Our School’s History
In 2019, the school was presented with former headteacher Gill Llewellyn’s collection of newspaper articles from her time at the school. This was a fascinating start to my journey of discovery of the school’s past via the logbooks in our possession and the assortment of photographs and other mementos boxed up over the years.
The logbooks have been quite revealing and I have enjoyed viewing the school through the ages. To begin with, the logbooks provided a formal and quite mundane record, with a gradual move to a more interesting school-life after the Second World War. An informality in the style of recording became more pronounced from the 1970s. I am still summarising the contents of logbooks dutifully kept by successive headteachers until 2012.
I hope to regularly add to our story on the school website as time allows.
Our archive is continually evolving - if you have any documents you think may be of interest for the collection, please get in touch.
Archivist: Mrs Hilary Brooks
1873 – 1930
Alfred Bell became ‘Lord of the Manor’ in the mid-1800s and the family paid for a number of village improvements, including renovation of the church and the building of the schoolhouse. And so South Marston School opened to the children of the village and surrounding farms in 1873.
Most people will know the name of Alfred Williams (1877-1930), “The Hammerman Poet”, who was born in South Marston and lived here most of his life. His writings include references to South Marston School, where he attended full time until the age of eight and then as a “half-timer” until the age of eleven. His schooling took place at a time when education was not free, so money had to be found each week to send children to school. Miss Deacon, the school mistress, provided a simple and limited education.
By this time, Annie Cross was the headmistress, and she was to remain in position until 1932. She was assisted by two supplementary staff. Between them, they taught the 77 children on roll. Conditions in the two rooms must have been very cramped!
Many of the supplementary/untrained teachers changed regularly, as did the number of children on roll. There were 97 children attending in 1910 when a Diocesan inspector noted “I have again nothing but praise for this charming little school. The brightness and cheerfulness of the children and the feeling of affection between them and their teachers were most marked...”
The logbook was very scant in detail in those days but the regular weekly scripture classes by the vicar were always recorded and there were many references to the health of the children. Attendance was sometimes severely depleted owing to outbreaks of influenza, whooping cough, chickenpox and other childhood diseases. Some entries record children with “dirty heads” and parents summoned for “neglect of their children. They are at school today very dirty and badly shod”. Two poor children were examined by a doctor to “ascertain reason of mental deficiency” and a dentist called from time to time to check the children’s teeth and to extract them when necessary.
It is strange that the 1914-1918 war did not feature at all in the school logbook until it was first alluded to in November 1917, when 4½ bushels of acorns (about the yield of half a large tree) were gathered by the children and sent to the munition works. In December 1917, 4½ cwt of chestnuts (approximately 225 kg) were sent to the munitions works. The pressures of war became more evident when, in March 1918, the vicar visited to discuss the rationing of coal to the school. Later the same year, the children were employed in regular blackberry picking with the fruit going to the Central Agency. Sadly, the logbook notes that many students were absent due to influenza in October 1918, when the school was closed for a month by order of Dr Crossley. Cases continued to be recorded until February 1919. There were 65 children on roll in December 1918 and an inspection five months later noted that the head teacher had been without teaching help for the 49 older scholars since then. Difficult times!
The school continued much as before in the 1920s and 1930s. The school building remained unchanged, except for occasional redecoration. And the children’s learning continued as usual, with a few special events added to the records - one outing in 1924 when fifteen of the oldest scholars were taken to Wembley for the British Empire Exhibition, a whole-school trip to Weston-Super-Mare in 1930, and the advent of area sports competitions.
1930 – 1960
After over 30 years as head mistress, Annie Cross retired as headteacher in December 1932. However, her name appears a few more times in the logbook as a manager. It seems fitting that she continued to oversee her life’s work. Edna Whaley became head in January 1933 but she was soon replaced by a temporary headteacher and Gladys Baker took on the headship in June 1934.
The 1930s began quietly. 3 new stoves were fitted and the outside lavatories rebuilt. The school was redecorated regularly but improvements in general remained insignificant. Early on, school milk was introduced. The number on books gradually declined from 68 at the start of the decade to 41 when, in 1937, the school saw a big change: “School reopened today after the Christmas vacation as a Junior Mixed and Infants’ School. It was reorganised, as of Jan 1st. The senior scholars have been transferred to the new senior school at Upper Stratton, opened this morning. There are now 26 children on the books, and there is no change in the staff.”
