St. Benedict's C of E VA Junior School has a rich history. Established in 1876 to meet the needs of the rural community, pupils would often be absent due to farming duties, particularly in the summer months and during Harvest time. Things have changed a bit now, but the school's original motto, 'Learn or Leave' still adorns the original front door frame of the school.
Please see below a selection of diary entries from the 1800's made by the Headteacher in the school journal...
18th October 1880 & 20th October 1880
18th October 1880 - On Saturday, about 1 o'clock p.m. John Heal departed this life. He was one of our oldest scholars having being admitted 31st January 1876 which was a few days after the school was first opened. I only discharged him at the beginning of this quarter. His death was quite sudden. He complained of being ill on Tuesday and on Wednesday he became worse. Even at the very last, on the morning of his death, his danger was not fully recognised by those who attended him. he sent for his Sunday School teacher, Miss Welch on Saturday morning but before she could reach his home his was gone. His last words were "Hark The Harold Angels Sing, Hallelujah". John Heal was by no means a naughty boy, he was steady, persevering and agreeable, and was invariably like by all who knew him old and young. The cause of his death was a fever brought on by worms, and being in a weak state he succumbed. I think too that he has worked too hard once he left school and he has not had suitable and sufficiently nourishing food, which, being a weakly lad he stood in great need of.
20th October 1880 - John Heal was buried today. Twelve boys from the school - most of whom were in his class in the Sunday School - followed him to the grave.
30th August 1880, 21st August 1880, 1st September 1880 & 2nd September 1880
30th August 1880 - Admitted a boy named Joseph Davis, called by some Joseph Fisher. He has an impediment in his speech owing to an unnaturally formed mouth.
I sent John Mills home to fetch his school fees as he has not paid for several weeks. He came back with two pence only.
31st August 1880 - I have sent home the following children to fetch their school fees:- John Mills, his sister Mary Mills and Moses Tucker. Augusta Dodge another child who gives a great deal of trouble in this respect, brought in a message to say her money should be paid on Friday next.
Moses Tucker brought a penny out of 0/3. I have sent him home for more.
John Mills and Mary Mills brought nothing.
1st September 1880 - I sent home John Mills, Mary Mills and Moses Tucker to fetch the school fees. This was in the morning and as they did not return their marks were cancelled.
2nd September 1880 - John Mills and Mary Mills again brought no money and were again sent home to get it. This is the same Mills whose mother tried to get him from school by causing him to impersonate an elder brother who was dead.
22nd March 1880
It has always been very sore point with me that a few children invariably come to school with dirty hands and faces and heads to match. In some cases it is a positive fact that the skin of the hands has become completely discoloured by being always in a filthy condition. I have tried to get this improved with but partial success. in some cases I have known children to turn over a new leaf. I know that the children of my school are not worse than those of other schools. I know too that they come both tidier in dress and cleaner in person than the children of St John's School - but for all that there is an impression amongst a great many people of the town - an impression which owes its origin and life to persons connected with St John's School - that the scholars of St Benedict's are unclean and ragged beyond measure - in hte short the scum and refuse of the town!
3rd March 1880
Mrs Dodge sent word to say that she will pay Augusta's school money on Friday next.
Two women from Hill Head have accused another woman living on Hill Head with personating another child in her son's school book. The women's name they accused is Mills. The facts of the case appear to be as follows; Mills first son whose name was Thomas, died some time ago. Her next son John has attended my school almost from the commencement, but very irregularly. When called upon to get him a school book she affirmed that his true name was Thomas and the certificate of Thomas Mills birth was obtained by our late attendance officer Mr Samuel. John's school book then bears his deceased brothers certificate of birth and not his own - this makes john to be 14 years of age on the 14th of February last, some two year older than he really is.
16th February 1880
Monday: the rain has fallen in torrents during the night and the wind has been very rough. The weather is somewhat calmer this morning but still rough. I have only 45 children present and one of them was far to late to be marked on the register. In some low-lying parts of the town the water has risen and surrounded the dwellings; this is the case with the counsels house at Land Mead, and none of the family are present this morning.
Monday afternoon: It rains less than this morning but the wind is still boisterous. The attendance is better than this morning Number present - 64.
2nd January 1880
I was compelled to give though very reluctantly a partial holiday on New Year's Day - the reason was that the Avalon Club gave a tea in the Assembly Rooms to 300 children of the town; of course the large number of these belonged to our school.
19th September 1879
We had the photographs of the children of the mixed school taken on Wednesday. They were divided into two groups - one of boys and one of girls. The proofs were very good and the pictures will be of convenient size. Many of the parents are anxious to get a photograph. I think a great many will be bought.
