Chelsfield Village School 2013The earliest Chelsfield School of which there is a record is mentioned (in Cox’s Magna Brittanica of 1720) as “a small school for poor children”. According to A T Waring’s “Parochial Notes” which date from 1912, this was probably held in Kidders, “the upper room in this house [Kidders] runs the whole length of the building and has been known as the schoolroom. Old inhabitants in years gone by have stated that they went to school in this room in their youth”.There was school on the present site in 1823, although the present Chelsfield School was not built until 1864, the first building being outgrown. In the early days the school educated boys and girls separately. The focus was on reading, writing, arithmetic, religious instruction and household tasks for the girls. Discipline was also a high priority. Children would often be absent in the summer to help with work on local farms. The reports of the Rev D F Smith, diocesan inspector, make interesting reading. They can be found at Canterbury Cathedral Library, (for a fuller record go to Sources). In July 1851 Rev Smith remarked on the Master’s ability to command an attendance of 49 out of 55 boys, given that fruit picking was at its height. He was however critical of the progress in religious instruction although writing was “good” and reading was “tolerable”. Discipline “is not what it should be” but he blamed this partly on the over-crowded schoolroom. Of the girls school, he said, “the needle-work is good, writing only tolerable, and arithmetic as bad as can be. The lower part of the school is much neglected, and wants a thorough management.”Things improved by the inspection of 1854, when the separate boys and girls schools had been amalgamated, and Rev Smith was able to report “The girls in the 1st. class who attend more regularly than the boys are the best instructed generally in Religious Knowledge. The writing and spelling are creditable. The Reading will be better for secular class books, Maps have been provided and the girls had a very fair knowledge of the outlines of Geography. The children are neat and well-behaved, and the school altogether is on a better footing.”The new building was completed in 1864, and in the following year the Inspector recorded that “ A handsome schoolhouse has replaced the old one.” We are fortunate to have transcripts of the School Log Book for the years 1883-1906, and 1906-1920. There is a brief introduction to the the Log Books, and a link to the transcripts on our Chelsfield School Logbooks page.In its early years the Village School was supported by subscription (charitable donations) and by fees paid by pupils. By 1884 this was proving too expensive for the pockets of the two or three subscribers, and a School Board was formed to take on the responsibility. In the early decades of the last century children walked to the school from quite far afield in all weathers. The school was lit by paraffin lamps, and heated by open coal fires, round which the children would drape coats and gloves to dry on wet days. One well-known Chelsfield resident, Miss Read (or Dora Saint to give her real name), describes her experiences at the school from 1921 to 1924 in her childhood memoir, entitled “Time Remembered”. Her account evokes the village when it was a close-knit rural community, and sets out her recollections of the school under Mr Clarke, a strict disciplinarian but also a kind man who was generous in supplementing the meagre offering of the school library with loans from his own private collection. The young Dora had to walk a mile and a quarter from her house on Chelsfield Hill to get to school and was adept at finding lifts from local tradesmen: Mr Tutt the fishmonger, Mr Groom the Baker, and Hodsall’s heavy corn chandler’s wagon. She revisited the school in 1975, and there is an appealing account of this visit from the Daily Telegraph Magazine.There is a detailed account of the life of the school in the last century by Carol Margetts, in her “History of Chelsfield Village School”. In her account Carol remembers various individuals who worked at the school in different capacities, and gives a clear picture of the daily pattern for the children who attended (including herself). The school round differed somewhat for girls and boys: in the 1920s and 30s the girls were taken by van to Farnborough Village School, where they had rather strict lessons in cookery and laundry skills. The boys, on the other hand, would go across to the recreation ground for cricket or football.Carol also set out in the detail the type of work for which the school would have prepared the children. Pre-war, they would have been expected at the age of 14 to go on to farming, domestic service or family business, with only a few (like Dora Saint) fortunate enough to continue their education. After the war many more opportunities opened up, as manufacturing and retail opened up in Orpington, St Paul’s Cray and St Mary Cray, and people travelled further afield for work. During the war, children continued to attend school, but had their gas masks with them at all times and took cover in a shelter during raids. According to Carol Margetts’ account, on the first day of the January term in 1969, the school had a new head, Mrs Lilian Gilbert. The night before a huge snowfall landed on the village and beyond, and for a while the only people to make it to the school were Mrs Gilbert and the caretaker, Mrs Wingrove. Eventually a group of children turned up in a trailer pulled by a tractor belonging to a local farmer. During the day more children trickled in and lunch was quickly contrived by purchase of corned beef and other items from the village shop. The snow persisted and Mrs Gilbert spent her first week billeted with the school secretary in order to reach the school each morning. A memorable first week.Geoffrey Copus has transcribed extracts from the Diocesan Inspection records of the School, from Canterbury Cathedral Library, which can be found in full in our Sources section.
Chelsfield A Community Archive
Chelsfield Village School
Kidders at Bucks Cross - likely location forearly schoolroom.
Chelsfield Village School 2013.The word “BOYS” can still be made out by the door.
Chelsfield Village SchoolCricket Team 1920
Children emerging from the School shelter in the 1940s
Neal’s Store in the snow
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