West Street School in Ewell

Sources for Epsom and Ewell History
Sources for Epsom
and Ewell History



The village school of Ewell provided education to local children for nearly two hundred years, from 1811 to 1994, although during that period it occupied more than one location and had several names. It opened as Ewell National School in Old Schools Lane. Fifty years later it moved to West Street, where separate classes were established for infants, boys and girls. The redevelopment was funded by Sir George Glyn, who was anxious to make sure that local education remained in the hands of the Church of England; however, the Victorian building was unable to keep up with the growing population of the village, and in 1916 the former National School split in two. The girls' and infants' sections moved, as a Council school, to new buildings further down the street; the boys remained in the old building. This was now called Ewell Boys' Church of England School, EBS for short, although the unofficial name of West Street School was more usual. Ewell Boys' School became a junior school in 1939, and a primary one in 1953; finally, in 1971, the boys' and girls' schools both moved out of the village to a new site on Longmead, called Bishopsmead School. The infants remained in the 1916 building, which became Ewell Grove First School. Unfortunately the 70s buildings at Bishopsmead were not built to last, and the school closed in 1994; Ewell Grove is still a school, and the 1861 building in West Street has been converted to flats.

West Street School
West Street School
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The archives of the school at Surrey History Centre (6246) include a complete run of log books from 1862 to 1994, together with admission registers from 1892 to 1966, annual reports from the 1880s, and correspondence. The first of the log books, covering the years 1862-98, was originally transcribed by the Documentary Group of Epsom & Ewell History & Archaeology Society (then the Nonsuch Antiquarian Society), and I have typed it up:

West Street School Log Book
(You may need Adobe Reader to view this file,
this software can be downloaded free from Adobe).

This book, kept by various headmasters over a period of thirty six years, provides a flavour of the day-to-day life of one National School. The entries are interesting, entertaining in places, and quite illuminating. The impression left by reading this Log Book, is not that of the popular perception of a Victorian school - harsh, punitive pedagoguery, designed to beat mastery of the three Rs into the heads of cowed children.

Although, as you would expect, the facilities were fairly spartan and the building was not in a particularly good state of repair, this reflects the living conditions at the time. (Some refurbishments were made over the years - one particularly hot May the master brought the lack of ventilation in the classroom to the attention of the managers, and a new window and ventilation tubes were swiftly installed). With the facilities that they had, all the masters who contribute to the book appear to have been conscientious in doing their best for the children in their charge (some more successfully than others). Of course, this is only one side of the story, and we do not have the pupils' version but, on the evidence of the Log Book, and the H.M Inspectors' reports, this does appear on the whole to have been a good school, for its time.

A National School was a school founded by the National Society for the Promotion of Religious Education, which provided elementary education for the children of the poor, while the Education Act 1870 led to the establishment of secular board schools, which were in competition with the National Schools. As a National School, Ewell's curriculum was heavily slanted towards scripture lessons and bible learning, which were provided by the local vicar, as well as the master. Missionaries also paid visits to the school and gave lectures. Religious Knowledge was examined regularly by a visiting cleric.

The education was not limited to the three Rs (which were rigorously taught, including grammar, and examined weekly) and religious knowledge. Geography figured also quite largely on the curriculum, not surprising when the Empire was at its height, but the lessons were not confined to the countries of the Empire. There were gallery and object lessons on general topics such as: 'chalk', 'the camel', 'air and the balloon', 'bird's nest and kindness to birds', 'holly' 'sealing wax', 'the goat' etc. There was a great deal of singing and learning of traditional Victorian songs such as 'Men of Harlech', ''Tis the Last Rose of Summer', 'Heart of Oak', and the boys were taught musical notation. Drawing was taken very seriously, and there were regular external examinations in freehand drawing, modelling, drawing to scale and geometry. History was taught, and also 'recitation', including passages from Shakespeare for the older boys. H.M. Inspector remarked in 1884 that 'Poetry, especially in the upper Standards, is recited with more than ordinary intelligence and expression'. The only omission from the curriculum seems to have been languages, either ancient or modern.

Infants with a pupil teacher in 1897
Infants with a pupil teacher in 1897
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

This education was not free. Fees were charged on a sliding scale from 6d per week for the child of a tradesman or small farmer, to 2d for the first child of a labourer, and 1d for any further child, while a local charity paid for free places for ten boys each year, conditional upon punctual and regular attendance. Attendance was a constant concern of the master. It fluctuated greatly depending upon the weather (lack of suitable clothing presumably prevented the children turning out in heavy rain), annual events, such as Race Week, or if a circus came to town. Other causes of absence included ploughing matches, fairs, and an afternoon game of football played in the streets of Ewell every Shrove Tuesday, and 'Maying' and, of course, truancy. More than once a parent, rather surprisingly, requested the master to punish his or her child for truancy. Illness was the main cause of absence, however, and the school suffered waves of epidemics of diphtheria, scarlet fever, mumps, measles, and whooping cough as well as frequent colds and cases of 'fever'.

In February 1897 so many boys in Standard IV alone were suffering from colds that the master, Samuel Buxton, 'enquired into the matter and found that H. Blanchett, pupil teacher in charge of the Standard, had kept windows open in spite of the boys' complaint of cold & draughts. The teacher told me that he considered his comfort was to be considered before the boys'. I have changed the position of Standard IV'.

