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Wiltshire Community History

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Langley Burrell - Langley Burrell V.C. School

In 1844 Robert Ashe, of Langley House, built a school and schoolhouse on his land. The school remained in the ownership of the Ashe family and they remained involved with it to the middle of the 20th century. By 1846 there were 50 children attending a Sunday and a day school with the salary of the mistress and other expenses being met from voluntary subscriptions and school fees.

In the Warburton Report of 1858 the school and house are described as being substantially built with the schoolroom having a boarded floor. Between 30 and 40 boys and girls sat at desks facing one another and were taught by a mistress. She was a girl from the 1st class of Christian Malford School and is described as being capable of teaching the Bible and Catechism and reading, writing and needlework. It was stated that the school manager, who was both squire and rector, disapproved of any more advanced instruction.

Unfortunately we do not hold any of the school log books before 1919 and so have little idea of events at the school in Victorian and Edwardian times. However in his diary for 11th November 1874, when he was curate to his father here, Francis Kilvert wrote, "We are in trouble at the school now." Apparently Mr Ashe, squire and owner of the school, had ordered Miss Bland, the schoolmistress, to keep all three windows and the door or the schoolroom open except in very cold weather, when one window might be shut. Kilvert said he was very fierce and determined and commented, "... poor little children crying with the cold. Cruel. Barbarous." He also said that parents were indignant and that the number of children attending the school was falling. It would be valuable to learn about the visits that the Kilverts made to the school as their interest was doubtless much more extensive than the religious instruction normally given by vicar and curate.

The following general information would be relevant to the school for the latter part of the 19th century. Fees were paid for each child until 1891, normally at the rate of one penny (0.4p) a week and the 'school pence' were collected by the schoolteacher. There would have been a schoolmaster, or schoolmistress, with an assistant teacher and perhaps a pupil teacher. The pupil teacher was taught by the head before lessons started, took exams, sometimes went to the Diocesan Training College eventually becoming a teacher themselves. They mainly taught the younger children.

School holidays were at similar times to those of today but often there was only 2 days at Easter but a week at Whitsun. The summer holidays were of four, five or six weeks and were called the Harvest Holidays as the children either helped with the harvest or carried food and drink to their parents, who were working in the fields. There were more half-day and whole day holidays for special events. Half a day would be given after the annual H.M.I. or Diocesan inspections and there were holidays for school treats, choir outings, chapel teas, Christmas parties and at times when the school was needed for other purposes.

There were also many unauthorised absences. These would be for seasonal work, such as haymaking (June) and early or late harvest (July or September), being kept at home to help their parents, and working when they should have been at school. Bad weather such as heavy rain, cold weather, or snow kept children away from school, often because their parents couldn't afford to buy them suitable clothes and boots. Apart from the usual colds and coughs there were more serious illnesses than today and these included, mumps, measles, whooping cough, scarletina and diphtheria.

The elementary subjects were the '3 Rs' - reading writing and arithmetic. Scripture was often taught by the vicar and children would have attended church for services on some days. Older children were taught history and geography and there may have been some study of natural history. Singing was taught to all ages and all the girls and some of the boys would have done needlework. Drawing had been introduced by the 1890s.

Mrs Cecilia Wheeler was schoolmistress from before 1889 until some point between 1907 and 1911. There were 38 pupils on the school register in 1889 and 45 in 1899. In 1902 the school was enlarged to take up to 70 pupils and in 1903 the average attendance was 55. This remained static through to 1911 by which time increases in the amount of space allocated for each child meant that the school could only take a maximum of 55 children; Miss A.C. Sharp had taken over as schoolmistress by this time.

