Step Into Our Past

"On August 17th, 1871, a  new school was born in Swindon. Built of local stone, rising above the surrounding houses, it presented an impressive spectacle that was clearly visible across the fields below.

What follows in this section of the website is a brief history of the school, its pupils and teachers, over the generations to the present day. It reminds us that on this spot other men, women and children, with their own thoughts and emotions, walked, worked and played, as real as we are today.

We would like to thank Lucy Laird for producing this history that we are sure you will find fascinating reading."

The school buildings

King William Street Church of England School was opened 135 years ago by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol on 17th August 1871. It is the first school in Swindon to celebrate 135 years in the same building and is the direct descendant of the first Free School in Swindon, which was founded in 1764. The school's early history is well documented despite several name changes and a change of location.

The Swindon Free School was founded in 1764 with the support of Thomas Goddard, William Nash and several other townspeople, to educate 20 boys and 5 girls, at a time when there was no state provision of education. The school was situated in a house in Newport Street. By the beginning of of the 19th century, pupil numbers had increased, so a new school (known as the National School) was erected on the same site in 1835. This building could accommodate 113 boys and 113 girls, but with ever increasing pupil numbers, only thirty years later the school trustees were again proposing another new building. Three site were considered  for the new school - the original site in Newport Street, another off Cricklade Street, and one at Tuckers Piece in New Road, Eastcott (now known as King William Street).

On 12th July1870, the Minister and Churchwardens of Swindon finally purchased plots 40-49 Tuckers Piece for £310 from William Dore. The building, designed by Thomas Lansdown, was built of Swindon Stone, with a Bath stone dressing, at a total cost of £1,784. After the official opening of the school on 17th August 1871, classes began the following week. However, some finishing off was still required, and workmen were in the school for several more weeks.

About 170 boys and 140 girls attended the school. there was a playground on either side (with toilets), a boys school and classroom, a girls school and classroom, and infants school and classroom, and the three bed roomed living accommodation for the schoolmaster. The girls school on the first floor was separate from the rest of the school, and was entered from the street by the door below the bell. The girls shared the right-hand playground with the infants, who used what is now the school hall for their lessons, while the boys' school used what is now the entrance foyer and infant classroom. The school master's house occupied what is now the playgroup room, staff room and headmaster's office, and had three bedrooms upstairs. The school was heated by two heating chambers feeding pipes in the infants' and boys' schoolroom, with coke stoves providing heat in the other classrooms. However, the fires were not lit until late October or early November. Gas lighting was installed in 1872. Various minor alterations were made in 1883 and 1887, and the schoolmaster's house was converted into two classrooms in 1890.

An inspection by the Board of Education in 1920 found that conditions in the school were unsuitable for the numbers of children present, and further alterations commenced in August 1922. Among the changes made, new cloakrooms were provided for the girls, and the classrooms were divided into three by partitions. The girls and infants removed to the Church Hall for lessons while the work was carried out, but the boys had to work through the disruptions. A new boiler house was built in 1952 and a central heating system installed throughout the school. Two years later the pitched roof over the hall was replaced by a flat roof. Despite these and other minor alterations carried out over the years, the school today remains substantially as it was when constructed in 1871.

1870 Floor Plan
1870 Floor Plan

King William Street Church of England School
King William Street Church of England School

Nursery class 2nd March 1939
Nursery class 2nd March 1939

Education

In the late nineteenth century the most important subjects taught were reading, writing and arithmetic, mainly because the school funding system was based upon successful examination results in these areas. The school received grants from the Education Department according to the number of children who had made more than 250 attendances in the year and passed the examination at the annual visit by H.M. Inspector. A further grant was calculated according to the average total attendance throughout the school year. (In 1890 grants for passes in the "3 R's" were discontinued, and a new grant based on the quality of the school was introduced.)

Apart from the free places provided by the school's original endowment (which could be withdrawn if a scholar was absent without leave more than four times in a month), all the other pupils paid weekly to attend, unless they had passed with Honours at the annual inspection, in which case the Board paid their fees. In 1872 the weekly fees, to be paid on a Monday, were 2d for infants, 3d for boys and girls, and 4d for the children of tradesmen. Pupil attendance and fee collection was a continual problem, with children liable to absent themselves from school for, in the opinion of the headmaster, the slightest reasons. Excuses for absence recorded in the school records include blackberrying, planting potatoes, Band of Hope and Sunday School treats, visiting menageries, fairs and circuses, and going to steeple chases and cattle markets.

Children were also withdrawn from school to go to work, especially during the summer months, although this was contrary to the Workshops Act forbidding children under 13 from working full time. However, pupils could be issued with certificates allowing part time attendance at school and part time work. Children were employed, among other things, as errand boys, at the GWR works, in the Brickyards, and for agricultural work.

In addition to the "3 R's", the boys studied singing, geography, and mechanics, and the girls were taught singing, needlework and domestic economy. All the children were also examined annually in Religious Instruction by the Diocesan Inspector. Under the 1870 Education Act parents had a right to withdraw their children from Religious Instruction, although few are recorded as doing so. Because the school had church associations it was permitted to give denominational religious teaching, and school commenced with this subject each morning. Other subjects were occasionally tried - drill, drawing, and even French lessons, and the curriculum gradually broadened over the years as revised Codes of Education were issued. Homework was also set, generally relating to work done during the day. Headmasters were required to examine the progress of all pupils regularly.

School began at 9am, with a break for lunch from noon until 2pm. The school day ended at 4.15pm. In all, 21 1/4 hours a week were devoted to lessons, the rest of the school hours being taken up by registration, religious instruction and breaks. The school was open for about 46 weeks a year, with holidays for Easter and Christmas, three weeks summer break, usually taken from mid July to mid August, (increased to 4 weeks in 1892), and occasional days or half days granted throughout the year.

The school was divided into standards one to six (seven from 1882), although not all the children in each standard were necessarily of the same age. School attendance was not compulsory until bye-laws enforcing attendance between the ages of 5 and 13 were passed in 1880. An Attendance Officer was appointed, and each child was issued with a School Book, recording details of progress and attendance, which was given to the child on leaving school.

On 1st September 1891, following the Free Education Act, all pupils were offered free places in the school. However parents who wished to pay could still do so, either by making a donation or by subscribing four shillings a quarter.

The school leaving age was raised to 14 in 1901. With the introduction of Higher Elementary Schools, and subsequently Secondary Schools, pupils could leave at eleven or twelve to complete their education elsewhere. Admission was dependant on examination results, with scholarships for free places being awarded to some pupils. However, even after official listing as a Primary School in 1946, when all pupils became eligible to attend senior schools, children up to the age of 14 were still allowed to remain at the school.

The school came under the control of the Local Education Authority on 1st June 1903, and changed its name to the Church of England School in 1907. In January 1932, following the resignation of the Headmistress, the Girls School was amalgamated with the Boys School, and was joined in January 1937 by the Infants School upon the retirement of its Headmistress.

Infant class with Miss Slade late 19th century
Infant class with Miss Slade late 19th century

School photograph 1921
School photograph 1921

Swimming Club 1921
Swimming Club 1921