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  • Writer's pictureSadie

A Life Devoted to Education

When the Fletton Board School opened on Monday 25th February 1901 the Peterborough Advertiser reported that there were ‘upwards of 300 scholars’ and a ‘further 100 have…registered’. They also said that the ‘present able teaching staff’ would be increased ‘to cope with the number of scholars enrolled’.

The headmistress, of the infant section, when the shool opened was Agnes Grey, who you can read more about in my blog ‘Welfare Hero of Fletton’. Another teacher who was employed in the very early days of the Board School was Kathleen Willson. For details of other teachers who were employed at the Board school please see the Education section of this website, ‘Teachers in Fletton’.

Kathleen was born on the 15th November 1878. She was one of eight children born to Robert Willson and his wife Louisa. In total there were five girls and three boys. Robert was a miller, later a miller and baker. Kathleen and her parents were all born in Huttoft, Spilsby, Lincolnshire.

Huttoft is a small seaside village on the east coast, in the district of Lindsey, just 2.5 miles from the sea. In the centre of the village is a traditional windmill, with steam mill attached, and it would have been here that Robert was employed. However, by the time that Kathleen was teaching at the Board School the family were living at 1 Neville Terrace, Priestgate, Peterborough. Robert was recorded as living on his means. What a change to move from the east coast where the sea was a short walk away to urban Peterborough.

We can only speculate what the circumstances were that caused this move. As Kathleen was in employment, along with brothers Harry and Thomas, who were a chemists assistant and clothier assistant respectively it was most likely for the employment opportunities that Peterborough offered. Living in the household there was also a boarder Alfred, an ironmonger’s assistant, which provided additional income.

The Fletton Board school was not Kathleen’s first appointment. It was recorded in the Fletton Board school log book that ‘she was formerley assistant in the infants dept of the Nassinton Board school’ Nr Oundle, Northamptonshire. We don’t generally think of people commuting to work in the early nineteenth century. But Nassington railway station opened on the 1st November 1874 and served both the London and North Western railway and the Great Northern railway from Peterborough.

Kathleen’s commute, from Priestgate to Nassington, would not have been an arduous one in favouarble weather but snow, wind and rain would have presented their own challenges. It was recorded in the Fletton Board school log book that teachers were often late, or abscent, due to inclement weather conditions on both the road and rails. On the 3rd February 1902 an entry reads. ‘On account of the wet, Miss. Panter came by train from Castor and arrived at 9.20am’.

On the 1st September 1904 Kathleen entered into the Fletton Board school log book, ‘I commenced my duties as head teacher of this school today’. She was just 25 years of age.

The Fletton Board school log book that I am able to access, due to the 100 year rule, ends in 1921 and Kathleen is still headmistress at that time. She had witnessed and guided the infant department through one of the momentous events, The Great War, and yet there are very few entries that refer directly to the war. The entries that do refer to the Great War reveal a little about how it was affecting the inhabitants of Fletton.

Black outs were being implemented in 1915 and on the 2nd November Kathleen’s entry reads, ‘School is now opened at 1.45 in the afternoon and closed at 3.30 owing to the lighting regulations’.

By 1916 officials were finding it necessary to use the school for meetings and Kathleen’s entry on the 21st December reads, ‘…the board room is no longer to be used for a classroom owing to the frequent meetings which have to be held in it over war time’.

An entry on the 19th December 1917 reveals that life in wartime was becoming increasingly difficult and children were having to play their part, ‘A good many children have to stand in shopping queues and come too late for school’.

It was, of course, a relief when Kathleen could finally enter on the 11th Novemer 1918, ‘closed for half day due to proclamation of peace. 12th November closed to celebrate peace’.

Sometime before 1911 Kathleen, and her mother and father, moved to Millersdale, London Road, Fletton. Kathleen’s journey to work now took only a few minutes. But during this period she also experienced personal loss. On the 12th March 1912 her entry in the school log book reads; ‘I have been abscent since last Wednesday morning owing to the illness and death of my mother’. Louisa died on the 8th March 1912. Just seven months later Kathleen’s entry reads, ‘I have been abscent four days this week owing to the death of my father’. Robert died on the 15th September 1912. They were both buried in the Fletton cemetery.

Kathleen continued to live in Fletton in the same house. In the 1939 National Register, at the age of 61, Kathleen is recorded as being a teacher although it does not say where. Living with her was Ellen Gankrodger, also a teacher.

On 20th July 1943 Kathleen died and was laid to rest, with her parents, in Fletton cemetery.

She had devoted her life to the education of the Fletton children.

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