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Wiltshire Community History

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Sedgehill & Semley

Infants' School, Semley

Infants' School, Semley Date Photo Taken c.1906
Uploaded 13/01/2015 14:48:50
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Map Latitude 51.04091831327685 : Longitude -2.155661880970001
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

The first surviving log book describes the opening of the Infants School on 19th October 1874 with a First Standard class and an Infants' class. Forty six children were recorded as attending.

One school teacher, Miss Eliza Ann Ranger, had the charge of the school from October 1874 until her retirement in December 1909. The number of children on the daily roll was rarely recorded, but average attendances were, and these give an indication of pupil numbers. In October 1877, for example, attendance was given as 60; in July 1881 69. The importance of recording attendance figures was due to the system whereby grants to the school depended on attendance and test results. Regular HM Inspections closely monitored the organisation of the school, the quality of the teaching and the extent of the children's learning. Consequently the head teacher noted specific causes of poor attendance. Frequently, as many children walked some distance to school, including a return visit home for their midday meal, their ability to attend was regularly influenced by poor weather; snow in the winter and heavy rain at various times in the year.

Sickness of any significant extent among the children was also noted. For example, coughs and colds over the winter and early spring months would regularly cause a number of absences. On 7th March 1880 a note appears of a very painful cause of children's absence: several children were 'away with broken chilblains'. This condition was a regular occurrence when people moved from extreme cold to a close heat source, such as a fire. On occasion more serious outbreaks of illness would occur; for example in August 1882 attendance was low as a result of numerous children being away with whooping cough, and as a result the school broke up early for the Harvest Holiday. In July 1890 scarlatina was present in the families of several children and it was recommended by the doctor that special care be taken to prevent these children mixing with their companions.

On other occasions, however, an event in the locality would be a reason for the children's absence; for example, in November 1874 attendance was low as a result of many attending Shaftesbury Fair.

Pupils in a rural area in the 19th century would frequently be required to help with agricultural tasks at certain times of the year. Despite the fact that the children were infants, it was noted in October 1896 that some children were away picking potatoes; in July 1898 some of the children were away; a few months later, in October, some were away picking acorns.

The subjects taught at school included, in addition to the fundamental reading, writing and arithmetic, object lessons given on a diversity of subjects. In 1883/84 the topics included: Horse, Duck, Glass, Garden, Gate, Fish, Ship, Potato, Donkey, Rabbit, Wood, Mole, Bread, Coal, Hare, Apple, Cart, Shops. In 1884/85 the programme included: Elephant, Goose, Sparrow, Squirrel, Haymaking, Horse, Mouse, Monkey, Iron, Swan, Post Office, Hen, Salt, Leather, Cheese.

Despite the fact that at times Miss Ranger noted the poor work done by the children in their 'subtraction' or writing, HM Inspections of the school were repeatedly positive. Already in the early days of the school, in November 1877, it was noted that 'The condition of the School reflects the highest credit on Miss Ranger's capacity to control and teach young children'. In November 1884 the inspection reported very good standards of reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, geography and singing. Indeed, such was the continuity of the Infants' School's positive reports that in November 1900 HM Inspector stated, 'It would be surprising if Miss Ranger's school were not in first rate order'.

In addition to such inspections, regular Diocesan examinations took place in which the children were tested on their scriptural knowledge.

At the end of September 1875 a note in the logbook gives the dimensions of the schoolroom as: length 22 ft. 4 ins. (6.8 m.); width 16 ft. 7 ins. (5 m.); height 13 ft. 4 ins. (4m.). In November 1881 an HMI report drew attention, again, to the excessive number of children for the size of the accommodation, and said, 'Should the average attendance in the Infant School again exceed the limit prescribed by article 17(c) the entire grant will be forfeited'. This clearly serious situation was remedied by the building of a new Infants' schoolroom which was described as being 27 ft. (8.25m.) long, 17 ft. (5.2m.) wide and 25 ft. (7.6m.) high. On 12 April 1882 the Rector opened 'the new Infant School'; Mrs. Benett Stanford and other ladies from Pyt House sent every child a sixpence for them to remember the opening of their new school'.

