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Oxenwood County School

Oxenwood County School Date Photo Taken 1906
Uploaded 15/02/2011 10:56:43
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Map Latitude 51.33153338051036 : Longitude -1.566951870918274
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

A new school replaced the Dame school at Tidcombe, in 1858. It was situated halfway between Oxenwood and Fosbury near the entrance to Fosbury House. The school had 87 children on its register, some from Oxenwood and some from Fosbury and Tidcombe, just south of the parish of Shalbourne and was known as Fosbury School. The school was replaced with a new school, opened in September 1905, and situated north west of Oxenwood, known as Oxenwood School.

The new school opened with 68 on the register, and employed a head teacher with no assistants. Consequently the standard dropped slightly in the first two years. Temporary charge was given to Mr. Morris, the head teacher of Shalbourne School in 1907, as the established head was unwell and he was then replaced on a temporary basis by Mr. A. Kerridge. A number of temporary head teachers followed until the permanent appointment of J. J. Hedges.

In October 1907 the school was affected by an outbreak of scarlet fever and bad weather, and the attendance often dropped to 30 or even less. Weather was a dominant factor in the attendance and in March 1908 the school was closed as snow made it impossible to enter the premises. Only 12 children had managed to arrive at school and they were then sent home. Many children had to travel long distances to reach school and during the winter the school would close earlier to allow time for them to return home safely before it became too dark.

Although the school was newly built, there were a number of snags concerning the playground surface and the roof to the girls' offices (toilets) which required repairs. As well as the regular lessons, equipment was provided to assist the teaching of gardening and this included forks and trowels. Instruction was given on 'budding' and these lessons were attended by the boys. The girls attended a domestic science course at the village hall.

Illnesses and epidemics that affected the attendance at the school included measles and chicken pox in 1913, mumps in 1920 and whooping cough in 1925. The children were regularly checked by the Medical Officer or the nurse and two girls were sent home in 1923 to have their hair cleared of vermin and told not to return until the following Thursday when the nurse would inspect them again. Dental inspections were held in 1923 and some extractions took place. A further measles epidemic occurred in 1926 and 1929 and the children were given cod liver oil on a regular basis.

Usual holidays were observed at Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and summer with extra time often taken to help with the harvest. In 1920 the school pupils attended the unveiling of the war memorial and had a holiday on February 28th 1922 to celebrate Princess Mary's wedding.

Reading books were sent from school to school under the reading scheme, and Oxenwood received theirs from Chute, forwarding them on to Buttermere. The timetable included singing lessons and organised games which were now taken together, that is boys and girls.

The uncertified teacher left in 1921 and the head had to manage on his own until a new appointment was made in 1923, consequently this affected the standard of the teaching. The diocesan report of 1925 comments on low attendance, 24 pupils out of 65 on the register were at school that day, and there was 'very little evidence of work to show for the last year. Old Testament knowledge is better than knowledge of the Lord's life or the parables.'

The head teacher retired in 1925 after suffering failing health and died soon after wards, the children attended his funeral. He was succeeded by Rose Cotter. Children stayed at the school until they were 14 years old and county council examinations were carried out regularly. The Inspector's report of 1926 marked the school as 'fair' with room for improvement, particularly with regard to arithmetic.

Punishment, that is caning, was given for general disobedience, bad behaviour and 'ink splashing'. School teams were introduced in 1927 and were called the Rose, the Thistle and the Shamrock, each team had its own duties and a cup was awarded by Mr. Callender to the team that had performed the best. The children also began to listen to radio broadcasts and went to the village hall in 1927 to hear 'the travelling scholar', the sound quality was not good initially but gradually improved. The report of that year highlighted improvements in teaching and 'greater industrious and self reliance' by the children. The greater variety of lessons was obviously benefitting them, not easy to achieve when they were all taught together in an undivided space. Visitors to the school included two Chinese missionaries who gave a talk on China.

