Looking after the girls

Of late, regular contributors of this humble organ have been generating new material at such a fearsome rate that I think Christian Aid must be pushing them all steroids or something. I have so much material to put up here that even if they all stop in disgust, we’ll be sorted until next Christmas…

I’m not complaining, of course; far from it. However, I do feel guilty for not getting material up here quick enough. Please be patient, nothing is wasted. We have contributors here doing fine work, and I’ve conscripted the very generous services of a  certain Brownhillian blogging dog for transcription. This is rapidly becoming a cottage industry.

In short, hang in there, it’s all good stuff.

There’s a very good example here in a series of brilliant articles from that top chap, the Young David Evans. David has had rare and extensive access to the historic records of St. John’s School in Walsall Wood, and has been trawling through them for the benefit of readers.

David has kindly written a whole series of these articles, which are genuinely fascinating. They show that running a school was more difficult back then, but many of the problems experienced then persist today: absenteeism, teaching standards, poor infrastructure. They illustrate how illness ravaged the village (which is certainly one in the eye for the anti-vaccination crowd), how the strikes impacted on Walsall Wood, and how schools closing for poor weather is not a new phenomena (bear in mind, most of the kids and staff lived locally then).

It’s worth reading this in the context of Dr. Maddaver’s report into the health of the area in 1910. The more I learn about this Scottish medic, the more the man becomes a hero to me.

I thank David wholeheartedly for this wonderful window on the past, and promise to get to all reader contributions as soon as I can.

David wrote:


Lost horizons: This school, replaced by a new one in the early 1970s, has been carried to dust ever since, but has a very proud history. Image kindly supplied by David Evans.

For many years the now sad, tired old building in Lichfield Road, Walsall Wood, was  the only school in the village. It had opened in 1859 to replace the original school which stood at the corner of Beech Tree Road and King Street, and had itself fallen into disrepair .

I have been extraordinarily fortunate to see notes made from the Headteachers’ logs for St. Johns School for the years 1880 to 1945. The original logs have been lost to the ravages of time and thanks to an unknown note-taker and to the generosity of a local, very kind-hearted man I am able to share this school’s history, and a view of life in Walsall Wood, from this unique contemporary source.

We will see glimpses of the structure of the school, the numbers on roll, the staff turnover, the frequency of illness in the village, the classroom and school building conditions, pupil attendance, a record of some of the events, both happy and sad, a glimpse into the weather, a record of some interesting pupils… And their parents, how the school evolved over time, how some major changes were implemented locally.

The records fall into four main parts. Pre World War One, the First World War, the years after that war and before the Second World War, The Second World War.

The notes are sometimes brief, sometimes terse, sometimes upsetting.

Firstly, the girls’ section of the school. This opened on Monday 31st May 1886. It was  combined with the boys’ section in 1912. There were  12 headmistresses of this section during these 26 years. Miss Meadon was the first teacher. She noted in June of that year that ‘The girls are in bad order and the attainments of several behind others.’ Poor attendance ws noted in several subsequent entries. On December 16th of that year an epidemic of measles  had broken out in the parish and the school was closed ‘by the doctors’. The school re-opened on January 17th, 1887.

The school was given a holiday on March 23rd, 1887  ‘in consequence of the Queen’s visit to Birmingham’

The HM Inspector’s report, June 23rd 1887 is interesting:

‘The girls have passed well in sewing and fairly in English but  the general quality of some of the work in the elementary subjects does not enable the school to more than fair Merit Grant, and attention must especially be given to teaching the girls the meaning of what they read, to spelling in the first Standard, to writing in the second Standard and to mental arithmetic. Generally the girls are in good order.’

A critique of a pupil-teacher is included and the notetaker has kindly added that pupil teachers were taken on by a school at 13 years of age after they had completed 350 attendances for 5 years. No payment was given until certain Articles (exams) had been taken and passed. There were many such Articles!

In 1887  it is noted , on June 24th, that:

‘Tuesday and Wednesday given to celebrate the JUBILEE’.

