Plan of School house 1863
Joseph Thurgood, (i believe he was the local Carpenter)
Previous to the year 1863 there was no School Accommodation at Widdington,
the children were taught the fundaments of education by Darnes in the
village, each dame having twelve or twenty four children – for each of whom she
received one penny per week – paid in some cases by the parents of the children
but in many and most cases by friends in the village – as for instance, one lady
would pay one shilling per week for the Dame for twelve children – or six pence
for six children – the children then went on Sunday to school at the church.
In 1862 application was made to Sir Francis and Miss Vincent as the owners of
the Debden Hall Estate for a grant of ground in the field apposite to the church on
which to build a National School – this was granted and conveyed to the Rector and
church wardens by two deeds dated respectively this 15th of – and then by the Aid
of Private and Voluntary Subscriptions they present National School was built and
opened on the 3rd of June 1863 and since that times they have been efficiently
maintained and the children of the village properly taught.
This article copped from the Our Commonplace Book Heritage year 1975 Book
Ninety-seven years after this splendid ceremony, on July 22nd 1960, and with a curious absence
of any ceremony at all, the school closed its doors upon the last child. It stood, serving no purpose, for another fifteen years, but in May 1975 it was demolished, almost in a single day, to make way for one more house of the current stereotype.
The Story of these ninety-seven years is that of hundreds of other ‘Nationa
l Schools’, as these Church schools in small English villages were called. It is told in the school’s log books and is the story of a social revolution. These log books, or diaries, had to be kept by every school receiving a Board of Education grant, and to tell the truth they are extremely dull, for the head teacher was supposed to enter every event, however minor, but was not permitted to express any opinion; so that while her opinions would have been of the greatest interest a hundred years later, there was little of significance in the day to day events.
However, patient plodding through the trivia of a century gives some insight into the ways in which a single (and not always qualified) teacher, with an assistant certainly unqualified, and perhaps a pupil teacher, battled against the odds in one large chilly room with hardly any equipment, to hold the interest of 50, 60 or 70 children, in three standards and an infant’s class. These were women of great fortitude and unobtrusive heroism, every single aspect of whose lot would have thrown today’s National Union of Teachers into paroxysms of incredulous indignation. The log books are of course rather like newspapers, in that the news thought worthy of recoding is almost invariable bad – truancies, illnesses, breakdowns, shortcomings – so that the general impression is biased towards gloom. But there was certainly a lot to be gloomy about.
The most striking impression is the way the weather use to keep children away in large numbers – not only snow and ice, but rain, rain, rain, spring, summer, autumn and winter. For instance, in 1867 there were four consecutive days in May and another four in August when rain stopped the children going to school, and in 1869 five consecutive days in June. This goes on to the end of the century, and there seems also to have been lots of heavy snow in March in those days. We don’t think so much about rain today, but rain without macintoshes, without wellingtons – alas often without shoes – with roads of liquid mud, is another matter.
And all too often, in the most gruesome months of the year there is a single entry – ‘No fire’.
There were absences for other reasons too. Before school attendance became compulsory in 1880, school was in competition with what parents and farmers thought much more urgent – indeed school attendance rule did not make a great deal of difference since the school leaving age was 10, was not raised to until 1893 or to 12 until 1899.
To a large extent the tug-of-war between school and farm was ordered by custom, and the summer holidays would begin – and more particularly would end – according to the needs of harvest. (Incidentally, these holidays were know in Widdington right down to 1960 as the Harvest Holiday). The Easter term would tend to peter out when enough children were absent to make it hardly worthwhile to carry on, and in several years the autumn term opened a week later than had been planned because a late harvest. Even so, absences spilled over into what was properly term time. In March there would be absences for gathering turnip tops; in April for planting potatoes; in July for gathering peas and wild strawberries; in August, of course for gleaning; in September for gathering bean-stalks and picking up potatoes; and in October for potatoes again; and acorns.
