Wednesday 5 September 2018

Eton Wick Newsletter: Our Village December 2010

The Way Things Were — Schooling 

Eton Wick was without a purpose-built school until 1840, when a single room brick building was opened in the village at today's junction of The Walk and the main road. It measured 29' x 21' and although small was adequate for the population of that time. Some children and adults were previously taught to write and read by the church on perhaps a one day a week irregular basis, but with no village church until 1866 it would have meant using a farm building or private house. The 1840 school was a great advance but schooling was not compulsory until 35 years later. Also, it was not free until 1890 and the weekly fee of 1 or 2 pence would certainly have been a deterrent in the large families of the time. A census of 1851 suggests that about two-thirds of village children were attending the school and this was as good, or better, than the national average. 

Those really early teachers were probably without adequate training and ability, but at least a great step forward. It does not mean that the children of that era were ill-equipped educationally. They understood nature, the crops and most things rural in a way beyond today's laptop generations achieve. Apprenticeships catered for the top lads, and the indentures were comprehensive, often requiring the boy to live with his master's family for five years, to remain unmarried, and to promise to observe secrecy of all the trade practices he would come in contact with. 

For years schooling instilled discipline; "the three R's" and of course religious instructions, termed as 'scripture'. Most schools were Church of England or Roman Catholic and in consequence, the curriculum was very much influenced by the churches. Boys attended infant school at Eton Wick until about 7 years old then went to Eton Porny School. Girls could, and mostly did, complete their education at the village school until 1940. 'Porny' school was at least one mile from the village homes and for many years there was no bus service and certainly no school meals available. Long all weathers was particularly hard for the younger age group, having to walk to Eton for a 9 o'clock start, home at 12 o'clock and back to school for 2 o'clock and then home at 4 o'clock. My Father did just that in the 1890s, but fortunately with a bus service from 1922 I was given one penny for the bus fare home at 12 o'clock and so had just three walks a day. In summertime, we were able to walk home after school, along the Great Common, or occasionally along the South Field's track. This certainly widened our knowledge of plants, hedgerows and birds, besides understanding the seasons and farm crops. Wet days were a problem as few had good waterproofs or spare footwear; and nylon, of course, had not yet been invented. 

In the 1930s Porny School started the day with scripture, then maths; writing; English; poetry; drawing; singing — usually old English folksongs — P.T. or games and woodwork for older boys. Woodwork necessitated a coach ride once a week to Cippenham. Also, for older boys vegetable allotments and swimming instruction in the Eton Town Bathing Place. This was in Cuckoo Weir with Eton College using the area now known as the Swan Sanctuary, and the town bathing immediately next to the college. As this was downstream of the college area, we often mused we were bathing in their dirty water. 

Very few cycled to school, perhaps for no better reason than few owned a bike for personal use. There was another service from the Eton school that I thought was out of the ordinary: they organised a Clothing Club whereby pupils could pay into the club in units of one shilling, on school Mondays. My closest of four brothers and I each paid in a weekly shilling. With about 45 school Mondays this amounted to £4 — 10 shilling (£4.50) total in the year. With a choice of a few participating clothing shops, my Mother always opted for `Cranes' of Oxford Road, Windsor. The year ended in late summer, and annually on a dark and wintry evening Mother and her five boys walked to town and more than filled Mr Crane's little shop. I remember him as always kind and unruffled but he would not have been normal if he had not been glad to see us leave on the long trek home. 

In 1940 a larger, modern school was opened in Ragstone Road, Chalvey and that brought many changes. Pupils would now stay at Eton Wick School until 11 years old, at which age there they were transported to Ragstone Road. The Eton Porny pupils did likewise. By this time there was an influx of children evacuated from London and housed in local homes. School teachers had also come from London and besides affecting the local classrooms they also used the village hall as their school. Many evacuees stayed, but others gradually returned to their homes. In 1941 two incendiary bombs fell through the school roof, but many more straddled the Sheepcote Road allotments on what is now the Sheepcote flats (immediately behind the school). In 1944 the school leaving age was raised to 15 years and in 1972 to 16 years.

In 1965 a small village class was taught in the village hall due to accommodation shortage. The post-war village was growing rapidly. In 1953 a new classroom was built, this was followed by further extensions in 1959. Yet more extensions followed between 1962 and 1974 with provision for science and cooking. The school P.T.A. provided a heated swimming pool in 1962. For many years after the 1939 — 1945 war, Eton Wick school children were marched daily to the village hall for school meals. 

So many changes over the years, but if schools are judged by results the biggest change came in 1955 with the appointment of the village's first headmaster. Vernon Moss stayed here 21 years and it was like somebody drawing back the curtains, opening all the windows and letting light flood in. 

Frank Bond 

Click here to read Our Village December 2010.

This article was originally published in the Eton Wick Newsletter - Our Village as is republished with the kind permission of the Eton Wick Village Hall Committee. Click here to go to the Collection page.

Our collection of articles about schools can be found here: School.

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