Cinderford

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E. M. O. 2004  


 

Bilson Schools

Foreword
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10

The Forest of Dean  
Living History
Using local slides, photographs and reminiscences.

There's Nothing Like Education.

Chapter 3

Victorian Days

And so the stage was set. The Hale and Thorley families moved into the School Houses; Christmas passed, and the New Year; the schools were scrubbed throughout, and on January 7th 1878, the three Schools opened their doors.

That the Schools were badly needed could not be in doubt. John Hale admitted "between 80 and 90 scholars. Found the children very backward according to their age, especially in Writing and Arithmetic, the latter subject remarkably so. About twenty did not know their letters." Down in the Girls' School Mrs. Thorley admitted "110 girls, found them very backward according to their age and there will be great difficulty in preparing them for their various standards.

" A glance through the first Admission Registers reveals that about 30 of these children, whose ages ranged from 7 to fourteen years, had never been to school before. The others came mostly from "Mr. Jolly's School" or "Flaxley Meend School" or the "National School".

Emma Hale's expectations too, were doomed to disappointment for she "admitted between 70 and 80 infants, three quarters of whom do not know their letters. Only a few are able to count and add together very simple numbers. The writing is very poor in all the classes."

THE SCHOOLS

What were they like, these schools of 1878? Well, we can only guess at their general appearance, since no photographs have survived. Each School had one large main room with a gallery at one end - rather like the local chapels. There would be, in addition, one other classroom leading off the main one, and the usual outside "offices" about which constant complaints were made during successive years because of their inadequacy and poor ventilation, making them "most unpleasant in the hot weather".

All the interior walls were whitewashed with a lime and water wash, the floors were of untreated wood and were scrubbed every three weeks. Heating was, in most rooms, from a fireplace surrounded by a black iron fireguard - coal after all, was cheap and plentiful in the neighbourhood. There was no lighting at all, so that in those first winters it was frequently so dark by half past three that "lessons could only be taken with great difficulty and singing or drill must perforce be substituted." By the first summer there were complaints about the bad ventilation in the classrooms and in July "the heat was so oppressive that a carpenter was fetched to take out several panes of glass that the children might breathe" - presumably from this, there were no windows which could be opened.

Long rows of desks occupied the rooms, supplemented by forms . The desks were of

Mr. and Mrs. John Hale John Hale Headmaster Boys School 1879 to 1910 Emma Hale Headmistress Infants School 1878 to 1916

varnished wood on a black, cast iron frame, with a hole for the china inkwell and a groove to prevent the penholder rolling away. Frequently the desks were without backs - Emma Hale complained early about this and thought that "desks with backrests should be provided in order to support these little ones' spines.

NO PENHOLDERS

The first year was not without its trials. Accommodation almost immediately became a problem; the schools were already very crowded. Emma Hale had to "set Class II to make figures, there not being enough room for both classes on the gallery." Lack of equipment led to great difficulties. Even until October the boys were unable to have any paper work as there were no penholders. Later, when presumably the penholders had arrived, "there were no examination tests as no paper is available. "Emma too, had been "unable to teach her little ones properly for want of desks, books etc."

At the end of October she sent to Mr. Bradstock (Clerk to the Board) for books but was "unable to have any." Not until November did the great day come when she received "10 dozen Royal Readers and 3 boxes of slate pencils." Much later the slates also came! John Hale took delivery of Todhunter's "Mensuration", Hughes' "Geography", Meiklejohn's "Source and Growth of the English Language"- and a T square.

THE GOVERNESS

Meanwhile, down in the Girls' School there had been a less than auspicious start. Mrs. Thorley did not appear to take kindly to the Foresters - or perhaps the Foresters did not take kindly to Mrs. Thorley. Almost immediately the conflict began because of the bad attendance. "The attendance is by no means satisfactory and excuses are given for absence which cannot be called reasonable." "I cannot work the School properly whilst the attendance is 50 p00':" "The children seem to be masters of the situation and parents say they cannot make them come."

Parents were sent for; and they either sent "impertinent letters" or, if they answered her summons "used violent and improper language. "The girls seldom had "a clean pinafore daily" and before that first term was over Mrs. Thorley had to "have Standard II and III girls sew lap bags so that School Work could be kept clean." The fires "smoked abominably" and she "repeatedly complained of the untidy appearance of the blinds but cannot get them altered."

