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Wiltshire Community History

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Hilmarton School

Hilmarton School Date Photo Taken 2010
Uploaded 22/06/2011 16:45:34
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Map Latitude 51.47650507793079 : Longitude -1.971493363380432
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Hilmarton School was built in 1851 and was officially opened on a very wet day, 16th October that year. Thomas Poynder laid the foundation stone and there was a large attendance of clergy at the opening ceremony. The building project was completely funded by Thomas Poynder and constructed using locally made bricks and Bath stone dressings with clay Roman roof tiles. The building was designed by Henry Weaver along with much of the other Victorian village architecture. On construction it was described as having 'two spacious rooms with open framed roofs of lofty pitch each having a porch entrance and large closet.' At the south-west corner 'a bold and massive buttress forty feet tall with a lantern containing a fine toned bell surmounted by a spiral roof with appropriate vane and monogram'. . In 1858 the Warburton School census reported that '30 to 40 scholars, mixed, are taught by an intelligent mistress. The school had a boarded floor and wall desks and was said to have a tidy and comfortable appearance.

Initially the school was placed under the management of a committee of farmers but there were too many arguments and differences, the committee was abolished by 1856. The vicar managed the school until its handover to the county council in 1914. At this time, the school had apparently fallen into a state of disrepair and Lord Islington was unwilling to fund further repairs. When he sold the school and the rest of his estate, he agreed to give some land and contribute some money to the church in order for them to build a 'church room'- later to become the church hall.

The school building was not only used by children during the day but also as a hugely popular night school. In 1850 and 1851 over a period of 5 months, it was noted that there was an average attendance of 40 men (mainly married) and boys.
General attendance of day pupils fluctuated considerably according to weather conditions, illness epidemics and agricultural activities. Some of the day to day details were recorded in the school log books- these records were usually in the possession of the master or mistress. Hilmarton school log books at the History Centre date from 1895-1953 and 1954-1970.

Subjects ranged from arithmetic and reading/writing to religious studies and nature. The eldest students were given tests in Standards I, II & III. The children were not only instructed in the basic academic subjects but also in husbandry, crop management and geography - information that country dwelling children would need to exist. In fact their whole school year revolved around the sowing and harvesting of crops. For instance in the year 1895, the whole school was dismissed on the 16th August for five weeks Harvest Holiday when the cereals were ready for harvesting. Harvest Holidays did vary slightly in length and date according to the weather and readiness of crops.

Half day and full day holidays were taken on special occasions - Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in which some of the older students were allowed to attend celebrations in Calne.

The records show that in 1853, Hilmarton School was run by Miss Bale and Miss Bishop and their salaries cost £35 per annum. They were shortly followed by Mr and Mrs Malecumber then in 1857 by a Mr and Mrs Bilby. It is possible that the regular master changes were due to the unrest within the governing committee.
From between 1877 and 1920, schoolmasters included Mr & Mrs William J Brown, Mr & Mrs Charles Albert Smith and Mr Thomas and Mrs Nancie Atlay. There were usually two other members of staff and sometimes the addition of a student teacher or monitor who would have assisted in either the junior or infant class.

During the Atlays' time in charge of the school, there were several teachers serving them including, F Richens, Miss Bell, N Jennings, Miss Duck, Miss Parry, Miss Dutch (ran the girl's room) and Alex Atlay ( Mr Atlay's son who was later killed in the Great War along with his brother, Keith).

The scholars at Hilmarton were initially divided between two classes; juniors and infants. This was later changed to a segregation of girls and boys.

The school was originally built to accommodate 122 children but numbers often dropped. In February and March 1897, attendance was low due to heavy rain. On March 18th it was noted that only 56 pupils attended. If a pupil had made it through the mud and was dirty, they were frequently sent home as their clothes would be the only set that they possessed (apart from their Sunday best).

Attendance was often affected by outbreaks of illnesses; sometimes epidemics forced the closure of the whole school. In March 1905, the school was closed for 5 weeks because of measles and in September 1911, 11 weeks for whooping cough. Other infectious diseases included mumps, influenza, scarletina and diphtheria.
A sad occasion was mentioned on the 4th November 1897; 'All older scholars proceeded to Highway following Edward Wilkins to the grave, a promising lad, aged 10. Died last Saturday evening.' It is not known if one of the epidemics was to blame or a tragic accident.

The children were often inspected by a nurse to identify any potential health problems. Medical log books from the school list some of the common problems identified, such as malnutrition, bad teeth, nits, lice and fleas (the child would be described as verminous). If a child or siblings were found to be 'verminous', they would be excluded from school.

Punishment ranged from black marks to strokes of a cane (a thin birch branch). The strokes were usually given by the master. In the school punishment book, 2 strokes was a very common punishment and were mainly administered for carelessness, inattention, lateness and talking in lessons. More serious offences including stealing, fighting, swearing and exposing one's person were given 4 or 6 strokes. On 2nd February 1903, a boy was so badly behaved that 'the master thought this is a case for more special corporal punishment, which was duly given'. It is not known how severe his punishment was. Some misdemeanours listed in the book include; several strokes for filling E. Skull's new hat with water and throwing dirt at a neighbouring resident's washing.

The school room was frequently hired out to parish groups. These included the Recreation Club, Hockey Club, Rifle Club, Wiltshire Friendly Society, Conservative Club and the Parish Council. The occasional flower show and polling day were also held in the building. The pupils were often given a picnic on the lawn of the vicarage before the Harvest Holidays. Their hard work was often rewarded by Lord Poynder at Christmas with a large party.
Further information can be found under Hilmarton Primary School.


Pat Fox said:

I would like to help fill in the 10 year gap in your school entry. I joined the school in 1940 aged 7. Miss Richens was head mistress and there were three rooms. One for infants, the other two classes were mixed sex. Subjects were the usual arithmetic reading and if I remember correctly attention to hand writing. The history book had coloured pictures. I do not remember any mention of farming but do remember "helping" bringing in the harvest. There was a chance to get saving certificates according to the number of cabbage white butterflies you managed to kill. I am not sure whether there might have been more damage done with our rampaging about the green crops. We also learnt to knit and sew (I expect just the girls). I managed one sock! I left to go to secondary school when I was about 11 but came back to sit the 11 plus. Finally left the village aged 14 (I cried for weeks). I will always remember it as the most idyllic time of my life. Have visited several time but have of course been sad at the changes. There was a large yew hedge at the front, full of holes and we had great fun running in and out. In the playground we had lots of games, skipping being a favourite, it could be quite complicated. There was country dancing - Sir Roger de Coverly and Strip the Willow. Singing too - Tom Pearce, Early One Morning and one about Trelawney and Cornish men, a bit odd but it was rousing and the boys gave full voice to it. We were all inoculated against diphtheria, quite painful in those days. The school used to visit regularly and 'operated' in a small hall almost opposite the shop. You had to spit any blood into a bucket of sand by the chair! In that same small building we viewed Queen Mary's dollshouse, I think. One day we all marched up to the main road and supplied with Union Jack flags awaited the King George VI and Mr Churchill drive past, presumably on their way to Lyneham. Now am positive it was still war time so how anybody knew that was going to happen is a mystery.
Posted 20/07/2018

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