More surprising was that work and school would be regarded as alternatives – if work finished you went back to school. Over and over again we come across this kind of thing: ’24.9.73 W...T... returned to school after seven months absence at work’
The most extreme example being entered on 15th October 1881 ‘S...J... sent to school after an absence of nearly two years. Employed at work during this time’
The Education Act of 1870 had provided for compulsory school attendance but had failed to furnish any real sanctions, so that on 18th March 1875
Mr. Clarke of Ringers Farm asked permission for D...C... to go to work. Boy under 9 years of age. I have refused and sent copy of the A.C. (?) Act to Mr. Clarke.
This seems to have made little impression on Mr Clarke, for the log book over the next few years makes clear that the boy spent as much time on the farm as in school.
Apart from mentioning weather and work, the first headmistress had been uninformative about the reasons for such frequent absence; but Mary Rebecca Hawkin, who succeeded her in June 1871, had fewer inhibitions. It was said of her on appointment that ‘as she is not certificated the entries in the log book will be discontinued’, an early example of the tendency of education authorities to suppose that no-one can do the simplest thing unless they have a certificate to say that they can. Actually she did the job much better, when after six month she was permitted to put pen to paper, for she introduces us to some of the facts of rural poverty. On the ‘wet, dirty roads’, children got ‘chilled feet’ and had to stay at home. S...G... absent ‘because his shoes were being mended’ and R...F... had to stay at home ‘for want of tidy clothes’. She speaks of filling particulars of certain children on ‘cards sent by the Relieving Officer’. She throws light on an entry frequently made by her predecessor – and later by herself – to the invariable affect that The whole school was detained for making an Uproar during the giving out of clothes and on a number of occasions children were sent out in the morning to fetch soup’. The fact that they were also frequently ‘sent home to be washed’ or ‘to make themselves tidy and clean’ may have indicated bohemianism rather than poverty, but keeping clean in a nineteenth century farm labourer’s cottage was no simple matter.
In these regrettable circumstances it was the habit of the village fathers to give the children buns. ‘Mr. Ferry’ we read on 6th October 1874, the headmistresses’ grammar failing her for the moment, ‘gave each child a bun as they were dismissed from afternoon school’, and on another occasion in 1878, Mr. Hayden ‘kindly sent 100 buns’.
Miss Hawkin also records a dismal catalogue of croup, face-ache, inflammation of the lungs, sore ears or head and influenza, while to the end of the century the school seems to have had more than a fair share of measles, mumps and scarlatina.
No doubt it was the same everywhere in those days, though this particular school was both cold and unventilated, and it’s ‘offices’, to use the coy phrase of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools, shocked even those hardened and experienced men; and there was no running water.
In 1886 two children died of diphtheria.
A happier reason for absence from school, though irritating to the staff, was entered regularly each November: Many children absent on account of Newport Fair.
Girls, who always exceeded boys on the school registers, were less at risk from employers; but there were none the less several entries of this kind
18.1.69 C... M... left to go to service and mothers assumed the right to withdraw girls to home duties at their convenience – indeed a Mrs. M... told the headmistress categorically that her daughter would attend when she could be spared from home, while the mother of R... F..., who was very irregular in attendance, “took sharp offence” when spoken to on the matter and withdrew her son from school altogether (1875).
Angry and abusive mothers quite often entered the school, saying they would have their children when they chose.
The School Attendance Officer, a Mr. Wells, makes his first appearance in the log book in 1881, and thereafter, collecting money; but his efforts appear to have been only marginally more effective than those of the teachers, and he must have been a disillusioned man.
But while children who ought to have been in school were not, others we would nowadays think unsuitable even for the infants’
Children on the Village Green
What time do you get in school, pupil's 2:o'clock Sir!
Thank you children you can go now. Widdington Essex
The Widdington No1 Village school around 1900
Widdington No:1 School photograph 1901
Widdington Village School, Post Card photograph 1906
In 1839 a survey of education was organised in Essex.
