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Wiltshire Community History

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Bishopstone - Church of England School, Bishopstone

The first mention of education in Bishopstone is in 1818. An industrial school was held at the expense of the lady of the manor, where the girls' training included knitting and the plaiting of straw. The Rector at that time, Rev. Thomas Bromley, noted that 'the poor are destitute of the means of having their children educated, but desirous of possessing them'.

By 1833 two daily schools and two Sunday schools had been established. The former had approximately 20 children in each whose education was paid for by their parents. One Sunday school had 50 Church of England pupils; the other had 20 children connected with an Antinomian sect. Both schools were supported by subscriptions.

In 1842 the village school was provided and endowed by the Rector, the Rev. Montgomery. In 1846 the Sunday and the day school had 107 pupils, and 30 infants attended the day school. When the school was inspected in 1858 there were 80-90 pupils. Children of both sexes were taught by a master in good, but rather small school rooms, with board floors and parallel desks. One room measured 25 feet by 17 and the other 17 feet by 8.

The village was very fortunate to have as its Rector the Rev. Francis Lear. He seems to have been a fine example of the very best type of 19th century clergyman. He served the parish from 1850-1914 and paid constant attention to the school throughout this time. In 1864 he was very distressed by the fact that boys were leaving school as early as eight or nine years old. He felt that the Sunday school and evening school held in the winter could only help to a limited degree. He wished that parents were more interested in their children's education, and noted that 'the popularity of the Public House and Beer House on Saturday and Sunday evenings is most demoralizing'.

The school log books start in 1863. The first book gives no details regarding the curriculum, but annual examination results often picked out arithmetic as a weakness. In 1879 the subjects the children were examined in were writing, arithmetic, geography, grammar and reading. The early entries are dominated by religion. The Rector took a weekly scripture lesson with the older children and his daughter taught the younger pupils. Each week the children also attended church, which they seem to have resented, as there are many references to punishment for bad behaviour in church. The vicar's wife supplied the material for the girls' needlework lesson and supervised their work. She was also concerned about the children's appearance, as in 1879 she supplied brushes and combs because the children looked so untidy. (A few years earlier, the logbook says seven children were sent home to have their faces washed). By the 1880s the school was also receiving regular visits from the curate. The interest of the clergy seems to have been a mixed blessing. The headmistress was no doubt grateful for their help and she sometimes turned to the Rector for assistance regarding discipline. Their involvement was not always welcome though; in 1882 the headmistress complained in the logbook that the curate was interfering with her teaching.

The timetable was quite flexible, and if the children were weak in a particular subject they would be given an extra lesson. For example, a poetry lesson was replaced by geography. The teachers had very few materials to work with. In 1879 the school was sent a blackboard, easel, maps and extra slates. In the 1885 entry there is a list of object lessons that the infants had to learn. There were 30 items on the list, including 'the human hand', 'the camel', 'washing a pocket handkerchief' and 'lighthouses'. The children were also expected to learn poems. Examples from 1892 include 'The Pet Lamb' by Wordsworth (learnt by Standard II aged approximately eight) and 'The Sea-King's Burial' by Charles Mackay (Standards IV to VI aged ten to twelve). The lessons for seven to nine year olds in 1902 included Geography 'The Size and Shape of the Earth'; History 'The Roman Invasion'; Physics 'Properties of Matter'; Botany 'The Structure of Plants'. By 1917 the older girls were attending a cookery course. It was normal in rural areas for the older boys to be taught gardening; but although the subject was discussed, unfortunately no suitable land could be found.

Apart from modern cloakrooms, the school buildings did not change at all. Pupil numbers between 1864 and 1930 were in the range from 70 to 112, taught by a headmistress, (there was one headmaster from 1913 to 1929), an assistant mistress and two pupil teachers. Attendance figures fluctuated according to the weather, the farming year and general health. In June 1879 only 15 children attended school due to a rainstorm. Wet weather was a major problem, as the children did not have protective clothing. On some days attendance could be good for the first half of the day if the weather was fine in the morning, but very poor in the afternoon if there was a storm at lunchtime. Attendance in bad weather was encouraged by offering a period of amusement in the afternoon.

All children were expected to help with farming, for example potato planting in March and gathering the harvest. There were many occasions when the new school year in September had to be postponed, because so many children were still in the fields. Other reasons for missing school were special events such as a village wedding or the annual fair at Salisbury. The headmistress tried to encourage better attendance by offering annual prizes. The two children with the best attendance record each received a quilt that had been made in school.

The usual coughs and colds kept many pupils at home during the winter. Major outbreaks of illness were sometimes dealt with by closing the school. In June 1904 the school was closed for five weeks and had to be disinfected; the logbook does not say why. During the early 1900s ringworm was a problem. Sometimes it could be severe enough to keep a child at home for months, and in one case two years. 1908 was the first time a medical inspector visited. Twenty pupils were eligible, but the parents of thirteen objected. The school dentist paid his first visit in 1918.

Discipline at the school was firm and was closely monitored by the Rector. He may have been concerned that female teachers would have difficulty with the older children. Punishments were administered for minor offences such as being noisy or fidgety. Outdoor break time could be lost, at other times the offenders had to stand still for 45 minutes. In 1879 it was decided that a school manager would visit the school each week to monitor behaviour.

School holidays were six weeks in the summer, a week each at Christmas and Whitsun, and just the long weekend at Easter. This was supplemented by whole or half days off as treats during the year. Sometimes the school had no choice but to shut; if there was an event in the village, such as the Flower Show, the children simply didn't turn up for school. On another occasion both a prize and a half day off were given to boys who had done the best drawing in their class. Prizes were also awarded for regular attendance and good conduct. Other half days were given for the annual school treat and the fete that was held at the Rectory. In 1903 sixpence (2 1/2 p) was awarded to pupils who could correctly work a sum in compound practice. Someone connected with the school had read a newspaper article concerning job applicants who were unable to do this test sum and it was decided to try it on the children. At the 1913 prize giving day there were prizes for good behaviour as well as lessons. As well as their prize each child was given a bun and a banana.

The strong link with the church continued until the mid 20th century, although the school passed into the overall charge of Wiltshire County Council early in the 20th century. The Diocesan Inspectors were impressed with the children's knowledge of the scriptures, and the reverent way they conducted themselves during worship.

In 1932 Bishopstone became a junior school. The older children, aged 11 years and over, moved on to Broad Chalke, leaving 49 pupils and two teachers at Bishopstone. In 1977 there were just 20 pupils and the school unfortunately closed. The eight remaining infants transferred to Coombe Bissett First School, six juniors to Broad Chalke First School and six to Wilton Middle School. The school was sold in 1978 and is now a private house.



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