Script of a Talk Given by My Mother About 1950.
Schools and Schooling in the Last Century.
Education is a word we hear over and over again. To get on in life our children and grandchildren must have paper qualifications to show that they have reached a certain standard of knowledge. We, in this country, have reached this stage from small beginnings many years ago, and I should like to take you back quite a long way and notice some of the great changes which have been accomplished.
A large proportion of schools were C of E. These were kept up by the church on a small grant, and each had its own group of managers. All teachers were members of the church, and the Head was expected to carry out many duties other than teaching, and other odd jobs. Not so much was heard of Unions then! Scripture and Church teaching were important items on the timetable, and there was a day of examinations once a year. There were also Board Schools, and I expect that many of you can remember seeing on the school walls the letters L. M. B. S. with the date 1874. These, too, had a board of managers, but were non-sectarian, and the scripture here consisted only of Bible teaching.
With regard to the buildings, village schools usually consisted of two large rooms, one for Infants and the Standard One, with all the rest up to Standard Seven in the larger room. The windows were very high, so that small people should not be distracted from their work by looking out. Most of these schools were rather drab, not very well heated and pretty draughty. There we no partitions, so generally three teachers had to compete to make themselves heard, while sometimes there were as many as five. Our walls were decorated with small black and white pictures of animals, while above them hung some rather depressed looking maps.
What did we learn? Most important of all were the Three R’s, with quite a good grounding in geography, some history, and the elements of English Grammar. This included poetry, of which we learnt an awful amount by heart, much of which I have never forgotten. We learnt by chanting them over and over, tables of all descriptions, from multiplication to money, weight and measures. Then there were dates, while in geography we learnt to reel off long lists of rivers, lakes, mountains etc. Of course, this mode of teaching has long been out of order, but it is surprising how long these lessons have been remembered. There were few reading books. Each standard had three, General Reading, History and Geography. Music was provided by a small harmonium, but we learnt most of our songs by ear, the note being given by a tuning fork, and some by tonic solfa. Needlework was taught by the Headmaster’s wife, or if it was a mistress school by the Headmistress. This was also learnt the hard way- long seams, sewing and fell, runs and fell, and all the rest- and do you remember the specimens? We had to make one garment a year to be inspected by a male Inspector, who I expect knew less than nothing about needlework.
As for the equipment of those days- slates and pencils were often used, but of course we learnt to write properly with pen and ink (one of the Three R’s). The Infants sat on long low forms, but I well remember when we had what was then thought to be the last word in comfort, a gallery where the small people sat in rows one above the other. I can look back across the years and picture my own Nursery class (only we called it Babies then) perched on a large gallery, and recall the sand trays and the few small bits of equipment we had and compare it with the Nursery end of the new Infants’ school where my daughter has her Babies class, light, airy, direct access to a sandpit and paddling pool, with its own toilets and cloakrooms, and even a bathroom, not to speak of masses toys and equipment. Still, with it all, we were happy.
When I had my large class of babies at Fordington St George Infant School, Dorchester, the three-year olds had free education, but if any children started before their third birthday, they paid the princely sum of twopence a week for the privilege.
Well, right through the schools now they have facilities undreamt of by us as we faced our classrooms dressed in the long black pinafores which were then standard wear. In our day, there was no P.T. gardening, cookery or woodwork. We went in at nine, play time was at a quarter-to-eleven, back in until twelve, dinnertime then in again at one-thirty, break at ten-to-three, then school went on until four. We had six weeks holiday in a year.
An annual examination was held, in which we were polished up mentally and physically. If we passed in the Three Rs we went up a Standard, and anyone who reached the dizzy heights of Standard Four and passed the exam could leave school, but those who wished stayed on until Standard Seven, when they would be fourteen. Boys usually found work in the village, either on the farms or as apprentices to the local carpenter, thatcher or blacksmith. As a rule the girls went into service, but those who wished to teach could stay on as monitresses, then if they showed any aptitude they became pupil teachers, often being put in charge of pupils as old or older than themselves. Later on they would work for examinations, and finally the coveted Teacher’s Certificate. Of course there were no scholarships, but some further education could be obtained in the Night schools.