Gladys Baker was unwell in 1938 and a supply teacher was employed. Upon her return, she records “I much regret to report that on my return I have found things in a state of unbelievable disorder. The children have been allowed to get completely out of control and have damaged property both inside and outside the building. The work of the children has in most cases deteriorated considerably.”
Things were rapidly put back in order because a report shortly after by His Majesty’s Inspector concludes “The children are happy and well-behaved, they are interested in their lessons and show initiative and self-reliance…” Numbers were very low at 21 by this time, which was causing concern, but that was soon to change.
The following are the logbook extracts from the start of World War II:
1 Sep 1939
“When school assembled this morning, the children were dismissed until further notice. This was in accordance with instructions received from Headquarters, owing to the country being in a state of National Emergency.”
13 Sep 1939
“School reopened this morning. During the closure 44 children from Barking, Essex have been billeted in the village. These children have been evacuated owing to War having been declared with Germany. The Village Hall is at present being used as a school for these evacuees, who with three teachers commenced work there this morning.”
26 Sep 1939
“Mr CC Parmee (HMI) and Mr HH Waterman (Director’s assistant) visited the school and the Village Hall to confer with teachers as to the best method of reorganising the two groups of children.”
3 Oct 1939
Mr Parmee and Mr Waterman again visited the school with suggestions for the re-organisation, which will be carried out at the beginning of the coming week.
9 Oct 1939
“The working of the school was re-organised as from this morning. The evacuees have been absorbed and the whole redivided into two groups, according to age. The younger group (7, 8, some 9 year-olds) are being taught in the Village Hall by Miss Wood, a Barking teacher. Only five S. Marston children have been removed. The rest, (some 9, the 10 and 11 year-olds) are in the school, being taught by the Head Teacher.”
There followed numerous changes in the number of evacuees and the organisation of teaching over the next few years. The school day was amended to account for the continuation of British Summer Time throughout winter and school closed each October for the harvesting of potatoes. A programme of diptheria immunisations began in 1941, this being the first vaccine of the bacteriological age to be offered free to British children on a national scale. A hot dinner scheme was put in place in 1944, with meals being sent over from Wootton Bassett, but it was often beset with transportation problems.
Finally, on 8 – 9 May 1945, “Victory in Europe Days. School closed following cessation of hostilities”.
Strangely, there was no mention of the evacuees returning home at any point in the logbook, only the return of desks and chairs that had been on loan from Northbury School, Barking.
Late in the decade, intelligence tests for 7, 9 and 10 year-olds, arranged by Swindon Education Authority were launched, followed by the school becoming recognised as having Controlled Status by the Board of Education in 1951.
It wasn’t until around this time that running water was installed. One wonders how the school managed up till then. Soon after, the lavatories were connected to the main water supply and a teachers’ lavatory was provided in 1953. These must have been big advancements at the time!
Past pupils may recall the partition in the main room (now the hall) creating two classrooms. It was fitted in 1955 due to a shortage of space and remained in place for many years. Two Alycan stoves were installed to heat the new spaces.
Report by HMI in 1956:
“…There are three small classrooms, two divided by a movable partition. The older children, 21 in number, are taught by the Head Mistress. The 7-8 group, 25 in all, have had many changes of teacher over the past 4 years, and are at present taught by their third teacher since September 1955. The Infants, 21 in all, are taught by a mistress, who like the Head Mistress, has given long and devoted service to the school…”
“There is a close link between school and village. It is unfortunate there is no adequate space for folk dancing.”
Folk and country dancing appears to have been quite an important activity from this time forward, becoming regularly noted in the logbook and with festivals taking place in Swindon annually.
Gladys Baker resigned in 1960, after 26 years of service to South Marston School. It is sad that no photographs of her appear to be in existence.
1960 – 1974
On 1 September 1960 Sarah Diane Ellison commenced duties as head mistress of South Marston School and immediately a series of improvements began:
1961: Electric light was installed in the classrooms
1961: A staffroom, store and cloakroom were completed.
1961: The dividing wall between girls’ and boys’ playgrounds was removed and the entire area resurfaced. No more segregated playtime!
1963: The old gas fittings were removed.
1967: The school field was fenced.
1967: A further extension of cloakroom and toilets.
1967: The school also became the proud owner of a television set. Sadly, it was stolen during a break-in in 1971 but was quickly replaced.
1970: The old fuel stoves were finally removed, electric storage heaters installed and insulation added to the ceilings of the classrooms.
