Part 2 School Days

We know that prior to 1876 there was a 'Dame School' in existence in what was called the Church Rooms as, in the log book of that year of the then new, Church of England ('National') School, reference is made to children being admitted from there This Dame School, most probably a forerunner of today's nursery schools, took children at an early age who were given a rudimentary education by a 'woman of good character'. who was paid a very small salary by a local charity

Parents were naturally disinclined to transfer their infants to an institution that required payment, however small. This is borne out by an HMI report of 1889 which tells us 'children must attend National School and not free infant school.' This despite the fact that the same report states that there was a 'need of a classroom for infants' and again in 1891 warns that 'unless a classroom is provided the infant grant may be withheld.'

What age was then considered as 'infant' we don't know, but we do know not until 1913 were children below the age of 5 excluded. 

When the Dame School was no longer used for the teaching of infants it became the Reading Room and its position explains how School lane and School Close acquired their names. This has recently been sold and will be converted in to a private house.

The Church of England (or National) School was opened on February 22nd. 1875 and had 53 children on the roll, all of whom had to pay for schooling. It is logged that a few days after opening, one parent refused to pay, although we are not told of the consequences.

The headmaster at this time was a Mr Henry Davis. It would be interesting to know on what basis he was paid, as, from an extract from the HMI's report of 1876 we learn that he was granted £48.17.0 which included £14.11.0 for night school attendance. Also recorded (without any explanation) is a deduction of £1.4.11 !. Poor Henry ! School-mastering in those days must have been a hand-to-mouth sort of living, as his cri-de-coeur of November 10th. 1876 tells us 'It was very cold, no fire, no fuel in coal store, the correspondent refuses to buy any, says I am to find it myself. I refuse because I have never understood it to be my agreement, with the managers.' 

On November 15th. Coal and coke were sent by Mr Whitton, one of the managers. On reading these old records it is obvious that payment was made by grants which somehow depended on attendance which of course varied from year to year. We see that in 1877 the grant totalled £22.1.0; in 1878 - £45.17.0; in 1880 - £53.19.0, (including £2 for the pupil teacher); 1885 - £70.1.0 (staff reductions £ 4.13.4) and so on unti11895, after which no further mention of grants is made. 
Attendances during this period varied from 53 in 1875 to 133 in 1895; these were the numbers on roll. Actual attendances were anyone's guess; it depended upon what attractions were locally on offer.

On September 9th. 1878 'the school bell was rung but no pupils appeared, it being the Norton Feast. School closed.' 
June 1887: 'week's holiday for Queen's Jubilee' and in October there were 21 absentees because of a 'Wild Beast Show in Towcester' (Even the last war took its toll: 'low attendance owing to Army tanks in village all day') 

The number of children who failed to attend obviously caused concern, as is shown by an extract from the log of October 1880: 'The attendance committee will not help their own officer and the magistrates will not help the committee and therefore the law is a dead letter.'

Bribery was tried in 1890; a bonus scheme was started -1/2d. a week for full attendance was passed by the managers, 32 weeks to qualify. -.' Such an incentive, however, might have helped the mother of Albert Wright who, on June 1st. 1888, was summoned before the Guardians. It seems young Albert had been absent for 11 weeks, having no half-time certificate! 
For children to avoid going to school is natural: for parents (during the early years of the National School at any rate) to be unwilling to part with hard-earned money is also natural, but for children's education to be neglected through lack of staff is unforgivable. The record of staff absences makes one wonder how the good people of Greens Norton received any learning at all. 

As early as 1886 'Miss Ratledge was excused after Monday morning as her services were required in decorating the church.' 

1905 'No headmaster Rev. Kenworthy helped' 
1916 'Miss Partridge (on supply) - Headmaster granted a month's rest' 
1918 'Frank Parrish `took charge as temporary headmaster in place of Mr Phillip who is called up for service with the colours'

Between October 1918 and March 1920 there were 'several changes of headmaster' and in 1920 HM Inspector's report that the general efficiency of the school has been impaired by numerous changes of headmaster, coupled with numerous changes of staff. Very few weeks had a full staff'.