An unfortunate procession of Pupil Teachers passed through her hands, most of whom were "careless", "did not attend properly to the preparation of their lessons" or "had very little teaching power':" These fourteen year old Pupil Teachers were 'frequently cautioned about the disorder which prevailed" and about their "stubborn behaviour and untidy copy work." Not so the Misses Thorley however, whose Object Lessons were always "well prepared and taught very nicely."

When the eldest Miss Thorley left Bilson in 1879, having been appointed Head Mistress of a school at Yeovil, the pupils and teachers presented her with a "handsome walnut writing desk." Such generosity was remarkable when a common cause of absenteeism among the girls was the inability of parents to find the necessary threepence

The Governess The Cane Timothy Harris 1978

Joanne Brain 1978 Girl Minding The Baby

a week for the School Fees. Kate Priscilla Thorley replaced her sister, and other Pupil Teachers came and went, some only surviving for one day.

The caretaker had long been replaced, now the new one was "locked out." Whereupon he "burst open the School door at 4.35 p.m. and used violent and insulting language to the School Mistress."

Her Majesty's Inspectors made their fourth visit and were less than complimentary. Needlework especially was "defective" for "though there was a great deal of feather stitch and fancy work, cutting out had been utterly neglected and not a specimen of darning or patching was shewn." The Inspectors evidently believed in getting the priorities right! Mrs. Thorley complained bitterly to the School Board that "the state of things is entirely owing to your sending me incompetent pupil assistants."

The Board retaliated by pointing out that the Forest children "might easily be led, but would not be driven." Her complaints went on, the Board suggested that she should resign, but she ignored the request. The Board took the only remaining option; she was given three months notice.

It is hardly surprising therefore, that early in her fourth year Mrs. Mary Thorley took up her pen and wrote in the Log Book "It gives me great satisfaction to know that lam making my last entry in this Book." One can almost feel the stab of the pen-nib as she made the final full-stop and shook the coaldust of Cinderford off her feet for ever; taking with her, Edith Ellen, Bessie Adela, Kate Priscilla, Annie Maria, the little Grace.-and, presumably, the mysterious Mr. Frederic Thorley who made so little impression on the life of the School or the town.

MARKED ABSENT

That absenteeism was one of the great problems of the day cannot be denied. Children were kept at home for a variety of reasons, some legitimate but many not.

The payment of threepence a week School Fees naturally presented problems to some of the poorer parents. Threepence a week does not sound much in these affluent days - only just over one new penny. But often the large families would have five or six children attending at one time, and the shilling or one and sixpence that this cost would buy one of the younger ones a much needed pair of boots. The children were regularly sent back home on a Monday morning having come without their School Money- "some returned and some did not" writes Emma Hale.

The Infant School was the one least affected by attendance problems. When the children stayed at home it was usually because of wet or snowy weather. Rain in the dinner hour would decimate the afternoon attendance; largely for lack of suitable clothing. Capes and leggings afforded some protection from the rain, but overcoats were rare and waterproofs unknown.

Mrs. Hale frequently "made a fire to dry the childrens ' clothes, some being quite wet through" The frequent epidemics of scarlet fever, diphtheria, and measles also tended to keep the younger children at home, since mothers of those who had escaped infection were afraid to send them "while the fever lasted." It was then a common occurrence to close the School for three or four weeks until the epidemic subsided.

As the children grew older however, a variety of tasks at home would keep them from School. Boys frequently absented themselves for "gathering firewood and kindling" or for taking part in "nutting expeditions." The "gathering of sheep for washing and shearing" required the co-operation of entire families, and during the hard times of strikes boys would be kept from School to "pick coals from Crump Meadow tips."

But it was certainly the Girls School which suffered most from this problem. Blackberrying and nutting expeditions were seldom for them, for these young girls of eleven and twelve were the overworked "little mothers" of large families and had many more responsibilities than their brothers. The poorest attendances were always in the upper standards of this School, girls being kept at home to "nurse the baby" or "help with washday."