Empire Day was regularly celebrated and in 1929 it began with an assembly in the playground which included the singing of patriotic hymns and recitations. The flag was saluted, the national anthem sung and then in the evening, sports were held on the village green. Annual school outings would visit such places as Weymouth or Bournemouth, and were much enjoyed by the children who perhaps saw the sea for the very first time. Smaller more local outings might include a nature ramble when the children would collect specimens and bring them back to school. This often stimulated other lessons such as drawing, and the use of the compass could be explained through such an excursion. A trip to see the military tattoo at Tidworth and a pantomime trip funded by Sir Eastman Bell occurred in 1936.

The Head retired in 1930 and was succeeded by Miss E. Brown with a new teaching assistant and the next diocesan report marked the school as 'very good' for the first time, stating that 'attention is more concentrated.' The Armistice Day service on November 11th 1931 included the hymn 'O God our help in ages past', a number of readings, other hymns and prayers for the League of Nations and the children of the Empire, finishing with 'God save the King.'

Miss Brown was succeeded by Mrs. Marshall in 1935 and she gave cooking lessons to the girls while Mr. Marshall supervised the boys in the school garden. They built a wooden shed and kitted it out with benches and racking to store the tools, finishing it off with a coat of paint. Equipment was provided so that these subjects could be taught.

Fund raising took place to establish a school fund to help pay for the summer outing, and events like jumble sales and a Christmas concert were held. In 1935 the concert raised £5. 6s.4d. Local people also made donations. Parents visited the school to see the work that the children had been doing and much was put on display. It included decorated Christmas cakes, shelves and a table made in the woodwork classes, soft toys, Christmas cards and calendars. Tea was provided and served by the senior girls.
The vicar remarks in February 1936 that 2the school is one happy family. Thank God for all of it, - especially for the teachers and their Head!2

The next school outing for the senior children took them for an educational trip to the Horlicks Malted Milk Works and then to Windsor Castle. New sports equipment was provided so that the boys could play cricket and the girls netball, on the village playing field, while recent innovations in the school included a gramophone which made country dancing possible. By 1937 the number on the register had reduced to 47 which meant that a reduction in the staffing had to accompany this.

The boys made a dolls' house for the infants' room which was fitted with an electric light powered by a battery and the infants began making furniture to furnish it. The infants' room had also been given a rocking horse for their classroom. The HMI report in June 1937 credits the head with improving the standard of the school and adding recreational activities to the timetable, such as country dancing and the percussion band. Standards were steadily improving. The school outing in 1937 was to Weymouth with many parents accompanying their children.

The playground at this time was separated into two, one side for the girls and the other for the boys, and the decision was now taken to remove the partition so that a mixed playing area was established which also lent itself to a greater variety of games and physical training exercises.

In early 1938 the children had an illustrated talk by Miss D.K. Mason, on her life and travels in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). A cub pack was established to compliment the scout troop formed in 1937 and there was also a brownie pack. The scouts had a day's outing along the Chute causeway and noted the Roman roads, a barrow and the part of the county that had in the past been disputed as belonging to Wiltshire or Berkshire. These groups would now attend school on Armistice Day in their scout or guide uniforms. Examinations were taken by bright students to attend Marlborough Grammar School and an annual grant of £15 was awarded by Mr. Cross to help with the costs if a pupil was successful. The school was given the use of a piano that had been donated to the Scout group.

In 1939 war was declared and the re-opening of the school after the summer break was delayed for a week. When it did re-open, 40 children were on the register and they arrived back at school carrying gas masks.

The school closed on 20th December 1967 and equipment was transferred to Great Bedwyn and Shalbourne schools.

It later re-opened as Oxenwood outdoor education centre for schools, youth groups and other organised groups. It promotes a wide range of activities such as survival skills, walking, map reading and orienteering, archery, wildlife, team building, art and painting activities, local history, mountain biking and local visits. It is a short stay residential centre, and underwent building improvements in 1995 and can now accommodate 38 students and 8 adults on a full board or self catering basis, with camping on offer in the field opposite the centre.

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