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Wiltshire Community History

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Great Somerford

National School, Great Somerford

National School, Great Somerford Date Photo Taken c.1906
Uploaded 30/01/2010 17:28:10
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

There was a day school in Great Somerford in 1818 with had twenty pupils attending. A Sunday school was also run for 80 children; it was maintained by voluntary subscriptions. An evening school was also held during the winter. It was felt at the time that as the chief village occupation was the manufacture of lace, little schooling was required.

In 1827 the cottage which was to be the site of the new school, on St. Mary's lands, was in a 'ruinous state'. Funds were raised and free labour provided to enable the building of the school in 1828. The building was enlarged in 1850 and again in 1870; a classroom and cloakroom were also added in 1895. A new girls' cloakroom was built c.1893 and a new stove was obtained. Charles Adye reported in 1903 on the 'defects and dilapidations' of every Wiltshire school. His report for Great Somerford included mention of a worn floor and no system of ventilation for the mixed school. He recommended that six inlets be inserted (such as Boyle's) and two extractors be put on the roof. Nine old desks needed replacing with new ones and the school needed a new harmonium as the present one was 'out of repair and useless'. In the classroom he found that two broken window panes needed fixing, two desks needed replacing and that Moules' earth closets needed to be installed and the defective floors in the closets (toilets) needed to be made good.

Warburton's Report of 1857 reads '40 to 50 scholars, mixed, under an elderly mistress, neither certified nor registered, taught in a well-built but somewhat small school-room, with boarded floor, and desks at wall, erected seven years since. A cottage is attached to the schoolhouse, and in this cottage a mistress resides. The school was built by private subscription'. The desks were 9 feet long in 1877. In 1887 the number of children on the books was 78. By 1907 the number had remained steady at 70. There were 55 pupils in 1955.

We are lucky to hold some relatively early school log books for Great Somerford, dating from 1876. They give us an idea of what it was like at the school in Victorian times.

The main subjects covered were mental arithmetic and sums, scripture, dictation, grammar, geography, and needlework for girls. Songs were learnt regularly. The list of songs for 1888 included 'The Child and the Bird', 'Never Look Sad' and 'Flowers' for the elder children, with the younger ones learning 'Robin Red Breast and 'To Bed, to Bed'. Religious Education was of the utmost importance and the Reverend Andrews and Miss Andrews visited every week to teach scripture and hear the children read. In June 1888 Mrs Cannings took the practising of hymns to be sung at the flower service in the time set aside for religious teaching. In March 1888 the children practised sacred music instead of scripture when they were visited by the Revered Manley.

In November 1876 the girls were learning to knit and in December 1877 the girls had to do needlework each afternoon for the first hour as 'Mrs Andrews has sent flannel petticoats, shirts etc. to be done by Christmas for the old people in the parish'. This must have been an annual task as in mid December 1878 the girls were doing needlework on four afternoons in order to finish their flannel petticoats in time for Christmas! In February 1878 the children had a lesson on the 'gender of nouns'. Object lessons for the infants in 1887 included god, coal, brush, bread, grass and thimble (amongst others). Poetry for English included 'Llewellyn and his Dog' for Standard III and 'The Wanderer's Youth' by Wordsworth for Standard IV. The children worked from arithmetic cards on alternate days in January 1888. The infants commenced kindergarten amusements in September 1892. The tasks included bead threading, mat weaving and stick laying on a Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoon. In May 1893 a drawing examination was arranged but no inspector arrived to adjudicate. The subjects covered in geography in 1896 were a plan of the room and 'definitions' for the first and second standards, England and Wales for the third standard and Europe for the fourth standard. Standards I-III were also taught electric and magnetic attraction, gravitation, force and motions and cleanliness!

In February 1876 the mistress complained to Reverend Andrews of a 'want of maps and cupboards' and in February 1878 she had not received copies of 'The Child's School Book' although three children still needed them. She was still waiting the following month.

