The History of Ilmington - Chapter 13

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Education

Three schools have been built in the village since the mid-19th century.  The first was a Church school completed in 1858.  It was a stone building of Victorian Gothic style with a school house in the same style nearby.  The school was surrounded by a walled playground, later asphalted, had separate entrances for boys and girls, and windows at a level which would exclude as far as possible the outside world.  It served through many vicissitudes until 1957, and was finally demolished in 1973.

In 1867 a Catholic school was built on the Upper Green, by the Howards who had succeeded the Cannings at Foxcote.  It too was a solid stone building and served until 1931 when it was closed as a school, and the building converted to serve as a Catholic Church, consecrated in 1935.  The school house became the priest's house, and the pupils joined the National or Church school.

In 1957 a Junior and Infant School was built by the County in the same road as the old National school, and the contrast between the two buildings and their surroundings reflected in no small measure the changes which have occurred in education.  The new school is of wood and stone, with huge windows, some at ground level.  It stands well back from the road, guarded only by low strong palings for safety, has a large playground and a bigger field, rose borders, and flowering trees.

Some education has been offered to the young of Ilmington however from a much earlier date than the building of these schools.  Most of the references have already been quoted from the churchwarden's accounts and it has been impossible to trace the licence for a school room over the porch, or indeed any licences for school masters in Ilmington.  The most direct reference remains the one from the vestry meeting of 1784 (1), when the schoolmaster undertook not to allow the children to play in the churchyard 'till such time as a more proper place than the church could be found for the instruction of the young'.

From the Rev J.C. Young's application to the National Society for a grant towards the building of the school (2) it is clear that a school had been founded in 1851, and he refers to its being held in a 'wretched hole of a room'.  This room was almost certainly a building near the end of Glebe Cottage taken down in 1952.  It was said to have been a weaver's shed, it was later used for woodwork, and again for the overflow of children during the last world war.  For a time it also served as a parish room.

As a result of the rector's efforts the National Society granted £30. The Privy Council made a grant of £300 and local landowners, former rectors, and the Rev J.C. Young, contributed £356.  The land for the school and school house was church land valued at £50.  It appears from a scrap of paper found loose in the churchwardens' accounts for 1867, that at least eight local inhabitants had agreed to cart the stone for the school from Downs Quarry on Ilmington Down.  In fact, Daniel Walker carted 125 yards of stone and on this paper was asking for payment from them.  The total cost of the building was £899 and the difference appears to have been borne by the rector.

An account of the opening of the school is to be found in the Leamington Courier for October 9th, 1858, and from it the following extracts have been taken. "This place was much enlivened on Monday week by the proceedings incident to the opening of a new spacious and handsome school room which has long been much needed.  Divine service was celebrated in the Parish Church at 12 o'clock...  The Church was crowded.  Service being concluded, the school children, who everyone remarked were exceedingly neat and orderly, were conducted by the Master and Mistress (Mr & Mrs Stamp) to the new building and were shortly afterwards followed by a numerous company... of the neighbouring Clergy and Gentry.  The room which was built by Mr Downer of Shipston... was tastefully and appropriately decorated with evergreens and flowers; and arches were erected at the entrance to the church yard and school playground; flags were hoisted on the church tower and festoons of flags reached from the school room across the road to the Master's house, a very pretty building in course of erection.

"The Company being assembled in the school room the Rector opened it with prayer followed by a very suitable address in... which he said that seven years ago when the present worthy Master and Mistress took charge... the pupils only numbered sixteen, but there were now 108.  The gentry then repaired... to a commodious tent in a meadow opposite the

Rectory for a cold collation while the workmen and stone carters were provided... with a substantial dinner at the inns.  At 5 o'clock the school children re-assembled in the schoolroom and were regaled with cake and tea.  Then followed games and singing... and an entertainment by a wizard... and an exhibition of dissolving views."

At this time the master's salary was £60 a year.  The school was financed partly by a grant depending on the qualifications of the master and a satisfactory report after inspection, and partly by the children's pence.  The first member of a family paid 2d. a week and succeeding ones 1d.  Where the rest of the money came from is not clear and unfortunately the grant was refused two years later.  The report in the Courier refers to the schoolroom but there were certainly two rooms either then or later, and from one of them a gallery for the infants was later removed.  Little more has been found about these early years.  A directory of 1874 gives Mr & Mrs James Hemming at the National School and they were succeeded in 1875 by Mr Flower who later married one of the assistants and served the school until 1920.

