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Great Bedwyn

St. Katherine's Church School, Savernake

St. Katherine's Church School, Savernake Date Photo Taken 2014
Uploaded 26/01/2015 15:21:25
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Map Latitude 51.383665453286085 : Longitude -1.641058623790741
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

St. Katherine's School was opened in 1865 as a church school with the first stone laid by Lord Ailesbury on the 3rd December. The school aimed to educate girls up to the age of nine and boys up to eleven. There was a small school building located on the Tottenham House Estate until 1858, when it was converted into a summer house; the children from here were sent to St. Katherine's.

In 1914 the school consisted of a large room measuring approximately 474 square feet and could hold up to thirty children, a classroom measuring 246 square feet and a new infant department measuring 304 sq feet. Previous to this date recorded in 1865 one large room measuring approximately 720 square feet was used as the main teaching space.

Much of the information about day to day life at St. Katherine's can be learnt from the school log books that record inspection reports, attendance, staff changes, weather, curriculum and illnesses. School life in this period was more closely tied to the changes of the seasons than today, with attendance dramatically affected by bad weather, harvest and winter illnesses. An epidemic of mumps took over the school in January 1907 leading to its closure on the 17th. The intense cold of the season was not helping attendance numbers either. A couple of years later in 1909 the highest ever attendance was recorded with 90 on the register and 88 pupils present.

Those responsible for the overseeing of the school are consistent background figure in the school log books; the vicar of St. Katherine's Church often took classes and opened the school every morning, as well as occasionally assessing the children's work or hosting teas and giving prizes. The school inspectors visited annually and a transcript of their report is always entered into the log book, recording the standard of education at the school. St. Katherine's has had a consistent positive report for most years with "adequate instruction, attendance levels" and "varied and interesting" lesson subjects.

Annual events such as choral festivals and the Marlborough Fair form part of the yearly cycle of events and often resulted in a holiday of half-day for all. The children had a fair range of annual holidays, similar to those of today. There were two weeks at Christmas, about two weeks at Easter, one week at Whitsun (late May/early June) and five weeks Harvest Holidays in the summer. On harvest holiday 1890 the school was dismissed at 12 o'clock, noon. The attendance for August was very poor due to the time of year so long holidays were very common in this period. Teas were often held by Lady Ailesbury for significant holidays and were much loved by the children and teachers alike. The annual Christmas tea in 1900 was held in Tottenham orangery; there was plum pudding, songs by the children, dancing round the Christmas tree, games, and gifts for the children from Lady Ailesbury. Many of Lady Ailesbury's treats were held at Tottenham and the children were encouraged to play on the lawn and sing for the Brudnell-Bruce family.

On 20th July 1911 the school arranged a trip to Weymouth taking with them ninety-two students and sixty adults. As special train was arranged from Savernake called the "St. Katherine's Special", "much to the hearty cheers of the vicar".

The log books record the curriculum for each standard which includes lists of songs and object lessons. The elementary subjects were the "three Rs" - reading, writing and arithmetic. Scripture was often taught by the vicar and the children often attended church for services. Singing was taught to all ages and sexes, girls studied needlework and the boys studied gardening. In 1910 the St. Katherine's boys were recorded "rooting up and pulling down the large but unproductive plum trees, cutting them up and clearing the ground". Songs learnt in 1893 were 'Little Soldier', 'First day of May', 'The mellow horns,', 'Boat race", and 'Marching song'. Object lessons for the year focused on tree, "cow", sheep, horse, railway trains, "coral, and slate. Football and hockey were popular sports in 1921.

Attendance during the 20th century fluctuated due to the unfortunate events of war. During the approach of WW1 the school was closed to make way for military manoeuvres and following attendance suffered due to the need for extra help at this time from the population. At the start on WW2 an extra week's holiday was given at the beginning of September 1939. Five new attendees were registered on the books as evacuees from London. Much of the school's space was used as accommodation for soldiers and on December 1st the school was closed and the windows blacked out. On the 7th May 1945 the school closed for a holiday to celebrate victory of WW2.

Victory was short-lived for St. Katherine's as a nearby ammunitions dump accidently exploded on the 7th July 1945 causing extensive damage to the school and church. The ceilings, doors and windows were blown in and the structure of the school was badly affected. The school log book records the incident stating that "the most fortunate part of this appalling occurrence was that the school was not in session". After the explosion the school was closed and the children were to use the Wesleyan school room in Great Bedwyn. The 15 shillings this cost was paid by the Wiltshire Education Authority making St. Katherine's a council school. Because the event had left several families homeless many parishioners were forced to flee; only twenty-five students were registered at the school in 1946 when St. Katherine's school reopened after reconstruction and decoration.

In 2013 the number of pupils on the register was 87.

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