Part of the 1923 report reads 'The work was not as progressive as it should be but the absence of staff meant that the headmaster had worked under considerable disadvantages. (One teacher was away for half a year and on her return she was often away.)' There is no doubt that, over the years, there was a great problem with staffing in Greens Norton School. In 1907, for instance, there were four classes in one large room -some being taught by monitors, while in 1883 the staff consisted of the headmaster, one pupil teacher and Milly Ratledge (over 18) who was, we suppose, a monitor, - the attendance at the time being 120! 

Much depended upon pupil teachers, supply teachers, the vicar and monitors, not to mention the headmaster's wife whose 'services were often required owing to the illness of Miss Ivens' and for 'cookery classes with the top class girls' during the years of the First World War. 

And so on and so on until round about 1929 when -possibly because jobs were scarce -teaching at Greens Norton seemed to settle down to a fairly even tenor. It is only fair to say that working conditions in those early years left a lot to be desired. 

When one pictures 137 pupils in just two rooms, one can imagine the problems that confronted the staff in 1904. That was the year that the first application was made for a glazed screen to divide classes in the large room, an appeal that was not answered until 1954. Fifty years without the means of keeping one group of vociferous youngsters from another, fifty years of one teacher's voice vying with his/her colleague's, (and dare one mention the mass of paper work produced by fifty years of impassioned pleas from headmasters, HM Inspectors and school governors versus the stubborn refusals of the local education authority). We read that in 1952 a dividing curtain was installed, but at that time there were only 79 on roll.

Over the years the fabric of the school took quite a hammering: the porch and girls' closets were pulled down in 1891 'to make room for a new classroom': a gallery in the infants room was removed; while references to the heating system breaking down abound. Bursts, leaks, floods and repairs were an almost annual event since the 'installation of pipes' in the early 1890s. Nevertheless, improvements slowly appeared as the years went by -a coat of paint here, a floor re-laid there, electric light installed in 1928, washbasins and piped water in 1952 (with paper towels in 1961). (Extract from school log of that year 'We used to have a roller towel on the back of the door -changed from time to time'). But it was becoming clear to everyone that cracks were being papered over -literally in some instances -and that apart from being unable to accommodate the growing numbers of children on roll, the building was falling behind in its requirement as a place of modern primary education.

It was in 1964 that the managers wrote to the Local Education Authority pointing out accommodation difficulties, especially in the cloak rooms, which would be aggravated by the anticipated population growth. After a meeting with the deputy education officer in January 1965 regarding a new site, and a management meeting a year later to discuss plans for a new school building, work started in April 1966 in Calvert Road, with a quoted completion date (for the first half) of September 26th. By October 20th. the move was complete, with Mr Dove (headmaster) and Mrs Vanson (lower juniors) installed in the new premises. Mrs Baker and Mrs Ashworth (both infant teachers) were to follow.

Finally in April, 1972 for the first time for nearly six years, all the pupils were under one roof with 150 on roll, and in June the school was officially opened by C.M. Benham, Esq. with the dedication by the Bishop of Peterborough. Those first six years could have been made easier for the headmaster if he had had constant telephone communications between the old and new buildings. The log tells us that although apparatus had been delivered in September 1970 it wasn't until January 5th. of the following year that it was connected. How he managed before that date we dread to think -although after waiting fifty years for a dividing screen, a five-month wait for a telephone must be looked upon as real progress !

Greens Norton C.E. School now enjoys a reputation as one of the leading village schools for primary education in the county. Pupils can be sure of sound academic instruction as well as a wide choice of extra-curricular activities. Sporting achievements, too, are outstanding; reference to the log since 1926, when George Wilkins won the quarter and half mile cups in the South Northants school sports, reveal a long list of successes that stretch to the present day.