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Coombe Bissett

Coombe Bissett Church of England Primary School

Coombe Bissett Church of England Primary School Date Photo Taken 2012
Uploaded 22/09/2012 16:45:58
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Map Latitude 51.03321045971781 : Longitude -1.8446248769760132
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Children were taught in Coombe Bissett as early as 1818 when the clerk's wife conducted a school for 20 children, six of whom had their fees paid by the vicar. The lady of the manor supported another school, a Sunday and day school for 20 girls. The largest Sunday and day school catered for 28 boys and girls, and included children from East and West Harnham. By 1858 boys and girls were also taught in a roadside cottage in the parish.

The National School was built by Mr Penruddocke in 1845 with space for 45 children. A building grant of £47 was provided by the Treasury.

Warburton states that 20 to 30 pupils were taught at the school in 1858. The size of the schoolroom was 33 feet by 15 feet with a board floor, deemed in good condition. There was one certified school mistress aided by pupil teachers. It is noted that in 1857 both instruction and discipline were good at the school. The school was enlarged in 1889 and by 1895 the average attendance was said to be 120.

The surviving school log books begin in 1897. The younger children received object lessons with topics such as seasons of the year, the weather, soil, crops, trees, bees, the farmer's pests and friends, frog, railway and newspaper. The girls took needlework and the boys, drawing. In April 1897 the poetry list for the children in Standard I was: The Living, The Little Sunbeam, Sunshine and Showers, Llewelyn this Boy and the Burgher's Sports and Stirling (a burgher was a person who lived in a town or city, not a misspelling of something to eat!). All pupils studied arithmetic, writing, reading, spelling and scripture, with regular exams in each. The scripture exams were conducted by the vicar. Exams were also taken in 'recitation', when in January 1898 the children were 'exceeding well especially in pronunciation'. Maths included work on the addition of money and fractions, decimal fractions, compound division and 'the greatest common measure'. Additional subjects included dictation, geography and history. In April 1898 the 'history course' consisted of 60 lessons on the Stuart period, and in April 1899 it was on to the Hanoverians. The children received a new set of history 'readers' (subject books) for each year's course. In February 1901 a special history lesson was given on 'the funeral of our late Queen Victoria'. In June 1902 a morning lesson was given on "The Coronation". This must have been in preparation, as a half day holiday was given for the children's coronation procession being held in Salisbury the following month. Music was regularly taught as in January 1898 when standards 3 to 6 had a singing lesson. In July 1899 there was a collective singing lesson given to the whole school in the afternoon.

Lessons did not always take place indoors; the boys were taken out to the fields in July 1901 for a drawing lesson 'from nature on an Elm tree'. The heat had been so 'intensely felt' and the work had not been completed to as high a standard as usual, therefore some time outside was felt to be helpful. Sometimes visitors gave talks, as in February 1897 when Captain H. Wiltshire gave a morning lecture. The teacher wrote 'Many curios were shewn and thoroughly explained and a most instructive and interesting hour was spent'.

Her Majesty's Inspectors visited every school and in May 1897 the inspector remarked that at Coome Bissett 'the work of the school is carried out with vigour, and its general condition is again very satisfactory'. It was noted that more attention should be paid to the infants' object class and the middle standards were 'backward in spelling and arithmetic'. The school was continuing well in April 1901 when the children were attentive. The infants continued to 'do fairly'. The Infants became a separate department in May 1902 and it was noted that it was understaffed, the lowest class being continuously too large. Shockingly, an entry in November 1903 noted that a boy recently admitted aged over 11, could not read or write.
Children had to be examined for proficiency and obtain a labour certificate before they could leave school. In November 1897 eight boys were taken to Fisherton School to take the exam. The Reverend Milner brought in the results and six boys had passed. The children often needed to leave school to help bring extra income into their households but help was also required when the children were still at school. This was one cause for absence, as in May 1897 when children were engaged in the hay field. In fact this continued until July! During the same month some older children were absent in the allotments. The School Attendance Officer was called and took the names of the absentees. The officer's intervention sometimes worked; in February 1897 he was called in on the Monday and attendance improved. The Salisbury Races in May 1897 and the Salisbury Fair in October were other sources of absenteeism, but rather more enjoyable I should think! At other times an absence from school was not down to the children, as in February 1898 when the schoolroom was required for a ball and February 1899 for 'an entertainment'. In May 1902 the schoolroom was required for a Confirmation. The Baptist Sunday School Outing was bound to cause low attendance figures in July 1900. Children would be marked absent if they came into school late, such as the boy who arrived at 9.30am in February 1897. Some children were persistently absent. It was stated in January 1897 that a girl aged six had only attended school 24 times. In October of the same year a boy had only attended two times out of a possible 50. Some children did attend school regularly and full attendance was rewarded with Diocesan medals, handed out by the Reverend Milner, as in August 1897 in the presence of the school managers.

