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Harding, William; Bannister, John; Crew, Albert & Johnson, Thomas SCHOOLMASTERS

As usual it is hoped to amend this joint biography. Any corrections or additions welcome

Harding, William; Bannister, John; Crew, Albert & Johnson, Thomas SCHOOLMASTERS

The schoolteachers who came to Ringstead in the second half of the nineteenth century were part of a new breed of young professionals who emerged from the working and lower middle classes. They came to Ringstead from all over England, served the community for a time and then, usually, moved on to another step in their career. Some stayed for less than half a year and some for half a lifetime.

It would be wrong to think that Ringstead did not have any schools before the building of the National School that still serves the village today. In 1818 the Select Committee on Education of the Poor reported that there was:

A Sunday school supported by voluntary contributions in which about 40 boys and girls are taught. Two day schools kept by women in which about 24 children are taught, at their parents’ expense.

It does, however, add:

The generality of the poor cannot afford the means of education for their children, and would be glad to possess them.

There is no sign of a schoolteacher in the 1841 Census but this is probably due to the general lack of female occupations given, unless they were head of the family, and any men teaching would probably have been attached to the church or chapels and would have done it as part of their other religious duties. The more comprehensive 1851 Census gives us a better picture We have Alice Roberts aged 45, wife of agricultural labourer John, who is a ‘Church Sunday School mistress’, Louisa Hannah Weekley, 31, wife of Shoemaker William, a Daily Schoolmistress and Elizabeth Gunn,54, wife of Isaac, a gardener, who is an ‘Infant teacher’. We can only guess that we have a mixture of Dame Schools and Sunday School in the village.

The Dame Schools varied greatly in their worth. Some were merely child-minding places, held by a woman in her cottage and were overcrowded and with little or no teaching or learning taking place; others were an early form of trade school where lace or straw plaiting would be taught in, what was often, a junior sweatshop. Some, however, did teach the basics of reading and writing with perhaps some religion instruction as well. With no qualification needed for the teachers, they varied from the Dickensian to the enlightened.

Ten years later, in 1861, Elizabeth Gunn is still a Schoolmistress and, although Alice Roberts is no longer shown, next door to her, Sarah Cunnington is a schoolmistress. Hannah Weekley also is not recorded as a schoolmistress but perhaps it is because she has another child, just three-year-old. William Kitchen, soon to marry again after the death of his first wife, is put down as a ‘Particular Baptist Minister and School master’. There was a battle during much of the nineteenth century between the Nonconformists and the Church of England to provide schools for the working classes. The two organisations, The British and Foreign School Society (Nonconformists) and the National Society (Church of England) competed with each other to found schools across the country and this rivalry may explain some of the local animosity that surfaced in Ringstead towards the end of the century. It may be that William Kitchen was teaching at a Baptist Sunday school in the Manse but it is just possible that he was running a day school and this is one factor that spurred the local church into the founding of the Ringstead and Denford School. Another important factor was the increasing national pressure for the state to set up a secular ‘Board School’ system to replace or complement the religion-based schools.

Although the Church of England National Society was by far the largest provider, this tussle over the schools was evident throughout the century and in some parishes, open warfare broke out between the sides as this report from The Times of 8th April 1897 illustrates

A VILLAGE SCHOOL IN DISPUTE. - An extraordinary dispute has occurred at Sulgrave, in South Northamptonshire, where the village school, owing to the proceedings of contending parties is little more than a wreck. Two committees, differently appointed, are contending for the control of the school, and a week ago one of these bodies gave public notice that the school, which had been closed for about six months, would be reopened. The opposite committee, however, had the keys and refused to give them up. The aid of the police was sought without effect, and the place remained unopened. The next morning the iron gates were battered in, and, a window being broken, entrance was effected and the doors were opened from within. School was formally begun, a lady teacher from a church school at Northampton being installed as the mistress. During the night the opposite side fastened the doors with iron bars and screws, so that in the process of reopening in the morning the doors like the gates were seriously broken. Fresh locks were put on the door and the vicar of the parish followed up this by effecting an entrance into the school at the rear, having a hole made through the brick wall into which a wooden door was promptly fixed. One of the church wardens, as a manager of the schools, has obtained two summonses against the vicar fro damaging the building, and, in reply, a numerously signed document is going the round of the parish expressing the greatest confidence in the vicar. The dispute appears to have arisen largely from the uncertainty of the right of control of the school owing to the deed by which it was transferred by purchase to a responsible committee only ten years ago being lost. The schools were closed for nine months during a similar dispute four years ago.

Whatever the driving force to the new school, it started under William Harding, and the first entry in the school Log Book is dated September 18th 1865. The school started in the Temperance Hall which had been provided for the ‘Temperance, Intelligence and Happiness of the People’ in 1861



It is possible that the school had started earlier with other ‘Non-Certificated’ teachers but for the moment we must presume that this was the start for Ringstead School. William, the pioneer, tells us that he was ‘Certificated Teacher 4th Class 2 Div. Prov.’. Gradually, during the nineteenth century the training and accrediting of teachers was codified and improved. Often the career route was from Monitor or Monitoress to Pupil-Teacher to Certification with a mixture of experience and examination at each step. It is a system that is beginning to find some favour again.

William came from Marlborough, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, home of a famous public school. One might imagine a classically trained, middle-class young man descending on the labourers and shoeworkers ‘children of Ringstead, but one would be wrong. The new Elementary School teachers almost all came from the social classes which they taught. He was a shoemaker’s son, himself and in 1861, aged just fifteen, he was already a pupil-teacher. In fact his father did employ one man and the household had a young girl, of William’s age, living in as a general servant so he had already taken a step up the English class ladder. Was it the shoemaking connection that led William to Ringstead or did his background recommend him to the school managers?

By 1865, and not yet twenty years old, he is running the new Ringstead School, albeit in temporary premises. On the first day he records that there were thirty-five children present. Over the next few years the pages are filled with his clear, brief entries. If we select a few from that first year it gives a good flavour of what was to come.

