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Wiltshire Community History

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North Wraxall

North Wraxall School

North Wraxall School Date Photo Taken 2012
Uploaded 22/11/2012 16:42:41
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Map Latitude 51.472959144669616 : Longitude -2.263117879629135
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


Before North Wraxall School had been built, there is evidence from a parliamentary investigation, dating back to 1818, which describes how the parish children were initially educated. The parliamentary report showed that there were no formal means of education in North Wraxall, but that Michael Wyatt - the rector - instructed approximately 50 children on Sundays at his own expense. The Rector did not think that parents would be willing to sacrifice their earnings for the formal education of their children due to "(the) parish being agricultural, and the children employed as soon as they can walk."

In 1832, a school and house were erected on some waste ground, after permission was given by the Lord of the Manor; Mr Methuen. 'The National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church' contributed £35 towards the school. The school and house were built mostly at the cost of the clergyman, upon whom also fell the practical responsibilities and upkeep.

The buildings were stone-built with a flagged floor. This small school room, with desks placed along the wall, was where 30 mixed children were taught reading and sewing by a mistress, and writing and swimming by the parish organist. Primarily, not all of the parish children were educated in North Wraxall, as 12 from Ford were taught at Castle Combe School, and 10-20 local children taught at Ford by a dame.

In 1869, the schoolroom was raised, and a wooden floor put down. An additional room was built, measuring 32 feet long, 15 feet wide and 16 feet high. This extension of the school building cost £400. It does not seem that there were many more alterations to the school, other than general maintenance, until ten years later. In 1879, the schoolhouse was raised by one storey, at a cost of £100. Whilst the school and house remained relatively small, an inspector commented in 1885; "there is no play-ground attached to the school", which suggests that space was limited as an exercise program was then recommended.

In 1893 it was remarked by an inspector that "Ventilation is needed in the roof of the school". In 1948 the school was then moved, temporarily, to West Kington due to an unsafe overhanging cliff behind the schoolroom. This was followed by the occupation of the Village Hut at Ford. Part of a field - 0.75 acres - to the south west of the Congregational Chapel, between North Wraxall and Upper Wraxall villages, was then bought and a sectional timber hut, containing two classrooms, erected on it. This was opened in 1951 with 29 children and 2 teachers. A fire occurred at the school on 19th March 1953 destroying the infants' room, which was rebuilt at a cost of £713 9s 0d while the infants were taught in the schoolroom on the Congregational Chapel. The infants moved back into the main school building on 12th April 1954.

The school was first conducted by Mrs Mary Pullen, who retired on a pension in 1854, and was succeeded by Miss Louisa Gait. Miss Gait was a certified mistress and was accompanied by her sister, Miss Sarah Ann Gait, as assistant until Easter of 1865. In January 1866, a new assistant mistress was found; Miss Elizabeth Gwillin, and Mrs Eliza Ann Dowding took charge of the school in April because of Miss Gait's failing health. In September of 1870, Elizabeth Newman was appointed as a teacher. She left the school at North Wraxall in 1873 to become a teacher at Stratton St. Margaret, but returned to North Wraxall in November 1876 as assistant mistress. In September of 1873, Elizabeth Ann Orchard was appointed as assistant teacher, and Matilda Billet became a teacher in November of the same year.

1872 sees Mary Hinton both join and leave the school as a teacher, and Ann Cole appointed as a teacher in June. In November, Mercy Kidd takes charge of the infants, and two additional teachers; M. E. Drewitt and Elizabeth McLewin West, are appointed in the following year.

In August 1874, both Mary Ann Farmilo and Ada Emily Dawson are engaged as teachers after receiving certificates qualifying them as pupil teachers. Alice Emma Sidwell also becomes a teacher, but leaves in 1880 in order to enter the Home and Colonial Training College, London. A. E. Sidwell leaves North Wraxall in 1880 to attend the same college. A. E. Dawson, M. A. Farmilo and A. E. Sidwell all attended an exam for teachers in religious knowledge and passed, 1878. This was followed by a very positive report of the schoolchildren's religious knowledge by Rev. C. S. Taylor in October.