Undoubtedly the overworked mothers of the day would be sorely tempted to avail themselves of a little help from their growing daughters. Washing alone occupied the whole of one day; the fire' under the copper needing constant feeding with small coal and cinders. Clothes had to be rubbed by hand and "dollied" in the big wash tub, before being put through the large old fashioned wooden mangle. Rinsing, blueing and starching all took precious time, and once dry the clothes still had to be ironed, a task which could go on for days, with flat irons heated on a trivet in front of the kitchen range. The grates all required blackleading, fire irons had to be polished and hearths and doorsteps scoured with bathbrick. The flagstone floors were scrubbed weekly and the dusty rag rugs before the fire frequently shaken.

Feather beds needed daily shaking and turning- which in turn created yet more sweeping and dusting. The kitchen table must be scrubbed daily to a pristine whiteness, and the earth closet at the bottom of the garden too, had its daily scrubbing. (Luckily it was the boys' job to empty it!) Housework was certainly not an easy occupation and it is small wonder that these "mother's helps" made such poor attendances at School.

Even with the opening of Double View School in 1896 and the transfer of all the boys and girls over ten, the difficulty was not solved for in September Miss Prudence Bailey reported that "irregularity seems on the increase. I find the younger children are kept at home to mind the baby so that the sisters attending Double View may not miss an attendance." It is highly probable that mothers feared less the wrath of Miss Bailey to that of John Emery who ruled his empire with a rod of iron and was very "free with the cane"

RARE TREATS

Fortunately there were quite a few occasions when children absented themselves for their own enjoyment. Sunday School Treats were one established custom which helped to enliven the daily grind of the working class families. The numbers of these treats were legion, and with a little judicious distribution of one's Sunday School attendances it was possible to be in the running for two or three of these annual feasts.

The largest by far was the Baptist Chapel Treat, when upwards of 1,500 children and parents would parade the streets, banners held proudly aloft and the local brass bands playing stirring marching tunes. Another great occasion was the Co-op Penny Bank Tea, when the members' children paraded to the field in Dockham Road to partake of a paper bag full of sticky currant buns and fancy cakes, and then, well fed, to work off the ensuing lethargy in races and scrambles.

Whole families attended the annual Miners Demonstrations at the Speech House, and even though this was a Saturday event the children were frequently kept from School on the previous day "while mothers prepared for the morrow." The morrow would bring fiery speeches for fathers, the fairground for the growing young men and girls, and for the children and their mothers, toffee apples and ginger snaps, bouncing balls on elastic, cheap jack potions for all ills, the first of the plum crop and a host of other excitements. In the dusk of a summer's evening would come the long walk home through the woods, the little ones carried high on father's shoulder, and the occasional giggle as their older brothers chased off after the girls through the breast high bracken.

Also well established were the many Friendly Societies of the day, each of whom held their annual Club Day when parades would be held, monies shared out, and the women and children entertained to a "Tea Meeting." There were Buffaloes and Rechabites, Oddfellows and Moose, Good Shepherds and Free Foresters, and a host of others. Many of the Friendly Societies were based on the local Public Houses, but others such as the Economic and Foresters' Friend were teetotal and established in local Chapels. In addition to these were the well-known Temperance movements of the Band of Hope at Wesley, and the Good Templars at the Parish Hall in Abbey Street.

Then there was the twice yearly Cinderford Stock and Pleasure Fair in June and October; the Autumn one being followed by a Hiring Mop the following day. There were occasional Wild Beast Shows and quite frequent visits of Sangers or Bostock and Wombwells Circus. "Attendance thin all day owing to a large Club walking the streets" reports Emma in June. And, "parade through the town of the beasts from the Circus caused the afternoon attendance to fail considerably" states John.

The School Board soon gave up the unequal struggle against these counter-attractions, and from the very early days it became customary for the Schools to close for half a day on all these occasions. Not that the problem was entirely solved this way for now "the morning attendance lapsed, the children being too excited by the prospect of the treat to attend. "And the following day also they were "too tired after yesterday's jollifications to do justice to their lessons." But, in a drab existence these treat days must have stood out as bright beams of sunlight, looked forward to, and recollected, for many weeks during the dull days of Winter. Simple pleasures, costing but little, but enjoyment never has been counted in terms of money spent.

