One hundred years of service in this building was celebrated on April 25th 1991.
Nationally, the Adult School movement was a non-sectarian Christian educational group closely allied in spirit to the contemporary Y.M.C.A. and temperance movements. By 1888 classes had started in temporary accommodation in Highbridge. In 1890 these classes numbered around 90 members and the school committee felt confident enough to commission a new building, the land being bought for £60 from Thomas Cox. The building was to consist of one large hall 46 ft by 24ft, dividing into two classrooms each with a separate fireplace. A newspaper account has it that “the acoustics have been carefully considered and it is expected will be as near perfection as possible. ” The estimated cost was “upwards of £500”.
Laying the Foundation Stones in 1890 were two ladies, both the wives of benefactors to the Adult School. On April 25th 1891 Mrs. W. S. Clark of Street, officially opened the new Adult School and was “most pleasantly surprised by the spaciousness and by its lightness, cleanliness and purity.” She thought one might imagine the town of Highbridge raised to a very much higher level, both morally and intellectually, and in every possible way.” Almost prophetically she went on to state “what they wanted in their towns and villages was good reading rooms.”
The school was active until the 1930’s. The committee arranged weekly classes and Sunday services. Other meetings were held, the political ones and a keep-fit class for men being amongst the noisiest! During the Second World War concerts were held, one memorable evening two German prisoners of war gave brilliant piano recitals, being escorted to and from the blacked-out building by armed guards.
After the war St John’s school used the hall as an extra classroom. By the end of the 1960’s the building was in a rather neglected state being used only for the occasional function. In 1967 the County Library service took it over, the library, later re-decorated and re-carpeted did prove to be a well-used and popular facility for a time retaining the loyalty of its readers, even when the large library was opened in Burnham in 1985.
However, this did not last as the opening times of the library became less and less, eventually finishing up as one morning, one afternoon plus one day per week. Consequently people never knew when it was open, the library was then transferred to Alpha House, Market Street. After this occurred the Adult School stood empty for some time, later was re-furbished and became a private residence.
Sources of information: Bridgwater Mercury 26.11.1890. 11.3.1890. 29.4.1891. Conveyance Deeds 6.10.1891 Mr. & Mrs. C. Herniman, kindly gave information about later use.
HIGHBRIDGE ADULT SCHOOL CENTENARY
The centenary week of the Adult School Building in Church Street, Highbridge had a flying start on Monday. Flags were flown from what is now the Highbridge Library and the first event of the week was acclaimed a resounding success.
The Lecture Theatre at King Alfred’s School, Highbridge, was filled to capacity when Mr. Peter Wilson of Southend Gardens— ably assisted by his wife Angela—enthralled his audience with slides and tales of Highbridge during the past 100 years. On the screen Highbridge was once more the busy port and market town with the largest cheese factor in the world. In those days, apart from the odd horse and cart, the only transport was boat and train—and what a difference there was then in Market Street and Church Street, with no snarl-up of traffic.
The Town Clock was much in evidence on the slides and it was noticeable that with the passing of time many alterations had been made to the clock tower itself, as well as to parts of Highbridge.
TEACHING IN THE 1930’S
Mr. Daniel Chant bases the following on letters to his fiancée Miss Elsie Scammell, during their courtship. He came from Stoke- sub- Hamdon had trained as a teacher at Winchester College; in the First World War he was an ambulance driver working in Sarajevo. His fiancée, Miss Elsie Scammell was a farmer’s daughter, from Martock.
On returning to civilian life Mr. Chant applied for a teaching appointment at St. Johns School, Highbridge and his letters to Miss Scammell, which have been saved over the years, gave a picture of how things were in the 1930’s. His interview was with the Headmaster. Mr. Burke, who was very sympathetic and said he would do all he could to help.
The members of staff, at that time were a Mr. Samuels, Miss Round, and Miss Knight (There were no married women teachers until W.W.II). Mr. Chant lodged with a Mr. & Mrs. Hardacre who lived at Highbridge Common Farm. Sometimes there were opportunities in the evening, for walks in the surrounding countryside; also jaunts with Mr. Hardacre in his car. This must have been a pleasant change from the ill-ventilated classroom at St Johns School.
Mr Chants’ typical day in his school timetable: –
February 5th 1930 – At 6.55 a.m. the hooter of the Highbridge Bacon Factory, which is close by sounds; at 7 00 a.m. it sounds again and promptly a knock on the door produces Mrs Hardacre with hot water and a cup of tea. At 8 a.m. breakfast and then I set off for school. Having got the children inside, there follows a fifteen minute service, taken by Mr Burke, the Headmaster, then scripture and prayer book study until 9.45 a.m. which we have to take ourselves.
We leave at 12.10p.m.for lunch, and then school restarts at 1.45pm. Finished at 4.00 p.m.
They are very poor children, poor physique and low intelligence; they are almost like Victorian children, which I would not have thought possible today.
It was almost a year before Mr. Chant was recognised by the Board of Education and put on a more solid footing. Work was becoming much harder, Mr. Chant writes: –
“Mr Samuels and I are at our wits end to get in, all that has been pushed on us. There is a Church fete and as it has no supporters here, it seems to be left to the teachers to carry the fete on their backs. I shall be responsible for the gate, the skittles and the dance in the evening. Altogether, I shall be working from 2.00 p.m. until 2.00 a.m. Then we have the Sports coming along, the swimming to be organised, and the garden, not to mention the usual schoolwork. The Vicar came to me one day with his hands working convulsively and said that he had been asked by the County Authorities to discover whether, in the case of our school being turned into a senior school, I would be able to teach sciences. I told him that at my certificate exam, I had taken a distinction in science, whereat he seemed rather relieved.”
In October 1930;a Mr. Snelgrove, who had offices in Weston-super-Mare, interviewed him and offered him a teaching post in Frome, Somerset. The Headmaster of the school was a Mr. Jordan who had been at Winchester College at the same time and welcomed the prospect of working with someone he knew. By the end of December 1930, Mr. Chant had concluded his Highbridge experience and was looking forward to living and teaching in Frome at the National School in Bath Street.
(Account supplied by Diana Crossman, daughter of Mr Chant)