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Wiltshire Community History

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Crudwell - The National School, Crudwell

A free school was founded at Crudwell c.1630-49, funded by John, Lord Lucas. It may have been the school of industry in 1803 but became a Sunday and Day school in 1846 with 50 children attending. The children went to work in the week and Sunday was the free day in which children and adults could learn. In 1815 the school was enlarged for 120 pupils on land given by Earl Cowper. A new school was paid for by voluntary contributions and was built next to the old. In 1856 the trustees became dissatisfied with the management of the school and applied to become a National School. The Warburton Census of Wiltshire Schools 1859 noted 'substantial stone built school house, wooden floor, desks at wall, 50-70 scholars, mixed [boys and girls], under mistress (trained)'. Expenses were met by an endowment given partly by the Duke of Kent. This school was extended in 1880-90.

Log books written by the head teacher were used from Victorian times and give us an idea of what happened at the school over 100 years ago. The first log book found for this school was dated 1898, when average attendance was 87-100 children out of 120. Children were divided into infants and older children, with some infants being admitted from the age of 3. The subjects they were taught included recitation, singing, English, Geography, arithmetic, poetry, needlework for girls and drawing for boys. The younger children were taught about the world around them with topics such as paper making, candles, whale, camel, railway, cotton plants and the human body.

Physical training was important and there was a special 'Brand's Model Course' which was used for this purpose. Cricket matches were organised for the scholars with other local schools. In 1929 a team took part in the Challenge Shield for country dancing and won! Marshalling in the schoolyard took place when the children sang Empire songs, saluted the flag and were given a talk by the Rector. In 1921 there were classes proposed in cookery, laundry and house-wifery for the girls which were later set up as domestic instruction classes.

Attendance was patchy, mostly due to illness, the weather and being taken from school by their parents to work before they were old enough to leave. A school attendance officer was notified if attendance was poor and individual cases were looked into. Autumn and winter were the worst time for illnesses. Colds and influenza were most common but there were outbreaks of measles in 1904 (that caused the Diocesan Inspector to call off his visit) and 1915. Whooping cough was a problem in 1906 and 1917, and scarlet fever in 1914. A nurse came to visit the school regularly from the early 20th century and children were excluded from school for being dirty and 'verminous'. Other complaints causing exclusion from school were ringworm and impetigo. From the 1920's the dentist visited the school regularly too. In 1909 the school received a weighing machine and five standards for measuring height, which they had to use and then pass on to other local schools in the area.

Wet weather seemed to cause the most disruption. There was a thunderstorm in June 1898 which closed the school in the afternoon. Snow storms and stormy weather were given as reasons for poor attendance. The school became hot in the summer and caused heat 'sickness' in July 1899. In the winter it could become very cold and was a continual problem from Victorian times. In 1917 the children had to keep their coats on inside. They couldn't write as their hands got very stiff in the cold so frequent exercise was taken to keep the children warm.

Quite often absences at school were common at certain times of year when the children helped their parents at work. June was haymaking, when children even had to take time away from school to take their parents meals. November was potato picking, September gleaning and farm work at any time of the year. This was especially true in November 1914 at the outbreak of World War One when it was noted that '[there is] a tendency to employ boys very young as many young men in the parish have enlisted'. In September it was common practice for the scholars to go out blackberry picking in the afternoons; this must have helped with their observation and nature study lessons too! Attendance and punctuality were treated very seriously in Victorian times; two boys lost their attendance marks through arriving at school five minutes late.

The children had holidays much like those today, with two weeks for Christmas, two weeks for Easter, one week for Whitsun and 4 weeks for harvest in the summer. Other reasons for days off included having the afternoon off after an exam or inspection visit. The school was closed on General Election days when it was used as a polling station. It also seems to have been used as an entertainment venue for the village, as it was closed for preparations for 'entertainments' and Benefit Society dinners. In May 1901 a piano was purchased by a benefactor and put in the schoolroom for use at concerts and entertainment events. The school was allowed to use it for singing, marching and drills. Other events which gave the children a day off were the Oaksey race meetings, Queen Victoria's 80th Birthday in 1899 and for the wedding of Princess Mary in 1922. Ash Wednesday and Ascension Day meant a visit to the Church for the children. More unusual occasions were those arranged especially for the children; for a children's 'treat and theatricals' and there was a treat of tea after school on the occasion of the wedding of the vicar's daughter.

Probably because attendance was a problem, there were prizes for good attendance given by the Vicar. In 1899 books were promised to those who had good attendance during November and December. This must have done the trick because 50 books were given away!

The HMI report for 1898 stated 'The scholars behave well and are on the whole making satisfactory progress. The instruction in handwriting should be more systematic and more attention should be given to the boys' drawing. Infants- there has been much sickness among the infants during the past year. They are, notwithstanding, making very fair progress with their work. The supply of desks is inadequate'. This seems to be the case throughout a long period of the school's history, with grammar, needlework and drawing being good, but arithmetic and knowledge of geography below standard. Exam pass rates were good, though, and in 1900 written work was exceptional. There was an' atmosphere of happiness and activity' in the infant's class in 1928. Staffing levels at the school were noted as being low by the inspectors over a long period, with the school having a head teacher, two assistant teachers and a monitress. This may have affected the performance of the children as in 1899 it was noted that the infants needed a second qualified teacher but one was never provided. Even so, two children went on to Malmesbury Secondary school in 1906 and in the first term were top of the form! In 1916 the headmaster died suddenly and his daughter who also taught at the school had to take time off due to being nearly 'prostrate' with grief. This gave way to a period of instability and when the new head teacher came to the school they found a lack of stock with no pens at all, but the children's learning did improve after this.

From the early 20th century onwards numbers of pupils remained at around 80. It became a voluntary controlled school in 1949 and in 1955 had 69 pupils.



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