The School – Part 1

I have a confession to make. The history of the village school has already been covered by this publication. Back in 1979, the late Mrs Alma Vann wrote a series of articles which appeared during​​ 1980; a précis of her findings can be found on the village website.

The late Doris Court carried out further research and included the results in her excellent book on the village, but being a private publication is no longer in print. Coupled with those details, together with my own examination of the original school records and the further information now available on the internet, the following is my update on the history of education in Weston-sub-Edge.

Located in the wall opposite the steps down from the Church Lych-gate, and to the left of the old water point, is a marble plaque marking the location of the village school from 1852 to 1985. However, education in Weston began many years earlier as a result of the philanthropic action of a local landowner​​ and gentleman, Thomas Eden. Living in Broadmarston, with major property investments in and around Bristol, and also within Weston Parish at Lower Norton, he set up a charitable trust in December 1773 for the​​ purposes of:

“Maintaining and supporting a charity school for the education of poor children and to teach them to read English and to say the Church of England Catechism by heart in the parishes of Pebworth, Weston-sub-Edge and Weston-on-Avon, and the purchase of Bibles, New Testaments and Common Prayer Books for the use and instruction thereof of such children.”

(This trust is still registered and now called the ‘Thomas Eden Foundation’. )

Unfortunately there is no record of where in the village the school was held, but was most probably in a room in the house of the schoolmistress, whose annual salary of some £7 and the yearly allowance for books of £2 were financed from rental and profits from houses and warehouses in Bristol and from a 30 acre estate nearby.​​

In 1845 the Eden Trustees approved the admittance of pupils other than the poor. These children were paid for by their parents, who had to obtain a certificate of character twice a year from the Rector, then the Rev Hugh Smith – history does not tell us the reason for this change of policy, but the cynic might think it would certainly have helped to bolster congregation numbers with parents keen to secure the required paperwork!

Next month: The influence of Canon George Drinkwater Bourne.

The School – Part 2

As we saw in Part 1, the development of formal education in the village was linked closely to the Church and it follows that the vicar of the day would play an active part in its​​ development. However one man had a significant influence, the evidence of which can still be seen today.

George Drinkwater Bourne was born in Liverpool in 1821. The eighth son of a wealthy couple, he graduated from Oriel College Oxford and began his theological career in 1845 as Deacon. His appointment as Priest to the living at Weston followed in 1846. He was made Rural Dean in 1875 and although not elevated to Canon of Gloucester Cathedral until 1880, that is the title by which he is known and referred to​​ hereafter.

In 1847 he married Jane Hole from Tiverton, and the couple settled into the Rectory, which was then located in Parsons Lane where they lived in some style with a staff of four. His stipend is reported to have been £900 per annum, a sum equivalent to £125,000 today.​​

Their first child Margaret, born in 1848, went on to marry another vicar. Their son Francis rose to the rank of captain in the 43rd​​ Light Infantry, but only lived to the age of 30. Tragically Jane passed away in 1854, with Canon Bourne remarrying Harriet Eliza Moss in 1857. They had one son, William, who died in infancy.

Canon Bourne was a wealthy man and contributed generously to the church. He donated the brass lectern, the sundial on the South wall, and the clock in the tower, and​​ almost certainly paid for other restoration work, including raising the roof of the Nave in 1861.

In 1955 the Rectory in Parsons Lane was sold, with the current and much smaller Rectory built in its grounds. The purchasers were the Webb family who subsequently renamed the building ‘Canonbourne’ in honour of its most distinguished occupant.​​

In addition to having a building named after him, Canon Bourne also left another physical memorial in the form of a blue brick path which he had laid from the Rectory up​​ to the Church. Much of this has been replaced with tarmac but one short length is still visible across the entrance to Middle Farm in Church Street, in addition to the path from the Lych-gate to the Church Porch.

When Canon Bourne arrived in Weston, the annual Dover’s Games had become a rather rowdy event and, no doubt with the moral welfare of his flock at heart, he set out to bring such shenanigans to a halt.

