• Sadie

The Fletton School Log Book


By the end of the nineteenth century Fletton was experiencing a second wave of population growth. In 1881 the population of Fletton was 1,841 and by 1911 this had increased by 158% to 4,741. John Cathles Hill had arrived revolutionising the once seasonal brick making industry. Migrants were arriving to work in the brickyards and the majority of these brickyard workers settled in Old Fletton. By 1881 analysis shows that there were 257 children of compulsory school age and only 150 places available. By 1891 this had increased to 293 children of compulsory school age with only 259 places available. By the beginning of 1901, the number of children of compulsory school age had grown to 735 with still only 259 places available. It was essential that a new school opened to provide education for the children of Old Fletton.


The Fletton Board School, built for £7000, was opened by the Hon A. E. Fellowes, M.P. on Monday 25th February 1901. The desperate need for the new school was reported in The Peterborough Advertiser, on Wednesday 27th February 1901, when they commented that ‘upwards of 300 scholars’ were attending the school on it’s first day and ‘a further 100 have been registered’. In addition the current teaching staff provision, led by school master Thomas William Miles, and amongst whom can be found Miss Agnes Marshall Gray, see Blog 2, had already been ‘considerably strengthened to cope with the number of scholars enrolled’.


The Fletton Board School, or as it was known locally, the ‘school on the hill’ was born.


When the Fletton Board School opened it had the capacity to take a total of 600 scholars. In charge of the Infant department was Agnes Grey. One of the duties of the headteacher was to keep a daily school log. The school log is a wonderful historical source, which gives an honest window into the world of education. The school log for the early days of the Fletton board School Infant Department still survives in the Peterborough Archives and is a treasure trove of information. As we shall see from some of the extracts, nothing in the world of education really changes.


Agnes Marshall Grey, made the first entry into the Fletton Board School’s log book, on the 25th February 1901, ‘I commenced duties as Headmistress of this school today’. She also added that ‘one assistant has been appointed…Kathleen Willson’. We learn, on the 1st March, that these two staff members were responsible for ‘126 scholars, 28 under 5 years, 98 over 5 years’. Kathleen Willson, would herself, record her first day as Headmistress on 1st September 1904.


The entries tell us a little about the daily routine and what the children learnt. There are recorded within the log book the annual scheme of work, that would look very familiar to educators today, as it is divided into classes and subjects. Although many lessons were achieved in the form of drill there was also a focus on stories, the formation of letters and numbers and mental maths. It was also noted that the baby’s lessons should be ‘in the form of games’. An entry on the 29th October 1901, records that ‘the ventilation of the classrooms should be improved’ and on the 13th April 1905 it was observed ‘that the babies should have most of their lessons in the playground’.


Attendance at school was a constant observation in the log book, as the weekly attendance rates had to be recorded and approved by the school manager. Today we are accustomed to children missing a day from school due to a cough or cold and indeed recently we have experienced longer closures due to the COVID 19 epidemic. Epidemics of measles, scarlet fever, chicken pox, diptheria and whooping cough, were a regular occurrence in the log book, resulting in low attendance and closure of the school. An entry made on the 17th December 1901 states ‘Nearly 100 children are absent owing to an epidemic of measles’ and the entry for January 10th 1902 reads, ‘Re- opened school with attendance of 164. As the epidemic of measles is by no means over the Medical Officer sent a report to the managers recommending that the school be closed for another fortnight’. In a bid to keep sickness at bay on February 3rd 1913 the school was re-opened after it had been ‘thoroughly cleaned and disinfected’. The children were also examined by the Medical Officer after they were admitted to the school. In addition to illness the children were often absent due to bad weather. On the 27th January 1902 it was reported that ‘attendance…(was)…116 out of 176 due to a fall of snow’. And on the 18th July 1913 the attendance had ‘fallen considerably’ due to ‘a heavy fall of rain’ which resulted in ‘several children’ being sent home ‘as their clothes were wet through’.


