1869 to 1919 The First Fifty Years

Shelagh Ryan

The very first head teacher was Miss Louisa Cannon aged 26 who lived with her widowed mother in the Girls’ School house. Her sister Marion was head teacher at the Girls’ School. As Louisa did not get her teaching certificate until 1872, one presumes she got the job because she was ‘on the spot’. She had the help of a monitor, a girl in her early teens who was paid between 1/6d (7.5p) and 3/- (15p) and received extra lessons from the teacher. Miss Cannon also had the help of the rector, the Rev. Deedes, his three daughters, Rachel, Gertrude and Elizabeth, and of Miss Maria Lloyd, a lady of independent means who visited the school every week for many years teaching the top class English and arithmetic.

The school was open from 9am until noon and from 2pm until 4pm in the winter, 4.30 in the summer. The registers were called at 9.40 and 2.15 to allow the children who lived a long way away time to walk to school. The schools operated on a ‘Payment by Results’ system. The over 7s were tested annually to see how much they had learned. The amount of grant they received depended on the results of the test. Infants schools were not tested and the grant depended on actual attendance at the school. A grant of £1 per child per year was made provided the child had attended a certain number of times in the year.

When the school first opened its doors at 9am on March 16th 1869, there were 110 children enrolled. Attendance at the school was heavily dependent on the weather, in fact, some children were actually ‘taken off the register’ in the winter months. Many of the children were the offspring of farm workers and lived quite a distance from the school. If the weather was abnormally cold, wet or snowy, the journey was not undertaken. March 19th was very wet and only 50 out of 110 children made it back for the afternoon session

Another good reason for missing school was any local activity like a fair or flower show in Hertford. There were the usual holidays at Easter, Whitsun, summer and Christmas (of which more later) but no half term holidays. Instead, the school closed for the odd half day. In November, Clothing Club tickets and Sunday School treat tickets were distributed and the school given the rest of the day off. The Clothing Club was a charity run by the local gentry into which the parents paid a penny or so a week and, in November were paid out in coupons redeemable at the local shops. The scheme was heavily subsidised and was the only way some parents had of ensuring that their children were adequately clothed for the winter. The coupons were given out in the morning so that the mothers could get their children safely outfitted before father came home, appropriated the coupons and cashed them at the pub!

Some time during 1870, Miss Cannon acquired a pupil teacher to help her. The PT scheme was set up in 1864 to enable brighter children to continue their education after the age of thirteen, school leaving age. The candidate had to prove themselves healthy and a Church of England clergyman had to testify to their and their families moral character. Once engaged the PT had to clean the schoolroom, lay and light the fire, teach and receive lessons from the head teacher (a minimum of 1.5 hours a day, five days a week.) Each year they sat an examination and their wages were increased on production of a certificate saying they had passed. At the end of fiveg years they could, if they were lucky, go on to training college to become a certified teacher. Only a few went from Bengeo, others left, went into service or were dismissed due to ill health. You had to be tough to be a teacher in those days.

From time to time the local gentry would visit the school. As most of them were supporting the school or the pupils financially they took a keen interest in it. The children would stop what they were doing, stand and sing to the visitors. As most of the visitors did not come empty handed the children welcomed the interruption.

As well as reading, writing, spelling and ‘number work’, the children also had lessons in recitation, needlework, knitting, singing ‘form and colour’ drill and marching and ‘object lessons’. This last was a strange affair. The teacher would give a short lesson on an object and then a question and answer session ensued.

Question: What is a cow?

Answer: A quadruped

Question: What is a quadruped?

Answer: A four-legged beast

Question: What else is a cow?

Answer: A ruminant

Question: What is ruminant?

etc. etc. Grippin stuff.


On March 10th 1876 the PT, Mary Gaylor was to give an object lesson on a potato. She did not prepare the notes satisfactorily and when it was time for the lesson, she wrote the word “Potatoe” (sic) on the black board and that was the whole work she did from 9:30 to 12:00. One wonders what the children did all that time.

Although most children started at the age of 5, there were many babies in the school, some as young as 2 years old. In 1879, when L. A. Brodie took charge temporarily, she excluded all children under the age of 3.

