REQUIEM FOR A VILLAGE SCHOOL
by John Adams & Jane Underwood
Old Alresford C. of E. (Controlled) Primary School, to give its full title when closure took place, was opened in 1846. Funds for its building were provided by the Honourable Misses Arabella and Matilda Onslow who lived in Upton House. At the same time they provided for the establishment of the Industrial Home for Girls (now the National Children's Home), the Well Cottages and the Alms Houses. That the same architect designed all of them becomes immediately apparent to the observer.
The school opened as a National School and was inspected annually by a member of the Church, usually an incumbent from a neighbouring parish, who paid particular attention to the teaching of religious knowledge. Before the first World War little information is available but it is known that the Headmistress in 1872 was Miss Flynn and her only teacher Miss Gould. Mrs. Perry was appointed as Head in 1891. In 1901 the children were divided into Infants and Standards I to VI. In that year the Reverend F.E. Molyneux of Martyr Worthy was pleased with all he had heard and seen and presented certificates to five children. Excellent reports continued until 1905 when the same cleric reported that 'results did not come up to the same levels as last year in some respects'.
Because of this criticism it seems that the School Managers decided that Mrs. Perry must go and dismissed her in June 1906. She took the matter to court as unfair dismissal but the Managers' decision was upheld. In July of that year it was reported in the Hampshire Chronicle that Mrs. Perry 'was presented with a magnificent clock and other gifts as a mark of appreciation and esteem by the parents and friends of her scholars for the excellent work she has done in the school during the years she was there'The school was used then, as in later years, for various meetings. In 1902 it housed an inquest on a local inhabitant and a lecture given by the Church Temperance Society. In November of that year a Rummage Sale was held which realised £17. 9s. Od., a princely amount for those days
The Education Act 1901, altered the appointment system for School Managers and as a result the Board consisted in 1902 of the Reverend F. Middleton, churchwardens Admiral Hallifax and Mr. Henry Broad as foundation managers, Mr. F.J. Christy (nominee of the foundation managers) and Mr. J.T. Mills (nominee of the Parish Council). In addition one other manager was appointed by the County Council.
On a well publicised Empire Day (May 24th) in 1904 it was reported that it rained very heavily so Mr. Dorey of Upton Farm offered the use of his large barn which not only provided room for parents and children but plenty of room for games and races. The procession through the village was abandoned but at 4.00 p.m. all met for tea in the barn and afterwards the rector spoke to the children explaining the meaning of the day. The children sang patriotic songs and prizes were given by Miss Christy.
In August 1906, the children presented a Maypole Dance in the grounds of Upton House and it was reported that the same maypole had been used twenty years before in a similar event. Fifty to sixty years later the maypole dance became a regular summer event at village schools and fairs in the area and a school which had no maypole could always borrow Cheriton's magnificent specimen, with the help of the local haulage contractor. This popular entertainment seems to have disappeared completely by the early 1970's.
The New Code of Regulations for 1895 provided that Log Books should be kept in all schools. No trace of a Log Book for Old Alresford School before January 1918 can be found. From then on, however, the domestic affairs of the school are recorded regularly and diligently until its closure on 19th July 1985. Happenings, important or otherwise, entries and departures, punishments, wartime shortages, absences and a thousand and one other items are recorded in the handwriting of such Heads as Winifred Finnegan (1920 - 1935), Sophie Morton Barr (1935 - 1945), Janice Luxton (1945 - 1959), F.W.A. Lavis (1960 - 1972) and K.J. Frewer (1976 - 1985). Except for a short period in the early seventies when two Head Teachers were appointed and departed in swift succession (they had more lucrative posts to take up), they were content to remain in office for a number of years. It was demanding but highly satisfying work for them: they looked after the educational needs of five to eleven year olds and became very involved in the family life of the close knit community. They needed to have, in addition to their teaching qualifications, a knowledge of all sorts of do-it-yourself tasks, a basic knowledge of gardening, an extensive knowledge of First Aid and childish ailments and to be familiar with sports and pastimes ranging from hockey to hop-scotch. In charge of a small rural school they were required to administer and teach, and in later years a peripatetic teacher would be appointed to take over the Head's class for one day each week to enable the Head to get up to date with the paperwork.
