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Wiltshire Community History

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Mere - British School, Mere

This school succeeded that of Thomas Denny's for the children of non-conformists, and opened in a room next to the old Congregational chapel. In 1852 it moved into the large schoolroom provided underneath the new Congregational chapel. The school was able to expand into the whole of this building when a larger chapel was built; the old chapel was refronted and the building became the British School. Up to 1871 the school was a voluntary one but in January of that year the school was taken over and became a government school.

In the early 1870s pupils were kept at home for seasonal jobs such as gardening, bird scaring in the cornfields, and potato digging. By 1873, under the Half Time Act children aged between 9 and 11 years could spend half their time at school and half doing paid work. In Mere some boys were working part time at the local silk mill. Until 1874 there were separate schools for boys and girls in the same building but from September of that year the two departments were merged and the school became known as the British Mixed School. The school logbooks, deposited in the Wiltshire & Swindon Record Office in Trowbridge, provide very detailed information about children, parents and the world of the pupil teachers.

The children were taking monthly examinations in reading writing and arithmetic, while other subjects included spelling dictation, drawing, geography, history, grammar and needlework. There were four pupil teachers in 1876 and these were taught outside school hours by the headmaster, who also set them essays on specific themes in history and geography, and other subjects. The pupil teachers then taught their own groups of children during the normal school hours. All the older children were set homework. In the 1870s the attendance varied between 120 in bad weather and 150 in good weather. At this time evening classes were also being run and these attracted an average attendance of 31.

In 1876 the HMI's inspection kept the children working in the same position from 9.45 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. without a break. The headmaster most certainly did not approve of this. A sad event occurred in that year occurred when a 10 year old pupil died but, as this was the first death of a school pupil within living memory, it would seem that 19th century Mere was a healthy place for children compared with other towns and villages, although scarletina was sometimes present. It was noted, around this time, that many children transferred from the Infants to the mixed could not read and that some did not even know their letters. In 1877 two dictionaries were provided for the top class, who were very pleased with them but needed to be shown how to find words in them. In that year there was a good HMI report, which did note that one boy was walking a 10 mile return journey to school each day as he lived at East Knoyle.

In the 19th century school holidays tended to be around two weeks at Christmas, two at Easter or Whitsun (late May/early June) and four weeks harvest holiday in August.

The School continued into the 20th century but in 1922 the British and Church of England schools were amalgamated in Mere and the building of the British school used for the Mere Junior School.


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British School, Mere
British School, MereImage Date: 2003
Image Details: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham
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