 Oct 2nd     Four boys and three girls admitted

4th           Decided that the girls should be instructed on needlework from ½ past 2 till 4 o’clock instead of from 2 till 4

5th           Gave the first class a lesson in Geography

11th         Found the 2nd class very deficient in Notation

20th         Found a few of the first class backward in the multiplication tables.

26th         Several of the Denford children absent owing to the bad weather


The recurring themes were: the lateness or absence of children, especially those from Denford; Scripture lessons given by the Vicar or Curate; the giving of home-lessons; new work; and the general results of various tests. The shared accommodation also had its problems:

                March 19th 1867. Holiday given. Room wanted for a tea party.

For the most part it is surprising how little the outside world intrudes into the Log Books but occasionally it hints at troubles in the wider community.

                March 19th 1865 Fast day for the Cattle Plague.

All this time, and unrecorded in the Log, the school buildings were being planned, financed and built.

George Capron, who had bought up much of the land just prior to, and during, Enclosure and now lived in the comparative splendour of Southwick Hall, gave part of Pound Close, next to the church, amounting to 3 acres 1 rood 10 perch (leasehold for a term of 1000 years from the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel 1620) for the building of the school. The great and the good raised subscriptions and the Reverend Percival Sandilands of Denford Vicarage applied for a grant from the Lords of the Committee of Council on Education on their behalf.

It was, of course, in many ways a noble enterprise but the villagers of Ringstead may have had mixed feelings about the stated purposes of this new school,

…intended for the instruction of the children of the labouring poor in the united parishes of Denford and Ringstead which are three miles in length and two miles in breadth and which are chiefly employed as shoemakers and agricultural labourers.

We are told that, ‘the school is to be in connection with the Church of England’ and is to be called the Denford and Ringstead School. Perhaps more controversially, the submission alleges that:

Two thirds of the families of the labouring population within the area from which the children will daily attend the proposed school from their own homes are members of the Church of England.

The grant application form asked the applicants to state any special reasons for the grant to be given. Now, as somebody who, more recently, has had to apply for a National Lottery grant, where rural deprivation is an important criterion, I can sympathise with the need to make a compelling case. However the Reverend Sandilands might have found life a little difficult locally if two of his stated reasons for assistance in building the school had been revealed generally to the villagers.

The third special reason given is that the parishioners have spent all their money, ‘having within the last 14 months all but rebuilt their dilapidated Parish churches’. This seems reasonable enough but the other two reasons would certainly rankle with many locals. They are:

1            The extreme ignorance and low moral tone of the population, particularly of

                      the inhabitants of Ringstead.

2             The absence of any resident Gentry to exert a healthy influence on the lower orders.

This was not just said to procure the grant, however, for on December 6th 1864, Percival Sandilands wrote to the 'chief Inhabitants of Ringstead', asking them to work with the landed proprietors and himself to establish a Parish School. It is worth quoting his letter at some length for it shows some facts about the village and also the opinion of the vicar to the ordinary people.

You perhaps know, better than I do, the grievous want of education among the young of the labouring classes in this Parish; but I must say that with my varied experience in country parishes of other counties, I have never met, in the youth of both sexes, with such appalling ignorance, such defiance of parental authority, such impatience of restraint, moral and religious, as we daily witness in Ringstead. But there are other evils, touching most closely the inerests of all, which a good school, if it cannot directly cure, will gradually and indirectly assist in remedying.

The chief of these are -

1.  The high rate of mortality

2.  The excessive poor rates

      1.   According to received statistics the average annual number of deaths in a moderately healthy place is 20 in the thousand. In Ringstead it has of late been 29 in the thousand, or nearly fifty per cent in excess of the average. The local medical men I have consulted attribute this in a great degree to thriftlessness, dirt and drink. Surely a school would do something to counteract these fearful banes of human health and happiness.

     2.   Again, the Ringstead poor rates are exceedingly high compared with those in other Parishes of similar size and population. Now the causes of pauperism are very much the same as those which produce disease and death, and poor rates must be high when the lower orders have no means afforded them of rising morally, socially, or intellectually; or of bringing up their children otherwise than in ignorance and sin.

Whatever we may think of Percival Sandilands attitude, he put a great deal of energy into the project. George Capron and others received constant black bordered letters about progress. He tried to persuade him to not insist on a wall between the school and his remaining land but accept railings (which were cheaper) and was obviously exasperated at the slow progress in signing the lease for the land.

His efforts were successful and a grant of £186 5s 0d was given by the Committee towards the total cost of the building. As this was £907 15s 0d you can see one reason why the government did not want to move over to a totally state funded system. Of this sum, £543 18s 6d was raised by local voluntary contributions and £27 3s 6d by collections in the church. The school was opened on 13th November 1867 and by May 1868 there were 85 pupils. We know this because , on ‘Certificate A’, a ‘majority of the Committee appointed by the Subscribers to superintend the erection of the School house and Teacher’s House’ wrote to the Committee to say that they had carefully inspected the building and everything had been completed ‘perfectly satisfactorily’ to the specifications deposited in the Council Office. It was signed by:

                                Percival Sandilands         Trustee and Manager

                                Thomas Freeman             Trustee and Manager

                                Thomas Peach                  Trustee and Manager

                                William Briggs                   Trustee

                                Edward Kitson                   Manager

The original grant application made clear that the school was for boys and girls, including infants, that a certificated master would be appointed and that:

                Arrangements will be made for the master’s wife to teach the girls sewing and cutting out.

It must have been exciting for William and his young wife Annie to move into the well-built house and also to now have their own purpose built school to work in. I say that it must have been exciting but you will search the Log Book in vain for any sign of the move or William’s feelings about his new home and workplace.


Plans of Ringstead School 1865 (SBD61)

With the kind permission of Northampton Record Office

These delightful plans, which make even the soil pits look attractive, are stamped 'Education Approved'. In the main School Room we can see the central fireplace facing the three tiers built for pupils desks. There is a curtain shown across the room to separate the classes, while still allowing the master to see both sides. This large room is 40ft by 17ft 6inches, with a classroom off for the infants, 18ft by 15ft 6inches.The ceiling is fashionably high to allow any unhealthy miasmas to rise and it is well provided with windows which was important in those days before the electric light. The 'Girls Yard, is separate from the 'Playground, which is presumably for the boys, with an alley to their outside toilet.

