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Wiltshire Community History

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Hilperton - Hilperton C.of E. V.C. Primary School, Hilperton

In 1840 land was acquired in trust and, in union with the Anglican National Society, a school was built. The Society gave a grant of £40 and there was a government grant of £70. A total of £157 was raised locally. A school to accommodate 100 children was erected, although attendance was only 31 at first. The children were taught by a mistress, who was paid £30 a year from money raised by the school pence, one penny (0.4p) a week for each child, and voluntary subscriptions. From the inspection of 1858 we learn the size of the schoolroom was 39 feet long by 20 feet wide and 28 feet high to the ridge of the roof. It was described as a very fair schoolroom with a boarded floor and some parallel desks, and fairly supplied with books and apparatus. Discipline and instruction were very fair [good] and between 50 and 60 children were taught by an uncertified mistress helped by a pupil teacher.

The school logbooks begin in 1863 and the following information is taken from them. In June 1863 an evening school was started, which was free for Sunday school scholars and one penny (0.4p) a week for others. The schoolmaster opened up the school on 23rd June and waited for 30 minutes but no pupils came. It seems that he did not repeat the experiment. In the 1870s pupil numbers were rising and a new building with a house for the master, Albert Witcombe, was built in 1875. The new schoolroom was 44 feet long, 20 feet wide and 23 feet 10 inches high, while the classroom (for the infants) was 27 feet 2 inches long, 16 feet 3 inches wide and 15 feet 2 inches high. The attractions of the new building do not appear to have been great enough, for in 1876 there is a comment that a great many Hilperton children attend Trowbridge Church School. This may have been because their parents worked in the mills in Trowbridge and walked in every morning. In July 1878 the school managers raised the school fees but whether this was to compensate for the lack of pupils or whether it was to keep pace with a rise in staff salaries is not known. The new fees were three pence (1.3p) per child per week for one child in the family; two children for four pence (1.7p); three children for five pence (2.1p); four children for sixpence (2.5p); and five children for seven pence (2.9p). Schooling became free in 1891 nationally.

In 1863 the staff consisted of a master, a mistress and two or three pupil teachers, although one left in June. There were frequent staff changes in this period with a new master and mistress starting in August 1863. They left in December 1864 and the new master only lasted from January to April 1865. This turnover is reflected in the H.M.I. reports thus:

1863 (noted March 1864) 'The children are in good order and their religious knowledge is satisfactory, in other subjects they are not sufficiently accurate but are likely to improve under the care of the present master.'

This optimism was misplaced for in December 1864, 'The school has not at all improved but has rather gone back during the past year. Considering the number of teachers employed its condition is not by any means creditable to them.'

However in April 1865 a young master, Sam Hall, and his sister took over the school and the report for 1865 stated:

'The present master appears to be zealous in the discharge of his duties and the school will, I think, improve under his cure; but it has not yet recovered from the low condition into which it fell by the negligence of the late master.'

The reports for 1866 and 1868 are much improved but still not too good. It is not until 1870 and 1871 that reports are fairly good and there were a further two changes of master in that time. Another master lasted only seven months in 1873 and then Albert Witcombe took over at the school and remained for about 27 years. The report for 1879 said:

'The school is in good order and very considerable progress has been made in the children's elementary attainments, which are now almost uniformly good. Geography has also been taught with fair results. The improvement among the infants is very satisfactory and indicates the general energy that pervades the instruction.'

Points noted about the building and furniture etc. in the reports were:

The girls' toilets were in need of repair (1864)
More reading books needed (1868)
A very smokey stove needed repair (1878)
A school clock and a second set of books for the infants required (1882)
The introduction of new desks would greatly help the teaching of handwriting

During the 1860s average attendance seems to have been between 60 and 70 children but this rose in the 1870s and was averaging about 115 in 1877. In the 1880s there were over 120 children attending. Attendances were affected by the weather, illnesses and other activities. Heavy snow prevented children from reaching school, as was the case in March 1864, January 1865 when only six children were in school on one day, January/February 1879 and January 1888 when the school was closed for two days. Rain, gales and cold weather also caused children to miss school, sometimes because parents could not afford to provide them with adequate shoes and clothing. Illnesses tended to be more serious and frequent than today and included chicken pox, measles (the school was closed for a week in June 1885 when measles was rife), whooping cough, scarlet fever and, later in the century, influenza.

