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Wiltshire Community History

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Alderbury & West Grimstead C. of E. Primary School

Alderbury & West Grimstead C. of E. Primary School Date Photo Taken 2008
Uploaded 22/10/2008 12:44:48
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

In 1818 it was recorded that there was a day school and a non-conformist Sunday school with 40 pupils between them. The day school may have been a dame school mentioned in Alderbury and Whaddon: A Millennium Mosaic. It is quite likely that the school was in a cottage, as in 1838 a schoolroom, now known as The Old School House, was opened on an eminence that soon became School Hill. This was a medieval hall house that was extended to form a schoolroom, while the rest of the house was used for the master and his family. The school master in 1841 was Thomas MacIntosh and by 1848, when it had become a National School, the master and mistress were John Frost and his wife, paid £30 a year. In 1846 the two day and Sunday schools had 131 pupils between them. Money for the school came from voluntary subscriptions and the school fees paid by parents.

Around 1851 the schoolroom was extended by the Earl of Radnor. There was now the large schoolroom, an adjoining classroom, and a room on the first floor for infants. These measured 42 feet by 20 feet by 8 feet 6 inches high, 12 feet by 10 feet 6 inches by eight feet 6 inches and 27 feet by 20 feet by 8 feet 6 inches, respectively. In 1858 there were 115 boys and girls in the mixed school under a certified master (George Burden), with three pupil teachers and a sewing mistress who taught the infants. The ground floor rooms had boarded floors and desks in parallel rows, and both discipline and instruction were said to be very good.

The school log books start at the end of 1862 and provide a picture of life in the Victorian school. The first entry (1 December) states that there was an attendance of 50 boys and 66 girls. Unlike many village schools Alderbury was fortunate in having two masters who stayed for long periods in the latter part of the 19th century and who were successful with the school and their pupils. George Burden arrived in 1851, aged 18 and stayed until 1865 when he took up the post of Mastership of the Salisbury Grammar School. He had problems in lengthy periods of illness among his pupil teachers and in December 1862 one, Albert Prewett, in his third year, disappeared, having left home without his parents' knowledge. Another teacher, only identified as Saunders, was suspended and later dismissed for continually playing tricks with the children.

In 1867 alternations were made to the school whereby the Infants' room was removed from above the main schoolroom, thereby improving the height of the schoolroom. A new classroom was built for the infants and all expenses were paid by Viscount Folkestone. A new stove was provided and it was noted, on 31 January 1868, that it thoroughly warmed the school and was of great use in keeping up attendance at school during the winter. The school was probably much warmer than many homes. This occurred when Thomas Bunston was headmaster (1866-1871) with his wife as sewing mistress. In 1866 it was decided that any child absent without good reason on the day of the annual visit of Her Majesty's Inspector would have to pay an extra penny (0.4p) a week for the next year. This came about because the government made the school grants dependent upon the results of examinations at these visits and a good attendance was necessary to obtain enough money for the coming year. The school remained closed in early June 1870, after the Whitsun holiday, to allow repairs and for the new paint and whitewash to dry before re-opening; the Earl of Radnor supervised these activities. Mrs Bunston does not seem to have enjoyed good health from 1868 onwards and after taking several older girls for sewing on the afternoon on Friday 23 September 1870, she died on Monday 26th. Her daughter took charge of the needlework classes but Mr Bunston resigned at the end of December.

On 13 January 1871 Richard Knight took charge and was to remain at the school for over 29 years; his wife Mary was the Sewing and Infants' Mistress. He was pleased with the children and the state of the school. Unfortunately tragedy was to strike his family at Easter 1872 when his daughter died of scarletina. Mrs Knight was mistress of the infants and there were two pupil teachers Charity Dowty and Harriet Smith (who both left in December 1873 to enter Teacher Training College at Salisbury after Christmas), and a paid monitor, Elizabeth England.

In October 1873 a night school was started twice a week to provide education for older children, aged 11 or 12 and upwards who were already working all day. In the day school punctuality could be a problem and in 1876 Mr Knight introduced a new large bell to be rung ten minutes before morning and afternoon school began. A small bell was then rung at the start of school, when both pupils and teachers were expected to be in school.

The school fees were one penny (0.4p) a week and for poorer families this was often paid by the vicar, the Rev. Hutchings. However in 1887 many of these children were very irregular attendees and it was decided that the families would have to pay the penny themselves on Monday and if the children attended all week the penny would be returned on Friday. In 1889 the school managers introduced certificates to all who completed full attendance throughout the year. In 1891 school fees were abolished nationally and when school re-opened on 14 September, after the Harvest Holiday, attendance was free.

The school was again enlarged between 3 October 1887 and January 1888 and the infants were greatly disrupted, having some of their lessons in the large schoolroom. The new Infants' Room was opened on 23 January. In 1894 a further enlargement took place when a new classroom was built to increase the accommodation from 150 to 180 pupils. The room was first used on 7 September 1894 and in 1895 the average attendance was 150 children.

Richard Knight resigned his post at the end of February 1900 after over 29 year's service. His daughter, Elizabeth M. Knight, took temporary charge until 27 March when her brother Edward took over the school.

