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Wiltshire Community History

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National School, Hullavington

National School, Hullavington Date Photo Taken 2007
Uploaded 05/02/2008 10:20:05
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire $ Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

Educational provision in the village began through a charitable bequest by Ayliffe Green in 1690. Green's charity provided £3 per year which was spent on providing schooling to a small number of children in the village. In the early 18th century the £3 paid for a mistress to teach six children to read.

Provision was extended in 1832 with the establishment of a small day school for twelve children (six boys and six girls) and again in 1833 with the building of a larger school (20 boys and 19 girls) on the east side of The Street, through funding and support from Mr J Neeld (MP). The title deeds of the new school state Neeld's insistence on the school's affiliation to the Church of England. Both schools were National Schools. Green's donation now paid for the free teaching of ten children in the larger school, the other children paid by quarterly subscription. In 1859 William Warburton in his census of Wiltshire schools, described the situation in Hullavington as "Small school-room, divided by a partition. Girls at one side, 30-40; boys at the other, 25-35. Taught by a very respectable elderly man and his wife. The whole area of both schools is filled with children, sitting very close together… desks along the walls".

The first HMI report for Hullavington in 1866 states that "The children in this school are intelligent and in remarkably nice order. They passed very fairly in all subjects except dictation, in which they are at present backward: there appears however to be every prospect of the school doing well under the care of the present Mistress."

The larger school was gratefully enlarged further with the addition of a new wing on September 29th 1873. The Rev. Cornwall read prayers and gave an address to the children. By this time attendance figures were around 70-85 pupils. Around the same time, the smaller school became a dissenter's school which then closed in 1879. In Oct 1874, the school log of the main school describes the 'coming back' of a pupil who had defected to the dissenters school for several months. 1880 the HMI report a large attendance rise at the remaining school in Hullavington of 108, presumably due to the closing of the dissenter school.

The attendance of children was subject to fluctuation as in winter it was too cold and dark for some children to make the walk to school, indeed snow and severe weather is recorded as a common cause of absenteeism. In the summer months some children were required to work, planting and picking potatoes, hay making and other field work. Special events often kept children from school: 15th August 1883 saw poor attendance due to the Malmesbury Circus, and on March 13th 1884 many children left school in the afternoon to watch a traction engine pass down the road. Other events necessitated a holiday for the whole school, such as the Jubilee in June 1887, harvest festivals, building maintenance (such as whitewashing and chimney sweeping), clothing club or an election. Illnesses such as chicken pox, measles, whooping cough and scarlet fever are also recorded as keeping children from school.

The school log books from Hullavington present an interesting picture of education during the 19th century. The subjects taught included reading, religious instruction and catechism, arithmetic, dictation, singing, needlework, domestic economy, geography and grammar. The final two subjects were so unpopular that in 1883 they were moved to the morning to prevent children leaving at lunchtime to avoid them on Thursday afternoons. Object lessons focused on the dog, cotton plant, sea-shore, compass, nails and nail-making, Lucifer match, rainbows, sugar and herring. School fees were changed to a weekly payment as of October 1877: 2d a week for those 6 years and above and 1d for children under 6. Families with four or more children paid 1d per child. There are several entries in the logs relating to families struggling to meet fees. In June 1880 weekly fees were dropped to 1d for all children owing to 'slackness of work among the labouring classes'. School logs describe many incidents of bad behaviour such as: bullying by stone-throwing (October 1871), stealing from the missionary box (November 1871), breaking slates, fighting, talking, truancy and jumping on the desks. Punishment for misbehaviour included writing lines, expulsion and also the cane, although the entry in 1882 states how it was only used as a last resort after other attempts at punishment and warnings had failed.

The arrival of the railway in Hullavington, and the navvies that built it during the late 1880s to the beginning of the 20th century, were to have a huge impact on attendance at the school. Large numbers of the navvy's children, many based at the Kingway settlement a mile north-east of the village, started to arrive at the school. The children were often described in the log books as unkempt and ignorant and their attendance was highly irregular. Attendance levels reached their peak in September 1898 when 175 children were noted (141 present, 34 absent) Overcrowding was a continuous problem throughout this period even though the attendance of the navvy children was highly unreliable, much to the frustration of the head teachers. The entry for July 8th 1898 complains in large underlined writing "This afternoon 61 children are away. For these absences there are only trivial excuses. I simply cannot teach as is expected of me - whilst the school board allows such gross irregularity!!". The School Board was established in 1887 but dissolved by the 1902 Education Act. Other entries speak of frustration at continual and open truancy by children and the School Board's inability to act. December 21st 1900, the head complains about several boys being illegally employed as beaters by Sir Algernon Neeld for shooting parties: "This is an old and long standing winter grievance in this school…So far as I know the board has never taken any steps to stop this irregularity". Sometimes threats of magistrate intervention are mentioned in particular cases.

Children were also absent throughout this period due to serious illness, often a result of the unsanitary conditions of the Kingway Settlement. Outbreaks of scarlet fever are mentioned on several occasions within Kingway children. Ringworm was also a problem around this period: "Feb 22nd 1898, Ringworm has attacked the heads of two children. I found one on Elsie Neal's neck. The neck was also very dirty and showed no signs of recent acquaintance with water".
The departure of the navvy families made a large dent in attendance levels during the first decade of the 20th century. Not until the second half of the 20th century did attendance reach the same numbers as it had during the period the railway was being constructed. New housing in the village and a rise in population after the Second World War led to the building of the present school in 1970 on the west side of The Street.

Further information can be found under Hullavington Church of England School.

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