The following essay, first published in The Norfolk Ancestor, Vol 3, Part 7, September 2003, is reproduced by kind permission of the author, Shirley Howell and the Norfolk Family History Society.
Having cut my transcribing teeth on Norfolk parish registers (Howell, 1995), I found making extracts from a school log book (Howell, 2003) almost a piece of cake and much, much more interesting. I used shorthand for copying much of the text since I found it quicker than using a laptop in the Norfolk Record Office. And, of course, most Victorian schoolmistresses wrote a good hand. My interest in this particular log book (NRO) was ancestral, but it turned out to be a mine of social, family, local, educational, even climatic history.
Stibbard National School was working under the Revisted Code of 1862 (popularly known as Payment by Results), which came into force in 1863, and which made government grants to schools for poor children dependent upon regular attendance. There were annual examinations of each child aged 6 and over, abut the child could only be presented for examination if s/he had attended school for at least 200 days in that school year. Thus, it was very important for the Managers that the children should attend regularly, so earning as much grant as possible. But in the late 1860s there were no means of compelling children to attend school. Compulsory attendance came in patchily in the 1870s as school places became available but education only became compulsory everywhere after 1888, and even then attendance officers were reluctant to prosecute parents, and magistrates to convict them.
In Stibbard the Managers tried to achieve a high average attendance by instructing the Head Teacher to exclude children who did not come regularly and by closing the school, without taking the register, if the numbers were for any reason very low. One, therefore, frequently finds, in the worst weather of the winter, that the children have trudged along Guist Bottom or Fulmodeston Roads, or up from the Moor End, only to find the school shut and they have to return home in their wet clothes and inadequate boots. In February 1875, the school door was locked at 9.00am, but in the worst conditions it was left 'unlocked 10 mins. longer than usual for the children from a distance on account of the bad weather'.
Many children started school when they were under 4, but these young ones often remained at home during the winter months. The log book records many instances of poor health: coughs, bad colds, chilblains, bad eyes, sores, headaches, rheumatism and 'flu. Epidemics of fever, mumps, whooping cough, scarlatina, scarlet fever, diphtheria, measles and chicken pox occurred and often the school was shut for several weeks. Waterbox was a malady recorded on one occasion, but I have been unable to discover what this means. When a child died of smallpox in November l1864, a vaccination programme was quickly implemented and children remained at home because their arms were painful. The vaccination certificate of William Emery BELL, aged 8, survives, dated 1 December 1864. Six children and one schoolmistress died between 1864 and 1885. Phyllis NOBES (aged 8) died in 1915, and 7 year old George DREW in 1931. Gradually there was an awareness that excluding children from infected families would help control outbreaks. The School Medical Officer and Dentist appeared in the early 20th century. One has the feeling they could not have come too soon!
The Inspector of Nuisance visited in 1863, and there were regular and frequent references to overcrowding, poor drainage and ventilation, and insanitary toilets, but very little was done to remedy these defects.
Her Majesty's Inspectors and those from the Diocese visited regularly, sometimes unannounced. HMIs often complained that these agricultural children were lethargic and read with little intelligence or expression, whereas the Diocesan Inspectors, who examined Religious Knowledge, were often complimentary. The Rectors, their wives, daughters and curates taught Scripture and helped out with other subjects, particularly in times of staff illness. The Schoolmistress worked through the books of the Old Testament, as well as the Catechism and Commandments. There were, however, references only to the girls being confirmed.
Dictation featured frequently, along with learning of tables and spelling, lessons on speaking the truth, compound multiplication by 3 figures, subtraction with borrowing, map of Palestine, drawing of River Thames, mental arithmetic, parsing, fractions etc. At one stage the boys only were taught geography and drawing, but they did learn to knit. The girls regularly devoted afternoons to needlework when the light was good enough. (School hours were till 5.00pm in the summer and 4.00pm in the winter.) Recitation was taught in the 1880s, singing by note in 1892 (a harmonium was bought in 1899), and suddenly the attendance went up when PE featured on the timetable. Newspaper extracts were studied when Queen Victoria died in 1901; in the same year a lesson was given in the careful use and trimming of petroleum lamps. In 1902 the children were much interested in watching a practical illustration of what could be done with a knife, scissors, paper and cardboard at a very trifling costs (shades of Blue Peter!). In 1905 the Rector's son, dressed in military uniform, drilled the children and they responded enthusiastically.