During the latter half of the 19th century various subjects, apart from the '3Rs' of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic were taught. These included Geography, Poetry, History and Music. Religious education was always a further regular subject and, for the girls, needlework was a fifth. In 1875 Latin was introduced as an extra subject and homework was given. In the late 1880s Drawing was introduced. Under Mr Knight there were monthly examinations in the standard subjects and an additional one before each holiday. In 1863 the first class had lessons in the etymology of words while all children were encouraged to bring in wild flowers and learn their names and classes. There were also singing lessons but under Mr Knight there were often cancelled because he had a cold, a bad throat or had lost his voice.

The children had a fair range of annual holidays, similar to those of today. There were two weeks at Christmas, about two weeks at Easter, one week at Whitsun (late May/early June) and five weeks Harvest Holidays in the summer. They also enjoyed some half day and whole day holidays. A regular one was the School Treat, which took place at the end of January. In 1865 there were presents and a Christmas tree while in 1866 there was a magic lantern show in the evening after the Treat in the afternoon. Half day holidays were given to celebrate royal marriages and birthdays, Salisbury Fair and weddings and funerals of local gentry. The school was also closed when it was needed as a polling station, for Shrove Tuesday and when pupils took part in choral festivals in Salisbury. On 4 November 1867 the vicar took the older children to Whiteparish Hill where they spent the afternoon flying kites. This seems to have been a favourite activity of the vicar's as there are several mentions of the children flying kites on the hills. For the Golden Jubilee at the end of June 1887 there was a whole week of events in Salisbury and a holiday was given on the Wednesday and Thursday of that week. The Alderbury festivities seem to have been on Tuesday in the following week when another holiday was given. After a strenuous day very few children reached school the following morning and so the school remained closed.

Throughout the 1860s to the early 1890s attendances were normally over 100 pupils with the highest number, 153, occurring on 23 April 1880. There had been 134 children (77 boys and 57 girls) on the register in 1874 and so the number of pupils at the school had risen through the 1870s. Numbers remained high in the 1880s but, after the abolition of school fees and the advent of free education (1891), numbers declined and the average attendance for 1892/3 was only 94.8. To some extent this reflected the decline in population; the 19th century peak was in the 1850s and there slight increases in the late 1870s and 1888s but then further decline from the 1890s to World War I.

Children were often absent from school for a variety of reasons. At a time when many families could not afford warm clothing and waterproof boots for their children bad weather often prevented many children, especially the younger ones getting to school. Snow seems to have been the chief deterrent to attendance in Alderbury. In January 1865 many of the younger children missed school on one very snowy day while on 11 January 1866 attendance was down to nine and the children were sent home in the afternoon. There were heavy snowfalls in January and February in many years but the only time the school seems to have closed down completely was on 10 and 11 March 1891 when the roads were blocked. At other times a few children did get to school and the school remained open.

Other absences occurred when children, particularly the older ones, were kept at home for work in the house, garden or fields. This work included potato planting, bird scaring, beating for rabbits, haymaking, potato picking, gleaning, gathering acorns and following the hunt. On 9 March 1863 many children were away fetching coal that had been given away while in September 1872 they played truant to watch army manoeuvres. It was noted in 1880 that the same families persistently kept their children away from school. Illness was far more common than today and at times the school was closed by epidemics. This occurred because of measles in December 1865/January 1866 and there were other severe outbreaks in June 1863, December 1865, December 1876 to June 1877, March 1879 and May 1884. Other regular threats to the children's health were scarletina, scarlet fever, whooping cough, chicken pox and mumps.

There were the usual misdemeanours and punishments in Victorian times; pupils were late for school, played truant, threw stones and were occasionally rude. No mention is made of the cane being used but it could well have been when a pupil was 'punished severely'. Other punishments were, standing apart through lessons, being kept in after school, and missing dinner.

The school was an elementary, all age, school, and by the early 20th century was taking pupils aged between three and thirteen. The school had been enlarged to accommodate 180 pupils in 1894. A new playground was opened in 1909 and the gallery in the schoolroom remained until 1911. In 1929 Lord Radnor made over the lease of the school to Wiltshire County Council thus creating Alderbury Council School. In the 1920s and 1930s pupils gained a good reputation for singing, music and folk dancing, winning many events at Wiltshire Music Festivals.

In September 1939 the school received all the pupils and teachers from Lyndhurst Road Junior Boys School, Portsmouth, as evacuees. The number on the register rose from 74 to 194 and the schoolroom of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was hired to provide extra space. Although boys returned to Portsmouth some stayed throughout the war and one of the three teachers remained until 1944.

Alderbury remained an all age school until 22 July 1952; from September that year pupils over eleven years went to Downton Secondary School or, by passing the eleven plus, went to grammar school in Salisbury. From then Alderbury was a County Primary School. School dinners were delivered from 1952 and by 1972 a mobile classroom was provided to accommodate growing numbers. The Parent Teacher Association raised the money and parents worked to build an outdoor swimming pool in 1979. In the early 1990s plans were made for a joint new school for Alderbury and neighbouring West Grimstead. Alderbury School closed at Christmas 1992, after joint visits to the building by classes from both schools to see the new school and meet future classmates.

This new school was opened in January 2003 after the closure of the county primary schools at Alderbury and West Grimstead. Pupils from both villages now attend school in this modern single storey building set in pleasant open grounds. The number of pupils in 1997 was 147, in five classes; this number had risen to 186 in 2006/7.

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