Absence from school was also caused by events that could not be helped, such as illness or the weather (which in itself could make children ill). In January 1897 there was a measles outbreak; the school was closed but when it re-opened illness and the bad weather were still keeping children away. In March 1897 one boy in the Standard I class died, but the cause was not stated. By June 1897 many children were still suffering from whooping cough and this continued into July. It was discovered in October that many of the standard three class were backward in spelling, caused by their absence with whooping cough. In November several children were absent suffering from 'severe colds'. In May 1898 it was time for chicken pox and by July measles had broken out in Homington. Some parents were keeping their children at home for fear of infection. The following February the head teacher had gone down with tonsillitis and other children were away with throat infections. With March came influenza and it was stated in July 1900 that many children were absent through illness 'caused partly by the great heat'. Mumps broke out in the village in February 1904 and several children were absent. There is a particular mention for one boy with mumps 'he has not been absent or late for seven years and 11 months'. By November 1902 it was the turn of scarlet fever to break out in the village. The school was closed until after the Christmas holidays by the Ministry of Health. Other medical complaints which could mean time at home were ringworm (as in February 1898 and May 1902) and head lice. The latter were never mentioned in the Victorian log book but it is more likely that it was because it was such a common occurrence rather than because the children did not suffer with the problem.

Wet and snowy weather were the worst conditions as the children would get wet getting to school and then find it very hard to get dry again. In March 1987 it was very wet and windy, and only 70 children were present compared to the 'fine weather' at the end of the month, which saw an attendance of 121. In February 1898 heavy snow kept many away, as it did in February 1901. The distance to school also appears to be a factor in attendance for the infants. In November 1898 it was noted that several children under five years had a long distance to walk to school and that attendance was lower because of it.

Holidays were a regular part of the school year as they are now, with one week at Whitsun, and around five weeks for the harvest (summer) holiday, approximately two to three weeks for Christmas, and also Easter. Time off was allowed for smaller religious occasions. In March 1897 the children were taken to church in the morning on Ash Wednesday and were allowed the afternoon off. In May the school was closed for Ascension Day. It was off to church one morning in September for St. Michael's Day. The school was also closed to enable the children to go to 'treats', such as the summer fete and bazaar held in the village in July 1898 and the arrival of Barnum and Bailey's circus in to Salisbury in July 1899. The village's Cottage and Garden Show closed the school the same month. The Boer War must have been very much in the minds of the schoolchildren in March 1900 when they got the day off for the 'relief of Ladysmith'. Ladysmith is a town in eastern South Africa which had been under siege. A news article from The Guardian, Friday 2nd March 1900 told of excitement across the country, and at the Mansion House in London there were demonstrations of loyalty and rejoicing that the Major of London had never seen before, when the 'enduring courage of Sir G. White and his gallant army' was heard of by all. In July 1901 the children were allowed the afternoon off as the schoolroom was needed for the welcome home of three villagers who had been on active service in 'His Majesty's Imperial Yeomanry' in South Africa.

In 1903 responsibility for the school passed to the new Local Education Authority, Wiltshire County Council who examined both physical conditions and management. Adye surveyed Wiltshire schools in c.1903 and reported on 'defects and dilapidations'. At Coombe Bissett there were broken steps from the road to the courtyard and from there to the porch. There were no doors separating the 'mixed' schoolroom from the rest of the school. There were no fresh air inlets and the fire grate needed resetting. The sash windows were also out of order. In March 1904 an entry in the school log book notes that the new grate has been placed in the north end of the main room, 'the smoke having previously been a source of much unpleasantness'. No wonder the children were taken outside to learn! The 'closets' or toilets were just pits and the doors to them were broken at the bottom. It was advocated that these pits should be filled and that Moule's earth closets be fitted. Interestingly the closet's inventor, Henry Moule, came from Wiltshire. The school must have been quite a dirty place in the latter years of the 19th century. A H.M. Inspection in May 1899 stated that a woman should be employed to clean the school and wash the floors at least once a quarter. The infants' room was very dusty and the drainage in the offices required attention. During the Whitsun holidays the floor was scrubbed and the school cleaned. A lady was appointed to clean the school daily and a further 'spring' clean took place in April 1900. At this time the old maps were taken down and new maps put up on the walls of the main room. The drainage of the playground needed attention in 1899 and in January 1900 playground repairs cost £10.

By 1907 the average attendance at this all age school was 105 and the teaching staff comprised the head master Joseph Drake and three assistant mistresses, Miss Sarah Dyke, Miss Diana Drake, and Miss Grace Jenkins, By 1911 there were only two assistant mistresses, although the number of children was unchanged, and by the end of the First World War there was only one. However by 1923 there again two assistants.

From September 1952 all older children (11+) were transferred to the Secondary School at Wilton and Coombe Bissett School became a junior school, and in 1955 the now voluntary controlled school had c.40 pupils.

The old National School building was small and unsuited to the educational needs of the latter part of the 20th century. In the mid 1960s a new school was planned and was being built at a cost of £21,569 but during construction there was a substantial increase in the local population and another classroom was essential to meet the needs of the community. Fortunately it was possible to incorporate a new classroom in the permanent building at a cost of £4,935 instead of having to erect a temporary classroom.

In the early 1970s schools in southern Wiltshire changed to a three tier system and Coombe Bissett became a First School for children up to 9 years old; this continued to 2001 when the school reverted to a Primary School in September. In 2012 the school has four classrooms and a central hall, which is also used for P.E. while outside is a large playing field, a playground and a picnic area. A recent addition is a garden in which each class has its own raised bed. In May 2011 there were 89 children on the school register.

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