It was not always bad weather and illness which kept the children off school. Parents needed to have their children at home, either to work for them, or to earn. Boys were absent, keeping the toll gate: "Tom MERRISON left. Gone to keep one of the Toll bars". This was on the Guist-Fakenham turnpike road, now the A1067. They also worked on crow-scaring, cattle-keeping, potato picking, haymaking and harvesting. Girls helped with washing, moving house (usually around Michaelmas), sick-nursing, gleaning, carrying their fathers' dinners into the field at harvest, doing field work with their mothers, and gathering acorns. In 1910 the names of three boys who had been crow-scaring were given to the Attendance Officer. 'G. ROBOTHAM left school to work for bricklayers, but the poor lad returned the next day because he was not big enough. Another of the Robothams was off school in 1923 waiting for his spectacles. If there were a holiday one day, attendance might fall for the rest of the week as mothers felt they were not getting value for money - four days instead of five. Sometimes the parents could not afford the 1d. per week (2d. per week from 1875), although from 1891 no fees were charged. In 1887 three EGGLETONs from Guist Bottom were absent, owing to father having no work and, consequently, no money to pay fees.
Diversions which caused truancy were many and varied: cattle show and circus at Fakenham, Wells Regatta, Melton Flower Schow, auctions, Ryburgh Gant (Fair), Stibbard steeplechase, weddings and funerals. Legitimate holidays were given for school feasts and treats, whitewashing the school, the Relief of Mafeking, night school examinations, elections, Jubilee festivities, coal shortages (at the end of WWI), for the Duke of York's wedding, the grant of an extra half day for improved attendance, the Proclamation of the Accession of HM King George V, Empire Day, a Peace Holiday in 1919, and in 1926, at Sennowe, to celebrate Mr. COOK's wedding.
The children were punished for sliding on the pond, for spitting, for loitering on the road to school, one girl for blotting her copybook, for wearing crinolines (crinolines - in Stibbard!), for playing marbles in school time; in 1870 a group of children arriving late was made to stand for 1 1/2 hours, for spending their school pence, for biting, for stopping on the road to school to play snowballs; in 1874 J. GIBSON was caned 7 strokes for knocking down Ben WADE, "having been frequently warned as to his ill-treatment of little children".
One widowed Headmistress, Mrs Emily J. ALLEN, aged 43, with a daughter born in New Jersey, generously gave an extra week's holiday to the children in May 1891. During this break she married Stibbard's 52 year old widowed carpenter, Thomas SYMONDS.
Entries in the log book about the employment of monitors and assistants, difficulties in recruiting and keeping even temporary staff, together with Stibbard census information giving the birth places and family contexts of the school mistresses, provide detail which could form the basis of a separate study. Unfortunately, no school registers have survived to complement the information in the log, and almost nothing is known about what the staff here were paid. The only School Managers' Minute Book covers 1903-79, and this is closed to the public until 2010.
Much of the daily round of the teachers and pupils logged here must be familiar to the current staff. Today, Stibbard School thrives; it is scheduled to move to a new building to be constructed shortly in the village near The Glebe.
Help from notes by Rachel Young on Stibbard School Log Book is gratefully acknowledged.
Shirley Howell (1995): Transcribing Stibbard Parish Registers, The Norfolk Ancestor, Vol.7 Part 10, Sept. N&NGS, Norwich
Shirley Howell (Ed) (2003): Stibbard School Log Book, with notes by Rachel Young. Pub. Shirley Howell, Norwich
NRO: Stibbard National School (Infants & Mixed) Log Book, Norfolk Record Office MF1542/7/C/ED 53/1, MF1542/8 & 1543/1 C/ED 53/2
Stibbard School Children c1924, with Headmistress Mrs. HIGNETT
(Copyright the Scholastic Souvenir Company, Blackpool)
Back row (l-r): Percy Bird, John Eggleton, Dick Stewart, Betty Lee, Reggie Bunting, Doris Eggleton, Margaret Jessop (aka Biddy Bean), Edith Nobes, George Buckenham, Chirstine Robotham, Oswald Robotham, Walter Smeg, Ashley Robotham.
Middle row (l-r): Grace Voutt, Esther Thompson, Edith Bird, Mina (Jasmine) Curson, Mrs. Beatrice Hignett, Elsie Wright, Vera Thompson, Ethel Robotham, Joan Stewart, Kethleen Hignett
Front row (l-r): Bob Robotham, Harry Buckenham, Jack Curson, Arthur Curson, Philip Nobes, Douglas Holsey, Raymond Green, Terence Robotham, Dick Robotham, Herbert Eggleton.
1818: Population of Stibbard = 340; Endowed Schools: None. Other institutions: A school, containing 47 children of the poorer classes, who are taught at the charge of two individuals. Source: A Digest of Parochial Returns, 1818, Vol. II
1858: The National School was erected in 1858, for boys, girls and infants. Mrs Jane Chapman was the Mistress. (Kelly's Directory, 1883)