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Wiltshire Community History

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Barford St. Martin

National School, Barford St. Martin

National School, Barford St. Martin Date Photo Taken c.1906
Uploaded 23/10/2013 11:05:57
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

In 1818 a school was being maintained by the rector and farmers for 120 children. By 1846 a Sunday and day school had 21 boys and 50 girls as pupils, and the schoolmaster was paid £10 a year from school fees. A separate Infants' Sunday and day school had 50 pupils and a schoolmistress who was also paid £10 a year from school fees. A separate winter evening school, for children, who were at work during the day, was maintained by subscriptions which enabled a schoolmaster to be employed at £3 a year. This was excellent educational provision for a rural village in the 1840s.

A new school was built in 1854 for £1,645 with four classrooms, two more than was normal in a village school, with a teacher's house and ample playgrounds. The size of rooms was 34 feet by 20 feet by 25 feet high, 34 feet by 18 feet by 25 feet high, and two of 13 feet by 13 feet by 11 feet high. In January 1858 the inspector wrote 'I have again to speak in high terms of this school's sound instruction and careful training. The mechanical appliances [heating, ventilation etc.] of every kind are good and ample.' There were about 100 pupils under an uncertified master (he was registered by 1859), a mistress and three pupil teachers. The report also stated, 'The infants are taught with much care and kindness by a one-armed mistress of 29 years standing.' The school was provided with a building grant of £478 and in 1859 received a bequest from Charles Nicholson. The income from this was worth £68 a year in 1895 when £35 was used to support the school and £38 used to provide clothes for girls who were leaving school to enter domestic service.

The school logbooks survive from 1874 and provide an interesting picture of life in the Victorian school. The room measuring 34 feet by 18 feet was used as the infants' room and one of the smaller classrooms had a seven by six-foot gallery in it. The school had six desks that were seven feet long and six that were eight feet long. The school obtained its water from a well, which was cleaned out in 1880, and the school itself was often thoroughly cleaned during the holidays and sometimes whitewashed. In June 1886 the school was cleaned at Whitsun with two women taking three days to do it, with a man cleaning the windows. There is a note that the chairs, which included 36 that were new in 1882, were left in a dirty state and that the dusting was badly done. Well before 1893 a pump had been installed, to pump water from the well, as in that year the pump house was repaired.

In 1874 the teaching staff was Miss T. A. Butt as schoolmistress with two pupil teachers and Miss Jane Weaver as mistress of the infants. Mary Ann Weare was schoolmistress from January 1876 to June 1878 when John Spencer became schoolmaster and Mrs Spencer became mistress for the infants' and for needlework. Her teaching was somewhat interrupted by the birth of three children between 1879 and 1882 when she was replaced by a pupil teacher on these three occasions. By 1884 an assistant mistress had replaced one pupil teacher and there was one monitor. In that year the Spencers were replaced by Joselyn and Mrs Giffiths who remained until 1887.

Attendances in the 1870s were in the region of 65 to 75 children rising to attendances of 80+ in the 1880s. In 1882 there were 104 children on the register and in 1891, the year school fees were abolished, there was an average of 100 children one week. By 1894 the number of children on the school register was 118.

A good range of subjects was studied by the children. The elementary subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic included grammar, dictation, learning poetry and repetition. Geography and history were taken and scripture lessons were a regular feature, although these were not given if the children went to church on a day they were scheduled. Needlework and knitting was taught to both infants and older girls while often visiting teachers took lessons of music and drill (physical exercise), although the latter was only held in winter. Singing was taught to all ages and many songs were learned. Object lessons were given, mainly to the infants and topics included coal, iron, wheat and bread, coffee, clouds, a whale and a cat.

The children continued to perform well at school as the H.M.I. reports show. 'The children were in very good order and have passed a very good examination. Out of 54 specially examined and marked on three failed in reading, five in spelling and five in sums ' The 1886 report said that the large rooms could only be heated satisfactorily by stoves, which should be supplied, not the open fire places that were in use. Suitable desks were also needed for the infants' room.

Annual holidays were ten days or one week at Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Monday, one week at Whitsun and five weeks Harvest Holiday in the summer. Half-day holidays were given after H.M.I. examinations and when the school was used for concerts, as a polling station and for other events. Days were also given for the local fair day and for Sunday school treats but there seem to have been fewer special holidays than in many village schools.

Children, especially the older ones were sometimes absent for seasonal work. This included haymaking (June/July), picking raspberries (July), harvest work (September), and nutting (October). Girls were sometimes kept at home to look after younger siblings and boys were kept away for work at home or for beating for local shoots. In May 1888 several played truant to follow an otter hunt, while in June that year the local horse races attracted a number of truants.

Bad weather, especially snow and heavy rainstorms, caused small attendances. The severe Wiltshire snowstorm of January 1881 closed the school for four days from Tuesday 22nd January and deep snow and strong winds prevented many children attending the following week. The summer of 1879 was a particularly wet and windy one and up to 35 children on some days were absent during July and August because of these conditions. Some winters the river Nadder flooded, inundating roads and preventing children reaching the school. This was especially bad in January 1877.

Apart from the usual childhood illnesses there were frequent outbreaks of more serious diseases. Sometimes these reached epidemic proportion and over half the children would be absent from school. Such occasions were for mumps in January 1876 and February 1888, measles in July 1880, April 1881 and January 1891, whooping cough in September 1877, scarletina in October 1876, August 1880 and December 1888 - January 1889, scarlet fever in January 1889, and diphtheria in June 1890 and July 1891. On some occasions the school closed during these epidemics, as was the case in January and February 1885 when it was closed for five weeks because of measles. The children were also frequently afflicted with ringworm.

Both boys and girls sometimes received up to four strokes of the cane as a punishment. Reasons included, climbing walls and damaging school premises, running away from school, wilful disobedience, obscene language, talking in the presence of visitors and carrying lighted sticks about in the infants' room. Another punishment was to be given lines to write out.

Other points of interest in this period include:

Two unusual Biblical names recorded, Pharez, son of Judah, Lucas and Zipporah, wife of Moses White.

In 1884 some children were some months behind with their school fees.

In October 1885 a photographer took the children's portraits.

The Rev. T. H Manning visited the school in October 1882 and stated that Henrietta Gray did not know her catechism. The master took exception to this as she had received special mention in the scholars' written examination in November 1881. The master wrote that this statement was made without the slightest investigation and he proved most supportive of his pupils. However it affected Henrietta who was absent through illness for two days that week.

From a 1902 survey of Wiltshire schools we get a brief picture of the school at the start of the Edwardian period. The school could accommodate 195 children and there were 111 (27 infants and 84 mixed) on the register while the average attendance for 1901 was 95 (30 infants and 65 mixed). Teaching was carried out in the large rooms with sliding doors separating the infants and mixed (older children). Another classroom was used for the older children occasionally an a fourth room rarely. The head teacher, Frederic W. Foster, aged 39, and his wife, Harriett E. Foster, 38, the infants' teacher, lived in the schoolhouse and received a joint salary of £126. Alice B. Andrews, 23, also taught the older children and received a salary of £35 a year.

After the 1905 Education Act the school was taken over by Wiltshire County Council and further information can be found under Barford St. Martin Church of England Voluntary Controlled School.

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