Wookey Hole Week-day Schools, in the Out Parish of S. Cuthbert, near Wells, Somerset. Erected in 1871 by Messrs W.S. Hodgkinson & Co., for the Education of the Children of those employed in their Paper Works, and of others resident in the immediate neighbourhood.

Non nobis, Domine, non nobis; sed Nomini Tuo da Gloriam. Amen.

April 1st, 1872

I, John James Aris, certificated Master, trained at Battersea in 1854–5, and late Master of Boughton Monchelsea National School, near Maidstone, Kent, having been appointed Master of the above Schools, enter upon my duties today, and upon the firm foundations of Faith, Hope and Love lay this the first stone of my “Honourable Monument”

 

On April 1st, 1872, Easter Monday, Mr Aris formally took charge of the school with his son John James Alexander and his daughter Ellen Sophia as monitor and monitress. The opening ceremony, presided over by the Rev. John Beresford, Vicar of St Cuthbert, Wells, included Bible readings, singing, prayers and presentations. The next day there was a tea with magic lantern slides for the children. On April 8th the school opened with ninety children, 48 boys and 42 girls, 53 over seven years of age and 37 under. Although Mr Aris was not impressed with the attainments of his new pupils he found them to be generally quick and keen to learn. Many had had little or no previous education.

 

The school log book for the next few years records comings and goings, children absent from school because of accidents, illnesses, including mumps, measles and scarlet fever or because they were needed to help with farm work. The Hodgkinson family kept a close eye on their school, with Mr Hodgkinson and other members of the family paying regular visits. Mr W.S. Hodgkinson Jnr. occasionally helped out with teaching if there was a crisis. Regular visits by the Diocesan Inspector resulted in good reports while noting that the large numbers of Non-Conformists in Wookey Hole inhibited the teaching of the Catechism. Well earned punishment of unruly boys, usually “a stripe on the hand”, but sometimes “a good caning”, often resulted in angry visits from mother or father, sometimes threatening physical violence. “So much for the co-operation of parents” is a regular comment in the log book. One boy is recorded as having “put the boot in” to the headmaster. Regular inspections by H. M. Inspectors of Schools resulted in grants based on attendance and the numbers of pupils passing assessments in reading, writing and arithmetic. School numbers were very variable. It was easy for paper-makers to move between mills and families seemed to have an unfortunate tendency to leave just before an inspection resulting in a lower grant to the school. Inspection reports were generally good.

 

The log book entry for Jan 18th, 1876 records “It is with deep regret that I make the following entry: Mr Hodgkinson, the owner and principle manager of this school, died this morning at Folkestone.” On Nov. 9th, 1877, Mr Aris handed in his resignation, to take effect from March 31st, 1878. He stated that he was being asked to perform too many extra duties: play the harmonium in church, train the choir, superintend the Sunday School, take charge of the night school, organise and attend entertainments and conduct the Glee Club. In December 1877 Mr Aris was taken ill with rheumatic fever. J.J. Aris, now an assistant master at St Mary Redcliff Boys School, temporarily took over the running of the school. On Jan 7th, 1878, the school was closed to allow Mr Aris “perfect quietude”, and on Jan 11th he died. In five years the school had lost its founder and its first headmaster, but they had laid the foundations of what was, and remained, a popular and high-performing school. Mr J.J. Aris ran the school until the end of May 1887.

 

The next head teacher was Mr James Grant. How many of the extra duties he was called on to perform is not recorded but he did run the night school. He was followed by Mr A.J. Meakins, Miss E.K. Gooding, Mis E.T. Sutton, Miss Mildred Green, Miss E. Bailey and finally Mr A.C. Lavender. Several other teachers held the post for short times, during the First World War and between permanent appointments but these seven accounted for over one hundred years of headship at the school.

 

On Mr W.S.Hodgkinson’s death ownership of the school passed to his son, Mr W.S. Hodgkinson Jnr. The infants’ room was built in 1881. In 1893 ownership was passed to the Wells School Board. In 1928 the school became a Junior School with pupils up to the age of eleven. Previously it had taught to 13 years of age with some children staying into their fourteenth year. Some children left earlier to go to the Blue School and others became part-timers, working half the day in the Paper Mill. The school name was changed to Wookey Hole County Primary School.

 

From 1912 to 1932 the Wookey Hole Old Scholars Association produced a magazine, some copies of which still exist. This publication is a good source of village lore and history.

 

School numbers gradually declined as the nineteenth century drew to a close and family sizes reduced. There was a further drop when it became a junior school and by the 1930s there were about forty pupils attending. In the 1960s and 70s numbers rose to over one hundred with many children coming from the Goodymore Estate and from Wells. The school enjoyed a good reputation. It had a football pitch though rather primitive and time-shared with cows. Pupils also had swimming lessons at Wookey Hole Caves Swimming Pool. The school celebrated both its centenary and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and undertook a Wookey Hole History Project and Exhibition. In due course a computer arrived and an “environmental” pond and school garden were established. Although the school was still doing excellent work and participating successfully in inter-schools events, numbers began falling again. There was a brief experiment in sharing lessons with other small village schools but the expenditure in time and transport outweighed the possible advantages. The boost to numbers which the building of the Goodymore Estate had brought passed as children progressed to the Blue School and changes in bus services were unhelpful. The number of primary age children in Wookey Hole decreased and the school roll fell to about twenty children, making it the smallest primary school in Somerset. The school had two full time staff and one part time but this staffing level could not be maintained. At a public meeting attended by education officials, parents, teachers and governors a proposal to merge the school with Wookey Primary School was rejected as the villages had little in common except a name and transport links between them were poor. Since there was no prospect of an appreciable rise in the number of children it was decided that the school should close at the end of the 1988 Summer term. Nobody wanted to see a final year in which a good school died a slow death. The staff took early retirement and the pupils were transferred to the primary school of their choice.

 

A celebration of the school’s 116 years of existence with speeches and presentations to staff and pupils with a commemorative card and refreshments marked the end of an era for the village. A short film of the school’s last day was shown on HTV.

 

20th July 1988

 

I, Anthony Charles Lavender, Headmaster of Wookey Hole County Primary School, make the final entry in the School Log Book.

 

The closure of the school marks a turning point, not only in the lives of the present members of staff, and children, but affects the future generations from the Wookey Hole area who will be denied the opportunity of being educated in the caring environment of the village school.

Experientia Docet

 

The School building is now a nursing home for the elderly.

 

 

 

E. Rennie

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