The master's house has a kitchen, 12ft by 10 ft, a scullery with a sink and what looks like a cooking range with a clothes boiler, next to it in the corner. Upstairs there are three small bedrooms each with its own fire and small window. He also has a garden some fifty feet square.

The front of the school faces the church rather than the road and its main window mirrors its gothic east window.

In November 2010 I met a lady in Denford Church (and whose name I am sorry to say I have forgotten) who told me that her great grandfather had helped move the furniture from the Temperance Hall to the new school. It would have been a busy time and certainly Annie would have had little time for the sewing and cutting out. Fitzherbert Colin Harding was baptised on December 25th 1865, Emmeline on May 26th 1867, Amy Helena on October 25th 1868, Agnes Ann on November 14th 1869 (who sadly died on February 24th of the following year), Hugh Llewellyn on January 1st 1871 and Leopold Geoffrey on June 11th 1872.

All this passes by without an entry in the Log to indicate this great change in the life of the village. We do hear that on February 14th 1868 Charles Leveratt, the son of the Station master, and a future station master himself, began compound division.; or that the first class, which means confusingly, the top class, wrote dictation on paper. The slate remained the cheapest form of writing and expensive paper was not used most of the time. It may be also that the youngest children used  sand trays in which to form their early letters

It seems that William was a thorough if unimaginative schoolmaster but he had given a solid start to the new school. The Inspector’s Report for 1873 which put in the Log in his successor’s time states:

The Reading of the Upper Standards is very mechanical and devoid of intelligence. Spelling is rather weak, arithmetic is good in the First and Second Standards but defective in the Higher ones. The Discipline is good.

We must remember that school attendance was very much a hit-or-miss affair, often dependent on the needs of the parents, and also their means, because there was still a small charge of a penny or tuppence a week for each child and some families could not afford the loss of a child’s income or the payment.

William leaves as clearly and briefly as ever. On January 29th 1874 he writes:

                Resigned the charge of the school after eight years and four months duty.

It was not the end of William’s school teaching career but just the beginning. Later censuses find him and his family on the south coast at Portsea where he is still pursuing his profession. The new ‘certificated’ teachers were part of the movement of people into villages following their jobs or professions around the country.

Immediately under William’s last entry is one by John Bannister on February 2nd 1874 which simply states:

                I commenced my duties as master of this school.

John had been born at Oakworth, near Keighley in Yorkshire. He was a ‘Certificated Teacher of the second class’. Perhaps he had seen the earlier entry by William. He was not married, so had no wife to do the sewing classes. He brought with him, instead, his older sister, Martha Bannister who had been a worsted weaver in 1871. Just a day after he first signs himself in, he reports

                The girls were instructed in needlework by M.A. Bannister for the first time.

Besides the two Bannisters there were also two pupil-teachers, Martha Cave, a pupil-teacher of the 4th Year and Beatrice Morris, pupil teacher of the 1st year. It is the former woman who appears most significantly in the Log Book. We have the usual entries:

May 4th 1874      A small attendance in consequence of the Club Feast. Holiday given in the afternoon

May 5th                 Thrapston Fair  Holiday in the afternoon

May 25th              A small attendance on account of the festivities in the village. Gave a holiday

At this time there was not really compulsory attendance as there were so many loopholes, especially for the older children during harvest times, that one must surmise it was thought better to keep discipline by awarding holidays than have a nearly empty school.

In 1874 also, the school was extended to cope with the increasing numbers. The only reference is that on June 30th a holiday was given, ‘on account of workmen being in school’. One cannot be certain but judging by his inspections and other documents on record Mr. W.E. Curry, one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors, seems a rather sour character. In September 19th 1872 he wrote making a case for there being no need to extend the school. He also states that ‘there is a school kept by Mrs. Abbott in the Temperance Hall which may be improved if required and would accommodate 40 or 50 children’. He concludes

                I consider that there is no deficiency in the District

This does beg the question, what was the school being run by Mrs Abbott? She does not appear in the School Log so it may be that it was an alternative school. Was it being run on behalf of the Nonconformists? An Infants School had been opened at Denford in 1872, probably to solve the problem of the Denford children’s poor attendance, especially in bad weather. By August 1873 it accommodated 74 children. Despite Mr Curry the Rev Sandilands wrote on 23rd September 1873 to say that the Managers are prepared to provide for thirty-two more children but

…they do not propose building until the Harvest Holidays of 1874 on account of the interruption and disorganisation of the School which alterations at any other time would occasion.

To return to Martha Cave, the pupil teacher on October 2nd 1874, following the giving of a ‘Holiday all week on account of the Ringstead Feast’ on September 18t,h, John Bannister notes

                M Cave not at school this week. Taking charge of Denford Infants School.

On October 30th we have a more puzzling entry:

Martha Cave was removed from her office of pupil Teacher by Stephen Cave her father who paid the penalty of £6

This, unusually, was written and signed in the Log Book by Edward Sandford. On November 6th ‘Miss M.A. Bannister [John’s sister] left off teaching Needlework.’ On November 9th and 10th there was a ‘Holiday on these two days’, and on November 12th Mrs Bannister began duties as ‘Sewing Mistress’.

Was this the reason for Martha Cave’s removal? Her parents Stephen and Sarah Ann had moved from Lincolnshire to Denford at some time between 1861 and 1871 and the latter Census finds them in a farm house there with Martha, aged just 14 a Scholar and pupil-teacher. It looks as if she was working with William Harding although he does not mention other teachers in the School Log. John Bannister and Martha Cave married during that two-day school holiday. He was still only some twenty years old and Martha only seventeen, or perhaps, just eighteen. Perhaps her father had heard rumours of an attachment and considered her too young and had removed her. 1881 finds Stephen a Farm Bailiff back in Lincolnshire and it may be that he moved up there in 1874 and just wanted his only daughter to go there with him.