We gave holiday on Friday on the occasion of the great annual fair called Tor Fair. It is the best plan to give holiday on such an occasion as this as owing to the constant passing and other attractions.
4th August 1879
Mr Bath came to see me personally and also in respect to Alfred Hann. During the last week he took it in hsi head to abscond. His father knew nothing of his whereabouts and and was in great trouble. Alfred left his home on the Monday it seems for Bath. Some friends there to whom he went, thinking all was not right wrote to his father who at once went to fetch his truant son back. When questioned as to the reasons for acting in such a manner he replied that he did not like teaching and that moreover I was very strict and severe with him.
The managers have decided that Hann must leave his present position as his part and present conduct to such is to under his further working undesirable. I am sorry that Hann has left under these circumstances but his leaving will be, I feel less conducive to the future of the well-being of the school. His sulky temper, obstinacy lax discipline and impediment bearing being a great trial to see as well as a bad example to the children.
Hann came as usual to take his post this morning, but Mr Bath told him that after his late disgraceful behaviour he could not be permitted to do so any more. He then left.
2nd June 1879 & 13th June 1879
2nd June 1879 - Our vicar passed away yesterday early in the morning. He has been vicar of St Benedict's for the part of 34 years. We shall miss him, though through the informaties of age he has been prevented from visiting us often and from taking an active part in the affairs of the school. He was ever anxious that the religious knowledge should thoroughly and soundly taught and he has sometimes given prizes of small books to those children who distinguished themselves in this respect.
13th June 1879 - There were about fifty boys who attended the funeral on Friday last. They all behaved well. We sang a hymn over the grave - 'Servant of God, Well Done'. A petition has this week been sent to the bishop praying him to send us a minister of like with our late vicar.
21st February 1879
A report came today and runs as follows:
The premises are not well adapted for a mixed school in one department and some alliteration is much needed as the increased numbers and crowded state of the upper school seriously affect its efficiency: hence through no fault of the master.
Much general improvement will be expected in this school next year.
My Lords will be glad to know what measures the managers intend to take to make the division of the school premises more suitable for the mixed school.
Average attendance - 154
20th September 1878
Holiday was given on Thursday afternoon on account of the annual fair which was held on that day (Tor Fair). It has always been a customary thing to give holiday on this day amongst the other schools of the town so that the children to regard it as a right.
Average attendance - 165
25th January 1878
We had many children who would have been presented in standards (examnination) unavoidably absent, several were ill with measles and one - Albert Cox - followed his father to the grave. A girl - Charity Curtis - was taken ill in the room and had to leave.
Average attendance - 162
19th October 1877 & 26th October 1877
19th October 1877 - On the day of the fair last week, a girl belonging to St John's School and living in Wells Road, of the name of Sarah Biggin entered the girls porch of this school and took a feather out of the hat of Caroline Hunt of Hill Head. This mistress saw her enter the porch and the feather being held.
Found Biggin and she is being charged with the theft which at first she denied. When threatened with the police she took the feather from her pocket and gave it to me. She was summoned on Monday and the case will be heard on Tuesday next.
Number on the books - 204
26th October 1877 - Sarah Biggin whom I mentioned last week was sentenced on Tuesday to seven days imprisonment. This punishment will I trust out a stop to the dishonest practises of such characters and I hope no similar annoyances will take place in connection with our school.
Average number attending - 165
11th May 1877
The children hope that as there is a circus in the town, they will treated to see it as they were on the last occasion.
Average numbers - 140.
5th January 1877
The new act of Parliament giving power to the town councils to enforce the attendance of children at school came into force on the 1st.
i have added another class. The improved attendance owes it's origin to the authority of the New Act of Parliament.
Average children on books - 121.
4th February 1876
The school has considerably advanced in numbers and order, the numbers this week are 102.
The two most obstinate characters are Charles Pearce and Frank Marsh. The former has received another flogging for impertinence.
Fighting, swearing, biting and kicking are common things amongst the younger children. Those most notorious are George Phillis, John Clark, John Sandford and William Townsend.
Average number of children on the books - 102.
28th January 1876
The schools were opened this week for work and the master W.G. Cozens - from Cheltenham Training College commenced duties with 45 children on the first day, Wednesday. On Friday the books contained 90.
The children were very rough and unruly and wholly undisciplined. The bell is at present a great source of annoyance by it being rung at unsuitable times, both before and after school hours. Stones are constantly thrown at it.
The children have little regard for truth. Many will lie unblushingly.
I have been obliged to punish one boy. Charles Pearce for repeated insolence and irreverent behaviour during prayer time.