Well, we have come a long way from all this. Buildings, equipment, and all things connected to schools have exceeded our wildest dreams, and there is the chance for all to gain scholarships to Grammar Schools, with visions of later gaining entry to Universities. What I have said must compare very shortly with present day methods and achievements, but you know, even with all the difficulties of those bygone days plenty of good work was done. And here I should like to pay tribute to those women who very often, when quite young, would be landed in some out of the way country school, with perhaps one girl to help her teach all ages and standards. For the most part they did a wonderful job of work.
I sometimes wonder whether the smaller schools, with Heads who knew all about his or her pupils and had a personal interest in each one did not provide a fuller and more real education than in these enormous schools where the Head can scarcely know all his Staff, let alone his pupils. But there it is- we live in a continually changing and let us hope more progressive age.
Just a tailpiece- never run away with the idea that teaching is a soft job, all short hours and holidays. I can assure you that it is truly hard work, and no teacher that does his or her work properly has finished that work when the clock strikes four.
Talk Given by My Mother at a Women’s Meeting at Lytchett Matravers in 1955
All through history changes have been taking place, but I think that the last fifty or sixty years have seen greater changes than any other period of the same length of time. So may I take you back to my childhood 70 years ago, when for me ‘all the world was young, and all the trees were green’ so that you can compare village life then and now.
I am going to speak of the village in which I was born. It was and still is a typical village, the Church practically in the centre, with the Rectory, the school and cottages clustered around it. Quite near the Church is an old, old lime tree, of which we shall hear more later on. It was an entirely agricultural district. In my young days there were two large farms, but later on one farmer worked the whole of both farms, while nearly all the men in the village were farm workers. Apart from the farm there were two large carpenters, a fairly large blacksmith’s shop, a mill and two bakers, beside the Rector, the schoolmaster, who was also my father, and a policeman. A few men worked in the woods, hurdle making etc. Our nearest town was four miles away, and could be reached in two ways- by walking, or once a week by the village carrier in an open wagonette- not so bad if dry, but if wet uncomfortable. You also had the pleasure of walking up all the hills and sometimes down, on roads either thick with dust or deep in mud. We could ride under cover if we patronized the carrier from the next village, who came through twice a week with a tilted van. What these carriers meant to villagers was beyond belief. They were asked to do the most amazing errands, and how they remembered them all was truly remarkable. If we really wanted to travel we could go to Dorchester in a van which came twice a week with a pair of horses. It reached us from Blandford at about 8 o’clock in the morning, and we got to Dorchester about midday- 4 hours to cover fourteen miles. As you see it was not all that easy to get about, and we mostly stayed at home. Although we had nothing that we did not provide for ourselves, no wireless, cinema, W.I, or T.V, I don’t remember that we were ever dull. As children we  had our routine of games, marbles, hoops, dibs, etc., and the boys (by the way, I had five brothers) made their own bows and arrows, kites, tipcats, popguns, my part for the latter being to chew up stuff for the bullets. The barrel of the gun was made from an elder stick, and the hole made from pushing a red-hot ramrod through the middle. Our very occasional halfpence were spent at a small shop kept by a very sour old lady called Roseanner. Though she wasn’t abit nice to us we never thought of going anywhere else for our ‘pops’. They were sold at so many for a halfpenny, and I’m sure we always went for those we got most of, never mind the flavour. Not, indeed, that there were many varieties to choose from. The dear soul lived with her brother, who was even more disagreeable than she was. He never spoke to anyone if he could help it, but country folk are a friendly lot as a rule, and one day the following exchange took place.
“How be you today, then, William?”
“None the better for your asking.”
Still, this was the place where we squandered our halfpennies.
We had very few excitements, the highlight of the year was the Band of Hope Fete held in May. How we counted the weeks, then the days, until it was actually the evening before, when the banner and the flag were brought out and tied to poles ready for the march. At ten o’clock the next day the band arrived at the school, where the excited youngsters were already gathered. The procession formed, and off we went, tramping miles, calling at various houses, the farm and the Rectory, finally straggling back for tea. And what a tea! Masses of bread and butter, two kinds of dough cake: currant and seed. After tea the band proceeded to a field and there was dancing until dark, just after 9 p.m. as daylight saving had not been invented then.
Now I think I just mentioned the shepherd. He was quite picturesque, a gentle, bearded old man, who loved his sheep. And they knew him. It was only for him to appear at the gate of the field in which they were feeding and they would begin to make their way towards him. At lambing time, he hardly went home at all, staying with his flock until all was safely over.  I mention him now because he was our weather prophet, and we always went to him to know if it would be fine for our day, and incidentally, I never knew him to forecast incorrectly.
