It has been mentioned that there was a school on the corner of the turning leading down to Weyburn; this was a Dame School, and seems to date from around 1837. The next school, The British School, was built by the Mill owner primarily for workers children. It charged 2d a week school fees and sometimes this sum would be docked from the parents wages.
The 19th Century, as it gathered pace, and the speed of industrial development increased, provided many examples of individual self improvement and there was admiration of the ethic of self help as advocated by the Rev. Samuel Smiles and others. In 1849, Elstead’s National School was opened by pioneering Church Men to serve the village as a voluntary Church of England School, to give the children elementary instruction in the 3-R’s.
Money was donated, and the school built on the site of an old Tithe Barn, but it was held to be important for the parents to contribute as well, and children in arrears were likely to be sent home for their “school pence”. A Factory Act required apprentices to receive secular instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic for their first five years apprenticeship and the children employed at Messrs. Appleton’s Mills continued to attend half time.
Plenty of fascinating information can be gleaned from the early log books. The numbers on the roll could rise to as many as 135, but attendance was often down to “a few scholars”. Children from the Farnham Road area were often absent in winter because of flooding, or deep snow, and older children would often be absent for potato planting and picking, haymaking, harvesting, hop picking, whortle berry gathering at Hindhead, and even beating for local Shooting Parties. Further disruption of routine were caused by illness -epidemics of diptheria, typhoid, scarlet fever, whooping cough, measles and mumps. It was by no means unknown for children to die as a result of these.
Sometimes there was no fuel for heating – “temperature 32° recorded”, and more than once the ink froze in the ink wells over night. In summer, the military manoeuvres in the neighbourhood caused problems between June and August and boys would often drop off to sleep in class through “having been out all night with the soldiers from Aldershot”. There were habitual truants, requiring visits from the Attendance Officer, and many were absent on May Day, or on Clothing Club Feast Days carrying garlands from house to house. Some times there were so few attending that those who were in school were sent home again and it is small wonder that educational attainments were not high.
Masters in charge, perhaps discouraged by the unequal struggle, rarely stayed long, only one of them lasting the course for 10 years. They were supported with varying degrees of success, by assistants, pupil teachers, monitors and local worthies. Many local ladies were mentioned for their assistance with repetition, sewing and knitting. The Rector, referred to as the “Reverend Gentleman” was a frequent visitor, teaching catechism and Scripture – “Church catechism repeated by the whole School 3.30 – 4p.m.”. It is noteworthy that Inspectors frequently commended most highly the standard of religious knowledge in the School while deploring the writing and arithmetic, and the “tone of the reading”. “Out of 26 present, only 5 got the following sum right in fifteen minutes – take 984,007 from 10,810,004”.
Pupil teachers are often mentioned for poor discipline and presumably the master had to take harsh action to counteract this. “Reprimanded Charles S. for insulting pupil teacher, to be expelled next time”.
There are frequent references to keeping the whole school in during play time and after school for being “noisy and disorderly”, and “omitting to learn home lessons”. Boys were caned for lying, impudence, truancy, stealing pears and fighting. Girls were cautioned for quarrelling, inattention, “fighting during leisure,” and “dirty flesh”. In 1877 “Bradford B. was punished for giddiness – not the first offence” and Henry B for “taking William S’s slate home”
In 1878, the Mill closed, and there were no more part time apprentices as pupils. Average numbers improved, and so in general did performance. In 1893 however, things reached an all-time low. “The School is in a fearful neglected condition – not an exercise book for some time and no paper work except copy book writing. It has been necessary to suspend the timetables and substitute other work”. In the same year, H. M. Inspectors found the school inefficient and threatened to withhold the small grant paid on results.
The 20th Century saw a much brighter picture of gradual educational advance. The Education Act of 1870 put the attack on illiteracy on a National basis. Board Schools were established and, in 1899, a National Board of Education. Since 1902, stage by stage, school life has been lengthened, a ladder built from primary education to university, new buildings and better equipment provided, and the training and qualification of teachers improved. The curriculum has broadened to include such things as science and P. E. As adjuncts to formal education, there are today school medical services, play centres, school meals, school broadcasting etc.
