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Wiltshire Community History

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Dilton Marsh - Dilton Marsh School

Dilton Marsh School is a combination of the successors of the old National and British Schools in the village. Pictures and plans of the earlier schools can be found under the entries for National School, Dilton Marsh, County School, Dilton Marsh, and Church of England School, Dilton Marsh. The history of these schools is as follows.

National School, Dilton Marsh

A church school seems to have been in existence in the 1830s and presumably this was held in the north gallery of St. Mary's Church at Old Dilton. In 1848, after Holy Trinity Church had been built at Dilton Marsh, a government grant of £206 was obtained to build a new school. This was built alongside the new churchyard and run in union with the National Society. In 1858 there were 70 children being taught by an uncertified mistress and two pupil teachers. The schoolroom measured 42 feet by 21 feet and the classroom (for infants) 36 feet by 19 feet. There were tiled floors and parallel desks, and a report stated that the conditions were moderate. From 1867 there were separate schools for boys and girls within the building, with the infants being included with the girls. The master had charge of the whole school and taught the boys, while the mistress and pupil teachers taught the girls and infants. Between May 1875 and February 1876 the school was taught as a mixed school as there was no master and from 21 February 1881 the boys and girls were once more taught as a mixed school on a permanent basis.

There was quite a changeover of masters in the 1860s, '70s and '80s and despite reasonably good H.M.I reports on arriving at the school several of them seemed to have found the school in bad order, the boys with a lack of discipline and pupils having little knowledge. After the school became a mixed school the teaching structure in 1882 was: master, William Harrison; two assistant mistresses, Annie Willis and Annie Pearce; monitor for the mixed school, Henry Marshman; monitor for the infants' school, Sarah Lanfear - Sarah later qualified as a teacher.

The basic subjects taught were reading, writing and arithmetic but in the late 1860s there were also geography, scripture, history, music, singing and needlework lessons. Later drawing was added and, from 1881, domestic economy was taught. Children attended church services at least once a week, normally at 11.15 a.m. and 'night work' (homework) was given to the older children. In 1872 one history lesson was devoted to Edward the Black Prince, while the boys had some topical lessons, such as the Arctic expedition, using illustrations from the Graphic in November 1876, and the war in Turkey in 1877. In the 1870s the boys were learning songs such as 'Men of Harlech' and 'Strive to Learn', while poetry was learned for repetition and recitation. In 1883 the Standards (Standard II were the youngest) learned the following: Standard II, 'The Old Soldier', in 10 verses by M. Barr; Standard III, 'We are Seven', by Wordsworth; Standard IV 'The Fakenham Ghost' by Bloomfield; Standard V, 'Gray's Elegy in a County Churchyard'; Standards VI and VII, 'Prince Arthur and Hubert' by Shakespeare.

Attendance, particularly in the boys' school in the 1870s, was fairly low and erratic. In May 1876 half-holidays were given on three days, as only six boys were present, while in July the average attendance was only 9.9 boys. By 1877 there were up to 40 boys attending as several had been admitted from the Infants, and the master was complaining that the could not cope with the number. In 1882 the mixed school had 78 on the register and in 1897 there were 42 infants and 112 children in the mixed school.

Annual holidays were one week to 12 days at Christmas, one week each at Easter and Whitsun and four weeks Harvest Holiday in the summer. Several half-day holidays would be given in the year including one after H.M.I inspections and examinations, one for the school treat in June or July and one for Ascension Day in May. Others were given for a festival at Chapmanslade in May 1868, for the Volunteers' Review on Warminster Down in July 1868, and for the recovery of the Prince of Wales from illness in March 1872.

Children, especially the older boys were often absent and frequently this was at times that they were engaged in seasonal work. This included: March, gardening; April, helping parents in the fields, picking wood, and potato planting; May, gardening; July, haymaking; September, harvesting potatoes, apples, acorns and blackberries. The Dilton Marsh September fair was also responsible for several unauthorised absences. Bad weather also meant lower numbers, be it heavy snowfall, as in January 1873, or severe rainstorms, such as those in 1882 when the school was closed on 24 October because the roads were flooded and impassable.

