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Wiltshire Community History

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Steeple Ashton - St. Mary's Church of England VA Primary School, St

Mr Long of Rood Ashton, in 1828, provided a school building in Steeple Ashton. This school, in 1858, had 40 girls who were taught in an upper room by a certified mistress who received the income from the endowment of £8.10 shillings a year. 40 boys were taught in the ground floor room by an uncertified master. At this time, Mr Hughes (an inspector) said that "the girls are remarkably neat and cleanly, in very good order, and are fairly instructed." He also observed that the lower classroom's stone floor was of flags, and not in very good condition and the room had desks along the wall. "The building containing these school rooms is a handsome one of stone, erected 20 years ago. Two dame's schools of the humble kind contained 30 children in the village."

The subjects taught include the elementary ones of arithmetic, reading and religious studies. Grammar studies were also taught, as was English history and geography. The girls learned needlework. Areas of the world were explored briefly in geography and English history ranged from William Rufus to George I. Grammar was important and so each lesson investigated a different aspect of the English language, such as the proper application of 'a' and 'an', and how to distinguish masculine from feminine by a difference in the termination of words. There were lessons that the teachers expected the pupils to learn at home and home lesson books were provided for the students. The girls took their needlework home, but it was noted that they often returned to school having not done what they had been set, but instead had made clothing for their toys and dolls. Infants studied a common household item or animal each lesson using flashcards, such as: the kitchen, a thimble, a needle, a cat, a duck, a pelican and coffee.

Annual holidays included Easter holidays during March/April, which lasted for 1 week; Whitsuntide during early June which lasted between 4-7 days; Harvest holidays during July/August/September, which lasted for 4 weeks; Christmas holidays during December which lasted for 2 weeks. The school took an early Christmas holiday in December 1869 when teacher Mr Gawley died. The headmaster was aware that most children would attend the burial and concluded that it was best if he closed the school half a day early.

Special events would also take children out of school such as Ash Wednesday. The school would open earlier so that the children could attend the church service. They would be registered before 9 o'clock and take a few hours of lessons before attending the church at 11 o'clock. After the service, the children would be given a bun to eat and the rest of the day off. Another event was an annual tea treat at the vicarage where students would take tea and biscuits. On the 12th May 1885 the school was closed for half a day due to the Trowbridge Choral Festival and later the same year, on December 4th, the school was used as a polling station and the children could not attend. On 21st September 1868 Steeple Ashton Fair took place, although the school was not closed. However the children had taken an early holiday that year, as they had an unusually early harvest.

The school was often closed due to illness such as in 1891 when the school closed for 6 weeks due to fever by order of the Medical Authority. In 1867 an outbreak of the measles caused several children to be sent home and in 1868 the school was infected with Scarletina (or Scarlet Fever) with many serious cases and one known death of a student. Other illness outbreaks include Influenza and whooping cough in the 1890s.

If students were caught misbehaving (rude conduct, leaving the school grounds without permission, sulkiness, answering back, throwing ink pellets or being late) then the staff would have no issue in disciplining the child. Punishments would usually be physical beatings or "a good talking to" from the headmaster. Bad language and chatting between pupils was common and in 1872 the headmaster writes, "There is a great deal of talking, or rather whispering during class. How can I see who it is? Their faces are against the wall. Parallel desks needed." In 1892 the headmaster writes, "Found George Pearce telling a lie. Gave him a good thrashing and spoke to the whole school on subject." There is no record of a cane being used in the school, although the time period suggests that a cane probably would have been used to discipline the children. If a boy was found with dirty shoes, he would be sent home, as would a girl with a dirty appearance, however if sent home, many children would stay at home instead of coming back to school.

Students would also miss school if the weather was bad, especially if they had to travel long distances. On many occasions the school would be closed if it was a snowy day, as the ground would become too slippery, the doors would be stiff to open and many children could not wade through the snow in inadequate shoes and clothing. When it was snowing or cold outside, the fires would be lit in the classrooms and this would make the classrooms more comfortable for teachers and pupils. After a windy night, many children would be absent from school as they were collecting the wood that had fallen from the trees the night before. Some parents of the children would devise sickness notes for their children, however this was only because the families needed the children to work at home, farming etc... The main months when children were 'ill' were June, when haymaking took place; July, when it was time to harvest; September, when gleaning was common; and October, when potato/apple picking took place. Sometime girls would be absent from school at this time as well, to look after the babies in the family.

The annual inspection reports that the school did not improve throughout the years that the Log Book was used, although it also shows that attendance drops throughout the year. In 1866 it is reported that "the Lords will look for secular knowledge of the scholars next year," and that "the children could do better in their other work, but are in nice order. The upper part of the school is fairly intelligent." This report is fairly similar the next year: "The children passed fairly well in reading, writing and spelling. The lower years have fair arithmetic skills, the higher years have not yet recovered from the recent holidays", whereas on 9th February 1871 it is reported that "the children passed fairly satisfactory examination. Weak points are reading in the 4th Standard, spelling in the 6th Standard and sums in the 2nd Standard and higher Standards." When the headmaster took a 3rd Standard class on 3rd November 1893 he noted: "Slow progress - very slow for the children in the 3rd Standard. Only 3 children show any intelligence at all."

A few other points from the Victorian Log Book:

In 1863, the H.M. Inspector wrote that "the desk accommodation was awkward" as the school had only wall desks and that "the children were quiet and well behaved, though not very intelligent. Religious knowledge is not satisfactory"

In 1863 the school headmaster introduced new reading books; more amusing than last years.

If children did not improve with their work, failed their exams and/or they misbehaved frequently then they would be held back another year to improve.

The children wrote on slates as well as paper in the early 1860s, 70s and 80s.

In 1884 Alfred Ainsworth resigned as headmaster.
In 1889 Frank White resigned as headmaster.

School started at around 9 o'clock and ended at 4 o'clock.

Classrooms were re-arranged for examinations.

Pupil teachers are first mentioned in early 1870 and a Monitor in 1872.

In 1900 the average attendance was 58.94.

In 1876 the school numbers were decreasing, possibly due to illness.

There is only one recorded case between 1863 and 1893 when a boy was absent from school to attend a grandfather's funeral ceremony.

In 1906 control of the school passed to Wiltshire County Council, although the local board of managers was retained. There were 170 children attending the school in 1907 but that number declined as the century progressed, with 133 in 1924 and 108 in 1929 as more families left the village for the towns. Children enjoyed many games at school but a craze for yo yos in 1935 was a little different to earlier pastimes.

Some pupils had always left the village school at the age of eleven to attend Trowbridge Boys' High School but from 1941 all senior pupils were removed from the school. Some girls went to the newly built Trowbridge Girls' High School but the majority of both sexes went to Nelson Haden Secondary Modern School in Trowbridge. This left the village school with only 40 pupils.

By 1955 this was a voluntary aided school with 79 pupils, 18 of whom were from Polish families living at the former RAF camp just outside the village. There were Polish children, and a Polish teacher, at the school from the end of the Second World War until 1956.

Numbers remained fairly steady but by the 1980s some new families in the village were sending their children to independent schools in Trowbridge and elsewhere. By 1989 there were mobile classrooms in the former gardens to provide additional space but only two teachers with mixed age classes. There was also a nursery school in a converted building in a corner of the school playing field. By 1996 there were 43 children at the school but in the late 1990s some village children were attending Keevil School and by May 2003 there were only 27 children left at the school. The school closed in July 2003 and most children transferred to Keevil.



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