1971: A new mobile classroom was installed in the playground to accommodate the infants.
1974: The school was connected to mains sewerage
Children and staff alike must have been glad of the new facilities.
In addition to the popular country dancing festivals, the choir began to compete in the Wiltshire Music Festival. Another annual event was the carol service held at Wootton Bassett Church. Plays and concerts were performed in school with parents invited to attend. Harvest Festival was celebrated annually and the gifts of flowers, fruit and vegetables were auctioned or sold back to parents with the proceeds being sent to various charities.
School visits became more regular, with children enjoying trips to the Roman Baths at Bath, Bristol Zoo, Cheddar Caves, Bradford-upon-Avon and London by train, amongst many others. Swimming lessons at Highworth Baths were first recorded in 1968 and these were to continue weekly in the summer term. In 1969, the children were invited to look around “Raniket”, the house built by Alfred Williams, in connection with the Alfred Williams Festival.
The logbook entry for 7 April 1973 records the school’s Centenary Celebrations - an exhibition of children’s work, folk and maypole dancing in the playground and then a further official Centenary Celebration on 25 June 1973 when parents and managers were invited to school for the presentation of Centenary mugs.
Sarah Ellison resigned in July 1974, having overseen an era of great change, both to school amenities and to enrichment activities for the children.
1975 - 1991
In January 1975 Malcolm JC Emery became headmaster and his personality shone through in his logbook entries. The logbook became less official in style and exclamation marks abounded!
This entry from January 1975: “Ann Hooke and myself (Mr Emery) in cars together with three parents in theirs, took a group of twenty-three (!!!) children to St Peters Junior School, Marlborough for a football match against their 3rd team and some netball practice on their pitches. We lost 2-1 but everyone enjoyed themselves and the girls got on very well with the Marlborough children who were coaching them. A few tears when we left! Even the weather was wet!”
Sports matches and events featured regularly, both home and away, much enjoyed by the children by all accounts. The logbook also records waterlogged pitches at South Marston from time to time. Something that remains a problem to this day.
Frequent fund-raising events were held, and in December 1975 the first disco-dance for parents and teachers raised £15. A sponsored walk around the village in October 1976 raised £150 for school funds. Quite a sum!
Swimming lessons had been a school activity for some time, but suddenly they were taken to a whole new level when, in 1978, the school won the first of a number of national awards:
14 December 1978
“The Mayor presented a swimming prize, our school having come first in a national swimming contest, sponsored by a large company (Coca Cola) – we won out of 48,000 children! The school was packed with people. Ended at 10.30pm.”
17 December 1979
Children won the Area Championship in swimming under the Dolphin Trophy scheme.
19 November 1980
Children went to Crystal Palace for presentation of the trophy for the Dolphin National Swimming Award.
3 March 1982
“School closed so we could visit the Crystal Palace as National Winners of the Dolphin Trophy Swimming Award…we had a good day and the children were presented their trophy by television personality Keith Chegwin.”
29 November 1982
“A gala day for the school. Mr Neil MacFarlane, Minister for Sport came to present our swimming awards. This was a very major occasion and we had most parents as well as the Area Education Office, Mr David Williamson, and representatives from Coca-Cola and the press, the school having “swept the board” in the national competition. This year we felt very proud of ourselves. We are unlikely to repeat it!”
3 February 1983
“After a very quiet January, we begin February with an exciting trip to Crystal Palace for the official trophy presentations for the Dolphin Trophy. It was very similar to last year except that this time it was RN who was sick (twice!)”
The first meeting of the newly formed parents’ association “The Friends of South Marston School” took place in January 1982. Mr Emery noted “It is hoped this more formal association will improve still further the involvement of the parents with the school and with the village itself…”
On 19 July 1985 the school year ended and Malcolm Emery recorded his last entry in the logbook “Today is my final day at South Marston School after over ten years. I shall miss this school very much, but I wish my successor, Mr Steve Bicknell, as much happiness as I have had and best wishes in his new post.”
As with all previous head teachers, Steve Bicknell divided his time between teaching and his duties as head. There were 3 classes in 1985, one with the youngest pupils and the other two with a mix of three year groups. It must have been quite a challenge. The number on roll was 53, with 19 children in the top class, 16 in middle class and 18 in reception/middle. Mr Bicknell took the top class.
