Francis Alfred Peet: Schooling and Education

“MY BEST REMEMBERANCE OF EARLY SCHOOL DAYS WAS THE JUBILEE OF QUEEN VICTORIA IN 1887” (P.11) 

Born in 1882, schooling began remarkably early for Francis Peet, the son of a carpenter. At just two-and-a-half years old, when his sister was born, he used to spend a week at a time at his grandmother’s house, along with his mother’s teenage sister. There his grandmother used to take him to visit the Newman Infant School, which was for children who were “too young to walk to the school at Birch Green” (p.3).  At four years old, he began elementary education at Birch Green itself, the parish school, with his mother having taken good advantage of them living “within 200 yards of it”.

Hertford Grammer School. 

Peet tells of some of his town’s history, stating that a village farmer and miller left some money to assist in funding the education at Birch Green school. 

Most of his recollections of childhood revolve around his schooling for Peet – who seemingly greatly enjoyed his time in education. The overall tone of his childhood education is positive and joyous, and Peet focuses on various fond memories within the early pages of his memoir. Jonathan Rose (1993) wrote of school and how “for many, it was both easy and fun; some even enjoyed the endless practice of penmanship” (p.127).  

Reminiscing on school events, he writes of the Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, and sharing food and drinks as well as later playing sports with the other children and adults in the Parish. He writes of how the night continued with “a bonfire and fireworks” as well as “dancing to the band in the firelight”. Peet includes other joyous memories of the night, such as how all of the children were all gifted a toy following from having tea in the schoolroom – his being a small toy trumpet, which made him wish to play in a school band.  

Due to living in such close proximity of the school, Peet was one of the most regular attendants, which allowed him to advance a year in his classes. He recalls that during his time at Birch Green, a Governor Inspector conducted a whole school examination each year. According to Peet, the students had to learn many parts and passages of The Catechism, as well as one Psalm each year – “I remember I learnt off by heart the 1st, 15th, 23rd, the 51st and the 104th Psalms” (p.5). Peet recalls a change of headmaster in 1892: “Mr. Chapman left and a Mr. Gibson took his place” – but states how he remembered a lot more about Mr. Chapman – perhaps as he left him with fonder memories.  

Original Singular Classroom at Grammer School. 

Peet remembers the time a mouse was on the loose in one of the classrooms, and when the headmaster demanded that any boys carrying mice to turn out their pockets, around a dozen mice were running loose, which “spoiled lessons for that afternoon” – this seems like another fond memory for Peet as it reminds him of some childish humour and mischief he and his friends encountered during school.  

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Hertford Grammar School

“IN THE SUMMER OF 1894 I GAINED THE AWARD OF A SCHOLARSHIP FOR THE HERTFORD GRAMMAR SCHOOL” (P.11) 

Upon being granted his scholarship, Peet writes how it was one of the earliest to be granted to any of the surrounding elementary schools – his memoir includes how his mother “was granted 4/-d a week” (p.11) in order to help funding Peet’s clothes and food during school hours, which was received through Peet from the master at the school. Peet also writes of how during his time in attending, the school was then around half the size it was when he was writing his memoir. He also states how during his education there, “I saw my first motor car” (p.11) and finishes his schooling section with how he “left school at Xmas 1896”. 

Nearby School – Cowper School. 

The overall tone of the memoir in regard to Peet’s schooling and educational life, is positive and happy. Frank never focuses on any negative aspects of school, and even when remembering events such as annual visits from the Government Inspector, he puts a happy spin on his writing. According to Jonathan Rose (1993), “two thirds of all working-class people who expressed an opinion remembered school as a positive experience” (p.125). 

Works Cited: 

551 PEET, Francis Alfred, ‘Recollections’, TS, pp.19 (c.10,000 words). Brunel University Library. 

The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Biography, 3 vols (Brighton: Harvester, 1987) 2:657 

Rose, Jonathan. ‘Willingly to School: The Working-Class Response to Elementary Education in Britain, 1875-1918’, Journal of British Studies 32. 2 1993, 114-138. 

Image 1: Hertford Grammer School. Retrieved at: https://www.ourhertfordandware.org.uk/content/places/schools/hertford-schools-in-ware-time/hertford-schools-in-1914 [Accessed: 29th April 2021]. 

Image 2: Original Singular Classroom at Grammer School. Retrieved at: https://www.ourhertfordandware.org.uk/content/places/schools/hertford-schools-in-ware-time/hertford-schools-in-1914 [Accessed: 29th April 2021]. 

Image 3: Cowper School. Retrieved at: https://www.ourhertfordandware.org.uk/content/places/schools/hertford-schools-in-ware-time/hertford-schools-in-1914 [Accessed: 29th April 2021]. 

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