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Wiltshire Community History

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Atworth - Church School, Atworth

The first record of education in Atworth is in 1706, when Mrs Jane Brown of Cottles House died. In her will she made an annual bequest of £10 to pay for a mistress, £10 for a Minister to catechise the children, £1 for books and £5 for clothing poor children. The original school building was behind 98 Church St. c.1830 it was converted into a house and in 1960 it was demolished.

A purpose built school was erected in 1828 by Robert Blagdon Hall. On his death there were problems with his will, and the school was sold along with the rest of his possessions. It was bought by a Roman Catholic, who allowed the school to continue. The logbooks begin in 1877. A note in the front tells us that the schoolroom was just 30 feet long by 20 feet wide. In 1858 there were 70 children taught by a master and a mistress. The school was extended twice, in 1882 and 1896. The main schoolroom was enlarged to 67 feet by 18 feet and a second room 18 feet by 12 feet added. The older children were taught in the smaller room. The large room was divided by a partition and used by the middle class and the infants. In 1886 the average attendance was 86. In 1896 work began in May to build a new infants room 38 feet by 18 feet. It was finished the following April but not furnished until June. By this time attendance had risen to 150 out of 177 children registered.

The children were taught the standard subjects of reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, history geography and science. Examples from 1896 are 'Coast Towns of England' (Geography for Standard III - pupils of approximately 9 years old), 'Rivers and Mountains of Europe' was the subject for the older children. Elementary science for Standard III was 'The Three Kingdoms of Nature' (animals, plants and rocks), 'Water' and 'Salt'. The children also had P.E. sessions and singing lessons. The boys were taught drawing and the girls were taught needlework.

Attendance figures varied greatly. The weather was a major factor, as most children did not have any protective clothing. Rain and snow would have kept them at home. In 1900 the February snow fall was so heavy that the school was closed. In the winter months sickness caused many absences. As well as the usual coughs and colds there were occasional outbreaks of more serious illness. In 1881 measles spread throughout the school, forcing it to close for five weeks. At a later date, one pupil was unfortunate enough to contract ringworm. The headmaster instructed that all the desks, slates and pencils be washed with carbolic soap to try and prevent its spread.

The older children would often miss school when their parents wanted them to work. They were expected to help plant potatoes, and later to gather the crops. The school managers used both incentives and threats to try and improve attendance. In 1899 they offered the children a half day holiday each month if attendance reached 90%. In 1905 the headmaster organised a series of lantern exhibitions on various subjects - he noted that attendance improved on these days. Conversely, any child who missed school regularly would be reported to the School Attendance Officer.

The standard holidays were one week at Easter, one at Whitsun, four in the summer and two at Christmas. Sometimes, if the harvest was late, some of the older boys would not return to school on time. There were also occasional days off for the 'school treat', the visit by the fair, or if the school was required for an election. In 1924 the older children were taken on an outing. In one day they visited Salisbury Cathedral, Stonehenge, Rufus' Stone and Southampton Docks.

In 1905 the headmaster decided to create a school garden for boys of eleven years and older to tend. This proved a very popular and successful project, not only in practical terms but also theoretical, as the boys were expected to carry out scientific experiments in connection with the plants they grew and to write reports. In the early years the headmaster was so pleased with the crops gathered that he made frequent references to them in the logbook. In 1906 the children were each able to take home half a peck (a gallon) of peas. In 1911 the school won the Bathurst Challenge Shield for the best kept school gardens in Wiltshire. In 1925 the School Inspector was full of praise for the boys' ability to graft fruit trees.

Mr Inkpen retired in 1934 after 36 years at the school. Mr Hobday arrived in the summer term of 1935. There were 100 pupils taught by four teachers. The official uniform was a blue cap and school badge for the boys and blue hats and a badge for the girls. There were no school meals and children either brought sandwiches or went home for lunch. Milk was available daily at a cost of 2 1/2 d a week (approximately one new penny). The headmaster was keen to develop the school into a Rural Study Centre, to include a poultry unit, greenhouses, propagating frames and trial plots. Unfortunately this was not achieved, probably due to the war. However, the children continued to tend the gardens.

The older children attended Corsham School once a week, the girls for cookery lessons and the boys for carpentry. During this wartime period a school library was started and the children were allowed to borrow one book a week. This was also the time when piped water was brought to the school and the bucket lavatories were replaced.
 

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Church School, Atworth
 
Church School, AtworthImage Date: c.1905
Image Details: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham
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Church School, Atworth
 
Church School, AtworthImage Date: c.1905
Image Details: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham
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