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Chilton Foliat

National School, Chilton Foliat

National School, Chilton Foliat Date Photo Taken 2013
Uploaded 20/08/2013 10:12:04
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

The National School opened in 1835; the precise site of the school is not known but in 1847 a new building was erected on the north side of the main street, together with a residence for the Master and Mistress. Log books for the school do not survive before 1888, but earlier, in 1857 there were 60-70 pupils (at which date 20-30 children were still also being taught in dame schools) and in 1871 there were 66 pupils. In 1885 Kelly's Directory records that capacity was 130 children, with an average attendance of 100. In 1904 the income from Spanswick's charity was given to the school.

The earliest surviving log book for the school commences at May 4th, 1888. At this date there were three members of staff: the Master, Mistress (his daughter) and Infants' Mistress, another daughter. The dimensions of the school room are noted as 39 feet 9 inches. x 23feet 9 in., height 13ft. 4 in.

Visitors on this date were the local rector and his wife, the curate and three other ladies.
A report of a recent HMI inspection is copied into the log book at June 12, 1888. Of the Mixed School, the Inspector notes: "The children work heartily and are well influenced. But the general quality of the work has rather fallen off since last year". The curriculum includes the following subjects: Needlework, Singing by ear, Handwriting, English, Reading, Spelling, Arithmetic, Composition.

Of the Infants' School the Inspector notes, "There is cheerfulness and brightness in the work…"

An Evening School is also in existence at this date and it is noted that, "There is much painstaking work done. Kindly interest and encouragement have gained a good influence over the scholars, who behave well, and seem to value their instruction…" The curriculum here included Reading, Writing, Spelling and Arithmetic.

Notice of the grant assessment is given: The annual grant payable to the school was dependent under the Revised Code of 1862 on results of HM Inspections and on attendances. It is for the latter reason that average weekly attendance rates are punctiliously recorded in the log books.

Attendances were greatly affected by the weather since pupils would walk to school from all points of the parish, including Soley and Leverton; furthermore, until the early 20th century when arrangements were made for school dinners to be taken by pupils who wished to do so, pupils might walk home for lunch and back to school for the afternoon session. Severe weather conditions consequently had an important effect on attendance, and the head teacher would be sure to explain the cause when low pupil numbers resulted from severe weather conditions - cold, rain, flooding and snow.

Pupils' absence from school would also, in a rural area, result from the need for children to help with agricultural work, particularly during the harvest. Whilst the dates of the summer, "Harvest", holiday would be flexible, according to the readiness of the crops, when children continued to be absent after these officially sanctioned dates the absence and cause would be noted in the log books. The flexibility of the Harvest holiday dates is reflected in the fact that in 1888 the school closed from August 23 to October 8th, but in 1890 harvest took place earlier and the school closed for six weeks from August 8th.

In the final decades of the 19th century, however, a major problem for Chilton Foliat school was illness, which on a number of occasions resulted in the closure of the school in an attempt to limit the spread of illnesses which at that date remained serious and sometimes fatal:

In July 1888 the school closed for a week as a result of an outbreak of mumps. In September of the following year the log book reports an outbreak of scarlet fever in Leverton, believed to have been brought by visitors from London. As a result, the County Sanitary Officer instructed that Leverton children should not attend the school, and their absence would finally last eight weeks. A girl, one of 10 year-old twins, died of complications following her partial recovery from scarlet fever; following her burial, several pupils brought flowers made into a cross and a wreath for her grave. After the Leverton children were allowed to return, at the beginning of November 1889, they were excluded again two weeks later as scarlet fever had again broken out in their hamlet. During this period there was also a case of scarlet fever at Hayward Bottom and children living there also stayed away from school.

At the end of January 1890 there was an outbreak of influenza, which also struck the Master, who carried on his work with a "great coat on and a rug round my legs". His daughter, the Infants' Mistress, was also affected. The Master notes that on one day some 48 children were absent.

In December 1890 diseases struck the school again, with colds, measles and, particularly dangerously, diphtheria. At this date there were three deaths from diphtheria and one from measles; one boy and one girl, brother and sister, died within half an hour of each other from bronchitis following measles. When the school reopened - temporarily - at the end of January 1891, the Master noted sadly: "There are still some poorly ones absent and we miss many faces…"; however, that week the children belatedly enjoyed their "usual Xmas Tea and Tree".

The reopening of the school was temporary as another outbreak of diphtheria in the village led to its closure again for another week; it then reopened under instruction to close again immediately in the event of further diphtheria cases occurring.

By the end of the century the health and hygiene of the children were being increasingly and regularly monitored by County health officials. The School Nurse would visit on a regular basis to examine the children, and those with lice or nits in their hair would be excluded until the problem was solved. The School Dentist would also visit to examine and treat, as necessary, the children. A weighing machine was circulated around the district schools and the children would be weighed and measured.

Despite the pressures of inspections - also carried out by Diocesan inspectors - and illnesses, however, the children also enjoyed treats and outings: In August 1888 the church choir went to Savernake; in July 1889 the school was closed for a Flower Show and a few months later, in October, it was closed again to enable the children to visit Hungerford Fair. In July 1890, too, there was a half-day holiday to visit the circus in Hungerford. In August 1891, tea and 3d. were given to each Day and Sunday school pupil by a gentleman of Ramsbury. The children enjoyed a whole week's holiday on the occasions of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in June 1897. There were also some cases of truancy, when one or more children decided to visit an event without permission; this happened in May 24th when attendance at school was low owing to a fair at Ramsbury. However, when there were more frequent or regular failures to attend by particular children, the County Attendance Officer was brought in and visited the relevant children's parents.