It does seem that the mistress struggled with a lack of resources throughout these years. As early as c.1874 it was noted by Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools that the supply of books and needlework needed attention; in 1892 the advice was still for more books. In March 1876 the mistress (she replaced the master in 1875) felt the children's reading was still 'backwards' as there was 'no competent teacher to take charge of them'. The Reverend's daughter had taught the children a new song and tried to help with teaching and in May 1876 'the younger children are troublesome as there is no proper teacher to manage them'. By November 1878 a pupil teacher had been appointed but the mistress still commented that she was 'badly in want of more help'.

Her Majesty's Inspector visited regularly to examine the children and report on the state of the school. In c.1874 he found that the master should 'cultivate the various technical methods of instruction and school management. At present the discipline and instruction are not up to the average standard'. Reading and spelling were fair, arithmetic was moderate. In 1875 the mistress found the children 'very backward and without any idea of discipline'. A few weeks later she stated that the children were 'taking great pains with their lessons and are on the whole improving'. The report of August 1876 notes that the teacher was doing her work well and good progress was being made. The Diocesan report for the same year indicated that the school was much improved in system, method and discipline. Religious knowledge was still of a low average but was of the 'right sort'. The teacher was efficient, the pupil teacher new but promising, but the infants' room was too crowded. The Diocesan report was still promising in November 1878 when it noted that the pupil teacher appeared to be very painstaking in her work. 'The results of this will become more apparent when her discipline has improved'. He also advised that private prayers for home should be taught. The mistress noted that in October 1878 and in May 1879 some children had to be kept in to finish their sums. She said they were lazy! The HMI Report of October 1879 did show a downturn when arithmetic results had fallen, and grammar and geography were not satisfactory. 'The infants must show great improvement in reading and the elder children in arithmetic in order to secure an unreduced grant next year'. By September 1880 there had been a slight improvement in most subjects. The infants were somewhat 'backward' in reading and writing, though.

Of course, children could not learn if they were not at school and there were many reasons why they did not attend. In December 1875 the mistress noted that 'many children are kept at home for the most trifling excuse'. By February 1876 more regular attendance was noted but in September she stated that the older children still attended irregularly. Each spring and autumn children were absent helping with the potato picking. In April 1879 many of the boys had been absent working during the week. During the summer months it was hay making and harvest time; in September 1879 there was a small attendance when the school reopened after the holidays as the harvest had not yet been gathered in. Club festivals were being held in the neighbourhood; they lowered attendance in June 1885. In April 1888 some of the elder boys were busy potato planting and bean dropping! Some boys were absent 'crow keeping' in April 1889. Many of the boys were given permission by their parents to attend a sale in Little Somerford on a Thursday afternoon in March 1888 and to follow the hounds on the Friday afternoon, but had not gotten approval from the mistress. In September 1892 the Attendance Officer reported rising attendance figures after starting a system of giving tickets for regular attendance - we are given no idea of what these 'tickets' were for, but obviously they were doing the trick! The children also received jubilee medals in September 1897, presumably as prizes. They were distributed to a few of the older children.

Bad weather also prevented children from attending school. In January 1876 many infants were kept at home. In April and December of the same year wet weather prevented many from attending regularly. Showery weather also meant low attendance figures in October 1877 and in April 1878 snowy weather caused problems. In December 1878 'very inclement' weather prevented many infants attending; the weather was still severe in January. The very wet weather of June 1879 caused lower attendances, especially by those who had to come from a distance. The parish saw heavy snow in February 1888 which left the roads in a bad state. The school could only open in the afternoon with very few attending. By March attendances were a little better although some of the girls from Startley Heath Lane and Seagry Heath still couldn't make it in. After the snow came the heavy rain! In December 1890 severe weather occurred with deep snow for a week; it was impossible for children to attend school. The severe weather continued into January when the roads also became slippery. There was another severe snow storm in March leaving deep snow in its wake.