Annual admissions in the early part of the 20th century were variable, as would be the case in a very rural area. There were highs of 18 in 1915, and 19 in 1924 and 1926, with lows of 4 in 1922 and 1923 and 5 in 1927. Between 1914 and 1929 the average annual admission rate was 10. In the 1920s the school leaving age was 14 although some boys who had obtained the necessary certificate left for agricultural employment at the age of 13. Other children left at an earlier age to attend the Technical School in Chippenham. From 1925 some children went to Chippenham Secondary School to take the free place exam. A local girl passed in both 1925 and 1926 while in 1927 Marjorie Jefferies came 5th overall and was the top girl. Each result got a half day holiday for the Langley Burrell schoolchildren. In the 1920s the numbers on the school role varied between 31 and 43 and attendance was normally good - 97% in one quarter. Children from as young as three years were admitted but in November 1923 it was noted that one three year old was not coming to school until he was four as the distance from home was too great for him.

Apart from the usual subjects taught in the first part of the 20th century - reading, writing, arithmetic, scripture, history, and geography - there are mentions of other topics. Drawing was on the curriculum and nature study included outdoor lessons and rambles. In 1919 children walked to Watling Street looking at climbing plants and poisonous berries in the hedgerows; on another day 24 children went to Kellaways where they observed the river flow and studied its course and the river banks. In 1920 they walked to Bird's Marsh to find badger setts and in October collected fruits from the hedgerows. Both boys and girls had their own garden plots and these were judged annually and prizes awarded for the best.

The school followed a timetable prepared by the H.M.I. team and this included regular games and drill (P.E.). In hot weather oral and reading classes were also taken outside, in the playground or field. In 1923 some older girls started attending cookery classes at Kington St. Michael School, as these could not be provided in the village. In November 1923 children made and dressed rag dolls and also made and painted calendars for Christmas. After the end of exams in the summer term medals and prizes would be presented by the vicar and several parents and friends would attend these occasions.

In the early 1920s the H.M.I. reports on the school were generally good; order was excellent and there was a happy relationship between teacher and children. The children concentrated well and handwriting was good and spelling commendable. However the classification of many children into Standards was extremely low for their age and there was a lack of knowledge in history and geography while deductive powers were low. This was to improve later and it seems that problems may have been caused by frequent changes of head teacher in the early 1920s.

By 1920 the holiday pattern was well established although the length varied from year to year. Easter varied between 11 1/2 days and two weeks, in June there was a week for Whitsun, summer holidays were four to five weeks, there was mid term holiday in October - breaking up at lunchtime on a Thursday and restarting the following Tuesday morning - and a two week Christmas holiday. There were also a few special holidays such as when the school closed for a week in October 1919 for the Peace Commemoration or on a day when it was needed for use as a polling station or for an exhibition. Occasionally there was a half day holiday for good attendance or for Confirmation in church.

Children were absent from school for various reasons. Illness sometimes caused the closure of the school as in 1923 when it was shut down for 5 1/2 weeks because of whooping cough; many children still had bad coughs and could not return after the school re-opened. Chicken pox, scarlet fever, mumps, measles and jaundice all caused problems and in June 1919 one unfortunate girl died of meningitis; the school closed for the children to attend her funeral. In January 1922 only 18 out of 35 children were at school because of an influenza outbreak.

A common problem in the 1920s was nits and 'heads in verminous condition'. The school nurse inspecting heads was a frequent visitor and certain children were often kept apart from the others or excluded until they improved. The school had regular health inspections from doctor and/or nurse and by 1923 the school dentist was visiting - often half the children were treated after a dental inspection but some of this may have been unnecessary according to modern thinking. In the early 1920s an N.S.P.C.C. inspector called to inspect a children from a couple of families who the head mistress found to be insufficiently clothed or dirty. In February 1940 all children were inoculated against diphtheria.

Some other absences were caused by the demands of agriculture, particularly during wartime. In April 1940 an extra three days were added to the Easter holidays so that older children could help with the spring planting. In 1942 the school officially closed for potato gathering for two weeks but the school actually remained open for those who wished to attend. As in Victorian times bad weather still affected attendances; in particular the infants were always affected by heavy rain or snowfall while high winds sometimes meant that the stove could not be lit and the school was without heating.

