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Wiltshire Community History

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Easterton - Easterton School

In 1865 a building which was used both as a church and school was built through the gift of Louisa Hay, of Clyffe Hall; prior to that date the parish had neither a school nor church. This was used until 1876 when a National School, capable of taking 100 pupils, was built at Easterton. This school was paid for in part with a building grant from the Treasury. It cost a total of £400. Mrs Hay paid the mistress's salary when the school first opened.

We do not have school log books for the Victorian period but the following will give an idea of what life was like in a village school at the time.

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.

An evening school was opened on 12 November 1894. Its aims were to teach reading, writing, arithmetic and agriculture. The last subject was taught as the mistress had a 1st class certificate in the elementary stage of agriculture. Needlework was soon taught, for girls also wanted to attend the school. In 1897 there were 26 pupils on roll. This rose to 43 in 1899.From 1899 book-keeping and shorthand were taught at the school.

The first report into the night school was mixed. It read: "Registration excellent; all the county rules complied with. Agriculture was good. Commercial arithmetic very fair, but not neat, and the needlework specimens were few and of rather poor quality."

A report from 1900 read: "The school is taught with energy and success. 30 pupils had been admitted and 24 were present. Arithmetic and Geography and several of the notes and exercises in books were neatly done. I was pleased to note that maps had been attempted. The pupils should be frequently exercised to answer questions orally."

The night school was often subject to the same problems as day schools; the weather (especially snow) meant that sometimes the school had to be shut. For example, on 14 December 1899 the head mistress wrote: "The attendance has not been quite so good this week on account of the severity of the weather." Illness was also a problem. Outbreaks of scarlet fever often kept pupils away because of the fear that they would catch it.

Overall control of the school passed to Wiltshire County Council in 1906, although there was still a local board of managers, and in 1907 there were between 60 and 70 pupils at the school.

The earliest remaining log book for the National School dates from 1926. In April that year an Easterton branch of the National Savings Association opened. The first payments were taken on April 16.

As with similar rural schools, illness, weather and the need for children to work meant that attendances often fluctuated. The school was sometimes shut for a day here and there; at Easterton the school was shut on the afternoon of 1 June 1932 after a school pupil died. The headmistress wrote: "Lessons altered this afternoon to allow children to sing at the funeral of their little school fellow, Freddy Hiscock, who died in the hospital last Sunday." The following February, the school was shut for a few weeks because of an outbreak of influenza and whooping cough.

Chapel and church day outings often meant the school was shut out of necessity as so few children, or none at all, were available to be taught.

The reports on the school over the years were positive. The Diocesan report from 1926 states that: "This school is doing satisfactory work in religious knowledge. During last year the school was for a time quite handicapped owing to a severe outbreak of measles. The senior group had a good knowledge of the Old Testament subjects. This written work of this group was on the whole very fair. The infants showed knowledge of the subjects on which they were questioned."

The HMI report from 1935 said: "The tone and work of this junior school have steadily improved since the present head mistress took charge in 1934. This progress has been due in large measure to the excellent discipline established, to the careful and effective teaching of the fundamental subjects, and to the thorough supervision of the children's written work. The infants follow a happy routine and get a good start in school habits and in foundation work. The written exercises show distinct progress, and the neatness and accuracy of the bookwork in arithmetic call for special commendation."

The report of 1939 read: "The school has maintained the high standard of work noted in the last report. The teachers are keen and hard working. Discipline is good and the children are communicative and industrious. Thorough work is being done in the fundamental subjects."

In June 1940, evacuees from East Ham in London arrived at the school. There were initially 37 children. Gas masks for the children were regularly tested by ARP wardens during the war. By 1942, only 19 evacuees were still attending the school.On 3 October 1943, the head mistress wrote: "This afternoon was the funeral of a small "coloured" boy evacuee. He did not actually attend school, being under age, but he was a playmate of many of the children." As so many evacuees lived in the parish during the war, it was necessary for some classes to be held in the Vicarage.

In 1968 a notice was stuck on the front door of the school to announce plans to shut the school and to build a new school to the west of the parish. The managers opposed the move but the decision to build a new school for two adjacent villages went ahead. In 1971 the primary school at Market Lavington closed, as did Easterton school. The schools amalgamated and re-opened as St. Barnabas Market Lavington and Easterton Primary School, near the parish boundary in Drove Lane, but in Market Lavington parish. The school is now known as St Barnabas Church of England Primary School. The original school at Easterton was demolished in 1973.
 

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