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Melchbourne School

The Old School February 2014
The Old School February 2014

Melchbourne School opened on 26th December 1857 as Bedfordshire Times of 2nd January 1858 tells us: "This very handsome village school, with neat dwelling house for the master attached, just erected by the Lord Saint John, the noble owner of Melchbourne, was formally opened on Saturday last. The event was celebrated by an excellent dinner of substantial viands, amongst which roast beef was conspicuous, with the proper accompaniments, given by his lordship to the children and their parents, and to the workmen engaged in building the school".

"The noble Lady Saint John and the family took great interest in attending to the wants of her juvenile and other guests, who were highly delighted with her ladyship's condescension, and kindliness of manner".

"The school-room in which the repast was served was beautifully decorated with wreaths of evergreens, and upon its walls hung some highly interesting sectional working models of the suction pump, the steam engine, the thrashing and winnowing machine, besides several well-executed maps on a large scale. Above was a transparent motto, the work of her ladyship and family, which did credit to their artistic skill".

"The Rev R Young of Riseley and family, Rev D Ratcliffe and Rev A Taylor [newly appointed Vicar of Melchbourne] and Mrs Taylor were present on the occasion. Several of the wives and families of the tenants also assisted and afterwards partook of tea at the mansion. Two appropriate pieces, one by J H Rogerson, the noted poet, and the other an original piece, were sung by the children under the direction of Mr Crompton, the schoolmaster (the author of the latter piece). To each of the children, numbering about sixty, her ladyship gererously presented a bible or testament".

"In the evening Mr Crompton diverted the children with amusive representations with the magic lantern. At the close several hearty cheers were given for his lordship and her ladyship. The noble lord thanked all present, and said it gave him very great pleasure to meet them there. The erection of that school had also yielded him much pleasure and he earnestly hoped that it would be productive of the good he desired. Rev D Ratcliffe and Rev A Taylor also addressed the children and their parents. The latter strongly urged upon them the necessity and advantages of good education. On Sunday the latter Rev gentleman preached a sermon especially for the occasion, from Joshua xxiv and part of v 15 "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" in the course of which he strongly enforced the duties of parents and children".

Despite the 1870 Education Act, no School Board was ever formed in Melchbourne which remained a church school. Though directories call it a National School there is no evidence that it ever came into affiliation with the National Society.

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. Melchbourne thus became a public elementary 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 visit was in February 1911, when average attendance was 33: "Under the present Mistress marked improvement has been effected in the general condition of the School. The children display much greater mental activity and much more intelligent interest in their work than formerly. The written exercises are carefully done, and it is very noticeable that in all branches of instruction the children are required habitually to put forth their best effort and to produce their best work".

The following year, in August, average attendance was 29: "The School is in a very satisfactory condition. The teaching is characterised by care and thoroughness and the scholars are bright and responsive, they work earnestly and make very creditable progress. Tone and discipline are excellent. The premises have been much improved by the addition of a new Cloak-room for the girls, and the new desks which have been provided enable work to be carried on much more conveniently than di the old ones which they replace".

The school was not inspected again for eight years, owing to lack of resources caused by the Great War. On 23rd September 1920 average attendance was 30. "This school is very carefully taught. The children behave nicely and work zealously and, except for some shortcoming in Geography, the general level of attainment reached by the older scholars is distinctly creditable. But the Headmistress is at present without assistance, and with such a multiplicity of divisions it is impossible for her to give the youngest children the consistent attention they need". The Director of Education answered this criticism: "The average attendance of this school for the year ended 31st March 1920, was 30. At present there are 28 children on the roll. The staff consists of Mrs Peck, an Uncertificated Head Teacher. At various times a Monitress has served this School but no suitable candidate has been forthcoming since the Monitress left to serve as a Supplementary Teacher in another school".

The next visit was on 6th February 1923, average attendance 30: "This is a small village school taught by an Uncertificated Teacher and a monitress, with very fair success. The children's regularity of attendance is remarkable and speaks well for the Teacher's relations with both parents and scholars. The work done is vert genuine; in Arithmetic the number of sums done is larger than is usually found, and, though there are some weak children, accuracy is rather a strong point. So also is spelling, but the style of the written work – which is very free from blots and smears – as regards formation of writing and figures is capable of improvement. Composition wants greater freedom and variety of subject; Speech-training, which is to receive greater attention, should help both power of expression and correctness of pronunciation. A very good beginning is made in reading and Recitation in the lowest class, and the members of the two groups of older children who have spent their school life here carry on the earlier training creditably: the weaker children are nearly all importations from another county. The commands given in Physical Exercises are smartly and accurately obeyed. The method of taking Drawing was discussed at the visit of inspection; Singing which is in most respects carefully taught, requires more attention to tone. The younger children enjoy their singing games. The impression obtained at this visit was that the Head Teacher has worked very well on rather narrow lines, and that if a higher standard in the subjects which were discussed were expected, much more finished work could be obtained. There seems good reason to hope that this will be the case".

