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Woodborough Church of England (VA) Primary School

Woodborough Church of England (VA) Primary School Date Photo Taken 2012
Uploaded 20/12/2012 13:29:09
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Map Latitude 51.33673836576795 : Longitude -1.8471944332122803
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

In 1783 there were complaints about the lack of schools in Woodborough, but by 1833 there were two schools recorded; one with six boys and ten girls and the other with ten boys and fifteen girls. By 1839, however, only the latter remained. This school was located north east of the Manor House in a pair of cottages which had been converted in 1827. In 1858 it was recorded as being a brick building without residence, with a brick floor and loose desk. It was 45 x 18 feet but could be partitioned into two unequal parts. There were 20 - 30 children taught by a woman, with the implication of no formal qualification, either Mrs Mary Anne Mullings or Mrs Mary Wiltshire. At this time it was just an infant school with boys leaving at age seven and girls at eight, although there were opportunities to study in the winter evenings. This school remained open until 1872, when a new school was built in Beechingstoke parish. The old building was given to the parish in 1906 for use as a Sunday School and for other Church functions.

Woodborough National School was opened on January 13th 1873, at which time the head teacher was Mrs Emily Bizley, and the assistant teacher Miss Jane Bizley. There were also two pupil teachers Mary Jane Stratton and Ellen Gardiner, the latter of whom left in 1887 after failing to pass a Government exam. The headteacher received a salary of £10 a year, with the £15 school upkeep cost paid by voluntary subscriptions and the payment of fees - the school pence - (the amount of which is not specified). It was only in 1887, however, that children were sent home from school if they did not have their school money, with one parent Pearce Broads refusing to send her boys back. The headteacher G. P Hart remarked on the difficultly of the situation saying that many parents were out of work. A government grant was also given annually, calculated using factors such as average attendance, the number of infants and examination results. In 1876 Woodborough School received £55 5s, increasing to £87 10s by 1882, a rise her Majesty's Inspectors (HMIs) attributed to the strong leadership of Charles Henry Grace, headmaster from 1877 to 1883. In 1899, a grant for £26 was recorded in the school log book, for 'a) repairs and b) providing more and better apparatus.' In 1860 £200 was left in a will to Job Clift, a charity which still exists today, to be invested into the school. In 1898 this money was used to reward attendance levels, as well as 10 shillings for the Headteacher for supplying the statistics. 5 shillings was given to children who had had 'unbroken attendance during the year' with 4 shillings to those who had been absent 'not more than twenty times' and 3 shillings and 2 shillings for those who had missed school not more than forty and sixty times respectively.

In 1874 Woodborough school had fifteen desks, nine at 9 feet long and six at 7 feet 3 inches long, which meant the number of pupils could not exceed 173. It is probable that slate and chalk were used to write, but in June 1882 there was much excitement as the first class children 'began to work their lessons on paper.' At the age of six children moved from the infant class to the higher standards, usually in April as the school year officially ended in March. In 1907 a school bell was hung. There is no description of classroom decoration, but evidently there was no cloakroom for the infants as the HMI in 1893 remarked that 'hats and cloaks should be removed from the schoolroom.' He also commented that it was 'not well warmed in cold weather' and that the temperature of 38F was too low. The caretaker therefore began lighting a fire at 7:15 a.m. during the cold spells.

Evidence suggests that the agreed syllabus was often ignored, with numerous entries in the school log from 1874 stating how 'the normal timetable was deviated from' and an inspector's report from 1888 remarking how the 'syllabus has not been followed satisfactorily.' This was likely due to the bouts of poor weather and sickness, which lowered attendance levels and, as written in 1913 by headteacher E E Whitting, 'hindered work.' Bad weather mainly reduced infant attendance but the flooding in January 1879 seemed to have caused particular problems, as did the 'very cold weather' of December 1873. As time progressed the attendance levels did rise, from a weekly average of 46.3 pupils in January 1873 to 119 in November 1882, and 144 by 1893. In fact, in 1888 a visiting inspector said the school grant would be reduced unless the number of infants was reduced as the school could not exceed the levels prescribed by Article 96. During World War Two 21 evacuees arrived at Woodborough School but other than this, the figure from 1893 has remained largely the same, with 150 children at the school today.

