Saturday, November 12, 2011

Westcott Street School





Swindon has enjoyed a long history of educational excellence and was quick to establish a Local School Board following the 1876 Education Act.

With the old GWR School bursting at the seams, the School Board rapidly set about building new ones. Queenstown Infants' and Girls' and Gilbert's Hill Girls' and Infants opened in 1880 with Westcott Infants' and Primary Mixed the following year.

However the Westcott Street Infants School log book reveals that the school actually opened at the Drill Hall in March 1878.

'I, Jane Harrison, Certificated, took charge of this school on Monday last,' wrote the newly appointed schoolmistress in her first entry.

Miss Harrison admitted 24 new children in the morning with a further 21 in the afternoon. Meanwhile eight school board officers trooped through the schoolroom to see how things were going.



With her assistant mistress Miss Robson and two monitresses, Alice Turner and Albinia Dowling, Jane Harrison was placed firmly in the spotlight at Swindon's first new board school.

On September 27, 1878 she writes: "The school is now well supplied with working apparatus. The children are remarkably clean, and on the whole well behaved."

A warm spring and "the little ones have been able to go into the park for recreation every day" but the winter accentuates how unsuitable the building actually was.

January 24th
"The cold in the Drill Hall is so intense, that we find it utterly impossible for the children to write in either their 'dictation books' or 'copy books.' Sewing & knitting are quite out of the question."

Almost three years to the day Miss Harrison opened the Drill Hall schoolroom came most welcome news.

April 1st 1881
.. Just received notice of the removal of the children from the Drill Hall to the new school in Westcott St," and three days later Miss Harrison is at her desk in her new school.

April 4th 1881
Began duty in the Westcott Street School this morning. Transferred 56 boys to the Sandford (sic) Street School. Sixteen or eighteen of the younger children have gone to College St. Infants School owing to the distance."

By May the average daily attendance was 293 and the School Inspectors made a note in their report dated November 18th 1881: "The Tone and Discipline of this school could hardly be better, and the results of the examination both of Standard and Infant children are of a very creditable character."

After six years in post. Miss Harrison left and on April 13th 1884 the school reopened after the Easter Holiday with a new Headmistress, Isabella Smith.

Westcott School was designed by Brightwen Binyon, architect of the Town Hall at Regent Circus, and was constructed by Bristol builders, Forse and Ashley. 

In 1881 Jane Harrison, 34, from Runcorn in Cheshire, lodged at 7 Gloucester Terrace with the Tincknell family and Annie Atkin, another local board schoolteacher.



The Victorian school was demolished in the 1980s and a block of modern housing fills the space in Birch Street where it once stood. Today Robert le Kyng Primary School serves the extended Westcott and Kingshill area.




1918 Peace Celebrations in Westcott Street taken by William Hooper published courtesy of Paul Williams (no doubt a few Westcott School pupils pictured here).

1926 class photo courtesy of S.C. Hatt

1954 View of school courtesy of Ordnance Survey

all photographs available to view on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

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