Chapter 3. Thirty Years On

The children at the school at this time must, as all children do, have thought that life outside looked more rosy than theirs, but even a cursory glance would have convinced them otherwise.

In 1833 the Factory Act cut children’s working hours to 48 per week if they were under thirteen years of age, or 69 hours if between thirteen and eighteen. Slavery was at last abolished in the British Empire. As a result of the Education Act, £20,000 was sent on the nation’s schools, while during the same period £30,000 was spent on the stables at Buckingham Palace.

Suits now cost 23/- (£1.15p), greatcoats 21/-(£1.05p) and whalebone stays for the girls 3/6 pr. (17p)

One unfortunate boy was confined to ‘the black hole’ for one week on bread and water, for ‘indecency in front of the girls’ and four others expelled for the same crime. This mention of the ‘black hole’ seems harsh, but as readers of Victor Hugo will know this was standard maximum punishment in schools in France as well as in England.

The Headmaster was reminded to take the children for walks, but the boys and girls were not to walk together nor were they to meet as a consequence of the walk.

In 1834 the Committee investigated the idea of building a new school. The first plan was to demolish the existing buildings and rebuild on the same site. Difficulties in obtaining surrounding land, however, led to a decision to move to a new site.

The Committee visited other schools and found many “superior” in many respects: they were larger, for example, and the sexes were completely separated, children stood for meals and there were no holidays.

In 1835 the surrounding land was obtained and the “go ahead” given for the new building. By August 5 the first plans were produced and by November the cost estimated at £14,000.Completion was expected to be February 1st 1837.

One of the frequent rumours of scandal circulated at this time. This particular piece of gossip suggested indecency with the girls by, and the general misconduct of, the Headmaster and his wife.

It is worth pausing at this point to discover how such rumours began and how they were dealt with. The Committee met on the morning of the first Tuesday of the month. On the particular Tuesday this rumour came to light, the meeting adjourned and a group of committeemen proceeded to the tavern where the scandal had been heard. The licensee gave the name of the person who was responsible and the party set off. After many cases of “I heard it from …” they arrived at the house of the mother of a girl at the school. The girl in question appeared at the afternoon session of the Committee and told her tale. The Head and his wife were also questioned.

The rumour had stemmed from the fact that the girl had witnessed the Head pushing his wife into a large new laundry basket in jest, and on another occasion she said he had run his hand through the hair of a girl he passed on the stairs.

This tyre of gossip occurred often, and although without foundation, it must have done much harm to the reputation of the school at the time.

A minor mutiny occurred when the boys were ‘forced to drink water when their beer went bad and when bread was short’. Threat of the black hole soon quelled this disquiet.

On an occasion when the children visited a local zoo, they were admitted for free, but the gentlemen of the Committee were asked to pay. The children were withdrawn and returned to the school, while the Committee adjourned to a tavern.

In October 1835 the Head and his wife resigned, to be replaced by a Mr Railton and Miss Dallimore, but by December Mr Railton had given way to Mr Baptiste Thomas.

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