The earliest log book still extant dates from 1893 and some entries show that the fabric and the stove in particular were giving trouble.  In 1894 it was so cold that the master borrowed a ladder to put sand bags against the east wall.  In 1895 the stone trough in the lower playground "was now well supplied with water as the clay pipes had been replaced with iron ones".  In 1897 the managers agreed to gravel the playground and repair the floor which had a hole in it.  In 1899 the gallery was removed from the infant's room and in 1908 the floor below the newly repaired stove caught fire.  In January of 1917 the coldest part of the room was 42º F.  Central heating was installed in 1929 but by 1951 this too must have been wearing out as the temperature was down to 38º F in January.  In 1895 a meeting of the managers had decided to continue the voluntary status of the school which only became 'controlled' in 1954.

It is unfortunate that no records of the Catholic school have been found.  Local memory states that it had one room divided by a partition and a gallery later removed.  Some insight has been given by a local resident who attended the school for ten years before it closed in 1931 and this will be referred to later.

An early entry in the first extant log book gives the syllabus for the year as follows:-

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This is the only syllabus quoted in all the books but occasional entries show that the teaching was by no means all chalk and talk.  In 1896 scales, weights and sandbags were used in the teaching of "avoir du pois" and the use of slides was found to have increased the children's interest in Canada.  In 1901 the library books were removed from the reading room to the school so that the children might read them and at times borrow them to take home.  Physical education was at first nothing but drill but later fields were loaned and football and cricket began.  It was, however, spasmodic and in one instance the master was reminded that the children had not been out for a month.  At another time they were taken sliding while the master demonstrated his skating skills.  In 1904 Mr Bolton King was appointed the first Director of Education for Warwickshire and one of his first directions to Ilmington was that specimens in needlework should not be done for the sole purpose of showing to the inspector.  Work in those years was regularly examined and inspected.  Through brief references, the gradual widening of the curriculum can be traced.  Woodwork was introduced in 1914 but there were many difficulties.  Cookery for the girls started in 1911 but it is not clear where or for how long this took place.  In 1928 it was held in the 'Rectory Room' and in 1936 there is a mention of the older girls cycling to Quinton for domestic science, but one parent objected to this.  Gardening was also being discussed in 1911 and the first crops, which were from what is now the garden behind Glebe Cottage, were garnered in 1914.  Music and physical education were often mentioned but not until the opening of the recreation field in 1951 do sports become a regular feature, and then Ilmington was highly successful.  The shield now in the pavilion was made in the woodwork classes.  In the 1920s gardening received especially good reports and from these it was obvious that it was well integrated with other work of the school.

 

Entry from page 296 of Log Book 2.

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Mr Dunkin was the County Organiser of School Gardens.  The school at this time was of course an all-age Mixed School.  The above report suggests that this part of their education may well have stimulated these country children to take an intelligent interest in their surroundings and that the much-vaunted study of the environment of the present day is by no means new.

It seems a far cry from the first invitation of the parents to a prize giving in 1907 when only one attended, to the first Open Day in 1921, and to the training college students and foreign visitors from as far afield as Poland who came to see the work of the school in the later 1920s and 1930s.  Interesting work was done for the National Land Utilisation Survey in 1931, and the Field Name Survey instituted by the county in 1934.  The latter still survives at Warwick, the former went to be incorporated in the National Statistics in London.

In the earlier years frequent references occur to labour certificates whereby a child who could pass a rather elementary examination in reading and writing might leave school at eleven; also to exemption certificates by which children might leave when they had made a sufficient number of attendances.  The last reference noticed to an exemption certificate, which was refused, was in 1916.  County scholarships were first mentioned in 1913 and thereafter a steady but small number of children passed on to the local grammar schools.  By 1920 the new official leaving age of fourteen was being enforced.

Until 1905 when a half holiday was introduced for 95% attendance for a month, the log books have many references to absence.  It is here that the records show the long struggle to get attendance at school to take precedence over employment for the children.  They also show that poverty made regular attendance very difficult for some.  Although it was normal to accept children of three, when a child of two was refused admittance the reply was that his older sister would have to stay at home to look after him.  Another mother wrote from Longdon excusing her son's absence because he had to go to work as there were seven children to be fed on the labourer's wage, which was then 10/- a week.  Sometimes the children could not attend as they had no boots and often in winter the roads were too bad for them to come from a distance.  The half-holiday, however, had a miraculous effect; it was nearly always gained, and whenever possible was taken on a fine afternoon.  The dates of terms and holidays only became fixed fairly recently and before this depended on the date of the harvest.  In one year the summer holiday began as late as August 21st.  In September there were always many absentees helping on the farms.  Another difficulty concerning regular attendance arose through what was termed 'capricious removal' from the National to the Catholic School and vice versa.  This occurred both with and without the parents' consent and was not officially stopped until 1908.  Local roasts and club days were another cause of absence, but at times holidays were given for these.  Potato, blackberry, and cowslip picking caused trouble, although at times official holidays were given.  There is one somewhat tart entry to the effect that "the improved attendance is due as much to the falling off of the blackberry crop as to the efforts of the attendance officer".