Samuel Buxton appeared to be a very efficient master, and the school flourished under his care. His watchword seemed to be 'firm but fair'. To encourage regular attendance he made an agreement with the boys to grant them a half day's holiday if, during the previous quarter attendance had been at a certain level. The holiday was duly given, on several occasions.

In the summer of 1894, and again in 1895, the older boys were taken on a visit to London, leaving Ewell at 8.8 am (Mr. Buxton was a very precise man) and given a whirlwind tour of the city. 'Noticed briefly Houses of Parliament, Abbey, Trafalgar Sq. Visited Greenwich by river - Painted Hall, Museum, Park, Observatory. Afternoon British Museum - Egyptian Room, Ancient Manuscripts. Reached Ewell at 7.pm'.

Boys in 1893
Boys in 1893 - among them William Beams, the Peace brothers, Fred Pocock, Jack Beams, Thomas Marks, Alfred Revell, Charles Revell, 'Barney' Killick, William Beams, Alfred Beams, one of the Longhursts, George Sutton, another Killick and George 'Darkey' Marks.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Mr. Buxton was appointed for a probationary period in March 1882 (made permanent after a couple of weeks of giving satisfaction), after the previous master John May had rather suddenly left. There had been no intimation in the journal that anything was amiss, except that Mr. May had complained about the heavy workload with the Pupil Teacher away absent. The journal simply says: 'Master absent. Mr. Ham C.M. took school morning and afternoon'. The next day Mr. Buxton was appointed. An entry in July by the vicar, following an inspection, reads: 'The boy's school has suffered much at the hands of the outgoing teacher… There is a prospect of decided improvement under the recently appointed master'. The implication is that Mr. May was dismissed, but there is no hint of what triggered his rather sudden departure.

To some extent the log book entries reflect the personalities of the different masters.

It is interesting that James Diprose (master from July 1872 to August 1877) did seem to have quite a few problems with complaining parents, obstinate pupils and an argumentative pupil teacher. On one occasion 'Mrs. Ayres came down on Thursday morning & complained that her boy (Daniel) was treated differently to the others. As she made use of these words: 'It is as Mr. Ayres says you shut one eye & open the other', I afterwards sent a note to the father saying that I could not have him at School again till he sees Sir George & then not till that expression is withdrawn, as this is not the first time a similar thing has occurred. Soon after I took charge of this School I had an insulting note from Mr Ayres for which he afterwards apologized'.

The pupil teacher, G. Baxter, was also causing Mr. Diprose problems: 'Saw the Rev. Sir G.L. Glyn Bart in connection with G. Baxter as he turned stubborn again on Sunday morning, & he has decided that he shall leave at once. In a letter written by George to his parents last evening & which I demanded to see, he says 'On Thursday we had a surprise visit from Mr. Byrne, H.M. Inspector. Mr. Diprose was nearly caught, for the Inspector said 'Let me see your Time Table. Are your registers marked?' On Thursday night I refused to move the desks & also on Sunday morning… I cannot see you buying me nice clothes to be spoilt & messed up in the way that mine are done with school work'. Mr. Diprose had had enough, and obtained the permission of Sir George Glyn to dismiss G. Baxter. In fact he took the day off to escort him home to his parents.

In 1877 he sent a boy home for a week who had run out of school after asking leave to go to the closet. 'His mother afterwards came up & was very abusive, but I locked the door & went on with work'. He may just have been unlucky, but it is possible that Mr. Diprose's personality had something to do with the antagonism he encountered.

Boys in 1896 under the watchful eye of Samuel Buxton
Boys in 1896 under the watchful eye of Samuel Buxton
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

James Diprose's predecessor Henry Clark (September 1865 to July 1872), on the other hand, didn't appear to have these sorts of problems. He must have been a young man, as he came straight from training college, and he gave the impression of great enthusiasm for his work. This is borne out by the Inspector's report: 'The boys are taught with great skill & zeal and the school is in an excellent condition throughout', and the Diocesan Inspector of Religious Knowledge said: 'The knowledge of the boys is very considerable & they gave most intelligent answers. The master deserves great commendation'. This master's entries consist of more praise and encouragement and less punishment than some of the others. Unlike John May, Henry Clark took his leave of the boys in July 1872, before being replaced with the unfortunate James Diprose.

At this time there were about 55 pupils on the books; by the end of the log book there were around 200. Henry Clark ran the school with the assistance of three monitors. By the end of the log book, Samuel Buxton had an assistant master, as well as a pupil teacher and monitors. Over the years there are quite a number of complaints from parents regarding the pupil teachers, who seem to have been over-enthusiastic with discipline on several occasions.

There are many vignettes of daily life in these pages, some terribly sad - 'Chas. Stevenson was accidentally killed at Epsom Railway Station' - some amusing, as when a poor lad was sent out from the classroom to refill a scuttle of coal and the girls from the school next door, being out in the playground, shut the coal cellar door on him, injuring his leg. The impression given at the end is of a group of people - managers, vicar, master - who, with the resources at their disposal, tried to give the poorer children of the locality a good basic all-round education before they left to go into employment, probably about at the age of 12 or 13.

Forty years on - the Old Boys' reunion at Glyn House in 1912
Forty years on - the Old Boys' reunion at Glyn House in 1912
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Click here to view the Ewell Boys National School - Admissions Register (June 1892 to September 1929).

Sheila Ross © February 2012


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