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Wiltshire Community History

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Bremhill

Bremhill Church School

Bremhill Church School Date Photo Taken 2007
Uploaded 25/10/2007 08:29:35
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham


A school at Bremhill had been provided by the Marquis of Lansdowne and in 1815, 72 children attended. Forty boys and fifty girls attended the Sunday school and a further twenty attended a clerk's school and another ten a dame's school. The village school was built in 1846 and was made of rubble with a stone slate roof. The schoolroom had a coped west gable with a bell cote. The school teacher's house was within the school buildings. The building may have lacked repair; in 1888 the inspector told the school to ensure the upper fronting on the small windows would open, and it had been mentioned that the children were listless and sleepy in the hot weather, not helped by a stuffy room with windows that didn't open I'm sure.

In 1846 there were fifty four pupils in the Bremhill Church Sunday school and fifteen in the dame day school. In Warburton's 1858 Census, 40-50 scholars were taught at the school by an untrained mistress of 'fair abilities and anxious to learn'. 'The school room is a very fair one, with a boarded floor and parallel desks'. The number of children attending the school remained at around 45 until the 1870's when it rose to approximately 55. In 1907 the number had risen to 80 pupils.

The school log book, kept by the mistress, begins in the 1860's when she was helped by a teaching assistant. Subjects included needlework for girls, scripture (read by the Reverend), arithmetic, reading, spelling (including composition and dictation), geography and history. The infants were taught through 'object' lessons, some examples being 'apple', 'coal' and 'camel'. They were also taught word building, numbers lessons and form lessons eg. square, oblong etc.. The older children were taught poetry with poems needing to be approved by Her Majesty's Inspectors. The children were all sent to church weekly to attend morning services. Singing seems to have been a very important part of school life in Bremhill; frequent singing practice was held, singing both hymns and school songs. There was a school choir which took part in choral 'meetings', for example in July 1864 there was a meeting in Hilmarton which the mistress and choir attended. All the other children had a half day off instead.

Regular exams were taken by the older children and the school was also inspected by the HM Inspectors. The first recorded report in July 1864 stated "Discipline is very fair, but there is not much activity in the management of the school; the children are not very intelligent nor is their work so accurate as might be". Unfortunately although other subjects improved a little, arithmetic continued to be poor for some time. The mistresses employed by the school were uncertified and as soon as they became certified (after a year or so) seem to leave and be replaced by another uncertified teacher, and so on. This did nothing to improve the quality of teaching, and although it became satisfactory at times, never seemed to be of a high standard throughout all subjects. In 1865 two children failed all their exams and in 1866 the children were seen as 'quiet and inclined to copy'. In the 1880's the mistress had no teaching assistant to help her so the older children taught the infants instead! The school seemed to be short of equipment too; in 1887 there were not enough books so the children had to use slates. In 1883 the reverend brought in poetry books for the children and this may have been a regular occurrence. Children were taken to the school in Calne to sit the prize scheme exams and some did go on to attend the school while others left to go into 'service' or 'work'. In1867 Stephen Simpkins left school to go to America! The Diocesan Inspectors were pleased with the school, saying the children were intelligent and well informed, so maybe the regular lessons by the Reverend and the visits to church were helping.

Children were given incentives to do well at school; books, sweets and cakes were given by the Reverend to children who passed three exams. There were also rewards for regular attendance. Bad behaviour was punished, mostly for misdemeanours such as bad language and naughty words, fighting in the playground, throwing stones and disobedience. In 1865 the children were punished for not wanting to go to morning service which caused them to be unruly at school. The next time it was noted they went willingly and behaved well, but it doesn't say what their punishment was. One boy was dismissed in 1865 for 'thieving and lying', and another was punished for breaking a window in 1871. The attendance officer was called in by the mistress when she felt a child was missing school too often for no apparent reason. It was their job to visit the child's home and find out why they were not at school, as was done in 1890.

Attendance figures were also dependant upon other the weather. Although there were some heavy snow falls in January1865, March 1878 and March 1889, the main reason for staying at home was wet weather. Illness also has a large effect on attendance and there were absences through influenza and 'violent' colds. Older girls were often absent looking after their younger siblings. Outbreaks of chicken pox occurred in 1863, measles in 1863, 1866 and 1870 and whooping cough in 1879. The most serious was scarlet fever which became epidemic throughout many months in 1865. In January 1865 the school had to close because all the children were away from school because of scarlet fever and the bad weather. Unfortunately five children at the school died during that time. The mistress of the school had to take time off to care for her child who also caught scarlet fever and the school was closed when the teaching assistant became ill. It reopened when a temporary teacher was brought in. Another prevalent problem at the school was ringworm and children were sent home with this infection during the 19th century.

Holidays were similar to our own with five weeks in the summer (called harvest holiday), one week in May for Whitsun and three weeks over Christmas. The children seem to have had to go to church over Easter rather than have time off. They did get an afternoon off after taking exams, and a half day for Ascension Day too. The school was also closed the following morning after it was needed for an 'entertainment' evening or a public meeting. An annual club or tea feast was held by the Reverend and gave children a day off and a summer club feast did so too. In 1866 many children took time off to see a visiting choir. In September 1888 attendance was poor because some children decided to go to Chippenham - the log book entry didn't say what for! In January 1878 the children left early so that the school could be prepared for a 'magic lantern' which was shown to the children in the evening. The children also helped out putting up Christmas decorations in the schoolroom and in the church. A more unusual reason for getting time off was after the Harvest holidays in 1864 when the school became full up of villagers' furniture. There had been a fire in the village and the school was the best storage area they could find.

In Victorian times the children had to help their parents out in the fields and so many children were away during certain times of the year. April was potato planting (which closed the school in 1866 as attendance was so poor). June and July were haymaking and harvest work, October was acorn and potato picking. Some older children had to stay at home babysitting while their mothers helped with the harvesting.

The school was reorganised in 1930 and was a voluntary controlled school in 1955 when it had 29 pupils. The school closed on July 10, 1969 amongst strong opposition from both parents and villagers to keep it open. There were 28 children on the register.


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