Today I went to the funeral of one of my best teachers. She taught me History to O Level, back in the mid seventies. I realise now that she was only in her early thirties when she was teaching us, but all teachers seemed old to us then as teenagers. I wonder what it was that made her a good teacher?
Looking back, it was not the teachers who tried to be ‘cool’ (as we might say nowadays), nor the teachers who were unfairly harsh, but those who were firm whilst also displaying humanity and, crucially, those who possessed the ability to inspire us.
I enjoyed her History lessons particularly when we were able to draw her away from Peel’s Repeal of the Corn Laws (or whatever topic we were on) to topics of wider interest. She seemed happy to do this from time to time, which I think revealed her interest in education in the broadest sense. So often this seems lacking in today’s classrooms, through no fault of the teachers, when the curriculum and the time in which to teach it is so tight.
It was certainly a strange experience to be at a funeral which was also attended by nine other teachers, among them the most inspirational teachers I have had. I am grateful to all of them for widening my vision and experience of language, literature, music and, of course, history. At the time I found learning about Gladstone, Disraeli and acts of Parliament immensely boring, but now, as a family historian, I can see the impact that government policies had on my ordinary ag lab ancestors of the mid nineteenth century.
By all accounts Mr William Corbett, headteacher of Jolesfield School 1899 – 1910, was forward-thinking (see last week’s blog post). I hope he was an inspiration to my grandmother while she attended that school.
Strangely, the last time I saw my history teacher was at a local Family History Society meeting. Thank you, Miss Easterling, for inspiring me.
Our annual trip south to get a vehicle serviced provides an ideal opportunity for a visit to West Sussex Record Office in Chichester. After a good six months thinking about Norfolk and the George family it was time to get my head round all my Sussex ancestors once more.
It was this time last year that I started looking at some school log books, so I was eager to order these up again. They give such a fascinating insight into the social history of the time. I started with the log book for Dial Post school, which my Granny attended from 1896 following the family’s move from Shipley to West Grinstead.
In reading through, you realise the importance of the local gentry in village society: “14 October 1898. A half holiday given on Thursday afternoon to allow the teachers to attend a fete at Knepp Castle to commemorate the coming of age of Mr M Burrell.” (This was Sir Merrick Burrell, Baronet, who was born in 1877). “28 June 1901. A half holiday on Thursday on account of the fete on Knepp Lawn”.
You also realise the impact of the weather on school attendance in the days when all children had to walk to school – often quite a distance. “16 February 1900. The attendance this week has been very poor owing to the very bad, wet and snowy weather”. “28 September 1900. From now the school will be closed at half past three to allow those who live a long way off to get home before dark”.
National events also had an impact: “25 May 1900. A holiday given on Monday to commemorate the relief of Mafeking”.
Sickness of the pupils is a recurrent theme and must have had a major impact on learning: “25 September 1901. Owing to another outbreak of measles the Attendance Officer has visited today and closed the school for three weeks.”
We know that in autumn 1901 Granny moved to Jolesfield School apparently because of her mother’s concern about the recurrent outbreaks of measles at Dial Post. Although the Jolesfield Log Book has more detailed entries and gives the impression of more going on, that school, too, also experienced issues of sickness and bad weather affecting attendance. “24 January 1902. The work this week has been greatly interfered with. Many children all away ill some are sickening. Measles, whooping cough and mumps all prevalent”.
As at Dial Post school, the local clergy and their wives were frequent visitors: “29 January 1902. Revd and Mrs Knatchbull Hugessen visited the school”. “27 February 1902. Mrs Hugessen visited the school and stayed during first class recitation lesson. She was pleased with what she heard”. “12 March 1902. Miss V Hugessen visited during needlework lesson”. Then on 19 June 1902 it was Miss Hugessen’s Wedding Day and the children were given a half holiday for the occasion. [Looking at the census returns subsequently, I saw that there were a number of daughters in the Rectory family. Miss V Hugessen was not the one marrying on this occasion].
The influence of the Church can also be seen in holidays for Ash Wednesday and Ascension Day and choir and Sunday School outings.
June 1902 saw the end of the Boer War: “2 June. Children assembled. Rev P W Shirley briefly addressed them. They then sang the National Anthem and were given a whole day’s holiday in honour of the Declaration of Peace”.
Health and Safety was obviously not what it is now! Apparently there were no minimum working temperatures: “5 December 1902. This week has been very cold. Several children could not write very well owing to their hands being numbed”. PE lessons were referred to as ‘drill’, and I was amused to read the entry for 16 January 1903: “during Drill time the children this week have been allowed to go on the ponds to slide just opposite the school”. I wonder whether the teachers tested the thickness of the ice first? By this time Granny had left the school in order to help her mother at home, but maybe she was still able to go sliding on a nearby pond!