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Wiltshire Community History

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Wilsford cum Lake

Wilsford Church of England School

Wilsford Church of England School Date Photo Taken 2013
Uploaded 09/03/2015 14:59:22
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Map Latitude 51.15465625618237 : Longitude -1.8126100301742554
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre



The Church of England school was built in 1857 by the owner of Wilsford Manor, Giles Loder. The 1859 Warburton Census of Wiltshire Schools describes it as a small new school room 16 feet by 22 feet, with a lobby for shawls, where about 20 pupils attended with great regularity and were taught by a mistress.

The school log book dated 1876-1897 gives the school room slightly different dimensions with length 20 feet, breadth 14 feet and height 10 ft 6 in. An additional classroom was built in 1915 and attendance, previously numbering 34 pupils in 1907, increased to 54. The admissions registers show a total of 553 pupils attended the school for the period 1872-1940.

The normal holidays for the school year comprised eight weeks, with two weeks at Christmas, one week at Easter, and five weeks for the harvest holiday. It was suggested in one year to increase the harvest holiday to six weeks, but this was not adopted as it would mean reducing the Christmas break to one week, and in order to reduce heating costs the reduced occupation of the school house in winter months was preferable.

In the late 1800s the school hours were 9-12 and 2-5 (or 4:30 in winter). This allowed children to go home for dinner. From the late 1800s it was also possible for children to be employed, issued with a labour certificate and leave school between the ages of 10 and 14, depending on legislation in force at the time.

Many absences from school were due to bad weather or illness. The log books record significant number of absences caused by couple of very wet days in July 1887, which were then followed by an object lesson for the infants on 'rain'.

The log book reveals a few nice incidental details such as the school receiving a new clock on June 4th, being taught a new song called 'We're the school that's gay and happy' on June 16th 1893. On July 5th 1893 the school closed at 11a.m. to allow the children to go to a fete at Amesbury in honour of the Royal marriage between Prince George, Duke of York and Princess Margaret of Teck.

An inspector's report is recorded, dated 1894, which stated that a playground should be provided if possible, referring to 'Rule 15 of schedule VII of the code'. A playground was created on ground opposite the school on the other side of the road. The same reports addressed the lack of apex ventilation, and that another desk was required. It noted that the needlework was neatly done, and school food was in order, but that arithmetic was bad and more mental exercises were needed. This was obviously addressed as the report issued the following January reported that arithmetic was much improved.

The quality of the needlework could be attributed to the regular visits of the Misses C. and F. Duke from Lake House, often recorded in the log book bringing needlework for the girls.

The Revered E. Duke is also regularly recorded in the log book visiting the school, hearing reading, helping with mental arithmetic, and giving scripture lessons.

The parish and school did not see many wartime refugees. In 1939 five year old Kenneth Nightingale was evacuated from nursery school in Earls Court, London. He started at Wilsford School on 21 April 1939 and left on 2 February 1940. Another woman with a three-year-old son came as part of a scheme arranged by Mr Marles (agent to Colonel Bailey) which included compensation payment of £10. However, they left within ten days finding the quietness and lack of facilities difficult. The only other refugees were two Cockneys with experience of strawberry picking in Kent, but they couldn't be understood and left quickly.

There were various schemes the children were involved with to contribute to the war effort. Saving was encouraged and children had savings books for sixpenny stamps, which they bought at Lake post office. They established a rabbit club, in which the children became shareholders, paying 6d to enter, and then receiving a percentage of the profits. The rabbit's diet was supplemented by dried stinging nettles, the skins were sent to Exeter to be cured, and made into fur-backed mittens with meat sold at market.

The school teacher during the war years was Mrs Hart (later Mrs Simmance) along with an assistant, initially a Miss Mary Smith, who had just left South Wiltshire Grammar School and was uncertified. HMI commented on Miss Smith wearing trousers as 'inappropriate attire' but since she cycled from Durrington, it was permitted.

Outings under Mrs Hart during the war years were limited, but she endeavoured to include as many as possible close to the school, that could be walked or cycled to and did not require fuel to access. There was a memorable outing under Mrs Hart to Salisbury Cathedral School carol service, recounted in Des Thomas's 'A History of Wilsford'. It was decided to 'make a day of it' with a trip to visit the Bishop's Palace and to the Odeon cinema in Fisherton Street. As the time neared to leave, a dense fog was found to have settled and therefore no buses were running. Mrs Hart called for the ambulance to be sent to pick them up. They walked back in single file all holding hands, in order to meet it further down the road. They got all the way to Woodford church before it arrived, but were then taken the rest of the way home. Despite this adventure, the children all attended the Christmas party given by Stephen Tennant at Wilsford Manor the following day.

A proposal was made by the Local Education Authority that the school should be closed in 1926. However it was not finally closed until December 1960, and the children sent to Woodford School. The average attendance of the school between 1876 and 1937 was never much over 30, and in 1956 was only 18. The re-organisation of Amesbury County Secondary school meant that it was likely the attendance would be reduced to only 15 pupils aged 5-11. The head-teacher of the school at the time, Mrs D.A. Campbell, was not infant trained and eventually she decided she would retire. Once suitable transport arrangements to Woodford school were made the school was closed.


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