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.
While Wiltshire waits for a programme of mobile speed cameras to replace the fixed speed cameras which were withdrawn last year, and for the results of the county’s 20MPH pilot schemes for village centres, parishes are working to reclaim their streets and make them safer. In the second of our articles on how villages are tackling the problems of speeding traffic, Marlborough News Online visits a parish with two very different problems to solve.
No two parishes have quite the same problems with traffic and speeding drivers. But the parish of Fyfield and West Overton has more than its fair share of those problems: it includes Fyfield which has a straight stretch of the A4 running through it, and Lockeridge which has something of a rat-run as its main street.
In the area of this parish council, only West Overton, with no through traffic, is spared the blight of speeding drivers.
Before the M4 was built, the A4 was the main artery between London and Bristol. When it was widened to cope with increased traffic, Fyfield lost some houses and was in effect split into three parts. There are Upper and Lower Fyfield and the part of Fyfield across the A4 on its north side. Importantly, this part includes the villages’ only village shop.
Indeed if you add to the village shop, the petrol station, two turnings onto the main road and the lack of a stopping place for the school buses, Fyfield and the A4 do not mix well at all. In recent years this stretch of the A4 has seen several serious accidents and fatalities.
The parish council’s traffic committee have won approval for a 50MPH speed limit along the stretch of the A4 that includes Fyfield. This won’t come into force until November 2012.
Although this should make a real difference for villagers, some think 40MPH would be more appropriate. Changes to speed limits come at a cost: in 2009 Wiltshire Council identified 116 changes to speed limits and estimated they would cost between £900,000 and £1M.
However, one solution brings another problem. Once the 50MPH limit is in force, you will turn off the A4 towards Lockeridge and have a 500 metre stretch of 60MPH speed limit before you meet (in some cases ‘hit’ would be the better word) Lockeridge’s 30MPH sign.
Ruth Scriven, who chairs the parish council’s traffic committee, wants the 30MPH limit pushed northwards, out from the village, past the houses of Upper Fyfield, to meet the A4.
But Wiltshire Council have offered a 40MPH limit between the village's 30MPH sign and the A4. However, Whitehall rules say you cannot have a different speed limit that runs for less than 600 metres – so can the limit between the village and the trunk road be set at 40MPH? Are you following this so far? Rules are, after all, rules and have to be followed.
Lockeridge have put up village gates to show drivers they’re entering a village. But the start of the 30MPH limit is at a very tricky bend and it’s become something of an accident black spot with several accidents – and smashed village gates – in a year.
When you get into Lockeridge the problem changes radically. The main street is narrow and in places very twisty. It has a busy pub, lots of driveways and a newly enlarged school all emptying directly onto the village’s main street.
The road through the village is too narrow and used by too many large agricultural vehicles to install chicanes. Anyway, though they’re supposed to calm traffic, they’re often taken as a Top Gear challenge. Though it must be said that parking along Lockeridge’s main street sometimes presents a chicane-type of obstacle course – not, it should be said, an obstacle race.
Several years ago the villages became really fed up with speeding drivers taking short cuts from the A4 towards Salisbury and Devizes – a problem made much worse with the introduction of ‘satnavs’. So they called in an internationally recognised traffic management expert, Ben Hamilton-Baillie. Based in Bristol, he puts forward unorthodox ways to calm traffic and share spaces between cars and people.
In some places, he’s even proposed doing away with markings in the middle of the road. As Ruth Scriven told me: “Instead of providing information so a driver knows where to go, you take the information away so a driver has to think what he’s doing and realise where he is.”
Hamilton-Baillie came up with solutions that avoided sprinkling flashing signs and lights around the village. He wanted the villagers to show drivers that they were entering a living village and not driving along some kind of ring road.
He proposed ‘mental speed bumps’ – ways to encourage drivers to slow down as they passed through the village. In the words of parish councillor Judith Woodget, they had to “make the village look inhabited.”
One scheme that attracted a great deal of comment was the scarecrow competition. Two years running villagers were asked to make scarecrows that would sit about the village inviting drivers to slow down and notice them. The competitions – apart from revealing some striking hidden skills among the villagers – were deemed a success.
But even the scarecrows and a number of very visible village events held beside the road – Christmas drinks, an Easter bunny show and art hung on the school railings - did not do enough to solve the problems.
The flow of traffic – even with frequent examples of inappropriate or illegal speeding – was not deemed large enough for a community speed watch scheme to be launched in conjunction with Wiltshire police.
Ruth Scriven would like a 20MPH speed limit through the village. This has become more urgent with the increased number attending the school after the closure of its East Kennet branch – more children walking to school, more being dropped off in the narrow road and more buses.
There was some dismay that Lockeridge was not chosen to be one of the county’s five pilot schemes for 20MPH village limits. Of those chosen, three were in the west and north-west of the county (Biddestone, Limpley Stoke and Westwood.) The other two were Great Cheverell (on the edge of the Plain) and Great Bedwyn (the only one in the east of the county.)
Twelve villages put themselves forward for the pilot, but Wiltshire Council says Lockeridge was not one of them. The pilot schemes will last at least until April 2012.
Here’s a date for your 2012 diary: Saturday, August 4 will see Pewsey’s sixth music festival at Cooper’s Field. Never mind the London Olympics - if the responses to this year’s festival are anything to go by, that’s the day in August 2012 to be sure to keep free.
The Festival is rapidly gaining a reputation across the country for showcasing a wide range of original music – with groups from the south-west and from afar.
On August 6, with some sunshine and lots of clouds, the main stage featured seven groups playing hour-long sets: Dolly and the Clothes Pegs (pictured above and left), Will and the People, Melodramas, Bite the Buffalo and Slagerij - topped off with the headliners Charly Coombes and The New Breed.
In all twenty groups covering a multitude of musical styles filled the Festival’s twelve hours.
Bite the Buffalo, two brothers who grew up in Zambia and are now based in Bath, stepped in at the last moment when The Bohemian Embassy were unable to make their slot. Stos (guitar/vocals) and Dimitri (drums/vocals) only started performing at the beginning of 2011. They call themselves a ‘soulful rock duo’. After Pewsey, Bite the Buffalo played slots on three nights at the London O2 Arena.
Five groups took to the main stage for twenty minute sets: The Banzukes, Not Rocket Science, The Racket, Nudy Bronque and Southwest central.
In addition there was an open mic tent with nine musicians and groups competing. The four judges named Mark Nelson the winner. His prize was a slot on the main stage at ten in the evening, just before Charly Coombe’s headlining set.
Besides the music there was a beer tent, food from Pewsey outlets and plenty for the children to do – including some wild face painting.
Organiser Liz Boden reports a blizzard of appreciative messages. Festival fan Laura Thomas wrote: “Fantastic day, best music line-up to date and the whole family had a wonderful time. Thank you. We are still humming the songs!” And Matt Dennehy from the Swindon-based ska-punk act Slagerij sent a message: “Blimey! What an ace day at Pewsey Music Festival! Truly an epic load of fun and an awesome fun crowd.!”
Liz has publicly thanked the Festival’s sponsors: Wessex Print Centre, Pewsey Spar, Stowell Farms, Mike Williams of Outlook Private Hire, Pewsey Area Community Trust and Richard Dewey.