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Wiltshire Community History

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Parochial School, Alton Barnes

Parochial School, Alton Barnes Date Photo Taken c.1900
Uploaded 09/01/2013 17:00:12
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Map Latitude 51.357232485548295 : Longitude -1.8500080704689026
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Children Attending the School; the Head Teacher is probably William Stanley Butler.

A school was built and opened in 1837. Children from Alton Barnes and Alton Priors, as well as Honey Street, all had to attend school in Alton Barnes, despite at that point being in different parishes. The logbooks before 1898 are missing; therefore we only have access to the school's history from the academic year starting 1899 until the school's closure in 1978.

In 1859 the Rev. William Warburton reported thus;

"School erected by voluntary contributions in the year 1837 for the children of Alton Barnes and Alton Priors." The roof has been, subsequently, raised. A red brick building, with wooden floor, divided by a partition (30 [feet] x14 x 12), only one half is occupied by a week-day school. 30 scholars, mixed, and taught by a trained mistress, who lodges at Honey-street.

In Kelly' Wiltshire Directory for 1859 the mistress is listed as being Miss Elizabeth Huntley.

In 1899 the school had three rooms, the dimensions of which are recorded in the logbook. The main school room was 35 feet in length, 14 feet in breadth and 11 feet in height. The classroom was slightly smaller, having a length of 11 feet and 4 inches and a breadth of 10 feet 8 inches. In 1893 a new room had been built for the infants, and measured 19 feet long and 17 feet 6 inches wide, with a height of 12 feet.

The school day began at around 9 'o'clock in the morning, with the registers being closed at twenty past. These registers were checked once a week by the rector, who then signed the logbooks. Children would go home for lunch, and were expected to be back at school by half past one for the register. The registers were also checked by the attendance officer who made regular visits to the school. Alton school rarely had other visitors, but occasionally local ladies would bring needlework, and Father Christmas entertained the children in the 1970s.

At the time when the records begin, the school was staffed by W. S. Butler, Florence Long and Elsie Long. W. S. Butler was the head teacher and tutored the upper standards in the class room. These 'standards' were not as rigid as modern day year groups. Children could be moved up or down standards anytime during the school year. The other members of staff would probably have been monitors and taught the infants in the Infants' Room. The school was entirely dependent on three teachers and no substitutes could be employed at short notice. As a result, if any of them were taken ill or absent, the entire school would have to close.

The average attendance was then 66 during the warmer weather, but this dropped to lows of 45 or 37 during the winter. By 1904 the average weekly attendance reached a peak of nearly 100 pupils, but this number would gradually dwindle to 51 in 1938 and 25 by 1975. The school year started after the Harvest Holiday, when the children were not able to go to school because they were needed in the fields. In 1899 the school had to close again in September for potato digging.

Other school closures occurred during the year for weather or illness. Most children would have lacked sturdy walking boots or warm coats, and so poor weather resulted in low attendance. The school was closed several times in the winter because of deep snow. As children were travelling by foot from villages or hamlets away from Alton Barnes, ice or snowfall made the roads impassable for them. Outbreaks of colds and sore throats and even chilblains would often occur as a result. In 1900 the school was closed for nearly two weeks because of influenza. Childhood illnesses such as chickenpox or impetigo were also occasionally seen in the village. Later in the 20th century, with the passing of government acts and reforms, the children would regularly be weighed and measured and receive visits from the school nurse. Later still a school dentist would check the children's teeth, and a speech therapist would attend to individual students in the 1960s.

The children had three main holidays a year; Harvest Holiday, which would typically last from August until September, the Easter Holiday, which was around a week and a half long, and the Christmas holiday, lasting for a week in late December. The length of these holidays was flexible, and the Harvest Holiday would end later if the harvest were not complete. There were often other unofficial holidays in the autumn months when the children could not be spared from agricultural work such as haymaking.

On religious holidays such as Ash Wednesday and Ascension Day the children would spend the morning on 'secular' lessons, and would then be excused for church. Later in the 20th century this was commuted to a day's holiday. There were two day's holiday for Whitsun, and there would later be a single-day's holiday for May Day.

Religion was a very significant part of school life for the 19th and most of the 20th century. Children would be taught the scriptures, often by the rector when he visited the school. The rector would also occasionally bring presents for the children, an unusual example being a handkerchief with a map of Africa on it.

The school was also regularly examined in religious instruction by the Diocesan Inspector, and would continue to be for almost its entire history. The pupils consistently performed well in these inspections, and their enthusiasm was often remarked upon. The teaching was also much praised as 'pain-staking' and 'careful'.

Besides the official government and church inspections, the logbook also details the visit of Mr Butcher, a 'Nuisance' Inspector, who came to verify the cleanliness of the buildings.

The school would also be subjected to H.M.I. Inspections. These were particularly important for the school, as they dictated how much money the school would receive the next year. Here the pupils also did well, and the teaching was again repeatedly remarked upon as 'careful'. To maintain these high standards, the teachers would test their pupils once a week. However, despite academic success it would seem that the school buildings were often under-furnished and lacked proper teaching supplies; it was suggested on several occasions that the infants needed better desks and that their reading material was too difficult. The main classroom and schoolroom also appear to have lacked any heating at the beginning of the 20th century.

Unlike the Diocesan inspection, which was concerned primarily with religion, the H.M.I. inspector would test the children on their more regular subjects. These were different for the standard classes and the infants. The infants received lessons on dictation, mental arithmetic, reading and writing, as well as object lessons on subjects such as 'a reindeer' and 'the clock'.

The older pupils were initially taught the standard subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic. The girls also learnt needlework and sewing, and the boys drawing. Later more familiar subjects such as history would be introduced. A gardening club also became popular. All of the children very much enjoyed singing, and the teachers would teach them new songs as a group.

Although the reports never raised any issues with discipline or behaviour, the children were occasionally punished. The log book does not go into detail about what these punishments entailed, but they were typically for minor offenses such as spilling ink or carelessness in work.

The attendance of this school had been around 84 children in 1906, but slowly began to decline thereafter, briefly reviving in 1969 when children from the closed school at Stanton St Bernard joined their number. In 1975 there were 25 children at the school. This number was unsustainable and the school at Alton closed at the end of the 1976 school year, having been open for 127 years. The children were all moved to schools outside the parish.


Mervyn Lamb said:

Thank you for the history of the school, I putting together my Family History and My Benger side of the Family came from Alton Priors to Kent latter half of 19th century. I have yet to visit the area but hope to soon. Mervyn Lamb
Posted 15/07/2014

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