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Council School, Odstock

Council School, Odstock Date Photo Taken 2011
Uploaded 15/03/2012 11:09:01
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Map Latitude 51.03418202347672 : Longitude -1.7881831526756287
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

The Earl of Radnor provided a school building in 1872 for 46 children and this opened in January of that year. The initial pages of the earliest surviving Odstock school log book appear to have been lost. The first extant entry begins at 13 February 1874, when a Mrs. Chick was the schoolmistress. She would remain at the school until January 1876.

From the earliest days of the school, the local Rector, Rev. P.E. Miles, played a very active life in it and visited almost daily for some 30 years in order to give Scripture and Catechism lessons to the children and to test them in their religious knowledge. His wife, and later his sons, also visited the school, the former to teach songs and needlework.

It is not possible to assess the precise number of children on the school roll at this time; generally the schoolteacher would record exact numbers of attendances, together with their percentage of the total on roll. At Odstock in the 1870s and early 1880s, however, the teacher contented herself with merely recording the number of children present, or more generally, that attendance was "poor". In September 1877, for example, the school reopened after the Harvest Holiday with 20 children - but there is no indication of whether this was good or bad attendance.

The normal assiduous recording of attendance by teachers in schools receiving government grants was due to the fact that the amount of such grants could fluctuate according not only to test results, but also to attendance levels. At Odstock it may be assumed provisionally that the number of children on roll was in the twenties in the 1870s, but that figures gradually increased in the ensuing years until in July 1887 there was a total of 35. In January 1897 the teacher notes that due to severe weather, average attendance reached only 23.7. Finally, in September of the same year, the number of children on roll is given as 31. In September 1899 41 children (26 boys and 15 girls) were on roll, with one 12 year-old girl assisting as Monitor. Eighteen months later the schoolroom was enlarged and a new floor laid.

From 1899 to 1918 the school leaving age was 12, and children were intermittently noted as leaving at this age. There is no note, at Odstock, of children following the process of leaving from the age of 11 if successful in an examination proving that s/he had achieved a requisite standard in reading, writing and arithmetic.

In an agricultural area such as Odstock, attendance was periodically affected by children absenting themselves, either with or without leave, to help in the fields. In October 1874 two boys asked leave three times in a week to pick apples. In the same period a boy asked leave to pick potatoes. In July 1898 several of the older children were allowed to leave school early in order to carry food to their fathers in the hay-fields. In June 1900 two boys were away assisting at sheep-shearing on a local farm. In 1906 a boy was "helping to pull mangolds and as he will this month be 14 years old, he will not return to school, but remain at work…"

Other, domestic, tasks might intrude on a girl's schooling: for example, in 1874, being kept at home in order to nurse a baby.

There were, however, other major factors in the standard of attendance: firstly, in a rural area where a number of children had to walk long distances to and from school, returning home then back to school at lunchtime, severe wet or snowy weather could significantly affect attendance. An indication of the effect of cold weather at this time appears in remarks such as that of a child, who in May 1874 was noted as having a 'bad foot' - clarified as a broken chilblain. No doubt affected by the weather at times, were other questions of the children's health: Coughs and colds might affect attendance levels seriously at times; at others, more serious epidemics of whooping cough or measles would bring the intervention of the Medical Officer to pronounce on whether or not the school should be closed temporarily. Monitoring of the children's health and intervention by the County authorities was firmly in place by the final years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th. Regular visits by the School Nurse checked the hygiene and health of the children, and routine weighing and measuring took place at intervals determined by a rota for passing a weighing machine from school to school.

The curriculum followed by the children included Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Recitation (of poetry or scripture), Geography and, for the girls, Needlework. In addition there were 'Object Lessons' in which the children would study a diverse range of topics, such as 'the whale, salt, the elephant, the bear, coal, the cat, the silkworm. The children were divided into Standards 1, 2, 3 & 4 plus the Infants' class. It is clear that the Rector was active in approval of the curriculum: In November 1898 he was not only visiting frequently to teach scripture and to test the children in their scriptural knowledge, but he also approved the list of Object Lessons, the poetical extracts to be studied by the children, and the scheme of Geography to be used for the ensuing year and forwarded to HMI. The timetable was also revised to include drawing and 'drill'.

The teacher's notes of equipment received at the school provide a glimpse of the items in use at the school in this late Victorian period:

1 box slate pencils
1 doz. cedar ditto
1 doz. slates, framed, for Infants
1 bottle of ink
Some drawing pins
2 attendance registers
1 box pen nibs
1 ton coal for school
12 drawing rulers

More excitingly, perhaps, in November 1899 a harmonium was received for use in the school.

The school was regularly inspected by an HM Inspector; his reports, generally positive although always with comments regarding improvements to be made, were copied into the log book by the Rector.

