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Wiltshire Community History

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Rushall

Rushall Church of England VA School

Rushall Church of England VA School Date Photo Taken 2013
Uploaded 11/03/2015 16:29:27
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Map Latitude 51.3037690679261 : Longitude -1.823006272315979
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


The present school, greatly extended from the 1872 building.

In the early 19th century a school stood on the west side of the Devizes to Enford road; this is assumed to have been built between 1808 and 1818 and was documented in the Digest of Returns to the Select Committee on the Education of .the Poor in 1819. In 1835 Some 30 children attended the school and a number of parents paid 1d. per week for their children's attendance. In 1859 HM Inspector William Warburton described the school as a "thatched and whitewashed building, without residence attached" and gave its construction as some 14 years before his report. He also reported that 20 pupils, both boys and girls, were taught by a mistress, "an intelligent person", and that the school was maintained by the parish curate. In the 1850s a night school for boys and girls of both Anglican and dissenting families was held in the building.

In 1872 a new school was built on the eastern side of the main village street, where it remains in use today though much extended and refurbished; at this date the earlier school building was demolished. The school was attended not only by children from Rushall but from neighbouring parishes, notably Charlton and North Newnton.

School log books survive from 1908, although there is at the beginning of the one starting at this date that statement, "the old Log Book which has been in use ever since the building of the school is now filled up". The measurements of the school rooms are recorded: Main room: 28 x 17 x 20 high; North room: 25 x 17 x 20 high; Infants' room: 17 x 17 x 20 high; A subsequent log book notes that, at 12 sq. ft. per child, these measurements provided accommodation for 99 pupils. It will be seen that in the second quarter of the 20th century these numbers would be substantially exceeded.

The subjects studied by the children in the second half of the 19th century, would primarily be based upon reading, writing and arithmetic, in accordance with the provisions of the Revised Code of 1862 in which children progressed from the Infants' class through Standards I to V. In addition, object lessons would customarily be given, particularly to the younger children, on a diversity of topics. The Code imposed a system of inspection of the school and examination of these subjects which would determine, along with the levels of attendance over the year, the grants to be awarded to the school. The earliest surviving log book of Rushall School gives scant information of these formal subjects of the curriculum apart from the comments made by HM Inspectors on the abilities of the classes. The "core" subjects were supplemented by nature studies, needlework and domestic subjects for the girls and woodwork and gardening for the boys. Each year programmes of work were sent to the Inspector for approval. Also included were transcripts of the Diocesan inspections held at the school to examine the children's religious knowledge and which were frequently highly praised. On 23 December 1908 - and perhaps on other occasions - two parish clergymen gave out prizes to the children who had been most successful in the recent Diocesan examination in Religious Knowledge.

Interestingly, at Rushall in the early years of the 20th century, the gardening activities of the pupils were clearly of great importance to the head teacher who carefully and frequently recorded the periods spent on the school's allotment or allotments (one reference cites an allotment at Charlton; he comments on the fact that advantage was taken of fine weather, the problems presented by poor weather, and the instructions given by a visiting adviser. The rural location of the school was also reflected in such entries as those recording the head teacher's absence on 31 July 1909 to attend a course at Bradford on Avon on bee and poultry keeping and at the end of November 1909 he left school early in the afternoon "to find the locality for conducting the Manurial Experiments". However, there was a useful arithmetic lesson associated with these manurial concerns: On 13 June 1910 the log book records an "Arithmetic lesson doing practical weighing in connection with the Field Manurial Demonstration". In April 1911 the log book records the following pleasant image, "Three little girls were found to be so wet as to necessitate that they should be sent home. They had been gathering marsh marigolds by the riverside".


In the same month seven boys had been absent for four days while attending a Local Education Committee course on thatching. Nature study also appeared to be incorporated in the boys' gardening classes.

For girls there were classes in "Domestic Economy" in addition to the academic subjects: In July 1910 a course in these household activities was held in the Classroom and this was also attended by girls from Upavon and Manningford schools. Such a course would be held on a number of occasions between 1910 and 1913.

It is clear that at this stage an evening class was still in existence; the log book records, "A supply of Readers (13) "Martin Rattler" received for use in Evening School from County Offices".

