Longworth School

Based on notes used for a talk to the Longworth History Society on 16th September 1998 by TONY GUTTERIDGE. Collated and edited with additional material by JAN KELLY.

The beginnings of formal education in Longworth

Education first started in church and chapels with Sunday School giving Bible readings and lessons from the Scriptures. Longworth is well known for its religious connections, the Church of St Mary dates from the twelth century and the Anabaptists are believed to have been meeting in Longworth from the late 1300s. This was the Longworth and Cote Mission. Cote is away to the north, across the Thames and was then in another county, Oxfordshire, as Longworth was still part of Berkshire.

Old-Meeting-HouseAn artist’s impression of the Old Meeting House, as it probably appeared in 1604. The illustration comes from The Church in the Hop Garden

In 1604, the Anabaptists either built or rebuilt a meeting house in Longworth, probably on the site of the present village hall. By the 1800s it had ceased to function and the main mission had transferred to Cote. This is well documented in the rare book published in 1936 The Church in the Hop Garden. It meant that in the early eighteen hundreds there was presumably, for a while, no Chapel or Meeting Place in Longworth.

First school building and organisation

In 1821, the Rev. John Blackmore, curate-in-charge of St Mary’s Church (and father of R.D. Blackmore, author of Lorna Doone) wrote a collective letter to several gentlemen and farmers in the district, asking them to subscribe to the cost of a building to be used both as a Sunday School and Day School. He stated that the Sunday School was held in the Belfry and that although they crammed in sixty children, another fifty were left roaming the village on Sunday morning before church. Having to ring the bells for an hour before the service wasn’t a great help either.

His appeal was successful, Mr Dewe, who then owned the property known as the Homestead, now in later years rebuilt and known as Haugh House, gave a piece of land; and the first room of the building we know as the Sunday School was erected. As Jasmine Howse states in her book Longworth Through the Centuries, plans for the building went ahead. A few days later in the Vestry Minutes is written :

“This entry is to certify that Mr James Dewe gives permission to the Parish and subscribers to erect a building on his meadow for the purpose of being used as a School Room for the poor children and for the transaction of Parish business – but never to be made a dwelling house nor converted to any other use – on condition that he receive annually a quit rent of sixpence from the fund for the support of the school – March 28th 1821”.

Subsequently the Sunday School was erected on the south side of the road to the church, opposite the present rectory.

So far, I have no record of teachers, or fees which would obviously have been charged. In the early 1800s there were two main forms of school – Board and Voluntary. The one was set up by a board of members and the other by voluntary organisations. Which of these the Church Schools came under I am not sure. By 1833 Government grants were available for help with schools and in 1839 Her Majesty’s Inspectors were introduced.

Discontent between Church and Chapel

Within a few years discontent set in between the Church and Chapel people. From hearsay it is believed that the Church refused to admit Chapel children and also girls, and the original gentlemen and farmer subscribers weren’t too pleased about this.

A new schoolroom

Plans were therefore set in place to build a new Chapel and Schoolroom and again Mr Dewe helped to start the ball rolling. By now he had exchanged in some way or another the Haugh House/Homestead property with Mr Floyd, for Martens Hall Farm, and a piece of land measuring one rood, thirty-two perches was assigned for the construction of a Chapel, schoolroom and master’s house.

chapelThe new chapel and schoolroom

This became what we now know as the detached dwelling house ‘The Manse’, and the Old School and United Reform Chapel currently (September 1998) being converted into a private home. The date of the Chapel is given on the front as 1848 and the main school room (40 feet by 20 feet) as 1853, but Kelly’s Directory states that the school was opened in 1850. Documents only recently available state that the trust was set up to administer this and other properties in 1853.

In 1854 the first Trust Deed was set up to administer properties in Longworth, East Hanney, Frilford and Wootton as chapels and schools under the name ‘The Frilford and Longworth Home Mission’. The original trustees were Messrs T Dewe, T. Floyd, H. Leake, W. Wallis, J. Pike, W. Cousins, A. Parsons, T. Webb, Giba Sumner, G. Prince and R. Bunce, with the addition of the Minister of the Independent Chapel of Abingdon. Messrs Dewe, Prince and Webb were from Longworth. Probably owing to the contention between Church and Chapel the school was called ‘Longworth Undenominational School’ for the children of all denominations.

