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HISTORY OF BINGHAM

BINGHAM THROUGH A TEACHER’S EYES

From the Board (Wesleyan) School logbooks written by Mr Thomas Jones 1869-1879

"Thomas Jones was born in Northop in Flintshire in 1829. His first job was headmaster at the village school in Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire where he met and married Mary Ann Rycroft when she was eighteen and he was thirty. They had three daughters and a son. Bingham was his second school and he stayed here until he retired. Two of the daughters were pupil teachers at the school in Bingham at different times. According to his granddaughter, Gladys Marian Benton (nee Strong), whose memoir is in Bingham library, he was one of the first batch of students to pass through the Wesleyan Normal Training College at Westminster to train as a teacher. In 1843 the Wesleyan Conference resolved to establish 700 new day schools in the following 7 years. The Normal Training College was opened in 1849 to provide teachers for them. In 1872 a college for women was opened in Battersea. It was here that Mrs Jones, an assistant teacher, went to sit her exams to become a certificated teacher in December 1873."

Targets, Performance pay, Standard Assessment Tests …. 21st Century? No! Elementary Education in Bingham in the 1870s. To receive a government grant a teacher had to ensure that pupils under 10 attended 250 sessions throughout the school year, that pupils achieved the standards set for writing, reading and arithmetic, be well-disciplined and sing in tune, and for girls to be able to ‘sew a fine seam’. Should these standards not be met, the school government grant could be slashed and the unfortunate teacher lose the teacher’s certificate with a resultant drop in income. Worse still, he could be given the sack. This had happened in 1869, when the school under the charge of Mr John Matson, had received a damning report from the inspector.

‘the state of this school continues to be very unsatisfactory. The discipline is very imperfect and the percentage of failure in the examination is greatly above the average. I think it is high time for the Managers to consider whether they are content to allow this school to go on year after year receiving bad reports. Under a teacher of average ability and industry this school ought to improve rapidly. I have looked in vain for any sign of improvement during the succession of years that Mr Matson has had charge of it…. The reduction of the grant is made serious, because neither the managers nor the teacher of this school appears to pay attention to simple complaints. If Mr Matson does not raise his school into a more efficient state, his probation will be closed and his name removed from the list of teachers who satisfy Article 51. Grant reduced by half to £19.8s.1d.

Poor Mr Matson had struggled for several years with very limited resources, a badly maintained, cold draughty school and pupils who attended only fitfully. He had tried to have the playground asphalted to prevent mud being trampled into school on wet days by raising a subscription among friends of the school, only to find that the school committee used the money raised to pay off debts.

After the inspector’s report of 1869, Mr Matson left the school. Mr Bearman took over in 1870. He was assisted by his sister, who taught sewing. He did not stay long. His sister complained bitterly of the cold, which was made worse by the broken windows and Mr Bearman was disgusted by the lack of resources, the ignorance of the children and by the ‘carelessness of parents who seem not to care whether their children come to school or not’. Mr Bearman departed at the end of 1870 and Mr Thomas Jones arrived with his wife, who would work as an assistant teacher, and their children. Like others before him Mr Jones found the quest for high attendance and high attainment a monumental task. Two entries in a school logbook of 1874 show the teacher’s despair:

‘work, work hourly, daily, patience, anxiety, striving, hoping, disappointed, often we experience in school during a week. No unnecessary hindrance should be in a school. All necessary apparatus and more teaching power is required to do well’


And:

‘To secure regular and punctual attendance, to have each child taught fairly good or well, to accomplish the greatest amount of good during the short time of school life with many, are subjects which press upon our minds and cause much anxiety continually’.

So what were the conditions that led this teacher, who was voicing the cries of all Bingham teachers throughout the period, to say this?

The Wesleyan school on Kirkhill was opened in 1850. It was a purpose-built school with Italianate schoolroom and a campanile, removed in 2002 after it became unsafe. There was a house for the master attached. It became the Board school in 1870 and continued as such in that building until the new school opened in School Lane in 1909. The building is now a private dwelling.

