Many children in early Victorian England never went to school. More than half of them never learned to read or write. For many families, this was of little consequence; with no welfare state and many mouths to feed, their concern was to send their children out to work to earn whatever they could towards the family’s upkeep.
Churches started to run Sunday Schools, followed later by day schools, and by the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, all children under 12 had to go to school to learn to read, write and count properly. A school was often one large room for all pupils, supervised by one teacher, assisted by a pupil teacher and monitors chosen from amongst the older pupils. The teacher had to teach his or her assistants first so that they could then teach the other pupils.
In 1822 a school had been founded in Church Lane, that later transferred to Kenilworth Street in 1829. Ten years later, half the pupils were moved to the old workhouse in Court St and in 1846 the Kenilworth Street site closed. In 1851 the Court Street site was also closed and the school moved to temporary accommodation in Clemens Street. Finally, in 1859 the National Schools opened in Bath Place as “Leamington Priors All Saints Church of England Junior and Infants school.”
This sketch shows the new school, built on the site of a former orchard in the new town, then known as Leamington Priors.
The opening of the National Schools on Thursday 3rd November 1859 was reported in the Illustrated London News. The report gives extensive details of the facilities and physical dimensions of the new accommodation.
The original plans and drawings for the school are held at County Record Office in Warwick. This elevation shows the facade from Bath Place. Separate entrances and playgrounds for boys and girls faced Lower Avenue at the rear of the building.
Excerpts from the Log Book, 1863
From 1863, the law required the Master or Mistress of a school to record at least once weekly all significant events and visits in connection with the school, in a log book, to be shown to Inspectors, Trustees, and Managers as evidence that the school was being properly managed in accordance with the law.
Richard Webb, the Master of the new (boys’) school in Bath Place, notes in 1863:
|January 12||School reopened|
|January 19||Cautioned my teacher concerning coming late|
|January 21||Gave the boys a warning concerning playing truant. Punished one for so doing|
|January 26||Discovered that two boys have gone back to the British School, having been here one week. The reason not assigned – but I imagine it to be a love of change.|
|February 3||A distribution of clothing took place this day. Messrs Jury and Jacks (Trustees) were present|
|February 4||Received a letter from the mother of one of the children stating her dissatisfaction with what her child had received|
|February 12||Received a note from one of the Parents, thanking me for the gift of clothes|
|February 18||Went to Church (1st day of Lent) – holiday in the afternoon|
|February 19||Warned the boys about going to a kind of Panorama, held in the music hall – on account of the Profanation of the Scripture in the songs sang there|
|February 24||Builder came to measure the school, for the making of tables for the dinner to be given to the children on the 10th March (the wedding of the Prince of Wales)|
|February 26||Received a visit from Mr Coles, the British School Master – to arrange whether the children should dine altogether or in their own schoolrooms|
|March 2||Received a visit from the Treasurer of St Mary’s School, to ask whether it was decided that the children should wear rosettes on the 10th|
|March 4||Mr & Mrs Jury visited the school to arrange about the decoration of the school|
|March 6||Mr Jury visited the school and arranged concerning the dinner|
|March 9||A holiday given, in order that the room might be decorated and prepared for the dinner on Tuesday|
|March 10||The Prince of Wales’ Wedding Day. The children have had a dinner, after walking in the procession|
|March 11||A holiday given, in order that the room might be made ready for the children|
|March 12||Rather a small number of children, as might be expected. Money not taken for this week|
|March 17||The races unfortunately take place this week and although warned, several have gone, consequently numbers not so great|
|March 18||Mrs Annand visited these schools and brought a number of missionary books|
|March 26||Spoke to the boys of the importance of keeping up their subscriptions, towards keeping a little girl in India|
Girls’ School Log Book
By 1863, Miss Grace Hunt was Mistress of the Girls’ School. Her Log Book reveals preoccupations similar to those of Mr Webb; low numbers owing to bad weather and/or sickness; problems of hygiene; regular Diocesan examinations, and annual H M I Inspections. Many visitors call each week, some of whom in 1886 for example, “paid a bill of school fees”. The arrival of a load of coal is always noted.
Miss Hunt takes care to name all her visitors, but rarely gives the name of a pupil, even when one of them has an accident:
|February 6||Poor attendance. Weather bad. Cautioned the children against coming late to Sunday School.|
|February 12||One of the children returning home from school was knocked down by a horse but was not much injured|
|February 13||Cautioned the children against coming to school with untidy heads and dirty hands and faces.|
|February 16||A very cold morning, in consequence of which many of the youngest children were absent|
|February 17||School rather fuller today. The appearance of the children improved as regards cleanliness after the caution on Friday|
|February 25||Lady Crompton visited the school, gave some spelling books away and heard the first class read|
|February 27||Miss Gunning came to teach the children singing|
|March 5||Measles very prevalent amongst the children, several away in consequence|
|March 6||Preparing the decorations for the school as Tuesday is to be the day of festivities, on account of the Prince of Wales’ wedding.|
|March 12||Thursday: The children have had a holiday, the preceding days, on account of the marriage of the Prince of Wales which took place on the 10th. The children walked in procession through the town, after which dinner was provided for them.|
|March 13||Attendance small. Distributed some nuts among the children, which had been given by Mr Rousham for that purpose.|
In each logbook there is little mention of the day-to-day curriculum, but the school day would have followed the standard pattern, – Prayers, Roll Call, Arithmetic, including tables, mental arithmetic and complex paper calculations, Spelling, Handwriting, Reading, Object Lessons, Singing and Drill. Examinations in Scripture and Reading took place in the Autumn, and books were awarded by the Trustees as prizes for good results.