The Clerk in the Country
Friday 19th March 2021
Back to school
Our village primary school was not among those re-opening last week. Like many rural schools it closed its doors permanently because of falling numbers a couple of years ago, and the building is now being transformed into a house, leaving only memories and, of course, its records.
The school’s log books survive right from its opening on 10th December 1883, with early entries made by its first teacher, 26 year old Annie Nattrass, who lived in a tiny two-room cottage attached to the school building. A formidable challenge faced her. She found the children very backward at first and it was difficult to make them attend regularly, especially when there was work to be done in the fields. For many years Miss Nattrass was the only teacher, with charge of over 50 children in two classrooms. When she was ill, the school had to close, as it did when, in the days before immunisation for these diseases, waves of Measles, Scarlet Fever and Typhoid Fever swept through the village. Diphtheria was particularly feared; when the school re-opened after an epidemic in 1901 Miss Nattrass recorded in the log book that “one child has been removed by death”. Sick Nursing was one of the lessons on the curriculum.
The log books also record school closures for happier reasons. Holidays were granted in honour of special events such as the wedding of Prince George, Duke of York, and Princess Mary of Teck in 1893 and the relief of Mafeking in 1900. The visits of the Diocesan Inspector must have been welcome, as after testing the pupils’ knowledge of the Bible and hearing them sing hymns, he usually allowed them the rest of the day off.