The Church School

Today it is accepted that everyone goes to school, this was not always the case. The Church provided forms of teaching to children and their parents; one penny a week covered the cost of a child providing the parents were churchgoers.

In 1841 The Schools Sites Act allowed for the conveyance of land so that a school could be built, with the help of the landed gentry, Colonel and Mrs. Henry Acland Fownes Luttrell a trust deed to the Minister and Wardens of St John The Evangelist Church together with the National Society was presented and a school was built. Mrs. Eva Luttrell had laid the foundation stone and on 6th May 1863 education began for everyone at THE HIGHBRIDGE NATIONAL SCHOOL.

The school building mirrored church and vicarage having large rooms with windows reaching up to the vaulted ceilings One main room was split into sections by means of large windowed screens, these could be pulled across the floor, possibly in metal grooves, to accommodate the different ages ranging from 5 to 14. The Church was heavily involved as a governing body, the Vicar being the Chairman. Many went to school for the first time, walking along gas-lit roadways. Queen Victoria was on the throne and demanded high moral standards. Ladies wore long dresses to conceal their legs; even table legs were required to be covered with thick chenille. Lifting lace curtains to peer out was also frowned upon; some children could expect a sharp smack to the legs at such times.

An increase in the population meant the school had to expand and two further rooms were added; temporary accommodation was used, such as the Baptist Chapel, where great fun was had sliding down the banisters in between lessons. By 1883 the school had to be enlarged, or be handed over to a School Board.  This did not meet with a very ready response and many acrimonious meetings were held, but once again, Highbridge decided to carry on the good work that Mrs. Luttrell had begun.  Feeling they would be dishonest to her and their trust if they gave up their schools, they put their shoulders to the wheel and added a large wing to the original building. During 1880-1890 Mr James Wood was Master of the school.

In 1891, when the Reverend A.O. Tisdall the fifth Incumbent (1890 – 1895) was vicar, another appeal had to be made for the re-building and re-fitting of the “back premises” at the cost of £30.  The so-called “Free Education Act” of that year, had to be explained to the parents, who until then had been paying 1d per week, per child, although “the Managers allowed the parents to pay only half-fees for infants”. The Government was offering a sum of 10/- a head in place of the “School pence”. It was pointed out that “in a place like this there were many who availed themselves of the excellent education our schools offered and would yet not care to get their children educated by the state”. It was suggested they might still care to pay their pence voluntarily!!  But the Vicar stated that “If parents will not help our schools with a willing and cheerful heart, by all means let them keep their pence, but urge them to put the pence they save in the Penny Bank, in which we now have 49 depositors.  What we fear is that “Free Education” will only mean an “Extra Pint or two or three (drink?) .As the case may be.”

The Highbridge National School Records—-3 to 14 year olds.

February 1893—Reginald Morrish behaved rudely to some of the children on the way home after the children had been given a lantern entertainment. He was caned for it the next day. His parents threatened to take legal proceedings if he should be punished again for offences committed on his way to or from school as they claim that the school had no right to do so.

December 1893___Absentees were regularly reported to the Attendance Officer, persistent ones were fined. Her Majesty’s Officer and Clergy made regular examination

March 1894—A sad accident occurred soon after school was dismissed last Friday. Several of the boys were crossing the railway line near the Gas House; they avoided the ‘down’ train, but an ‘up’ train passing at the same instant caught Albert James and killed him. It knocked down Frank Cresswell, injuring his arm, broke his collarbone and otherwise bruised him, so that it will be some time before he will be able to return to school. Both lads were in Standard Four.

April 1894—All teachers ill—School closed until after Easter.

November —1898 Messrs Lever Bros (Sunlight Soap) have sent a parcel of sheets and cardboard tops as prizes for the children under ten years of age, to be competed for in a writing competition as a homework exercise one day during the present month. This is welcomed as an incentive to do well in writing and the children are busy practising.

The Log Book records a variety of reasons for absences, amongst them; truancy, mumps, measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever and bad weather. Many children walk to school over long distances.