Next month: How he succeeded and the consequences to village education.​​

The School – Part 3

In Part 2 we looked at the life and times of Canon Bourne, who was vicar in Weston from 1846 until his death in 1901 – a period of 55 years and significantly longer than any other incumbent. This​​ month I am going off on another tangent – Dover’s Games. Just why all these diversions are relevant to the history of the school will soon become apparent.

The Dover’s Games that we know today have a long and chequered history. The most likely date for their start is 1612, when Captain Robert Dover, a lawyer, organised a series of competitions that ran annually on Weston Hill, later renamed Dover’s Hill in the captain’s memory. The English Civil War brought an end to the games, but they were revived again during the reign of Charles II.

When Canon Bourne arrived in Weston in 1846, the games were being run by William Drury, who rented the site over Whit Week for £5. Mr Drury owned and ran the Swan Inn in Chipping Campden and obviously made a tidy profit from​​ selling alcohol, renting out booths and stalls, and taking entries for races. Unfortunately the games had become too popular with vast crowds pouring in from the Midlands, swelled by the many ‘navvies’ brought to the district to build the railway line and​​ dig the Mickleton tunnel.

Canon Bourne claimed that the occasion had become ‘… the trysting place of all the lowest scum of the population which lived in the district between Birmingham and Oxford.’ However, the extent of bad behaviour may have been exaggerated, as there are few reports of the police being called to the games, and no record of court prosecutions for drunkenness or fighting. Nevertheless Canon Bourne vowed to stop this corruption within his parish.

The answer to Canon Bourne’s prayers came​​ in the form of the Enclosure movement and in 1850, together with local landowners Sir John Maxwell Steel and Lord Harrowby, he was successful in securing the Enclosure of Weston Parish, with the 969 acres being redistributed among local farmers and landowners. This brought the games to a halt in 1852, until they were revived in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations.

But what has this to do with the school you may ask? Under the terms of the Enclosure Award, the villagers were awarded four acres for allotments, one acre for recreation and one rood for a site for a school and schoolhouse. Canon Bourne (reported to have been allocated 63 acres for himself!) secured a further two acres for school recreation, as he was keen that children played cricket and football.

Next month: Early days of the school.

The School- Part 4

Thanks to the efforts of Canon Bourne the village now had a plot of land for a school and schoolhouse: the next task was to secure finance to build them. It seems most likely that money was​​ obtained from the Government and the National Society who were both then providing grants for such buildings. With active encouragement from both Lord Harrowby and Canon Bourne the school opened in 1852 with 20 children aged between 4 and 10 years, together with a new school mistress.​​

For details of early life in the village school, we are fortunate to have the School Log started in 1870 by the then new teacher, Miss Catherine Marnes. Appointed on 1st​​ May, she was obliged to announce an immediate 3 week holiday while the school premises were repaired and enlarged. Her first entry on 23 May 1870 was brief and to the point, ‘Began school. Only 21 present. 7 girls and 14 boys.’

Attendance the following week was not much better. Out of 48 on the books, 13 are recorded as not having been at all, with the others coming very irregularly. 0n 29th​​ July, so few were present that it was thought advisable to break up for the harvest holiday. Miss Marnes’ diary paints a vivid picture of life of the young in the Parish, noting that ‘…boys are set to work as soon as anything could be got for their labour with the girls being kept at home to mind the little ones.’ In both cases, attending school was very much a last resort.

The summer was the most important time in the life of the village, when everybody was involved with the harvest. It usually lasted five weeks but often ran into six and occasionally a seventh was added if the harvest was late or the weather bad. In 1870 it seems everything went well, with the school reopening after only 5 weeks on 5th​​ September. Learning soon picked up, as two days later, on 7th​​ September, it is noted that Rev W Begley visited and ‘gave the children a good lesson in arithmetic.’

Throughout the year there was also other work to keep the children away from school. In October, sisters and brothers were home on holiday from domestic service and the younger ones wanted to be with them. All then took part in picking acorns, helping to get up potatoes and blackberrying. In April the bigger girls​​ would be absent picking cowslips for wine, and in June the boys would be busy bird minding, and then there would be haymaking and picking currents.​​

Next month: More days off school!