Did she go home and the distance convinced the young couple that they could not bear to be parted? If so the whole process was very rapid. The young couple were married  and their first child, Maud Emily, was baptised on 26th September 1875. Cyril John follows on the 19th january 1879 and Ella Margaret on 10th Septemebr 1882. Was there any local disquiet about this marriage? The vicar and his family, the Sandfords, did visit the school very regularly in the period following the marriage. For example, in November 1874 members of the family visited and sometimes tested children on the 10th, 12th, 16th and 18th. Edward Sandford had only taken over the incumbency in 1874 so it may be that this was just the enthusiasm and support of someone new in post. (Confusingly his son, also Edward, took over from him, in 1880, for a further five years).

It must have been a great help to John, to have Martha as a support both at home and in the school. If the pupil-teachers were absent she would sometimes miss out her teaching of the sewing class and take over the absentees’ class. Of course there were also the problems of having a young family (Ella followed in 1883). There were also the annual epidemics of diseases, which today we have largely conquered, both for the pupils but also for the staff and the staff’s children and at times this dominates the entries in the Log:

                January 8th          Beatrice Morris absent all day of account of sickness.

                March 5th             A great many children away on account of the whooping cough.

April 16th              Several children away on account of measles (pupil teacher S, Griffin got measles)

There were other reasons for absence, however, some more allowable than others:

April 30th 1875    Only a few children at school this morning because a menagerie was coming through both villages. No school was kept.

May 21st               The week being very wild and wet many children stayed at home – also on account of Whitsuntide many were absent all the week. Average low.

We must not underestimate the problems of weather because many roads were badly surfaced and lacked proper drainage. It did not always deter, perhaps less welcome, visitors:

July 21st 1875      Very wet about the time for closing school in the afternoon and the streets were much flooded. Most of the younger children were carried away [not by the water one hopes]. All the children did not get away until a few minutes after five o’clock.

July 22nd               W.E. Currey Esq, H.M. Inspector came to school this afternoon at ten minutes to four o’clock. Prevented by floods from coming sooner. He examined the Pupil Teachers in Reading, teaching and needlework. Heard one give a lesson on the snail. Only about seventy children present owing to the heavy rains and continued floods.

In general we find that the school broke up in the second week in August and returned about the third week in September for the ‘Harvest Holidays’. In fact the various harvests were obviously very dependent on the weather and many older boys would be away before school broke up for the barley and grain harvests and at the start of the new term for the potato harvest. The girls too could often be away, one suspects to help their mothers. On November 22nd 1875 John notes wearily

Re-admitted Annie Saddington, Ellen Ball. Both children come for a few weeks and then stop at home for a few weeks.

Among all the illness and absence, admissions and re-admissions, there are notes on the work done

January 19th 1876             First class did their composition well especially fourth and fifth standards. Subject ‘Dignity and Impudence’ – a tale.

April 4th                                 Many children in the Second Standard spell very badly – not able to spell correctly words of one syllable

April 7th                                 Home lessons were very well done by the 1st class.

June 13th                              Three boys and one girl began to learn vulgar fractions

Sept 26th                               Taught Domestic economy to the 1st and 2nd class girls

The grant the school received was dependent on a number of factors including the number attending and the Inspector’s  Inspection. Initially this was based almost entirely on the ‘Three Rs’, although Religious Instruction and Needlework (for the girls0, were also compulsory. At the time that the school was built specific grants were also offered for English Grammar, Geography and History. From 1875 it was the performance of the whole class, rather than individual tests, which were judged. On 22nd July 1876 the school received the unwelcome news that

                The grant is reduced by one tenth for the defective instruction of the Infants

Is it just coincidence that the Inspector’s Reports improve when another Inspector takes over from W.E. Currey? Some Inspectors were known to be autocratic bullies but we may be doing him an injustice and the teaching was rather mechanical and dull. Pamela Horn has recorded that in 1875 Curry wrote of the schools in Northamptonshire:

Geography and history are generally got up in the “cram” system… The revision of papers in history is about the most monotonous that an inspector has to do…

Perhaps the Inspector was championing more relevant, stimulating teaching and his criticisms were fair and valid.

The years roll by with little mention of the outside world. On 3oth January 1877 the Log records

                A very stormy morning in consequence of which numbers were low.

There is no mention of the death of the three boys in the barn that day, and the large public funeral, or of its effect on the children. In 1878 there seems a subtle change in the Log with much more emphasis on lateness and also of cleanliness, or lack of it, among the boys and of the punishments for these misdemeanours. Attendance was increasing with on May 20th an attendance of 144 in the afternoon. And on June 18th 1880 an average attendance for the week of 157.4. John’s brother, Smith Bannister, had joined the school as a pupil-teacher and progressed well. We also have much more reporting of “Object lessons’ given by one of the teachers and drawing becomes an important part of the curriculum, especially for the boys.

On September 22nd 1882 John writes:

Gave notice that the school would commence in the Afternoon at 1.30 pm instead of 2pm during the winter months.

The school was carried on during the week by the Pupil-teachers – the Vicar calling several times and taking occasional lessons –owing to the illness of the master.

On September 25th he reports

         I resumed my duties after a week’s illness.

These brief, stoical, statements cover a personal tragedy for John which was to affect the rest of his life but was never mentioned in the Log Book either at the time or later.

It is when we look at the local newspapers that we find out what happened to John that caused his ‘illness’. In 1882, Ringstead Cricket Club was formed and had played its first season. The last quarter of the nineteenth century was when many of our national sports became codified and, in some cases, professionalised. Many or the major football clubs were formed and working people, for the first time had the time and the money to play and watch sport on a regular basis.

