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Wiltshire Community History

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Downton - National School, Charlton, Downton

This school was built in about 1858, behind the street on the western side, opposite the church. It could accommodate 99 pupils but in 1864 there were only 13 or 14, although a winter night school was also held. School logbooks exist from1863, held in the Record Office in Trowbridge, and these provide much interesting material on the school.

Apart from the standard subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic a variety of other subjects were covered. These included religious knowledge, history, geography needlework, recitation, knitting (both boys and girls), singing and drawing. In 1885 the older children learned the songs, 'Home Sweet Home', 'Sweet and Low', and 'Harmonious Blacksmith' while the infants learned 'A little cock sparrow' and 'Mrs Bond at her pond'. Passages learned for recitation were the trial scene from 'The Merchant of Venice' and Tennyson's 'May Queen' for the older children.

There were object lessons where the children would be taught about many aspects of one item. In the 1880s these took place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and in a month objects, as devirse as an ostrich, tea, a tiger, water, a clock, a camel, a cup and saucer, a kangaroo, a robin, a knife and fork, a lion, and a rattle would be studied. Older children would study more difficult concepts such as islands, commerce and emigration.

In 1867 there was a master and mistress but by 1874 there was a mistress, a certified teacher and 2 pupil teachers. The quality of the pupil teachers varied, some were very good and went on to become certified teachers, with one girl returning to the school as an assistant mistress in 1884, while others completed a successful apprenticeship and went to other schools as pupil teachers. One is commended for giving a good lesson on 'gutta percha' (rubber then used as the core for golf balls) and keeping children very interested. Others were not so good, did not know the lessons themselves and could not keep order and had to be dismissed after a month's probation. In 1888 the mistress was ill for 8 weeks and 2 pupil teachers opened and ran the school for 4 weeks, helped by some of the older girls.

School holidays were; 2 weeks at Christmas, a few days at Easter, 1 or 2 weeks at Whitsun (late May/early June) and 4 weeks harvest holiday in the summer. Downton schools are unusual in also having a day's 'Coronation Holiday' in late June and there were also extra whole and half-day holidays for special occasions. Children were also away from school for other reasons. In September 1863 children were kept at home to pick up onions and potatoes from the fields while annually many of the older children went to Downton Fair. In 1867 one boy was taken out of school for 2 weeks to go bird scaring in the fields while in 1885 several parents kept their children at home when their houses were being repaired.

Illnesses were more serious and commonplace than today and school might be closed for a week or two when there was a local epidemic. Diseases that caused most trouble were whooping cough, a contagious fever, measles scarlet fever, diphtheria and mumps. In 1879 the school was closed for a month because of scarlet fever and one child died. In 1886 an unspecified sickness spread so rapidly that 30 children out of 62 were absent in December.

Punishments for misbehaviour included one stroke of the cane for naughtiness in church; not being allowed to go out to play for causing disturbances in the class; detentions for inattention and listlessness; a rap on each hand with the cane for deliberate disobedience and being caned for keeping their eyes open during prayers; after being warned about the punishment the previous day.

This was an elementary school for all school age children in the village and attendance grew and them declined a little during the last 30 years of the 19th century. There were 39 (including 15 infants under 6) in 1868; 49 in 1875; 69 (including 17 infants) in 1878; 64 in 1881 and 52 in 1887. The weather could often prevent children from attending school, however. In 1872 children from Standlynch could not cross the river to get to school because the water was too high while in 1877 the school had to close for a week because of the floods. This also happened in 1881 while in 1887 a severe snowstorm kept many children away while two who came from Standlynch spent the time until 10.30 a.m. drying their clothes.

In the 1860s all the children attended church for Divine Service on Wednesday, Fridays and on several Saint's Days as well as every day in Easter week. This number of services attended decreased towards the end of the century but the vicar, curate or members of their families come to the school to take scripture classes or hymn singing. The school seems to have been well conducted. In 1867 the HMI report said, 'The children are in excellent order and carefully taught', while in 1874, 'The children are attentive in their work and under fairly good control. A weak point today was the arithmetic of the 3rd Standard'.

The building was not so good however and in 1875, 'The rooms are very close and quite oppressive ... . The ventilation is very poor!' In 1880 the school received 4 sets of new convertable desks for the 2nd and 3rd classes which 'added greatly to the order of the school', while later that year a new map of Europe was received for use in Geography. Later in the same year a new stove was installed to improve the heating and a curtain put up over the door to keep out draughts.

The Nelson family at Trafalgar Park took great interest in the school and on 10th September 1875 had tea at the house to commemorate Viscount Trafalgar's 21st birthday. In 1882 Earl Nelson gave prizes to all the children in Standard I, and higher Standards, who regularly passed the examinations during government inspections, while in 1884 the children were entertained with tea and games on the Vicarage lawn.

Fees were normally 1d (0.4p) a week but they may have been less than this in the 1870s as in 1882 no child was to be admitted who paid less than 1d a week. These fees helped to fund the school along with money from the church and government grants, between £20 and £56, that were dependent upon number of pupils and staff and the performance of the pupils.

During the 20th century numbers at the school declined with 56 in 1906, 43 in 1919 and only 17 in 1938. The school remained an all age school until it closed in 1968 when the children were transferred to the schools at Downton. The school was sold and converted into a private house.




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