In 1909 medical inspection was introduced and some parents objected.  Gradually the continual references to epidemics and consequent closure become fewer.  Whooping cough, scarlet fever, measles and influenza were common and 'leave much weakness'.  An early request to close the school for measles was refused as it was so infectious that closure was useless.  Later this attitude changed.

The period covered by the log books examined covers three wars.  The only reference to the Boer War was that word was brought to the playground that peace had been declared in 1902.  The references to the first world war were mainly to excused absence when fathers were home on leave.  However, absence was also granted for collections of blackberries and chestnuts.  In 1918, 1286 lbs of blackberries were sent to jam factories.  The chestnuts were sent to the Director of Propellant Supplies.  Except during the winter, afternoon school began and finished early to allow children to work in the fields, and for this too holidays were often extended.  Farmers often asked for exemption for boys to take the place of men called to the Forces.  Though there were few collections of money there were occasional ones for the Red Cross. 

Blackberry picking was not peculiar to Ilmington; Warwickshire reports of its schools as a whole that over 30 tons had been collected for jam and that it had saved £400 by suspending the distribution of prizes.  Armistice was declared when the school was closed for influenza so there is no mention of this.

In 1940 the school remained open for the first two weeks of the summer holiday to help parents who were doing war work but this was later found to be unnecessary.  There were numerous savings collections.  In 1941 War Weapons Week raised £73 and in 1942 the savings for the year were £258, reflecting perhaps a rising prosperity.  In one salvage drive over 300 lbs of paper was collected; at another 20 lbs of tinfoil.  Of blackberries, chestnuts and rosehips, regular collections were made and in 1942 the school was closed for a short period for potato picking.  In 1943, 120 lbs of blackberry jam was made for the school's own use, and this war too brought free milk for the children and issues of fruit juice for the very young.  In November of 1940 21 evacuees from Coventry with two of their own teachers arrived.  At first they were accommodated in the village hall, but later when furniture came, they were integrated into the school, and the old woodwork room came into use once more.  One perhaps rather naïve collection which was not repeated was of wool from the hedges to make comforts for the troops.  About four pounds was collected and sent to another school. 

 

School festivities make cheerful reading and over the 64 years for which the log books are available, themselves form a document of social change.  Many of these in the early years must have been due to the kindness of the headmaster, and probably the school managers, though this is not stated in the log books.  His salary until after the first world war cannot have been more than £100 a year.  In 1900 he provided a quarter of the money for prizes, this time there is a statement that the remainder came from the managers.  In 1915 when the Education Committee had suspended the provision of prizes, he and his wife produced for the Christmas treat 'the usual small presents'.  In the early days of 1894 he was giving lantern lectures in the evening, one of which raised £1.16.1½ for the school fund.  No doubt there were more instances.  One of his old pupils remembers him as a firm but kindly man who would turn his hand to anything. 

In 1894 the children were rehearsing for the consecration of the new churchyard.  In 1897 Mr & Mrs Wilson, parents of the famous jockey E.P. Wilson, presented mugs and medals at the Golden Jubilee celebrations.  Some of these are still treasured family relics.  In 1898 the whole school went out to look at the first motor car to visit the village.  From 1900 to 1914 with few exceptions, at Christmas there was Thomassing, i.e. carol singing, and the Christmas Treat; May Day was sometimes a holiday; sometimes a formal procession and later included dancing round the maypole.  In 1923 it was marked by a short pageant but the present day crowning of the May Queen came much later.  In summer there was a special tea at the school with sports held in a variety of places loaned by local farmers; once the races were even run in the road.  For a number of years the children were regularly entertained at the rectory and great was their enjoyment of fresh bread and butter and cake.  In 1902, 1903 and 1905 charity balls were held in the schoolroom and in 1907 and 1908 the children performed two operettas, Merryton Market and Abu Hassan to packed houses.  The second one raised £2.14.1.  These collections with money from carol singing and May Day processions formed the basis for the school fund used for expeditions and prizes.  In 1904 the children were invited to write an essay on how they wished the money to be spent and unanimously decided on an expedition, so they went to Leamington.  As 2/11 was left over, this was spent on balls.