THE SCHOOL BOARD

When I was a small child, the older folk in my family always referred to Bilson as "The Board School". This conjured up in my questioning mind a vision of School as a rather grandiose version of our coal shed at home, which was constructed of wooden planks, regularly treated with pungent black tar. By the time Miss Watts had yielded up my Infant teaching to the stern Miss Maddocks, I had decided that it must refer to the big blackboard which so dominated our schooldays, and which, occasionally, as a great treat, we were allowed to clean with the big blue check duster. It was many years later that I discovered that the "Board" was really a body of august gentlemen in frock coats and top hats who had first launched this wonderful thing - EDUCATION - in our town.

The first members of that Board in 1875 were certainly a distinguished group. Three major colliery owners- Alfred Goold, Edwin Crawshay, and T. B. Brain; three Reverend Gentlemen of the Churches in the Forest; and Sir James Campbell, the Crown's Deputy Surveyor in Dean. Mr. J. S. Bradstock was appointed to be Clerk to the Board at a salary of £75 per annum.

The schools were still not free. Children up to Standard III (about 9 or 10 years) were charged twopence a week; when they went up to Standards IV to VI the fee rose to threepence. Great care was taken to impress upon intending Heads that children were "not to be accepted into School without payment of the fee each Monday morning" and that in cases of "difficult families" the matter was to be "referred to the Board"

Until 1890 the Government Grant which, with local rate borne contributions supported the schools, was a "payment by results" one. Much therefore depended upon the Reports of Her Majesty's Inspectors, who, once a year, descended on the schools to examine the pupils in the 3 R's and to inspect the premises. That they did not always find things to their liking is obvious, for Emma Hale's Report of 1883 had My Lords complaining bitterly about the overcrowding, in spite of previous warnings. My Lords decided "after due consideration of the case to suspend the payment of the Annual Grant for the past year until notice has been given that the promised new buildings have actually been commenced..."

Promises! Promises! In 1884 My Lords became more curt... "any further delay in providing the new premises will endanger further the grant for the current School Year': In 1886 he tried again': ... l am to enquire what steps the Board propose to take for enlarging this School." It was, perhaps, just as well that in 1890 the regulations were changed and grants became payable on the average attendance-although with Bilson's questionable record in this field the payment of the Grant must still have been frequently in the balance.

In 1888 there was a relaxation in the paying of fees when it was agreed that all children in one family could attend for one payment of sixpence. And then, on September 1st 1891 Emma Hale proudly wrote "By Order of the Board all children were admitted FREE. A very large attendance."!

The members of the Board were empowered to visit the schools at any time they chose, without notice, to inspect and check the Registers, to test the children in their lessons, and whatever else suited their fancy. Visiting seems to have been a favourite diversion for the long summer afternoons when the ladies would accompany them and "inspect the needlework" or "hear the little ones sing"

Mrs. Thorley always seemed rather overwhelmed by these gracious visits, for she regularly recorded that "the ladies were much pleased with the appearance of my girls." The weekly checking of the Registers went on for years. In fact it was not until 1944 that this practice was considered "too demeaning" and it was officially abolished.

The annual HMI visits too, by the early 20th century had become more occasional than regular. Today they could be described as "rare". To the Reverend Gentlemen of the School Board however, fell the privilege of regular visits to test the children's knowledge of the Scriptures and to hear the hymns sung. This regulation survived for many years, even after the administration changed in 1903.

The visits eventually became annual ones, and were made during many later years by the residing minister of the Wesley Church, or by the vicar of one or other of the local Churches. A written report followed the Inspection, and these were faithfully copied into the Log Books, until, by 1950, the visits had ceased.

Bilson Schools were giving the Board headaches almost as soon as they had opened their doors, for it soon became patently obvious that they were far too small. Additions were approved at the end of the year they opened, and there had to be further improvements and enlargements in successive years, culminating in the general remodelling of 1914. In order to enforce regular attendance so that the Grant might not be jeopardised, the Board decided to employ Enforcement Officers. These were the much-feared gentlemen of the early 1900's whose appearance at the cottage door caused such consternation.

Irreverently known as the "School hunt-em-up" they must have been amongst the most unpopular officials of the day. We are much kinder to them now, for they are called Education Welfare Officers, and have attained the status of kindly uncles.