A few examples of special events and happenings in the school;

June 1920 - the Archdeacon of Rangoon visited and spoke to the children about Burma
December 1921 - the children made Christmas puddings and ate them before breaking up on 22nd December
16th February 1922 - photographs were taken of the children
Summer 1922 - children rewarded for good attendance with an hour long paper chase
July 1923 - a small flower show by the children with pressed flowers, floral arrangements and table decorations
20th December 1920 - school open day in the afternoon attended by ten mothers. The children sang songs and carols while the infants had games and nursery rhymes. Work on display included coloured overalls, kettle holders, blotters, raffia mats and bags, Christmas cards, rag dolls, a Plasticine model of Red Riding Hood and a cardboard model of an Indian bazaar.

The school building received regular maintenance; the walls were frequently colour washed or distempered, curtains washed and the woodwork painted. Heating was by means of a stove fuelled with coal or coke and there was a piano, which was completely overhauled in 1923.

On 14th June 1939 the school closed when 17 of the 25 children went on an outing to Porthcawl but war put an end to these annual outings although they started again quickly after the end of the war in Europe as the next was on 28th June 1945 when there was an outing to Weston-Super-Mare. The school closed on the outbreak of war from 3rd - 11th September and then reopened with 22 local pupils and four evacuees. On 19th June 1940 11 more evacuees came from Enfield and there were ten more in October that year. More evacuees were received every year and although many returned home some stayed for three years. A total of 51 evacuees came from 15 schools in the London area, mainly Alma Road at Ponders End, and one school in Battle, Sussex. There were 15 sets of siblings among the children. The war effort disrupted the summer holidays, as in 1941 when there was a three week holiday in August and a further two week Harvest Holiday from 26th September to cope with a late harvest.

In 1953 all older children (school leaving age was then 15) were transferred to Kington St. Michael School, an all age school taking pupils from other local villages. The Langley Burrell school was leased to Wiltshire County Council by Major C.R.C. Scott-Ashe from 1954 but the voluntarily controlled school was still privately owned for some time. There were 32 pupils in 1955 and they were provided with modern twin desks. In that year the school sports were held on the cricket field, an open day was held on 21st June and there was a carol service and Christmas party in the school. Electricity came to the school in 1956 and in September that year all children aged over 11 went to Chippenham Secondary Schools when the new buildings were opened at Hardenhuish.

A new classroom was added to the school in 1957 but there were heating problems in the late 1950s. Night storage heaters were insufficient and the temperature was often only 51F at 9.00 a.m. rising to 54F during the day. An extra heater was bought in 1960. Part of the Cricket Club field was used for weekly games and sport while there were outings to such places as Bristol Zoo, the Cattle Market at Chippenham and a circus at Swindon.

Pupil numbers were falling and in 1960 there were only 24, which did not justify two teachers; if a teacher left they would not be replaced. Later the number rose to 26 which just qualified for two teachers. These children visited Avebury, Greenway Farm to see sheep shearing, Bristol, and the Fire Station at Chippenham. The school already had a radio set and in 1961 bought a record player.

Numbers at the school did not increase greatly in the 1960s and, there being other small schools in the area, approval to close Langley Burrell School was given in 1973 and move the children to east Tytherington. Langley Burrell felt that the East Tytherington site was inadequate (they had a good point there) and the proposed number of pupils too small The school at East Tytherington was to be enlarged to provide an additional 55 places and Langley Burrell was to remain open until the alteration were complete. In July 1974 mobile classrooms from East Tytherington were transferred to Langley Burrell and the site at Tytherington handed over to the builders. On July 12th Langley Burrell School closed and 32 pupils were officially transferred to the Maud Heath County Primary School at East Tytherington (one other pupil went to Chippenham Boys' High School).

However in September 1974 all pupils from the new school, apparently called the County School for East Tytherington, Bremhill and Langley Burrell at this point, were being educated in the temporarily extended Langley Burrell School. This continued for one year until the new school was ready. Earlier the Langley Burrell children had participated, with children from the other villages, in the celebrations for the 500th anniversary of Maud Heath's Causeway. On July 10th there was a party in the village hall on the retirement of the popular head teacher, Mrs Barnard, after 17 years. This was attended by pupils past and present, parents and school managers and the school was open for a final display of pupils' work.
 

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