On 2nd February 1926 average attendance was 35 and the report short, but sweet: "This School is in capable hands and is going on well. Both teachers and scholars work earnestly, and there is an excellent understanding between them. Very satisfactory progress is being made in each of the two groups, and a good deal – indeed most – of the work of the oldest children is distinctly above the average. The School is a very pleasing one indeed".

By June 1927 numbers had fallen drastically: "There are 11 children on the roll, of whom 9 were present at this visit. There are three children of 10 years of age; 2 are very backward. The third reads satisfactorily, and her written work is about up to the average in 'Composition' and Spelling; her Arithmetic is fairly good on the mechanical side, but any problem is beyond her (and beyond any other child in the school's) powers. There are two promising children but the rest are distinctly disappointing. Reading is laboured and slow. Writing and Spelling are poor. There has been illness but even with this handicap there seems to have been a great falling off in certain classes. There is one mentally defective child, and one of 7 years just admitted. Paper mâché work is crude, but solid. Needlework is of fairly good type and fairly well done".

This somewhat alarming report led to a second visit that year, in October and a third in June 1928: "Reference to the last report will show that it was more critical than appreciative. At the earlier visit to which this report refers, there were only 7 children on the roll, of whom 2 were sub-normal. But the Teacher had definitely improved speech recitation, reading and handwriting. At the later visit all the 11 children on the roll were in School. The good points are continued progress on the speech side, and intelligent answering on matter read, and on tables by rote. The apparent weaknesses are application of tables, and slowness in Arithmetic. But when the individuals composing the school are considered, the work done is infinitely more to the credit of the Teacher than appears from a classification. Of the 11 practically 8 are recent admissions: several have had no previous school training: admissions from "Homes" or new comers last term make up a great proportion of the school. In view of the singing: number of pieces known, and well said, in Recitation; comparative absence of shyness; and a real differentiation in examination marks, it may be said that the Teacher is doing really effective work though the results do not reach the standard attained in schools of less migratory scholars". Which homes these children came from is unknown as there were none in the county outside Bedford, Kempston or Luton at that date and the nearest Northamptonshire home was in Wellingborough or Northampton.

In 1931 average attendance was 20: "The Teacher of this Junior School has taken a good deal of trouble in the making of Teaching aids and illustrations. The children are, with few exceptions, not so forward in their work as might be expected. What is wanted is more life in the guidance of the school and more interest in the work and, especially, more confidence in the children. There is improvement since the departure of the last permanent Teacher, on the whole; but the improvement cannot be said to be constant in any subject".

By 1934 average attendance was 16:"Since the last report this school has had several visits: the numbers present have varied from 20 to 7 or 8, and the attainments have varied also. At the earlier visit this year the children did well in oral and written tests and their bookwork was better than had been the case for some time. At the second visit it was found that their examination work di not bear out the impression gained in March by tests and inspection of their books: but the work again in the school on the day was quite promising though only a short visit was possible".

The final visit to the school was on 13th April 1938 when average attendance was 13: "A Head Teacher left at midsummer: during the Christmas Term the School was in charge of various Teachers on supply: and this term the Head Teacher had a fortnight's absence as a measles contact case. There are 10 children here. Four will leave at midsummer, possibly 2 more will have moved. There are 2 "Home children", one a new comer, and one who had no schooling until 7 years of age. There is one due to leave who is definitely promising, and two others in the school who come under this category. Two show up work spoilt by untidy writing of figures, and there are 3 who seem to be very slow".

"The new Head Mistress, who is an accomplished musician, attended a summer course for Junior Work from which she gained much benefit. Her attitude to her work and relations with the children are excellent, and there is a cheerful tone in the room and in the playground (a roadway) which has produced a real appreciation from the parents".

"The external approach from the gate to the building has been improved and flower borders are to be established. Inside one of the leaded glass windows is falling away and lets in a violent draught, so that the children have to wear overcoats in school in winter, or rough weather. This should be put right as soon as possible".

This last report has an annotated note to one side: "to consider future of School – Sept". In the event it was decided to close it. In August 1983 English Heritage listed the old school as Grade II, of special interest. It is built from chequered brick with some stone dressing. The dormer windows were added after the school closure.