The School – Part 5

Last month’s chapter described the impact harvest activities had upon school attendance. Bad weather was another factor, with floods and snow often preventing children from reaching school.​​ However, they were expected to make every effort, and on one occasion, children in Saintbury were admonished for using three inches of snow as an excuse for staying at home!

Illness was also a frequent reason for absence. A typical example is recorded in​​ 1883 when the school mistress, Miss Catherine Marnes, was obliged to cancel the Christmas Week holiday and was only able to give the pupils Christmas Day off due to the extent of time lost earlier in the year – an outbreak of whooping cough had closed the​​ school for two weeks in February. This was aggravated by an extra long break of 7 weeks for a protracted harvest which meant that, after taking account of the Easter and Whit week holidays, there was a risk the school would not be open for the required number of times in the year. However, on this occasion, Miss Marnes softened the blow by letting the children out early each day.

The schoolmistress would appear to have had the ability to grant holidays to suit local occasions. One memorable event was on June 24th​​ 1875, when the wedding of Canon Bourne’s daughter, Margaret, to the Rev Francis Broome-Witts took place in St Lawrence Church. The children had a good view of the celebrations from the front of the school garden. They then followed the parade around the village before joining in with the wedding feast. It seems that some had a preference for beer rather than lemonade, with the result that the following day also had to be a holiday!

A visit to Evesham Regatta became an annual event and in 1903, another regular excursion began. By now the head mistress was Miss Bertha Stanley, who believed in broadening her pupil’s horizons. On 15th​​ July she took a party of forty of the older children to the seaside. Using funds raised from two concerts held during the previous winter, and transported on wagons provided by local farmers, Messrs Robbins and Tredwell, they travelled to Honeybourne Station (then a major junction) to catch the 4.15am train to Bournemouth. Many of the children had never been out of the village and only one had ever seen the sea before. It was therefore no surprise that they wanted to know if there were railings around the water to stop people from falling in. Nevertheless, a good time was had by all, with the party not returning until the next morning at 3.00 am.

Next month: What was taught.

The School –Part 6

Over the past two months, I have looked at the sort of things that kept children out of school. But what did they do when in the classroom?

As the State became more involved, it was inevitable that​​ legislation would be introduced to determine what should be taught, and in 1872 a Revised Code of Regulations defined a set of six Standards for the three R’s. Standard Three was the minimum required to enable a child to leave school for work and for this​​ the pupil had to be able to read a short paragraph from a more advanced book (than Standard Two), write a sentence slowly dictated once from the same book, and understand long division and compound rules for money.​​

The school was subject to annual inspection and the summary of the report for 1876 concluded, ‘…order good, teaching generally creditable and intelligent. The reading might occasionally be more fluent and the spelling and arithmetic better here and there but as a whole the teaching is satisfactory.‘ Other reports refer to the standard of the girl’s sewing and knitting and geography as a subject is also commented upon.​​

Following a prolonged spell of illness, Miss Marnes retired in March 1886, and her place for the next six years was taken by Miss Emma Hallett, followed by Miss Matthews. In November 1896, Miss Bertha Stanley took over and although a strict disciplinarian, she was an excellent teacher and, in addition to trips to the seaside, taught practical skills such as calculating the size of​​ the playing field (in acres), measuring the distances (in chains) from the school gate to Aston turn and from the school to the railway station. It is difficult to imagine such activities today (even with lockdown traffic levels!), given the need for the​​ ubiquitous risk assessment. Miss Stanley retired after 35 years service during which, in her later years, she was very successful in helping 11 year olds gain scholarships to Campden Grammar School.

It should not be forgotten that during these early days,​​ corporal punishment was the norm. Back in 1875, one of the boys threw a stone which severely hurt the eye of a girl, to the extent that it was feared she might lose it. Canon Bourne specially addressed the whole school on the subject of stone throwing, and​​ warned them to stop the practice at their peril, as he would personally flog any boy caught again. Some months later the School Log records that ‘..stone throwing seems rather scarce in the village of late.’ A further entry thankfully recorded that the girl’s eye had been saved’.