One more item about the children. They started school at the ripe age of three, many of our scholars coming from distances of one to two miles. Of course they walked, and in spite of the walking and living a lot less daintily than we do now they are the people who are reaching the great ages of 80, 90 and 100 years.
I will not say more about schools now, as schools then and now would make a full-time talk.
Well, now, about the grown-ups. The men who worked on the farms were engaged by the farmers at the fairs which were held in those days. Candlemas fair was held in February in Dorchester, and this was the time for greein’ on’ for at least a year. Those who wanted work or a change of master went to the fair. The carter carried his whip, the shepherd his crook, others with tokens which I can’t remember to show what part of farm work they did. They met the farmers there and arranged wages, cottages, and perks- so many ‘fackets’, so much ‘tatie’ ground, and all the rest. Then on old Lady Day, April 6th, a farm wagon arrived. The households good were packed on, leaving a space for the women and children, and off they went to make their home in an unknown village. We didn’t have many changes, but the arrival of a fresh family always created a little interest. The cottages for the farm workers nearly all had hearth fires, a wide open chimney with seats at the side, and an oven for baking the bread. Wood was burnt. William Barnes wrote of the cheerful blaze:
In evenin’ time o’ starry night
How mother swot at hwome
And kept her blazing vier bright
Till father should a’ come
And how she quickened up and smiled
And stirred her vier anew,
To hear the trampen hosses’ steps
And geat a-vallen to.
The cooking was done in a great boiler, which hung from a hook in the chimney. Potatoes, greens, or any other vegetables were put into nets, a piece of their own cured bacon and a pudding in a cloth all in the boiler together, and there was a most enjoyable meal. Of course, hanging near the fireplace were the ‘belliss’. If the fire got low a few sticks and a puff or two from the ‘belliss’ and soon all was crackling merrily again. Once a week, the oven was ‘hetted’ and the batch of bread was baked, and was that bread good! I expect some of you remember the lardy cakes and griddle cakes that were features of that weekly bake.
Of course, the cottages had not much in the way of conveniences as we know them now, but then as always, some of them were made quite bright and cosy and others the reverse. They were rather small, but then as always, some were made quite cosy and others the reverse. They were rather small, and families were on the large side, but they managed. And thinking of families, I recall the babies and the prams of those days. I can just remember ours, and a fearsome contraption it was compared with the luxurious chariots of today. There was a seat with a straight-up back upholstered in a shiny sort of cloth, a trough for the feet, and it was mounted on three iron-bound wheels and pushed from the back. There was no hood an apron to go over the legs. It was no earthly use until a baby could sit up, as lying down was impossible.
Now about the work on the farm. Of course, the routine was much the same as now, but all the work was done by men and horses- no machinery to speak of- and looking after horses was a very different proposition than putting a tractor to bed. The carters took a fatherly interest in their horses, getting up early in the morning to feed them and going to their stable the last thing in the evening to make sure they were comfortable for the night. If they were going on a journey the harness with the brasses were used, the brasses were polished until they  shone, the horses’ manes and tails were plaited, and intertwined with coloured braid and straw. Some wore bells, which at this time was just ornamental, but in the earlier days of very narrow lanes were warnings- a little more musical than the hoots and screams of motor traffic today. The wagoner also had a special ‘journey’ whip, which had a long black handle or stub, and was decorated with brass rings. Travelling was slow but made quite an effective site.
Well, the work on the farm went on much the same as now, but I should like to say a little about the harvest. The corn was all cut and tied by hand and carried by horses and wagons, the horses being led by boys calling ‘hoe vast’ in a sort of chant as they moved slowly down the aisles. When the farmer had finished with the wheat fields and gathered his harvest it was the turn of the women and children for what we called leasing. They went out all day gathering what corn had been left behind. A lap-bag was worn for the short ears. The long ears were tied in handfuls and at the end of the day these were bundled up, ears to the middle, straw out each side, placed on their heads and carried home. When the leasing was all finished the corn was thrashed. This was done by hand. The farmer leant a barn, a large sail cloth was spread on the floor, the ears laid on the cloth, and the man using flails beat out the grain. Flails were two thick sticks, joined preferably with eel skin, one still being held in both hands, the other whirled round and brought down heavily on the ears of the corn, so beating out the grain. By the way, it was only the lease corn that was thrashed out in this way, as by this time mechanical thrashers were being used on the farms. After the lease corn was thrashed it was taken to the mill to be ground. The mill was a most fascinating place. It was driven by water with an overshot wheel. How we loved to see the great wheel being turned by the flowing water! Sometimes we were allowed to go inside and see the great stones between which the corn was being ground, and then to go downstairs and see the flour or meal coming through to the bins below.