John Bannister was playing for the Ringstead team in a game late in the season ,on 13th September 1882. During the century underarm bowling had gradually given way first to round arm (at shoulder height). Finally, in 1864, after a planned walkout by the professionals playing in the All-England team at The Oval after an over of overarm bowling had been no-balled, overarm bowling as we know it today was finally accepted. The earlier forms of bowling persisted, however,  especially at local level. My father told me that his Uncle Harry, who lived locally, was one of the last of the underarm bowlers. Nevertheless, by 1882, overarm bowling was likely to have been the norm, especially among the younger players. For John, just at the start of the academic year, the result was a personal tragedy. The Wellingborough News for the 23rd September 1882 tells the story:

CASUALTIES AT CRICKET – The ‘National Game’ yearly claims its list of victims, due possibly in some measure to the terrific style of modern bowling. We regret that during Feast Week the master of the National Schools, Mr Bannister, was hit on one eye by a cricket ball, and after suffering severe pain for some days travelled up to London to consult an eminent oculist. The latter found the eye irretrievably destroyed and advised its removal in order to prevent the other one becoming affected. We understand that the operation has been effected and that the sufferer is doing as well as might be expected. It is stated that the accident resulted from a medium pace ball. We regret also to report that, one of the Grafton team was badly injured whilst playing with Ringstead, a ball striking him in the lower abdomen when batting. We are, however, pleased to be able to report that the injury is not so serious as had been anticipated.

A month later, at the Cricket Club Annual Supper, after various toasts, the Chairman presented John with a purse containing £8 3s 6d:

as a small token of their esteem, and as an expression of their sympathy with him in the serious loss he had sustained.

Mr Knight also spoke of the presentation and stated that:

…it had been his lot to take part in several public subscriptions but he had never known one that had been so heartily and cheerfully responded to.

John thanked him for his sympathy and also for the gift, as ‘his loss had been attended by great expense’.

We can see that the Bannisters had become part of the community. John’s younger brother, Smith was treasurer of the club and John and Martha, as well as Smith, took part in singing at various village events. On Thursday December 28th in the same year as his accident, among the other party pieces at the Church Tea and Entertainment were:

Mr J Bannister song, “Who’s that tapping at the garden gate” (encored), Mrs J Bannister; song “The Midshipmite”…duet (encored) Mr and Mrs Bannister, song, [The list is a little confusing so I may have matched the Bannisters to the wrong songs]

Similarly, at a concert given at the Temperance Hall, ‘for the purpose of supplementing a subscription to pay for the expenses of lighting the village with oil lamps during the winter’ the young couple sang an encored duet, “Money Matters”, and they and Smith also sang solos. Singing was obviously an important part of their life and for most of his time at the school he reports on the songs that he is teaching to various classes.

His brother, Smith left on December 20th 1883 but it seems that John just got on with his work again. Each year we have the list of Recitations for the examinations. In 1891 these were:

                Standards l & ll                  The Beggar Man

                Standard lll                          The Wreck of the Hesperus

                Standard lV – Vll               Richard l Shakespeare


Object lessons for the year included:

                Animals                               Vegetables                         Miscellaneous

                Camel                                   Flax                                        Candle

                Ostrich                                  Mustard                              Looking-glass

                Cuckoo                                 Rice                                        Sponge

Whale                                   Wheat                                  Honey

Hive-Bees                            Barley                                   Chalk

Owl                                       Cocoa                                   Coal

Lessons on form and colour

 He also records on September 21 1891

 School fees not taken. The first school meeting since the free Education Act came into force.

The usual business of the school continues with notes on lessons, attendance and the Attendance Officer’s visits, examinations, his own and outside ones. On October 13th 1891 he opened a Night School at which, perhaps among other things unrecorded, he taught Reading, Arithmetic and Shorthand. Martha now seems more often away through unspecified illness, neuralgia and an injured right knee but John seems to have settled into his post and the Inspector’s Reports are generally very good.

We do get a few more examples of boys being rude or stubborn and being caned for it, On November 29th 1887 he reports that

                Gave a short lecture to all the school in the morning on “Good Manners”.

This was done because several boys have lately showed a sad deficiency in this part of the education.

It may be that although in 1891 it became ‘free schooling’ it was also becoming ‘compulsory schooling’ over this period and tensions were beginning to build. Incidents include:

July 3rd 1888        Permission to leave school at 10.45 refused to Flossy Childs for the purpose of attending Raunds feast. She was afterwards taken away without my leave. Warned the parents that such a thing must not occur again. 

July 30th 1889      For a very bad case of insubordination after many others not quite so bad a character William Bates dismissed from school

On a happier note On July 7th 1890 the Log tells us that

 Holiday given on account of most of the children being away at the seaside (Lowestoft) [Presumably on a train excursion]

On August 10th 1892 we have a minor incident when:

Several girls in the first class seem very anxious to evade the rule of making curtseys when marching out of the room at the end of the school day. When questioned about this they answered “father told me not to”.

When we search other sources we find, as often the case, there is a great deal going on which goes unrecorded and this refusal to curtsey is part of a much bigger problem which was debated in the House of Commons. On 30th May 1892 Mr Channing the MP for Northampton East asked Sir W. Hart Dyke, the Vice-President of the Committee of Council on Education:

… whether he has received a Memorial from certain parents of children attending the National School at Ringstead, Northampton, stating that they have withdrawn their children from the religious instruction at the school under the Conscience Clause, and that their children have been in consequence treated as absentees and placed at the bottom of the class; and asking redress of their grievance; whether this putting down of children to the bottom of their class is a violation of the 7th clause of The Education Act 1870, providing that children may be withdrawn from the religious instruction without forfeiting any other benefits of the school; and whether he will have directions sent to the school managers to discontinue the practice of imposing this penalty on the children of Nonconformists?

Not satisfied with the answer that he received, he raised the issue again in the House of Commons Questions on 10th June of the same year. The Vice-President of the Council tried to answer the question by alleging that it was those who had wanted no religious education who had been so punished and that they should be provided with alternative secular education, and the school had been so informed.

An important side issue of this dispute was that the marking of children as absent, (as latecomers were), could have consequences as to when the child was allowed to leave school. From September 4th 1892, no child between the ages of 13 and 14 was allowed to work unless he or she had reached the exemption Standard (usually IV or V) or held the, nicknamed, ‘Dunces Certificate’ which, Pamela Horne tells us, allowed a child to leave at the age of thirteen if they had made 250 attendances a year for the five years prior to reaching that age.

Sir W. Hart Dyke did, finally, admit that the rules had been broken at Ringstead and that a ‘condemnation of the practice had gone forth. Later, in 1899 when a dispute arose at Northampton about the wearing of Nonconformist ‘medals’, the Ringstead judgement was cited in support of their case. Of course, much more recently, the wearing of clothes and badges connected with a pupil’s religion has been a matter of great controversy.

