid 1880s, for the Harvest Holidays in the summer. From 1887. Whit Monday was also given as a holiday. Half and full day holidays were given for special reasons. A half day was allowed after the annual H.M.I. inspections and a full day when the school was needed for use as a polling station at election time. Two days holiday was allowed for the celebration of Queen Victoria's Golden (20 and 21 June 1887) and Diamond (24 and 25 June 1897) Jubilees. There were half day holidays for the Queen's birthday on 25 May 1900 and the fall of Pretoria, in the Boer War, on 1 June the same year. Unusually on 26 May 1893 the teachers were given a holiday and the headmistress taught all the children.

Children were absent from school more frequently than today. The reasons were often connected with farming and included potato planting, bird scaring in newly sown fields, haymaking, fruit picking, helping with the harvest, potato picking and generally working in the fields. At times boys went fishing in the River Avon and some children stayed away from school to attend Temperance Fetes. In the winter of 1899 some boys were absent beating and driving for pheasant shooting; for this they were paid 1/6d (7 pence) each and provided with their food. Illness was more frequent than today although Upavon, possibly because of its elevated position seems to have been much healthier than many villages in the 19th century. The main reasons for children being kept at home were measles, whooping cough and mumps; the school was closed for four weeks in July 1885 owing to an epidemic of measles. Infant mortality was higher than today and in October 1894 Ethel Bessant died from eating nuts.

The position of Upavon may have kept the children healthier but it did mean that it sometimes suffered bad weather, which prevented children attending school. Sometimes heavy rain caused the Avon to burst its banks, as on 16 February 1883 when much of the village was flooded. Again on 16 November 1891 the river rose during the night and flooded the roads preventing any children reaching the school. Heavy snow would bring about the closure of the school, as in February 1888 when the school was closed for a week and in March 1891 when two days were lost. Heavy storms and strong winds also prevented children, many of whose parents could not afford to buy waterproof boots and clothing for them, walking to school.

The school at the main entrance to the churchyard was small, the main schoolroom was 31 feet long by 18 feet wide and the height to the top of the wall was 11 feet. The classroom was 12 feet by 11 feet by 7 feet 6 inches high. In 1875 the schoolmistress was Miss Fanny Bull, who was helped by an Assistant Mistress. The H.M.I. report that year stated, 'The Mistress is doing her work with much success as to the order and instruction.' Until the early 1890s most parents paid a penny (0.4p) or two pence (0.8p) a week in school fees. These were collected by the mistress and were recorded for 1877; for the week ending 28 September 6/4d (about 32p) was collected. Miss Bull was succeeded by Annie Fletcher in May 1878, who was herself replaced by Ellen Green in April 1880. Standards seem to have slipped a little at the end of the 1870s as the H.M.I. report for 1881 says, 'The change of teacher has not yet had time to take full effect upon the school but the present mistress has the children well in hand and has effected considerable improvement in the reading. The supply of books requires to be supplemented. The infants must improve in the elements of reading.'

The children passed a fairly good examination in the elementary subjects in 1884 although there was some weakness in the spelling of one of the standards. All the older children were taught in the schoolroom with different standards (grouped by ability) doing different work. Only the infants had a separate room. During the Easter holidays in 1888 the ventilation of the main schoolroom was improved by the replacement of small windows by larger sash windows that opened. However the H.M.I. report for that year stated that blinds were needed for the windows in the infants' room as protection against the heat of the sun. Miss Green seems to have treated the children well but may not have been strict enough for a Victorian school. The 1888 report also says, 'The children are kindly managed but should be more firmly controlled.' She resigned in August 1888, with the pupil teacher, and as there are no entries in the log book between 17 August and 8 October it would appear that the school remained closed after the Harvest Holiday as there was no schoolmistress.

Jane Preston took over as schoolmistress on 8 October 1888 but resigned in August 1889 and was replaced by Ellen Lloyd in October 1889. Royal Readers were introduced as reading books in December 1889 and the H.M.I. report for 1890 said, 'There is much improvement visible in the general condition of the school under the present mistress. The order is firmer and the children work more steadily.' She left the school at the Harvest Holidays 1892 and for 18 months there were frequent changes. Miss E. K. Chamberlain became schoolmistress in October 1892 but from 27 December to 6 January 1893 Sarah Burt was temporarily in charge of the school after which Clara Giles took charge on 9 January. An assistant teacher who started on 27 February left the school on 24 March and Miss Giles only stayed until Christmas 1893. The H.M.I. report for 1893 was scathing about accommodation and facilities in the small school building. There was a platform in the schoolroom that cut down circulation space, the toilets were dark, too close to the school windows, were multi-seated with no divisions and broke various regulations. The infants' classroom was small and without desks. Perhaps as a result of this report the infants' were being taught in the main room with the older children in October 1893. It is likely that improvements were made to the infants' room at this time, probably when the school was enlarged to take 77 children in 1894, but the toilets still did not meet all the government's requirements in 1895. Despite the changes in staff the 1894 report commented, 'In spite of frequent changes of teachers the school has made marked progress and the mistress [Miss Mary Thrift, schoolmistress, February 1894 to September 1900] deserves credit for her efforts. It is uncertain as to when the infants moved back to their own room (probably in 1894) but they were there in October 1896 as a new fire guard was needed for their open fire.

A few interesting events from the late 1890s were;

February 1896, two boys canes for throwing stones at the teachers on their way home from school.

June 1896, three boys were successful in their examination for a labour pass at Pewsey - they proved that they had been educated to a certain standard and could now go to work.

February 1898, influenza reached Upavon and the school was closed for 17 days.

November/December 1898, a parent threatened and ill treated the mistress in school and seems to have been fined 40 shillings (£2) at the magistrate's court.

The school's performance seems to have declined in 1899 and 1900 but improved greatly in 1901. On 6 January 1902 the first master, Ernest Sutton, of the Church School was appointed. One interesting incident from 1900 occurred on 5 January when a pupil (age twelve or under) was very drunk in the afternoon, slept for an hour and then woke up shouting the compliments of the season.

School attendance remained fairly consistent in the first quarter of the 20th century with 67 in 1906, although there were 82 on the school register in 1907. Average attendance in 1922 was 70 but in 1925 all children aged over eleven (school leaving age was now fourteen) were transferred to Rushall School and in the 1930s attendance had dropped to about 38. After the war pupil numbers increased and the school was overcrowded by 1953. Between 1955 and 1957 new RAF married quarters were built and the new children had to go to Rushall School as Upavon, with 70 pupils in 1956, was full. A new County Primary School was built and opened in 1957. There were six classrooms that could accommodate up to 200 children aged from five to eleven years. The RAF children moved from Rushall to the new school and some children from other villages also joined the new school.

Further information can be found under Upavon Primary School.

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