Various breaches of rules and misdemeanours were punished and the cane was often used. The wrongdoings included, being late, inattention during lessons, blotting their copybooks (literally), stealing a book from the church, ill temper, insolence, not doing homework, truancy, sliding on footpaths in icy weather and throwing snowballs. On one occasion five windows were broken by boys throwing balls. Sometimes the boys were forbidden to stay in the school after they had eaten their dinner as they turned over desks and muddied the room.

It was not until November 1876 that most of the pupils began to work on paper instead of slates. Equipment was often in short supply and old. In 1875/6 it was stated that the furniture in the boys room was more suited to the infants in size, with low forms and unsuitable desks.

By 1899 the school had accommodation for 200 children and the average attendance was 110. The schoolroom measured 35 feet by 18 feet by 18 feet high, the classroom 32 feet by 18 feet by 18 feet high, and the infants' room 36 feet by 16 feet by 16 feet high. The playground was 90 feet by 90 feet but because of railings only an area 90 feet by 70 feet was usable. In 1904/5 the school was taken over by Wiltshire County Council and from then was known as the Church of England School.

Church of England School, Dilton Marsh

After Wiltshire County Council took over the school some alterations were made in the windows to increase the amount of natural light in the school, and new toilets were built. In 1905 it was said that a new stove was needed as the present one burned too much coal and threw out little heat. Improvements, and an increase, in the amount of space required for each child reduced the accommodation to 178 in 1910, when the average attendance was 135. In 1937 the older children (over 11 years) moved to the Senior School in Leigh Road, Westbury and the Church School became a Junior and Mixed School after being an elementary (all age) school for a hundred years. In 1938 the Church and County Schools were combined with the County School becoming the Infants' School and the Church School the Junior School.

From around 1828 children were being taught in a loft above a carpenter's workshop at Stormore. This loft was also used for Baptist meetings and in 1839 a chapel was built and teaching also took place here. In 1845 the school was funded by subscriptions from individuals and businesses and also by collections at Penknap and Westbury Leigh Baptist chapels. The children also paid a penny (0.4p) a week for their schooling. In 1858 there were between 40 and 50 children in the old carpenter's shop and this had increased to 60 by 1859. A recruitment campaign for the school resulted in an increase to 90 pupils by 1860 and as the ceiling was only 9 feet high and the school could only accommodate 60 in comfort, it was felt that a new school was needed. In 1864 the Committee of the Council on Education of the British Society awarded the school a grant of £15.11.0d (£15.55p) but warned that there would be no further grants unless improvements were made, including proper toilet facilities for the children.

A committee for the building of a new school was set up by October 1864 and the school was built in 1865/6. The children were moved into the new school in July 1866 and on 13th November 1867 a tea meeting was attended by 200 people, who celebrated the completion of the new school and the clearing of the debt it had entailed. The school proved so popular that in 1884 it was enlarged to accommodate 133 children, and was also used for other activities, such as a Christmas dinner and tea for the old people of Marsh in 1877. By 1889 the attendance averaged 116 children and in 1891 the school was so full that it could no longer take children aged under three years.

In 1895 the school was extended when adjacent cottages were knocked down and the infants' room enlarged. A new playground was provided for the boys, so that there was one each for boys and girls, and new toilets were built. The work was carried out by Mr. Hopkins of Dilton Marsh and the total cost was £131.15.0d (£131.75p). In 1900 the headmistress, Miss Margaret McNiven, retired; she had been head for over 29 years. A piano fund was started in 1901 but the school did not get a piano until 1930. In 1903 hot cocoa was provided for the smaller children and later a successful Cocoa Club, with the children paying for their drinks and profits being used for school activities, was formed. In 1904 a football was bought, which led to the increased attendance of older boys.