The expedition to London in 1908 was something of a marathon and the following extracts come from the log book. 

"Expedition to the Franco-British Exhibition, July 9th, 1908.  Several scholars were taken and all seem delighted with their experiences... A visit was first paid to Westminster where the exterior of the Houses of Parliament was viewed and a peep taken at the Thames Embankment.  A short time was spent in Westminster Abbey, just enough to see Poet's Corner and hear a part of the morning service.  Then a walk through St James's Park to Buckingham Palace where the children were very pleased to see the soldiers marching to Wellington Barracks.  From the Palace the party then walked to Trafalgar Square and from the end of the Strand a 'bus ride was taken to Ludgate Circus - all being fortunate enough to get on one vehicle.  After spending a short time in St Paul's Cathedral the party were conducted to the Post Office Tube Station and soon taken to... the entrance to the Franco-British Exhibition.  There a stay of over nine hours was made, the only disappointment being the postponement of fireworks owing to rain.'

The account describes their return from Paddington in the early hours of the morning.  The young people, not surprisingly, slept on the way home.  Sixteen children were paid for from the school fund.  The children who were not taken to London had the usual tea and sports.

Empire Day celebrations became combined with May Day in 1906 and gradually became more formal including saluting the flag and an address.  In 1932 there was a play in school and an address on the Ottawa Conference.  The early 1920s show the children dancing at various local fetes under the auspices of Sam Bennett, and school expeditions less exhausting than the one to London were made to the sea and to local zoos.  By the 1930s a number of parties cycled to Stratford to see the plays, and once to a handicraft exhibition.  In 1946, a Nativity Play raised £16.8.7 for the school fund, and after 1933 the children contributed to the spring fete held in the Village Hall by the Women's Institute.  Wireless which had been provided in the school was used for the broadcast of the King's death in 1936, and for the Proclamation of Edward VIII; also for the King's funeral.  In 1952 officials of the B.B.C. visited the school in connection with a programme on the Cotswolds, but no more is known of this.  The school took part in the celebrations connected with the opening of the recreation field in 1951.

Though as stated the school fund was used for treats and expeditions, it was also called on for contributions to maintenance such as central heating, decoration and latterly the purchase of a typewriter.  While it was a voluntary school, the local managers had a majority on the committee which appointed the teachers, and were financially responsible for the maintenance of the fabric.  When it changed to controlled status in 1954, the County Education Committee became responsible for the fabric and had the final say in the appointment of teachers.

The only record available of the Catholic school is from a local resident who entered the school at the age of two and a half and was transferred to the National school when the Catholic school closed in 1931.  She was not a Catholic, and no attempts at conversion were made.  She much enjoyed helping to decorate the statue of Our Lady and taking part in the religious ceremonies.  The school must have been quite progressive, as she remembers the use of sand trays, colour matching and shell counting.  Numerous visitors came to the school, some of them on Saturday mornings to see demonstrations, popular with the children as they were followed by cakes and lemonade.  The mistress of that time organised many entertainments, for some of which she wrote the plays.  These were surrounded with great secrecy until the day of presentation.  For the children of the Catholic school there were treats at Foxcote, wagons being sent for their transport.  There was certainly some rivalry between the children of the two schools, but at least in 1902 they combined for Coronation celebrations.  When it closed in 1931 only three of its 23 pupils were Catholic.

The entries in the log book following the ending of the war in 1945 were marked by what seem rather frantic efforts to bring the provisions of the old school up to standard.  At one point even the conversion of a barn for school meals was being considered.  Finally in 1957 the new school building was opened and a rather sad little ceremony took place at the end of the summer term, when the older schoolchildren, who would no longer attend school in their own village, made presentations and thanked the headmistress and teachers they were leaving.

So the school opened with such ceremony in 1858, having served the village for nearly 100 years, was left empty, occupied only for some subsidiary functions and finally demolished in the early months of 1973.

The children attending their light airy school today, with their abundant energy, good looks and clothes, and obvious happiness, must lead very different lives from those of the earlier years even of this century, who had no boots fit to traverse the muddy roads.

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National School. 1858 - 1957. Demolished 1973

  1. Warwick Record Office DR 20/13.

  2. Warwick Record Office DR 20 Box 4.