A Goodly Heritage
Bilson Schools
Rosemary & Rue

E. M. O. 2004  


Bilson Schools

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 6

The last decades

1947 is a memorable date for all of us who will never see fifty again. It was the year of the "Big Snow". From the 25th of January to the 8th of March the ground had been frozen solid and covered with a blanket of snow. During March 5th/6th/7th there were tremendous blizzards, and when the howling winds finally died, every road around the town was blocked by drifts up to 8 feet deep. This would have been no new thing for Bilson's earlier Heads for in their days heavy snow was the rule rather than the exception.

All the Schools were now closed for several days, and long forgotten toboggans were hauled from dusty corners . In the Junior School the glass roof in the corridor collapsed under the weight of snow, and doorways were impassable. However, the thaw was well under way by March 19th, and the snowdrops were flowering by the following week -but as a topic of conversation the "Big Snow" survived for years!

Free milk was supplied to all children attending School from September 1946. The dinners had gone up to fivepence a day (about 2p of our present coinage). There began to be increasing numbers of forms to fill in, and a clerk from the Education Office called each Friday to collect up the dinner monies.

In 1947 our children celebrated the wedding of H.R.H. Princess Elizabeth to Lt. Philip Mountbatten and a day's holiday was granted. Memories of the war gradually receded, although there was an occasional distribution of surplus A.R.P. chairs or folding beds, which marks the passing of the playtime at Bilson Infants has A.R.P. firmly stamped across it. During this year too, the Authority appointed Supervisory Assistants to look after the children during the dinnertime and to assist the little ones at the tables.

In July 1949 Miss Watts received her last delivery of "toilet goods value two pounds ten shillings" and "resigned charge of this School after 33 years service". The closing years were kind to her, for she married late in life and went to live in South Africa.


With the retirement of the redoubtable Miss Watts, Miss Doris M. Hale, who had been a senior teacher in the Girls' and Junior Schools for 18 years, was promoted to be Head of the Infants School; at the same time Miss Daphne Marfell was appointed to her staff. It was this partnership - destined to survive for another 18 years - which probably saw greater changes in teaching methods than any of their predecessors. The Junior School had now acquired a Playing Field, for a lease had been taken up on a piece of Forestry Commission land near the back of the School, and it was ultimately levelled and seeded - much to the enjoyment of the local sheep!

In 1950 the Education Committee recognised the burden which officialdom was placing upon the Head Teachers, through the vast amount of paper work which was fast becoming the fashion. Clerical help was to be provided on a part time basis, according to the numbers of children on the roll. And so I came back again to Bilson, nearly twenty years after I had walked out of it with my coveted Scholarship, and Miss Maddocks advice to "always work HARD" ringing in my ears. The changes were incredible. The School had shrunk - or so it seemed to me, with memories of vast heights of ceiling, and windows which only revealed glimpses of roofs and sky.

It has been my good fortune since then to experience many more changes which have led, gradually, to the School we know today.


The classrooms were still crowded - has there ever been a period in their history when they were not? Bilson had the reputation of being a good school, and children were brought to it - by car now - from as far afield as Drybrook, Longhope and Ruardean. Classes were having to be held in the canteen dining room, and numbers of 45 plus were considered normal. In July 1950 the Managers introduced a Catchment Area, limiting the numbers of children to be admitted, to those who lived within it.

The great event of 1951 was the coming of electricity to the Schools. Looking back, it seems almost incredible that the out of date gas fittings should have survived so long. Electric lights were installed throughout the building, with even an occasional power plug here and there. A whole new world suddenly opened up - radio sets, record players, projectors, fairy lights on the Christmas tree - and even a cup of tea in the Staff Room.

In a month we were wondering how we'd ever managed without it. The Parent/Teacher Association of the Junior School had raised a substantial amount of money towards the new equipment which it was now possible to use, and eventually the great day came when we even got the "telly". Soon after this too, we acquired another "mod. con." when geysers were installed and we had hot water at the washbasins - another luxury undreamed of before the war.

But perhaps one o{the really memorable features of the Schools during these post-war years was their many successes in musical fields. Bilson have always been fortunate in having talented musical teachers numbered among their staffs. Choirs were now regularly entered in Musical Festivals, both locally and at Cheltenham, and proud children have carried home coveted trophies on many occasions. There have been Festivals when as many as three choirs have taken part, and every one has been placed. Their forefathers' love of choral singing, (always a feature of life in the Forest villages of old) has certainly been passed down to the succeeding generations.