On December 19th a note states:

‘Monday. Heavy snow storm which has considerably affected attendance’

In  1888 a note in the log, dated March 2nd:

The attendance is most irregular. Many children making excuses for absence that are very poor, such as ‘very cold day’.

Again, a more detailed reference to attendance, this time naming four girls who live ‘in the Friezland Land district and are most irregular. Through this their names are being sent to the attendance officer’.

In May a note;-

’68 children only present. Irregularity of attendance is affecting work school is suffering as a result.’

Summer school holidays were how long in those days?

August 13th, 1888:

‘School duties resumed after 3 weeks main holiday. But the school closed for the day on August 22nd – school closed to use rooms for flower show’

There is a wonderful ‘Carry on teacher’ type  note:

‘(teacher’s name) at present a very heavy teacher and cannot maintain discipline. Children are not doing well under her.’

A new head teacher commenced her duties in 1889, a year with only two notes in the log.

In 1890  the school timetable changed, opening at 1.15 instead of 2 p.m. in order to close at 3.30 and in September 19th the log records one case of Scaret fever was reported in the village.

In 1891, April 17th,

‘Attendance not so good as last week owing to a circus at Brownhills on Wednesday. Only 109 girls present.’

A major development is noted, in one short sentence. August 31st , a Monday:

‘This is the day preceding the commencement of Free Education in this school. Several girls joined the penny bank.’

The school attendance officer, a Mr Cliff, visited the school regarding a pupil for whom the local G.P had refused to issue a doctor’s note. May 12th, 1892.

In August  1892 the flower show is referred to as a ‘show of cottage garden produce and sale of work’. The school was closed for the day.

On May 3rd, 1893 the school ‘is closed today for one month by order of the Medical Officer of health as there is outbreak of measles in the Parish’. The school re-opened on August 15th, ‘after closure for epidemic of measles and annual two week summer holiday’.

October 20th 1893:

‘(Named pupil) left. Being over 13 years of age and having the required number of attendances over the last 5 years.’

A new headmistress who assumed her duties and ‘took permanent care of this school’ on April 19th 1894, noted, the following day:

‘I examined the whole school during my first week and found girls very backward indeed especially in the 1st and 4th  Standard. Girls also very talkative and disorderly.’

The headteacher resigned her position, October 31st 1894.

In 1895 a report of Education, by the Diocese Inspector states:

‘Miss X took charge and the full syllabus has been taken to reach satisfactory standard. The teaching is distinctly good. The church school of St John is classed a good.’

signed E.B. Phartion, Inspector.

In 1896 some very telling entries:

September 4th:

‘Attendance is very poor girls are consistently kept off to carry dinners to fathers employed in the mine.’

The village Wake (fair) in Walsall Wood gets a mention!  November 20th 1896:

‘Holiday given on Monday in consequence of the village Wake.’

November 27th:

‘Epidemic of Measles poor attendance.’

December 10th:

‘School is closed by the medical Officer at 12.30 until January 11th. Epidemic of Measles and Scarlet fever.’

1897 has very few entries. One, October 6th states:

‘The school has been classed as Excellent by E.E. Charlion, Diocese Inspector.’


The original school was a building that served many purposes over the years, and has been documented here previously. Image supplied by Graham Harrison – for link to the original post, see top of this post.

1898 carries indications on the condition of the fabric of the building. December 7th:

‘Mr Cordell (one of the school Managers) visited this school. Although a great quantity of rain has fallen none has soaked through the roof as it had done on a snowy morning a fortnight previously. I the classroom the stove has been removed from the corner to the middle of the room, the change has made the schoolroom much warmer’

The schools were ‘re-coloured during the Christmas vacation of three weeks extra holiday’.

1899 A visit by the  Right Rev Lord Bishop of Lichfield and the local vicar, Reverend Reakes was made, on April 18th.

The first record of new furniture appears in the school log. May 10th, received a new cupboard.