In the 1890s and the early 20th century the children regularly received gifts from Lady Octavia Shaw-Stewart, daughter of the Marquess of Westminster and wife of Sir Michael Shaw-Stewart, a principal landowner of Semley parish. At Christmas she sent a sixpence to each of the children and would also give 'treats' to the children, as in July 1894 and September 1912. On occasion she would give all the children and their mothers an afternoon tea. She also attended the school to present prizes for excellent attendance.

The Rector, too, gave gifts to mark St. Leonard's Day on 6th November; the parish church was dedicated to St. Leonard. In 1881, for example, he presented each of the girls with a 'nice warm petticoat' and the boys with a shirt. The school was given a holiday on 6th November 1884 and the rector gave each girl a shawl and each boy a scarf. On November 6th 1896 it is noted that there was a day's holiday for the 'Parish Tea' in honour of St. Leonard's Day.

Treats also marked events of wider national importance, too, as when the school closed on 22nd and 23rd June 1897 for the Jubilee Fete celebrating Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. However, when Queen Victoria died in January 1901 and her funeral took place the following month, no mention of this was made in the log book.

At the beginning of the 20th century it is clear that the diversity of object lessons continued: the first twelve on the list of lessons to be given during 1903/04 were:
Good manners
The Brown Bear
The Duck
The Squirrel

By the later 19th century the school was regularly receiving visits from the School Doctor and Nurse, who would examine their health and hygiene. Interestingly, a note for 1st June 1910 states that the Medical Officer had visited and examined the children's boots and clothes. At regular intervals the weighing machine would arrive at the school and the children would be weighed and measured. In addition, the Dentist would visit to examine, and treat, the children. Great care continued to prevent epidemics and when, for example, towards the end of February 1911, there was an outbreak of chicken pox, 8 children were excluded; by 3rd March 16 were excluded.

After the retirement of Miss Ranger, Head Mistress of the Infants' School since its opening, in December 1909, Miss Green took up the position the following month. It is clear that certainly from the early years of the century the Head Mistress was assisted by a Supplementary Teacher, not a Monitress: 'Miss E.B. Parsons (Supplementary Teacher) since 13th Feb. 1905 has left to be married'. That Miss Parsons was replaced by Miss F.E. Parsons but no relationship is specified.

In July 1910 46 children were registered at the school and the following year, at the Coronation of George V in June, each child was presented by the Rector with a Coronation Medal. Perhaps even more significantly for the children, the school then closed for a week's holiday in celebration of the Coronation.

By November 1913 there were 38 children on roll. Attendance continued to be severely affected from time to time by outbreaks of illness; at one point in March, however, only nine children were at school as a result of influenza and mumps. Bad weather exacerbated the situation.

When the First World War began in September 1914, no mention was made in the log book but there is a note for 4th April 1916 that Miss Ranger, 'who for fifty years was a teacher in this school', passed away. The length of service referred to here does not accord with the evidence of the log books which would indicate a period of 35 years; however, it is possible that she was with the main school prior to the opening of the Infants' School in 1874 when she made the first entry in the school's log book..

The importance of maintaining and possibly increasing the harvest of the countryside during the war, when civilian manpower was becoming ever more scarce through recruitment to the armed forces, is indicated by the fact that in June 1916 the school closed for one month for haymaking. In October 1917 and September 1918 closures are also noted for the children to gather blackberries 'for the Army and Navy'.

In 1918 and 1919 the post-war national and international pandemic of influenza touched the schoolchildren of Semley. Five days before the Armistice was signed the school was ordered to be closed for 12 days and consequently the Armistice celebrations which took place in many other schools, including Sedgehill, were missed by the Semley children. The school would be closed again by the Schools Medical Officer in February 1919.

In September 1920, 23 children were registered at Semley Infants' School. Fifteen months later the final entry would be made in the school log book when, on 1st June 1922, the school closed for the Whitsun holiday and Miss Green, the Head Mistress, resigned her position. From this date onwards the Infants' school would be incorporated into Semley Mixed School.

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