January 23, 2019|

Education in Wickham 1840 – 1972

In the latter part of the 19th century, the Church was responsible for the building of most of the schools in England. They received a very small grant from the Government, and had to find all the money for the equipment and furnishing of the schools. Most of these schools were built adjacent to the church, which dictated most of the school policy and engaged its own school managers. Religious Instruction played a prominent part in the education of the child.

The School built at Wickham about 1840 was typical of those built in those days. With its tall, narrow windows built too high for the children to see through, its bare classrooms leading one out of the other with just partitions dividing the rooms, its very high roof which kept the place so cold, its open fires or circular stoves which gave too much heat to those sitting near and not enough to those at the back, the unhealthy fumes given off by the coke stoves, the long wooden desks and forms without support for the back, and Spartan conditions, it could not have been a comfortable place of learning. The Senior school provided accommodation for some 150 boys and girls from 8 – 14 years of age. The Infants were taught in a separate building, built at a later date, and here children of any age from 2 ½ upwards were taught – about 100 of them. The classes were large, and except for pencils, pens, paper, and a few text books, apparatus was non-existent. Wool and material was, however, in good supply, for the girls used to spend much time learning fine sewing, embroidery, patching, drawn-thread work and knitting. There still exists in many a home specimens of texts and passages of Scripture worked on fine canvas by children of eight years of age.

Conditions improved but slowly before World War 1, as all the money for improvements had to be found by the church, and finances were such that the church could not afford much. In fact, there was great poverty in Wickham and District for several years after World War 1. Children attended school in poor footwear or with no shoes at all, the clothing was often inadequate and not too clean, and the dinners brought to school consisted chiefly of thick bread with jam or cheese. There was no transport for those children, many of whom had to walk from Kingsmead, Wickham Common, and Hundred Acres, all weathers. When wet, the coats were hung in an outside open cloakroom, so never got dry. Staff was difficult to get, as conditions were so primitive. There was no staffroom and not even a teachers’ toilet. The children’s toilets were of the ‘closet’ type, emptied by means of a ‘soil’ cart by the Council. Books were in such short supply that one tattered textbook had often to be shared between three or more children. There was no sports field. It is a wonder that under these conditions the children learned anything at all, but strange to say, many became quite proficient in the three R’s. The syllabus was limited to a very few subjects, discipline was firm and the children, in spite of numbers, easy to manage.

In 1920 staff was so difficult to obtain that for several weeks the school was without a headmaster, and 150 children were taught by one qualified teacher assisted by a girl who had just left school. When a headmaster was appointed, the classes were very large, consisting of from 45 to 55 in each. Inspection of schools was at rare intervals, the only yearly inspection being in Religious Instruction. A detailed study of the Bible was expected and a syllabus laid down containing a list of stories, prayers and hymns to be learnt. A clergyman visited the schools in this Rural Area, and tested the children orally. The best school was awarded a banner. Wickham won this in 1920 in spite of grave staffing problems.

In the 1930s, the church could no longer maintain the school and was reluctantly compelled to hand it over to the State, and it became a controlled school. From that day, educationally things began to improve. Money was poured into repairs and improvements, books stationary and apparatus of all kinds appeared, and even transport was available for these living some distance away. Work became more plentiful and living conditions improved, so that the children were healthier and better educated. The numbers at the school increased and the Church Hall had to be used for additional accommodation, but it was not until four years ago that the new school with all its advantages appeared. At the age of eleven, the boys then went on to Fareham to Bishopsfield School for Boys and the girls to St. Anne’s. In fifty years there has been almost unbelievable transformation.

Today Wickham is excellently provided with many schools of all types. The situation of the village lends itself to this. Being within a few miles of the sea, yet surrounded by the lovely countryside of Hampshire, with its trees, rolling downs and valleys, it attracts not only the people of the village, but also those looking for good boarding schools for their girls.

In the village itself is the new Primary School, opened in 1986 at the cost of £75,000. Compared with the old Church School the benefits to the children are enormous. Warmed by oil-fired central heating, with ducts leading hot air into every part of the buildings, the classrooms are spacious, light and airy. Plastic-surfaced tables and individual chairs replace the scratched old school desks. Outside, the three playgrounds are sited so that the small newcomers are separated from the boisterous ten-year-olds.

The site is very well chosen. In two directions it faces over the sports fields, towards farmlands, yet is only a short distance from the village. Oak trees have been left standing to add to its beauty.

A feature of the school is that it only has one short corridor, and 250 children are able to go to and from the seven classrooms by paths outside the building. Each classroom has its own cloakroom and sink. There are also fresh-air work places, sheltered from the wind on three sides, where the children can read in warm weather.

A patio has been built where, at some future date, a pond may be put for nature study.

The hall which measures 52ft. by 36ft., is used midday for school meals. These are cooked in the superb all-steel kitchen by a trained staff. Previously dinners had to be transported from Portchester.

One of the three playgrounds is an “Adventure” one, equipped with ropes for climbing, a large climbing frame, and structures of bricks so designed that the children can make-believe they are anything they imagine.

The classrooms are fitted out with the latest modern apparatus to be used when teaching by the new educational methods, and there are books on every subject, well-illustrated and printed.

Not many villages the size of Wickham can boast of having two large independent schools. The one at Rookesbury Park is a girls’ boarding preparatory school, which is also attended by some day girls. It is recognised as being one of the best preparatory schools in England, and on leaving the school at the age of 13, many girls gain entrances to the best of girls’ public schools. The school commenced about 35 years ago, when Rookesbury House was turned into a school, the first headmistress being Miss Glenday. The large house was altered and extended, and additions are still taking place. The grounds are extensive and contain a pond and a swimming pool. This was once the home of the Lord of the Manor.

The Park Place Convent School provides for both boarding and day school pupils, up to the age of 13. There is also a special wing of the house kept for foreign students who wish to perfect their English and study for proficiency certificates in this subject. They come from the Continent and the East. Until the Convent was taken over as a Pastoral Centre it used to provide a good education for girls up to 18 years, but now only part of Park Place is used as a school. and the girls leave at the age of 13 for higher schools. The Convent has a very attractive approach and the building itself is a converted Georgian house, set in lovely grounds. It has been extended and altered to suit school purposes. The school has its own chapel which has recently been rebuilt in a circular form, and is very beautiful. There is a large playing field in front of the school, and a swimming pool at the back. Courtesy and hard work are expected from all pupils. Holiday course are run for foreign students.

Until Park Place was made into a Pastoral Centre there was only one other in England and it was in the North. It is used extensively for lecture groups, conferences and meeting of all kinds. Those requiring rest can go there for a holiday, and organisations such as Guides, Girls’ Brigades and various Fellowships can arrange to go there. It serves the community in various ways.

The change in the social pattern of living since World War II has resulted in many young mothers going out to work. The population of Wickham has also increased, and for some time there has been a crying need for nursery schools and playgroups for children from 3 – 5 years of age. The Government is being pressed to provide nursery schools, but at present is financially unable to do so. Two private fee-paying playgroups have recently been formed which already have waiting lists. What is needed is a good nursery school for these small children. Not only will this benefit the working mothers, but be of great educational advantage to the children.

In 1972 there are not many villages of 4000 people like Wickham which have such varied choice of schools in which to educate their children. Both educationally and socially it has advanced greatly since the early part of the century.

Mrs. Dorothy Warwick

From the Wickham History Newsletter 1972

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