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A Brief History - 1874-2002
The following brief history was produced by pupils at Chalford Hill School.
Chalford Hill School, originally called The British School, was built in 1874. It stands on the top of the hill with views out to the surrounding hills and valleys. Chalford Hill is about four miles from the nearest town of Stroud and had strong connections in the past with the woollen industry. Just below the school the area is called Rack Hill. This was where the woollen cloth was stretched out on racks to dry after being dyed.
We are about twelve miles from the County Town of Gloucester. Through the valley below us runs the River Frome and alongside this can be seen the the Stroud Water Canal, the London road and the main railway line linking Wales and the West to London.
When the school opened, in 1874, many of the families would have been employed in the woollen mills down in the valley, or in agriculture on the hillsides. With limited transport few of the Chalford Hill people would travel even as far as Stroud. The High Street, at the bottom of the hill, had a good range of shops, including butchers, grocers and bakers and a hardware store. They supplied most needs of the community.
The narrow paths and lanes leading up the hill made transporting goods difficult. The solution was the Chalford Donkey. Until the 1950s the donkey could be seen carrying panniers loaded with bread, vegetables and even coal, up the steep paths. A few years ago, enterprising residents bought a donkey that once again, carries goods from Chalford Stores around the village.
By the 1920s, a bus service to Stroud was established. Even earlier a rail link from Chalford Station in the valley, enabled people to travel further afield. The children who passed the scholarship and moved to the grammar schools used the rail car to travel to the Downfield Halt, which was close to the schools.
By the 1960s people were even commuting to London by rail, travelling from the nearest station at Stroud, or Kemble near Cirencester.
The school was built from Cotswold stone, which is the local building material. Some of the stone came from an earlier school building, near to the Parish Church of St. Michael - the rest would have been quarried near by. Cotswold stone is a grey limestone rock, which weathers to a warmer shade over the years. It is a fairly durable material but the windward side of the school shows considerable weathering and bits of stone have occasionally fallen off the cornices.
You can see evidence for the different stages of building by looking at the facing of the stone, which is smooth in some parts and rougher in others.
It was, and is, an imposing building containing large airy rooms with high ceilings and exposed timber roof beams, emulating the churches of the period. Tall, wide windows with stone mullions, let in plenty of light, at a period when there was no artificial lighting available. The windows were set fairly high in the walls, so that there was no problem of children looking out at the surrounding village and being distracted from their lessons.
Originally there was one large building, but extensions were made fairly soon after the school opened, and certainly within the first 25 years.
By the early 1900s the school had one large building, now the school hall, which housed the infants aged from 4 to 7 and five other classrooms, some separated by a full height folding glass screen. This was moved back to enable large groups to be taught at once. The remaining children aged from 8 to 14 were taught in the larger building.
Underneath the main building was another classroom, which was for many years the domestic science room where the older girls were taught cookery, sewing and laundry work. Evidence for this remains in the old gas light fittings, which remain in the ceiling.
In the early years some of the pupils attended part time only and were employed in local factories, although the 1870 Education Act had allowed for full time education for all children until aged 12 or 13. By the end of World War One all pupils stayed until the age of 14.
Until the early 1950s pupils stayed at the elementary school until they were fourteen, and were allowed to leave school for employment.
Only pupils who passed a scholarship transferred to the local grammar schools in Stroud; Stroud High School for girls and Marling School for boys.
Each classroom had its own fireplace; where the teachers would have lit coal fires in winter, early in the morning. Pupil monitors would have had to fetch the coal from the store in buckets.
Pupils sat in rows at narrow wooden desks. An early photograph showed the desks raised in tiers so that all pupils could see the teacher, and be seen by her. The children closest to the fire would probably have felt too warm whilst those at the other end of the room would have shivered in winter.
Evidence of toilet facilities in the early years is scant. There must have been some provision, probably on the site of the toilet block, which has now been demolished. Inside toilets with running water only appeared in the building in the 1980s. Many parents have memories of the outside toilets, frozen in winter, very smelly in summer.
Originally there was no fencing around the school site. Early photographs show an earth play ground and dirt track road. The school site is shown in one photograph with the Cotswold stone wall, which still surrounds the garden site today. The tarmac surface to the playground and the iron fence appeared sometime later.
The school had four separate playgrounds. In the early years boys and girls always played in separate areas. In fact mixed playgrounds for junior children were not permitted until the 1970s. The three entrances to the main building indicate separate use by boys and girls too.
The school garden has been in use since the opening of the school. One photograph designates it as the main school site.
