There's Nothing Like Education.
Early in 1930 Mr. H. W. Household, who was then County Education Secretary began discussions with the local Managers about the reorganisation of Bilson into two departments. Plans of the buildings were studied, and after long consultations with the Head Teachers it was decided to move the Infants up into the Boys' School, and to combine Boys and Girls into a Junior Mixed School in the remainder of the building.
Arthur Mantle had retired, and Miss Maddocks took charge of the new School. The changeover was carried out during the last week of the Summer term 1932, and the last entry in the Boys' Log Book was made on July 29th - "work has been interrupted this week and preparations have been made for quitting the School."
Classes had to be reorganised, boys and girls now studying, for the first time, side by side. Up in the Infants School on that first day Miss Watts went on calmly with her usual routine, receiving "one enamel bowl value ten pence halfpenny for use at Medical and Dental inspections and two new door mats to the value of eight shillings."
New gas fittings were installed throughout the buildings, pendants, burners, mantles and globes all being replaced and the service extended. Twenty five yards of netting wire and five pounds of staples were bought-the wire fencing being fixed at the top of the Boys' playground "in order to keep out Mr. Lees' fowls!"
1934 saw the introduction of milk in the Schools - firstly in February when it was supplied free to the children of the unemployed, and later in the year when it was made available to any other child who desired it at a cost of a halfpenny for a third of a pint. "180 children in the Junior School took advantage of the new scheme". In November of the same year HRH Duke of Kent visited Cinderford whilst touring the depressed areas. All the children from Bilson were "assembled and walked up to the Triangle, and lined the streets so that they might have an opportunity to see him."
A year later came the Silver Jubilee of King George V when the Managers "graciously intimated that the School might close for two days. The children were entertained to tea in the School, and then enjoyed a special Jubilee matinee at the Palace Cinema. Each child received a Jubilee mug."
Having graciously allowed this two day holiday, the Managers then sourly complained that "there were far too many days off being taken for far too many Sunday School Treats." Firm action was now being demanded to bring these extra holidays to an end
- and they succeeded too!
More land was acquired at the back of the School, and, in 1936 some of the unemployed who were on the infamous "Means Test" were set to make a path across it. The "Big Ditch" which formerly ran down at the back of the School premises, beloved of small boys in the early part of the century, had been culverted and filled in during the early 1920's, and the new playground was laid partly over its course -an action which was to lead to unforeseen complications fifty years later!
In 1936 too, King George V died, and on the day of his funeral the children were all taken to St. Stephens' Church for a short Memorial Service.
Miss Flora Maddocks retired from the Junior Department in June 1937, after 33
years as a Head Teacher plus three previous years as an Assistant, making a total of 36
years at Bilson. Mr. Christopher John Gowman was appointed to fill the vacancy and
remained at the School until 1956.
Only a few months earlier the death had taken place of Mr. George Rowlinson, a Manager of Bilson School for 50 years. As a mark of respect for this grand old gentleman the School was closed on the day of his funeral, and the members of both staffs attended the Service.
1937 was also the Coronation year of King George VI. Three days holiday was given and there was a grand tea party at the School, when each child was given a souvenir beaker. The Sunday School treats had begun to fade into memory, and even the Penny Bank Tea was now a thing of the past. Charabanc trips to Barry and Weston Super Mare were now the order of the day, and with a growing bus service, trips to Gloucester, which had been the highlight of our parents' year were so commonplace as to be hardly worth the recording.
In the Schools such luxuries as Staff Rooms and private offices had also been unheard of during the 60 years which had passed; but now Miss Watts, at long last, got a small private room of her own, for "during the Easter Holiday a piece was partitioned off the main room in the Infants' School to provide a lobby and an Office." This small room is, at present, the Secretary's office.
Early in 1937 the P.N.E.U. work was discontinued on the instructions of the HMI After 18 years or so, the scheme had become out-dated, for ideas then, as now, were constantly changing and examinations were fast becoming old fashioned. Nevertheless, it had provided a sound basis for education during this long and difficult period-as was evidenced by the Scholarships to East Dean Grammar School which had been won by Bilson's pupils.
THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Hardly had C. J. Gowman settled into his new school, and hardly had his energetic innovations begun, when War once again broke out. Unlike the first World War, this one did not pass us by. This was as much a civilians' war as a soldiers' war and its effects were quickly felt. The first thing to happen was the arrival of the evacuees, 11 to the Infants' and 38 to the Junior School.
Most of them came from Birmingham, bringing their teachers with them. They seem to have settled into their Forest homes reasonably well, although no doubt, very homesick for the life and bustle of their home city. In November the Lord Mayor of Birmingham arrived, and spoke to all the children at the Miners' Hall; two years later he made another visit, on this occasion touring the Schools.
Lighting restrictions shortened the afternoon session, and windows were made shatterproof with strips of adhesive tape. Blast walls were built at all the entrances and the Home Guard drilled in the school yards.
That winter of 1940 was exceptionally severe and school had to be abandoned for days at a time. Holidays were drastically curtailed, a most unpopular move; the summer one being abandoned altogether. However, the children themselves decided the future of this particular Government regulation, for attendances gradually dwindled to single
numbers, and the Managers eventually agreed that the Schools should be closed "as was normal."
Gas masks arrived, and sirens sounded; but the work of the Schools went quietly on. The children were encouraged to play their part in various war efforts; Savings Drives were held to "Salute the Soldier", provide "War Weapons" and "Wings for Victory". In the two Schools over £900 was collected during these events. Rosehips were gathered to make vitamin-rich syrup, and eggs were sent to the Dilke Hospital - 441 on one weekend in 1940. Miss Watts "received 1 dozen check dusters value seven and threepence and 7 lbs. of Carbolic soap value three and fourpence." The American soldiers who were at that time stationed in the Forest entertained the children to a party at the Miners' Hall, and Mr. Ernest Sale retired after teaching at Bilson for over 40 years.
It was in these very difficult days that a decision was made to implement the "Provision of Meals Acts" of 1906 and 1914; a canteen would be provided at Bilson. It was impossible to find a space anywhere within the building, for, as always, it was bursting at the seams. Restrictions on building during the war years were extremely rigid, and the structure would have to be, of necessity, of a very utilitarian nature.
The building started in December 1942, on the land at the rear of the School; a building of flimsy wooden strips bolted together to form the skeleton, roofed with concrete slabs and walled with asbestos. Mr. H. J. Beddington reported that "the whole structure looked very unsafe, but the County Architects assured us that it would last at least five years, possibly ten!"
The canteen opened on July 12th 1943 and 370 meals were served on that first day
-at threepence a time! In August 119 pounds of plum jam was made by the kitchen staff for the store cupboard, and in September 40 pounds of blackberry joined it on the cupboard shelves. The blackberries had been gathered by the children - but unlike their Victorian ancestors this expedition was an official one. In 1945 the head cook was paid £110 per annum and the kitchen assistants £65 p.a.
Five years later, the building still stood; ten years later nothing had changed. It became a relief classroom, a dining room for students of the Technical College; Christmas parties were held there, and Jumble Sales, and Concerts, - and the years went swiftly by. Its death knell did not eventually sound until 1977 - when this "temporary" building was finally razed to the ground after 34 years of useful life.
PEACE ONCE MORE
On May 8th 1945, the war in Europe ended. Blackout curtains were taken down and the lights came up all over the hillside down which Cinderford sprawls. Two days holiday was given 'for the children to celebrate the great event", and in the Junior School there were more congratulations for the seven girls and four boys who had gained Scholarships to Monmouth Schools, and for the twenty seven who would go to East Dean Grammar School. Results of this order were commonplace during the period immediately following the war, and the Scholarship results were always eagerly awaited by parents and teachers alike.
Miss Watts received needlework goods value two pounds and twopence, and 17 coupons" - and prepared herself for a Conference at the Technical College at Gloucester. The speaker was Dr. David Mace and the subject was - "Sex Education".
The pendulum had certainly swung for the very Victorian Miss Watts, and one cannot help pondering on the effect such an innovation had on that oh! so proper lady. Perhaps it was fortunate that her teaching life was drawing to a close, for it was fairly obvious that the wind of change was blowing; life was gathering momentum, and things were destined never to be quite the same again.