June 26th saw low attendance  on account of ‘Annual Sports in the village’

On September 7th, a disturbingly detailed entry:

‘The school has been closed by the Medical Authority… owing to the prevalence of Scarlatina and Diphtheria in your neighbourhood I consider  it advisable to close the school at Walsall Wood for the period of one month dates this day 1899’ signed J.C. Maddaver (Medical Officer)

In 1900, in April, 12 cases of measles were reported.

May 24th:

‘Took girls to church, then dismissed them for the day as a treat. Tradesmen provided tea for the girls in  the afternoon in celebration of Mafeking Relieved.’

In 1901, the school records the flower show, held on August 21st:: There are no records for 1902.

1903,  A new head teacher reports during what was clearly a blazing June:

‘Blinds are badly needed, children cannot work with the sun constantly shining in their eyes.’

Two entries were made for December 1st 1903;-

‘The school will be closed tomorrow for funeral of Vicar Rev J. Reakes, for many years vicar and  patron of this parish.’

On the same day, perhaps more importantly:

‘Mr Cordell (Manager) visited the school to pay the salaries.’


Education has a proud history in Walsall Wood: this fine image from ‘Memories of Old Walsall Wood’ by Bill Mayo and John Sale.

More new equipment on may 13th, 1904:

‘Took possession of two new blackboards and three chairs’

The provision of equipment picked up in 1905:

In March:

‘Vicar visited school with surveyor from Stafford to see if improvements have been made.’


‘Received new work baskets from Wolverhampton.’

‘Received  new school furniture.’


‘Received Map rack.’

On July 25th, 1906 Mr. Vigrass visited the school bringing the cookery mistress with him in the hope of organising classes at the National School for the girls. This refers to the new school at Streets Corner, Walsall Wood, which opened in 1903.

November 21st 1906:

‘New stove has been put in the classroom . the old one being tired and worn.’

There was drama on January 23rd 1907:

‘Children sent home at 10.10am owing to fire breaking out in the rafters of the school. Will resume the following day.’

There was ongoing support for the National School on July 4th, the Head is recorded attending a meeting in council school (Streets Corner) re: cookery lessons for the girls there being no facilities here for such a task.

This bore fruit by January 6th, 1908:

‘Girls have been accepted to the cookery centre for lessons in cookery and home management.’

Illness still stalked that year, October 30th records

‘School closed for 6 weeks owing to prevalent sickness in village.’

The weather was from on March 3rd, 1909:

‘Severe snowstorm kept 37 girls away.’

In November, nascent signs of a social state:

‘Girls medically inspected to comply with new Government regulations.’

That December – on the 22nd, more weather woe:

‘Owing to bad weather rain and snow 15 children sent home with shoes and stockings saturated.’

Only two entries in 1910, one of which charmingly records on February 15th:

‘School closed for annual parish tea.’

The school was in festive mood on June 16th 1911:

‘School closed for one week in celebration of the Coronation of King George V’

More grim weather on January 17th, 1912:

‘Owing to a very heavy downfall of snow this morning, there were only 48 children present out of 118 on roll, consequently registers were not marked.’

On January 18th and 19th it is recorded that the school closed as:

‘Weather is too cold to work.’

A mention of a coal strike also appears in the school log.

1912, March 26th, the Headmistress attended committee meeting at Brownhills concerning the feeding of certain children during the strike.

She recorded next day:

‘Commenced feeding of children this morning. Children arrive at 8.30 for breakfast and have dinner at 12 oclock. So far 40 children are taking advantage of this facility.’

On April 3rd, a meting at Brownhills is noted to consider the provision of meals during the Easter holidays.

The girls school was merged into one school on May 24th, 1912: Miss E. Sheppard was the last headmistress.

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24 Responses to Looking after the girls

  1. Pedro says:

    Many thanks to David, and of course to the humble organ grinder!

  2. Ann Cross says:

    Fascinating stuff! Thanks to David and Bob.