The Heads of the Schools were empowered by the Board to use the cane - "according to their own discretion"-even in the Infants' School. Many punishments were inflicted which, by today's standards would be considered brutal. Dirty shoes and fingernails, blotted copy-books and unpunctuality all carried this penalty. Girls and little ones were caned on the hands, but up in the Boys' School John Hale usually recorded that "he had given six strokes on the lower part of the back" - a nice Victorian euphemism for a caned bottom.

Disobedience, obstinacy. sauciness and bad language, and insubordination usually got their just reward - but one has a certain sneaking sympathy for the victim when "C.... E.... was caned for throwing an inkwell at his teacher" - there must be many who have at some time or another been sorely tempted to emulate this misdeed!

The School Board survived for 25 years, and a long succession of worthy gentlemen were elected to serve on it. But in 1903 their reign ended. The "County" took over their duties, and those appointed to oversee the schools became Managers. Perhaps they were, by then, a little nearer to the heart of things for one of the very first decisions which the new Forest Group made, was that the wallpaper which was supplied for School Houses was "much too cheap." In future it should cost "not less than a shilling a roll" -and- "one and sixpence for the Entrance Hall."

PUPIL TEACHERS

The United School Board were ever watchful of the Ratepayers' money. It took one and threepence in the pound from the local rates, and considered carefully every penny spent. Even Mr. Bradstock's salary was criticised, and there were complaints about the salary paid to another official, one William Jones. "Three shillings and sixpence a day in these depressed times is enough" said the members; "we paid no less than £2,740 for teachers 'salaries in 1886" -this was the total for nine schools.

One of the economies practised by the School Board was the employment of Pupil Teachers . These were children - one could hardly describe them otherwise - who were first taken into the classroom as monitors, often between 12 and 14 years of age. They would then help generally around the School, and if they showed aptitude they were engaged as Pupil Teachers "to be trained in the Art of Teaching " at a starting rate of £5 per annum. The apprenticeship lasted for four years, after which, if all the examinations were satisfactorily passed, the PT. would become an Assistant Master or Mistress at £40 per annum.

This was certainly training for the profession in the hard way. Lessons had to be prepared at home and presented for criticism by the Head the next day. There were quarterly examinations at centres such as Lydney, Bristol and Gloucester: and the annual visit of Her Majesty '5 Inspectors also included a report on the work of the Pupil Teachers. They were often in complete charge of a class - a daunting task for a sixteen-year old.

In 1881 the HMI complained "My Lords regret to learn that the Mistresses of the Girls' and Infants' Schools have seriously neglected their duty in the matter of Pupil Teachers' instruction." But Emma Hale too, had her problems, for "her babies' class is very full, 70 present in this class and 113 in the fives; far too great a number for a Pupil Teacher." As late as 1909 she still complained of "rather too large classes for Pupil Teachers to have charge of as in no class is the number on the books less than fifty." Prudence Bailey complained of "results which are most discreditable. They are good girls in School but do not appear to spend their own time to advantage, having neglected their

Boys working in the mine Richard Bennett 1978

homework to perform in a Cantata."

Many of these young people of course, failed to make the grade and either resigned of their own accord or were refused "qualification under Article 50" and so had to look for some other employment.

John Hale, in his first years as Headmaster had great problems with one of his Pupil Teachers upon whom fond parents had bestowed the improbable name of Admiral 0. Jones. That Admiral was a character cannot be denied. His unpunctuality and absenteeism were a constant thorn in John Hale's flesh, and his lessons showed "a complete lack of concentration': Excuses for his weekly non-appearance's were many and original, ranging from "toothache" to a "damaged bicycle" and even to "having to stay at home to nurse his father's sick cow" Admiral survived for three years, before John Hale, not at all regretfully, asked for his resignation!

Many of these Pupil Teachers of old however, went on to become valued and dedicated members of staff in the Schools which had trained them, some of them giving upwards of 40 years service to teaching. It would be invidious to mention them by name, it would in any case be unnecessary, for they are remembered today with gratitude by generations of pupils who passed through their hands.