A prime concern for the school was the level of attendance from week to week, and this could be affected by illness and weather conditions amongst other factors. The morning of 10 December 1908 was a "wild, wet morning" and 14 pupils were absent. In the same month two years later "Continuous stormy weather" resulting in "many colds and much sickness" was recorded. Given that the children would walk to school for both morning and afternoon sessions weather conditions inevitably had repercussions for attendance and often for their health. Again, in early January 1912 heavy snowfall caused "a considerable drop in attendance with several cases of flu and colds reported". At the end of that month icy conditions still prevailed and one boy "while sliding during playtime fell through the ice. He was so wet that he had to go home".

The children not only suffered from colds and flu, however, but also from time to time from more serious conditions such as measles and whooping cough. For example, in November 1911 an outbreak of whooping cough is recorded, "Only 66 per cent of pupils present". On the following 22 December the school closed for two weeks for the Christmas holidays in the hope that the spread of whooping cough would have dissipated by the time the new term started in January. However, when the school did reopen several children were still away with severe coughs. Consequently when the percentage attendance for the year was calculated in April 1912, this amounted to 88 per cent, with the period December to March inclusive "very unsatisfactory due to whooping cough and epidemic of influenza". The figure in the previous year, in April 1911, had been in excess of 93 per cent. Unfortunately, the earlier log book records only percentages of attendance and not the numbers represented and therefore it is impossible to ascertain in these years the number of children actually on roll at the school.

In the early years of the 20th century regular monitoring of schoolchildren's health by school doctors, nurses and dentists took place, under the auspices of the County Council and the Schools Medical Office. Closure of the school was ordered when such illnesses became particularly widespread. In early May 1912, for example, chicken pox was responsible for absence of eight children (11%of the pupils). By mid-May 50 per cent of the children were absent. On 20 May the School Medical Officer closed the school for three weeks; during the closure the school was disinfected. Routine monitoring was regular and a weighing machine was circulated around the schools of the district. The doctor periodically examined the children; the dentist visited to examine - and treat - children's teeth and the school nurse also regularly examined the children, sometimes finding them to be in a "verminous condition" and recommending their exclusion until treated.

Truancy also played a part in the failure to attend the school, however, and from time to time the School Attendance Officer would investigate and visit a pupil's home to emphasise the parents' responsibility for having their child attend school.

The log books note punishments that were administered by means of the cane: In May 1910 a boy was given two "stripes" on the hand for swearing; in September of the same year three boys also received two stripes each - one on each hand - for swearing and on another occasion a boy was punished with three stripes across the back for persistent inattention.

School holidays comprised one to two weeks each at Christmas and Easter. The summer holiday was based around the harvest and lasted some six weeks; in 1908 the holiday was from 31 July to 13 September but the exact dates might alter from year to year depending on the readiness of the harvest, when children would be expected to help their families in the fields. In addition there could be provision in the school day for helping in the adults' agricultural activities: on 29 June 1909 the school registers "closed at 1.25 to allow children to carry tea to the hay fields. This will be done each afternoon till the end of the hay harvest". Furthermore, on 22 June 1917 there is mention of the "annual haymaking holiday of two weeks". This last comment may refer to the additional requirement of boys to assist in adult work during the First World War since so many men had left for the War. In July 1916, "Two boys were allowed to leave school to work in the hay-fields as the recent weather has been unfavourable for hay-making and there is a great shortage of labour in the village". Then in October of the same year, one boy was "called out of school this morning to assist in driving sheep owing to the shortage of labour" and again in November 1916, another boy was "called out of school this morning to assist in picking up potatoes owing to the lack of labour and the recent heavy rains".

However, the work of the children, both in and out of school, was punctuated by special holidays and treats, although some activities were not authorised by the school; for example, on one day in October 1908 attendance was "below normal" because a number of children had gone to Devizes fair. In July 1912, however, the "very poor" attendance was mainly caused by the absence of "Charlton Choir children" on a trip to Weymouth. Royal events were usually marked by a holiday: in June 1911 the school closed for Coronation Week when King George V was crowned. In January 1915 the school closed for the afternoon to enable the Rushall village children to attend the Sunday School treat. Sporting activities, too, enabled the children to leave their lessons early, for example in July 1909 when the older boys went to Enford to play cricket.

