Log books prove revealing for author’s tribute to Mattishall School
When the old Victorian school in Mattishall was demolished three years ago a 140-year-old building was turned into dust and then erased from the village landscape.
Founded in 1872 it saw thousands of children safely through their education under the tutelage of dozens of teachers through the ages.
But thanks to a two-year project by a former teacher a new book will now ensure the history of Mattishall School will never be forgotten.
Anna English, who was deputy and acting headteacher at Mattishall School between 1986 and 2000, has delved into the old log books written by her predecessors to produce a paperback entitled A Bun, An Orange and a Scatter of Nuts. Former rector's wife Elizabeth Padden, who donated the land for the school to be built on, used to give these three treats to children after the Christmas holidays.
'Headteachers were required to keep a record of the daily happenings in log books,' she said. 'I had to write them myself and occasionally if we were doing a history project we would look back through them so I knew they went right back to the first days of the school.'
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Mrs English, who still lives in Mattishall, read all three hand-written log books from 1872 to 1895, 1896 to 1929 and 1929 to 1995, and painstakingly categorised the details in sections, from illness, accidents and deaths, to pupil numbers and leaving ages and potted histories of the key characters such as headteachers and pupil teachers.
'Attendance was a huge problem in such a rural area as children were required to be part of the local economy, working on farms or looking after younger siblings while their parents worked,' she said.
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'It also cost money to send them to school which was a high price for agricultural families.
'The worry for the teachers was that children were examined twice a year and if they did not do well their grant was cut.
'But as children had to walk to school often the infants just did not attend between November and April.'
Mrs English, 73, discovered that the first headteacher Mabel Anderson was just 22 years old and had two pupil teachers aged around 14 or 15, Jessie Buckle and Emma West.
'They would get to school for 6.30am and Miss Anderson would teach the two girls for two hours before the children arrived and they then took their classes,' said Mrs English.
The log books recorded if a child was absent and when they returned but sadly some never recovered as infections that are now easily treatable could prove fatal in the Victorian era, particularly whooping cough, diptheria, measles and scarlett fever.
One child was recorded as dying of 'brain fever' but Mrs English was surprised that one illness never featured in the log books.
'There is not one mention of polio which was very common at the time,' she said.
Although the school records run until 1995 the book stops at 1978 when a middle school was built in the village, which is now the primary school.
It was hoped that the old school could be converted into a community hall but there were simply not enough funds available to make it happen.
At the time it was demolished Mrs English said she felt it was the right thing to do as the repairs needed were extensive.
'But having written the book I now feel more nostalgic about it,' she said. 'It is a real shame that it had to come down.'
* The first 100 books Mrs English self-published have all sold out already but a reprint is on its way. They can be bought for £7.99 directly from Mrs English by emailing email@example.com or telephone 01362 850433. For an extra £1 she will sign the copy and donate the money towards the new play area equipment planned for the old school site.
* Have you written a book? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.