GONE TO WORK

Future Monitors and Pupil Teachers however, only accounted for a tiny percentage of the leavers of our Victorian Bilson Schools. To begin with, we have to remember that until 1895, the child's whole school life was passed at Bilson - not that such a school life was necessarily a long one, Before 1893 children could leave School at ten years of age,

Playtime Martin Cowley 1978

provided they had passed Standard IV. In 1893 this age of exemption from further schooling was raised to eleven, and in 1900 to twelve. Thus a vast reservoir of innate natural intelligence was strangled almost before it was given birth. A glance through the old Registers reveals a monotonous procession of little boys of twelve and thirteen who left "to go to the colliery." As their older brothers graduated to a pick and shovel there would be a great need for a small boy to crawl into the narrow seams to remove the coal to the trucks along the main roadways.

So little Willie, or Sydney, or Albert, joined his father or uncles underground as a "hodder" . A wide leather strap passed over his head and between his legs, and was then hooked to the hod -a box like contraption. When full of coal it was dragged on hands and knees from the narrow seam to the roadway. One cannot begin to guess at the misery these children must have suffered; bruised and bleeding hands and knees, chafed thighs, aching muscles, foul air, and the terror of being deep underground with only a candle for illumination. But for ninety per cent of those who left Bilson Boys' School in the early years, there was nothing else to do. It was the rare boy indeed who went on to further education.

Occasionally a lucky one would be "apprenticed to the undertaker" or, even rarer, "to work in a shop" - usually these were the tradesmen's own children, following in their fathers' footsteps, which, after all, was what the miners' sons were also doing.

As for the little Amy, or Lizzie, or Minnie, they, almost without exception, were withdrawn 'to help mother" or "to help at home". This would be for a year or two, until a younger sister came up to leaving age. The elder one would then exchange one life of drudgery for another. "Service" was the eventual destination of most of them; to Cheltenham if they were lucky, or perhaps Birmingham, or even London for the really adventurous ones . There they would become the hard-worked little scullery maids, housemaids and "tweenies" of the big Regency houses at an average wage of around £12 a year, and "all found". From this princely sum a girl usually managed to send home a pound or so periodically to help "mam" out with the little ones.

Many girls of those days were withdrawn from School because they were "delicate" A surprising number of children too, were "burnt badly" - recalling the huge open fires of the day, more often than not unguarded, and with a convenient fender upon which inquisitive little folk could climb. Now and then a sad little entry reads "Gone to the Union" (or workhouse); and, sadder and more frequent, - "died of fever" - or diphtheria - or typhoid - or consumption. On one page of the Girls' Register alone are three children "dead of measles".

But, to those who survived, in spite of everything, life taught some valuable lessons. The girls became competent at housework and cooking and child care; training which stood them in good stead when they married and had children of their own. The young men looked after their hard earned pence, thrift was a great feature of the Forest character. They became the parents of a whole generation of children who enjoyed a home life where discipline was firm but kind, moral values were early instilled, and great sacrifices made to ensure that these children should not have to endure what their fathers had suffered.

It was a generation which raised its children without the benefits conferred by a munificent Welfare State - and in the face of extreme deprivation during subsequent long years of depression and unemployment.

Sadly, it is also the generation, which above all others, has seen its carefully hoarded and hard won savings disappear in an inflationary age; throwing them back in their declining years into the poverty trap from which they fought so hard to escape.

DINNER BASKETS

When Bilson School was first opened it was the only one in the district immediately surrounding Cinderford. Consequently, the pupils were drawn from a fairly wide area -all along Church Road to Ruspidge, down around the "Furnaces", away through Steammills to Nailbridge, back over to the Plump Hill and through the woods to Collafield. These children had, of necessity, to walk to and from School each day; of necessity too, they brought their dinners with them.

In these pre-Tupperware days their food was either carried in a clean cotton cloth bag, or in a small dinner basket. The children stayed at their desks during the dinnertime to eat, and Mrs. Thorley very early complained of "the schoolroom being very untidy in the afternoon from the litter made by the Girls who stayed to dinner." By 1900 the HMI had joined the battle, by asking for "a cupboard in which to keep the dinner baskets."