Children were also kept away from school to work at home and in the fields. Potato planting (March/April) and potato picking (October/November) were two causes of absence. Hilperton Fair in June caused truancy, and in 1863 some children were absent, having spent the money provided by their parents for schooling, at the fair. Trowbridge Fair in August also attracted its share of Hilperton schoolchildren. Girls were sometimes kept at home to help on washing day while at times parents sent their children to collect wood for domestic fires. In April 1865 many children missed school to see a Volunteer Review [of troops] near the village and in 1865 three children missed school by falling into a pond.

Annual holidays seemed to vary in length in different years. Christmas was one or two weeks from the late 1860s but Easter was often only Easter Monday with church attendance in the morning of Good Friday and a holiday in the afternoon. The Harvest Holiday in the summer was three weeks, although six were given in 1865. There was also a week off at Whitsun. Half-day holidays were given after H.M.I. visits and also for such events as Shrove Tuesday, Hilperton Fair and Trowbridge Flower Show. There were occasional school treats and in 1883 a holiday in the afternoon for the laying of the foundation stone of the new Methodist chapel.

Subjects taught were the 3 'R's of reading, writing and arithmetic, with scripture and singing. The older children also learned history, geography and needlework, and there was an evening school from the mid 1860s for older children who were working during the day. Object lessons, about all aspects of an item were given. Subjects for these included an elephant, a farmyard, stars, our body, lighting a fire, boots and shoes, the railway and a humming bird. In the earlier years a pupil teacher taught the infants but later they were taught by the schoolmistress. The older children were taught by the schoolmaster, assisted by a schoolmistress or pupil teacher. At times there was a separate mistress for needlework.

Apart from the school pence, the running of the school was funded by the church and annual government grants. The latter depended on how well the children performed in the H.M.I. examinations. The accounts for February 1864 are instructive as to the standard of arithmetic taught. The schoolmaster had received a postal order for £33.11.8d for 1863, which he paid out in the following amounts:

Pupil teacher for part of year at £9 per annum £ 1.10.0d
Mary Ann Hancock - 11 month stipend as pupil teacher £16.10.0d
Isabella Cole - 11 month stipend as pupil teacher £16.10.0d

When the total amount should have been £34.10.0d.

The amount of the grant rose as pupil numbers increased and in 1869 £24.9.4d was received for the day school and £2.17.6d for the night school, but in 1879 the total grant was £83.12.0d.

Other interesting points in this late Victorian period are:

1864 Gas was installed in the school in February.
1868 Seven boys lost their school caps from their clothes pegs; thought to have been removed by some small ragged boys seen in the village.
1872 Permission was given for the school to be opened for lessons in the Harvest Holiday if the parents wished it. Some would have been working in the fields and would find it difficult to look after young children.

By 1893 there was accommodation for 165 children and the average attendance was still in the 120s. The school came under Wiltshire County Council in the early 20th century and by 1907 the average attendance was 145. In 1910 the accommodation was unchanged but was specified as 110 places for older children and 55 for infants. In 1931 the school was reorganised as a junior and infants' school when the children over 11 years went to secondary school in Trowbridge.

The accommodation was now 85 places for juniors and 47 for infants. The school gained controlled status in 1948 and in 1950 there were 75 children, taught by a head teacher and two assistant teachers. By 1955 the number of pupils had increased to 99. Numbers continued to grow as more houses were built in Hilperton and a new school, in Newleaze, was opened in September 1970. It is set in good grounds with a playing field, wildlife area and small ponds. In the 1990s a swimming pool was added. In 2002 there were 138 pupils at the school, a figure that had risen to 151 in 2004.



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