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Wiltshire Community History

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Longford C of E (VC) Primary School, Britford

Longford C of E (VC) Primary School, Britford Date Photo Taken 2012
Uploaded 23/10/2013 12:15:37
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

A National school for children of both sexes was established in 1853. In February 1858 the Warburton Census of Schools reported, 'A well built, but rather low brick school-room (about 50 feet by 18 feet); zigzag brick floor; about 30 children are taught by a mistress on the mixed system.'

We do not have school log books for the Victorian period but the following will give an idea of what life was like in a village school at the time.

The following general information would be relevant to the school for the latter part of the 19th century. Fees were paid for each child until 1891, normally at the rate of one penny (0.4p) a week and the 'school pence' were collected by the schoolteacher. There would have been a schoolmaster, or schoolmistress, with an assistant teacher and perhaps a pupil teacher. The pupil teacher was taught by the head before lessons started, took exams, sometimes went to the Diocesan Training College eventually becoming a teacher themselves. They mainly taught the younger children.

School holidays were at similar times to those of today but often there was only 2 days at Easter but a week at Whitsun. The summer holidays were of four, five or six weeks and were called the Harvest Holidays as the children either helped with the harvest or carried food and drink to their parents, who were working in the fields. There were more half-day and whole day holidays for special events. Half a day would be given after the annual H.M.I. or Diocesan inspections and there were holidays for school treats, choir outings, chapel teas, Christmas parties and at times when the school was needed for other purposes.

There were also many unauthorised absences. These would be for seasonal work, such as haymaking (June) and early or late harvest (July or September), being kept at home to help their parents, and working when they should have been at school. Bad weather such as heavy rain, cold weather, or snow kept children away from school, often because their parents couldn't afford to buy them suitable clothes and boots. Apart from the usual colds and coughs there were more serious illnesses than today and these included, mumps, measles, whooping cough, scarletina and diphtheria.

The elementary subjects were the '3 Rs' - reading writing and arithmetic. Scripture was often taught by the vicar and children would have attended church for services on some days. Older children were taught history and geography and there may have been some study of natural history. Singing was taught to all ages and all the girls and some of the boys would have done needlework. Drawing had been introduced by the 1890s.

At the start of the 20th century, around 30 of the 80 children on roll came from the Salisbury workhouse. In 1906 overall control of the school passed to Wiltshire County Council, although a local board of managers remained.

In 1909 there were 82 children registered at the school.

There were often high levels of absences because of outbreaks of illness. In 1909, whooping cough often kept many children away from school and measles and influenza also led to many children being absent for weeks at a time. The school was shut for a month in May 1928 because of whooping cough. Children were often away because they were out working; at Britford this seems to be primarily boys who went off to work during the haymaking season. On 28 May 1912 the head teacher wrote: "As usual during the haymaking season registers are closed at 1.45 pm, to enable scholars who are needed to carry tea into the fields to go at 3.45 pm. This custom began today as the mowing has been started. "The weather also sometimes affected attendance. The head teacher on 8 March 1912 wrote: "In addition to children absent through sickness or epidemic, the attendance has been adversely affected by the heavy rain." In April 1917, head mistress Miss Kingston wrote: "Heavy snow having fallen, only eight scholars presented themselves and were sent home again. Registers not marked." On 13 December 1920 she wrote: "Bitterly cold. Children can scarcely hold a pen."

Scholars were sometimes given days off for "occasional holidays", and these were for a myriad of reasons. For example, on 10 May 1916, the school was shut so that the county dentist could use it as an "operating ward". On 26 April 1923, the school was closed because of the wedding between the Duke of York and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and over 30 years later, the school had a day's holiday for the wedding of their daughter, Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II.

The school log books often reveal how society has changed; on 25 February 1910, the head teacher wrote: "Ernest Green aged 14 years has left to go on to the training ship "Mercury". These entries give an insight into the society of the time and its reactions to children going to work at such a young age. On 7 November 1921, Miss Kingston, the headmistress, wrote in a blunt manner; "Sydney Penton's name has been removed from the register. He is dead."

At the start of World War One there were 76 children on roll at the school.

The Diocesan report of 1916 read: "The school has been at a disadvantage this year owing to a vacancy in the school staff for four months; much of the work, however, was well done, especially Old Testament and New Testament and repetition if scripture. The meaning of words have been carefully explained to the younger children."

His Majesty's Inspectorate found in October 1921 that: "This school is, as usual, in very good order and is well managed and taught with considerable success by the head teacher and the staff. The tone is very pleasing and the children are receiving a good training. The fundamental subjects are taught thoroughly and generally, though not uniformly, in all sectors a good standard of attainment is reached". The report of 1928 read: "The good features mentioned in the report of 1924 are being maintained, and though the work in the main room is handicapped by lack of space, the attainment of the children show considerable advancement in several subjects. The infants are well taught. Efforts should now be made in both classes to secure a higher standard of work within composition."

The outbreak of World War Two delayed the opening of the school by one week. Seven evacuees joined the school in September 1939, while two more joined in October 1939. The school also took in unofficial evacuees, who moved to the area with their families. Some of the evacuees were from Portsmouth and some from Surrey. On 24 January 1940 the children were given gas masks. The cloakroom was used as an air raid shelter, and benches moved into it to prevent the children from having to sit on the floor. There were several air raids for the school to sit through.
Miss Lacklow, the head mistress at the time, wrote on 27 February 1940: "Spent the whole afternoon in the shelter. The sirens blew at 1.20 and the all clear not until 3.50."

The school was rebuilt in 1959, but the school log books are sadly short on any detail of the move. A new school was required because the small Victorian building was unsuitable for the needs of a mid 20th century school. The official opening of the school was held on 30 October 1959 and was attended by the Chairman of the County Education Committee.

A television set was installed by Radio Rentals of Bristol on 8 November 1965. In December 1965 the school was broken into and although damage was done to windows and furniture, nothing was taken as no money was left on the premises.

Numbers of children reduced throughout the 20th century; in 1955 there were only 24 children on roll but by 1962 this had increased to 42.

An OFTSED inspection in 1999 said: "(The school) overlooks fields and is pleasantly situated, and a variety of wildlife, including deer and buzzards, can be seen from the school grounds. Most pupils come not from Britford but from the surrounding farms and lanes. Pupils are usually well behaved and the school is an ordered community. Pupils know the school rules and abide by them. The school has good links with the parents, the community and with other schools and agencies."

The school received its second Activemark in 2008 and had 55 pupils in October of that year. In 2009/10 there were two mixed age classes. Owing to low pupil numbers at both Britford and neighbouring Odstock the two schools merged in 2010 but continued operating from both sites.

Both Britford and neighbouring Odstock School had fairly low pupil numbers in 2009 and in 2010 the two schools were merged but operate from the village schools with an age division between the two. In May 2010 there were 62 pupils at the new school.

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