In 1904 – 1918) a new cloak room and offices was built, the drains put in order and an appeal was made to help the Managers face the financial responsibility laid upon them, by the great Education Act of 1902.  “People do not realize that they will be heavily rated for a Council School, if the Managers cannot comply with the requirement of the Education Authority.  Surely church people are not going to allow their school to go”

In 1944 under a Government Act the school became known as Highbridge V.C.School (Voluntary Controlled) this entailed funding from Government with Church representatives on the Board of Governors.

In July 1947 the local newspapers reported that there had been a suspicion locally that exam papers may have been tampered with and it caused such a concern that questions were raised in the House of Commons.     EDUCATION MINISTER PROMISES INVESTIGATION.

Apparently not satisfied with the Somerset County Education Committee’s decision to shelve the Highbridge examination papers probe, two M.P’ s have now raised the question in the House of Commons, with the result that Mr. G Tomlinson, Minister of Education, has promised that every step will be taken to solve the mystery. The Minister’s attention had been drawn to the statements appearing in Somerset newspapers to the effect that the culprit was not likely to be traced and did he feel that every step should be taken to find out the person responsible-if necessary with the aid of the police. Mr.Tomlinson: I have taken steps, and I have already promised to take the inquiry further.

PETITION WITHDRAWN:  Mr. W. H. Hatcher, a manager of the school who had been primarily responsible for the investigations said he would proceed no further with the petition he had been organising for presentation to the Home Secretary demanding a further inquiry.

In the early days the school had a system whereby children were allotted to ‘houses’, these were: –

Knight, Luttrell,and all people associated with the original school. Later houses became: – Grenville, Hawkins, Raleigh and Drake, all famous sea captains.

Mr A.Mason, Headmaster of the school retired in 1962 and Mr Raymond Dunbavan was appointed as Headmaster. Plans were afoot for the building of a new school, but before these reached fruition, Mr Dunbavan died very suddenly in January 1968. A new headmaster Mr Brian Riley was subsequently appointed and commenced duties in September 1968.

The school continued to function until May 1st 1973 when it transferred to new buildings in Burnham Road. It was a Co-education school with in excess of 210 children aged between 8 and 10 years of age; the original school was sold and was converted into two private houses.

During the 1980’s the school made many Field Trips to a number places of interest such as, Brent Knoll, Highbridge Market, Cricket St Thomas and the Rural Life Museum at Glastonbury, the school also took time out to watch the National Cycle Race as it sped through Highbridge. There were 204 pupils in 1982. A trip to Wembley Stadium. London to see the Schoolboy Football International was arranged in 1984. The school assembled near the A38 in 1985 to welcome and cheer Ian Botham on his way along Church Street on his John O Groats to Lands End Charity Walk and in June a Class won a free trip by helicopter to South Wales. A school camp was held at Kilve in the Quantocks Hills in 1986. A choir of 50 sang in Wells Cathedral the same year. There was a trip to the R N.A.Station at Yeovilton during 1988. In this year the transfer age from Beechfield changed from 8 to 7 and the school arranged to take first year juniors from 1990 making approximately 225 pupils, this rose to 230 in 1991.

A good year for the school at the Highbridge Festival of Arts was 1989 when 88 children won awards; including 12 distinctions, 6 merits and 9 certificates, an improvement on previous years.

The first computer was installed in September 1990. The school choir entertained the members of the Stroke Club at Christmas and also presented its own pantomime. Over the years many alterations have been made to the structure of the school, addition classrooms have been added and in the late 1990’s the building was modified to include a Computer Suite and on the 21st November 2002 the pupils moved into their £100,000 I.T.Centre.

Mr. David Penny, the current Head teacher (2004) kindly permitted the examination of the School Log Books.

The following account was produced in 2002 by the then Head teacher Mr. Paul Rushforth and his Assistant Mr. Christopher Burman: –

St John’s Church of England Junior School was founded in 1863 – as the National School of Highbridge.  It was originally built to take children from 5 – 14 but as the population grew, and other schools were built locally, it became a primary school.  At the time it opened up until the mid 1970’s Head teachers were required by law to keep a logbook.  The log was a record of salaries, inspections and other events in the life of the school.  These logbooks (of which there are eight) now provide us with a history of the school and the people associated with it.