Poverty in Bingham

Bingham was an agricultural community and many families earned their living on the land and supplemented their income from growing vegetables and fruit and keeping pigs and poultry in their gardens. Children were a valuable and necessary labour force and in the school logbooks there is constant reference to attendance being poor because children were working in the fields. From March onwards boys are employed stone picking, bean dropping, potato planting, mangold singling, hay making, pea pulling, turnip singling, bird scaring, harvesting, gleaning, fruit picking and potato picking. Girls were kept home to care for younger siblings and to help with housework. Even if the children attended school, some would leave early to take dinner to the fields and leave early in the afternoon to take tea or help gather fruit in season. Teachers often felt sympathetic to families forced through poverty to send their children to work. Mr Jones wrote:

‘I called on the parents of irregulars. When a little money can be earned on the farm, beading lace and nursing, poor people are induced to let their children earn it, but when some are absent through the negligence of parents and trifling excuses it is painful to us.’

The logbooks give a picture of the poverty in Bingham. Education was not free. Each child paid between 2d and 9d a week and there are constant reports of unpaid fees. One mother complained that she could not pay the school fees as she had only 10/- a week to keep a family of ten. One entry talks of the number of families leaving Bingham over one winter, because of the lack of work. Later on another entry reports ‘Attendance low on account of severe weather and poverty of parents owing to the severity of the winter’. After the introduction of compulsory education (November 1872) some children had their fees waived or paid by charitable endowments. The teacher talks of children who were so neglected, verminous and poorly clothed that ‘they ought to be in the Union Workhouse where they would be cared for’. The Wesleyan school had several pupils from the workhouse and they ‘were clean and well behaved’, in contrast to the small boy reported to the headmaster for not being clean:

‘Mrs Hart called to tell me that the poor boy W is not clean – that neighbours had seen him and his father through the window picking vermin off their clothes. It was talked of in Mrs Palethorpe’s shop…After 12 when all had gone we examined him and found he was very dirty, his head very much - ordered him not to come until he had cleaned himself well. On Thursday we requested his father to have his hair cut, combed and washed, he is a little cleaner now. I see that such children will produce an injurious effect on the school’.


See Chapel Yard below, an example of poor housing from the period.

Chapel Yard cottages, on the corner of Newgate Street and Moor Lane, are an example of some of the poor quality old housing in Bingham demolished in the 1960s. Permission to use this photograph is given by Cliff Harding.

Sickness

Attendance at school was affected from time to time through epidemics of measles, whooping cough and scarlet fever, and one entry talked of smallpox. The school cleaner was excluded from the school for several months because there was smallpox in her Close. In October 1874 there was an outbreak of scarlet fever in the town. It was rumoured that the fever had started in the Wesleyan school and the rumour gathered strength when a local doctor said the school was overcrowded. The headteacher was extremely concerned by the rumour, fearing that the doctor’s report would encourage parents to take children from the school. The headteacher wanted the Sanitary Authorities to inspect the premises the school:

‘to ascertain if the source of the infection existed in the school and causing to remove the danger to which we were all exposed. On 31st I wrote to Dr Wotton informing him of the report and that our attendance was less than we could accommodate’.


Nothing more is mentioned in the logbook of this outbreak, though outbreaks occurred in the Church school and the Wesleyan (Board) school and the deaths of pupils were noted.

May 19th Anne G very ill of Scarlet Fever
May 26th J. Randal (school attendance officer) told Mr Rowland, Surgeon, that Harry and John G cld not come to school as their sister is ill of Scarlet Fever. She died and was buried on Thursday.

Scarlet Fever was prevalent enough in 1869 for an article to be published in the Parish Magazine giving hints on what should be done in an infected household.

Directions in Scarlet Fever

The mildest form of this complaint may become malignant without the most careful attention. First, to giving plenty of fresh air; second, great cleanliness; third frequent change of linen. (A tub of cold water should stand outside the chamber door, into which every article of linen used by the sick person should be instantly thrown; all woollen apparel burnt or thoroughly baked; all other things buried, not thrown into the sink.) It must be remembered that Scarlet Fever is far more infectious than any other, and may be communicated by touch, breath, or even handling of the clothes of the infected person, by using any article he has used, or of course, going into the same house. Impure air and impure water are to be anxiously avoided, windows should be kept open, and drains looked to. If the water be not entirely free from impurity it should be boiled a few minutes and then allowed to get cold, when children may drink it with impunity.