During the year of 1880, Lydia Booy, Elizabeth Shellard and Elizabeth Hillier were all engaged as teachers. M. A. Farmilo took charge of West Kington school in 1881, and A. E. Dawson left to enter Purton school in 1883. Also in 1883, E. A. Dowding's certificate as school mistress was raised to first class. Unfortunately, Mrs Dowding was "seized with a fit of apoplexy and died within a few hours" in August 1884. This had dramatic implications for the school, as Mrs Dowding was very difficult to replace, and the school lost its government grant. In May of this year, Catherine Matilda Martin became a teacher and took charge of the school in June 1886. The following year, Minnie Lena Martin was appointed as a teacher and took charge in July 1897, two months after Catherine Martin left.

M. L. Martin retired in 1905, and the managers handed the school over to the management of the county council under new legislation. November 1905 saw a new system under Miss Lidstone, with assistants E. M. Griffin and A. L. Bailey.

As has been previously mentioned, the original founding of the school was mostly funded by the rector. In addition to this, funding was provided in 1850 by Mr Richard Bennett, who gave £1,000 to be spent on educating 12 girls and 12 boys, to be used at the rector's discretion. In 1888 the annual income from this sum had become £23 3s 8d. A plaque can be seen in the church which commemorates Mr Bennett's donation towards the school.

In February of 1872, Mr John Howell died, leaving £333 6s 8d which became 'Mr Howell's Educational Foundation'. A much later bequest was also made by Richard Bennett, in 1910, of £928.

The year of 1870 was significant for the funding of North Wraxall School, as the schoolmistress passed the qualifying examination under the 'Educational Department, Whitehall, London', and the school became entitled to annual parliamentary grants beginning January 1871. Accommodation for 101 children was officially declared, and the following year marked the first piece of government funding received by the school at £14 1s 8d (for an average attendance of 56 children for 5 months).

Grants continued to be received from the government until the death of Mrs Dowding, which caused difficulty for the school. Despite having previously had continually good reports, the lack of a head-mistress, coupled with the decrease in attendance due to the depopulation of country parishes and the development of education in neighbouring villages, the school's government grant was lost, and the attendance gradually dropped.

Attendance had peaked in the late 1870s to early 1880s, reaching its maximum of 109 students in the year 1880. Before this, attendance had varied between 40 and 60 pupils, and this pattern returned again from 1897 onwards, reaching a low of 38 pupils attending in 1898.

1902 was an important year in terms of the school funding, as an Act of Parliament allowed county councils to take over local schools and impose a fee. Wiltshire levied the first rate in 1903, which caused Lord Methuen to discontinue his annual donation of £5. November 27th 1905 marks the day in which the school was taken over under its new system.

In 1907 the school is recorded as having over 50 pupils attending the school, showing a distinct rise, followed by a drop much later in 1943 where there were less than twenty pupils taught by only one teacher. With education becoming more regularly available locally, older pupils began to transfer to Castle Combe School from 1947. From 1956, pupils were moved to Chippenham for secondary education, which resulted in less pupils attending North Wraxall.

Reports show that, since July 1872, children were examined on their religious knowledge as part of school inspections, and gradually improved in this subject over the years. It also appears that before this, children were instructed in the Scriptures and prayers, as the school was closely linked with North Wraxall church. Reading, spelling, arithmetic and needlework were part of the curriculum, with the elementary subjects generally being regarded positively by the school inspectors on their regular visits and examinations.

There were several cases of high achievements amongst pupils. Frank Brokenbrow gained a scholarship at Colston's Hospital, Bristol, after entering a competition in 1875. In 1877 James Brokenbrow and John Hicks received certificates of honour from Lord Sandon (Minister of Education), which entitled them to three years of free education. The same happened two years later for Mary Andrews, Lydia Booy, Arthur Drew, Joseph Swan, and Thomas Vincent. In 1880, W. J. Bigwood also received a certificate for free education, as did Emma Francorn and Ann Wiltshire in 1882.

Other notable achievements occurred in 1888, when Elizabeth Bishop passed the fourth standard, aged 8, and in 1896 when Edith Mary Billet and Amy Louisa Bailey passed the fifth standard, aged 9.

North Wraxall school was known for remaining open as long as possible, with minimal holidays. Even on Sundays, Good Friday, and Christmas Day, school opened twice for an hour and a half for religious instruction. Being a very agricultural parish, most pupils would enter farming, with a few becoming teachers, after completing their education, with the rare exception of the particularly high achieving students.

After the school closed the wooden building that opened in 1951 had become a community centre for the parish by 1973.


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