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Clifton Fields Infants School

The former Clifton Fields Infants School November 2009
The former Clifton Fields Infants School November 2009

Clifton Fields Infants School opened as a Church School in 1870 and closed in 1931. Following a boundary change in 1933 the former school buildings are now [2009] in Shefford. The first school log book [SDCliftonFields1/1] has, on the flyleaf the dimensions on the school buildings which were, inside, exclusive of the apse, 32 feet in length by 16 feet in breadth. The walls were 13 feet 6 inches high and the roof rose a further 9 feet 6 inches to its apex. The interior dimensions of the apse are given as 12 feet 10 inches in length by 8 feet in breadth, the height of the walls being, again, 13 feet 6 inches and the height of the roof to its apex 7 feet.

The logbook begins on 3rd November 1870: "First day of the school year". Next day: "Admitted a little boy". Unfortunately the name of the first mistress is not recorded. Elizabeth Annie Anderson was appointed on 21st May 1876, being replaced by Mary Louisa Griffiths on 26th September 1892. She did not remain long and an Inspector's report of 31st January 1893 gives a clue as to why: "In spite of the illness of the Mistress at the Inspection and for several weeks before, the children were in a very fair order and did some creditable work".

A. S. Hewitt took over in April 1894. At the changeover Her Majesty's Inspector reported: "This little school has been very well taught in many respects, the children are very bright and happy, Sewing and Drawing are creditable, and the upper classes are exceedingly good. Recitation might be more distinct and Drill more vigorous, and the discipline should be more exact. A curtain should be placed before the south window, and the north porch should be fitted as a lobby as the accommodation for caps and cloaks is quite insufficient".

The Inspector's report for 1896 read: "This school is fairly satisfactory but there has been a very decided falling off in its efficiency. There is a want of precision and exactness in the discipline and in all the working of the School. Reading is monotonous and special improvement is required in Drill, Handwriting and The Object Lesson". The next year, however, things were looking better: "There has been decided improvement both in discipline and attainments this year; the children are happy and orderly, Reading, Spelling, Arithmetic and Recitation are good and the large fourth class has been well managed. The classification is low and much improvement is required in handwriting and in hemming and sewing; knitting, however, is good".

The inspection for 1898 read: "The Infants are kindly treated and carefully taught and the elementary work on the whole is good; but there is some falling off in efficiency. There is a want of precision in the order and some answering out of turn and much improvement is required in Drawing, Singing and Drill and in the Object Lessons and Kindergarten of the lower division. There are many alterations and some erasures in the Registers, the classification is low and boys over eight years of age should not, as a rule, be retained in this school". The result of this was a dire warning: "If improvement is not effected during the current school year, H. M. Inspector will not again recommend the intermediate rate of Grant" so the school would be severely financially affected.

The following inspection found some improvements, and the school remained under threat. The inspector was particularly concerned that there were five boys aged eight or over in the school: "It is as a rule undesirable to keep boys over eight in an Infants' School where there is only one set of offices [toilets]". The following inspection noted: "The reading is rather careless and the Object Lessons should do more to cultivate Observation. But the school is taught with much vigour and on the whole with creditable success, and, though the order might be more exact, the bright, happy tone and cheerful confidence of the children are very satisfactory".

On May 6th 1901 Louisa Syborn took over as headmistress with the school still under caution about its efficiency but this seems to have been lifted in November that year when the Inspector reported: "The Infants are taught carefully and with satisfactory results. The answering on the whole was good and the memory work was repeated nicely. Singing is Good. On the whole the school is reported Very Good". Louisa Syborn was at the school a long time. Her final entry, on 30th April 1918 read: "A child has left school having returned to his home in London. I have resigned the Mistress-ship of the School today". She was replaced by Adelaide Bertha Wood. Her final inspection, by the Diocesan Inspector, reported: "This School is in good hands and made an adequate return for the careful instruction. In the Old and New Testament the knowledge was accurate and the answering fairly general, but the moral and practical lessons should be brought out from the text of the stories, while the Creed needs to be linked with the Gospel narrative. The Repetition was very well said and the singing was pleasing in quality. A reverent tone was to be observed throughout the School and the little ones were orderly and attentive".

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a book containing Inspectors' reports for most schools in the county for a period from just before the First World War through the inter-war years [E/IN1/1]. In 1910 Clifton Fields Infants School showed "considerable improvement", with better discipline and more successful instruction. In 1912 it was noted that, as in 1901, the school was not a place of tranquillity: "Although the numbers are small and the children are in good order the School is an exceptionally noisy one", the desks were also unsuitable and needed replacing. Ten years later it was noted: "This little School is carefully taught and most of the work is satisfactory", the music was especially good "considering there is only an old harmonium". The 1925 report stated that the school was "in most respects very well taught" and the final report, in 1929 stated that it was doing pleasing work "under the instruction and influence of a Head Teacher who is devoted to younger children".

The school closed in 1931 and children transferred to All Saints School in the centre of the village or to Shefford. The last entry in the school's log book [SDCliftonFields1/2] on 24th July 1931 simply reads: "School closed". The former school buildings were listed by English Heritage in October 1982 as Grade II, of special interest. They are built red brick with polychrome brick patterning and have a clay tile roof with decorative ridge cresting. The rectangular former school hall has an apse at the south gable end whilst the north gable (facing onto Clifton Road) has a central gabled porch with a pointed arched doorway, with a large trefoiled circular window at attic level. The gabled bell turret on the roof ridge, also with polychrome patterning, survives. The interior retains a hammer-beam roof.