1953 brought the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II - and another mug for each' Id. Accommodation problems grew ever pressing as post-war Council house building gained momentum, prefabricated classrooms had to be erected to ease the situation and Lees' fowls lost yet more of their territory. New teaching techniques needed much re space, for the regimented rows of desks had long since vanished and the children AT worked in groups around modern tables. Classes had to be held, at various times, buildings outside the School proper - the Territorial Cadet Hut and the Ark" Chapel instance (both now demolished); now, with Terrapin classrooms we were at least, all our home ground.

School journeys became a feature of the Summer Term - replacing the Penny Bank s of our forebearer's. Parties of children have visited many places of interest from Bristol Zoo to London Airport, and from Slimbridge to St. Fagans: widening their horizons and educating at the same time.

On July 31st 1956 Christopher John Gowman recorded "Today I left the School House and finished my work at Bilson County Primary School after 19 years service." Le new Headmaster was a Forester-Mr. Harold L. Williams, a native of Ruardean 11, and under his genial guidance the Junior School expanded fast. The Christmas Service of Readings and Carols was inaugurated at the Baptist Chapel. to become a permanent and valued feature of the School's activities. Throughout the years a substantial amount of money has been donated to the welfare of the elderly in Cinderford, through this Service.

By 1964 parties of children were being taken on camping visits to the Education Authorities' centres at Churnside, and later to Seven Springs and Sandywell Park. But e greatest "adventure" of all came in October of 1964 when a party of children accompanied by the Headmaster and a second member of his staff. were taken on an Educational Cruise to the Western Mediterranean. These cruises have since become an established biennial event, and children have visited places as far distant as Norway and Morocco - places which were once only a name on the huge maps which decorated e walls of Arthur Mantle's school.

In 1967 Miss Hale left the Infants' School for a well-earned retirement after 18 years in charge. Miss Daphne Marfell took over as Acting Head for a year until, in September 1968, Miss D. M. Drewett, took up her post as Head Teacher.

The following year brought a lightning half-day strike by some members of the N.U.T. - Miss Maddocks would certainly not have approved of that! The teachers, suddenly, and unaccountably, began to look so very young. So did the policemen. It began to dawn on some of us that the years were taking their toll! Reminiscences became ever more frequent, particularly when the two School staffs combined on breaking-up day before the Christmas holiday to share a mince pie and a friendly drink.

By now we had School Orchestras as well as School Choirs. The Infants played percussion instruments with a great deal of gusto, and the Junior School children were learning to play violins and 'cellos with which to accompany the carols at Christmas. chime bars and glockenspiels, drums and maracas, cymbals and tambourines -it seems far cry from the day in 1895 when Emma Hale took time off from her tonic sol-fa

The School Outing Martin East 1978

Moving to Latimer School Craig Kibble 1978

modulator to write in her Log Book "there is a great need for a musical instrument in the School to accompany the singing and marching." The following year her "little ones gave a concert in the Town Hall, the proceeds to be devoted to the purchasing of a piano since Mr. Bradstock says the Board cannot see their way to providing me with one."


In 1970 came the final meeting of the Forest of Dean Group of Managers, so ending a body which came into existence in 1903. This administrative side of the Schools' growth L5 had no more faithful servant during its history than Harry J. Beddington.

As already recorded, the first Clerk to the School Board was Mr. J. S. Bradstock who as also a practising solicitor in Cinderford. When the "County Council Rule" began 1903, Mr. Bradstock had continued in office and eventually served for something approaching 45 years. In 1920 he took into his office as a clerk "Young Harry Beddington". Young Harry soon made himself a useful assistant, and with J.S.B.'s failing health, more and more of the Schools' management business fell to his lot. It as appropriate therefore, that when Mr. Bradstock died around 1926/27 Harry J. Beddington was appointed as his successor.

For the next 40 years he steered a succession [School Managers through the tricky waters of administering Education in the Forest [Dean, a task which he performed with great tact and his innate "Forest Humour." Few Local Government Officers can have seen more changes than he had, or witnessed the growth of a town and its schools described thus, in one of the last HMI reports to receive his signature:- "1962. The Infants children are mentally and physically alert. All are well turned out; their physical and material well-being testify to their parents' concern and indicate the changed economic conditions which now prevail in the Forest of Dean. Coal mining is no longer the staple industry hereabouts; most of the workers re employed in a variety of occupations in local factories which have become established in recent years. Fewer than half the children stay to the mid-day meal which is eaten in the canteen ..."

Harry Beddington retired in 1966. Three years later the Forest Group of Managers was dissolved by the County Council, and Local Managers were allocated by the Parish Councils to oversee one or two schools only. Mr. J. Wilks became Official Correspondent, but sadly, in 1978, the office in Cinderford was closed and its staff transferred to the Shire Hall, from whence our Schools are now, ever more remotely, administered.


