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Chalgrave School

Chalgrave School about 1900 [Z1306/26/8/1]
Chalgrave School about 1900 [Z1306/26/8/1]

Chalgrave National School opened in 1855 in Wingfield Road, Tebworth. 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. Naturally, and luckily for local historians, the Act required a questionnaire of local schools in 1870. Chalgrave responded that the school had accommodation for 123 children.

Lessons were taught on a range of subjects. The entry in the logbook for 12th February1897 shows the subjects to be taught to the infant class for the year. Object lessons were divided into Common Articles of Food; Articles of Clothing; Common Things; Animal Life and On Country Scenes. Geography and Poetry were also mentioned [SDChalgrave2].

A land mark Education Act was passed in 1902, coming into effect in 1903. It gave day to day running of education to newly formed Local Education Authorities, usually the county council, as in Bedfordshire. The National schools became known as Public Elementary Schools, as was the case with Chalgrave.

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 entry for Chalgrave School is dated February 1911 when average attendance was 83: "The School has been visited a good many times since it was last reported upon and has always been found in a thoroughly satisfactory state of efficiency. All the work is good and a great deal of it is excellent. The Head Mistress [Miss Emily Farrant] has been in charge since 1905 when she found the School practically inefficient, bad in tone and grossly neglected. She immediately improved matters and each year has made further advance in the intelligence and suitability of the training given. A School Library is much needed and would be of the greatest benefit".

A further visit took place in November of the same year, when average attendance had sunk to 52: “This School is in a very creditable state of efficiency. Both order and tone are admirable and the work in all Classes – both Infants and Older Scholars – reaches a high level of efficiency; it is characterised by care, intelligence and success”.

The next inspection was in November 1913: “This little school is in a most satisfactory state of efficiency; order and tone are excellent and in all sections a good level of attainment is reached. This is the more creditable to the teacher as the work during the past year has been carried on under difficulties. The Infants’ class was in a good state of efficiency when the present teacher took charge but she has effected further improvement. The teaching is characterised by brightness and sympathy and the children make good progress”.

Because of lack of resources during the Great War there were no further inspections until that conflict had finished. There was an inspection in June 1923, when average attendance was 40: “This School has a very good tone and is carefully taught. Unfortunately the health of the Head Teacher [Helena Ursula Farrant] does not appear to have been good for some time past and this circumstance probably accounts for the fact that the work as a whole is at the present time not so satisfactory as usual. Arithmetic is quite weak and Composition, Spelling and Writing – the latter especially in Standards II-VI – all need special attention. In the lower division (Standard I and Infants’) the Reading of Standard I is satisfactory, but the rest of the work of the class, including the writing of Standard I, is not so good as is to be desired. It is hoped that at the next inspection both classes will be found to have recovered the ground which has lately been lost”.

The school was next inspected fifteen months later in September 1924, but that inspection was purely related to the school premises: “The structural condition of these premises appears to be most unsatisfactory. There is a general tendency for the walls to crack, both ceilings, several weak places in the roof and a bulge outside the infants’ room. The offices [i.e. toilets] are cracking, brickwork is perishing, paint and limewash are urgently needed. The seats of the boys’ offices are foul with droppings from the birdsnests, which should be removed from here, from the girls’ offices and from the ventilators. There is bit one cloakroom (a passage) for boys and girls; lavatory accommodation [i.e. somewhere to wash – having at this date no connection with toilets] is apparently a bowl in an unventilated little recess in the porchlike entrance to the infants’ room where their cloaks hang. The brickwork over the door is perished here, and over the entrance to the recess the beam is spongelike with damp rot: the window is also rotting away and there is general damp about the roof and walls. Water stands in several places in the playgrounds. The premises should be redecorated, more ventilating lower windows should be made, and the upper panes which should open for ventilation, but do not work, should receive attention. There seems to be no provision for earth for the sanitary pails in the offices”.

The next inspection of teaching came in 1925, by which time average attendance was 42: “The work of the School has throughout markedly improved since the last Report was made. The greater part of it – Arithmetic, Composition, Writing, reading, Geography and most of the Drawing – may now well be described as good. Physical Training has received careful attention, and though not yet quite on a level with the rest of the work is considerably better than it was. The only subject which shows little improvement is Singing. It is especially satisfactory to find that a thoroughly sound foundation is now laid at the bottom of the School”.

The Old School November 2014
The Old School November 2014

The following year the inspector wrote: “Only half the children of the upper group were present on the day the school was inspected. The work of the two Standard VII children was generally good and most of the children read very well. The rest of the work of this group, as represented by the children who were present is not of a high order, but it is as a rule satisfactory. The Standard V children who were present were weak in Arithmetic and Composition, and Writing below Standard VII should be of more careful formation. The work of the lower group, at least the Reading, shows some improvement, but Writing should be much better. It is to be remarked that there are several subnormal children in the school, and at various times during the current school year progress has been hindered by low attendance”.