Aside from the weather, other reasons for absences included sickness with common ailments being whooping cough, mumps and measles. There was also an outbreak of diphtheria in March 1882 causing the school to be closed for two weeks, while scarlet fever in 1908 led to the isolation of several children in Devizes Isolation Hospital, after a Medical Inspector from Pewsey suggested it was a sensible precaution. Interestingly, an assistant school teacher was reported as having a bad arm from a vaccination in March 1882, while more unusual conditions included a boy whose mother described him as 'weak in the head and delirious in sleep' in 1891, and a poisoned finger in 1946. There are only three deaths mentioned, however, the first being the pupil teacher Mary Jane Stratton's brother, and later two infant boys were found dead, with no explanation given. Whether the deaths of the latter two are suspicious is debateable but the case was taken to court with the jury proclaiming that 'the windows of the school rooms should only be opening during recreation time.' This suggests either that the temperature was too cold, or that someone had entered the school unlawfully. Minor illnesses included eczema and rashes. Health certainly improved after the turn of the century with children being weighed and measured by 1917 and a dentist visiting after 1918, treating six to eight year olds.

There are also absences recorded for a variety of other reasons. Annual holidays generally followed the religious and agricultural calendar, with no school on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and a half day on Easter Monday. The harvest holiday was usually from early August to mid September; however there is mention of this holiday being altered to coincide more fully with the harvest. One to two weeks was given at Christmas but records suggest that the last day of term, usually the 23rd December, was filled with children's tea and Christmas tree decorating. Other authorised reasons for absence included Whitsuntide, where a week's holiday was given, as well as intercession day and national celebrations. One such event was Queen Victoria's Jubilee on the 18th July 1897 when a festival was attended by the school at Hilcot. Additionally, Empire Day was celebrated and in May 1916 saw the children go to the Rectory Lawn at noon to be addressed by the Colonel Stewart. VE day on the 8th and 9th of May 1945 was marked by a holiday, and interestingly every child received a card with George VI's victory message on it. By 1950 there was even a Parent's Day introduced, where entertainment was provided by the children and no lessons were held.

Some pupils, normally the older children, also missed school because they needed to assist at home or in the garden, with many reported as having 'irregular attendance' for potato planting in April 1877 and pig keeping. The Manningford Bible meeting in July 1876 was attended by many, as was the wedding of the former headmistress and in fact the school was closed for the occasion. The Woodborough Feast in October, probably an equivalent to a harvest festival, as well as the Annual Temperance Society Tea in July saw more children absent, while the much anticipated Sunday School Treat in early August drew yet more pupils away. The surrounding village festivals, e.g. in Potterne and the Manningford Rose Show, caused the school to be closed for the day, while whole school trips included blackberry picking in September and October 1918. In January 1883 a half day was given to prepare the school rooms for a concert that evening. Only a few children left the school prematurely - Stanley and Bertie Ketteringham were awarded scholarships to Marlborough Grammar School, while Stephen Wise left after being offered work. Almost always, however, were there fewer children in school than were listed on the books. In their free time chestnut collecting was extremely popular, and records also show that in 1949 films were shown to the children by Mr Waight who had recorded his visits to the Netherlands, the USA and Canada.

There is little mention of misbehaviour or punishment in the log books, but in 1878 the HMI reported that the school discipline was 'fairly good.' By 1888, however, the HMI stated the discipline of the school was 'only fair as the tendency to fidget has not yet been removed.' One girl also returned to afternoon lessons late, her excuse being 'she did not notice the time.' The Headmistress Emily Bizley wrote only that she 'was sorry that [she] was obliged to mention her want of punctuality.' In 1950 a pupil stole some money from another child, and was given a strong warning. Once the victim's mother was satisfied, however, the matter was considered closed with no harsh punishment ensuing.

