In 1831, Chirton had a small Sunday school which was supported by the vicar amongst other members of the parish.
This Sunday school was attended by 40 boys and 48 girls by 1833 and it is likely that it went on to become the day school. A Treasury building grant of £40 was provided in 1846 for the building of a National school on land conveyed for this purpose by Heytesbury Hospital in 1845. The Warburton report of 1858 says that between 40 and 50 boys and girls were taught by 'a young and intelligent but inexperienced mistress [Miss Martha Mitchell], in a very fair little room with flagged floor, said to be damp; and wall desks, books and apparatus very defective'. Teaching and discipline were 'moderate' and it was suggested that it would be an advantage to establish a joint school for Chirton, Marden, and Patney.
Unfortunately there are no Victorian school log books in Wiltshire & Swindon Archives, but the following general information would be relevant to the school for the latter part of the 19th century. Fees were paid for each child until 1891, normally at the rate of one penny or twopence a week and the 'school pence' were collected by the schoolteacher. There would have been a schoolmaster, or schoolmistress, with assistant teachers, pupil teachers and monitors. The pupil teachers were taught by the head before lessons started, took exams, sometimes went to the Diocesan Training College and eventually became teachers themselves. They mainly taught the younger children. Monitors were also paid but tended to be younger and helped to look after the younger children or teach the infants.
Teaching and discipline were 'moderate' and it was suggested that it would be an advantage to establish a joint school for Chirton, Marden, and Patney.
School holidays were at similar times to those of today but often there was only 2 days at Easter but a week at Whitsun. The summer holidays were of five or six weeks and were called the Harvest Holidays as the children either helped with the harvest or carried food and drink to their parents, who were working in the fields. There were more half-day and whole day holidays for special events. Half a day would be given after the annual H.M.I. or Diocesan inspections and there were holidays for school treats, choir outings, chapel teas, Christmas parties and at times when the school was needed for other purposes.
There were also many unauthorised absences. These would be for seasonal work, such as haymaking (June) and early or late harvest (July or September), being kept at home to help their parents, and working when they should have been at school. Bad weather such as heavy rain, cold weather, or snow kept children away from school, often because their parents couldn't afford to buy them suitable clothes. Apart from the usual colds and coughs there were more serious illnesses than today and these included, mumps, measles, whooping cough, scarletina and diphtheria.
The elementary subjects were the '3 Rs' - reading writing and arithmetic. Scripture was often taught by the vicar and children would have attended church for services on some days. Older children were taught history and geography and there may have been some study of natural history. Singing was taught to all ages and all the girls and some of the boys would have done needlework. Drawing had been introduced by the 1890s.
Average attendance to the National School in 1906 was 45, when the school came under the general management of Wiltshire County Council, but in 1907 it had reached 50 and by 1955 it had reached 91. This fell when children aged over 11 were moved to secondary schools in Devizes and 40 children were attending the school in 1970. These came from Chirton, Conock, Marden, Patney and Wedhampton. There is a similar catchment area today.
Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre