Fairfields School 1888-1988 by Bill Fergie

Bill Fergie wrote Fairfields School, 1888-1988 for the November 1987 newsletter as the school’s centenary celebrations were getting under way.

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Fairfields School, 1888-1988

On February 16th 1888 the Basingstoke Board Schools were opened in Fair Close. Built as a direct result of the 1870 and 1876 Education Acts, the Fairfields Schools have experienced a number of traumatic changes in their 100 years. The larger Senior Building has recently emerged from the most recent re-organisation of primary education in the centre of town and has been given a new lease of life as a county primary school.

The adjoining infant building also survives but is currently known as the Fairfield Centre and is home to the Basingstoke Drama Centre.

In connection with the Centenary celebrations… the current Chairman of the Governors of Fairfield Primary School has been studying copies of the Hants and Berks Gazette and with my thanks to her, I have picked items which give a flavour of the prejudices and personalities of politics connected with the early life of Board Schools in the last decade of the 19th century.

Letter dated 11.1.1887 to the editor, Hants and Berks Gazette, appearing in the edition of Saturday January 15 1887

Sir,

The dangers of Southern Road

In anticipation of the opening of the new school buildings, I shall be glad if you will insert the following as a sample of the dangers which must attend scholars in our narrow roads, and if our town authorities will notice it, a double end will be gained.

Last evening two ladies were returning to my house by way of Southern Road, and had just turned the corner by the Cottage Hospital when they met a man leading a horse. They tried to pass on the led side and as the road there is not more than twelve feet wide, they had to escape from the vicious brute, which kicked out savagely and seriously injured one lady’s arm. There is no footpath on either side and high banks make escape impossible. Twice a day many high-spirited horses are led or ridden through this “trap” for unwary foot passengers on their way to and from the exercise ground, beside a large traffic on wheels, and when children by hundreds are exposed to these risks, accidents must happen.

Would it not be better to give employment to some of the many out-of-work by removing this source of danger? I appeal to all ratepayers to second the application I intend to make to the town on this matter, and especially to those parents whose children will attend the schools. Will nothing but the sacrifice of an innocent life or two bring about this much needed reform? I trust that there is enough philanthropy still existing in my fellow townsmen to avert such a catastrophe.

Yours truly, W H Blatch, Jnr. Jan 11 1887

News item on Saturday June 2 1888

Local success: Our readers will be interested to know that Miss Emile Alexander, the recently appointed first assistant in the Basingstoke Board Schools Girls’ School has this week received the first prize (£15) awarded by the Royal Geographic Society.

EXTRACT FROM THE LEADER ARTICLE JUNE 9 1888

The Basingstoke School Board have adopted the rules laid down by the London Board with reference to the administration of corporal punishment and copies of the said rules are to be furnished forthwith to every teacher employed by the board. This means that corporal punishment must in future be administered only by the Headmaster or Headmistress, and that it must not be administered during school hours except under extraordinary circumstances, such circumstances to be specified in the Log Book, wherein every case of corporal punishment must be recorded. We presume that the rules will be entirely satisfactory to all but those namby pamby individuals who think that their darlings ought never to have the stick at all. Of course, they oughtn’t, and probably never would if – well – they didn’t deserve it.

EXTRACT FROM THE MINUTES OF THE MEETING OF THE SCHOOL BOARD HELD ON THE 4TH JUNE 1888, APPEARING IN THE GAZETTE ON 9TH JUNE 1888.

Seat accommodation at the Schools: The Chairman reported that he had received a complaint from a parent of a boy having been obliged to stand in the school for a considerable time. On making enquiries from Mr Gage, he found from Mr Gage that in certain standards there were actually not enough seats for all those in attendance. Distribute the seats as they would, there were not enough, the number on the books in the Boys’ Department being 424, the number in attendance 390 and the seat accommodation for 385. The seats, being screwed down, could not readily be removed from one class to another, and he found that the present arrangement of the standards required twelve or thirteen more seats. Messrs White, Dunn and Edney were appointed a Committee to visit the school and see what was best to be done to provide the seat accommodation required. It was thought probable that the girls’ department would be able to spare the required number.

School fees: Mr Edney introduced a discussion as to the advisability of reducing the scale of school fees… At Basingstoke the least fee was twopence and the highest sixpence. He thought that in fixing these fees what they had to aim at were a high attendance and a thoroughly efficient education for the children (Hear, hear), and he thought their present fees interfered with the efficiency of the schools. The demand came upon the parents at a time when the children were young and contributing nothing to the family income, and in the case of a man with a large family it came hard.

NEWS ITEM FROM THE GAZETTE, 17TH MARCH 1894

At a science class: Some interesting experiments in electricity were carried out at the Board Schools on the evening of Friday, the 9th instant, in connection with the Science Class which has the advantage of Mr Higgs for instruction… We gather from Mr Higgs that the class during the present session has been continuing its efforts relating to magnetism, frictional electricity, and voltaic electricity… Mr Higgs showed that a sufficient amount of electricity could be generated in a voltaic comb by rubbing it with a piece of flannel to turn backwards and forwards a small lath which was balanced on a glass globe… Mr Higgs then showed an experiment which was watched with much interest. It was the decomposition of water into two gases, hydrogen and oxygen. This was accomplished by the introduction of electrical current into tubes containing the water. Mr Higgs then showed by experimentation the generation of heat by electricity, using for this purpose two carbonised points and also produced what is known as the Arc Light – of course on a small scale. Much interest was taken by those present in the tiny electric lights which were produced through wires little stouter than a hair… Mr Dew, J P who with Mr Wallis J P was among the spectators, seconded the vote of thanks moved by Mr Gage and remarked on the wonderful advantages possessed by the youth of this generation compared with the state of education when he himself was a boy. He urged his young friends to make good use of their opportunities and they would be only too thankful as the years went on that they had improved their leisure in this way.