The children’s success in swimming continued and the following entries were recorded:
6 March 1986
“Presentation of the Dolphin Award Trophy at the school. Officials from the ESSA, The Dolphin Trophy, Coca Cola (sponsors), W.C.C., local press and radio were all present. Colin Gordon and Colin Calderwood from Swindon Town FC presented the trophy. We all then went to the Link Centre and had a swim followed by lunch. Extremely successful day. The children enjoyed themselves and were able to demonstrate their musical prowess in the morning by singing “Learn to Swim” – a song composed by the children and Mrs Metcalfe [music teacher] especially for the occasion.” Teacher Mrs Hooke was credited with enabling the children to reach such a high standard.
12 February 1988
“School closed whilst the teaching staff accompanied by myself [Mr Bicknell] and my twenty 2nd, 3rd and 4th year juniors went to London for the launch of the new Dolphin Swimming Trophy “Learn to Swim” scheme. We had been invited to sing our composition “Learn to Swim” in the presence of Colin Moyniham MP, Minister of Sport and the BBC Newsround cameras. We were also filmed swimming at the Chelsea Sports Centre and later returned to the Dolphin Brasserie for a superb lunch. We even had time to visit The Tate before returning home. A film of us singing and swimming appeared on Newsround at 5pm that day. A famous and unforgettable day!”
It may seem strange today, but the children did not wear school uniform at that time, other than a school t-shirt. At a meeting in May 1986, the t-shirt was voted out and it was agreed that parents would dress their children in any combination of grey and blue. In 1987 sweatshirts with the school logo (appropriately, dolphins around the school name) were adopted, followed by new t-shirts in 1988.
Discussions regarding the lack of space started immediately after Mr Bicknell’s appointment and a second mobile classroom was finally installed behind the toilet block in summer 1987.
Mr Bicknell resigned as head teacher in Summer 1988 to take up a post as an advisory head teacher and Mr Dan Sinclair took over a headteacher of South Marston School.
With Mr Sinclair’s headship came the era of big drama productions, starting with “Oliver!” in over 3 nights in Spring 1989.
The logbook records:
““Oliver!” performances 7pm – 9.15. Played to packed houses to enthusiastic support.
The full realisation of the enormity of the task we had taken on only gradually dawned on everyone! I have produced such shows many times so I, at least knew something of what to expect – I think!
Every child in the school was in the cast with the major parts going to the older children. Two adults appeared – Des Jones as Fagin and Rev Martin Housman as Mr Bumble – both put in a tremendous amount of time and effort and were excellent. Ann and Cynthia [teachers] coordinated and directed operations on props and costumes with great enthusiasm and dedication.
All the parents were involved in supplying their own child with much of their costumes.
Together with parents we built a folding unit stage system (materials supplied by Crosby Doors via Alan Kent) and set (materials supplied by Jacki and Robert Sansum).
We put up full theatre lighting, operated by Phil Richards.
Gwen [teacher] rehearsed and trained the whole school regarding singing.
We rehearsed after school 3 times a week with the principals until 2 weeks before the show when we involved all the children in and after school time.
The leads had enormous parts to learn and lots of singing to do and the outcome was truly amazing.
Olivers (Michael Webb, Alex Jones), Dodgers (Alex Field, Jessica Brown) Sykes (Mark Sandry) and Nancy (Michelle Case) stand out exceptionally, but everyone had fears to conquer, hurdles to clear and self-discipline to learn. They all grew visibly as the term wore on.
In the end we played to a total audience of over 250 who were fulsome in their praise.
Financially, we priced programmes at £2 (designed and word processed by the children) and broke even in the whole event.
During performances teams of parents did make-up, marshalled back stage and supervised those waiting.
It was a tremendous effort on everyone’s part and everyone can be justifiably proud of what we achieved.”
School trips were many and varied and summer terms included a ‘School Trip Week’ where multiple visits to near and far took place. Notable visits included Camber Sands, Bristol Exploratory, Wilton Windmill, the Honda factory, Jansen Pharmaceuticals, Tower of London, London museums, water sports at South Cerney…
SATs began in 1991, involving considerable preparation which was quite a strain on resources. The school’s number on roll had continued to increase and with it came an evident frustration about the school’s accommodation and facilities. However, along with the difficulties there were also successes and a large pond/environmental study centre was completed after much hard work, especially by parents Ray Turner and Jan Capaldi. As Mr Sinclair left to take up a new position, he was very pleased to leave it as a lasting legacy of his time at the school. But sadly, this was not to be.