We often hear people say that standards are not what they used to be in education.  We can certainly be glad they are not what they were!  Despite the cane being wielded on an almost daily basis during the early part of this century, some children seemed to get into mischief.  In 1925 children crept into the Headmaster’s study and wrote “rude comments” on his walls.  One teacher accused the boys (for it would be boys, of course) of being in danger of “turning into socialists!”  The Head teacher records that “I stopped her at that point.” Days off were frequent.  If there was heavy snow, or if there were crops to be harvested, the population of the school would drop dramatically.  Whooping cough was the scourge of the school in the early days as was influenza.  The infamous ‘flu’ epidemic of 1918 caused such a high rate of absenteeism that the school was closed down by the authorities for five weeks.  Head lice and children who only changed their clothes on a monthly basis were also common.  Not that it was only illness, work and bad weather that kept pupils away.  In April 1902, it was written that “Yesterday afternoon there was a circus in town and this somewhat lowered the attendance.”

Conditions, of course, for adults and children alike were not as we might expect today.  In February 1917 the Head teacher reported that all the rooms were very cold.  The log states “Children (were) allowed to go to the fires to warm themselves several times during each session.”  The extremely harsh winter of 1963 also resulted in the toilets freezing up for several weeks, along with all the other water pipes.  Needless to say the children were sent home for an extended holiday.  One can only imagine the difficulties parents may have had if the toilets at home froze over too!

All the money that the school paid out was collected from the Vicarage – as the Church of England primarily funded the school.  The Head teacher records every month how he would attend the Vicarage and the Vicar’s servant would pay out the wages to the Head teacher, who would pay the staff, purchase coal, etc.  As one might imagine, this occasionally led to disputes between the Vicar and the Head teacher.  One Head teacher was “banned from coming onto the site” by the Vicar.  Another Vicar demanded, with five minutes notice that the whole school come to church and take part in a service he had decided to hold.  He was, as the Head teacher records, “to be disappointed.”   The incumbent Vicar of 1903 even closed the schoolrooms on the basis that “They were required for a tea on Wednesday.”

The school has been subject to regular inspections throughout its 139-year history.  The results of these inspections are also written in the logbooks.  There are some truly withering comments made by inspectors:

In 1932 an inspector wrote, “Arithmetic, though it receives more time than is usual or advisable, is weak.”  “Considering the size and importance of this school’ it is hoped that a strong effort will be made by all concerned to increase its efficiency.”

In 1964 the school was so untidy that the Headmaster issued a bulletin to all staff and had them sign the copy in the logbook.  Some of the comments have come down to us as every day practice.

“See the children off the premises before you go home”

“The teacher on duty is responsible for the organising the litter squad”

He sums up by saying; somewhat bluntly “I was so ashamed of the very poor conditions of the school on Friday I spent over half an hour tidying up. This is not my job”

I suspect that most Head teachers find that it is exactly their job.

Memories of days at St Johns’ School

I can never remember our School being called St. John’s. It was Highbridge School, or on more formal occasions Highbridge V C School. I remember Mr Bick, who was my teacher at 11+ level. There were 53 pupils in our class at one time. Mr Bick having to bring the ‘brighter’ pupils to the front, thus having to abandon those unfortunates who were somewhat slower. I do remember some not being able to read at the 11+ exams and being so terribly worried for them. What a terrible time and my heart went out to Mr Bick.

I do remember the motto ‘Mens Sana in Corpore Sana’. Why did that stick I wonder?

Dianne Williams

I remember that one Market Day a Bull escaped from the Cattle Market. He ran down the High Street and crashed into the level crossing gates, killing himself. I must have been only about three or four at the time.We lived at no.19 Poplar Estate with only a small garden that we shared with some chickens.

My younger sister Pearl was a real menace and kept removing the chicken’s feathers as they walked around.1947-48

Michael Dubin

One response to “The Church School

  1. I was in Mr Bick’s class too but unfotunately he left part way through the year and was replaced by Mr Moorhouse who had a very hard act to follow. I was very lucky to pass my 11 plus and went to Sexeys at Blackford in 1959. We also moved to Berrow at this time so I lost all my primary school mates virtually overnight. I’ve always been sad about this.

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