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Bletsoe School

Bletsoe National School elevation - 1852 [AD3865/7]
Bletsoe National School elevation - 1852 [AD3865/7]

The Bedfordshire Times of 25th November 1848 noted that surplus money raised for a school in Riseley would be put towards providing one for Bletsoe. Plans exist for Bletsoe National School dated 1852 indicating that the school may have opened around this date, although both Kelly's Directory and The Victoria County History give the opening date as 1859. The conveyance of 1853 when Lord Saint John gave the site to the trustees states specifically that he was giving both site, school and school house standing on it, which reinforces the idea that the school opened in 1852 or 1853. Sadly there are no early log books or admission registers to prove the issue one way of the other. The Schoolmaster in 1861 was John C Boldero, aged 38. The census records that he was born in the East Indies, and his wife Mary, the Schoolmistress, had also come from out of the county, at Broom on Humber. Their child Louisa aged 2 was born in Bletsoe.

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. This questionnaire recorded 81 children were in attendance at the school.

In 1866 James T Green, aged 30, took over as Schoolmaster, he was from Hethersett in Norfolk and his wife Sarah, from Wicklewood, Norfolk, was the Schoolmistress. By 1881 they had five of their own children attending the school; Mary, aged 15, Ellen, 12, Walter 10, Arthur 8, Edward 6. Sarah Green - mother of James - aged 73 was also living with them. After the continous service of the Greens, the school then had a series of different Headmistresses. The Bletsoe School Logbook of October 3rd 1892 records: "I Matilda Anne Wright opened this School as a School under Government Inspection. I have a Certificate of the Second Class. Miss Green appointed Assistant". Matilda Wright resigned on August 11th 1893, and was replaced on September 18th by Hannah Getley, who only stayed until December. Another temporary appointment followed, that of Dora Marion Draycow who started 8th Jan 1894 and finished in April, to be replaced by Louisa Reeve until September when Annie Jane Anderson took over. When James Tate inspected the school in May 1895 he noted that: "In spite of several changes of teachers there is considerable improvement in the work'" In 1899 the school was reported to be "Excellent".

The Church and School about 1900 [Z1130/18/4]
The Church and School about 1900 [Z1130/18/4]

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, as did the school at Bletsoe.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a book containing School Inspector's reports for most schools in the county for a few years prior to the First World War then for the inter-war years [E/IN1/1]. The inspector at Bletsoe in 1911 found a school in good order with "fairly satisfactory" attainments, though arithmetic was weak and both PE and teaching as a whole needed to be more stimulating; the infants were "carefully and suitably taught and the children make creditable progress". Three years later it was found that the school was doing good work "it is well ordered and well taught".

Things obviously deteriorated during the Great War as the Inspector in 1921 noted "Under the present Head Teacher the School has made progress the Infant's Section is now doing well; and much of the work of the older children is satisfactory". By 1925 the school was organised as a junior school only, with just eleven children on the books and the school was doing quite well, though the speech of the children was "not good in its accent or aspiration, but special attention is being given to this" - obviously the Bedfordshire accent was not appreciated. It was also noted that whilst nine of the children sang nicely "the other two, who seem tone deaf, spoil the effect". The inspector noted with enthusiasm, if not political correctness: "It is particularly pleasant to note the improvement in a child who is certainly subnormal". By 1928 one child had obtained a scholarship to Bedford School and two had gone to Sharnbrook. The number had dipped down to seven but had been made up to nine in the previous week, it was noted that "The children whose short lives have been spent here are much more careful, and better grounded than those who have come from outside. The subnormal child referred to in the last report is now practically normal except in Arithmetic. Altogether this is a very kindly managed school where no one is neglected, where difficult children are looked after, and where children with more ability are kept up to the mark".

By 1932 there were twelve children on the roll but this was set to double as a family with thirteen children "it is said, may settle in the village". It was noted "As before, it is a family party", the work was very creditable and the teacher complimented. Even the aspiration, when speaking, was now "generally correct" with only one girl getting her vowels wrong (she was connected to "the subnormal child who, as previously reported improved so much"), the tone deaf children had moved on as singing was now "tuneful and enjoyed". The final report for 1936 noted a new headteacher who was doing very good work - the roll was now 21 so evidently the large family had, indeed, moved to the village, the inspector concluded "It is a pleasant school to visit".

In 1939 children from St Joseph's Roman Catholic School in London were evacuated to Bletsoe. There is an attendance register for these children [Ref. E/PM/1/4a]. The school logbook [Ref.SD Bletsoe 2] notes on September 11th 1939: 'Owing to evacuation on account of the political situation, fifty five children from London have to be catered for. Provisional arrangements have been made and various working schemes are being tried with a view to adoption. The 55 evacuees are Roman Catholics so Religious Instruction is taken each morning in Church for Bletsoe children. Mr J Green, Head Teacher of St Joseph's School, and Mr Standfield, Assistant Master, are in charge of the London children.' On November 17th it was noted that the majority of the London children left for Cromer in Norfolk, with eight evacuees remaining.

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 are employed directly by the governors.

Bletsoe Public Elementary School became a Voluntary Controlled County Primary School. The School Log Book [SDBletsoe2] details the end of the school: on 17th July 1962 is the entry "A Managers' Meeting was held at the School at 7.30 p.m. I submitted my last report to the managers as the School will no longer be maintained by the Education Authority. I expressed my gratitude to all who had made my 7½ years of service here so happy. The Managers paid tribute to my work at the School and a minute has been recorded in the minutes by the Correspondent". On 19th July: "An Open Day was held and many parents and friends joined the children in a farewell tea-party. The Chairman of the School Managers, the Rev. G. Sidebottom, asked Mrs. Fleming, a manager, to present me with a farewell gift. The children also received gifts from myself. The children entertained their guests with songs and poems. Handwork and needle work made by the children was on display". The next entry, 20th July, is the last and shows why the school was closing: "Attendance for the week 180. 10. 100%. Attendance for the term 1,025. Times open 106. Average attendance 9.7. Number on roll 10. Percentage 97%. I, Olwen Williams…now relinquish my duties as Headmistress of Bletsoe Controlled Voluntary School. I do so with much regret".

There is now no school in the parish. The former school buildings are now a private house.

The Old School and School House October 2009
The Old School and School House October 2009