Looking at John Bannister’s time at the school he seems a competent teacher and disciplinarian who attempted to introduce his charges to the wider world. He also started evening classes to help those who needed to make up for their failings at school or who wanted to learn shorthand and gain one of the increasing number of office jobs. He seems a well-respected member of the community who helped raise funds and who put on school entertainments to benefit pupils and the village. He also was a sportsman and had born his accident with stoicism and did not allow it to interfere with his calling.

When the Bannisters finished on December 31st 1892 they had been at the school for some eighteen years. As we have seen, John’s entries were brief and did not always tell us all that was happening but we do see from all the evidence, that he was increasingly having to hold the lid down on pupil and parent reluctance to observe the old deference to the accepted hierarchy. Trade unions in the Boot and Shoe and Agricultural industries were growing in power and the shoemakers were known to radicalise any community that they lived in. The Bannisters followed the Hardings to the softer climes of the south coast, this time to pretty village of Waldron in East Sussex where, in 1901 and 1911, John and Martha are still schoolteachers and Emily, their daughter is a pupil-teacher. One can imagine that many children and parents were sad to see the, still-young, couple leave but it was clear that for anyone taking over that it was going to be a difficult time.

Two days after John Bannister signed off, on January 2nd 1893, the Log records in a new hand:

I - Albert Crew – commenced duties as the Headmaster of this school today. Miss Emily Crew (Art 50) commenced duties as 1st Assistant Mistress.

Albert and his sister Emily were, once again, the children of a bootmaker. They were born near Bath and the 1891 Census has their father, Edward, now the ‘Manager of a Boot Warehouse’. At the time Albert is 19 and a student in a training college and Emily at 17 years old, is a pupil-teacher. Less than two years later they have the responsibility for a village school. One can imagine the excitement when they were given the positions and the pride of their parents. One can only surmise that they came by rail and they and their baggage were brought by cart up the straight road to the schoolhouse. They had little time to settle in and Albert obviously wanted to put into practice the training that he had so recently finished,

The attendance was ‘very meagre’ on the 2nd January when Albert, Emily and Miss Dickenson, the ‘2nd Assistant Mistress (Article 68), with two young girls as monitoresses re-opened the school. On the 5th the Managers granted a day-and-a-half holiday to enable the Headteacher and the Assistant Mistresses to ‘review the books, apparatus etc for the work of the coming year’.

The 5th must have been a Thursday for it was not until the 9th January that the school again re-opened and the Headmaster decided not to follow the normal timetable but to:

                … organize and classify children and make arrangements for drawing up a new timetable

Some 80 children were absent and notes were sent home to parents,’enquiring the reasons for their children’s absence.’ Children, used to the familiarity of repetition and routine, had had it disrupted by this new young schoolmaster and before his arrival, as we have seen, tensions between some parents and the school had already worsened.

The die had been cast and Albert was on a collision course with part of his community. He tries over the next few months to write in the Log about his proposed school museum which was to include:

… specimens showing the process of the manufacture of different article and other objects of interest. The headmaster had decided to lend weekly a few curios from his own private collection.

But it is the serious conflicts with children and parents that now take over the Log Book. To make matters worse heavy snow had fallen. Just one week after Albert had declared his presence in the Log, the first battle broke out:

During the dinner hour about 1.15 the school children were snowballed by a party of youths from the village. When the Headmaster entered the school at 1.20 to commence afternoon school he found the school floor near the entrance hall exceedingly wet and quite unfit for any children to stand upon. It appears that when they were attacked they sought refuge in the school room and were followed there by these youths. A quantity of snow was found against the south wall and one of the maps was damaged and discoloured by the snow which had been thrown in. When the school-door was opened to admit the children they were found huddled together and frightened at the ruffianly conduct of these youths.

As a result of all this the Managers and the Vicar were called and the police summoned. He writes after this entry

                Pupil –Teacher lessons will be held every morning from 7.30 – 8.30.

It is clear that is not through any lack of effort or enthusiasm of Albert’s part that the problems came, but they did come with a sad regularity. On January 13th he writes:

The Headmaster has found that the manners of the children generally are exceedingly lacking in respect – they often omit the usual forms of politeness and courtesy as ‘sir’ etc. The children are exceedingly restless, talkative and much concerned about other children’s work.

The scene was set and it was only going to take small incidents to bring Albert’s hopes and dreams come tumbling down. The older boys were expected to salute the master as they left school. As we have seen John Bannister who had set this rule had already had trouble with the girls. George Archer, one of the older boys, did not salute and laughed as he left, knowing what he had done. Albert called him back but George tried to run away. Now the Log Book explodes into long essays charting increasing mayhem.

                He was brought back to the classroom, took the cane and broke it up.

Archer refused to receive any punishment and the master was compelled to resort to force. Archer lay on the ground and refused to get up. He was punished with a small cane, which was split halfway, as left by the late Headmaster. This cane has not and will not be used until after the 24th Inst.

The master had to use forcible means for administering punishment as the boys was extremely violent. After he was punished he (Archer) stood and returned the usual master salutation – with a salute of “Good morning, Sir”.

Once again one of the Managers was sent for. George’s mother then came into the school and demanded her child. Her talk was also, ‘very violent’ so she was ordered off the premises. She went, but only to summon reinforcements, for George’s father and elder brother then appeared and the brother became, ‘extremely violent’ and:

… threatened the Master with assault and endeavoured to take from the Master’s person a key – the property of the school. He thereupon seized the Master and violently forced him (backwards) from the master’s door (school playground side) to the school itself, a distance of about 20 yards. Miss Emily Crew being witness to the assault. No doubt other violent means would have been adopted, had not by this time (Mr Wyman) a manager arrived.

George Archer was expelled and perhaps it was hoped that life would begin to return to normal but on January 17th another minor incident escalated into crisis.

Percy Horace Roberts was the illegitimate son of(??check Register or Birth Cert.) who was brought up by his grandparents, William and Fanny Roberts. William was a coal merchant and shoe agent living in Shop Street. The School Log tells us that Percy had been repeatedly warned for ‘talking in school and was placed in a classroom so as not disturb the work of the school.’ Albert emphasises that, ‘no corporal punishment was administered to him in any way.’

