There's Nothing Like Education.
One hundred Not Out
1978 - and a grand occasion when we celebrated the centenary of Bilson Schools. Preparations started weeks beforehand as we collected together old photographs, Victorian memorabilia, treasured exercise books, toys, and wartime souvenirs. The top hall was given over to a "100 Years" display for a whole week - and former scholars flocked back to renew childhood memories. There were 80 and 90 year-olds, including a former pupil teacher - Flossie Hayward (circa 1900), all anxious to share their reminiscences with us.
One of the great attractions of the week was examining the old Admission Registers to find the entry concerning yourself. One dear lady tracked hers down to 1902 only to find that she had been "withdrawn in 1903" because she was "delicate". This "delicate" child told us that: she was looking forward to her 80th birthday in September!
The children of the day were not forgotten of course. Their artwork decorated the exhibition and there was written work on "School Then"; staff had gone out of their way to talk about what life in school used to be like.
There was a centenary goblet for every child - especially crafted by a local potter. In brown glaze it featured the motif based on the medallion at the apex the School House - a design which included an oak tree and deer. The highlight the celebrations was a grand party for all the children. Some weeks earlier three large square cakes had been made, every child giving a stir. Iced in white and decorated in Bilson's colours of blue and gold, they were assembled into a double tier and crowned with 100 candles. The cheer which went up as the candles were lit must almost have stirred Mr. Mantle's ghost!
To celebrate the centenary the first edition of this booklet was published and sold to raise funds for a colour television. This aim was accomplished but an interesting consequence of the book was that we made contact with four of John and Emma Hale's grandsons, and of one great-grandson in America who was also named John Hale. From these grandsons we learnt: that Emma was the grand-daughter of the Moses Teague who. played such a large part in the iron-working history of the town, whilst John was descended from Cornelius Hale, a blacksmith of Nailbridge, the founder of a family who are still in business there to this day.
As for Emma herself - I had become fascinated with her as I read through those old Log Books. My admiration increased ten-fold when I learnt; from her grandson that she and John had actually raised a family of ten children in the Bilson School house, at least eight of them born to Emma while she was Governess of the Infants' School.
No mention of any of this appears in her Log Book and one can only conclude that during her confinements John himself took charge of the two schools and paid for a temporary teacher to cover Emma's absence. Her small children were undoubtedly cared for by a young nursemaid selected from the Girls' School adjoining. Those eight sons and two daughters made their way in the world, four of them following in their parents' footsteps and the others - included a Customs & Excise Officer, an engineer and a Mines Inspector. The success of her family is a tribute to a very remarkable lady.
Three years later there were further heavy snowfalls which closed the school for several days. A chilly Easter was followed (metaphorically) by a chilly May when Shire Hall County Councillors and Education Officers descended on the school to decide on ways and means of cutting down on the accommodation - a result of which was the closing of two Medway classrooms.
To sweeten the pill however we were allowed to institute a "Bilson Beginners" group; this would cater for pre-school children from all over the Forest who had potential language difficulties. It was to operate every school morning, preparing the children for eventual entry into the Infants' departments of their local school It also proved a great drain on the school's finances as the years went by, since these children needed to be brought into Cinderford by taxi.
It was at this time that what would become the "buzz-word" of the decade first appeared at Bilson. An in-service day was convened for the Staff to work with COMPUTERS. In no time at all, it seemed, this marvel of the age appeared in the classroom. The children took to it like ducks take to water - it was the near-to-retirement Secretary who encountered the problems!
As Miss Drewett's reign drew to a close another important innovation was taking shape. The County had decided to create Family Centres at selected schools and Bilson was to be one of the first. The aim of the Centres was to help families to develop good parenting skills. Mothers would bring in their under-four years old children and stay with them at school. The children would have the advantage of structured play areas while Mums could learn alongside them.
In 1986 Delia Drewett retired after 18 years as Head, during a time of great changes in attitudes to children's' education. I as Secretary, reached retirement age at the same time; we said our goodbyes to Bilson at the end of the Spring Term. The new Head was to be Miss Christine Hopkins and my successor was Mrs. Eve Hatch who had already been working alongside me for some time. It was comforting to know that we left the running of the school in two such capable pairs of hands.