In the 1870s the subjects studied were the elementary ones of reading, writing and arithmetic, with special mention of long division for the Standard 2 children. Singing was particularly good, with an HMI in 1877 describing how 'the children [sang] with more refinement than is generally displayed,' and the arrival of a piano in July 1907 augmented the strength of this discipline. There is much reference to the children learning new songs, especially prior to the weekly visit of the Rector. He also taught religious instruction with progress monitored by the Diocesan Inspector. In 1877 there is also mention of a prize being presented for religious knowledge, although this is the only subject referenced. The headteacher C H Grace remarked on his arrival that the children's 'General Knowledge was more deficient than any [he had] ever met with,' and thus in 1877 increased focus was put on this. He also created a new timetable, which was followed until 1939, when the outbreak of war and the consequent 'blackout' sessions required afternoon lessons to finish at 3:20pm. The school day began at 9:00 a.m. with prayers for fifteen minutes, followed by religious instruction until 9:50. At 10:00, after the registers, the 'three Rs' of arithmetic, reading and writing were studied until 12:30, when the children could go home for lunch. Afternoon lessons began at 1:45 p.m. with registers until 2:00 when the newly incorporated disciplines of needlework, repetition, copy books and tables would be studied for half an hour. From 2:30 - 4:30 arithmetic, reading and writing was continued with. These 'three Rs' were frequently examined and in 1876, despite 41 pupils being presented for the exam there were 37 passes in reading, 36 in writing and only 19 for arithmetic.

The HMI report for 1882 mentions 'grammar [being] fairly good, history fair [and] geography fair' suggesting these subjects must have been introduced sometime between 1877 and 1882. The Victorian log book also describes the infant's 'object lessons' with reports from 1893-4 including a wolf, a spider, a grocer's shop and a lead pencil as the objects discussed. By 1888 composition and musical drill had been incorporated into the school syllabus with an inspector remarking that the standard of teaching was 'excellent.' The curriculum in 1898 had been further developed, and was divided into recitations; where King Alfred, Rope Walk and Julius Caesar were studied. Additionally, the geography of Europe was taught, as well as elementary science and English history - focusing on Queen Victoria's reign. During the early 1900s gardening was introduced, which proved popular, although frustration was seen when the County Offices were delayed in sending seeds. In 1905 a piece of land was obtained and after the tools arrived the senior boys broke up the ground for the use of the scholars. By 1914 the girls were attending domestic classes at a local hotel, and by 1919 were having cookery lessons in Honey Street. For the boys there was woodwork, physical training and in 1929 a trip to see dairy milking and a talk given by the county expert Mrs Bull.

In 1898 and 1905 there is mention of labour candidates being presented for examination to enable them to leave school early and work in agriculture; In 1898 four of the nine applicants failed the exam. From the log book there also appeared to have been a County Exam in the 1940s although no explanation of what this involved was given. Thus, although there were no nationalised exams HMIs visited Woodborough School annually assessing the progress of the students and the efficiency of the staff. The HMI from 1874 until the 1890s was Edwin Lloyd who praised most aspects of the school, with the exception of arithmetic, the failures in which he warned in 1876 'should be less numerous another year.' Unfortunately in 1877, arithmetic was still described as a 'general weakness' and he threatened that a 'serious deduction will be incurred next year, unless more creditable results are obtained.' The improvement by May 1878, although noticeable, was not sufficient and a deduction of 1/10th of the grant was made.

Today the school has 143 children in six classes. There are 20 full time and part time teaching staff and four non teaching posts. A new, large school hall has recently been built and this is available for hire, providing the village with an excellent new facility.

Date Headteacher
1874 - 1877 Mrs Emily Bizley
1887 - 1883 Mr Charles Henry Grace
1883 - 1892 Mr G P Hart
1892 - 1924 Mr E E Whiting
1924 - 1934 Mr Trollops
1934 - 1939 M Manning
1939 - ? M A Budd
? - 1946 I E Perkins
1946 - ? Mr A C Turner
2012 Sarah Bewis

Isabella Steel

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