A Punishment Book records offences from 1923 to 1982. Caning is the only recorded punishment during the whole of that period, as presumably offences were never severe enough to warrant harsher means. Lesser 'crimes' which did not require caning would not need to be recorded. The book shows that the administration of the cane was designated as 'cuts' in the twenties, 'stripes' in the thirties and 'strokes' after that.
Between the world wars girls were caned as often as boys, but after 1945 there is no record of a girl being caned. The cane was usually administered on the hand, but occasionally on the buttocks (boys only) or infrequently across the shoulders (boys and girls). The maximum number of cuts, stripes or strokes recorded for any particular offence never exceeded four. Most common offences seem to have been 'starting a fight' (girls and boys) or mis-appropriating pencils or bean-bags. In 1937 a nine year old boy received four stripes for' cussedness' (pretending not to know the twice times table). In 1938 a boy of eight had four stripes for upsetting a jar of tadpoles and in 1940 two strokes each were given to five and six year olds for playing with tar.
Awareness of Empire was evident in the special lessons given on May 24th (Empire Day) and May 26th (Queen Mary's birthday) each year before the second world war, together withthe flying of the Union Flag on the school flagpole. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the school joined the rest of the nation in observing the universal two minutes silence, which was preceded by an explanation of the occasion by the Head or the Rector. On Ascension Day the children attended for lessons until it was time to walk to the church for a special service followed by a half day holiday.
During the Second World War school life was disrupted by the arrival of evacuated children from Portsmouth, who took over the school classrooms in the afternoons when local children, weather permitting, often went for walks. Relations between the Head Teacher and the Portsmouth Head became strained and remained so for some time after the visitors filled the school pond with rubbish. Extra space provided by the opening of The Hut at the bottom of the rectory garden: Mrs. Ursell usually taught here under, at times, very unpleasant conditions of cold and damp. The school supported the war effort by being very active in collecting silver paper and scrap iron and holding fund raising events for War Weapons Week, Buy a Spitfire, Salute the Soldier, the Red Cross and many others. Provision against air attack was made by taping and varnishing windows and making available a large number of buckets of water and sand. Gas mask drill was carried out once every six months. During the winter of 1940/1941 and during the onslaught of the flying bombs in 1944 the children had many disturbed nights and were recorded as often falling asleep during lessons. Coal (for heating) was in very short supply for most of the duration.
After the Second World War numbers on roll rose steadily until by 1960 the total was over one hundred: this was partly caused by the closure of the school at Upper Wield and the acceptance of its pupils into Old Alresford. Opportunity was taken in 1958, just prior to the retirement of the then Head Teacher, to convert one of the two classrooms into a kitchen, and on 3rd February 1959, the first school meals were cooked on the premises. Previously they had been brought from Chandlers Ford. The Head Teacher's former living quarters in the upper storey were converted to a staff room and store. Two so-called 'temporary' classrooms, to be followed later by a third, were erected behind the school on land obtained from Upton House.
The staff now comprised the Head and his peripatetic and three full time teachers. The children from the National Children's Home were taught side by side with the village children, but it was recognised by the County Education Authority that the former might have special problems and there always seemed to be an extra teacher available to keep the numbers in each class to around twenty or less.
After 1970 and with the temporary closure of the Home for two years, numbers began to decline until by the end of the seventies the total on roll dropped to below fifty and stayed there. Closure plans were announced and in spite of strenuous efforts by governors, parents and most of the inhabitants of the village to prevent it, closure was confirmed and the children transferred to schools in New Alresford and Preston Candover.
The last entry in the Log Book, written by Mr. K.J. Frewer, whose melancholy task it was to supervise the dismantling of the school facilities, reads :-
"19th July 1985, at 3.10 p.m. the school closed...... This school has now ended its 139 years as an educational establishment.....What was once a living community now lies cold and dead".
©John Adams, Jane Underwood - February 1987