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Little Somerford

Little Somerford C. of E. V.A. School

Little Somerford C. of E. V.A. School Date Photo Taken 2011
Uploaded 21/03/2013 16:33:32
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Earliest records of a school in the village date from 1818, when it was maintained by the rector and principal inhabitants. At that time there were 20 children.

By 1854 an elementary school had been provided and in 1859 a report by Rev. W. Warburton, H.M. Inspector of Schools stated that 30 - 40 scholars were taught by an elderly woman, in a tidy school-room with a stone floor and wall desks. A new building, together with a teacher's house were built in 1868 to accommodate 100 pupils; by May in 1875 the number of pupils was 64.

Accommodation was presumably fairly crowded as the regulation space for each pupil was increased throughout the 19th century. In April 1877, 70 pupils were present and school managers agreed to 'dismiss all children who were not parishioners on account of the large number of scholars'. It was also decided to not admit any child under 4. In July 1883 an inspector's report suggested overcrowding in the school and in 1887 a similar report emphasised the need for a classroom for infants. In July 1888 the inspector was again remarking on the lack of classroom space, in November the managers met to consider the accommodation in school. The situation had not improved in July 1891 when it was reported 'instruction is carried out with some difficulty owing to the crowded state of the room' In July 1893 it was reported 'the infants appear backward. I do not see how their progress can be satisfactory so long as they are taught in the same room with older children. A classroom properly furnished for the instruction of infants should be provided. Special attention of the managers is requested to these remarks, and they are warned no grant will be paid another year unless suitable accommodation is provided for infants.' It was also reported that cloakroom accommodation was insufficient.

In September of this year the managers were said to be taking measurements for the proposed classroom. In February of the following year a tender from Messrs. Chambers of Swindon was accepted for erection of a new classroom and building commenced on the 5th March. During April the school was closed for a week as the building work made it unsafe for pupils, and in May the smell created by the laying of the floor in the new classroom was almost unbearable, so school closed early. It was stated that instruction to the children was carried out under great difficulty for around a month as there were workmen present and scaffolding had been erected; despite this the average attendance was 59. The architects, managers and builders inspected the new classroom on the morning of 31st May 1894 and that afternoon the infants moved into their new room. It would appear that the threat of the loss of a grant was necessary before the classroom was built. In 1898 H.M. Inspector reported that the school offices (toilets) required immediate attention, the paths were dirty and covered with water, the girl's door was broken and the iron piping in the boys offices was dangerous to children. The repairs were undertaken during the holiday period as workmen present would interfere with the children's work.

The School Attendance Officer, who visited the school at least each week, was often called upon to round up absentees! During October 1889 two sets of parents were summoned before Magistrates as their children were irregular attendees. In many cases children were absent helping on the land, Potato or bean picking, or perhaps gathering acorns. In 1893 one reason for absence was given as the pupil was collecting turnip greens. A father requested his son leave the classroom as a cow was ill. Sometimes they were looking after younger siblings when mother was confined for the birth of another baby. One child was absent as 'he had no shoes'. When the hunt met in the village it was noted that many boys were absent, following the hounds. If a circus or fair took place in the locality, attendance figures were low. The Christmas market at Malmesbury was well attended by pupils from Little Somerford. Families travelling for holidays were a rarity. It is noted on several occasions in the school log book that one family would be absent for a week. The father worked for the railway and they were taking a holiday at the sea-side. Additional school holidays were granted for many reasons. Staff and some pupils were members of the Girls' Friendly Society. When the association held a rally, during the early years of the 20th century, school was closed early, or sometimes for the whole afternoon, to allow members to attend the rally. The school was permitted a one week holiday in July 1897 to commemorate the long reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. Half-day holidays were granted for Royal events such as birthdays, and Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Holiday was granted when peace was declared, and for the Coronation. One was even granted for the marriage of the vicar's daughter. School was dismissed early on 1st July 1902 when the new railway line was opened, and half day's holiday permitted for the Malmesbury Flower Show in 1893. .

Often many children were absent when measles or other such illnesses were present. One reason for absence was listed as 'itch'. In January 1893 parents kept children away from school for fear they would catch this 'itch'. Some children were absent from January until May because of this problem. In July 1904 when chickenpox was in the school, one farmer kept his children from school 'as he sends his milk to London and had to be careful as they would stop him sending his milk'. During November 1908 it was noted one family were absent for seven weeks when they had measles and in January 1908 five families were absent with diphtheria. In November 1888, when measles was present in the village, only eight children were in school. The school was closed for two weeks, but because of this closure, only one week's holiday was allowed at Christmas. In 1913 it was logged that two brothers were absent for 14 weeks because of ringworm. Cleanliness seems to have been lacking, several times pupils were sent home for being 'in verminous condition'. Children were often sent home to be made 'clean and tidy'. In 1899 a mother complained her sons had caught vermin from other pupils and her husband would not allow them to come to school until an investigation had taken place. Several parents complained about the state of two sisters in 1899 and the mistress referred the matter to the Inspector of Nuisance.

