Schoolroom History

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A Short History of the Old School Room, Hempton

 John Sampson

St John's Church with school room was built in 1850, the Rev. William Wilson of Over Worton purchasing a site, formerly known as 'The Swan', Hempton's second public house; this comprised a bakehouse, outbuildings, garden and orchard. The north aisle of the church served as a National school with perhaps an average attendance of about about 20 children. An OS Map of 1882 shows an Infant School attached to the church and the school portal is still present in the original position.

The village of Hempton during the latter part of the nineteenth century had the Plough Inn, a carpenter, dairyman, baker, coal merchant, nurseryman and four farms so despite its modest size perhaps 40 children of primary age were living locally.

There was a cottage for a teacher on site; this fell into disrepair and was demolished in the early 1960s. At the same time communicating arches adjoining the north aisle to the church were blocked in but the integrity of the original design was restored in 2010 with a double door in each arch in Indigo timber with arched, panelled glazing above.

The 1851 census shows Elizabeth French, a widow aged 48 from Bourton on the Water, to be the teacher. She had three children, Phillip aged 15, Elizabeth 9 and Clara 7. Clara is registered as born in Hempton which suggests that the French family were living in Hempton c. 1842/3 or earlier since Clara's birth year is 1844. The date and cause of death of the father is yet to be determined. The population at this time of Barford St Michael was then 400 and Barford St. John 125, but that of Hempton unknown.

The 1861 census places sister Elizabeth, 19, as the teacher and Clara, 18, as a seamstress. Also resident in the household are Eliza Clements, 8, as step sister and two male  lodgers, 67 and 31, possibly agricultural workers. Elizabeth (mother) had remarried during the mid-1850s. It is a reasonable assumption that the young girl was in better care with the French sisters, perhaps for improved educational opportunities, and that William Clements with new wife Elizabeth had sought improved work prospects some distance away.

By 1871 the whole family were again together in Hempton, William Clements, 55, stepfather, Elizabeth, 66, William Clements, 20, stepbrother, Eliza Clements, 18, stepsister, and Elizabeth and Clara French. Possibly the agricultural depression of the 1860s had driven William, Elizabeth and young William to seek work elsewhere. During this time Elizabeth (daughter) and probably Clara had continued to run the school.

In 1881 the census clearly shows Clara at 37 years of age as head of the household, occupation schoolmistress, and again in 1891. By 1901 Clara is registered as head of household with 14 year-old Ethel Slatter as servant, with further Slatter family members also living in Hempton. No record of Clara French is shown for 1911 but is known that the school closed in 1915, except for Sundays and  all children then went to either Barford or Deddington.

One must pay tribute to the dedication of Elizabeth French and her daughters who undertook the education of the Hempton children from 1851 until certainly 1891, that is for 40 of its 60 plus years service as a village school.

The Deddington Parish magazine writes that in August 1882 Rev P R Egerton (founder of Bloxham School) and his wife 'accompanied by the Misses French took the scholars of the Sunday School to tea and games at All Saints school, Bloxham'.  There is an identical report for September 1888!

An 1887 report on the Parochial schools records 'the children were evidently well taught. In the oral examination several answered creditably and the written work on the whole was good. Hymns, prayers etc. were nicely repeated. The needlework was very good for such young children'. This is perhaps a reflection on Clara's experience as a seamstress when young.

Historically, prior to the Education Act 1870 introducing compulsory education between ages five and 12, any primary education was provided in Voluntary schools conducted on (mainly Anglican) principles and funded by private subscription. One can assume that Rev William Worton, having built the church with provision for a school room in the north aisle was mainly responsible for providing teaching salaries and classroom requirements with perhaps a very small grant from the (Anglican) National Society; hence church schools were often referred to as 'National' schools. Further land purchased in 1850s was sold and the proceeds were invested 'for the purpose of furthering the religious and other charitable work of the Church of England'.

Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Les Chappell for much of the research for this history. Further information would be always welcome.