The Longworth buildings are in stone, and the Chapel, Schoolroom and Schoolhouse were built before the trust was set up, due to the generous gift of £1725 from Mr Thomas Dewe. He also built a residence for the evangelist, who then acted as teacher of the school. There is no information as to the builder or whether the slate roofs are original, but members of the Richings family in Longworth were both stonemasons and tilers.

A new Education Act (1870)

In 1870 Forster’s Education Act provided compulsory schooling for pupils to the age of fourteen, but small charges were still made. The Board of Education came in 1899 followed in 1902 by Local Education Authorities. In 1918 fees were finally abolished and pupils could not leave until the end of the term in which they were fourteen. This presumably abolished ‘Labour Certificates’, which had to be granted before a pupil could leave, but during the First World War boys as young as twelve were granted Labour Certificates to work on farms and at other occupations in place of the men. The summer holidays were also held later in August and September so that pupils could help with the harvest.

Expansion and improvement (1900-1914)

In 1901/2 another classroom was added to the school for the infants, who had previously been taught in a raised gallery above the ground floor of the main room. This gallery was at the Chapel end of the building. Possibly at this time the back playground had a dividing wall built along to separate the infants and senior boys and girls. The infant’s room (the Little Room) was sixteen by twenty feet and there was a porch to the rear with a pump to a well beneath.

The Sunday School was extended between 1908/10 when a further room, brick and tiled, was added on as a direct result of the generosity of the Hyde family who had recently taken over Longworth House in Lodge Lane. The metal kissing gates (constructed by Metal Agencies Company (MAC) of Bristol) at both ends of the footpath leading from Hinton Road to Church Road by the Sunday school are the same as the gates on the former Hyde estate. The land used then belonged to the Floyd family.

The School Logbook records (from 1915)

Records of the school in the ‘Log Book’ date from 1915, prior to this we know only a few of the teachers from Kelly’s Directories and various Censuses. After 1915 we have a fairly accurate record – subject to headteachers’ handwriting.

The headteacher in 1915 was Isaac Cross, and in 1919 Edward Butt took over and stayed until 1931. From 1920 to 1928 Miss Hilda Richings was the infant teacher, in 1928 she became Mrs Hilda Gutteridge, my mother. With her three sisters and two brothers she had also been a pupil at the school, as had both her parents – Jesse Richings and Eliza Heath and probably her grandparents, the Richings and Heaths. Her own children also went to Longworth School, followed by her grandchildren. Her youngest great grandson is a pupil at the school now. At times during the twenties there were 44 on roll and three teachers. This number represented virtually all the children in the area between five and fourteen.

First School Outing (1932)

The first recorded visit from the school is to Oxford Zoo in 1932. This was opened by Oxford businessmen as a new attraction for visitors on the closure of Bostock and Wombwell Menagerie. Unfortunately it lasted only one season and then the stock was transferred to the new Dudley Zoo. Local visits were generally to watch The Meet of the Old Berkshire Hounds either in the Square or at the Manor. Also in the thirties older boys and girls were sent to Abingdon on Ernie Richings’ bus, for woodwork and needlework classes respectively. A Miss Simpson became headteacher in 1935. This is a time when many people still living in the village can remember the school.

More improvements (the 1930s)

I started school at Longworth in 1937. By this time it had electric light which had been installed in 1934. Prior to this lessons had often to be curtailed owing to bad light. The logbook records many incidents of heating systems breaking down. There are also many references (particularly through attendance figures) to severe weather conditions, epidemics of flu, measles etc. which, on many occasions, closed the school completely. The registers, of course, had to be absolutely perfect – they were regularly inspected by the Correspondent to the Managers (Secretary) and any of the School Board of Managers who deigned to call in. Late arrival meant no mark and that was a very serious offence.

