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A Brief History of the School 1860 - 1880


Jubilee of 1861

Taken from the school's 1977 Jubilee booklet.

The village's great day in history came on 11th July 1861 when the Eastling Friendly Society celebrated its own Jubilee. It was an event, recorded in the newspaper of the day, "which for years will furnish pleasing reminiscences to the inhabitants of the retired and peaceful village of Eastling".

It is hard to imagine that our "retired and peaceful village" was once the instigator of a movement that was to spread throughout the county, but such was the success of the Eastling Friendly Society.
It was founded in 1812 and organised for the mutual benefit of the working men of the village. The concept grew to other villages and within 24 years the Society had become the "United Men of Kent Friendly Society". Under its Secretary, James Drewry, the Society decided to celebrate its Jubilee in the village of its founding.

The entire village took part and representatives attended from all over the county. Banners were stretched across the street, with jollifications and events taking place in the meadow provided for the occasion by Mr Leese. As with 1977 there was a church service at St Mary, but on that occasion the procession to the church was led by Holland's band, where the service was preached by the Rector, the Revd. G. B. Reynardson.
After the service members and their friends repaired to a spacious booth provided by Mr Shilling of the Carpenter's Arms.

One would like to believe the "retired and peaceful" bit - but alas history records otherwise.
Celebrations for the Jubilee which were well in hand by the March of 1861, were suddenly forgotten by the gruesome proclamation "Read All About It. Murder in Eastling".
It was a tragic case. An infant was found to have been murdered by her mother, who herself died from natural causes a short while later.
For all the Friendly Society's ideals about mutual benefit of the working man, the working man of this and other villages led a harsh existence. He was bound to his employer, tied to his service and forced to obey his commands. Breach of service carried severe penalties.
It was George Gillham who was a servant in husbandry to the same Benjamin Leese who provided the meadow for the Jubilee, and he was charged before the Magistrates of misconduct in his master's service. He had, it transpired, refused to obey his master's orders. For this he was sentenced to 14 days hard labour at St Augustine's and to the loss of his wages.

Gillham's punishment was slight in comparison with another who dared to abscond from his master's service. He was caught, of course, and for him the Jubilee day was spent engaged in the middle of a two months sentence with hard labour.
William Hills, an Eastling grocer, didn't much enjoy Jubilee year either. He was prosecuted for having a set of scales which weighed 6 drams against the purchaser; for having an unstamped half gallon measure and for further scales which were not in order. But he was in good company, for there were around 60 similar prosecutions in the Faversham and Sittingbourne area, many involving prominent traders.

Building the school

"Eastling, a hamlet of delight in the high country of the North Downs, every year at the beginning of May the shingled spire of the church stands like a ship's mast, rising from a sea of foam. All around are cherry trees".

That's how Arthur Mee saw Eastling in 1936, and old pupils of Eastling School remember it thus, even further back into the 1890's.
Alas, the cherry trees are gone, and hedgerow have been uprooted to give more acreage for potatoes and cabbage. But for all that, Eastling is still a hamlet of delight and the church and the school still proudly stand as a reminder of the past, while being very much a vital force in the present life of the village.

The church started its life over a thousand year ago, and the school, by that standard, is a comparative newcomer.
In 1981, it celebrated a hundred years of education in Eastling, and many hundreds of children have passed through it, and from the scores of accounts I have received, either by letter or word of mouth from ex-pupils, schooldays at Eastling were the happiest days of their lives.

Way back in January 1880, plans were put before the School Board for a school building to house 120 children, the ground having been donated by Lord Harris of Belmont, a great sportsman and one-time president of the M.C.C.

The architect was Benjamin Atkins A.H.I.B.A., who was the Faversham Borough Architect and Surveyor in the latter half of last century. The plans were approved and the building began apace.

The school was finished by Christmas 1880, except for the school house. The building work was executed by John Seager of Borden, at a cost of £1076. Soon everything was ready and the first headmistress, Bessie Higham, moved in to begin the daunting task of uplifting the mainly farm working children to intellectual heights hitherto undreamed of.