  3. david oakley says:

    My old school ! and a big thank you to David Evans, Bob and a certain ‘Brownhillian Blogging Dog’
    for this peep into past history. My attention was caught by the 1920’s classroom. Notice that most of the boys are similarly attired ? They are dressed in ‘jerseys’. These were an article of clothing of the cheapest kind, made of ‘shoddy’ which was an inferior wool yarn made from fibres taken from
    used fabrics, having long sleeves, three buttons and a collar.. Properly fastened, they could hide the ‘ no shirt’ fraternity from public gaze. Very rough material indeed. If you wiped your nose on
    your sleeve a little too speedily you could develop ‘noseburn’. The material was probably reprocessed from old woollens, highly prized by the local ragman, who would often give you a chicken (they always died) if your bundle was large enough.

  4. Andy Dennis says:

    It turns out that Reverend Reakes was born Thomas Reakes in the village of Littlebourne, Kent in about 1831, the son of George Reakes, farrier (1841, 61 & 71 census, though Probate Calendar 1878 says “Veterinary Surgeon”). In 1851 Thomas was footman to one John Frederick Pike Scrivenor, landed proprietor at 20 Bryanston Square, Mary le Bone (sic), who, upon death at Theberton Hall, Suffolk, 1866, left an estate of “under £70,000”. In 1854 Thomas married Elizabeth Lever, a lifelong partner. In 1861 he was a “schoomaster certificated” at Tormoham, Devon [Torquay] and was still there in 1871.

    Walsall Wood – A short history by Margaret Brice says that Thomas became incumbent of Walsall Wood in 1876. In 1881 he was recorded as Vicar of the Parish (Walsall Wood). There he remained, living at the Vicarage, until his death on 28 Nov 1903 aged 72.

  5. Clive says:

    Nice one David and Bob.

  6. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    I fully agree with Pedro..a very special thanks to the organ grinder and to the scribe, indeed!!
    kind regards

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  8. Jane Booth says:

    My Great Aunt( Miss Powell )was Headmistress at the School in the late 50’s to some time in the 60’s. Would love to hear any stories from her time there

    • Ann Cross says:

      Miss Powell must have followed on from Mr Feast who was my Headmaster, did she teach in the school prior to her promotion do you know? Her name is familiar to me, also Mr Milgate, who tried to get me to write righthanded. He failed and I am still left handed!

      • Andy Dennis says:

        Yes, it failed with my mother, too, but her handwriting verged on illegible at the best of times – we learned “Mom” as a second language! She would be rapped across the knuckles with a ruler if she was caught using her left. Imagine the hue and cry today …

    • david oakley says:

      There was a Miss Powell at the Infants School as far back as 1935, she taught the five-year- olds (the new starters) I was one. She lived in the High Street. She had a married sister, Mrs Hitchen who taught in the Junior school. They lived next door to each other.
      Miss Powell never married, a lovely patient lady and well fitted to be the teacher to all the fretful ‘first timers’. Wonder if she is the same lady? . Mrs Hitchen had two children, Eric and Janet, to whom Miss Powell would be Aunt.

  9. Pedro says:

    Lichfield Mercury 27 January 1965…

    Wanted Caretaker. Rate of pay £53 and 17 shillings and 11p per calendar month, plus extra payment for Winter weekend stoking.

    Ogley Hay Secondary Girls school, Great Charles Street, Brownhills. The appointment is superannuable post and is subject to satisfactory medical and chest x-ray examinations. J.I.C. Conditions of service apply. No housing accommodation available.

    (Chest X-ray, was this a usual?)

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  11. David Evans says:

    Hi Andy and Ann
    as a left-hander, I battled away with my chalk and slate in my first year , but after a while I realised that reading and writing backwards was quite natural,(.May explain a lot, I have just been told.) History is full of (in)famous left-handed people!. I expect Pedro will have found quite a few!
    David..or divaD.

    • Pedro says:

      Never thought of that David, so Googled and found the Guardian 100 famous left handers.

      From History they say that Jack the Ripper was left handed. How did they know that? Must have restricted the range of suspects!

      Also on the left from Politics was Winston Churchill!

      From Music, David Bowie.
      From Sport, Martina Navratilova.
      From Entertainment, Julian Clary.

      Oh and also from Entertainment, Melinda Messenger.

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