Interestingly, between 1908 and 1912 the log books record children from the "traveller community" coming to the school and, in June 1912, to "gypsy encampment on the hill".

When the First World War broke out, shortage of manpower had its effect, as has been seen, on the activities of the schoolchildren in that boys, in particular, were called upon to assist more in the agricultural labour of the area. There was a more direct effect also, in that in October 1915 the head teacher, Mr. Frank Culling, enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery; he had taken up his duties in March 1913 with his wife also acting as Assistant Teacher. The work of the school continued, however, with the help of a replacement head teacher until the return of Mr. Culling at the end of the War, although Mrs. Culling stepped in to supervise the school at various points when the head was ill. In January 1917 she was granted special leave of absence during Mr. Culling's "leave from the Front".

Like most schoolchildren in Wiltshire and other counties, the children themselves contributed to the war effort, and the results of their work are reflected in a brief note at the front of the log book covering the War: "War effort by children, 30 perch allotment; Waste Paper collection - 2 tons; Horse chestnuts - 12 cwts. Comforts for Wilts. Regt. Comforts for Navy".

The reference to horse chestnuts relates to the collection of these by schoolchildren all over the country in 1917 as it had been discovered that acetone, necessary in the production of cordite for munitions, could be derived from them. Before the War most acetone had been imported from the United States but supplies were seriously hampered by German submarine activity in the Atlantic. The children did not know the reason for collecting horse chestnuts ("conkers") as Government plans were shrouded in secrecy. The process was not entirely successful in the first year of production in 1917 and by the following year the War was almost over. However, the efforts of the children were recognised: on 21 December 1917 the last lesson of the afternoon was spent in singing Christmas carols. The children then received gifts of money as rewards for having collected 21 cwts. (1067 kg.) of chestnuts for the Ministry of Munitions.

By October 1917 the children would also be meeting others from completely different environments, when seven children from London were admitted to the school, their mothers having come to the area to visit friends owing to the air-raids by now taking place on the city. For whatever reason, however, most of the children returned to their homes within a few weeks. During the war years, problems of weather and epidemics of illness continued to affect the school as in peacetime.

On 11 November 1918 when the Armistice was announced, the school timetable was abandoned and "national songs" were sung and games played during the afternoon session. The next day the school was closed in celebration of the Armistice terms being accepted by the Germans. That year in December a party was held not only in honour of Christmas but also of the Armistice, and in February 1919 Mr. Frank Culling resumed his duties as head teacher; he would leave the school in June 1920.

At the beginning of the school's statistical year, on 1 April 1919, there were 62 children on roll, of whom 27 were boys, 34 girls and one child under the age of 5. However, on 8 September 1924 the school reopened with only 43 children on roll; by April 1925 there were only 41.

The HM Inspector's report following a visit to the school at the end of October 1924 referred to the necessity to revisit the school after a "very adverse report" in November 1922. Now there had been new staff and satisfactory discipline had been established. However, the report suggested that further improvements in reading, oral work and arithmetic could be made. The Infants were also inspected and the report generally good but also included suggestions, particularly regarding the teaching of arithmetic.

In December 1924 it was proposed that Rushall School should become a central school providing for children up to the age of 14, with "children from the district invited to attend". The consequences for pupil numbers were significant: In June 1925 there were 43 on roll. By the time a new headmaster commenced duties in January 1926 the figure of "62 present out of 83" was recorded on the 15th of that month. A year later, in January 1927, 92 were on roll.

Occasional epidemics of chicken pox, measles and influenza continued in the 1920s; the school was closed between 22 May and 14 June 1926 because of the prevalence of measles amongst the pupils. Nevertheless, happier activities were also taking place; for example on 24 May 1926 a team from Rushall School was taken to Market Lavington to play in the Schools Six a Side Football Tournament. Of the 24 teams participating, Rushall won the Silver Challenge Cup. In July 1938 the school closed for the afternoon session when all children aged 7 years and above attended a rehearsal of the Tidworth Tattoo.

