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Totternhoe School

Totternhoe School in Castle Hill Road about 1910 [Z1306/127]
Totternhoe School in Castle Hill Road about 1910 [Z1306/127]

Totternhoe School  was designed in 1866 by Edward Browning of Stamford [Lincolnshire] [X303/9]. Kelly's Directory for Bedfordshire of 1869 states that it was built in 1867 by Lady Marian Alford, in memory of her son, the late Earl Brownlow. This school stood in Castle Hill Road, to the west of the track which today leads up to the car park for Totternhoe Knolls.

This church school had only been in existence for three years by the time the first Education Act was passed in 1870 (more correctly it was known as the Elementary Education Act). It was a milestone in the provision of education in Britain demonstrating central government's unequivocal support for education of all classes across the country. It also sought to secularise education by allowing the creation of School Boards. These were groups of representatives, elected by the local ratepayers and the Board had the powers to raise funds to form a local rate to support local education, build and run schools, pay the fees of the poorest children, make local school attendance compulsory between the ages of 5 and 13 and could even support local church schools, though in practice they replaced them, turning them into Board run schools (known as Board Schools). Naturally, and luckily for local historians, the Act required a questionnaire of local schools in 1870. The return for Totternhoe reads: "No efficient school. Required: A school for 141 children. If the Totternhoe Church of England School be made efficient by the appointment of a certificated teacher, and if it be enlarged so as to accommodate in all 141 children, no further accommodation will be required". Kelly's Directory for 1885 states that the school could accommodate 140.

Ensuring children attended school regularly was a problem as many parents preferred their children to be earning money to help the family. South Bedfordshire was particularly afflicted by the curse (as educationalists saw it) of straw plaiting. Children were sent to a school which taught plaiting (and little else) so that they could earn revenue for the family. The situation was particularly bad at Billington but was common throughout the area.

The school logbook [SDTotternhoe1/1] gives the following instances:

  • 26th April 1872: Rev. W Brickwood accompanied by plaiting inspector visited the school to ascertain the situation of all the plaiting schools in the village.
  • 22nd November 1872: Plaiting inspector visited last Friday – about to prosecute several for not sending their children half-time [the other half being spent plaiting].
  • 5th December 1872: Admitted 17 under the Factory Act to attend half time.
  • 21st February 1873 ‘Few of the children under the Factory and Workshop Act attend regularly.

The school logbooks also give details of the school curriculum and teaching methods.

  • 31st July 1874: Introduced the “School Newspaper” in the first class, in order to get the children accustomed to words not usually found in reading books.
  • 6th October 1879: Worked with the fourth class last week especially in dictation and arithmetic.

A list of lessons to be given to the infants during the first part of 1883 included rain, cotton, the cat, chalk and the potato [SDTotternhoe1/1].  In 1890 the children learned poetry by poets such as Longfellow, Scott, Browning and Shakespeare.  The Geography lessons for that year included topics such as "Physical and Political Geography of England", "Geographical terms" and "Special circumstances which determine rainfall in British Islands".

A land mark Education Act was passed in 1902, coming into effect in 1903. It disbanded the School Boards and gave day to day running of education to newly formed Local Education Authorities, usually the county council, as in Bedfordshire. The old Board Schools thus became Council Schools whilst the old National, British and other non-Board schools became known as Public Elementary Schools. Totternhoe became a PublicElementary School.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a scrapbook of cuttings of visits made to most Bedfordshire Schools by School Inspectors for a period from just before the First World War through the inter-war years [E/IN1/1]. The first report in the volume is of a visit paid on 24th June 1910: "This little school is in a very praise worthy state of efficiency. The tone and discipline are excellent, the instruction is carefully and successfully given and the level of efficiency reached is creditable to Mr. and Mrs. Bartram. The infants class is brightly and well taught by the young Assistant Mistress". Three years later the report read: "There has been no falling off in efficiency in this well-taught village school since it was last reported upon. Order and tone are admirable and good work is done in all sections. The Infants are suitably taught and make satisfactory progress". The average attendance was 69.

The Totternhoe Estate was put up for sale by Lord of the Manor Earl Brownlow in 1916 [Z513/22]. Lot 31 was Totternhoe Council School; Bedfordshire County Council paid £10 per annum for the school house and garden and the school managers paid one shilling per annum for the school and playground. The particulars were as follows:

"THE SCHOOL HOUSE brick built and tiled, and containing on the GROUND FLOOR: - Sitting Room, and Parlour with tiled grates, Scullery with sink and rotary pump, and Pantry. On the UPPER FLOOR: - Three Bedrooms. Adjoining is a Wash-house with copper, and Workshop. Water from well. Garden". Neither sale catalogue nor Education Committee minutes reveal who, if anyone, bought the school but the premises continued to be used for the next thirty years or more.