Discipline

Teachers received complaints from the residents of Bingham about the behaviour of the children from time to time. They quarrelled and fought in the streets, broke windows with their balls and threw stones. After one bout of stone throwing which resulted in several windows in the school being broken, the boys were ordered to pay the cost of the repairs. This was a preferable punishment than the one meted out to George Thornton who spent 7 days in Nottingham prison for breaking windows. When Mr Bearman took over the school in 1870 he found the discipline of the school ‘exceedingly lax’. He reported that ‘children very disorderly in dinner hour. Obliged to be exceedingly strict. Under Mr Bearman and then Mr Jones discipline in the school improved. There are very few entries relating to corporal punishment. The entries in the log book generally relate to parental complaints about punishment.

‘I hit H W with a thin osier for answering back and cut his hand. Father came but accepted apology’

Children were often sent home for bad behaviour:

‘Fred D pushed a stick thro’ a keyhole and hurt a little boy’s eye in the dinner hour. I sent Fred D home.

The local policeman Francis came into school to caution boys for bird nesting.

Festivities

Bingham in the 1870’s had its share of fun and festivities, which was a source of aggravation to the schoolteachers. One entry in 1879 laments the out-of-school attractions that keep children away:

‘Jan 1879. Many absent on Monday morning running about the town as ‘ploughboys’ begging money’.
This was a reference to Plough Monday, which took place on the Monday after twelfth night. The teacher wishes there ‘was a byelaw preventing children from Plough Monday, pigeon shooting, cricket matches, Servants Statutes and other attractions. The interests of the school are hindered by lawless and irregular attendance.’

For more information about Plough Monday in Nottingham shire click here.

Festivals and feast days closed the schools or drastically cut attendance on many occasions throughout the year. The Bingham Fairs, East Bridgford flower show, feast days, pigeon shoots and cricket matches in surrounding villages and as far away as Newark would decimate school attendance. At Whitsuntide, so many chapels and friendly societies had anniversary celebrations and picnics that the schools had to close. Before the Wesleyan School became a Board school all pupils in the school were given an annual Sunday School treat. There was a half-day holiday and a free tea. Once the school became a Board school only children who attended the Wesleyan Sunday school could attend. Mr Jones wrote:

‘16 of the scholars did not belong to the Sunday School and were not treated to tea as before time, since the School had been made a Board School. Dissatisfaction was expressed. On Wednesday Master and Mistress treated them to tea in the classroom’

The day Batty’s circus came to Bingham the schools were forced to give a half day’s holiday for the circus parade through the streets at 1pm. The opening of the bridge at Gunthorpe gave children an opportunity to take an unofficial holiday. Evening concerts in the schools also disrupted work, while the school was transformed for the entertainment. The day the Prince of Wales came to Nottingham the school emptied.

The railways had a mixed reception from the teachers. On the one hand they saw that rail travel could have a beneficial affect on their pupils. Occasionally, there were cheap railway excursions to Skegness. An entry on 10th August 1877 records:

‘Cheap excursions to Skegness on Monday takes a few children away. A very good treat to children over 10 years to see the sea. Their minds are ‘flooded’ with light in one day. Those who have been will learn geography with greater ease and interest, if they are able to learn at all.’

On the other hand children absented themselves from school to work on the New Railway at Mill Hill. On the day that a new engine was taken to Mill Hill the school had to close so that children could watch the event.

‘5th May 1876. On Tuesday, a new locomotive engine for the new railway was drawn from the goods station to Mill Hill by 20 horses decorated for the occasion. Hundreds of people assembled at 9am, the event being given by the ‘crier’ at 8-30am. Owing to the delay in moving it – it was 10 o clock before it passed the school and as so few children met after the attendance was not marked’.

