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Figheldean St. Michael's Church of England Primary School

Figheldean St. Michael's Church of  England Primary School Date Photo Taken 2012
Uploaded 27/05/2014 16:23:12
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Map Latitude 51.22233068845816 : Longitude -1.781507134437561
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon Histort Centre

The farmers of Figheldean supported a Sunday school in 1818 which was attended by 20 children. Two Sunday and day schools were in operation in 1846, attended by 60 children, taught by a master and mistress. The school was run on hired premises; cottages which were still occupied by families. Sir W. Hicks Beach provided a site and Thomas Etwell Simpkins gave the new school building which cost £400. It opened in 1859 for c.124 pupils. One hundred attended in 1907.

Warburton's survey of schools in 1859 listed Figheldean as being 'A new school-house, the joint gift of Mrs Simkins and Miss Clift, was inaugurated on the 19th November 1858. The present numbers are from 40 to 50, and they are on the increase. The room is good, the floor boarded, and the desks good of their kind, but inconveniently arranged at present. The mistress was examined for a certificate at Christmas 1858; result as yet unknown'. The size of the big room was 35'6" long by 18' wide and the classroom was 14'10" long by 18' wide.

Although the school was established in the Victorian period, the log books of that time do not survive. Those that we hold begin in 1917, but many of the events described would have also occurred in the 19th century.

Subjects taught at the school were fundamentally the same as those today, with regular examinations taking place. In March 1923 the younger children were examined in number work and reading, the older children on arithmetic, composition, transcription, history, geography, reading and recitation. The Wiltshire Book Scheme ran between the nearby schools of Netheravon, Durrington, Enford and Bulford whereby the books were passed from one school to another. In October 1919 Figheldean received 'Black Arrow' and in June 1920 there were 'Hiawatha' and 'William Tell'. The boys also took gardening, when in March 1920 broad beans were planted in the gardens, and during February 1922 they learnt about different kinds of soils in gardening theory. The tools they used were a wheel barrow, a watering can, small and large rakes, spades, forks, hoes, trowels, draw hoes, a pair of shears, a reel and line, and dibbers. In March 1918 two loads of stable manure were delivered from Larkhill Camp and the potatoes arrived from Westbury. In June 1920 the County Horticultural Instructor visited the gardens. He 'congratulated the boys on the neat appearance of the plots'. The girls took sewing, and in April 1920 a new sewing mistress was due to give three lessons per week of one hour duration. By 1920 drill (or P.E) was an important part of the school curriculum. An inspector came to inspect the school's facilities for drill in November 1921 and in June 1923 netball outfits were purchased from the proceeds of a 'sale of work'. The children also received talks from visitors to the school, as in April 1922 when the Captain of the Church Army addressed them.

Religious Education, or Instruction, had been an important subject since the Victorian period. It was regularly taught as in June 1917 when the Reverend Bailey visited and 'took the upper division in scripture'. Reverend Calley often called in to the school; on one occasion in March 1920 he brought with him 18 prayer books. Regular inspections were undertaken by the Diocesan Inspector and their reports tell us that the children had to repeat scripture, have a 'church history' lesson ('evidently taught in an interesting way') and sang songs ('in a reverent manner'!). Singing songs by rote was a principal means of learning from the Victorian era onwards, and in September 1922 a piano was bought from the proceeds of concerts and sent from Salisbury. The head teacher noted that he was very pleased with it. In fact the school seemed to be quite keen on raising money; in November 1921 a school concert was held for two nights in aid of the Children's' Christmas Tree Fund. They raised £15. In February 1918 a War Savings Association was formed in connection with the school.

A whist drive was held at the school (a way for the village inhabitants to raise funds) regularly, but it was at a cost to the schoolroom! An entry for November 1922 states that on two successive occasions following a Whist Drive Dance it had been found that a long desk has been broken. 'Advised that the school should not be used for such purposes unless proper supervision is maintained'. In December 1923 the head teacher complained to the school managers about the 'disgraceful conditions' in which the school was left after the Football Whist Drives. The floor was dangerously slippery and the whole room was covered with dust. 'It is impossible for the caretaker to clean the school properly as the whist drives are held usually every week and always once a fortnight'. During January 1919 the school was used on a Saturday for a Scout meeting. The desks were stood on, and were 'very dirty and scratched', 'a window had been cracked, the desks and the cupboard in the classroom were found open, the lock having been forced'. Reverend Calley came to inspect the damage.

Unfortunately the destructive behaviour of some local inhabitants also included more of the school premises. In July 1917 the tool shed was damaged in the school holidays and in June 1918 the Standard VI boys had to board up the shed window space as the tools had been interfered with and one fork had been stolen. In November 1918 the gate was broken from its post and was found in the ditch. A pane of glass in the porch was also broken. In 1919 'obscene writings' were put up on the walls of the boys' offices during the Christmas Holidays. An entry in January 1921 suggested there were still problems. 'Fence put up at the front of the playground during the Christmas Holidays. The school is still unprotected on three sides - nothing has been done to the windows'. A new gate was finally put up in March 1922, but the headteacher was having problems with it! Even the horses were causing trouble in May 1918 when they trampled over the school gardens, spoiling the potato patches on several plots along with the onions, parsnips and cabbages! In October 1922 a window had been broken. The headteacher remarked that he'd received information tracing the matter to a certain party of village "roughs" and had given the information to the police.

Unacceptable behaviour was punished at school, sometimes for what we now would consider mild offences. In March 1918 a boy left school without permission, having been told to remain behind at 12 o'clock. He was taken into the porch and given three strokes. He swore at the teacher and so was punished again for refusing to go into the school. An hour and a quarter later he obeyed. A note was sent home to his mother demanding an apology as 'the boy is encouraged by her'. The next day an apology was not forthcoming so he was sent back home. In May 1918 two boys were caned one stroke for fooling in class. The following the one boy (a repeat offender) was again 'wasting time in nonsense' and was caned one stroke. During 1920 insolence, playing in class, impudent answers to the teacher, and bad work and laziness also meant one stroke of the cane. Talking was the reason in 1922 and in 1923 it was again laughing and talking, and careless work in an exercise book. Good behaviour was rewarded, too. In July 1920 Mr Sheppard judged the school gardens and awarded first, second, and third prizes to the boys.

School goods were delivered to the school, but not always as regularly as they should have been. In November 1919 the school goods were delivered (they had been waiting 'on the railway' for a month!). This meant that the children could then start using the new exercise books; 'they had been writing on pieces of paper for some weeks'. More worryingly fuel seems to have been delivered sporadically, prompting many entries such as that in October 1917 'temperature is 35 degrees Fahrenheit, unable to have fires as we are still without coal. Managed to get a little coal and wood for the afternoon from Mr. Sheppard but the room is now smoky as there is a hole in the cap of the pipe'. Games and drill had to be substituted for scripture and English for the older children and for scripture and nature study for the younger children. The infants were taken on a nature ramble to keep them warm! There was still no supply in November and the children had to fetch a scuttleful from Mr Sheppard each day. The coal failed to arrive again at the end of November so they got some from the vicarage. During October 1919 there was no coal for the fires. The children had to bring wood to school with them. In March 1920 there was again no coal for the fires. The stoves also seem to have been rickety; in March 1919 both fires were smoking and the infants had to be without a fire as the room was full of smoke. Again that month the infants' fire wouldn't burn. A new stove was put in to the 'big room' (for the older children) but appears to have been too small for its purpose. The room was cold at 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cold, damp conditions at school did not help keep the children healthy, and the cleanliness of the school was not always good. The County Surveyors report as early as 1903 stated that the floor tiles in the porch were broken. Both school rooms had dado rails and walls in a very bad condition, dirty ceilings, no ventilation, and the opaque window panes needed to be replaced with clear glass. As has been previously noted, the large room also possessed a worn out stove! The County Surveyor gave orders for improvements to be made but nothing appears to have been done. The 'pit closets' of the infant's room were also in a very bad condition and the toilet building needed to be thoroughly repaired and fitted with 'Moules earth closets'. In 1918 the school had no caretaker. By January 1919 the school had still not been scrubbed or cleaned. In October 1918 the School Medical Officer inspected the school and found the latrine buckets in a 'filthy state'. The HMI (His Majesty's Inspector) report for 1919 told that 'the walls and ceiling are very dirty and need a thorough cleaning [and] redecorating' and that whitening was urgent. 'Proposals for the improvement of the playground, the lighting, the ventilation, and the heating of the school should be made'.

From November 1917 to April 1918 there were cases of impetigo (sores), and also in May 1919. In June 1918 most of the younger children had severe coughs and there were six cases of whooping cough. The following month 26 children had whooping cough and there was also influenza, which presented cases in October. The Medical Officer ordered the closure of the school due to the 'influenza epidemic'; it reopened in November. Five children were excluded for three weeks due to chicken pox in April 1920, and in July an 11 year old boy died whilst being treated for a chill in Salisbury Infirmary. The schoolchildren were going to subscribe towards a wreath. In January 1922 many children were ill with influenza and the school was closed for a week. In March of the same year there were several cases of scarlet fever, and in April two children were taken to the isolation hospital with the above. Cases were still occurring in May. The children were also treated for ringworm (as in November 1920) and for head lice in October 1920, when four children were excluded as they were in a 'verminous' condition. The children were weighed and measured regularly (the machine was passed around the schools in the County) and the dentist made inspections. Sometimes the teachers took children to Durrington for dental treatment, as in December 1918. It appears that the weighing machine was also used to weigh the potatoes; an entry in September 1918 reads 'gardening postponed until the weighing machine is available for weighing the potatoes'! It had been delayed from Netheravon. In March 1920 an Inspector of Cruelty to children called at the school to see three boys. In December 1923 a doctor from the Board of Guardians came to inspect the two 'boarded out' children (they had been placed with foster families instead of going to the workhouse).

