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School Days in the past

Reasons for Absence

     Several years ago the Pilning & Severn Beach History Group was permitted to transcribe items from the School Log Books of Northwick School (Redwick & Northwick C of E School opened in 1842) and Pilning School (St Peter’s National School opened in 1877).   In 1871 Head Teachers had to keep a weekly diary (Log) of attendance numbers and any special occurrences and these Log Books give lots of information about weather conditions and illnesses.   Some of the reasons for children being absent from school make interesting reading.

     The main reason for absence and school closures was the weather.  Going to primary school nowadays many children arrive by car at the school gates and those who cycle or walk travel on reasonably surfaced roads.   Going to school in the 1870s the children either walked on paths through the fields or along the road from Cross Hands to Northwick or along Bank Road to Pilning.  

     During the winter months heavy rain and muddy footpaths often resulted in children being allowed to dry their boots and being sent home, with school closed for the rest of the day.   In October 1879 Mr Corke, Head of Pilning School, noted that many of the infants had gone to a dame school at Cross Hands for the winter months.  In October 1882 he wrote that the weather was very boisterous on Tuesday with only 11 children attending by and as these were extremely wet, he sent them home and closed school for the day. “The Compton roads the rest of the week have been much flooded so that numbers of children have been unable to reach school.”   October 1883 Mr Corke noted “Very rough day on Thursday numbers short owing to water over the roads from last night’s extraordinary tide” and the Head Teacher at Northwick wrote “Not one child came to school today.  The extraordinary high tide covered the roads and rendered them impassable.”  (This was the gale and tide that swamped the Severn Railway Tunnel workings.)

     Snow, seldom seen in this area now, was a frequent reason for closing both schools during the 1880s and 1890s, with drifts over 1 foot deep (30cm) and on one occasion in March 1891 at Pilning School, ”The snow was drifted across the roads level with the hedges and it was impossible for children to get through it”.  (This was a four-day blizzard with violent gales that swept across Britain, over 200 lives were lost and the London to Plymouth express train was engulfed in a drift on Dartmoor for 2 days, the snow was so thick that no one in a farmhouse 200 yards from the railway could see the train, it reached Plymouth 8 days late.)  

     There were occasional closures from rain and snow in the 1920s and 1930s and snow closed both schools at the beginning of 1945 and in 1947.  In January 1954 Pilning Log stated “After many months the new flush toilets were completed during the Xmas holidays and are in use from today.” On January 8th however “Water frozen in lavatories.”

     The second major reason for the absence of children was illness – measles was the most common illness, in both schools, and in 1894 the Sanitary Officer closed Pilning School for 3 weeks plus 3 weeks’ holiday, “so that all cases may have disappeared”.   The school reopened on August 27th and Mr Corke noted that “129 out of 154 on register had suffered from the measles during the closing of the school. Find the children’s voices very weak and their chests are suffering.”    Whooping cough was the next most common illness, particularly among the infants, and both schools also recorded outbreaks of scarlet fever, mumps, scarlatina and chicken pox.

     Weather and illness account for most of the school absences, today’s children might wish the third reason was still around – in a country area children were often absent to help with harvest, pick up potatoes, and scare birds from cornfields.  In September and October there were frequent absences to pick blackberries, these were taken to a collecting agent in Pilning who passed them on to the jam factory.   During WWI picking blackberries for jam for the Army and Navy was given official sanction, and Northwick School proudly recorded a letter from the Gloucestershire County Education Office in November 1918, “I should like to congratulate you specially on the best pick for the size of the school in the whole county – 11,131-lbs were sent from this school.”  The schools closed in the afternoons to allow families to gather the berries.   In WWII schoolchildren picked rose hips to be made into rosehip syrup, rich in Vitamin C, to compensate for the lack of imported citrus fruits.

     Children attended Sunday School and both Pilning and Northwick School Logs note, with some annoyance, the absence of large numbers of pupils on Sunday School outings, as late as 1926 Pilning Log has a July entry “school closed for Sunday Schools’ outings.  This year the Church and two Chapels chose the same date which is helpful.”

     The oddest reason for absence was during the years 1875 – 1886 when the Northwick School Log notes that a number of the older boys were “given leave of absence to clean boilers on board the Steam Boat at the New Passage.”  These boys would have been about 12 or 13 years old, ready to leave school and start work.

Transcripts of the School Logs for Northwick (1871 – 1905 and 1905 – 1946) and Pilning (1877 – 1901, 1901 – 1933 and 1933 – 1958) will be available to look through on the History Group Archives Day, 28th October.

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Items still for sale

We still have items for sale if you have not got yours yet. They are an ideal gift for a birthday, anniversary or even Christmas.

A Century by the Sea” – A local history book by Val George (Price – £8.00)

‘Severn Beach’ Tea Towel (Price – £5.00)

The above are available from Shirley’s Cafe (Beach Road, Severn Beach).

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Planned Events for 2023

Saturday 7th October (new date)
The experience of travel by ship in the Bristol Channel before the age of steam; ripping yarns of pirates, sailing disasters, sinking ships. Severn Beach Village Hall, BS35 4PP and doors open at 6.45pm. Admission price for all – £5 includes tea/coffee and biscuits.

Saturday 28th October
The return of the popular Severn Beach Archives Day, Severn Beach Village Hall, BS35 4PP, all day, 11-4pm. Bring your memories and take the opportunity to see some memories. Free admission. Refreshments available.

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History of Pilning Exhibition

The recent Exhibition by the History Group was held at Mafeking Hall in Pilning at the end of March. It was a very successful Day with well over 100 visitors.

Some visitors brought interesting photographs and documents which will now become part of the archives.

The Exhibition certainly brought back lots of memories, and many comments such as:
‘I remember that!’
‘That’s no longer there now!’
‘Do you remember when….?’

The next exhibition will be in October at Severn Beach Village Hall Saturday October 28th

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