Given that in their earliest pages the head teacher only gives percentages of attendance, it is difficult to know the number of children on roll at this time. However, by the mid-1890s the numbers are indeed recorded: in October 1896, 89 children are on roll, in October 1897 there are 100; in 1902 there are 87 on roll and in April 1904 there are 95.

By the early years of the 20th century detailed schemes proposed for the next school year are recorded in the log books: The following is an extract of the scheme of work, approved by HMI, from May 1911 to April 1912:
1st class: Europe and the World generally
St. IV: Scotland, Ireland, Canada Australia
St. III: England and Wales
Sts. 1 and 2: Geographical Definitions illustrated locally.

1st class: Prose. An encounter with a shark (R. Ballantyne)
St. IV: Robinson Crusoe and his family (Defoe)
St. 1, 2 and 3: The fox and the cat (prose)
1st class: Complete History Readers
Music: Both notations.
Five songs.
1st Class: Plant Life: Seeds. Experiments to show need of air moisture and warmth.
The plant….
The air….
Insect life: the frog.

By 1911, too, Gardening classes are also under way, apparently for boy pupils and there are numerous references to digging and planting being undertaken, for example of potatoes and runner beans. For girls, it is noted in December 1909 that a course of cookery lessons has commenced in the Church room, thirteen pupils attending the classes.

By December 1911 new arrangements are in place for the children during the dinner hour; it is presumed that at this point the children are bringing their own lunches:
"The boys have dinner in the large room, the desks being placed about two yards from the stove. The girls and infants have dinner in the Infants' Room. The rooms are cleaned by the boys and girls in turn. The Head Master personally supervises the children during the Dinner Hour".

By the end of 1917, however, it is planned to provide dinners for the children, and a store was located in the boys' cloakroom. On January 1st 1918 the school kitchen commences its work, providing meals for 16 pupils, January 2nd for 25, January 3rd, for 32 and January 4th also for 32 pupils. Almost all the children who live at some distance from the school are taking advantage of the meals provided and the Master notes "The dinners are very good and much appreciated", and he subsequently remarks that those children who take dinner at the school "appear much brighter than formerly". The lady in charge of the kitchen reports the following month that there is no financial loss in the provision of meals hitherto but it has to be borne in mind that villagers are donating vegetables and rabbits - otherwise "children would have to pay more than 2d, a day for their dinners". Whether this 2d. represents the price already being paid by the children, or is an estimate of what it would cost to produce the meals at a market rate is not clear. Towards the end of February 1918 the school dinners are extended to adults, and it is noted on 22nd of the month that about six people daily are availing themselves of the opportunity provided.

By this time, of course, the First World War, has been in progress for more than three years. In the early days of the War, in October 1914, it is noted that the Army Medical Corps have stored their equipment in the boys' cloak room, and the Sherwood Rangers are billeted in Chilton Foliat - apparently in the Church Room since they are there when the dentist visits the school on October 30 1914 and he has to use the Infants' Room as his surgery instead of his usual premises.

The children are now taught a number of patriotic songs and activities: "Your King and your country need you"; next will be "The Marseillaise". The head teacher also teaches the older boys what are described as "several military movements - forming fours, etc." The girls, meanwhile, are busy knitting socks for the soldiers at the front. A flag pole is erected in the playground and the Daylight Saving Bill, to be passed into law in 1916, is explained to the children. On May 24th 1916, Empire Day, the new flag is hoisted, "God save the King" is sung and a lesson is given on the British Empire. A year later, at the beginning of October 1917, the children are asked to bring to school as many horse chestnuts as they are able to collect; these will be sent to the Ministry of Munitions. The Government plan, it would later be revealed, was to extract acetone from the chestnuts for use in the manufacture of munitions. Three hundredweights (152 kg.) of horse chestnuts are collected in one week. Later it is requested that the children should now collect acorns. The County Council also request that children collect blackberries for the production of fruit juice for the army and navy.

No doubt the lives of the pupils and their families were touched by the loss of residents of the parish who were in the army; however, another small way in which they were affected was the move to the village and the school by four children from London because of the air raids taking place there between 1917 and 1918.

When the Armistice was declared, on 11 November 1918 an epidemic of influenza had led to the closure of the school and consequently no immediate celebrations took place. On November 22nd, 70 children are recorded as being on roll.

After the First World War the life of the school continued with its classroom lessons, gardening, Domestic Science courses in the Church Room for girls, nature rambles, visits by the Nurse, Dentist and Attendance Officer, Diocesan and HM Inspections, and also treats and holidays to celebrate both Royal weddings and local events. From time to time a pupil would be taken to Marlborough to sit an examination to gain a scholarship to Marlborough Grammar School or admission to other secondary schools. Every year too, from 1920, the anniversary of Armistice Day on November 11th was marked by two minutes' silence, the singing of the National Anthem and the saluting of the Union Jack. Unfortunately the school closed again in April 1924 due to another outbreak of scarlet fever, and in February 1925 due to widespread whooping cough.
HM Inspector, in his report relating to his inspection of June and July 1923, makes an interesting observation, "The population appears to be of a migratory character. Since 2nd February 1922 51 children have been admitted, and of these 13 have left again, and of the 88 now on the roll 38 have been in the school 17 months or less".

The outbreak of the Second World War, on 3rd September 1939, takes place at the end of the summer holidays and the beginning of term is postponed for a week. Within the first month of the war ten evacuees are admitted to the school, although not all remain for the war's duration, and some are recorded as leaving in 1942. Teaching, illnesses, absences, and exclusions, etc. continue throughout the war, with the addition of gas mask inspections. However, by July 1944 the number of pupils on roll has decreased steadily to 39, organised in two classes. Consequently, it is noted, "there is more space available for activities in the Main Room".

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