By 1928 things seem to have improved, though average attendance was now only 29: “This Junior School is well conducted. Some of the written work of the older children is unusually well done; in particular the description of two visitors is excellent. The Handwork, in which waste material from Luton Hat Factories is used up, is most ingenious and well taught. Music is up to the average. The weakest point is speech: the aspiration and vowel sounds are very poor. In view of the condition of many of the children – to which reference was made at the discussion between the Medical Officers of the Board and the Local Education Authority – the result at the top of the School is very creditable indeed; and as the children are kindly managed, and their individual weaknesses known, there is no reason why the apparently backward ones should not be well up to the average when the time comes for their transference to the Senior School”.

More improvement was evident in 1931: “Since the last report this school has gradually improved. Of the outstandingly good features of the last report, the Composition is still striking: the Handwork and use of waste material has been developed in a most remarkable way. These Junior children, from the “big boys” of 10 to the Infants of 5 years old, produce well executed weaving, strong enough in the case of the older children for footstools and music stools, which should last for years. It is not only the execution (and strength of the work as regards stools, mats, bags) that is good – the training in colour blending and taste with this apparently unpropitious, and certainly difficult, material is also worth special commendation. The children reported as backward in the last report, which expressed the belief that they would become normal, have done well. There is now a promising lot of 8 and 9 year olds (doing “Standard IV and V” Arithmetic), writing well, speaking well. Again Standard I have a few dull children; they should not remain dull long here. The infants are promising. It is a pleasure to visit the school, and to be able to record the excellent work of the two teachers”.

In 1934 the theme was developed: “This school continues to prosper under the Head Teacher and the Supplementary Teacher in the Infants’ room. As some of the excellent material used, as was reported three years ago, for training in handwork and in taste is no longer available, this work which has not fallen off in execution has lost something in appearance. The other work, hardly as tidy as it was, is of very considerable merit in expression and calculation. Recitation is confidently and clearly spoken and the children are remarkably keen on all their work. Three boys at the top of the school show great promise: and even those with less quickness of brain are trying hard. The Teachers deserve much credit for the condition of the school”.

The final report in the volume is for February 1937, there is an annotation “Congrat HT” presumably meaning “congratulate head teacher”. The report reads: “This interesting little school continues to work as cheerfully and successfully as in the past. Written English is, as before, a very strong point, whether in reproductive, imaginative or descriptive work; in needlework and kindred craft , though the excellent waste material from which such valuable work was obtained is no longer available, still, with material involving cruder colouring, many well fashioned and useful articles are produced; and the children have (with appropriate aid) made their own frocks and knickers for Physical Training. Examinations are creditable; and essays on historical and geographical questions are evidence of the interest aroused by those subjects. Arithmetic and speech work are good. The new infants’ Mistress is working honestly and well, and with success in many subjects/ The Head Mistress may be congratulated on the results of her unending work for the benefit of these little children”.

During World War Two children were evacuated from London and the South East to Bedfordshire. The school logbook shows that twelve evacuees were admitted on 11th September 1939 [SDChalgrave3]. The school admissions register shows that children came to Chalgrave from places like Enfield, Ilford, Bethnal Green, Clerkenwell, Chingford, and West Ham [SDChalgrave6].

An entry from the following year, 3rd October 1940, tells us what life must have been like for children during the war: “Children in refuge room all morning. Air raid warning again just before 2 pm. Village bombed during day. School closed in the afternoon” [SDChalgrave3]. Air Raid Precaution records [WW2/AR/CO2/2] reveal that eighteen high explosive bombs fell including: one at Long Row cottages, Wingfield; one in a field at Sleckney's Farm, Wingfield; one demolished 8 and 9 Crabtree Cottages, Wingfield (6 and 7 requiring later demolition); two in Sleckney's Park Field, Wingfield; three in Beletts Field, Wingfield; four at Bird’s Farm, Wingfield and two in Bakers Field, Dunkers Farm, Tebworth (these were unexploded). There were three minor casualties and one casualty who had to be taken to hospital.

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. Chalgrave became a Voluntary Controlled County Primary School.

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. Chalgrave became a Voluntary Controlled Lower School. In 1982 a number of small rural schools across the county were investigated with a view to closing them in order to save money. One of these was Chalgrave. The Small Schools and Surplus Places Working Party reported in June that year [E/SC1/Cgrave1] that there would be 20 children on the school roll the next year with forecast six by 1985. Clearly this was too small to be viable and the school was closed in 1983 with children transferring to Saint George’s Lower School in Toddington. On 22nd July Pamela Buckle, acting headmistress, wrote the final entry in the school logbook [SDChalgrave5]: “Today was spent clearing up the school and preparing for the closure. At 3.15 pm the children were dismissed for the final time, the staff left and I closed the school”. The old school is now a private house

Chalgrave Old School February 2013
Chalgrave Old School February 2013