To us of course teachers were little tin gods, but it is surprising to realise how many superiors and restrictions they were subjected to. Attendance Officers, Drill Inspectors, County Education Officials, even HMIs seemed to be far more frequent visitors than I remember in later years when I was teaching. School Drill Inspectors were appointed after World War One, presumably because of the lack of fitness of volunteers in that War- although later in World War One it was decided that those previously declared unfit were just as fit as anyone else to be sent abroad to be killed. Why they thought we needed drill I don’t know. We all walked or cycled to school, at dinner time we wandered all round the village, and at the end of holidays our parents had to start looking for us. We didn’t know the meaning of being ‘bored’ and had probably never even heard it.


Our break and dinner time games included all the old favourites – hopscotch, spinning tops, skipping and scrumping. On one occasion the headteacher, Mrs Stroud, caught a bunch of us who had jumped over the back wall to ‘scrump’ Mr Batts’ apples and solemnly informed us that she would have to inform Mr Batts. Deciding that there was only one solution to this, we went to Mr Batts and told him ourselves that we had been scrumping his apples, only to be told, “Oh, you mustn’t do that boys, that could be dangerous jumping over that wall. If you want some apples come round through the orchard gate”. We left jubilantly, believing that we had won, but in hindsight I now wonder if Mrs Stroud wasn’t just one jump ahead of us.

Our main summer game was ‘Hare and Hounds’ and every dinner time we ran several miles. A typical course would be over Bow Bank down towards Harrowdown, along to New Bridge and back through Draycott Farm. During the war we also played soldier-inspired games – convoys, drills etc. The war brought a great change to our quiet little country school and that change started sooner than most people think.

The wartime evacuees arrive

On 3rd September 1938 respirators (gas masks) were delivered to the school for both pupils and civilian adults. The evacuees, from Plashet School in London, hit the village on 3rd September 1939 and were billeted wherever possible. At first they shared the school with the villagers; villagers in the morning and evacuees in the afternoon. Later on the evacuees moved full time to the old Village Institute (Hall). When the evacuees came Mrs Hobbs was appointed to cook dinners for them in the Institute kitchen. On January 14th 1942 official school dinners were started for all pupils. Mrs Hobbs carried on as cook for all these meals, assisted by senior boys to help with peeling potatoes, and other chores. My brother at first, followed by myself, had the job of collecting meat from the Lamb and Flag, sent on the bus by the butcher at Buckland. One morning the meat I collected was bad, due to a half term break, and I had to cycle back to Buckland to get some more. Additional meat supplies came from the rabbits kept by the Plashet boys, and vegetables from the allotments they tilled under the supervision of their teachers. Until I came across the Young Farmers’ Club booklets in later years I marvelled at the knowledge and expertise of the London teachers.

At this time the Longworth School had a series of lady headteachers who were not always able to cope with the senior boys (who were already learning from the evacuees) Although Plashet was a boys’ school there were also quite a few sisters sent down by parents, and also private evacuees. An arrangement was made for the senior boys to attend the Plashet School in the Village Institute and the girls went to the main school. Slightly strained relationships, resulting from an early misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of each other’s backgrounds, were soon healed. We all quickly became the best of friends. Several original evacuees are now proud to call themselves villagers and some original villagers have even spent time in London!

After the War

In 1944 I left Longworth School to go to school in Wantage. At this time Mr David Jones was teaching temporarily at Longworth, and in September 1945 he took up a permanent appointment which was to last nineteen years. By 1947 some pupils were transferring to Faringdon Secondary Modern School and various Grammar Schools in the District.

1953 saw the school reopen as a Junior School, for five to eleven (plus) year olds.

By September 1954 it was found that the pump water in the Infants’ classroom was undrinkable and mains water was installed – one tap in the Infants’ cloakroom! To give more room for games and PE, the dividing wall between the back playgrounds was removed in 1955, but as far as I know the bucket toilets remained till the bitter end.

A Red letter day

10th June 1963 was a Red Letter Day. This was the day of the move to the new school buildings, with running water, flush toilets, electricity, heating, big playgrounds and playing fields.

Headteachers over the last twenty years include Mr P. Anderson, Miss E. Armitage, Mrs Carol Slade, Mr Richard Brierley and (from September 2004) Mrs Sandra North. They are part of a story of which we have seen only the start.

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