Each year Empire Day was celebrated on 24 May and the programme on 1927 reflected that of other years: At 11.15 am the whole school sang patriotic songs and the head teacher gave a short address on Empire and Duty. On this occasion a loudspeaker was brought into school and the children heard a broadcast address by Earl Meath on the subject of "The Meaning of Empire Day". The National Anthem was then sung and the flag saluted.

Construction of the Central Flying School at Upavon (now the Army's Trenchard Lines) began in mid-1912. However, it is not clear from Rushall school log books when children from families based at the Flying School became pupils. Certainly it had been noted that on 16 June 1920 the school was closed for the afternoon in order to allow the children to attend "the Sports, held at the Central Flying School". By 1924 an RAF squadron was based at Upavon to be joined by a second in 1926 at which date the Central Flying School left the base. Children from the now RAF Upavon were attending, with a reference to children from the "Married Quarters" and, on 7 Jan 1929, the "RAF lorry" being unable to bring children due to the condition of the roads resulting from bad weather. Consequently only 66 children were present that day. On 21 December 1938 the school was closed for the afternoon session owing to the RAF Christmas Party.

A glance at the admissions registers for the school indicates the variety of backgrounds of the pupils resulting from the presence of the RAF children; alongside the local children are those who had transferred from service schools all around the world. Furthermore, this was a relatively transient population who moved into the school from a wide variety of overseas places and very frequently moved on in a relatively short time. The process of the intermingling of all these children is an interesting consideration.

On 11 September 1939 the school reopened after the summer holiday - one week later than scheduled due to the outbreak of the Second World War. In addition to twelve children admitted from Upavon School, 14 evacuated children were also admitted, bringing the number on roll to 81. Seven boys were absent, helping with the harvest, owing again to the shortage of labour.

During the war there appears to have been a greater tolerance of absences due to the need to help in the fields: on 25 September 1942 the school was officially closed for a fortnight to enable the older children to help in gathering potatoes and other root crops. The school was kept open on a voluntary basis to enable the younger children to attend if parents so desired.

At the end of hostilities in Europe the school was closed for two days on 8 and 9 May 1945 in celebration.

With the post-war reorganisation of education, Rushall school would once again undergo changes in composition and these would result in drastic effects on pupil numbers. A Ministry of Education report following an inspection carried out in November and December 1955 stated,

"In this rural "All Age" school, numbers have risen in the last nine years from 74 to 102. At present, seniors from Wilsford and Upavon, as well as those from Rushall attend. When the new Secondary Modern school at Pewsey is built the Senior pupils will be transferred there and this will become a school for Juniors and Infants. Hitherto, the premises have consisted of three rather dark rooms, two of which open out of each other and one of which is small. Inadequate cloakrooms, pail closets and a small yard in need of repair make up the picture. To ease the pressure of numbers, which had risen to 112, the Village Hall was rented and a fourth class formed at Easter 1955 [comprised of children from 6 to 11 years old]. This hall is on the other side of the road, a short distance away, and very careful supervision of the children is required when going to and from it and the school, on account of danger from traffic. Much needed extensions and improvements to the premises are now in progress. These include a new classroom, a scullery, cloakrooms with washing facilities, flush closets and an enlarged hard surfaced playground".

At this date pupils' leaving age was 15, and by October 1956 126 were on roll. In April 1957 some 48 RAF juniors were transferred to Upavon School but at Rushall a peak of 132 pupils was reached and there was serious overcrowding in the Infants' room. However, with the opening of Pewsey Vale Secondary Modern School and some children being offered places at Devizes and Marlborough Grammar Schools, a substantial reduction of numbers was expected for the next term. Indeed, when the summer term 1957 began there were 69 on roll. In March 1958 the log book records the relief at the lack of overcrowding now in the school, "In organisation the school rapidly settled down to its new status, aided by the unfamiliar absence of any form of overcrowding. This handicap has always been with us, since my appointment here, in one section or another". The official opening of Pewsey Vale Secondary Modern School took place in April 1958; this was subsequently to become Pewsey Vale Comprehensive School following further reorganisation in the 1970s and the destination of most pupils from Rushall School which had 58 pupils in the Autumn Term of 1983.

In 2015 Rushall Church of England Voluntary Aided School has 115 children on roll and continues to receive children from Rushall itself, Upavon whose school closed in 2009, and neighbouring parishes.


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