The 1839 returns are held at Essex Record Office, but some of the parishes seem to be missing. The following information relates to schools history in the Uttlesford district.
Research by Jacqueline Cooper
1839 DIOCESAN RETURNS OF EDUCATION: D/P 28/30/18-19
(many pages torn out of Essex Record Office copy)
16 parish returns from Uttlesford and Clavering hundreds, as below.
Those missing: Great and Little Chishall, Berden, Wimbish, Arkesden, Wicken Bonhunt, Debden, Stansted, Strethall, Langley, Henham, Takeley, Elsenham, Chrishall.
Q. 01. What is the population of the parish?
A. 01. 383 in 1831
Q. 02. What schools exist for the poor in connection with the Established Church?
A. 02. 1 day school for girls only, 1 Sunday school for boys only, no infants but would like one
Q. 03. Are they all in the National Society?
A. 03. None
Q. 04. Do you have any objection to union with the Diocesan Board of Education?
A. 04. None
Q. 05. How many children can be accommodated?
A. 05. No rooms - boys area is 20-30, girls same (hired)
Q. 06. How many children are there actually on the books?
A. 06. 12 girls educated by Rector and 6-7 by others, boys 16
Q. 07. What is the average attendance?
A. 07. 15 at day school, 12 at Sunday school
Q. 08. How many go to Sunday school only?
A. 08. 16 boys, 16 girls
Q. 09. What is the greatest distance travelled?
A. 09. All from parish
Q. 10. Have there been any additions to the buildings or increases in the number of pupils in the last 5 years?
A. 10. Number educated the same, but subscriptions diminished
Q. 11. Ditto re last two 2 years?
A. 11. ditto
Q. 12. Are there any new schools being built in connection with the Established Church?
A. 12. None
Q. 13. Who runs the schools for the poor?
A. 13. Teachers superintended by Rector
Q. 14. How long have they been established?
A. 14. By late Rector
Q. 15. Have they had any funds, grants, etc.?
A. 15. Voluntary subscriptions but very inadequate
Q. 16. How are they now supported?
A. 16. (blank)
Q. 17. Is there any problem in supporting them?
A. 17. The greatest from the parish being solely agricultural very poor and having no resident gentry
Q. 18. Are there different forms of funding for the different schools or is there a common fund?
A. 18. Very small subscriptions- one common fund - not enough
Q. 19. What is the amount of annual receipts?
A. 19. Only £4 - many discontinued
Q. 20. What is the annual income from subscriptions?
A. 20. £4
Q. 21. What amount comes in from Charity Sermons?
A. 21. Nothing
Q. 22. What is the amount from funded property?
A. 22. Nothing
Q. 23. Are there any other sources of funds?
A. 23. There is not a sixpence from any endowment or any other source whatever and all deficiency is supplied by the Rector
Q. 24. What do the scholars pay?
A. 24. 12 girls educated by Rector pay nothing - other girls pay some trifling sums weekly
Q. 25. What is the total annual expenditure?
A. 25. Varies as girls require clothing or not
Q. 26. How many children are clothed & boarded?
A. 26. 12 girls clothed by Rector
Q. 27. Are there any other schools not in connection with the Established Church?
A. 27. One independent and others
Q. 28. How many are without education?
A. 28. A great number uneducated for where no rewards are given the poor not considering education as a reward are unwilling that their children should be kept in school and prevented thereby earning a trifle by keeping shop etc.
Q. 29. How many are in Dames schools, middle classes schools etc.?
A. 29. (blank)
Q. 30. Are there any obstacles to more education?
A. 30. Chief obstacle is extreme poverty of the parish
Q. 31. Is there any supplementary education e.g. libraries, evening schools, etc.?
A. 31. None except occasional lending of books
Q. 32. Is there any link with the scholars after they leave school?
A. 32. None - excepting former scholars if anxious are ncouraged to advance in knowledge.
ANSWERS to questions above from parishes:
Widdington: Day school (Mrs. Ann Reynolds)