‘Foundations for Life’

Alderbury and West Grimstead Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School

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History of Alderbury School.

Alderbury School, January 1858.

`Three rooms (1) 42 x 20 x 8 1/2 (2) 27 x 20 x 8 1/2 (3) 12 x 20 x 8 1/2. 115 scholars, mixed, under Master (certificated) and sewing mistress who teaches the little ones in an upper room. Three pupil-teachers; desks parallel, floor boarded. Mr Hughes said "The discipline and instruction were very good." - Warburton.

The land on which the school was built was acquired by the Radnor Estate as a result of the Enclosure Award in 1809. Part of the mediaeval hall-house was extended to form a schoolroom: the rest of the house accommodated the master and his family. An 1838 date stone was subsequently found in the north gable. The archives of the Alderbury Women`s Institute contain a statement from the Countess of Radnor, the grandmother of the present earl, that the school began in a converted barn in 1832.

An extension was later added to the north-east corner of the schoolroom so that by the 1850s the school consisted of a large schoolroom, an adjoining classroom, and an upstairs room for infants.

Absenteeism was a problem for rural schools; haymaking, beating for rabbits, potato picking, collecting acorns, child-minding and `keeping birds from fruit` were all too often responsible for keeping pupils from their lessons. Regular and virulent epidemics of infectious diseases swept through villages and towns. Closure for weeks or even months at a time were frequently reported in the school log books. Measles, mumps, scarlet fever, typhoid fever, diphtheria, and whooping cough were chiefly responsible. In 1842, the three young daughters of the Rev. Newton died at Farley within the space of one week.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century improvements continued to be made, financed by the Earl of Radnor. In 1867 the floor of the upstairs infants` classroom was removed, leaving a gallery. A new classroom was added downstairs. In 1887, the school was improved and enlarged to accommodate more children. In 1890, to the relief of many, the government abandoned the payment-by-results system in favour of a basic grant dependent mainly on regular attendance. By this last decade of the century, elementary education had become free of charge and compulsory for children aged up to 11 (1893) and 12 (1899).

It was not until 1903 that a trust deed was drawn up for Alderbury School although it had been founded by the 3rd Earl of Radnor about half a century earlier, as already described. The deed confirmed that the school was let to the Vicar of Alderbury and his successors for one shilling a year for the education of children and adults of the labouring, manufacturing and other poorer classes in the Parish of Alderbury. The school took children between the ages of 3 and 13 years and the vicar attended each week to take prayers and rehearse the pupils in the catechism in readiness for the annual diocesan inspection.

In 1909, a new playground was opened and the schoolroom gallery was removed in 1911.

It was over an issue of financing cloakroom improvements demanded by the County Council in 1929 that Lord Radnor made over the lease of the school to the local authority. So, for a nominal rent, Alderbury National School became a council school.

The school gained a well-deserved reputation for singing, sight-reading of music, and folk dancing. Year after year the pupils won medals, challenge cups and shields at the Wiltshire Music Festivals. It is not known what happened to the shields that once adorned the school walls.

At the beginning of World War II, in September 1939, the school hosted as evacuees the whole of Portsmouth`s Lyndhurst Road Junior Boys` School and its teachers, plus some girls.The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel schoolroom was hired until the numbers reduced. Some Portsmouth boys stayed throughout the war.

Among its many reforms the 1944 Education Act made provision for public education to be organised in three progressive stages - primary, secondary, and further education - with separate schools for primary and secondary pupils. From 1947 the leaving age was raised to 15. However, it was not until 22 July 1952 that Alderbury saw the end of its all-age school. From then on, pupils over the age of 11 went to Downton Secondary School or, by selective examination, to a Salisbury Grammar School. Alderbury School became a County Primary School and remained so for the next 40 years. In 1952 the school dinner service started with meals delivered by van.

Around 1972, the school acquired a prefabricated mobile classroom sited at the corner of Folly Lane. With local help and grants, the Parent Teacher Association raised enough money to build an outdoor swimming pool near the mobile classroom, for the use of pupils.

Mr Smith the headmaster recalls: `Our pool was built during 1979 and I remember the cheer that went up on cup final Saturday when Bobby Stokes scored the goal for Southampton that won the Cup against Manchester United. Transistor radios told the story as we beavered away down a large rectangular hole. Over 20 men of assorted backgrounds gave their help during summer weekends...`

In 1989 the school acquired its first computers as primary schools nationwide came to grips with teaching the new and revolutionary information technology.

A new Alderbury and West Grimstead School was also becoming a reality. The school was scheduled for closure at Christmas 1992. In the last term, visits were arranged to the new building to meet future classmates and staff. However, as the time drew near, mounting excitement was ringed with great sadness at the realisation that, for Alderbury School, an era lasting a century and a half was at an end.

The Friends of Alderbury School commissioned a watercolour painting of the school, as did the West Grimstead PTA for their school. Fittingly, both paintings hang side by side in the new school.

The above is abridged from "Education", Chapter 13 of "ALDERBURY and WHADDON - A MILLENNIUM MOSAIC of People, Places and Progress" and reproduced here by kind permission of the publisher, the Alderbury and Whaddon Local History Research Group.