1880-1884 Headteacher: Miss Bessie Higham
A Brief History of the School 1880 - 1884
Bessie Higham - The First Head teacherIt must have been quite a momentous occurrence in the life of the community, but Bessie Higham (Mistress) showed scant respect for the awesome occasion which was the beginning of tremendous change in the lives of most of the children by getting straight down to work in the best traditions of educational pioneers. Her first entry in the log book reads:
"February 7th, 1881. Opened School this morning with 80 children. Jays the older girls a lesson in cutting-out on calico, and the smaller girls on paper."
Of course, a school is a place which in the nature of things is beset by problems and before a week was out, the Mistress was beginning to find that Eastling children (who were mainly at that time exhorted to follow the maxim, 'Children should be seen and not heard') were full of mischief (maybe they called it original sin) and on February 14th 1881 the log book records:
"Punished Joseph Raines by keeping him in in the Recreation time for throwing stones and breaking a window."
By 22nd February, attendance was beginning to dwindle. The log records:
"73 children present, but several away still; shaving hop-poles, helping mother, etc."
On 25th February, Daniel Beneted was punished severely for telling a lie.
On March 11th:
"Jane Higgins, who was not allowed to stay away from school to mind the baby, has brought the baby with her".
For March 11th the log entry reads:
"Mrs. Hadlow called at the school and apoligised for her unruly behaviour on Friday, when she waylaid the Mistress on the road because her little girl was punished for talking in lessons - the child had been cautioned several times for speaking, and at last was lightly caned on the hand. The mother was very angry and dared Mistress ever to correct her children again.
On June 17th it was noted:
"A holiday today for Mistress to move into the new school house".
Whether she regarded this as a blessing is not recorded but my heart goes out to Bessie Higham, because as someone who has worked in the house where the draughts were appalling, and until I interior glazed the windows and sealed the house extensively the carpets and mats used to rise from the floors like billowing waves.
How much worse it must have been for the first head!
School Life with Miss Higham
Eastling is noted for its almost constant wind - it has its own "mistral" - and Eastling inhabitants are easily recognisable by a kind of permanent leaning posture, engendered over the years by their having to counteract the force of the wind. What an ordeal it must have been to visit the outside toilet in the depths of winter.
What work was involved in lighting the kitchen range, going up and down the cellar steps for coal and heaving buckets of water from the four hundred foot deep well outside the back door. Then, having overcome the difficulties of personal existence, the mistress had to face a large and unreceptive class and try to make them learn chunks of Milton's "Paradise Lost", Longfellow's "The wreck of the Hesperus", Johnson's "Vanity of Human Wishes" etc etc. Inside the log book was appended a list (including the above) of thirty-five authors ranging from Shakespeare to Macaulay whose works were regarded as suitable for recitation. Almost exactly a year after the opening of the school, the first report from Her Majesty's Inspector was received and what a blow it must have been. It read an follows:
"Grammar has been taught with tolerable success. Reading is fluent, but unintelligent, writing fair throughout. Spelling and Arithmetic generally weak. The children appear to be in good order, and attention has been given to Needlework. The grant is reduced by 1/10 for faults in instruction, especially in arithmetic."
- So much for payment by results.
Until comparatively recently, punishment was considered an essential ingredient in the training of children. Strict discipline was enforced and rules had to be obeyed implicitly. Although many ex-pupils of Eastling have very happy memories of their school days, they tend to disregard any fear they might have had of punishment from the cane. But it was there, and anyone stepping out of line "copped" it, evidenced by the PUNISHMENT BOOK in which canings were recorded.
Through the years, offences which merited caning included playing truant, impudence to teacher, writing on lavatory walls, fighting, lying, destruction of school property, making rude noises in class, throwing stones, spitting, using bad language, playing in the shrubbery, careless work and interfering with teacher's desk.
Over one period of fourteen years, 300 strokes were administered which works out at about 20 per year. It seems that then, as now, most of the children were well behaved, since several names on the punishment list keep on recurring, perhaps showing that corporal punishment is not such a deterrent after all. Nowadays, temporary removal of privileges such as games or swimming seems to be just as effective.
One of Fred Pincott's punishments was to make young offenders go and sit on top of the cellar steps in the School House. Whether he thought that the darkness would strike fear into their hearts is not known, but it was a punishment very popular with the children, because he used the cellar as an apple store, and many a miscreant comforted himself with a nice Cox's Orange Pippin!
The present-day attendance is extremely good, always being 90% or above. This reflects how the general health of children has improved over the years and the fact that most of them actually enjoy school. Nowadays most absences are for minor ailments whereas, in the early years of the school, there were many periods when many children were absent with measles, mumps, diphtheria, whooping cough, chicken pox etc.
Log entry - December 20th 1893.
Ethel Doughty, having been ill with Scarlet Fever, passed away this morning. She was one of the dearest children in the school.
At certain seasons of the year however, children would be absent for entirely different reasons. They would be busy at some country pursuit or other. On April 6th 1897, one can feel the anger of Mr. Pincott when he records:
"Herbert Bennett has not returned this week. This is his third week's absence. He is employed 'bird-scaring' by Mr. W. Clark, who is a member of our Board of Managers".
Presumably Mr. W. Clark's conscience did not trouble him when he checked the registers.
"May 1st 1899 - Only 82 children present. Girls chiefly were absent - gone garlanding".
"July 13th - Daisy Lucas has been absent since July 4th, minding baby, while Mother picks cherries".
On 1st November 1900, eight boys were absent "beating" and on 5th November in the same year a number of boys were away "popping".
Many children, however, had excellent constitutions and were not tempted to scare birds, beat, pop or garland. On December 6th 1895, Lottie Skinner had not missed school once in five years. This was not unusual. In 1903, Grace Pincott (with thirty-six others) was awarded a medal for regular attendance over a number of years.
Earlier, in 1900, eighteen children had perfect attendance for the year and hardly a year went by without quite a number of children achieving perfect attendance and a medal or certificate.
December 16th 1890:
Arthur Higgins was punished severely for an attempt at truant playing. Master found him hiding up behind the hedge.
May 12th 1926:
Albert Cooksley (8 years) was given 2 strokes on the hand for breaking windows in an empty cottage in the village.