For years there had been rumours of a new school to be built at Hilldene. For more years still these plans had been shelved by successive County Councils with ever more, pressing needs and ever more pressing demands upon the ratepayers' money. It came as something of a minor shock therefore, when the Managers met one day n September of 1973 in the middle of what had once been a pleasant green field at the Lop of the hill near Latimer Lodge, with wide views far away to the distant Welsh mountains.

It was official at last; there WAS to be a new school here. It would take all the Junior children from Bilson, and that School would henceforth be Infants only.

Hardly could one say "Arthur J. Mantle" when contractors lorries arrived and the operation had commenced. It was to be completed in time for the opening of the Autumn Term 1974. Of course, it wasn't. The actual handing-over ceremony was held on September 16th, and by the time new furniture and equipment had been brought, it was Half Term.

There was a gigantic spring-clean at Bilson as cupboards were emptied and packing cases filled to overflowing with a thousand and one things. There were even a few dusty Chamber's "Arithmetic" and Blackie's "Readers" lurking in forgotten corners; but sad to say, no Todhunter's "Mensuration" or Meiklejohn's "Source and Growth of ... ... ...

On the 28th of October 1974 Latimer School opened.


We walked around our new domain with its faded paintwork and peeling plaster. A vintage desk or teacher's chair remained here and there, looking strangely lost in the empty rooms. How Emma Hale would have revelled in all this space; even with her 426 infants she could not have filled it. Or so we thought. Surprisingly now, the School does not seem unduly large.

For a little while one or two of the Latimer children - and teachers - would sneak nostalgically back to see what we were doing with their former school, but gradually they seemed to accept their new quarters and the visits ceased.

For the first few months a trip into our newly acquired classrooms meant a long journey from our own front door, around the playground, and down the steps to arrive at what had been the Juniors' front entrance. A journey which was, doubtless, a familiar one to Mr. Mantle and Miss Watts. During the wet cold days of Winter however, it was a journey which palled a little, and it was a great relief when we arrived back at School after the Easter holiday in 1975 to find that we had a large hole in the wall of the Staff Room - and beyond it was our remaining territory.

There was also a four foot drop into the adjoining classroom; and as the workmen came - and went -we negotiated this perilous descent by various unsteady constructions of bricks and planks. The painters and decorators moved in too, and doors gradually changed from faded ochre to turquoise and orange and lilac. By the beginning of the Autumn Term of 1975 it was all done. Or at least, we hoped it was; certainly we had a most elegant stairway between the two Staff Rooms.

We said goodbye to Mrs. Daphne Booth a year later, and a year later still, celebrated the Queen's Silver Jubilee with a Grand Concert. Mr. Williams too, had retired from Latimer School, but not from Bilson for he continued for sometime to live in our School House and now and again paid us a friendly visit, whilst we in turn, kept a critical eye on his gardening operations!

Various workmen still seemed to come and go, the old canteen had yet another coat of paint on its rotting woodwork - and of course - the inevitable happened; in the Spring of 1977 they all moved back again when work began on a new Dining Room and kitchen.

In the long schoolroom where Mrs. Thorley had so frequently reduced her young Pupil Teachers to tears, the old block floor was stripped out, walls replastered, doorways blocked up and doorways knocked out. The adjoining classroom whose fire "smoked so disagreeably" became a shining stainless steel kingdom of sinks and cookers, mincers and peelers, fryers and boilers.

Since the entire heating and lighting systems were also being replaced we had electricians and plumbers, gas men and water men, carpenters and fitters. Out went the old pipes which had provided such a convenient seat for cold little bottoms on a winter's day, and the old radiators where the roller towels had been dried for years. In came modern hot air equipment, fired by natural gas boilers. Needless to say, it wasn't quite ready for the opening of School in September 1977; the chilly days of Autumn arrived and we were still waiting, but unlike our predecessors we didn't get an extended holiday!

The old canteen was bulldozed, opening up in the process, the old culvert which ran below the playground. From its murky depths we were able to rescue a few old bottles which had once contained such varied delights as HP Sauce, Camp Coffee, Gripe Water and Eiffel Tower Lemonade Powder, before the culvert was renewed and the chasm filled in. Where those "very unsuitable and inadequate offices" stood for so many years we had a brand new adventure playground with bridge, stepping stones, forts and tunnels to stimulate the imagination of our active youngsters.

If you walk today through the Girls' playground (now the School Car Park) you will see that the old school bell still hangs, high above the arched window of the present kitchen, just as it did when its urgent summons sent children hurrying up the hill, down the hill, over the Green, and across the Big Ditch on that first January morning a hundred years ago. It was silenced in the Second World War; the bellrope hung dusty and unused, until it was finally forgotten. And this is just about where we came in, for one of Emma Hale's earliest entries in her Log Book reads:- "Several children late. The bellrope is broken, therefore no bell to tell them the time."

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