Closed but not forgotten: a worthy history of East Kennet school

Written by Tony Millett on .

Close a school and you’re closing the door on a whole history of learning and community life.  When East Kennet school closed this summer, it was a sad day for the village. But its history has been rescued by Ruth Lamdin in her book A Village Education.

From 1990 the primary schools in East Kennet and in Lockeridge operated on a federated basis – sharing heads and resources.  Now the two schools have been united on the redeveloped Lockeridge site and East Kennet school’s one hundred and fifty-four year story is over.

The school was founded in 1857 by Maria and Anne Mathews who lived in East Kennet Manor.  It was a totally independent foundation catering partly for local children and partly training girls to work as domestic servants – in the ‘big house’ and beyond.

After Anne died, Maria set up an endowment for the school of £2,300 (equivalent to about £111,000 today) and the school was to be known as ‘Miss Mathew’s School’.  But neither the name nor Maria’s wish that the school be independent lasted long.  Soon after her death in 1892, it became a Church of England Public Elementary School.

Of course the school has gone on changing. The original school building (photo left) – fronting the road and opposite the manor – is now a private house, but it still has its ‘1857’ brick plaque.  Behind it stand classrooms ancient and modern - in various styles and of varying quality (see photo below.)

Ruth Lamdin, who has been a governor of Kennet Valley School, has traced the school’s story using records kept in the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.  Her book gives a wonderful insight into the conditions and teaching methods in a small rural school over the years.

Today inspectors from Ofsted strike fear into teachers and produce headlines for the newspapers.  Mrs Lamdin reminds us that English schools have been inspected since 1839 and she uses to great effect reports by Her Majesty’s Inspectors and by diocesan inspectors – as well as the school’s own log books.

In 1891 the school possessed twenty slates (on which the children wrote their exercises) and three maps: “The World, England, Palestine” - days when much of the world was Empire red, most of England was green and pleasant and Palestine was ‘the Holy Land.’

And in 1900 the headmistress reported that because of the lawn was in a sodden state all winter “I have found it necessary to make the children use the road for a playground.”  That’s enough to send shivers of health and safety rules through any modern staff room or PTA.

The earliest school photograph (left) – with all the pupils in their Sunday best  –  is from 1915 when Mrs Billeness was headmistress and the school leaving age was twelve.  Agriculture was still king in the Kennet valley: in July 1900 “Elsie Ellis came and asked for some work (sums) to work at home as her mother could not let her come to school owing to the haymaking.”

This group photo (left) is from 1920 – two years after the school leaving age was raised to fourteen.  Mrs Lamdin has used records which don’t just show us how the school developed, but also remind us how slowly village life changed.  In 1942 the school log reflected the lack of central heating: “15 January: 26 degrees [fahrenheit – six degrees of frost] at 9 a.m.  Ink in wells frozen hard. Ink in stone bottle frozen solid so that when room thawed the bottle had cracked and ink ran across the floor.  Children exercised until room warmed up.”

Even by 1959 the headmistress, Mrs Freeman, showed great frustration at the lack of facilities: “During this term, Russian space rockets have reached and encircled the moon…We use radio and TV for school purposes and before long hope water and proper sanitation will be laid on at this school.”

The newly enlarged school in Lockeridge is certainly not short of up to date facilities and will be able to give the children of the area a great start in life.

Mrs Lamdin’s book also includes the testimony of several former pupils and is very well illustrated.  And for those who want to dig even deeper into this little corner of Wiltshire history, she has included a full list of her sources.

The paperback book costs £5 and can be bought from Mrs Lamdin. You can contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">mailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by ‘phone 01672 861550.