Schooling was not free. In 1877, Miss Goodwin noted in the school Log Book that the children had to pay 1d (.5p) per week. Not all parents could pay and there are plenty of entries in the Log Book where it is noted that Mr or Mrs Bigwig had paid the school pence for so and so. Presumably the parents were either the tenants or workers for the bigwig concerned. In 1891 fees were abolished and the Head teacher noted this in block capitals. Six years later payment by results was abolished and a variable grant introduced.

In 1877, Miss Cannon, who had been ill for some time left her job and Phyllis Goodwin took over. For the first time in the history of the school we hear about disciplinary matters. She used the cane frequently and if the parents objected then the child was sent home.

Lateness was the most common offence. The staff also felt the wrong side of Miss Goodwin’s tongue. Monitors and PTs came, were abused, reduced to tears and left. Standards slipped. The inspector’s report for 1878 states ‘The children are in good order (scared to death? – Author) and well instructed; the arithmetic in the first class is backward, subtraction apparently unknown.’

Some time that year, Phyllis Goodwin married and left. A temporary head, L. A. Brodie took over and found the standard of work was abysmal. Extra lessons were instituted but it was not all hard work. An harmonium was bought to liven up the singing lessons. She left in April 1880 and Jess Wild took over.

Miss Wild seems to have been a very devout lady. Up until then the children had attended church on Ascension day only. In fact, Miss Cannon had lamented the fact that while other children went to church during Lent, the Infants had a holiday instead. Miss Wild was obviously determined to make up for this lack and took them off to church at every available opportunity:- St Barnabas Day, St John the Baptist, St Matthias etc. etc. In her first year she got them to church seven times. During her second year they went seventeen times! She also signed then up in the Band of Hope. Lessons included paper folding and knitting for the boys. New songs were introduced including ‘Pussy Cat lives in the Servants Hall’ and ‘Oh, you Kit, You Pretty Kit!’. Under her guidance the standard of work went up dramatically.

Miss Wild left in April 1885 and Miss Emma Buckle took over. She was to stay for an incredible 37 years. She took over a well instructed school of 110 children all crammed into one room 39 feet by 20 feet with an open fire providing the heat.

 girl has two children, one boy and one girl, by ear

There was no system of supply teachers as there is now. If one teacher was away the other had to manage the entire school single handed. In 1895 both Miss Buckle and Constance George, the PT were ill and the infants were left to the tender mercies of some of the older girls from the Girls school.

Throughout these years there was a succession of monitors, young girls of thirteen who had left school but not yet fully decided on a career in teaching. In 1894 there were two monitors at the school both of whom decided decided first to go through the Pupil Teacher scheme and then decided against it. One, Julie Gaynor, left eh school altogether and presumably went into service, one of the few options open to girls at that time. The other, Mathilda Williams, stayed as a monitor in the school. At the age of eighteen, she left the Infants school and transferred to the Boys school where she remained until 1945. Generations of Bengeo boys passed through her hands and on each was left an indelible mark.

In 1901 the school managers decided not to take any more paid monitors. Those already in post finished out their time but the old system was dying and the new order of properly qualified teachers was beginning.

1902 was an eventful year. On May 2nd, the children were given the afternoon off when the school closed for the funeral of Mr Reginald Smith of Goldings. He had long been a supporter of the school and provided an annual treat for the children at his home where games were played and vast quantities of buns were consumed. They had the day off again on June 11th to welcome the Hertford Militia back from South Africa and a two day holiday at the end of June for the coronation of Edward VII. In October that year the new Education Act came into force and the school was taken over by the County Council.

Three Babies lying on a black blanket, the one on the left has a neutral, the middle one is laughing and the right hand one is cryingConditions at the school were not ideal and at times the ‘babies’ were being taught in the lobby. There was no clock, a shortage of staff, and the heating left a lot to be desired. Despite this, Miss Buckle battled on, getting excellent reports for the standard of education in the school. Some improvements were made …. or were they? In 1911 she wrote that electric light was laid on in the schoolroom and installed in place of the oil lamps and in 1951, the Education Committee minutes state that electric light will be put in. The mains were already in place. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking on Miss Buckle’s part that having gone so far as put the mains in, they would go the whole hog and light the place as well. As it was they continued on as before with the lighting being so inadequate that lessons in the latter half of winter afternoons were restricted to singing as the children could not see to read or write!