It appears that he went home after school and told his story for, soon after, a ‘relation, probably his grandmother, Fanny Roberts, came to the school house and, ‘abused the Master and the Managers’. He writes in the Log that she said that:

                … she would not allow her child

                l               To be caned (She dared the Master to do this).

                ll              To do any Musical Drill (which is very popular amongst the boys and girls)

lll             To say “Sir” to anyone in school or to perform the usual forms of politeness to anyone who entered the school

lV            To obey any rules of the school which she did not deem fitting.

She also said that if he was expelled she would send him to this school.

The next day Percy came to school and promised the Chairman and Managers to obey the rules of the school.

On January 24th the three lads who had snowballed the children were fined three shillings each. George Archer’s brother, William, withdrew his charges against Albert Crew who in turn withdrew his charges against William. The case was on the 24th and we now understand the reason why Albert had earlier pledged not to use the cane before this date. We can imagine that some in the village would have thought that this should never have come to court for ‘a bit of snowballing fun’. It would not have endeared Albert to some of the parents.

He then received a police summons to appear before the Bench on a charge of unlawfully assaulting and beating George Archer. All the time, his tormentor, George Archer keeps appearing at school and is sent home again with a note until finally he signs a statement.

Geo Horace Archer promises to obey all the rules of the school and if he at any time disobeys them the Headmaster will punish him as he thinks fit (cane or otherwise).

On February 24th Horace [George] Archer refuses to receive punishment and is sent home.

The Log Book deals at length with the case of George Archer but rather skates over the problems with Percy Roberts but it was this case which reached Government level and is now housed in the National Archives at Kew. Albert Crew had written a letter to the Reverend Leadbitter (now Vicar of Denford and Ringstead) which details much of what he had written in the Log Book about Fanny Roberts’s diatribe. He tries to draw in the Managers by stating:

I told her that I would inform the managers which remark she sneered at, calling them anything but complimentary names.

As a result of this, on January 18th 1893 the Reverend Leadbitter wrote to the Secretary of the Education Committee enclosing Albert’s letter, about Percy Roberts, aged 12 Standard V telling him of the expulsion. In his letter it is the grandfather William who roundly abused the Managers and the Master. It is perhaps worth remembering that William’s mother was Alice Roberts who in 1851 is listed as a Church Sunday School mistress. He may have heard her views on teaching children.

We do not hear what happened when Albert came up before the Bench, and he continues teaching, but it is obvious that his position is irretrievable. On May 27th 1873, less than five months after he has arrived he writes, briefly for once:

                A and E Crew terminated their engagement as Master and Mistress respectively.

How did he fare after all this turmoil? 1901 finds Albert with his wife, Nellie Queenie, still a ‘Certified master’ living in Huish Episcopi in Somerset. It seems that he has made a new start in his career. Percy Roberts had little chance to make use of any learning that he had gained for on 16th February 1899, aged just 18, he was buried in Ringstead Cemetery.


Grave of Percy Roberts in Ringstead Cemetery.

It was obviously a great loss to his family and there is something almost defiant in the inscription:  


Flora Thompson writing of about this time on the Northamptonshire-Oxfordshire border tells of boys such as Percy and Horace George Archer. With a little updating it is a truth that many teachers and parents would recognize:

Boys who have been morose or rebellious during their later schooldays were often transformed when they got upon a horse's back or were promoted to driving a dung cart afield. For the first time in their lives, they felt themselves persons of importance. They bandied lively words with the men and gave themselves manly airs at home with their younger brothers and sisters.

Some three weeks after the hasty departure of the Crews, on June 19th 1893 Horace William Johnson and his wife Frances came to the schoolhouse. After the turmoil of the last five months life in the school began to settle back into normality as they re-established order and routine.

One of his first acts was to re-admit George Horace Archer. George, unlike his alleged partner-in-crime, Percy Roberts, was to lead a full life, serving in the 498th Siege battery Division of the Royal Garrison in France and Germany. He survived the Great War and died in 1962 at the good old age of eighty years. I wonder if he ever told of his school days and Albert Crew.

Thomas William Johnson was, comparatively, a local boy, He was born a few stops up the line in Peterborough in 1867. His father, George, worked on the railways, first as an engine fitter and then as a foreman for the Great Northern Region. Thomas was the third oldest of the family of eleven children of George and his wife Priscilla. By 1891 he had moved to Seaton, near Uppingham, in Rutland, He is twenty-three years old and a ‘Certified Schoolmaster’. Living with him is his sister Agnes, at 21 an Assistant Teacher, and his younger brother Arthur, still a scholar.

Somehow, during this period he met Frances Charlotte Beardmore who was the daughter of a Staffordshire farmer, overseer and Registrar. George Beardmore was a widower in the 1881 Census and soon after he too died. I have not yet managed to find her in the 1891 Census but, in the Uppingham area, in the summer of 1892, she married Thomas Johnson who, a year later, announces himself in the Ringstead School Log.

Thomas’s introduction of himself is a much more informative than those of the previous schoolmasters:

June 1st 1893       I, Thomas William Johnson take charge of this school. Pupil Teacher great Northern Railway School, New England, Peterborough. Trained Carmarthen 1887-8. Last school Seaton National, Rutland.

Thomas has had the advantage over his predecessors of having held a similar position in a village school so he has had a chance to make his mistakes and to be not too naive about the problems and dangers of being a head teacher. At first we may worry that he is going to be engulfed by the problems of the past few years. On June 23rd he reports:

The time table has not been kept during the past week, the Master spending much time teaching the children orderly habits. He has also cautioned the children about climbing about the school premises as they have already made sad work with the school buildings. The whole of the work in the school is very backward.

The residual problems of the ‘Conscience Clause’ dispute also rear their heads for just five days later he writes:

Five parents came to school this morning to ask permission for their children to leave school at 11.25 viz when the Instruction in religious Subjects commenced. The Master told them that we could not grant their request as the Bye-laws stated the children must attend school the whole time the school is open but that their children would take secular work as Time-Table.