Another exciting place was the blacksmith’s shop. The glowing fires,  the red-hot iron, the clanging of the heavy hammers on the anvil, the great bellows, the grimy men in their leather aprons, the horses in the penthouse being shod were all very attractive, especially to the children. Then there was the carpenter’s shop. The one I am thinking of particularly was up a lane off the main road. On either side of the lane great trunks of trees were lying, oak, ash, elm, getting seasoned. When ready, these were taken to the saw pit near the shop and sawn into planks. This was done by two men, one standing at the top of the pit and the other at the bottom and using an enormous crosscut saw. Wagon building was the main work of the shop, and some wonderful workmanship  was put into the gaily painted wagons. If the blacksmith’s shop was an attraction for children, the carpenter’s shop seemed to collect old men. Some of them were very droll. One old chap was not very nimble on the uptake, and the others would get a laugh, not unkindly, about him, which was always taken in good part.
I have talked about the work, so now I will turn to play. There was not much time for recreation, but we did have what would seem nowadays to be very mild pastimes. In the summer there was the Band of Hope Fete, which I have mentioned, and a Club walk and Fete which was anything by teetotal. In the winter there were one or two concerts, all local talent. The village band would give two items which nearly blew us out of our seats. There would be readings from Pickwick Papers by the Rector, songs, duets, etc., not up to present day standards, but we were quite happy about them. Sometimes show people pitched up under the old tree, and gave us a thrill, and many times I have seen the lads of the village merrily dancing to a melody played by one of the crowd.
Of course there was time for courtship and marriage. The young men were not encouraged to go to any of the neighbouring villages for their girls. If they did venture they were pelted with clots and driven off, so they mostly found brides in their own parish. I suppose that is why certain names seemed to belong to certain places. In fact, you could almost tell by the surname where a person came from. After a spell of courting  as usual came the wedding. At this time marriages had to be solemnized before twelve noon, and the popular time was eleven o’clock. A procession was formed at the bride’s home, and they walked to church and back. After a meal sometimes the procession would reform, and they would walk round the village, or some would go for a drive in their finery then home to the evening’s jollification. Now and again someone would give a party. I remember hearing of one which turned out something like the randy of which Barnes tells us, but instead of the disappointed ones stopping up the chimney a large bucket of water was tilted against the door. There was a loud knock, the door was flung open, in went the water, and that was the end of the party. But there was always the village policemen who prevented this sort of thing from going too far. He kept ‘they mischieful bwoys’ in order, and I think the village Bobby carried more weight with the youngsters than the Juvenile Courts of today. Village copper have always been looked on as a joke, possessing more brawn than brains, but they were not so slow, as this little story will show. A village criminal had stolen some ducks, but produced what seemed to be an unbreakable alibi. This the policeman appeared to accept, but on the point of leaving, he casually enquired. ‘Did ‘em make much noise, you?’ To which his victim proudly replied ‘not a sound!’. After that, alibi or no alibi, he knew that he had met his match.
Well, I have tried to give you some idea of village life in those far-off days. My mind is crowded with memories, and there are many more things I could tell you, such as the way we dresses, and the astonishing number of garments the elderly ladies wore. But there it is. The old order changeth, and for me now ‘[a]ll the world is old, and all the trees are brown’.
Where the carpenter’s shop stood now sits a modern bungalow, the blacksmith’s shop is a garage. All that is left of the mill is a miniature waterfall from the dam above. The cottages are all modernized. In the fields instead of the horses and the various calls of the carter is the noise of the tractor,  on the roads the rush of traffic and overhead the roar of aeroplanes. Yet those things God gave us remain. The song of the birds, night and day, the shortening and lengthening of the days, and the everlasting hills that have sheltered my village all down the ages still keep their silent watch over our everchanging way of life.
518A, Blaudford Rd
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