1914 was an eventful year in more ways than one. Coughs, colds and mumps meant for the first few months of the year most of the school was absent. In June, 30 to 40 older children and teachers watched a full rehearsal of the Hertford Pageant in the Castle Grounds. On July 3rd forty of the older children went again to the Castle Grounds to attend a Millenary Thanksgiving Service. It started at 9am and, according to Miss Buckle, they returned to the school at 9:45! The Mayor and Mrs Graveson gave every child in the borough, all 1,000 of them, a brooch with the arms of the Borough on it and the inscription ‘The Boroughe Towne of Hertforde: Millenary Celebration 914 – 1914’.

On August 12th, war was declared. Soldiers from the Gloucester Regiment were encamped in fields on either side of the Drive. Later the South Midland Brigade of Army Service Corps joined them. In November, a company of North Staffs Territorials were billeted in the Boys and Girls schools and the children had the day of as a consequence. The war hardly touched the day to day life in the Infants’ school at all. Neither did it affect the girls school much, but the boys had a busy time. The scouts among them were dragged out of school to run round the village finding billets for the soldiers, they had a garden to grow vegetables in, collected acorns, chestnuts and blackberries for the war effort and said goodbye to most of their teachers for the duration. The girls spent their sewing time making bandages and knitting comforters for the troops. In 1916 they combined with the Infants’ school to put on an entertainment in the Parish hall to raise money for starving Belgian children. An evening of songs, games, playlets and monologues raised £8. There were a few air raids and work in the school was disrupted when children fell asleep at their desks after staying up all night to watch the planes and Zeppelins go over. Four Children Sleeping on a mat, from the left boy, girl, boy, girl with six Z's reducing from a large one on the left down to a small one apparently coming out of the right hand girl.Eric Hyatt, son of the Head of Boys school was an infant at the time. He can remember standing between his father’s legs watching the Zeppelin going down over Potters Bar. His brother, who was seven years older, cycled over there and came back with a piece of metal from it. On October 14th 1915, there was Zeppelin raid on Hertford and 12 people were killed including the father of one of the older boys.

From May 1916, all children under the age of five were excluded from the school. It was to be sixty years before there was education for the under fives in Bengeo again. The school now held 56 children aged 5 to 7. 1917 saw a lot more aerial activity and the children were sent home for the first time when a system of air raid warnings came into effect. When an air raid was imminent the record player factory in Hertford sounded its whistle and everyone took cover. Life went on in the school as near as normal as possible. At Christmas the children made their usual paper chains, put up the tree and Lady Longmore, one of the school managers, would turn up with presents for them all.

Lady school manager in large hat with a feather talking to children who are at the side or behind her

In 1917 for the first time the mothers were invited to hear the children sing carols.

On November 11th 1918 the Armistice was signed and the children attended a thanksgiving service tow days later. Two days after that, the Mayor granted all the children a whole day’s holiday. Unfortunately, most of the Infants were at home with Influenza so they did not appreciate the treat as they might otherwise have done.

The following year, Mr. G.E. Palmer, the oldest school manager died and was buried in April. That was about the only really sad note in the year as the rest of the time seems to have been given over to some fairly relentless merriment. Everyone was giving the children treats to celebrate the end of the war. Miss Hill, from the Infants’ school held a concert in the Parish Rooms and she and her friends managed to raise a lot of money to pay for some treats for the children. The boys got sports, the Mayor and Mayoress, toys, prizes, Punch and Judy and a sumptuous tea. The girls and infants got sports and skipping races in the Parish Hall. Who says it isn’t a man’s world. The local authorities also laid on a tea for all the schoolchildren at Hartham but the best was yet to come.

In September, Pemberton Billings MP laid on a series of Children’s Days all over his constituency. A fair at the the field with a boy and a girl buying toffee apples from a lady stallholder with a boy and a girl looking on. to the side and slightly behind is a boy with arms outstretched running in front of a charabanc loaded with children and a male driver looking worriedThe original plan was to take them all for a trip to he sea! Children walked, were carried in the backs of lorries or loaded onto tractor trailers and transported to Lt Col McMullen’s field in Port Vale where a mechanical roundabout and fairground were set up. It took half a ton of cake, 1,000 loaves of bread and 210lb of jam to feed them all. Attendance at school the next two days was very low indeed! Miss Hill’s concert also provided the Infants with a ‘marvellous tea’ at Christmas.


This page was added on 16/12/2023.

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