One imagines that the Vicar had briefed him as to the possible problems and he had prepared his response carefully. On August 1st Frances, his wife, starts her teaching duties as an Article 68 mistress.

We hear very little more of either ill discipline or the Conscience clause so it seems that Thomas manages to settle the pupils and their parents to the normal routine of the school On 1st June 1894 the Infants moved into their new room as the school was being once more enlarged.

Roy Dickens dug up, in his garden in Ringstead, a School Attendance Token, which may date back to the nineteenth century. Sometimes these tokens, elsewhere, had a penny value on them so perhaps they could be redeemed for money, or for the school charge before it was made a 'free' education system in 1891.  In this case it was issued every week rather than being, the more usual, attendance medal for a term or year.


By kind permission of Roy and Sheila Dickens

Photograph by Janice Morris

We do notice during this period the epidemics that pass through the school and community. These include Scarlet Fever, Whooping Cough and Measles. These may not be very different to those that had already been noted earlier but, possibly, the increased mobility of the population made their spread more rapid. Certainly the way of dealing with them became more drastic, perhaps because the Medical Officer of Health now has an important role. On February 8th 1897 Thomas received:

… notice from Dr Elliott that he had advised the Thrapston Rural District Council to close schools until March 1st owing to epidemic of Measles. School accordingly closed.

Returning to 1895, on 15th March the annual summary of the Inspector’s Report is written into the Log book and the first few sentences tell us that Thomas and his wife have quickly brought order and good learning to the school:

The promise of improvement made by the School last year has been amply fulfilled and the children have now passed a very good examination. Reading is becoming more intelligent, writing is good. Arithmetic deserves high praise.

Very little fault is found is found although it is noted that:

                Needlework is well taught but buttons should not be sewn so near the rim

The male Inspectors notoriously found it difficult to judge the standard of the sewing and perhaps this is one trying to show his mettle. The Infants class of Miss Belton is also praised, the children being ‘intelligently taught’ and are,’ attentive and well behaved and take interest in all their work’.

The whole staff seems to have quickly pulled the school back from the brink. There are still the interruptions of the feasts (including now the Baptist and Wesleyan School treats) as well the harvest time falls in attendance. On 11th August 1896, for example, Thomas writes, rather wearily:

More children away owing through illness and as only my children are present school closed for the usual harvest holiday

I think 'my children' must refer to the children in his class as I can only find one child for Thomas and Charlotte. Their son, George William Beardmore Johnson, was baptised on 1st May 1899. 

A more surprising reason for low attendance is given on October 1st 1896 when there is an, ‘Ambulance Demonstration in the village’.

It may be, now that he had found his feet, rather than needing the support of the vicar, Thomas sometimes found his visits not always helpful. Are the two entries below to be read together?

July 23rd 1897      The Vicar was present from about 2 o’clock until 3.30 pm on Wednesday. Before leaving he made a few remarks about Miss Standen’s and Miss March’s work

                July 30th                Miss March terminated her engagement today.

In fact, a number of the young assistants come and go very rapidly, some only lasting a matter of weeks. We also note that Miss Belton, the Infants Mistress is travelling each day from Northampton for she keeps arriving late, having missed her train. Apart from these staffing problems the Log is mainly about the small everyday matters of school life, of examinations and Inspections, of the regular outbreaks of diseases and summer feasts. The Nineteenth Century and the Victorian Age were drawing to a close. In the week of May 25th 1899 there was a half-day holiday for the Relief of Mafeking and three days later for the Queen’s birthday. It was to be her last.

The end of the century was in the Christmas holidays and goes unrecorded. We too must leave Ringstead School in the capable hands of Thomas William Johnson. Ahead lay the First World War the coming of the age of the car, the aeroplane and the wireless.  Little of this will be reflected in the School Log Book. We do know that he was a strict disciplinarian, as was expected at the time. An anonomous poet writing years later told of Thomas Johnson's teaching style, in the years after the First World War

The school where I once learned to read

I stood outside awhile

And thought of Daddy Johnson

Who seldom wore a smile


His cane was always near at hand

And often it would fly

If arms unfolded did become

Or one but blinked an eye. 

(My thanks to Roy Dickens for this: Does anyone know who the poet was?)

Thomas’s last entry is as clear and brief as most of his others.

30th September 1927       I, Thomas William Johnson cease duties today as Head Teacher after having held this office for 34 years 4 months.


Ringstead School.  (Does anyone know anything about this photograph?)

With the kind permission of Ringstead School



My grateful thanks must go to the Head teacher and staff of Ringstead C. of E. School for allowing me to view the School Log Books and for their hospitality

Ringstead School Log Books 1865 – 1924

Censuses  1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901

Ringstead Parish Registers

Ringstead Roll of Honour ( )

Post Office Directory of Northants, Hunts & Beds 1869 & 1877 (Peterborough Library)

Whellans Directory 1874 (Northampton Record Office)

Kelly’s Directory of Beds, Hunts & Northants 1894 (Peterborough Library)

Ringstead – Education (

School Building Application for Denford Church of England School, Northamptonshire. School Number   5857 (The National Archives ED103/105)

Letter to Parishioners by Percival Sandilands 1864 (Southwick Hall archives)

Plans of Ringstead School 1865 (Northampton Record Office SBD 61)

Ringstead Church of England School  (National Archives Ed 21/13414 School Number 185)

Wellingborough News 23rd Sept, 25th & Nov.1882  [Cricket] transcribed by Kay Collins (

A Village School in Dispute, Times April 08 1897 [On Sulgrave School] (Times Archive via Cambridgeshire Libraries online)

The Conscience Clause in National Schools (30th May 1892) ( )

The Conscience Clause and Ringstead School 10th June 1892 ( )

Motion for adjournment of House 27 Feb 1899 [On dispute in Northampton] ( )

The Victorian Country Child. Pamela Horn (Alan Sutton Publishing 1985)

The Victorian and Edwardian Schoolchild. Pamela Horn (Amberley 2010 Ist 1989)

Lark Rise. Flora Thompson (Oxord University Press 1941)

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