Until the 1950s vegetables were cultivated on plots in the garden site. During World War Two chickens were also kept there. The produce was sold for profit. The older boys did the gardening and maintenance as part of their educational training. A commemorative plaque is still in the garden reminding of its early use.
Since the mid - 1950s temporary buildings have housed classes in the garden. First two Terrapin huts, which frequently let in the rain. Latterly two Elliot buildings complete with their own toilets and washing facilities.
The garden is a wonderful facility for the children. Many trees were planted in the 1930s and are now mature making a wooded feature where children can sit and relax quietly at playtimes. The Cotswold stone wall surrounding the garden has been renovated and made safe.
Parents often form working parties to maintain the grounds and create interesting features. In the summer the children have a picnic lunch on the grass when it is dry. The younger children use the grass area for their P.E. lessons.
In the wooded area there is the remains of the old pond, put in about eighty years ago but now a raised garden. A new pond, for children to study and protect wild life, was added more recently.
The School Hall was originally a classroom. When school dinners began, during World War Two, the back part of the hall became the kitchen. It contained huge gas cookers and steamers and deep sinks for washing up. Many children must have enjoyed their dinners, or perhaps not!
In recent years the kitchen was reduced in size to make a full-sized hall. School dinners are no longer served as all the children bring packed lunches.
The front part of the hall was lined with built in cupboards until the 1970s. When they were taken down they were found to contain a vast array of old books and papers, most of which ended up in a skip.
As well as being used for P.E. and Assemblies the school hall has played host to over a hundred years of the School Concert. With no proper stage or curtains many ingenious methods have been used for staging this annual performance, not forgetting the Infant Nativity Play. How many of you who read this can remember being a shepherd or an angel, or even the third king’s servant?
World War II and After
In 1939 the Second World War began. The war had been expected for some time and the Government had made plans to evacuate the children from the cities and dangerous coastal areas to safe country districts. Chalford Hill was designated one of these safe places.
Soon after war was declared a large group of children and their teachers arrived, from Southend on Sea. They were billeted in the village with families and had to attend our school. They were older pupils from Southend and found it very difficult to settle to village life. Their teachers came with them and also found it difficult working in someone else’s school. Of course there was not enough room to accommodate them so school hours became part time for both groups. The Chalford Hill children attended in the morning and the Southend ones in the afternoon. I expect the children enjoyed the shorter days.The pupils from Southend moved on after a few months and were replaced by some new evacuees from a school in Birmingham. There were not so many of them and they settled in with the village pupils.
During the war the older children helped the ‘war effort’ by increasing the amount of vegetables grown and keeping more chickens. Food was rationed – everybody had books of coupons, which allowed them to have certain amounts of each food or product. Anything extra was especially welcome.
At the start of the war everyone had been issued with a gas mask and the children had to carry it with him or her at all times. I have been told how unpleasant the gas practises were because the masks were smelly and made it hard to breathe. We have a few old gas masks in our history project sets.
Old people sometimes drop in today to look around the school and comment on the changes. Up until now it has looked much the same from the outside.
The railings appeared around 1912, and at some time the playground was tarmaced over instead of being dirt. Many school railings were taken down during the war to be made into airplanes (they were no use actually as the steel was unsuitable) so we are lucky to have the originals.
For many years there was a wooden shed in the garden, which was used for storing tools, but it eventually rotted and was pulled down.
Beside the shed was a compost heap – the weeds still grow very well just there.
In the bottom playground there was another shed which housed P.E. equipment. The foundations can still be seen in the corner of the playground,
Sometime during the nineteen twenties or thirties the toilet block was constructed out of concrete blocks with a tin roof. Flush toilets must have been an improvement on the original earth closets but they were very draughty in winter. The staff ladies’ toilet had a nasty habit of spraying water from the overhead cistern on unsuspecting visitors who did not rush out of the way in time.
In the 1980’s indoor toilets were put into the old cloakroom areas at the front of the school. The staff toilet still caught people unawares. One new recruit got locked in during her first week and another narrowly missed a serious accident when the ceiling fell in as she was leaving.
At the same time as the indoor toilets were built a corridor was put in and the Reception class was given a larger work space, made from the two classrooms in the main part of the building.
During the 1990s another really big change happened. A mezzanine was put into the main part of the building. Upstairs was a small classroom and a library. Below this iwas a wet play area and a small reception room. The infant classes shared the wet area. A corridor and stairs separated the other classrooms.
Early in the new century work began to extend and transform the school into the space as it is today. The work took a long time and caused alot of disruption to the staff and pupils.
Visitors from the past will still recognise the school from the outside, until they walk round past the hall. The new building which rises up against the side of the original is a striking addition for the 21st century.
There are plans to improve the site still further in the future, watch this space!