The first St John’s Schools
St John’s National Mixed School opened in 1873. Boys and girls were taught separately. On 28 September 1891 the schools re-opened as a Free School.
A small fee of two old pence (less than 1p) per week had to be paid for each child until 1891 when fees were abolished. (In Oct 1878, the school fees were raised from 2d to 3d per child per week).
The teachers at this time were paid about £30 per year with help given by paid monitors and pupil teachers. Pupils were taught under the “payment by results” system which meant that the government grant the school got was based on how well their pupils did in front of school inspectors in a variety of tasks. This created much stress for both teachers and pupils.
Damp and Dark
Because the only form of heating was a fire, it was often cold and damp in the winter.
One large room
13 March 1873 Curtains to separate classes now fixed.
March 1874 Curtains to separate classes put up (4 classes)
24 Feb 1874 – door and need for light renders a whole group of desks useless.
Heating by fire
8 March 1875 Room narrowly escapes being burnt down owing to Sweeper’s carelessness.
Cost of repairs £1-14-7
Because of poor ventilation in the hot weather, several children left the classrooms sick with the hot and stagnant atmosphere. The school seemed to be too hot or too cold. Many of the windows were fitted with opaque diamond glass, and the poor light meant the gas had to be lit.
9 October 1876 Inspector comments say that room is badly ventilated.
7 Dec 1877 Ventilation in room is very bad, although all the windows are open all the day. The atmosphere of the room before the end of the afternoon is very vitiated (impaired)
17 Nov 1882 128 on books. Insufficient desk room
H.M.I Report 1883
“Deodorising materials should be more freely used in the offices and the attention of the authorities be called to that sewer, which causes the most offensive smell both in the playground and in the school room. .”
Poorly lit with gas lights
29 October 1893 – Afternoons get very dark.
5 Dec 1894 – A dense fog this afternoon made the room very dark, and even with the gas, the light seemed insufficient owing to the thick atmosphere penetrating into the room.
Sept 1896 Diamond window panes let in less light
7 Feb 1898 Skylight inserted
From 1900 they started to take the temperature of the school room.
19 Nov 1900 – temperature 48 F The cold interferes with the boys work as they are continually stopping work to blow and rub their hands.
22 Nov 1900 – 45 F
7 Jan 1901 – 32 F
13 Jan 1903 – 29 F
Aug 4 1904 – 90 F
10 July 1905 74 f
8 aug 1906 74F at 10am
Children often missed school for different reasons, some examples are given below. Attendance was so bad, there was an attendance officer whose job was to chase up absentees. During the late 1800’s, prizes were given to try to encourage better attendance.
Parents paid a fee each week for their children to attend school. A small fee of two old pence (less than 1p) per week had to be paid for each child until 1891 when fees were abolished. In October 1878, the school fees were raised from 2d to 3d per child per week.
Children often missed due to bad weather such as rain, snow, sleet and hail because they had to walk to school.
Very wet weather caused a drastic reduction in attendance. The main reason for this was the appalling condition of the roads and the distance the children had to walk. There are mentions in the log book of children walking from as far away as Otford and Kemsing.
The failure of the children to get to school in wet weather suggests poverty. Did they not have suitable clothes or footwear?
25 Apr 1894: Very wet morning. Children from a distance could not attend.
14 November 1894: Very heavy rains today caused a large number of absentees both in the morning and afternoon. Many who came were quite wet through.
14 January 1895: A heavy rain and cold thaw this morning caused a very poor attendance – only 54 present in the morning and 59 in the afternoon.
22 January 1895: A heavy fall of snow this morning had the effect of keeping many children away in the afternoon. Only 53 were present.
In Victorian times, children missed school for special events such as a Circus visiting the town, Tea Parties, a Jubilee (25 June 1897) and a Royal Wedding (7 July, 1893). A national holiday was given on 21 May 1900, to celebrate the “Relief of Mafeking” (when Baden-Powell ended the 216 day siege against the Boer forces). The school was also used for concerts, plays and choir practice, which the children were often given a half day holiday for.
18 April 1876: Half day holiday as Circus in town
24 April 1874: Sevenoaks Races many boys away
1 May (May Day): More than twenty boys away following their own devices carrying flowers etc.
6 May 1875: Ascension Day holiday
21 May 1900: Schools closed to commemorate the Relief of Mafeking.
12 June 1877: Half day holiday: Sports on the Vine
21 June 1897: Schools closed till Thursday for Commemoration Day (Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria)
21 May 1887: Holiday given 50 year reign of the Queen.
6 July 1893: Whole holiday today in celebration of Royal Wedding
19 &27 July 1875: Fete Day – half of boys away
2 August 1875: Fete in Greatness park school closed
10 August 1874 – Foresters Fair
Helping at Home
Children also missed school to help their parents at harvest time with hay making, berry picking and helping bring in the corn. Many boys didn’t return after whitsun holiday (from May/June) because they were employed in the fieds.