Discipline seems to have been strict. One boy was punished for bad language and impertinence by the teacher, and afterwards severely reprimanded by the Rev. Evans. A boy was punished for striking a monitor in the face in 1877 and in 1878 the boys in standard 2 were punished for 'ill-using a girl on her way home from school.' Boys were reprimanded for trespassing in a garden to recover balls flung there whilst playing. There were severe reprimands for boys who tore another boy's book during divine service one Sunday. These events are all noted in the school log book, though what the punishment was exactly is not noted. In the early part of the 20th century few punishments are logged, but in April 1914 a new Head Teacher takes up her post. Two days later a girl was caned, one stroke for persistent talking, one week later a boy was caned for refusing to do his work and three weeks later a girl was caned for copying. (The new brush sweeps clean). Children were also punished for the use of bad language. On one occasion when two ladies visited, the children were kept behind after school for disorderly conduct whilst the teacher was speaking to the ladies.

The weather caused many problems throughout this period. Many times children were unable to get to school because of snow. Flooding was also a frequent occurrence. On 5th March 1889 there was poor attendance because of snow, but on 8th March the reason given for low numbers was flooding. In November 1894 the flood water was very deep below the school and the children were taken through the flood in the mill wagon. School closed for the afternoon but by the next day the flood had gone down and children could get to school. In May 1896 there was a heat-wave and it is noted that several children were unwell. In July 1900 several children were noted absent suffering from the heat. In 1901 the children were not allowed to do drill (physical education) because of the heat, and children were not allowed into the playground; they were given time for recreation inside the school building. In 1910 the assistant teacher usually cycled from home in Badminton, but because of severe rain she had to return home and come to school late, using the 10.00.a.m. train.

There are many social events listed through the years. Annually children were invited to tea at the vicarage, or some other important house in the village. Games in the adjoining field usually followed. The rector gave a treat to the choir each year, sometimes a trip to Weston super Mare, but in 1895 it was an outing to London. In 1891 Rev. Evans presented a girl with 5 shillings as she had not missed attending for a whole year. Prizes for Punctuality and Regular Attendance were presented, it was said in 1900 that the scheme worked well and had good effect raising average attendance. Sweets were also presented to the children by Mr & Mrs. Roper Tyler. When there was the holiday for Diamond Jubilee Day the children were given a tea at 4.30.p.m. and all those over 16 sat down to a meat tea at 6.30. The cost was defrayed by public subscription, and the school was decorated for the occasion. The school was also closed the following day to allow pupils to attend festivities in Malmesbury. After the death of Queen Victoria, Mrs. Roper Tyler presented the girls with mourning badges to be worn on the day of the funeral. They consisted of VR surmounted by a crown and tied with black ribbon.

As previously mentioned, lack of shoes was one reason for non-attendance. In 1897 a children's Shoe Club was started. A child could pay into the club a penny or half-penny every Monday morning the school wass open. Each child making every attendance at school during the week will be credited with an extra halfpenny. It was hoped this would improve attendance and encourage the children to save.

In May 1881 the children commenced working their arithmetic on paper, presumably they had previously used slates. In November 1894, during recreation time the children were photographed by a travelling photographer. In 1897 the Rector presented the school with a clock. In 1903 Miss Barnfield, who left after eight years at the school, was presented with a handsome dressing case and travelling bag. In June the following year the new teacher asked to be released from duties after only four days at the school. She informed the eector she did not like the village or the people. In March 1910 the headmistress retired after 26 years in position, the assistant mistress also resigned and as the supplementary teacher was to be married she resigned with effect from 15th April. In 1911, the proceeds from a school concert were used to purchase a flag and flag staff. The flag was hoisted for the first time to commemorate Empire Day. The school bell which had been purchased partly with the money from a children's concert was rung for the first time on the morning of September 3rd 1912. It was noted that after the death of the Rector a sale was held at the Rectory. On that occasion there were not enough children in school to mark the register.

During November 1914 the boys were taught knitting with 2 pins during handiwork, it was said they wished to make scarves for the soldiers. Children started knitting scarves and gloves for the Belgian Relief Committee. A total of 65 pairs of socks, 14 scarves and one blanket, together with 16 hospital bags, were knitted by children during one year. The girls at this time were sewing shirts for soldiers, and they also knitted over 200 pairs of socks.

In March 1916 the senior boys were given a practical lesson on grafting an apple tree. In the following summer the children started gathering herbs, which were dried and taken to Sutton Benger and for which they earned £19.18s.7 p. In 1918 school was closed early during autumn to allow children to gather blackberries. In September and October 948 lbs were gathered for the war effort.

Over the years H.M. Inspectors criticised standards in the school. In1877 it was said children should show a more intelligent knowledge of geography and the infants' instruction needed attention. Again in 1885 although children secured 95.3% in elementary subjects their geography was still lacking. In 1891 the inspector suggested that the overcrowding of the room was causing difficulties. Two years later he again remarked the infants were backward and said the lack of space was causing problems. 1895 and the children were orderly but still show very little intelligence.

During 1895/6 the mistress and assistant attended a course of lectures 'First Aid to the Injured' given at Broad Somerford School. Treatment of the injured seems harsh today. When a child broke a thigh a wheelchair was borrowed from the Rectory to take them home.

Between 1906 and 1914 the average attendance was 60 but this declined after 1918 and was down to 30 in 1937-8. From 1954 older pupils (11 years and over) went to Malmesbury for their secondary education so that in 1955 there were only 40 children attending the Little Somerford school. Numbers rose after this and there were 35 children on the roll when the school closed in 1982 when a new school - Walter Powell C. of E. V.A. School - opened in Great Somerford to take children from both villages.

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