The next inspection, owing to the Great War, was not for another ten years: "This school is on good order, and is taught with painstaking care. Arithmetic is the best subject, and is good in all Standards. Writing and Reading are quite satisfactory, and Composition is satisfactory in most respects. History is not a strong subject, but the rest of the work is all very creditable. Some of the children in the Second Class are too old for the Standards in which they are working. Satisfactory progress is made in the Infants' Class". Average attendance was 59.  The next, though undated, report in the volume relates to the premises: "The premises are in need of redecoration, painting and lime-washing. There are several leaks in the roofs. The most serious are those in the infants' room, in the girls' cloakroom and in the main room. There is also a leakage in one of the offices - probably from a defective pail. Tiles are off the roof of the offices and the guttering is beginning to give way".

"In the girls' cloakroom the damp is very serious: certain pegs also need replacing. The boys' cloakroom is dark. The lighting of the infants' room is unsatisfactory and should be improved. The old stove pipe which admits rain should be removed". The temperature records show far too many occasions on which the thermometer did not reach 50°: several times it did not reach 45°: occasionally it was lower than 40°. The fireplaces are broken and seem to be dangerous. There are marks on the floor of burns from coals which have fallen out round each of them: it is understood that the infants' fireplace fell out last winter and has not been made good yet. The fencing round the school is in bad condition and should be made good".

Following glowing reports in 1910, 1913 and 1923 the inspection of 1924 showe some decline: "The work in this School reaches a fairly satisfactory level in the three top standards: that of the next three is not so good. The Infants and Standard I are, on the whole, well taught so it is hoped that the comparative weakness of Standards II to IV may be overcome in future. There is a certain slackness in formation of Handwriting and figures which must not be allowed; and more energy is wanted in the Physical Training, which - owing to the uneven surface of the field and the roughness of the playground - is undertaken in disadvantageous circumstances. Singing is satisfactory; and as the School is now under a new Head Teacher improvement will be looked for. The children behaved very well in School at this visit".

Things had improved by 1926, the inspector reporting: “This school is going on very well. The tone has certainly improved and in various respects the work of the upper group (Standards II-VII) has made progress, especially that of the lower standards, the Writing and figuring of all Standards – which, however, should still further improve – Compostion, Drawing and Singing. The least satisfactory subjects are Geography and History, and Physical Training, good in some respects, is still a little wanting in vigour; but what has so far been accomplished, together with the improved attitude of the children towards their work, seems to give promise of the further general improvements which is to be desired. A new teacher has just taken charge of the lower class. The late Teacher left this Class in a very creditable condition, but speech needs attention”.

The inspection of 1929 reported a growing school: “The numbers here now render the help of a third Teacher necessary. The 22 (or 23) children in three grades are enough for the Infants’ Mistress: the 52 in Standards II to VII are too much for the Head Teacher. This would be so, of course, in any case: but the special circumstances of the size and shape ofg the room make efficient supervision impossible. It would seem that it will be necessary to use both parts of the room for the whole of this year, as numbers do not fall enough till the beginning of the Midsummer Term, 1930, to enable the larger part only of the main room to be used effectively. There is a shortage of arithmetical text-books here”.

The final report in the volume is for 1931, when average attendance was 64: “In this School very successful work in many directions has been accomplished for which the Head Mistress and the Teacher of the Infants, who were here for some time alone till rising numbers necessitated increase in Staff, deserve much credit. The weakest side is the formation of writing and figures and the setting out of arithmetic; these points were discussed at the visit”.

The third of the great Education Acts was that of 1944 which established the principle of County Primary Schools for children up to the age of 11, at which time they took an examination to determine the nature of the secondary school they would attend until they were 15, the most academically able going to grammar schools, the rest to secondary or secondary modern schools. The act also created two types of successor to the public elementary schools - the Voluntary Aided and Voluntary Controlled schools. Voluntary Aided schools are those in which the Local Education Authority funds the school but the governing body is independent, they are usually Anglican or Roman Catholic schools. Voluntary Controlled schools own their own buildings whilst the staff were employed directly by the governors.

Totternhoe School about 1960 [Z55/1/80]
Totternhoe School about 1960 [Z55/1/80]

Totternhoe became a Voluntary Controlled school, but not for long. By the late 1940s it was clear that the Castle Hill Road school was no longer fit for purpose. The Memorial Hall was used as overspill accommodation by the Local Education Authority. The decision was taken to build a brand new school on a new site. The new site was compulsorily purchased in 1949 and in 1950 the current [2010] school was built. As the LEA had bought the premises and funded the new school it became a normal County Primary School, no longer with overt links to the church.

The site of Totternhoe Church School February 2010
The site of Totternhoe Church School February 2010

In the 1970s Bedfordshire County Council introduced comprehensive education, doing away with the 11+ examination and grammar schools and introducing a tier of school between the old County Primary and County Secondary Schools. Thus Lower Schools now taught children aged 4 to 9, Middle Schools from 9 to 13 and Upper Schools from 13 onwards. Totternhoe duly became a Lower School and continues as such at the time of writing [2010]. Bedfordshire County Council was abolished on 1st April 2009 and since that time Totternhoe's Local Education Authority has been Central Bedfordshire Council.

Totternhoe Lower School August 2009
Totternhoe Lower School August 2009