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Wiltshire Community History

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Sedgehill & Semley

Semley Church of England VA Primary School

Semley Church of England VA Primary School Date Photo Taken 2013
Uploaded 13/01/2015 15:05:07
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Map Latitude 51.040941923987376 : Longitude -2.1556270122528076
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


A building grant of £50 was given by government in 1841 for the building of a school which would be under the auspices of the National Society.

In 1846-47 average attendance was 23 but by 1858, HM Inspector William Warburton reported that 50 boys and girls were taught in the school by an 'an uncertificated mistress in a very fair school-room, with boarded floor and wall desks'. Instruction and discipline were described as 'rudimentary, but very fair'. An additional comment from March 1859 states that the Inspector had just learned that the schoolmistress had received a certificate of merit. By the 1860s average attendance had risen to 60.

In 1866 a teacher's house was built. It is clear that by 1874 two sections of the school were in operation, one for infants and another for the older children. A log book survives for the Infant's School from 1874 to 1922, when it was integrated into the 'Semley Elementary Mixed School'.

One log book survives for Semley Mixed School. This begins on 8 January 1912 when 53 children were recorded as present and the school had been under the overall management of the county council since 1906. The dimensions of the schoolroom are noted as 43ft. (13m.) long x 18.5ft. (5.6m.) wide x 18ft. (5.5m.) high.

Once again, attendance figures are diligently recorded in this log book, with the influences of weather, illness and agricultural activities noted. On one day in October 1912 a number factors were in effect on the same day: 'Attendance very irregular, caused by sickness, Salisbury Fair and bad weather'. The regular visits to the school by the Rector (Rev. F.K. Hilton) are also recorded; on 17th April 1912 he talked to the children about the solar eclipse, which was to occur that day.

In February 1914 several children were away with mumps and severe colds; the incidence of mumps had developed into an epidemic by May. The periodic monitoring of the children's height and weight in the Infants' school, with the arrival of the measuring equipment on its route from school to school, continued with the older children of the Mixed School.

Prizes for attendance were given by Lady Octavia Shaw Stewart as they were to children in the Infants' School. In September 1912 nine girls received lengths of fabric to be used to make a dress; six boys received an order for boots to be made for them. The same year Lady Shaw-Stewart sent as a Christmas gift a sixpence and a bun for each child; in 1913 she gave each child a shilling, and also invited the pupils of the Mixed School, together with their mothers, to a 'treat'.

Fewer details of the lessons given to the children are given in the log book for the Mixed School. However, the curriculum may be assumed to have been based on Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, with, no doubt, additional subjects such as Geography, Needlework and object lessons on diverse topics. Visits by the County Council's Horticultural Instructor were recorded from time to time and later, in 1918, demonstrations of pruning were given in the Rector's garden by the Instructor..

Periodically, too, pupils would attend examinations for scholarships to Shaftesbury Grammar School and Gillingham Grammar School. HM Inspector would also hold Labour Certificate examinations to assess the standard of education of those children under the age of 13 who wished - or were required by their families - to leave school to take up employment. Diocesan examinations, to assess the extent of the children's scriptural learning, also took place on a regular basis.

In the years up to the First World War the number of children on the school register continued to be in the region of 50. During the war, In October 1917 and September 1918, the children were noted as picking blackberries for the armed forces. When the War ended, however, the pupils were unable to celebrate within the school as this had been closed on 6th November 1918, along with the Infants' School, as a result of an epidemic of influenza. The school reopened on 18th November.

In the first week of September 1922, 16 children were admitted from the recently closed Sedgehill School. Stock from Sedgehill was also received and entered in Semley's Stock Inventory. In March of the following year the log book notes that a reorganisation had taken place; there was now one school, with two departments, an Infants' Group and a Senior Group.

In January 1925 the latest inspection of the school stated: 'In September, 1922, when the two departments (Mixed and Infants) of which the school formerly consisted were combined and when children from the neighbouring school of Sedgehill, which had been closed were admitted, 71 names were on the register. Since then, numbers have steadily declined, and there are now in attendance only 49 children'. The report continued with largely favourable comments on the teaching and learning within the school.

School closures for special occasions continued as when, on 26th April 1923, a holiday was given in honour of the wedding day of Duke of York (later King George VI). In December of the same year the school was closed as the building was required as a polling station for the General Election. In the 1920s Empire Day on 24th May was celebrated and a day's holiday given. Interestingly, in the service held on 24th May 1928 in the church, special reference was made to the League of Nations, although the context was not noted.

While the children learnt about the outside world through their geography lessons, occasional visits by a Sister of the Oxford Mission to Calcutta, the first of which is noted in May 1925, brought them closer to the experiences of Indian children and customs.

Closure of the school as a result of low pupil numbers because of illness, but also as a means of preventing the spread of disease, continued in the interwar years. In March 1926 the Schools Medical Officer ordered closure due to influenza, jaundice and whooping cough and in February of the next year the school closed again due to another epidemic of influenza.

The physical comfort of the children must at times have been poor: in December 1927 the temperature in the main schoolroom was recorded as 26 degrees Fahrenheit (-3 Celsius) and in the Infants' room 28 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 Celsius).

Like numerous other schools in the country, when the Second World War broke out at the beginning of September 1939 the school immediately found itself receiving evacuated children. On 22nd September the school re-opened after the vacation with 54 children on roll plus 25 evacuees. It appears that some teaching was resumed at Sedgehill as later in September it was noted that the evacuees living at Sedgehill would be 'sent' there. In July 1940 the log book also notes that 'Five blackboards at this school, and one at Sedgehill, have been renovated today'.

The children were active in supporting the war effort: an undated press cutting, probably June 1940, records Semley schoolchildren's efforts to increase national savings in the district. They had distributed letters to each house in Sedgehill and Semley asking the occupants to join the savings movement; this resulted in an increase in membership from 51 to 182. Each weekend the children would visit to collect varying amounts and bring them to school to be paid into the fund. Over one ton of waste paper had also been collected by the children.

A more exciting event occurred on 6th Mar 1941, however, when a teacher and 12 children cycled to Donhead to see a Wellington bomber that had crashed.

When Victory in Europe Day was celebrated in May 1945, two days of holiday were given to the children.

In 2011 Semley Church of England (Voluntary Aided) School continues to flourish. It has six classes with some 125 children aged between 4 and 11 years.


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