Wet and cold weather could also contribute to illness and parents often kept children away from school when the weather was bad. In October 1917 the road was flooded at Alton and the children from Knighton and Alton were unable to cross it to get to school. Attendance was low. In December the roads were very slippery and only 51 children were present. In January 1918 there was deep snow and only 40 children attended school, ten of whom had wet feet. The following day only 36 arrived as more snow had fallen. During February 1918 the roads were in a bad condition, attendance was low and many of the children had coughs. In June of the same year heavy rain meant that only 65 were present, and in July heavy rain meant low attendances again. One child was sent home with wet feet. The situation was the same in January 1919 when four children were sent home. Only 20 children arrived for school in the afternoon so the school was closed. In March 1920 there was poor attendance due to the snow storm. It was probably a good thing as there was no coal for the stoves! Bad weather also meant a change to the lesson schedule; in March 1918 the gardening day had to be changed as it was so wet, and in April it had to be taken after 'play' morning and afternoon as the seed sewing was so far behind. During May 1918 'gardening notes' classes were held instead of practical gardening as the weather had been so wet. In December 1921 it was impossible to do any drawing for several days due to the very dark afternoons and the bad lighting system.

Children could leave school when they were 14 and had reached a certain level of attainment; many of them went to work on farms. Sometimes children could take an exam to win a scholarship, as in September 1918 when one boy left to go to the Bishop's School and another to the Duke of York Military School. In July 1923 a girl was awarded a free place at the Salisbury Secondary School.

Holidays were similar to those taken now, but of a shorter duration. There was one week at Easter, c. three days for Whitsun, two weeks for the Harvest Holidays in the summer, but the school was also closed for an additional c.four weeks during August too (possibly dependant on when the harvest was due in). There was one week in November and two weeks for Christmas. The children also got extra days off throughout the year for various events. In June 1917 a scripture exam in the morning meant the afternoon off. This was also the case after a diocesan inspection. During the same month the afternoon session finished at 3.15pm as the sports at the Cavalry School would attract so many children. In July 1920 there was a day off due to the 'choir outing having attracted over 30 scholars'. In May 1921 the headmaster gave a short address to the school on Empire Day and the children sang a national anthem at the close of the address. In June 1921 many children were away on a Free Church Outing to Bournemouth. A day off was given in February due to it being Princess Mary's wedding day. A day's holiday was given in November 1922 because of the General Election; the school was to be used as a polling station. The children got a half day off in February 1923 as a confirmation service was to be held in the afternoon, and in April a day's holiday was given for the Duke of York's wedding. In June the teachers and staff went to the vicarage grounds to practice for the 'sports', and a half holiday was granted for the garden fete being held in the village. In December 1923 the school hours were altered in the afternoon to enable the 'Carnival in aid of the Christmas Tree Fund' to be held that evening.

There were also unauthorised absences recorded as well. In July 1917 two boys were away for haymaking. In June 1918 the Reverend Calley visited to say that the farmers wished the school to close as early as possible for the haymaking. During April 1919 the Attendance Officer visited but 'did nothing as he is leaving'! In March 1923, 24 children were absent. The headteacher asked the Attendance Officer to pay more visits and the headmaster himself interviewed parents. In July 1919 several children were absent owing to the peace celebrations in Salisbury. Eight children were away all day in October 1922 as they had gone to Salisbury Fair. In June 1923, 11 children took an unauthorized visit to see the 'Flying School Sports' and in the same month ten went to the chapel Sunday school outing and nine went to the Mothers' Union outing.

During 1917 there was a distinct improvement in the religious knowledge of the children and the Diocesan Inspector's Report of 1920 showed that the school was making good progress. By 1919 things were slightly different. The infants were found to be very backward and their seats were not the correct height. In December 1922 the HMI report stated 'The present head teacher has been in charge since the beginning of 1920 but has been teaching all Standards I-VII with only the help of an inexperienced supplementary teacher. Since the summer [of last year there have been] permanent suitable staff and advance has been made. Younger children are taught in somewhat cramped and difficult conditions. The older children are obedient, responsive and very willing to work but need improvement in the style of exercises in arithmetic and composition. The younger children are progressing well with reading but the older children have suffered from the defective teaching of earlier years and only a few read with readiness and ability'. Composition was poor in the middle part of the school, but the geography and history lessons did 'stimulate interest and effort'. The observation lesson for the infants was 'ably and thoughtfully given'. The headmaster who was in charge of the school in 1919 had returned in February after an absence of four years on military service. On arrival he found that the school and its surroundings were in a 'most untidy state. The floor looked like it had not been cleaned for days'. He handed in his resignation in October. By January 1920 the staff shortages were so chronic that sewing and gardening could not be taken.

By 1955 the school was voluntary aided and had 129 pupils. In 1992 pupil numbers had fallen to 82 and the name had changed to St. Michael's Church of England School. By 1996 the number of pupils had risen to 113. In 2008 there were 100 children attending the school - exactly the same number as a century before in 1907.

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