Elstead School has progressed throughout this period. In 1917 the first three County Scholarships were gained, and today the path is clear from First School to College or University, for those who stay the course. In 1962, H. M. Inspectors reported that “these pupils are enjoying a full and rewarding school course”. The buildings, however, were inadequate for increasing numbers (270 plus) and there was no Hall, or Staff Room and little storage space. Therefore, in 1969, a new school building, financed jointly by Church and State, was dedicated by Bishop Reindorp and in 1974 the school was reorganised under the Surrey Plan to become Elstead Church of England First School for children of 5 – 8 years.
The School today has an “Aided Status”, which means that it retains the original Church interest and concern. A certain proportion of the Managers are Foundation Managers, appointed by the P.C.C. and the others represent the Parish and County Councils.
It is the early years, however, which retain the greatest interest, accustomed as we are to a situation where education is available as of right to every child, and where, even in times of cut back in educational spending, a full and varied curriculum is available. A further dip into the school log-books before we leave the subject, would throw light not only on the condition of the school 100 years ago, but also give some insight into the lives of the children and their parents.
1864 – October 6th
School noisy and disorderly during first part of morning; kept in during play time for the same. First and Second classes kept back for omitting to learn home lessons.
1864 – December 10th
Several (10) children absent on account of Clothing Club.
1867 – August 9th
Several children absent this week on account of their being employed on gathering the harvest.
1868 – January 20th
Six boys were punished for smoking.
1868 – March 3rd
A gentleman called and gave the children some sound advice.
1868 – May 1st
Thin attendance – children absent carrying May garlands from house to house
1868 – September 1st
Work resumed after usual hop picking vacation of one month.
1869 – December 6th
Emily aged 12 admitted, being unable to read her letters.
1871 – January 17th
Attendance thin, the road to the Mill being impassable through water.
1874 – June 22nd
Very large attendance (135).
1875 – March 5th
Sent Thomas C. home. He was taken ill with violent retching through poison. Died in the evening,
1875 – March 22nd
Sent William W. home for his school fees – 8 weeks in arrears.
1880 – November 8th
Children cautioned on account of coming to school with dirty flesh and dirty heads.
1889 – August 4th
Alfred Hockley, aged 8 years, died from burns. Unexploded cartridges in his pocket were ignited by a heath fire and although he tried to put it out with water from a small stream he was badly burned. He died in hospital.
1893 May 25th
H.M.I’s report quotes elementary attainments much below par. School inefficient – grant therefore may be withheld. Premises must be properly cleaned. This was the worst report ever.
1894 – August – September
Schoolboys Cricket Club started out of school hours and going well.
1894 – October 26th
Numbers on books 94 – average attendance 58.
1901 – February 14th
Temperature was 36° . Impossible for the children to work “creditably”.
1901 – February 15th
A ‘chaldron” of coke brought by Mr. Legg.
1901 – November 25th
Children began to take drill on Wednesdays from 3 – 3.30p.m.
1902 June 26th
Holiday for Intercessions for King Edward VII. School opened as usual due to postponement of Coronation.
1902 – December 11th
Children present at planting of Coronation Tree on Green.
1905 – May 24th
Holiday – Empire Day. H. M. The King in the neighbourhood. Children marched in the playground and saluted the flag.
1905 – August
School closed – epidemic of scarlet fever. In this year the doctor began examining all children of all age groups.
1912 – January 22nd
An epidemic of influenza – the first mention of the disease by name. It occurred every year after this.
H.M.I.1s report “premises have much improved”.
1915 – February 25th / April 12th
School used by Military Authorities for soldiers quarters.
1916 September 20th
New subjects have been introduced:- Drawing, Woodwork and Household Management. School Playing Fields taken for allotments.
1917 August 3rd
Junior County Scholarships, the first ever gained.
1932 August 29th
Attendance Officer visits regularly – attendance much better, 174 on the books.
H.M.I’s report – number on roll 151. Parents engaged in agriculture, broom making and engineering.
1939 September 14th
School re-opened, 167 on roll. There were a number of air raid warnings and some of the children took shelter in trenches dug by the Church. An old hut, previously used for chickens, was erected in the playground to become the school canteen.
There were air raid warnings nearly every day in September 1940. In 1941 the National Savings Group was started, and on June 28th 1944, a day which must have lived long in the memory of all the inhabitants of the village, there were five alerts, and two rocket bombs passed over Elstead.
This sees the end of the early log books which make fascinating reading, as they chronicle not only the early years of struggle as a small country school in a poor area gradually improves its standards, but also provide a graphic record of the social history of the time as national events intrude into village life and we read of the illnesses, the holidays, the occupations, and even the economic background of the children and their parents.