Nettleton and Burton Church of England School

Nettleton and Burton Church of England School
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30 November 2011
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Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

Plan of Nettleton and Burton School

A foundation document exists dated January 1850 which gives a site for the school to the Archdeacon of Bristol, from William Scope of Hungerford and George Poullet Scope and his wife Emma, of Castle Combe. The quarter acre site was then known as ‘Ten Acres’ and made up part of Barton Farm.

An elementary school and teacher’s house was built in 1850 to house 70 children and was partly financed with a building grant from the government. This school has since been enlarged. It was a mixed school with a registered mistress and three pupil teachers. The school log books date from 1863 – 1994.

The original school building had a ‘Big Room’ measuring 36 feet 3 inches long by 16 feet wide and 16 feet 6inches high. The smaller classroom had a sloping roof and measured 17 feet long by 11 feet wide. In each classroom there was a fireplace, essential for warmth, and there was also a small cloakroom. The ‘offices’ or toilets were outside on one side of the playground.

In 1870 the HMI report stated that special care must be given to the juniors and the infants, especially in handwriting and sums. There was good religious knowledge and fair arithmetic in the elder classes. By 1875 the report stated that the ‘school is in fairly good order and has passed fairly well in reading and spelling, but has almost entirely failed in arithmetic; perhaps the result of the change in teachers during the past year.’ Staff at that time included Emma Payne, certificated teacher, helped by Mary Ann Pitney, pupil teacher and Happy Smith and Annie Gilbert who were both monitors. A better report was received in 1880 and by 1886 there was less weakness in core areas, but still allowing for improvement in arithmetic and grammar. The Diocesan reports were generally good ‘Children in good order and answered very fairly’ in 1905 for example; and in 1921 ‘the school is pleasantly conducted and the tone very good.’

In 1932 the HMI report says ‘very good progress is being made in this small two teacher school. The schemes are carefully planned: the teaching is thoughtful and effective and the children are alert and industrious and show noteworthy powers of working independently.’ And in 1940 ‘there is a very pleasant atmosphere in this school: the children are happy and keen while the teachers spare no efforts to make the lessons stimulating.’
In the early days of the school the routine was strict with scripture taught in the early part of the day followed by reading aloud the Old Testament, usually heard by the Rector’s wife. The head teacher comments regularly that the ‘general routine had been observed,’ and also remarks that the ‘hot weather makes the children restless.’
There was an emphasis on sewing and the children made shirts to sell, often bought by the parents, for a halfpenny. The main emphasis was on the three R’s and fractions were taught to the older children in May 1870.

Needlework was taught by the new mistress, Caroline A. Bottom, in 1885, and she comments that generally standards were low in this subject. She also began to teach a greater variety of subjects and that included ‘the points of a compass’ to standards I and II, as well as the meaning of a map and geographical terms. Poetry included ‘The Beggar Man’ and standards III and IV began to learn about the geography of England. Standards V and VI were taught the Geography of Europe and they also learnt ‘The May Queen.’ During 1887-88 poetry studied included ‘The Winter Visitor’ and ‘The Village Blacksmith’, and ‘The Burial of Sir John Moore.’ Infant object lessons included, the umbrella, a flower garden, a clock, the hand, the eyes, lighting a fire, the rabbit, the oak tree, the primrose, the harebell, a thunder storm, and water.

Good reports follow the reorganisation of the timetable and the introduction of more varied subject material which is a credit to the new mistress, Miss Bottom. An example of a mornings’ routine at school in 1890 began with the marking of the registers at 9.10 a.m., then arithmetic for the first hour, followed by reading and spelling, then singing from 12-1pm.

Object lessons for infants in 1899 include a letter, a slate, a candle, a stinging nettle, leather, wool, wheat, salt, a carpenter’s shop, coal, butter, the frog, and the robin. For the Standards I, II and III they include books, the post office, the railways, newspapers, rivers, mountains, winds, nouns, verbs, clocks, paper, stoneware, marble, tin, the flax plant, the oak tree, birds, insects and fishes, thunder storms, and vapour.
A nature walk was taken in May 1905 looking at common birds as found in the neighbourhood, common trees, wild flowers and fruits, and this was linked with the calendar helping to make sense of the seasons. Geography was developing as a subject and simple map drawing was introduced. History included the study of the Plantagenet’s, Lancastrians and Yorkists. By the beginning of the 20th century gardening was also being taught and the Agricultural Inspector visited and gave the boys a pruning demonstration.

The first head mistress was Miss Elisabeth Palmer and she was followed after nineteen years by Miss Mary Irvin in 1870. Miss Slater was mistress here in 1875, later to become Mrs. Tomlinson and she visited the school again in 1899. In 1885 Caroline A. Bottom, certificated teacher began her duties. She left in August 1892 and was presented with 12 silver tea spoons and sugar tongs and an electro plated tea and coffee service. She was followed by Edith Arthur assisted by Bertha Palmer, a second year pupil teacher. Edith Arthur was then replaced by C .G. Potter in September 1893, then Mary J. Walters in 1896, and Ada E. Cox in 1898. Bessie Ward was the monitor at this time.