The School Board ignored the request, only to be reminded again at the next inspection of "the great need for a cupboard to accommodate the dinner baskets, as is shown by the fact that yesterday two dinners were stolen." One wonders whether the disappearing dinners were, in fact, the result of human hunger, since an earlier entry by Miss Bailey reads "A rat caused some excitement by being at large in the School and the girls were taken into the playground while Mr. Hale and some of his gentlemen staff caught it." As a result of HMI's insistence (or perhaps to spare Prudence a further attack of the vapours!) the School Board relented and dinner cupboards were duly installed in all three departments. PLAYTIME

The rigid discipline of the Victorian schoolroom must have been very irksome to the active youngsters, sitting bolt upright in the closely packed rows of desks; the open greens and wide spaces of the Forest, upon their doorstep, ever beckoning. So, doubtless, when the playtime bell rang, the release to the freedom of the playground would have been pleasure enough, but, each to their season came a number of other delights. To the boys, one bright Spring day would bring the beginning of the marbles season.

No one ever knew by what strange alchemy the actual day was decided on; in some secret fashion it simply arrived. The bag of clay marbles was fished up from the depths of Mother's workbox and carried secretly to school in the pocket of thick flannel breeches . In the dusty surface of the playground was drawn a circle, and then it was "knuckle down" for a glorious ten minutes.

One or two of the "wealthy" boys would be the proud possessors of glass "allies" - beautiful iridescent things of whirling coloured glass, worth about ten of the clay marbles if one played one's game skilfully.

Down in the girls' playground the skipping ropes would loop and swirl as a variety of fancy moves were gleefully executed, and traditional rhymes chanted. There were games of hopscotch and jacks, and whips and tops, most of them home-made.

When afternoon school finally released them, and before cunning parents could ensnare them again with a multitude of small jobs around the house, the children would race off over the "greens" and into the woods. Hoops would be trundled along the pathways, and any two old bits of stick would serve for a game of "catty".

On the "greens", the girls outlined "houses" with pebbles and stones, complete with doorways and fireplaces, and bits of broken china for teacups and plates. Within this little private kingdom they would contentedly play, either until an irate mother called from the garden gate, or the local geese came, necks outstretched, hissing through the "house" scattering housewives and pebbles to the wind.

Kites enjoyed their season too, requiring the assistance of older brothers just home from the pit, to make the wooden framework and to cover it with the left-over wallpaper from the front parlour. Little sisters were pressed into service, making the newspaper tailings, and then came the great moment when the carefully hoarded string ball with its thousand and one knots was attached, and the kite soared gracefully heavenwards -or, more often, plummeted to earth with a sickening thud, to lie, a crumpled wreck on the sheep-cropped turf.

Now we have Action Men and Skateboards, Bionic monsters and dolls which perform just about every human function, but none of these has the magic of that penny bag of marbles, or the five polished, water-worn "jacks" from the brook in the valley.

PENNY BANK

Our Victorian children were early trained in the thrifty habits which their parents had, perforce, to practise. The very rare "penny to spend" had first to be earned-but once earned of course, it did buy quite a lot, and was usually spent a halfpenny at a time.

John Hale had early recognised the value of these thrifty ways, and in 1892 he had started a Penny Savings Bank in both his and Emma's schools; thinking no doubt of the spare twopences and threepences which should be available now that fees had been abolished. We are accustomed to think of National Savings as being very much of our time, but in fact, the School Savings Group flourished then! Penny stamps were stuck on to a special paper, and when the paper was full - something like thirty weeks later at a penny a week - glory of glories! one had a whole half-crown!

Once a week William Rhodes, or one of the Miss Rhodes', came down to school from their Post Office at the top of the High Street, bringing with them the stamps and taking back full papers to be put into Savings Banks for the really careful ones. If things were difficult at home the carefully saved half-crown would be more likely to be used for a new pair of trousers or a pair of boots -or even both if Jacobs' Sale happened to be in progress.

And so the first thirty years gradually drew to a close. Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee; Plump Hill, St. Whites and Steam Mills Schools had been opened, slightly relieving the pressure at Bilson.

However, both this School and St. Whites were still too crowded for comfort. In 1896 a new School was opened at Double View and the boys and girls of Standard IV upwards were transferred to it "amid great excitement."

Work at Bilson Girls' immediately became "much more agreeable with less numbers, but the present staff is now hardly adequate for the working of this School, five teachers also having been transferred to the new Upper Standards School."

On January 22nd 1901, John Hale wrote in his Log Book "The Queen died at 6.30 p.m. today." It was the end of an era in more ways than one.






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