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In 1845, "a piece of land on which a school was then being erected, situated and late part of Tracy Green at Witheridge" was conveyed on trust for a school to be called The Witheridge Independent Chapel Day School. There were a number of difficulties that had to be faced after the school opened. Firstly there was no land other than that on which the school stood to serve as a playground, and so the village square had to be used. This was not popular with local residents. Secondly the school was very hard to heat, and there was no heating upstairs until the 1880s, and one entry in the schools logbook illustrated the problem all to well. "it is a hard matter for the children to hold their pens and pencils at all, and the ink is frozen in the ink wells" Thirdly, as there was only one teacher in the early years, and the school was on two floors, his task was exceedingly difficult. It took a a stern warning from Her Majesty's Inspector (In future referred to as HMI) to prompt the school managers to appointing an assistant teacher, which was just as well, for by the 1880s the school roll had grown to 90 pupils.

No school log was kept until 1872, so very little is known of the early years, after that date more is known. It appears that between 1872 and 1897 there were five different head teachers using a wide variety of teaching methods. Mr W Rogers encouraged parent and managers involvement both in visiting the school, and in testing the pupils. His successor Mr Stokes appeared to be less innovative, and his log relates more to the number of pupils canned on a daily basis than on their academic progress. He was quickly succeeded by Mr Saunders, who made sparing use of the cane, was fortunate to have his wife as an assistant teacher, and also made use of a 14 year old girl as a monitor. Within 18 months of taking over the HMI wrote" the efficiency of the school is so high that I feel justified in classing it as excellent". Sadly after only 5 years Mr Saunders left and in 1890 Mr and Mrs Jones took over and the school log shows that at the time there were 39 boys, 37 girls, and 28 infants on the register. In 1893 School Pence was abolished, to the relief of the parents who had to pay it, the teachers who had to collect it, and the managers who relied on it to balance their budget, and was replaced by the Fee Grant which was paid by the Government. This had a double benefit in that it encouraged parents to send their children to school, and gave the teachers greater security as they did not have to rely on parents for part of their salary.

The British School 1896 to 1921

On 4th September 1896 William Carter began his duties as Headmaster by enrolling his own three children in the school. His first step was to draw up a new syllabus and timetable, an aroused previously unheard of enthusiasm in the school managers. So much so that the school became the best staffed it had ever been. Mr Carter had not only his wife as an assistant teacher to take charge of the infants and Standards One and Two assisted by her daughter Fanny and also Helena Holcombe as monitors, but also in having a trainee teacher, Miss E G Trawin to assist him with Standards Three to Six.

He was regarded as an efficient, determined, and dedicated teacher, under whose headmastership numbers steadily rose from 80 in 1896 to over 100 in 1909, and he handled the move to the new building in July 1898 smoothly. The School log for 6 July 1898 dryly recorded "Closed School today in the old schoolroom, reopen Monday in the new one" On 9 July he observed "The scholars were arranged in their fresh classes on Monday morning in the new schoolroom." The new building had to snug and relatively well lit rooms. There were toilets (known as "offices") playgrounds, and a school bell on the roof. Mr Carter introduced monthly exams for each standard, and was noted for introducing new songs, magic lantern shows, taught the pupils the art of letter writing, and began military drill for the boys. His love of nature was demonstrated by the nature study rambles that he started, in 1907 he began a School Calendar of Nature Observations, and in 1913 gardening classed commenced. Whilst there were positive steps in this direction, HMI reports for the period indicated that "the children of the lower standards were reading and writing indifferently, and appeared listless." More than once he noted that "instruction in the lower part of the school is unintelligent and should improve in method and Reading should be more systematically taught" By 1905 some improvement was noted but it was not maintained.

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British School 1922-1965

At the British School, Mr Ollerenshaw served for 26 years before his retirement in 1946. He was proud early on of achieving an average attendance of 90% whatever the weather. This was helped by the first school bus that ran in September 1926 on a route that took in the Venhays, Ashmoor, Creacombe, Bradford and Nomansland. His school roll began at 52 and peaked in 1933 at 107. He had wide interests and his logbook entries include football and cricket, health talks, domestic science classes, poultry keeping, the telephone and royal weddings, and the day in 1928 when an aeroplane landed near the village and the children were taken up to see it. Mr Ollerenshaw noted sadly that although in most years one or two children passed the scholarship exam, most parents were unable to accept this opportunity for their children. He was not a cane man; in his time there were only 18 recorded instances of corporal punishment, but the rough stony playground caused frequent injuries before it was laid to tarmac. Before long a school garden was provided at Thelbridge Cross, and further progress saw the installation of electric light in 1936,thanks to the village supplier. In 1934 there was a major change in the school's status. Founded in 1845 on the principles of the Independent Chapel, confirmed in 1898,a Deed of Arrangement dated 27th July 1934 transferred the school to Devon County Council. for a period of 999 years at an annual rental of one shilling. War soon cast its shadow and in September 1939 the school was a week late in opening, due to the declaration of war. Gas masks were soon supplied, and in June 1940 68 evacuees arrived from the outskirts of London with their names and addresses on labels round their necks. Many were housed in the village, but a number were billeted on farms. A few drifted home, but in 1941 a further 29 arrived from Bristol, and the roll reached 133. The drift home was steady, and by 1945 only one remained. The two schools stayed open for alternative weeks in wartime summer holidays, although senior children were encouraged to work on farms. The school fundraised actively for the likes of "Savings Weeks"," Drives for Victory". They noted D-Day Landings in June 1944 with a special lesson on Northern France. Difficult times followed Mr Ollerenshaw's headship. Four supply heads followed him, followed by four heads until 1964.Little was recorded during this time. Severe winter weather in 1947 and 1963 caused problems and the school closed at times. On the plus side BBC School Broadcasts were made use of, and visits were made to the County Show, the Lapford Milk Factory and Heathcoats in Tiverton. A flood of visits included those by the Needlework Adviser, the Horticultural Adviser, the Clerk of Works and the Psychologist. (capital letters were always used for these). School dinners began in 1947,but other innovations took longer. In 1948 the County Council was still wondering whether or not to install flushing toilets.

In 1963 Mr J A H Parnell was appointed acting Head, and in 1965 became Head of the combined Witheridge Voluntary Primary (Controlled) School.

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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