Village school life at Burrington way back in 1929

This year (1980) marks the 200th anniversary of the opening in Gloucester of a Sunday School by a great pioneer of the movement, Robert Raikes, a journalist and

This year (1980) marks the 200th anniversary of the opening in Gloucester of a Sunday School by a great pioneer of the movement, Robert Raikes, a journalist and philanthropist in that city. It was momentous work because Sunday Schools not only brought religious instruction to poor children but also general education, and inspired the starting of day schools.This development and Robert Raikes' contribution is mentioned in a publication that makes fascinating reading for Burrington area people. It was written for local consumption but merits a wider public. Its author is Mr Rory Hilton, Burrington school's headmaster for the past three yearsEntitled A Village School Fifty Years Ago, Burrington 1929, it was written in 1979. Its cover carries a charming sketch of sequestered Burrington's church and adjoining school. Mr Hilton chose 1929 partly because it was a convenient division of time and because he had a school photograph taken in that year "which proved useful in tracking down those people who remembered the school and provided a pivot for their memory". Other sources of information included the school logbook, managers' minute book, and interviews with four people who were pupils in 1929. These included "Mrs Joyce King, then a 7-year-old, now the school's caretaker; Mr Cyril Williams, a 10-year-old in the photograph whose 10-year-old son is now in the upper junior class and Mr Alan Wookey and his wife Joyce, childhood sweethearts in 1929, who later married and lived in a cottage at the foot of Burrington Combe".Mr Hilton comments that "The origins of Burrington School lay in the Sunday School movement launched in the 1780s by Robert Raikes, and Evangelical churchman and editor of Gloucester Journal. Inspired no doubt by the rapid growth of the movement a Sunday School supported by voluntary subscriptions with about 80 to 90 children was in existence at Burrington in 1818. The purpose of the Sunday School was simple - to teach children to read the Bible and, in Hannah More's words 'to train up the lower classes in habits of industry and piety'. It is quite possible the Hannah More was concerned, or at least influential, in the foundation of the school, for schools definitely established by her are on either side of Burrington."With the growth of the Sunday and day school movement there came the formation in 1811 of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church. It recorded that by 1833 at Burrington "in addition to the Sunday School attended by about 46 boys and 26 girls there were two daily schools, containing about 34 boys and 10 girls which were supported partly by the vicar and one or two of the principal inhabitants and partly by the children's pence".Supplementing schools under the wing of the National Society were those fostered by the British and Foreign School Society, hence the link of the terms "National" and "British" with so many schools all over the country.Mr Hilton mentions that from information in a photostat copy from an unknown book Burrington's "church house" was built in 1707 and that the school was approached by outside steps facing the road.The children were taught by a master and two mistresses, the salaries of all three totalling £14 per annum!The National Society has a record that in 1846 the school had an attendance of 26 boys and 24 girls in a large room, or possibly two rooms, over the poorhouse.A schoolroom with classroom and teacher's residence were built in 1854 for £285 15s, and these buildings form the basis of today's school.The chief contributors to the cost were the vicar, the Rev John Vane, and some local gentry. Mr Vane was at one time chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, and a selected preacher to Queen Victoria. Mr Hilton comments that he was also a famous cattle breeder and liberal benefactor to the parish, and quotes the following comment on him by the noted Wrington dialect poet, Joseph Edwards, who wrote under the name of Agrikler and to whose career I devoted an article a short while ago:Our rector, too, wer' years ago a varmer in his wayand a vamous cattle breeder, but a vound it didn't pay:Zo he gied the matter over to the varmers and the vools, And latterly a tended more his parishes and schools.what wi' buildin' and repairin', tho' the livin' wardn't smaal,And Curates and expenses, they do zay a spent it all.but if a got no missus, no leaves chick nor child behind, Tes aisy vor a rich man to be liberal and kind.Many of the older generation will recall with a shudder their sufferings at the hands of school dentists in the years when on the dreaded appointed day they had to attend for treatment clutching their fee of sixpence.Mr Hilton refers to Burrington's log for 1924 