School Logbook Research

Following the 1870 Education Act, all headmasters and mistresses were required to keep a daily journal of school life, that could be reviewed annually by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools. As well as information about educational attainment and school discipline, the logs also offer insights into the cultural life of each village, insofar as this impacted on their schools. For example, we find references being made to children being absent because they had gone into the woods on May Day to collect wild flowers for garlands, or to join in the revels of harvest time. Log books also tell us about the weather (heavy snow causing a school to close), or epidemics, such as diphtheria or whooping cough spreading amongst the children, including the grim task of recording the names of those children who died.

West Sussex Record Office holds hundreds of logbooks for schools all over West Sussex. Check out their catalogue.

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.

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Ashington with Chactonbury Ring on the horizon (courtesy West Sussex Library Service)

Extracts from Findon school log book, 1905 – 1919. (WSRO E/84/12/1)

Conduct/attendance/ attainment of the Children

Top Girl Leaves

Bessie Bartlett our top girl came to say goodbye to me. The sad and sudden death of her father has rendered it necessary for her mother to leave the village until a house is vacant. She is the youngest of large family, who have been educated here, and has been a good and pleasant child to teach. (24/03/05)

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View across fields to Findon School (courtesy West Sussex Library Service)

Sickness and Mortality in South Down schools

Current life expectancy in this country is 80 years of age; fifty years ago it was 70. One hundred years ago it was 56, and until the 1860s, it was around 43, and had remained at that level for several centuries. During the late medieval period, people were lucky to live into their mid-30s. So, there is no denying that one of the great achievements of improved housing, sanitation, and medicine, is that most of us can expect to live to be old. At no other time in human history have so many people lived for so long.

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A child’s funeral in a village churchyard, 1877.


A Victorian Teacher’s lot was not always a happy one.

Our South Down teachers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras often had to contend with unruly parents as well as unruly children.  Complaints that we hear from teachers today about rudeness and inappropriate behaviour are not as recent a problem as we might think.

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Vintage engraving of Victorian education, female teacher teaching class of school boys 19th Century


Head Teachers for the long haul
One thing that struck me in undertaking this research, was the length of time head teachers remained in post. It was common for a head to serve 20 years or more. As we have seen James Kelly was in post at Fittleworth for well over 30 years, and both his mother and daughters also worked as teachers at various times. William Webster came to Harting School from a school at West Ham (one of the poorest parts of London) in 1874, and he was still recorded as being the school master in 1911 – 37 years later. Both his children worked at the school during the latter part of his headship. Webster lived in West Harting, so he was able to keep some distance between his home life and the school at South Harting, where most of the pupils lived. William Webster died in 1921, aged 71, presumably having retired some years earlier.