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Biddestone - The National School, Biddestone

In 1844 a piece of glebe land and a barn were donated by the church and a fund set up to provide a school for the children of Biddestone and Slaughterford. There were 104 children attending, 10 from Slaughterford. In 1844 a single room was used as a Sunday and day school, teaching 27 boys and 19 girls. A total of 68 scholars attended either Sunday or weekdays. Two women taught on a Sunday without pay. Expenses were met by subscriptions and payment of fees. By 1859 Warburton's report stated that there were 'about 50 scholars, mixed, are very fairly taught, by a young woman trained in the Castle Combe School. The school-room and dwelling-house were erected in 1844 and are very fair. There are no desks of any kind, and the furniture is scanty'. The desks finally arrived in June 1874! Most of the school's income came from the clergy.

In 1880 there were 72 children attending, this had risen to 108 pupils in 1907. The school was enlarged in 1885 with a separate class for the infants. Since 1945 all pupils over the age of 11 had to go to school in Corsham or Chippenham. Free milk was provided for children in Biddestone in 1934 and water sanitation was provided in 1956.

The school log book began in the 1870's and in 1873 the mistress was uncertified and taught the children by herself with the help of the Reverend and his daughter. In 1875 the infants were taken from the school room and taught in the classroom by a 'monitor', this usually being an older pupil. By 1890 the mistress had gained an assistant.

In the 19th century lessons consisted of reading, writing, arithmetic from the blackboard, grammar, geography, physical exercise or 'drill', needlework for the girls and drawing for the boys. Visits to the church occurred regularly, especially on 'Ascension Day'. The infants were taught object lessons eg. 'wheat', 'clock', 'carpenter's shop', 'newspaper' and used slates to help with this. Copy books and recitation cards were used by the older children. All the children were taught songs regularly. The Reverend taught scripture and gave reading lessons.

HM Inspectors undertook visits to schools to assess the standard of teaching the pupils were receiving. In 1873 the mistress had been fairly successful considering the short time she had been in charge of the school. Discipline was fair, reading and spelling very fair, arithmetic very moderate. A proper classroom was needed for the instruction of the infants. The rooms may have been quite dark and stuffy, as in the summer of 1890 a window was put into the north wall of the schoolroom to ventilate it. Arithmetic always seemed to be a problem for the school, being consistently weak throughout the latter part of the 19th century. The infant's were judged 'backwards' in 1880 (mainly due to their recent rise in numbers) and it was suggested more staff should be taken on.

School holidays were very similar to our own. Five weeks for the summer or 'Harvest' holidays, two weeks for Christmas, one week for Easter and one week in May. Quite often children were absent during term time too, helping their parents. March was bird scaring, May potato picking, July harvesting, September and October more work in the fields, November more work in the potato fields. Occasionally children took time off for less acceptable reasons such as watching a hounds meeting in 1880 and watching a ploughing match in 1890.

Illness also kept children away from school. The usual bad coughs caused problems in 1874 and 1875. In 1874 and 1881 measles arrived in the village which caused attendance to drop. In 1874 the children had to attend school over the Easter holidays because they had missed so much work from being ill with the measles. Measles was still causing problems in 1894 when an extra week had to be added to the Harvest holidays to help children recover. Sickness appeared in October 1878 which unfortunately claimed the life of one boy. In November 1895 the children had sore throats and some children were not being allowed to come to school for fear of catching scarletina (there had been a few cases in the village). A Doctor visited the village and the school remained open although some children whose family members had the illness couldn't attend for fear they were infected. More cases appeared in 1896 along with mumps too.

The weather played a part in school attendance, wet and damp weather being the worst as in 1880 when only half the class came to school. In 1882 and 1894 the school was closed due to flooding of the roads surrounding the village and in 1888 and 1895 the Slaughterford children could not get to school because of the snow. In 1873 parents complained that children were not getting home until after dark so lunch was brought forward by half an hour to let the children leave earlier.

Pupils had to remain in good order when at school and bad behaviour was punished. The children of Biddestone and Slaughterford did seem more unruly than most in the late nineteenth century! In 1878 a boy was punished for spending his school money on sweet meats. In 1874 and 1880 children were punished for playing truant. In 1874 a girl stole a neck tie and a boy was also punished for stealing. The new mistress seems to have had her hands full with the children in 1874 when a boy was caned after he'd struck her in the face. The boy was said to have seen her firmness and authority and behaved better after that. In 1880 the Reverend punished a boy for throwing stones and also told the boys off for making marks on Mr Elliot's railings. In 1891 a child was expelled for open defiance of authority. In 1873 parents complained to the teacher that children are quarrelling on the way home from school. The mistress also seems to have had problems with the parents at times too. In March 1888 a boy's parents refused to send him to school saying that he was 13 but the parish registers and baptismal certificate showed he had not reached 13. School attendance officers usually visited the houses of children who persistently stayed away from school for whatever reason. By law they were meant to attend up to the age of 13 unless they had reached a certain level of achievement.

The children were given treats and special holidays for good behaviour too. In July 1895 the children were taken to Hartham Park by the owner Sir John Dickson Poynder as a treat. There was an annual day off for the Biddestone 'Revel', a sports day when the children played rounders, pat back and other races. The Harvest Thanksgiving called for a day off, and there was a half day for a tea party in the school. In 1875 a half day was given so that the mistress and several choir girls could attend the choral festival at Kingston St Michael and Corsham. Every winter the children were allowed to travel to Hartham Park for soup. In 1896 a half day was given as the schoolroom was required for a concert in aid of the school. Other rewards occurred in June 1874 when the school's patron visited, giving the children presents as a reward for their good needlework. At the end of school in 1874 the Reverend gave out picture cards.

In 1948 the County Council took over the running and administration of the school and by 1956 it had became a voluntary controlled school with 46 children, taught by two mistresses in two rooms. The school closed in 1998 with 23 pupils.

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The National School, Biddestone
The National School, BiddestoneImage Date: 2007
Image Details: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham
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