which stated: "On Friday morning the dentist attended at the Parish Room and 21 children were treated by him". Mr Hilton adds: "The treatment was obviously more severe than it is today for it is recorded that 'Several of them were obliged to go home afterwards and did not return to school in the afternoon'."Then there were the medical inspections, with reports that were far from good. School nurses often reported outbreaks of head lice, ringworm and measles. Records of deaths of infants from such causes as pneumonia and diphtheria also suggested infant mortality was higher.Dealing specifically with 1929, Mr Hilton says the secluded nature of Burrington, with a local strong sense of tradition and resistance to change had made it very much a self-contained community.In 1929 most of the people, living in Burrington were of the village or the surrounding area. He states: "This is in contrast with 1979 when probably two-thirds of the inhabitants have come from the outside area .... In the year 1928 Bristol was the furthest point from which any child had moved into the school. In 1934 it was Birmingham, in 1955 it was London, and in 1978 Ohio, USA."The contrast of Burrington in 1929 as remembered by ex-scholars of that year provides interesting information. Then about 70 to 80 per cent of the men worked on the land. Burrington people were much poorer than today because of the combination of large families and the low wages paid to agricultural workers."When children left school at 14 the general pattern was the same as it has been for the last hundred years of so. The girls went into domestic services (at 5s a week) and the boys went to work on the land. Vernon Wills, a member of the W D and H O Wills tobacco family, was the main landowner in Burrington."We are told that in 1929: "The playground was far too small for the 55 children on roll especially in winter when the coke took up more of the limited space. Playtime, as indeed all outside activities including games, drill and athletics, was therefore taken in the 'square' in front of the school. A teacher would stand at a good vantage point and blow a whistle when vehicles were seen approaching. The children, well trained in the procedure, would then run to the nearest wall and stand still until the vehicle had gone." Seldom, though, did a car show itself in Burrington, the greatest excitement being that provided by the arrival of a steam lorry.Cyril Milliar recalled that the desks at Burrington school in 1929 were long forms with ink-well holed desks attached. There were five to a form.Kathleen Rich, the headmistress of 1929 I described as tallish and reminiscent of Vanessa Redgrave in looks. She had been at the school three years, stayed another four, "and was very much a 'modern' woman and used to take holidays abroad - to Morocco in particular - rode a Douglas motor bike and afterwards had a sports car.'The school day always started with Scripture, prayers and sometimes hymn singing - but there was no piano until 1939.Cyril Milliar commented: "We used to make our own ink. Put so much water and so much dye in the Gallon jar. I can remember there was a little pot, with a large spout, and someone was detailed each morning to go round to each inkwell and fill up; The teachers were first class - it was just the lessons!"Burrington School, we are told, soldiered on as an all-age school until 1949. Among efforts to cater for older girls in 1929 were the Thursday afternoon visits during the Spring term to Blagdon School by pony and trap for cookery lessons. In contrast to the educational routine, during the summer term there was the area sports day - the Wrington Vale Sports, and out-of-school activities such as fishing and 'biking to Wrington'.Teaching methods and much else have undergone change at Burrington School down the years, but one old feature of the school year has survived, and what could be more apt than its association with Christmas? It is the last day of term Christmas party in the village hall. Of old, money was collected by the older children from residents, Mr Wills being a generous contributor. The staff also raised money by a whist drive to buy Christmas tree presents. Every year the Wills family donated a Christmas tree to complete the hall decorations. "At three o'clock, the party began with curious local games such as 'stirring the Christmas pudding'. This involved a lot of belabouring with a rolled up newspaper spoon. Other games followed and then the party tea, prepared by all the mums and teachers."Mr Hilton concludes his engaging publication with the comment: "The Christmas party still takes place every year at Burrington with many of the games, with a party tea prepared by the mums and the staff, and with a Christmas tree supplied by the Wills family. It may well be celebrated in this manner for many years to come."This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on September 26, 1980