But it wasn’t only illness and inclement weather that kept the children out of school. Special events also dictated an official closure. On the 29th September 1903 the school was closed as ‘Earl Roberts visited town to unveil memorial window in the cathedral’. On the 10th March 1904 the school closed at 11.15am so the children could ‘see the hounds meet on the Market Hill’. And from the 16th June 1911 the school was closed for one week ‘for the coronation of George V’.


Those involved in education today like to encourage parental participation and so did teachers at the turn of the century. An entry on the 15th May 1908 reveals, ‘The parents of the children attending the Infant Department were invited to the school to see the children at work on the afternoons of Wednesday and Thursday May 13th and 14th. About 150 accepted the invitation. The ordinary timetable was followed with two exceptions; First Class had drill both afternoons and all the classes sang some songs from 3.30 to 3.55. the parents showed great interest in the work of the children’. The school were also eager to display the talents of the children at times of national celebrations. Empire Day was celebrated between 1902 and 1958 throughout the countries of the Commowealth. The programme in 1908 included action songs, ‘The Red, White and Blue’ and ‘Our Colonies’, and recitations. In 1909 the recitations were given by Wiilie Thorpe ‘Empire Day’, Harold Hibbert ‘Our Flag- What it Stands For’ and Marjourie Brown ‘What Empire Day Means’. A regular treat recorded in the log book was the Christmas tea provided to all the children ‘through the kindness of Mr. J. C. Hill.


Another familiar entry in the school log book is the school inspection. Although the reports appear substantially shorter, than those produced today, I should imagine the process was feared just as much. I think many schools would be pleased with the report recorded for the 1st Sept 1913: ‘Copy of H. M. Inspector’s Report 1913…This is a bright well organised well taught Infants School the little ones are not only…taught but also with marked sympathy and kindness. An excellent time prevails not only amongst the children but amongst the staff who are zealous, loyal and efficient. Supervision by the Head teacher is thorough and helpful the methods are good and in spite of hindrances to work caused by epidemic sickness a good level of efficiency is attained’. But the reports could also be brutally honest. In 1908 it was observed that ‘The rooms are greatly in need of recolouring and fresh paint.’ It was also noted on the 27th September 1907 that ‘four defective children who were transferred to the mixed department have been transferred back…on the recommendation of His Majesties Inspector’.


We always consider today’s society to be overly concerned with health and safety but the entry for the 21st October 1916 reveals that the school manager’s had safety concerns as well, ‘By the order of the Managers the children were sent home at 9.45am this morning and the school closed until Monday Oct 25 on account of insufficient heating. The boiler of furnace is damaged and the furnace is not able to be lighted the temperature in the classrooms without stove is 34 degrees’. This was not a new problem. On the 1st November 1912 ‘ordinary lessons’ had to be suspended ‘as the heating apparatus is being repaired. In their place the children enjoyed ‘drill and marching’! But it wasn’t just the cold that the school managers were concerned about. An entry on the 1st December 1909 reveals that the ‘managers…planted a number of plane trees in the infants playground to afford shade in summer’. Class sizes and the strains put on teachers was also a concern. An entry on the 15th April 1907 recorded that ‘due to increasing numbers the Board room will now be used as extra classroom’ thus increasing the capacity of the Infant’s Department to 280. It would appear that increasing numbers were still an issue in 1909 as on the 1st December a notice was received from the Managers advising ‘that in future no children under 5 years of age are to be admitted’. There was even comment in the Inspector’s Report, in 1911, that the little ones ‘owing to their size, make too great demands upon the teachers in charge’.


Although the school log book is a wonderful source it can only reveal so much. I would love to collect personal testimonies. If you have any recollections of the Fletton Board school, or the Fletton Grammar school, the teachers or other pupils, especially photographs, I would love to hear from you as I plan on working on the Education section of the website over the coming months.

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