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Tockenham - Free School, Tockenham

There had also been a Sunday school since 1828, which was 'supported by voluntary contributions'. In 1835, the attendance for Sunday school was 17 boys and 15 girls.

Before 1844, when the Free School was built, children had been educated at the Lyneham Free School, which had been established the previous century. The new school at Tockenham was supported by Lady Buxton of Shadwell Court, Norfolk, a relative of Sir Robert Buxton, Lord of Tockenham Manor. The school was provided for the children of labourers and other poor families of the parish. In 1859 the Warburton Report stated,

'30 to 40 scholars, mixed, are taught by an uncertificated mistress in a good school-room recently erected, with teacher's residence. The buildings are admirable. The mistress is an intelligent person of middle age. The school is supported principally by Lady Buxton of Shadwell Court.' The schoolmistress at this time was Jane Pinnel; Ann King was mistress in 1855.

Although the log books from the first years of Tockenham National School are missing, it is recorded that by 1871, Lady Buxton had ceased to support the local school and in 1877 Sir Robert Buxton, then of Shadwell Court, conveyed the school buildings to the Rector and Churchwardens for continuing use as a National School. This National School, by 1872, had an attendance of around 25 children out of a total parish population of 136.

The school building was split into two rooms. The older children were taught by the mistress in the larger of these rooms, which was 24 feet long by 16 feet wide and was over 15 feet high; while the 'infants' who had not yet graduated to the graded standards, were taught in the smaller room, 15 feet long by 9 feet wide and just over 9 feet high. The log book does not mention who taught the infants, but it is likely that they were taught by a monitor or pupil teacher. However, we do know that the school was controlled by male 'managers' who acted as governors, and were in charge of admissions and school policy.
The school day was also divided into two parts, morning school and afternoon school, with a dinner break which finished at 2 o'clock; the children normally went home to have their dinner. The schoolmistress changed fairly regularly from 1871 until the late 1890s, and as a result there was little variation in what was taught. Reading, recitation, writing and arithmetic were the principal subjects, and it was repeatedly observed in the annual H.M.I. reports that the pupils' arithmetic was poor; in 1872, out of a total of 27 pupils only 8 passed the arithmetic examination. The children were also given Scripture lessons by the local rector, in which they were examined by the Diocesan inspector. Girls were taught needlework brought in by local ladies or the Rector's wife.

Later, under changed government guidance, new staff would introduce novel subjects such as drama, physical exercise, geography, history and even gardening and drawing for boys. The infants received lessons in the standard subjects as well as 'object lessons'. These lessons usually covered domestic subjects which would often have been relevant to rural life, such as land division, but more inventive teachers included lessons on 'the polar bear', 'coffee' and 'the camel'.

The children also very much enjoyed singing, as was noted in several inspections. Local ladies would often come to the school to teach new songs or hymns, and Ms S. Richards, the school's first official 'headmistress' introduced school concerts in 1898.

The local Rector and his wife too played an influential role in the school. There are four Rectors mentioned during Tockenham School's history, the most long serving and conscientious of these being the Reverend Hewlett Cooper who had residence in Tockenham from the 1890s until the school's closure in 1926. The Reverend would visit the school several times a week, and would teach scripture lessons, listen to the children's singing and check the register. The female pupils would sometimes go to the rectory with their needlework to visit the Reverend's wife. At the end of every school term, prizes such as toys would be given to the best behaved or most attentive pupils by the Reverend as an incentive to be present at school more often.

This incentive was sorely needed, as absences were common. Most children lacked warm clothing or hardy shoes, and as a result many did not go to school when the weather was cold or wet. In the log book throughout the school's entire history there are repeated references to the school being closed due to poor weather.

