A Bit of History
Charlton-on-Otmoor Primary School was opened in 1866 and the original building now houses the Foundation Stage Unit (for 3 – 5 year olds) and the staff room.
We still have some old records and artefacts dating back to the early years, from which we can learn about school life in the late 19th century. There were some similarities with school today. Many of the children were from Charlton, but a number also came from the surrounding villages. There are some surnames that can be recognised by us today: Honour, Franklin, Cooper, Turvey, Haynes, Busby and a pupil named Percy Collett. We have children now whose parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents attended the school. Even in the 1800s schools were subject to inspection, children were set homework and the Head had to face the challenge of a tight budget.
One Head describes the difficulties of obtaining desks over a long period of time.
“Very trying having to have children facing each other at a desk. Silence cannot be enforced”.
Then when they finally arrive….
“A fortnight’s experience has taught me that the seats are not high enough for the desks. The children’s elbows are raised considerably too high making writing difficult”.
An Inspector also noted, “some better provision for hats and bonnets should be made.”
The school results were somewhat less impressive than they are today. In 1871, 28% passed their reading.The main reason for this seems to be attendance….or the lack of it! Poor weather was one reason for this, as sometimes in winter the school was too cold and in the summer too hot, due to the lack of heating and ventilation. Bad weather also made it difficult to travel, although by 1897 a covered van would go to collect the children. The other main factor was that children would help with the chores and farming.
“Wednesday seems to be washing day in this neighbourhood – several are kept home to help!”
“The weather has become fine and many are already kept away to work in the fields”. (In March 1886 attendance was down to 66.9%.)
The schoolmaster also had to compete with a number of local festivals and feasts, not least of which was May Day.
“This day is always looked upon as a holiday in this place – not above half-a-score present”.
Discipline is an area which is much changed today, thankfully! In 1884 for example, “four Murcott boys came to school more than half an hour late. Had been playing marbles on the road – gave each one a stroke on each hand with the cane”.
If you look in the graveyard opposite the front door of what used to be the schoolmaster’s house, you will find the gravestone of Mrs Sutherland. She was the schoolmaster’s wife, and also worked teaching the girls and infants. Sadly, she died in 1890 in childbirth; the baby died a few days later. The post in Charlton was for a married man, and in January 1891 there is an entry in the log book:-
“The managers were with much reluctance obliged to part with Mr Sutherland, who had won the personal esteem of all the Parish during his 13 years’ residence and was a patient and painstaking teacher”.
The new teachers were a Mr & Mrs Burnham, with their daughter, and they resigned in 1895, to be followed by Mr & Mrs Roberts and their daughter.
In addition to mathematics and English, lessons included recitations, (eg Lady of the Lake, Bruce the Spider), history, object lessons, occupations and elementary science. Boys were taught geography, while the girls were taught needlework.
By the time we reach 1897, the inspector writes:-
“This school has passed an excellent examination. The answering was intelligent and exhibited a very accurate and thorough knowledge….”
The local community and school will have seen many changes since then – the occupations in the area, the increased use of cars, the two wars, billeting, the changing faces in the villages, new buildings, closing of the village shops – but our school and community continue to evolve. We have a new Community Hall opened in 2002, used by the school and local villagers, and there are over 100 children attending the school and pre-school.