17 August 1874: Many boys away. Most of them are employed in the harvest fields.
16 October 1874: Many boys still not returned since “hopping”.
27 August 1875: Closed school for the Hopping Holiday – reopens 4 October
25 July 1884: 40% of the school missing picking fruit in fields e.g strawberries
26 June 1885: Hay fields – boys according to the by-laws are allowed to be away during the hay season.
9 June 1905: Proposal for dividing Summer holiday – 2 weeks fruit picking and 3 weeks for the hopping season
24 March 1875: Application made by Mrs Read that her boy Richard may leave school daily at 11:30 to deliver letters (mi-day post) Granted.
Some children stayed away from school without their parents knowing.
The Victorians had lots of diseases that we rarely or don’t have today like scarlet fever, small pox, mumps, diptheria and whooping cough. We are now vaccinated against them so we are unlikely to get these diseases.
Children were more likely to die from diseases than they are today. Those who did not die but managed to survive were often left severely crippled.
Closing the school for several weeks during epidemics was not unusual. Sadly, in many cases one or more of the children did not return afterwards.
Why were there many deadly diseases?
Living conditions were bad for many families, with cold and damp houses and poor diets due to lack of money. Children came to school from a wide area, so if one child had an infectious disease it could quickly spread around the whole community.
Log book entries
1 November 1874 Charles Clarke (youngest in school) dangerously ill
December 1876: Several boys have whooping cough
December 1881: Rumours of scarlet fever and consequently attendance thinner.
28 April 1882: Whooping cough prevalent
25 January 1884: A few cases of mumps
20 November 1885: Few cases of measles
4 December 1885: Several cases of measles in the Parish School
27 January 1888: Several cases of Whooping Cough
26 Feb 1889 : This district still badly visited by mumps, over thirteen fresh cases this week.
24 January 1890: Over twenty boys away this week some suffering from colds and others from influenza.
5 December 1890: Fifteen or more cases of measles or whooping cough in the school.
12 Dec 1890: Mr Pyle attendance officer brought a certificate from Dr Butterfield to the effect that the school was to be closed because of the measles.
27 February 1891: Several cases of sickness owing doubtless to last week’s cold, damp and foggy weather.
6 July 1894: The attendance is still bad, and though it may be partly accounted for by an epidemic of measles.
12 August 1895: William Fiveash – measles, Thomas Allen – ringworm, J Osbourne and G Payne scarlet fever at home
6 May – 1 June 1896: School Closed due to outbreak of measles
January 1901: mumps
29 September – 20 October 1902: School closed due to outbreak of diphtheria
20 July – 4 Aug 1903: School Closed due to outbreak of measles
Sometimes children died of these diseases:
22 January 1882: Thomas Quinell, Standard II, dropped down dead.
Children got into trouble for the same sort of reasons as children do now but they were punished by being caned.
16 January 1874 Mrs Pickering came to ask that her boy might not be punished for truanting yesterday.
28 July 1874 James Slade (4th Class) was withdrawn by his mother, on account of his having had a punishment for disobedience to his teacher
15 April 1875 William Cook and James Haynes had to be punished again for truanting.
5 July 1878 Three boys punished for playing truant.
1 April 1879 Boys reprimanded for throwing stones
23 Feb 1880 Fred Fiveash punished by request for playing truant.
17 March 1880 Arthur Baker and Fiveash away playing truant. Mrs Baker called at school and wished her son to be punished and his absence from school in the future made known to her.
22 April 1880 Fred Fiveash punished for playing truant
10 March 1882 Two boys punished for playing truant. Fiveash and Chapman.
12 May 1882 Fred Fiveash, at his parents request, punished for playing truant
11 July 1882 Punished Fred Fiveash for playing truant and spending his school money
21 May 1883 Sharrad punished for playing truant
31 Oct 1883 Fred Fiveash punished for playing truant.
5 Dec 1884 Four boys punished for playing truant
4 February 1886 Punished Walker at his parents request for truanting.
15 November 1894 I had to punish Walter Hills severely this afternoon for gross insubordination.
4 June 1897 Punished B Copper and J Slade for truanting to mind cows.
11 October 1897 A Police Constable called with reference to a case of apple stealing by 4 boys from Hartsland. I punished them and others for disgracing the school.
10 February 1898 Severely punished Edward and Charles Wathling for insolence.
3 May 1898 Punished several boys for climbing on the roof of the lavatory.
2 November 1898 Three boys were punished this afternoon for coming too late to be marked. They had been in the park getting nuts.
3 February 1899 Three boys were punished for interfering with the Girl’s Mistress.
24 August 1900 Charles tooth was punished this morning for setting two little boys to fight after leaving school yesterday.
19 November 1900 Two boys in Standard three were punished for throwing peas at a boy in Standard two. The boys in Standard two got on the floor to pick them up while being taught.