The educational requirements of the village children were provided by the Devon County Council in the School Building at the Stone Gate – Barris site. Built by the Church of England in 1878 at a cost of £600 for educational purposes, the building has two classrooms, known by the children as big and little rooms. The rough and mainly sloping ground around the school was divided by a high wooden paling fence, and was used as playgrounds, the boys and girls being separated by the fence when playing. No facilities or equipment was provided for games and the children necessarily played traditional ones, marbles, hoops, hopscotch, skipping, tops, ball games etc.
The school was staffed by a Headmaster, a woman “pupil” teacher and an adolescent girl for the infant classes. As well as the infants there were classes one to seven. Children started their school life on their third birthday or even earlier. In those days, small boys of three years would still be dressed in similar clothing to that worn by small girls of the same age. I, therefore, on starting school, was dressed as a small girl. I well remember when I was “britched”, and was taken to my grandparents house, where standing on the kitchen table in my new trousers, I sang “The Soldiers of the King, my Boys”, and was rewarded with a penny. This was the year 1900 and the Boer War was in progress, hence the song.
Entering the school main door, through the porch, which was also used as a cloakroom for the boys, we find ourselves in the main or “big room”, and moving forward enter the “little room”. This room was not as large as the “big room” as its name denotes. Quite light and airy, it had plenty of space for the infant children. The equipment of the room was very basic, no desks or tables were provided and the seating primitive and lacking comfort. At the back of the room a series of wooden steps had been built and we little ones sat on one step and rested our feet on the next one lower down. The wooden steps had no covering and splinters would often pierce our legs or buttocks. The slightly older infants had backless wooden Proms to sit on, and they were positioned on the floor space in front of the stepped section.
For writing, slates and slate pencils were supplied, not pens, lead pencils or paper. A “slate” for writing on, was a piece of fine grained laminated rock – the same material as used to cover the roof of a building, and the slate pencil is of a slightly softer grade than the materiel being written on. Marks made by the pencil were easily erased by using a damp piece of cloth. The “slate” was about 8 inches by 6 inches in size and was framed in wood. We were not introduced to pen – ink or paper until we moved to the big room.
The teaching aids provided were sparse and simple, such as a number of wall charts, the alphabet in various types of lettering, simple word with pictures, the lord’s prayer, and a modulator of the tonic solfa music notation. The “abacus” always referred to as the “ball frame” was used to teach us to add, subtract and multiply. Coloured beads to string, count and to learn and know the various colours. To weave into colour patterns we used strips of coloured cardboard. We all enjoyed simple painting with water colours, and using crayons to colour in pictures was also a favoured activity.
Our tables we learned by “rote” and also by singing them. Discipline in class was strict, and a sharp rap on the knuckles could be expected for any short comings. Having attained an acceptable degree of knowledge and practice in the three “R’s”, we were moved out into the “big room” to begin our education proper, according to the County syllabus.
The “big room” about treble the area of the “little room”, is rectangular, lofty, and with ample natural light. Large windows, North, South and West provided this daylight. As well as the doorway to the “little room”, there was also a doorway to the girls’ cloakroom and also to the school rear entrance and exit, and also to the girls playground. The furnishings of the “big room”, beside the long desks seating four children, comprised a desk for the headmaster, a few chairs, a cupboard to store text books, stationery, etc. Two easels with blackboards, a piano and stool about completed the layout. A coal or coke burning “Tortoise” slow combustion stove was in the “big room”, while the infants had to be satisfied with an ordinary open grate fireplace. In cold weather, mittens and overcoats were worn to keep hands and body warm, not always with much success.
The desks, were arranged in orderly rows – class by class. Each of the four positions was provided with an ink well, let into the desktop and filled with ink made of an inkpowder mixed with water. Penholders with push in pen nibs made of steel were provided and also exercise and copy books. The County syllabus provided for the “three R’s” and also for history, geography, drawing, painting and singing, with a little music theory. The girls had a weekly sewing lesson, but provided their own materials. Outdoor exercises conducted by the teachers, comprised of a military style drill for the boys, and a kind of Swedish drill for the girls. These exercises were performed weekly.
One realised in later life how basic, if solid, our education had been. Scripture was, by law, a regular daily feature and the school, though controlled by the County, was a Church of England foundation. The Rector, would at times visit the school and catechize those children who were from C of E families. On account of the strong denominational divide in those times, the children of non-conformist families were carefully excluded from the Rector’s catechism.
Although the school leaving age was set at fourteen years, some children, on account of their family circumstances, were allowed to leave at an earlier age -12½ to 13 – to take up, usually farm employment. This arrangement was to allow the children, usually boys, to supplement the family income. Many children of farm workers had their education curtailed by leaving school on a “Labour Certificate”. Unfortunately this system was necessary, farm workers wages were very low. They were the lowest paid and the hardest worked.
The obtaining of employment on leaving school, while not particularly, difficult, was however limited as to choice. Many boys followed their father’s trade or occupation as masons, carpenters, butchers or farmworkers in the parish.
Some left the village to become foresters, bakers, engineers and other occupations not available in the village.
In my own case, on leaving school on my 14th. birthday, I commenced work with my Later at the Smithy. In September 1911 I became an indentured engineering apprentice for a term of four years at Messrs. Dening and Company, Crimchard Works. Some girls obtained domestic employment locally and others moved to Crediton or Exeter to shops and offices.
Many boys had some practical experience in their father’s trade or calling before leaving school, and this made the transition to being a wage earning person easier. Some children, who had left school on a labour certificate, attended evening classes provided by the county, and by so doing “caught up” in some degree to those of us who had enjoyed full time schooling.