Chitterne School - the early years

Chitterne School was built in 1840 on land near the village green, given for the purpose by Lord of the Manor, Walter Long. The villagers themselves constructed the building, making the walls of cob; clay mixed with chopped straw, the roof of slate. It had been agreed that it was to be used as a school during the day and a meeting place in the evenings for the Village Benefit Club.

Inside the building was divided into two rooms, one large and one small. The infants, ranging in age from 4 to 9 years, were taught in the small room. It had a gallery and four or five rows of tiered seats, with the oldest children sitting at the back. These children rested their slates, provided by themselves, on their knees, as there were no desks. In the larger room were two box desks with seats attached and some sloping desks with shelves underneath. The heating was by coke burned on tortoise stoves. They gave out a good heat but also awful fumes when the wind was blowing in a certain direction. There was no water laid on, so pupils and staff were obliged to go to a neighbouring cottage to wash their hands or have a drink. Toilet facilities in the village were known as vaults, deep pits with a sheer drop, shared between several dwellings.

The impact the school made on the isolated farming community can only be imagined, where most of the inhabitants were illiterate, still addressed each other as "thee" and "thou", and used relics of old Anglo-Saxon language, such as "housen" instead of "houses". School was not compulsory until 1872, so in those early years it is doubtful whether attendance was very widespread. The farming calendar would only have allowed partial attendance in any case, as every hand would be needed at haymaking, potato planting or harvesting time. The children from the Field Barn settlements outside the village had anything up to a two and a half mile walk to school and often the tracks would be completely water-logged, making the journey impossible, or they would arrive soaked through. Some had only their father's cast off boots to wear and some had none at all. The children were collected in carts to attend the annual inspection by H.M.I. (Her/His Majesty's Inspector) and it was a fine sight to see that gentleman alighting from his carriage and stepping into inches of mud in front of the school. In 1893 there were 109 children on the school register, and an average attendance of 80.

School began at 9am and finished at 4pm. The school bell rang at 8.45am, a valuable addition to the striking of the Church clock for villagers with no other way of telling the time. Children would arrive having eaten bread and lard for breakfast if they were lucky, nothing at all if not. There were three teachers for up to 100 children. The three R's (reading, writing and arithmetic) were taught, a little history and geography, and the Vicar took Religious Instruction. Agriculture was a popular class subject with the boys and the girls learned needlework. They practised traditional stitches on strips of calico and then unpicked them and started again. At the end of the day the girls curtseyed to the Master and to visitors, the boys did a sort of salute. Punishment was standing in a corner or occasionally, the cane. School ended when a child reached 14 years of age, but those who passed the Fourth Standard could leave at 12.

The 1851 census shows that Francis Child was schoolmaster at that time and his wife Mary Ann the schoolmistress. They had five children of their own under seven years of age and lived at Chitterne St Mary.

In 1867 William Frederick Brown took over as Headmaster and stayed for 39 years. There was no schoolhouse so the Browns lived in the Post Office (where Syringa Cottage stands nowadays) as William was sub-postmaster, and Parish Clerk and Churchwarden as well. His wife Sarah taught alongside him, she is on the right in the photo and on the left is Henrietta Titt, the other teacher. After Henrietta left to get married and have her own family William and Sarah's daughter took her place. William was the only one of the three who was qualified. He studied in the evenings and took lessons in Warminster on Saturdays to obtain his teaching diploma, as required by the new law. He and his daughter attended weekly Art classes in Warminster, paid for by themselves and later he held a night-school for Agriculture and Drawing five nights a week, until the extra work became too much. He taught the Fourth Standard and his wife and daughter took the lower standards and the infants, alternating morning and afternoon. In 1892 the salaries for the three teachers totalled 100 per annum.

The school outgoings that year were: Books 3 18s 8d
  Sunday expenses   3s 8d
  Fuel and other items 2 19s 2d
  School furniture 4 11s 7d

Some good results were achieved under his headship. The Bazell family, who lived in Clump Farm, for instance, had thirteen children and all the boys won scholarships to Dauntseys School (a public school at West Lavington). William said, of his boy pupils, that: "No young fellow of energy will stay in Chitterne." They didn't, there was nothing but farm work for them in the village, and for the girls, domestic service. Chitterne was too far away from a town to walk to work there and the nearest station was three and a half miles away in Codford, so most of those boys went away to live and became postmen, policemen or drivers, as did William's own son. (See William F. "Farmer" Brown link)