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West Lavington - Dauntsey's School, West Lavington

Following a successful career in London, West Lavington born William Dauntsey, a member of the Mercer's Company, left property in London for the building of a school and almshouse at West Lavington. His will was dated 1542 and a schoolhouse was built in 1553 with his charity administered by the Mercer's Company. The schoolmaster, who was provided with one of the almshouses, was paid £10 per year, which was raised to £15 in 1598 and this had risen to £30 by 1801. Later it was increased to £70. The school, which was near the vicarage, was for only for boys.

Between 1810 and 1831 £2,500 was spent on rebuilding the almshouses and making alterations to the school building. By 1832 the school master was receiving £120 a year, plus £60 in extras, with house rates and tax paid; for this he only taught religious knowledge, with other subjects taught by his assistant, a 12 year old boy. The appointment was made by the owners of the Dauntsey estate who specified that school work should interfere as little as possible with agriculture. This was so effectively adhered to that the average school leaving age was 9. Apart from religious knowledge only the 3 Rs were taught and it was said that there was no demand for classes.
The school and the master's house were rebuilt in 1856 and the almshouses repaired. In the inspection report of 1859 it was stated that there were 50 boys, who were taught reading, writing, arithmetic and religious knowledge. The master, a clergyman, was paid £150 a year, with a house, and an assistant, who was a certified schoolmaster, was paid £40. The school was nominally a grammar school but it only provided elementary education and the average age of the top form was only 12 years. In the 1860s and 1870s slackness and degeneration were noted. The headmaster was the vicar of Erlestoke but all teaching was done by the assistant master. The HM Inspector considered the school to be 'a very doubtful benefit to the parish. In 1875 £500 was spent on enlarging the school, despite the fact that local farmers did not send their sons there.

In 1855 a Parochial School for girls and infants had been opened at the eastern corner of Sand Ground on the Devizes road. This provided elementary education for girls but the boys would have gone to Dauntsey's School, or another village school, when they were about eight years. It was felt that Dauntsey's School had been a hindrance to any move to open a National School in the parish but change came with a reorganization of Dauntsey's charity in 1887. The maximum amount allowed for education was to be £1,800 with not more than £400 for an elementary school and the rest for the founding of Dauntsey's Agricultural College.

This review of the Dauntsey's charity in 1887 allowed £1,400 for the foundation of an agricultural college. From 1891 a new governing body was established; there were 23 governors, eight of whom were appointed by the Mercers' Company, who had been responsible for the original school from 1553. In 1892 twelve acres of Plank's Ground were bought for £1,200 for the new school. Mr. C. Ponting was appointed architect and a school was planned for 50 boarders and 50 day boys; the estimated cost was £9,535. The old school, near the church, was sold for £1,000 and more land, on the Devizes road was purchased. Mr. F. W. Long was appointed the first headmaster of the new school.

The school was opened by Joseph Chamberlain on 7th May 1895 and although there were only five or six boarders and three or four day-boys in the first term this number had risen to 32 boarders and 20 day-boys by the autumn of 1896. However numbers had fallen a little by the time Mr. Long was succeeded by Mr. Solomon, in June 1899, when there were only 38 pupils. The school fell between its two target subjects of science and agriculture and numbers further declined. This led to a lack of fees and confidence, and the inability to pay for well qualified staff, despite the support of Lord Fitzmaurice, who had become a governor in 1893.

In 1908 Lord Edmund Fitzmaurice and his sister Lady Emily Digby paid the cost of the recently erected Isolation Hospital (Sanatorium), which came to £7,734. The school was still experiencing difficulties with a further drop in numbers but by 1919, when Mr. Solomon resigned after 20 years as headmaster, the number of pupils had risen to 53 boarders and 14 day-boys. The school was transformed when George W. Olive came from Oundle to become headmaster. He had a great sense of purpose and set about creating a 20th century public school, warning both governors and parents that they must be prepared for financial risks and higher fees. As a result he was able to offer increased salaries to attract better staff to the school. In 1921, thanks to a benefaction by S. W. Farmer, new farm buildings and workshops were built. By 1922 Dr. John Russell and H. G. Wells had been co-opted onto the governing body. By 1926 the numbers had risen to 91 boarders and 22 day-boys. With more buildings and a wider syllabus Dauntsey's was by now something more than an agricultural college and with the aim of having a school of about 200 boys Lavington Manor House was purchased in 1929. Until 1930 the agricultural course had been retained and there was practical training on a small mixed farm but the subject was dropped when the school became Dauntsey's School in that year.

With Lavington Manor House having been bought on 21st February 1929 for a junior school the number of pupils rose to 150. With the assistance of the Farmer Trustees a school hall, music block and four study libraries were built and opened on 30 March 1933. At this time a new school costume, including open necked shirts, in a fawn colour was adopted. Among many new buildings were the gymnasium, built in 1935 with the financial support of friends and parents, botanical gardens in 1938, swimming pool and squash racquets court, and in 1940 a library, which soon had 4,000 books. Much equipment and furniture were made by the boys themselves. By 1951 there were 300 boys at the school and this number included 130 in the 6th form. In 1962 an appeal raised £180,000 to build the Olive Block as residential accommodation for senior students.

Until 1976 Dauntsey's was a direct grant school, with at least 25% of places taken by local education authorities. The governors resolved that the school should remain independent and become co-educational. They re-negotiated the agreement with Wiltshire County Council to provide 6th form education for pupils from Lavington Comprehensive School. By now there were about 500 pupils, of who half were boarders. In 1977 a senior girls' boarding house was opened; this was greatly extended in 1988. The last quarter of the 20th century saw many new buildings: the Tedder Building (1979), the Awdry Sports Hall (1980), a 25 metre heated indoor swimming pool (1985), a design and technology centre (1987), physics and chemistry laboratories (1989), a new senior boys' boarding house (1991) and another in 1993, a second senior girls' boarding house (1996), and a five studio arts centre (1999). In 2000 a new library and study centre was built, while in 2003 a new biology department was erected. 2004/5 saw a new senior girls' boarding house and new physics and chemistry laboratories. The school now has 100 acres of grounds and there is a junior boarding house for pupils aged 7-9 years.

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Dauntsey's School, West Lavington
Dauntsey's School, West LavingtonImage Date: 2005
Image Details: Michael Marshman
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