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Wiltshire Community History

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Aldbourne - National School, Aldbourne

There was said to be a school with two schoolrooms here in 1839, and in 1848 two schoolmasters and two schoolmistresses are recorded. By 1851 there were 100 pupils. In 1857 the Brown family gave a site for a new school with a gift of £200 towards the building. There was also a government grant. The foundation deed of the school states, 'A school for the education of children and adults, or children only of the labouring, manufacturing and other poor classes in the parish of Aldbourne' 'It shall always be in union with, and conducted according to the principles of, the National Society.' The principle minister was to be superintendent of the religious and moral instruction of all scholars. The school managers had to hold property for life in the parish and contribute 20 shillings (£1.00) a year to the funds of the school. They also had to belong to the Church of England.

In a school inspection of January 1858 it was reported that between 80 and 100 pupils were attending the old school and that the new one would soon be completed. In the old school the arrangement of buildings, desks etc. were all bad and it was difficult to report on the school as it was in a transitional stage. However the reading was good and the attendance regular. In February 1859 it was reported that the new buildings were good and well supplied with apparatus. Discipline was good and instruction very fair [good]. The new school was of brick and flint in the Gothic style, with a schoolmaster's house. In 1873 a schoolroom for infants was added.

Unfortunately there are no school log books in the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office, but the following general information would be relevant to the school for the latter part of the 19th century. Fees were paid for each child until 1891, normally at the rate of one penny (0.4p) a week and the 'school pence' were collected by the schoolteacher. There would have been a schoolmaster, or schoolmistress, with assistant teachers, pupil teachers and monitors. The pupil teachers were taught by the head before lessons started, took exams, sometimes went to the Diocesan Training College and eventually became teachers themselves. They mainly taught the younger children. Monitors were also paid but tended to be younger and helped to look after the younger children or teach the infants.

School holidays were at similar times to those of today but often there was only 2 days at Easter but a week at Whitsun. The summer holidays were of five or six weeks and were called the Harvest Holidays as the children either helped with the harvest or carried food and drink to their parents, who were working in the fields. There were more half-day and whole day holidays for special events. Half a day would be given after the annual H.M.I. or Diocesan inspections and there were holidays for school treats, choir outings, chapel teas, Christmas parties and at times when the school was needed for other purposes.

There were also many unauthorised absences. These would be for seasonal work, such as haymaking (June) and early or late harvest (July or September), being kept at home to help their parents, and working when they should have been at school. Bad weather such as heavy rain, cold weather, or snow kept children away from school, often because their parents couldn't afford to buy them suitable clothes. Apart from the usual colds and coughs there were more serious illnesses than today and these included, mumps, measles, whooping cough, scarletina and diphtheria.

The elementary subjects were the '3 Rs' - reading writing and arithmetic. Scripture was often taught by the vicar and children would have attended church for services on some days. Older children were taught history and geography and there may have been some study of natural history. Singing was taught to all ages and all the girls and some of the boys would have done needlework. Drawing had been introduced by the 1890s.

By 1898 attendance at the school was 185 and in 1905 there were 230 pupils on the school register. 127 older children were taught by a mistress, who was paid £45 a year, and 2 monitresses, who were paid £7.10.0d (£7.50) a year each. There were 105 infants under another teacher. Unfortunately the school was heavily in debt in the early 20th century and no prizes for good attendance were given in 1902. However there was money to build new toilets for the Infants and provide a new Number 3 Tortoise stove for the Mixed School. Responsibility for the school passed to Wiltshire County Council in 1902. In 1903 the managers voted £13 a year for cleaning and scrubbing the school; the cleaner had to pay for all materials and utensils. Later the amount was raised from 5 shillings (25p) to 6 shillings and sixpence (32 1/2 p) a week when they realised that cleaning the toilets had not been taken into account.

In 1904 there were three monitresses, two in the Infants and one in the Mixed. The post of Assistant Schoolmistress was advertised at a salary of £50 a year; she had to be regularly attend church and be musical. The H.M.I. report in July 1904 stated that good work was being done throughout the Mixed School and the tone and discipline were excellent. The Infants' School was in a highly satisfactory state and much of the work was excellent. The average attendance was then 173. The evening school, for older children who were working during the day, was satisfactory. Around this time the summer holidays increased from five to six weeks.

By 1938 the average attendance was down to 103 pupils. Further information can be found under St. Michael's C. of E. (Aided) Primary School


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National School, Aldbourne
National School, AldbourneImage Date: c.1905
Image Details: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham
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