NEWS ITEM FROM THE GAZETTE, SATURDAY 5TH MAY 1894

Basingstoke School Board elections:

On Monday evening in the open space opposite the Victory Inn a meeting was held to promote the candidature of the four unsectarian candidates, Messrs T J Edney, W Higgs, C Myland and R S Wallis. A large crowd assembled and listened attentively to speeches from the first three gentlemen, Mr Wallis not being present. After Mr Edney had spoken a considerable portion of the crowd were attracted to a spot a few yards distant, where Mr Hudson, another candidate held a rival meeting. This manoeuvre was regarded by many as being significant of a certain electioneering cunning than of a sense of honour or fair play. We regret to state that at the close of Mr Hudson’s address, some person marked his sense of that gentleman’s fitness by throwing a rotten egg in his direction. The perversity of fate, however, rarely allows a rotten egg to reach the person for whom it was intended, and in this case the odorous missive came in contact with the helmet of a newly arrived constable, who was on duty in Basingstoke for the first time that day.

NB. Mr Hudson was later sued by Miss Sealey, Schoolmistress of Basingstoke for slander of her professional competence and she was awarded £50 damages, plus costs. Mr Hudson was later found to be bankrupt.

NEWS ITEM FRO M THE GAZETTE, 2ND NOVEMBER 1895

Report of the proceedings of the Borough Petty Sessions, held on Tuesday, 29th October: George Hine, who was represented by his wife, was summoned for not sending his daughter Lottie to school. The attendances had been 31 out of a possible total of 141. Mrs Hine said they had been away hop picking for about five weeks of that time. Mrs Hine said she had to keep her children. It was very different when her husband was always in work. Penalty 5s. Mrs Hine said she would have to earn it before she could pay it. Allowed till Saturday.

EXTRACTS FROM MINUTES OF BOARD MEETING, HELD 4TH NOVEMBER 1895.

Swimming instruction: Reports from Mr Gage and Miss Sealey as to the instruction in swimming in their respective departments:

Boys:  Gentlemen, I beg to report that 204 tickets were issued to boys to admit them to the swimming baths on payment of one penny on each visit. Some of them soon fell off, and others dropped off by degrees, but about 90 kept it up right through the summer… So far as I can ascertain, 15 boys have learned to swim this season, whilst several others are getting some confidence and will doubtless learn easily next year if spared. Over 90 attended during the holidays, some of them several times. 

Girls: A similar report was given by Miss Sealey.

Dr Cooper-Smith reported that he had been to the baths and he thought there was too little teaching and too much larking about. He did not know if it was worth paying for that.

EXTRACT FROM THE MINUTES OF THE SCHOOL BOARD, 1ST JANUARY 1900.

The following increases of salary, being according to scale, were allowed. Mr H Anderson, (Boys’ Department) from £95 to £100 per annum, Mrs L A Matthews from £65 to £67. 10.0, Miss C A Board (Infants’ Department) from £47 to £50 an application from Miss Jessica B Hobbs for an increase from £30 to £35 was, on the motion of Dr Cooper-Smith, seconded by DR Johnson, deferred until the Inspectors’ Report.

EXTRACT FROM THE MINUTES OF THE SCHOOL BOARD HELD ON 7TH JULY 1900

An epidemic of measles: The Rev. A C Tarbolton said that Miss Colman had asked him to state that of 454 infants on the books only 269 attended today, and she had a sheaf of letters, stating that measles kept the children at home. The Rev Dr Coooper-Smith said that the matter would have to be seriously considered by the Board if the epidemic continued. Mr Alderman Powell said that there were a tremendous lot of boys running about who ought to be either at school or work and they were a perfect terror to the neighbourhood. The Attendance Officer said that if measles existed in a house, the whole family was kept from school. Mr Aldreman Powell said that this did not altogether account for the stream of boys running about his neighbourhood. Last week they were over-running the allotments and doing a lot of damage. It was mentioned that in view of the prevalence of measles, the Board might receive some communication from the Medical Officer as to closing the schools.

EXTRACT FROM THE GAZETTE OF 7TH DECEMBER 1901

The promised Education Bill: a teacher’s view:

Mr H W Sandford, a member of the Executive Committee of the National Union of Teachers, addressed a well-attended meeting of the Basingstoke and District Teachers’ Department held at the Board Schools (Infants’ Department) on Saturday afternoon.

He said we must have a reorganisation of local control of public education. He said the Government’s… only solution would be to bring in a Bill which would take in primary, secondary and technical education and establish one authority to control all three (hear, hear) … In the same area they sometimes found a School Board, a Technical Education Committee, several sets of Voluntary School Managers, a School of Art Council, a Higher Grade School, a Technical Aid School. Evening Continuation Schools, a Polytechnic – all in the same area and all doing practically the same work, overlapping each other here and there at great cost… The advantage of having one local authority would be economy all round – economy of offices, in officials and their salaries, in elections and the cost of elections, in book-keeping and compiling of returns – in fact any businessman would know that the best thing to do would be to amalgamate all these three kinds of education at the earliest possible moment.

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