During the 19th and early 20th century the school was elementary (all age) and children basically learned the '3 Rs' of reading, writing and arithmetic, with other lessons in history, geography, singing and religious knowledge. By 1900 the subjects were recitation, arithmetic, grammar, drill, music, geography, history, religious instruction and needlework for the older children. They also received object lessons on specific items, such as water, an oak tree, salt and a spider's web. The infants learned the basic subjects, along with songs and poems, and also had object lessons on such subjects as buttercups, a doll's house interior, and a tree. From 1911 gardening was introduced as an evening class, and this was followed by classes for English, geography and arithmetic. In 1921 physical education was introduced, and new equipment was bought for this, while in 1923 cookery classes were given to the older girls in the Memorial Hall.

School holidays were about one week at Christmas, one week at Easter and five or six weeks in the summer. There were special holidays, including a whole week for the celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in June 1897. In 1899 the children asked for, and received, a half holiday on 14th February so that 'they might have time to eat their pancakes', while in 1900 they successfully requested a half day holiday to celebrate the relief of Mafeking on 24th May. In June 1902 the school closed for every afternoon in one week to celebrate peace in South Africa, while on 21st June 1909 a half holiday was given so that the children could see the Prince and Princess of Wales pass through Westbury on their way to Longleat.

Absences from school were often the result of seasonal activities for parents or farmers. These included bird scaring (March), gathering dandelions (May), pea picking and harvesting (July), blackberrying and potato gathering (September), and acorn gathering and acting as beaters for Mr. Laverton's pheasant shoots (October). Children also missed school to collect firewood after gales and some went to Frome market on Wednesdays while Westbury Sheep Fair in September also caused low attendance at school. Attendances were also affected by bad weather, especially heavy snowfalls, cold weather and heavy rain. Apart from the usual colds and coughs children suffered from chicken pox, whooping cough, measles (the school was closed for a week in 1897 because of an epidemic) and scarletina.

For most of this time the children were taught by a mistress assisted by pupil teachers, whom she taught outside school hours, and who took exams and courses to qualify as school teachers. Management of the school was becoming more onerous and in 1906 the school was taken over by Wiltshire County Council on 31 January and was known as the County School from 1 April that year.

Dilton Marsh County School

By 1910 there was accommodation for 102 older children and 54 infants and the children also received their first medical examination. The school dentist first visited in 1917 and the school optician in 1918. During the First World War the children collected horse chestnuts and acorns (for explosives), and blackberries, collected money and eggs and took part in fund raising events. On 1 August 1919 Peace cups were presented to all children. The first school visit, to Farleigh Castle, is recorded in 1921 while in 1928 there is the first mention of the Area Sports at Trowbridge, when a half day holiday was given. In 1930 the older children, aged 11 plus, were transferred to the Senior School in Leigh Road, Westbury and the County School became a mixed and infants' school. Electric light was installed in 1931 and a radio provided in 1934. In 1938 there was a re-organisation and the County School became the Infants' School for Dilton Marsh, while the Church School became the Junior School.

The new Infants School provided accommodation for 94 children. In September 1939 the school remained closed after the end of the summer holidays so that it could be prepared for taking evacuees. The school re-opened on 11th September when 10 evacuees were admitted, but by February 1940 there was only one evacuee educated with the 46 local children. Other wartime preparations included a ditch in The Firs being made into an air raid shelter and the school windows being covered with butter muslin in July 1940 to prevent flying splinters of glass if a bomb was dropped nearby. There were also gas mask inspections at school. On 8th May 1945 the school closed for two days in order to celebrate VE day. Both junior and infants' schools were brought together when the new Dilton Marsh School was built in 1988.

The new school was built in 1987/8 on the site of the junior school. It had six classrooms and a hall for gymnastics, and opened in 1988. The catchment area was Dilton Marsh, Hisomley, Brokerswood and Rudge. In 1995 there were 151 pupils and although this dipped to 126 in 1999 by 2004 the number had increased to 155. After Year 6 most of the pupils transfer to the Matravers School in Westbury.

Note: School Still Open - Current Details:

High Street
Dilton Marsh
BA13 4DY
Telephone No.01373 822902
Fax01373 822902
Age Range4 to 11
District Council Area
Special Facilities AvailableNo
Web Sitewww.diltonmarsh.wilts.sch.uk

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