Ashington School log books

Ashington School log books, 1872 – 1918

Ashington in 1872 would have been a traditional downland parish, where most people worked in agriculture and lived a life that was hierarchical and deferential. Until his death in 1877, the rector was a retired bishop, the Rev. Walter Trower, who in his early days had served as Dean of Chichester Cathedral and then rector of Wiston. He later became Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway, ending his career as Bishop of Gibraltar and Malta. Back in 1829, Trower had married his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth Goring of Wiston House, so it was fitting he should end his days back on ‘home ground’ at Ashington.

The pioneering folklorist, Charlotte Latham was born at Ashington. Her ‘West Sussex Superstitions Lingering in 1868,’ was published as the first paper of The Folklore Society in 1878. A reference copy is kept in the Local Studies Collection at Worthing Library.

Ashington was one of the stops for the London – Worthing stagecoach, where horses where changed for the final leg of the journey. Famously, the coach with Mr. Mitchell at the reins, made it to Ashington during the great snow blizzard of 1836. However, on leaving Ashington, Mr. Mitchell and his coach got stuck in deep snow near Highden (now Windlesham House School) and it was two weeks before it ran again.

The Education Act of 1870 stipulated that head masters and mistresses should complete a daily log, summarising the school day and any significant events. The following are a selection of extracts from the Ashington logs over a period of 46 years.

The Children

Shortly after taking up his appointment in 1872, the new head teacher wrote –

The children appear cheerful and happy and I find they enjoy drill and singing very much. On the whole I think them docile and orderly considering the very short time they have been at school.

This was an age when everyone sang, especially at community events, so the enjoyment of singing should not come as a surprise, but drill, that is more curious. Does it mean marching or standing to attention? It is hard to tell and is never mentioned again until the introduction of structured physical education lessons in the Edwardian age.

In the early years, maintaining a high level of attendance was a challenge for the school. Children would often fail to attend in large numbers if other activities were taking place that were of a greater attraction to them. It is often reported that children absented themselves on the 1st May as they were out in the woods collecting wild flowers to be made into ‘May Garlands’ this was so rooted in the local culture that the headteacher had to accept this informal holiday with pragmatic equanimity. Other events that drew children away from the school gates, where the annual ‘Club Fete,’ organised by the local friendly society, harvest celebrations, haymaking, hop-picking (this took place in East Sussex and Kent, so children would be away several days for this), gleaning (picking out flints from the fields after harvest), and racing.

It was also reported that when sons and daughters of local landowners got married, the children would often chose the nuptials over school lessons, as this extract from the log book entry for 19thn January 1901 suggests –

A very poor attendance in the afternoon on account of a fashionable wedding. Miss Ida Bridger and Mr Robert Gore; a fine afternoon and everybody at the wedding, children also…

Inducements to stay at school

In 1877, children who attended school more than 300 times in a year were rewarded by a halfpenny, and those who attended 400 times or more received a whole penny! By the 1880’s an elaborate system of issuing tickets was introduced for those children attending school regularly. Once four tickets had been issued, the child could then exchange them for a superior ticket – once twelve of these were collected, the child could exchange them for a shilling. Any child passing all their school examinations would also receive a shilling.

It took some time for these inducements to have a lasting effect, but on 26th June 1900, the headteacher was able to report that all 86 children were in attendance, ‘an unusual occurrence.’

School inspections

Every year Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools would visit, observing lessons, reviewing examination results and interviewing teachers and governors.

It would seem that Miss C.H. Smith was more appreciated by the inspector than her own governors. It is not clear from the log books whether Miss Smith was a teacher or the headteacher. At one point it appears the governors are on the verge of dispensing with her services; but the inspection in 1878 singled out Miss Smith for praise –

Miss Smith is doing good work. The children answer fairly eagerly in the lower division. In the upper group there is a reluctance to reply to questions when put to the whole class. Hymns are sung heartily, but the voices of the children are a little harsh. The tone of the school is good.

HMI continued to report positively on the school, as these extracts from 1884 show –

The school is well ordered by Miss Smith and in some respect I found it to have improved since my last visit….Miss C.H.Smith is well qualified by tact and firmness for the management of a mixed school, as she maintains very good order without undue harshness or undue noise.

Children at Ashington School in about 1900. The children do not look too happy, even though their photograph was taken to celebrate Christmas!
Photograph reproduced courtesy of West Sussex Library Service

Illness and the weather

Illness and the weather were two other significant reasons for none attendance. The record shows that children were frequently away from school for a myriad of childhood illnesses, including, measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, and scarletina. On at least two occasions, in 1880 and 1899, the school was closed for over two months due to sickness and fear of spreading the infection.

The weather too was a factor, the school closed after heavy snowfalls on several occasions, the most prolonged closure being during the of 1880/ 1881. –

23rd January 1881. The school has been closed for the last four days on account of the severity of the weather – the snow being so deep as to make it almost impossible for the children to attend.

1st February 1881. The school closed again yesterday on account of bad weather. Several children absent through broken chilblains.

Two teachers had to leave the school due to prolonged illness. In an age before a public health service and antibiotics, even those in the prime of life could find their careers cut short through debilitating illness.

Other events

The death of the Rev. Walter Trower, rector of Ashington, and former Bishop of Malta and Gibraltar, on 26th October 1877, was marked by an official school holiday so all could attend the rector’s funeral.

In 1880 three members of the same family left the school as they were going to live in the workhouse. No reason was given, but it must have been due either to the extreme poverty of the family, or the death of the parents – no one else being able to offer the children a home.

Football was introduced to the curriculum by the rector in 1902.

Physical Education was brought into the curriculum in 1904 (this was part of a national policy of creating a healthier population, following the rejection of so many possible recruits for the army during the Boer War of 1899 – 1902).

From 1907 the school celebrated Empire Day, with patriotic and imperialist displays of flags and marching and ‘standing in a square’ in the playground.

An incident of indecent behaviour by a man in front of the school during dinner hour in July 1915 led to the headteacher and three children travelling to give evidence to magistrates at Steyning.

On 11th November 1915, the headteacher had to relinquish his role as he was leaving to join the army to fight in France during the world war.

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