Next month : Falling numbers and closure.

The School Part 7

I have been unable to trace any record of the number of pupils who attended the first school set up by the Eden Trust, or indeed how many transferred to the newly build school when it opened in 1852.​​ However, we know from Miss Marnes’ Log that there were 21 children when she began as school mistress in 1870. It seems reasonable to assume they were all from families living in or near Weston, but in 1874 9 orphans from Evesham workhouse were admitted and​​ placed with cottagers. Miss Marnes observed that ‘… all who come out of the workhouse to this Parish are either weakly or covered with sores’.​​

School numbers were further enhanced in 1875 when 12 children from Saintbury were admitted, raising the total​​ on the register to 83, the highest on record. There were those who left, and one pair who deserve a mention were the brother and sister who had been walking to school from Honeybourne, but after a time found it to be too far. They are recorded as returning to their own Parish School, which of course begs the question – why did they leave in the first place?​​

By 1883 numbers had dropped to 63, but were increased in 1927 when Aston sub Edge school closed and 12 pupils transferred to Weston. The next major influx came in 1939 when the then headmistress, Miss Wellings, admitted 3 private evacuees to the school. In 1940, 19 evacuees arrived from Dagenham, accompanied by their teacher. This group was taught in a room in the Rectory and presumably billeted out to​​ households in the village. As time went by some returned to their homes and in 1944 there were just nine left, with these having departed by VE Day in May 1945.​​

After the war, pupil numbers did increase and by 1964 had risen to 71. However, it was all down hill from this point, until by 1984 the total was only 10. The proposal to close the school was greeted with mixed feelings; to some it meant the loss of a significant village facility but to others there was an acceptance that it was no longer educationally viable.​​

Following the closure of the school the Diocesan Education Committee assumed, based on usage, that they were the owners and published plans to sell it and use the proceeds for other Church of England schools in Gloucestershire. However, they​​ were challenged by the Parish Council whose chairman, James Court, had the benefit of the research carried out by his sister, Doris. With this, they mounted a counterclaim to the land.

Next month: Victory for the Parish Council.

The School Part 8

As described in Part 3, the plot of land upon which the school and schoolhouse were built was part of the Enclosure Award. The Parish Council argued that as the successor to the Overseer of the Poor​​ and administrators of the other two parcels of land included in that Award, namely the allotments and the acre for recreation, they were also the rightful administrators of the school and schoolhouse.

Not surprisingly, there was some resistance to this view, but the Parish Council eventually prevailed and as owners, set out to find an ongoing use for the buildings. When an offer to lease the property for use as a nursery fell through, and with no other offers on the table, it was decided to sell the buildings at auction. This was held at the Cotswold House Hotel in Chipping Campden on 14 October 1987 with the highest bid being from a developer who subsequently converted the building into the three dwellings we can see today.

The Weston-sub-Edge Educational​​ Trust was established in January 1989 to require the investment income from the £141,000 sale proceeds to be used to provide benefits of a kind not normally provided by the local Education Authority, and to promote the education (including social and physical training) of persons under the age of 25 who were former pupils of the school, children of former pupils or children now living in the village. The ‘village’ was defined as the ‘ancient parish of Weston-sub-Edge’, to allow for land lost to Hereford &​​ Worcester in 1965.

Obviously there are no longer any former pupils still under the age of 25, but their children (wherever they live), and indeed any children living in the village, may apply for financial support for such things as University degree courses, nursery fees, clubs, music lessons, drama, sports clubs, and school trips both in the UK and abroad. Applications should be made to the Trust Secretary at​​​​

The above is, of necessity, only a brief outline. Full details of the terms and objectives of the Trust, the current Trustees and the conditions applicable to applications may be found on the village website.

We have come a long way since Thomas Eden set up his Trust in 1773, and I hope this potted history of education in WSE has been of interest. I must pay a final tribute to the late Alma Vann and the late Doris Court for their earlier research, carried out at a time when they did not have the benefit of the internet, and were obliged to identify and then track down original documents – true historians indeed!