Bad weather was one of the main contributing factors for illness in children, hence parents being more cautious of sending them to school to become wet and get chills. In June 1877 several children were absent through illness and the mistress complained to Reverend Andrews about the 'closeness' of the schoolroom. In fact comments had been made in 1876 in the HMI report stating that a change in the system of ventilation would be an improvement. It seems that by 1880 noting had been done as the HM Inspector tells us that 'ventilation should be attended to - a slight alteration in the mode of hanging the windows would probably improve it'. By 1886 the HMI report stated that the infants' room was too small and the number of children should be reduced or the room enlarged. In October 1892 the school was closed for a week to enable several new windows to be put in.

In November 1877 several children were absent through illness. Many were also off the following week and to the end of December. Many children had bad colds during February 1878 and in May one child was ill for a few days and then unfortunately died from bronchitis. Many other children became ill after this. In January many children were absent through illness and the severe weather; this pattern appears to continue as the HMI report of 1887 noted that 'considering the amount of sickness during the past year, the results are very satisfying'. In September of the same year the Diocesan Inspector's report stated that the school had been closed for some weeks in the summer on the account of 'epidemic sickness'. In March 1889 some of the children were away with whooping cough, mumps and bad colds. Mumps had struck again in October 1892 with the average attendance dropping from c.85 to 58. During February 1893 a girl was taken ill at school on the Wednesday morning and died on the Thursday morning. The mistress called her a 'dear' child. The entry for the following week reads 'It has been God's will to call another dear child to her heavenly home after being absent from school only one day, dear…'. Four days later the school was closed by order of Dr Pitt on account of an outbreak of scarlet fever in the village. It reopened in April but many of the children were still not well enough to attend. There were two more cases of scarlet fever in May. Chickenpox reached the school in October 1897.

Holidays given to Victorian children at the school in Great Somerford were not as long as we are used to now. They had one week for Christmas, one week for Easter and four weeks for the Harvest (or summer) holidays. Time off for Whitsun only appears to be a few days but in 1876 the mistress mentioned that many children did not attend school for the few days following the holiday, presumably taking their own time off! In 1877 the mistress mentioned that the week before having the two days of authorised holiday for Whitsun that there was very low attendance 'due to its being Whitsuntide'.

The children were given other days off, though. The children could have the afternoon off after a HMI examination, as in August 1876, and when they were examined by the Diocesan Inspector , as in October 1876.During July 1877 the Captain and Miss Beak visited the school and stated privately their intention of giving a treat to the children the following Thursday. The children were duly given the afternoon off for the tea party. During August each year the children had an afternoon off for tea with the Reverend Andrews. The schoolroom was required for a concert in February 1879 and so the children were allowed two and a half days off! On the 28th of February 1879 the children were taken to the church by the vicar in the morning (for Ash Wednesday). The school was required for use as a polling station in July 1885 which closed the school all day. In September 1887 the children were allowed the afternoon off to 'follow our beloved and respected Rector to his last resting place'.

Victorian schools are well known for punishing their children, but it is not clear how much punishment the mistress of the school at Great Somerford gave out. The HMI reports had stated that she was good at keeping the children in order and the log books she filled in show the children did misbehave, but she doesn't mention how she dealt with them, so we will never know! During February 1876 some boys were caught using bad language out of school hours and in March 1879 a complaint was made concerning the rude behaviour of some boys away from school. In May 1878 it was noted that some of the little ones were very naughty, and in June 1879 one of the girls was very disobedient and unruly. The children were very noisy one Friday in February 1880, especially during the needlework lesson! An entry dating from Febraury 1887 does give a small insight into her way of teaching, however. She stated 'one boy is inclined to be troublesome - I find the best punishment is to make him work alone'. She appears to be quite enlightened for a Victorian schoolmistress!

The school passed into the overall control of Wiltshire County Council after 1906, when this plan was made, and continued as an elementary (all ages) school.

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