As Tockenham was a rural community and relied on agriculture, attendance levels were also dictated by the farming calendar. This is reflected in the school term; a month's holiday was given at the end of the summer for the harvest, and, if the harvest was late, few children would return to school when it commenced, as happened in 1872. Children also missed school when they were needed for potato planting, reaping, hay making and blackberry picking.
Illness was another reason for absence. Before 1880 there are few references to illness in the log book. Seasonal colds were common, and the school was sometimes closed if the mistress was ill. When epidemics broke out, as happened with measles in May 1881, the authorities would shut the school for several weeks. Serious illness was uncommon aside from a few cases of chicken pox, scarlet fever and ringworm but in 1894 local families were victim to diphtheria, and as a result the school was prohibited from receiving pupils from Cliffe, the school there having been recently closed.

To determine if children had a legitimate reason for being absent, an attendance officer visited the school to check the registers, and parents had to present the school with a medical certificate to prove a child was sick. There were several incidences in which parents were prosecuted and fined for keeping their children off school.

Older children in the upper standards occasionally left school to find work in the larger towns such as Swindon.

Aside from the annual Christmas, Summer and Easter holidays, children were also given 'half holidays' after inspections and on Holy Days. There was also an annual 'festival day' on August 13th and the 'annual school feast' on August 14th. Children were also given days off for special events, such as the declaration of peace with South Africa in 1902 and the coronation in June of the same year, when the children were each given a commemorative mug.

By the 1890s, the school's register had swollen to include 52 children, but the pupils were still under-achieving and the school was criticised in the annual H.M.I. report for being dirty and unkempt, with the toilets being described as a 'cesspool'.

To remedy this, in April 1894 the cloakrooms were whitewashed and painted, the infants' room was extended and the clock was repaired, having been at a standstill for 22 years.

However the school's academic results would not begin to improve until 1901, when, after a series of interim teachers which included the school's first and only master, Lily Cook took over from Ms Richards as headmistress. Her sister Elsie took residence as assistant, the replacement of a monitoress after the authorities granted the school £25 for additional staff in 1898.

Under the tutorage of Ms Cook, the school was regularly described as 'excellent' in annual reports, the Diocesan Inspector even stating that hearing the children's answers was a 'pleasure' on multiple occasions. This trend continued right up until the school's last Diocesan report in 1925 before the closure of the school.

Aside from the introduction of Shakespearean recitals to the curriculum, Ms Cook also brought a new innovation to the school; corporal punishment. The log book contains earlier vague references to discipline; '10th May 1875 - punished a child for disobedience in the classroom', but these punishments had usually amounted to no more than writing out the fourth commandment. The community's initial response to corporal punishment at the school was negative, with two boys being withdrawn from the school after the eldest had received a stripe on the hand for carelessness. However it was soon discovered that it was better than the alternative - the boys attempted to re-enter the school several months later- and Ms Cook was actually praised for her disciplining of the children in reports.

Her tenure at the school also saw the introduction of weighing and measuring the children, as well as medical examinations and visits from the nurse. These were performed under the welfare acts of the early 20th century. The local nurse's visits resulted in many children repeatedly being sent home with 'dirty heads', with one child being described in the log book as 'verminous'.
Despite the great advances made during this period, the school's student body gradually began to shrink. By 1925, there were only 23 children on the register and the authorities decided to close the school. On March 24th 1926, Lily and Elsie Cook gave the children a special last-day tea, having taught at the school for 25 years.

The school remained closed until 1940, when it was re-opened as 'Tockenham Council School' to educate the influx of evacuees. (The first entry on December 16th lists the pupils as being made up of 27 local children and 31 evacuees.)
Despite the school being open during war time, there are few mentions of the war. The school started a garden and grew their own vegetables during rationing, and in January 1945 a boy found an 'exploding cartridge' (a reluctant entry which would indicate that he had set the thing off). Aside from these, the log book entries for the next six years are scant and lack detail, the only incidences of note being the introduction of hot school meals in 1941and a school trip to Avebury on July the 23rd 1946, before the school was merged with Lyneham C. E. School the next term.

By 1968 the school was a private residence, and continues to be so today.

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Free School, Tockenham
Free School, TockenhamImage Date: c.1906
Image Details: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre
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