Elisabeth Jarvis took over as head in 1900, and by 1904 she was assisted by Dorothy C. Young, with Ruth Clark as monitor. She left in May 1906 and was followed briefly by Gertrude Mary Coles from June to November. Agnes Barclay then stayed until 1924 and was followed by M. E. Pegg until 1945.

The school log books date from 1863 and tell us that the average attendance at that time was 112. The usual absences occurred for help with the harvest and potato picking. By 1890 the average attendance was down to 41 pupils and the Government grant at that time was £36.6s.10d. In April 1891 two children left to go to Australia. Numbers increased a little, rising to 68 by June 1895 and in 1905 average was around 50 children. By July 1924 there were 40 on the register, and by 1940 there were 46 on the books, including 6 evacuees, and by September 1941 there were 62 on the register. However numbers had dropped to 25 by 1946 which may be explained by displacement of people due to the Second World War.

By 1954 the older children attended Malmesbury for secondary education and in 1955 the school at Nettleton had 34 children on the register. The preferred secondary education is now in either Chippenham or Corsham.

School holidays were at similar times of the year as now, but shorter at Easter, perhaps only two days, but with a week at Whitsun. Four to five weeks were taken in the summer and two weeks at Christmas. Numerous half day holidays occurred, especially for religious events such as Ash Wednesday and Ascension Day, and also for school or chapel treats, Royal events, national events and later for general elections, when the school was used as a polling station.

Local events also demanded time off from school, although not always sanctioned; such events were the Flower Show at Badminton in August 1886, or the local Fair at Castle Combe in 1898. There were regular treats provided by E. C. Lowndes Esq. and the Rector, such as the giving of an orange to each child at Christmas in 1905. In 1946 there was a school trip to the pantomime to celebrate victory and the end of World War II, and again in 1947 to see ‘Mother Goose’ at Bath. Summer treats included a trip to Clevedon and Weston-super-Mare in 1905.

Royal events, such as the Royal wedding in November 1934 of the Duke of Kent to Princess Marina of Greece, were also celebrated with time off from school. Help with the harvest was essential and meant that children were sometimes off school for a number of days, if not weeks. The planting and harvesting of potatoes and gathering of acorns as well as blackberry picking for the navy and army in October 1917 demanded the help of the children of the parish.

Snow and wet weather were common in the winter months, sometimes preventing children from attending school; or if they managed to arrive in the morning and then go home for lunch, they were unlikely to return in the afternoon. Floods in November 1885 prevented attendance and many were snowbound in March 1891. Fires were usually lit in the school rooms by October to help warm the building as well as dry damp clothing.

Scarlatina occurred in July 1870 followed by gastric fever in November 1870. A measles epidemic in November 1876 prompted a school closure for two to three weeks and measles occurred again in July 1898. Diphtheria was prevalent in February and March 1899 and caused the death of a girl pupil in 1920, while ringworm occurred in January 1910. By the beginning of the 20th century there was greater attention paid to the health of the children and this resulted in more attendance by the medical professions.

Nurses, doctors and dentists paid regular visits and in January 1925 they were at the school for three days treating 28 children. The weighing machine also did the rounds and a Sanitary Inspector visited in 1910 to inspect the ‘offices.’ There were two whooping cough epidemics in 1922 and 1925 when the school was closed for five weeks.

Punishments were regularly given by the head teacher and usually took the form of a stroke of the cane or two. Children were kept in at playtime for being late and two boys were punished in May 1870 for ‘irreverence of grace.’ Two children were kept in at playtime for neglecting to learn their home lesson, a type of homework based on a piece of Bible work or history, and a boy was beaten for badly written and misspelt work. Farmer Wilmot complained in November 1870 that some school children were chasing his sheep about the field making them jump hurdles, when the children should have been in school, and strokes were given on the hand when they eventually returned late to school for afternoon registration. In 1886 a punishment was given for disobedience and lying and in 1890 a boy was punished for cruelty to bees. In 1898 a policeman came to school and punished boys for throwing stones.

In the early years of the 20th century the number of children at the school averaged between 40 and 50 and this level continued until the Second World War. After the war numbers dropped considerably and never really recovered. By 1986 there were only 20 children at the school and although this had increased to 26 in 1995 there were plans to replace all the small schools in the By Brook valley area with a new school at Yatton Keynell. The last log book entries for the school are in 1994 when the Headteacher’s reports to the School Governors replaced them. The Nettleton and Burton School closed in the autumn of 1998. The nearest schools are the new By Brook Valley Church of England School at Yatton Keynell and Trinity School in Acton Turville.