Punishment for the children's misbehaviour or disobedience primarily took the form of being kept in school late, although on a very few occasions the teacher noted that the cane had been used. However, in addition to the work and tests of the children there were special holidays and treats, including the following:

In October 1874 a half-holiday was given for the school treat, at which prizes were given for those who had performed well at repetition of the scriptures. The following week a half-holiday was granted to enable the children to attend Salisbury fair; this would be repeated for many years.
In December 1874 the Rector's wife provided prizes for the best needlework; these included workboxes, a writing case, gloves, and apron and pinafores;
In May 1876 the Rector gave the children a holiday in the afternoon to make their May garlands.
In July 1877 an afternoon's holiday was given as there was a flower show at Britford. "There was also a public tea for which the Rev. P.E. Miles kindly gave the whole school tickets".

On occasion, events in the wider national and international life would be marked: In June 1897 there was a holiday for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, as there had been a decade earlier for her Golden Jubilee. A few years later, in March 1900, there would be an afternoon holiday to mark the Relief of Ladysmith in the Boer War "news of which event was so joyfully received everywhere the day before. Before leaving at 12 [o'clock] each child was given a handful of sweets by Mrs. Miles, for the marking of the same event." A few months later, in June 1900, the Relief of Mafeking was also celebrated.

Nevertheless, the great event of the early 20th century, the First World War, appears not to have been remarked upon at all, except for the periodic collecting of blackberries and chestnuts to be sent to "the depot". Blackberry juice was sent to the troops abroad and chestnuts, it would subsequently transpire, were used from 1917 onwards for the extraction of acetone in order to produce explosives. The latter process took place in the final months of the war as explosive material came into short supply. Although the process was not finally used, many classes of schoolchildren around the country had the pleasure of collecting the chestnuts from the local woods!

A particularly notable event took place in early December 1915 when, shortly before midday, a "monoplane flew over, quite low down, and settled in the field at the back of the Farm, where it remained until Sunday morning about 9 o'clock".

By November 1917 there were 56 children on the school roll. This number included children admitted from the "Workhouse", apparently Salisbury workhouse. On 6 September 1915, 33 workhouse pupils had been admitted. Until this date the children had attended Britford school; the reason for their move to Odstock has not as yet been determined. The HMI report of December 1920 was good overall, but noted that one of the difficulties experienced by the school was due to the fact that its population was "unusually migratory owing to the fact that many of them come from an institution in the village". In 1922 Odstock school became a Council School into which the children of Nunton school were merged.

As in other schools, a yearly commemoration of the November 11th 1918 Armistice took place: On that date in 1920 there was a special lesson on "Armistice Day" and the "Unknown Warrior".

In 1922 the children from Nunton School merged with those at Odstock after the summer holidays, to become Odstock Council School. In 1932 a new classroom was added to the school and improvements made to the lighting, heating, ventilation and cloakroom accommodation. Physical measurements of the school were noted in September 1934: The 'Big Room' measured 27ft. x 15 ft. (8.23 m. x 4.5 m.); the Infant Room 21.5 x 18.25 ft. (6.55 m. x 5.56 m.) with total accommodation for 80 pupils.

HMI Report of March 24th 1936 was very positive about the children's work and their varied curriculum, which included Composition, Arithmetic, Geography, History, Drawing, Singing and Needlework, Rhythmic Exercises, a Percussion Band and Nature Study.

At this point, there were 35 children on roll but from April 21st to May 15th 1936

The Coronation of George VI took place on May 12th 1937; the children made all the decorations which hung from the outside of the school and a photo of the building on the day was placed in the log book.
In May 1939 the number of children on the school roll was 37. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, however, 12 evacuees were immediately admitted and successive admissions took place during the course of the war. Not all of the evacuees remained for the war's duration but returned home, or transferred elsewhere. It is apparent that by 1940 a 'van' transported children to and from their homes on the downs. In January 1940 heavy snow and ice prevented the vehicle from travelling uphill, and school lessons were postponed since attendance was so low.

By September 1943, 50 children were on the school roll, three of whom were evacuees.
In December 1943 and Easter 1944 the children sang at the American Red Cross Hospital and were rewarded by a visit from "Santa Claus" on the first occasion, and ice-cream and "cookies", and an Easter basket of sweets and chocolate, each, on the second. VE Day on 8th May 1945 saw the outside of the school decorated again, and a Thanksgiving Service was held in the Infant Room. The following day sports were held in the field next to the Rectory.

With falling school rolls into the late 20th and early 21st century, Britford and Odstock Primary Schools merged in the summer term of 2010 and were to be known henceforward as Longford C of E (VC) School.

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