REVIEW: The school at Lockeridge - from icy cold winters to the arrival of the first BBC computer

Written by Tony Millett on .

A Village Education - The History of the School at Lockeridge by Ruth Lamdin (2015)


The building looks much the same as it did in the 1870s - though it has been expanded and, of course, modernised.  But what goes on inside Lockeridge School and the lives of its pupils has changed dramatically.

This is Ruth Lamdin's second history of a local school.  Her first told the story of the now defunct East Kennett school.  This book travels two miles from East Kennett to follow Lockeridge's village school as it developed over 120 years - up to the point the two schools were joined in a federation.

One of the advantages of the coming of universal education is that it allows us to take a close look at social history at a truly local level.  The history of earlier schools in the Parish of Overton cum Fyfield is now largely lost.

Ruth Lamdin, who lives locally, records: "In 1858, thirty infants were taught by an old woman in a cottage kitchen in Overton."  Twenty years later and the state was involving itself in their education.

She has mined the school log books kept so carefully by the head teachers at the school in Lockeridge and now held by the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives in Chippenham.  They record the arrival of a supply of "Pens, Ink, Paper, Pencils, Chalk and Penholders" in 1883 to this entry in 1983: "Today I collected the school's BBC computer from County Hall."

The Forster Education Act of 1870 made it possible for children aged from five to thirteen to be taught in 'elementary' schools - compulsory schooling to the age of ten became law in 1880.

From the decision to build a school in the village to its opening took just over four years.  That certainly beats the long and tortuous gestation period for Marlborough's new primary school!

In 1870, the impetus to start the school came from the government's decision to make a grant of £208 towards the £1,008 tender price for the building.  Another impetus was the Agricultural Children Act (1873) which ruled that children between eight and ten could only work on the land if they had received a set number of hours schooling.

Despite this law, there was in the school's early years friction between the need to educate and local farmers' need to employ young, cheap and agile labour.

The curriculum, Mrs Lamdin makes clear, originally concentrated on the Three-Rs with a strong element of religious instruction.  The introduction of a wider range of subjects - from carpentry to embroidery - was both gradual and erratic.

However from one entry in in the archived reports it looks as though one of the roles for PE - or 'drill' - was to keep the pupils warm in winter:  "January 1891 - Weather is so bitter that children are grouped in the middle of the room and do drill between every lesson to keep warm."

The first heating at the school - a Tortoise Slow Combustion Stove - was installed in 1899.  It is good too to be reminded that rural Lockeridge only got electricity in 1947 and mains water in the 1960s.  School meals began in 1943 - when family life was badly affected by husbands' absence in the services and wives were working in the fields.

A photo from the book: the playground in the 1940s - when hoops were made of woodA photo from the book: the playground in the 1940s - when hoops were made of woodRuth Lamdin takes the history in easy to follow themed sections.  So under 'Health' we learn of early efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of pupils through interventions at school - from dentistry, to measuring their weight to, in 1941, the start of a programme of immunisation against diptheria.

One of the most interesting aspects of this story is the role of women on the school's staff. The first head teacher, Miss Elizabeth Axton (from Salisbury Training College and on £50 a year) began with 43 children and was assisted by a 'monitor' - Eva Wallis. But eighteen months after the opening with pupil numbers rising, Miss Axton wrote "...the Managers consider it desirable to have a Master."

There was no other female head of the school until Mrs Goode appeared in 1940 - when men were in short supply.  When she retired in 1948 the Managers again wanted a headmaster.  But from 1881 to 1983 all but two of the assistant teachers were female.

Ruth Lamdin wonders why men were preferred.  At East Kennett most head teachers up to the last quarter of the twentieth century were women: "However, judging by the annual reports at Lockeridge, the men do not seem to have had noticeably more success than the women in raising standards."

The author gives life to the smiling - often grinning - faces that look out at us from the group photos - official and unofficial - that illustrate her book. It is a book that tells us an important part of the history of the local area.

Both books can be bought from the author: 

the Lockeridge history is £6 and the East Kennett history is £5 - or £10 for both - plus postage and packing.  

She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 01672 861550.