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Buttermere - Parochial School, Buttermere

Buttermere School finally opened in 1872. It was built by the local landowners on land behind the rectory. They were probably given financial assistance by the National Society, a Church of England educational charity, as the school was later referred to as a national school. It was a single room measuring 24 feet by 15 feet and was designed to accommodate 38 children. In December 1872 a meeting was held to decide on the funding of a salary for the schoolmistress, and to appoint managers and a treasurer. A voluntary rate of fourpence was agreed and the first mistress (a Miss Barrington) began her duties on 1st January 1873 at an annual salary of £12.

The school continued to be run and financed by the parish until 1906 when it became a Wiltshire County Council elementary school, and attendance in the 1890s and later was steady at about 25. In 1890 the annual salary was raised to £16, with board and lodging provided (from 1891 the mistress lodged in the rectory). The school was always run by just one teacher (apart from a short period when a monitress was appointed). As Buttermere was rather a remote location the managers struggled to find anyone who was willing to stay in post for a reasonable time. The school had five mistresses in its first two years and prior to 1914 nobody stayed longer than five years. This must have been very disruptive for the children and the school's problems are reflected in the Inspector's reports.

The school was refurbished during the summer holiday and a house was built for the schoolmistress the following year. No doubt the managers hoped that having a home of her own would be an added incentive to a prospective mistress. They were also aware that the Rev. Hall, who arrived in Buttermere in 1911, was not keen on having the schoolmistress in his family home. In 1914 Mrs Catherine Haines was appointed and she remained at the school until her retirement in 1924.

In 1923 the Inspector's report noted that the teacher needed help. The children were not kept busy enough and the standard of work in reading and writing was low. Two years earlier the teacher had written in the school logbook that more infants had been admitted to school and she therefore had to give the older children work that they could do on their own. In 1923 Ruby Stocker, aged 15 was appointed monitress. She was not the first one - two girls had been employed in 1908 and 1910. Another disappointing report was received in 1924. The Inspector acknowledged that the situation was difficult, but still expected the children to achieve more. However, the school did do well in Religious Instruction and almost always received a good report. In 1921 the vicar was very pleased with the pupils and awarded prizes to the best children; Arthur Lewington came first and received six shillings.

Mrs Gertrude Sutton took over in 1924 and stayed until 1931. The report in 1925 was again poor: 'the head teacher is making a very feeble attempt to cope with a situation admittedly difficult. The monitress is not of much use and if the numbers remain so low, might be dispensed with.' The average attendance at this time was 25. It was unfortunate that an outbreak of influenza in March had forced the school to close for a month. It had only been open again for two weeks before the Inspector visited in May. Sickness and bad weather were constant problems for any head teacher, particularly in remote areas. In winter it was difficult to keep some classrooms warm, and the usual coughs and colds kept children at home. Closing the school was the only way to cope with severe outbreaks of illness. The weather was also a problem as most children did not have protective clothing. If it was raining in the early morning, they stayed at home. The school premises did not help matters; in 1928 the report described the Buttermere building and surroundings as 'squalid'.

Things improved as Mrs Sutton settled in to her role and later reports were more complimentary. Pupil numbers during her time ranged between 26 and 16. In 1931 Mrs Margaret Hancock took over as head mistress and stayed until 1939. An inspector noted that she 'has a kindly way with the children and has obviously won their confidence'. She was in her early fifties and her teaching was sometimes considered old-fashioned, but there were numerous positive changes during her time. Her husband helped the slower children with their arithmetic and taught the boys woodwork. The boys also started gardening by digging a flower border. As well as the usual summer outing to the coast, Mrs Hancock took the older children to see the Tidworth Tattoo in July. In 1932 the school received a much better report. Attendance was good and the children were happy and attentive; attention was drawn to the reading, recitation and singing, which were good. The building had been repaired and decorated and looked much cleaner and brighter. It was very unfortunate that a family with six children left the village in 1934, reducing pupil numbers to twelve.

The main difficulty experienced by the lone head mistress was the difference in age range and ability. It must have been very challenging to keep children aged between five and fourteen happy and stimulated. In general, the formal education in the form of the 'three Rs', history, geography and religious instruction seems to have taken place in the morning. Afternoons were taken up with singing, drawing, gardening and needlework. Occasionally the more promising pupils sat an entrance examination for Marlborough Grammar School, but only two pupils achieved this between 1918 and 1939.

During the school year the children enjoyed various treats. An annual concert was held in the school room when the children (assisted by a few villagers) entertained with several items, including two short plays. The profit was usually put towards funding the summer outing to Weymouth, but was sometimes given to the church. Educational visits included a printing works at Marlborough and a timber yard at Inkpen. In 1937 the children were taken to the Reading biscuit factory and Windsor Castle, while the following year they went to the Houses of Parliament and London Zoo. There were also important national events. In 1923 the children were able to listen to the King's and Queen's speeches for Empire Day on a gramophone loaned by a resident. Afterwards each child was given a piece of toffee. In 1935 there was a big celebration to mark the Silver Jubilee of George V and Queen Mary. The school closed for two days. The children and their mothers had tea in the school room followed by a bus trip to Newbury to see the decorations and visit the cinema. On returning to the school they were all given supper and each child received a souvenir mug. All these treats were designed to counteract the isolation of Buttermere and help keep the children in touch with the outside world.

Wiltshire County Council first discussed the closure of this little school in the 1920s, but the idea was rejected. Mrs Hancock retired in December 1939 and was replaced by Miss Marjorie Budd. There were only ten children on the roll but the 1940 annual report was very complimentary. By 1941 there were eight evacuees and school numbers had risen to 24. The inspector stated 'I formed the very highest opinion of the work being done by Miss Budd and of the very happy 'family' atmosphere of this one-teacher 'all grade' school.'

Unfortunately Miss Budd left at the end of 1941. The school managers were unable to make a suitable permanent appointment, and the County Council tried to have the post designated as of special responsibility (and therefore more highly paid) because of the wide age-range of the pupils. No permanent teacher was found and the school continued under a second supply teacher, Mrs Scarlett. The 1943 report acknowledged that the children were happy and did well in subjects such as history, geography, nature and music. However, they did not do so well in the '3Rs'. (Mrs Scarlett noted in the logbook that she did not fully agree with this report).

The school closed for ten days in March 1944 due to a defective stove. It closed again for two weeks in May following an outbreak of measles. The school broke up for the summer on 12th July and did not return until 2nd October, due to the mistress being ill for three weeks. On 27th October the decision was made to close the school permanently. The building was in an unsatisfactory condition and would possibly have given problems during the winter. There were also only nine pupils on the roll. The school at Ham was just under two miles away and the existence of motor vehicles made it easier for pupils to travel there. The school finally closed on 20th December 1944.

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Parochial School, Buttermere
Parochial School, ButtermereImage Date: 2014
Image Details: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre
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Parochial School, Buttermere
Parochial School, ButtermereImage Date: c.1906
Image Details: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre
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