Inter-school rivalry

Rivalry for pupils between the schools was pretty intense at various times, though there was evidence of cooperation at examination time. One entry reads

‘Mary Smith who had nearly made her attendance here and had gone to the Church School after the Harvest Holidays came back on Tuesday until after the Inspection. I wrote to Rev Mr Miles stating particulars’

The cost of school fees was often a reason for children changing schools ‘ Anne S and Phillis C gone to Church School for 2d a week. Paid 3d here.' While another parent removed her children from the Church school because she had had to pay 4d a week for each child and the Board school would educate them for 2d. The non payment of fees were a constant concern, but when that was coupled with a child’s removal to another school Mr Jones was annoyed

‘On Tuesday Mary Ann W missed her home lesson slate – said James C had taken it. On Wednesday mistress asked James about the slate, denies it, also no home lesson learnt – scolded him and gave him slight tap with thin book. At play he took his cap and ran home. In the afternoon he went to the Adventure School just begun by Colishaw – he took his school fee – and here he has not paid since Xmas. Mother said she cld not pay. John M also irregular and indolent boy went there.’

The schools were not above a little self-advertisement. A letter to a Nottingham newspaper admonished Rev Mr Miles for canvassing for pupils to come to the Church School and Mr Jones got his pupils to work on their parents:

May 22nd Each child in 1st and 2nd Classes present on Friday wrote to his or her parents, thanking them for sending them to school, hoping they will see improvements, promising more diligence in future announcing Whit holiday. They each took it home in an envelope – neatly addressed
.

He was not above pointing out the deficiencies of other establishments:

3 children admitted who had been to a free sch – Mrs Strong- one over 7 can say letters only. And Mrs L brought 4 chn from Church School. She said the eldest was beaten because she did not answer or speak up, but the reason is she is rather deaf. But Flora E has gone to Miss Clifton’s dame school, because she learns no manners here’

Children were not above moving schools if they thought they could gain an advantage:

‘Several have gone to the Church School where they give prizes of books and money when they closed for Harvest’

Attendance

Once compulsory education was introduced a school attendance officer was appointed to search out the absentees and if they could give no good reason for non-attendance the parents appeared before the magistrate. Generally speaking, Mr Jones did not think highly of the school attendance officer believing him ‘to have no influence’ He obviously believed the attendance officer believed parents’ excuses too readily.

John Randal called to enquire if Bs children were in school. He told me that the B boy was picked on and whipped or flogged very often, which was why he was not at school. I took J Randal into the classroom where he saw the boy Thomas B sitting quietly amongst other chn hearing the Mistress teaching a song. The boys have come to school in a very dirty condition, long dirty hair, face and hands dirty – clothes ragged – not fit to be near clean chn. Blame I attach to the mother – a strong healthy woman who cld keep them cleaner’.
He believes that many who say their children are sick are keeping them home to work. He wrote to the school Board asking that children who are often ‘off ‘poorly’ shld produce a medical certificate’

There were families whose children were persistent absentees and Mr Jones complains bitterly of those who won’t make up their attendance. ‘Herbert S raising carrots and tending horse’ ‘Herbert S has been twice’ ‘Herbert S could have made up attendance without injury’.

Government changes were a source of great irritation to Bingham Schools. A rare show of solidarity between all schools was seen when the government ordered that the School Inspections were to be made in the summer instead of January:

Oct 28th 1876 Sat 4pm Meeting of Clergy, Managers, Teachers in Church Schoolroom to consider change of Inspection from Jan to Mid summer. It was unanimous opinion that chn in schools being occupied in fields in summer chn wld not be well prepared – results wld be unfavourable. Resolved to petition Ed Dept not to alter time. JB Hilyard mp said he wld take charge of petition’

In spite of the lack of resources and poor attendance, both the Board (Wesleyan) and Church schools were praised for their academic achievement and discipline by government inspectors. ‘Bingham Board School Report: The work in this school is done with unusual facility, accuracy and intelligence’ It would seem that Bingham was as fortunate in the 1870s as it is today in having dedicated, hard working teachers educating its children.


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