Swanbourne Village Schools

Swanbourne Primary Schools

First published by Michele Greene in 1995; revised and updated by Judy Hibbard, 2017.

In the early 1700’s the vast majority of people had no formal education and few could even read or write. There were very few schools in existence and the education that was available had to be paid for. Most children worked from an early age and their wages were an essential part of the family budget. More extraordinary then is the vision of two brothers, William and Nicholas Godwin, who in their wills left a bequest for the founding of a free school in the village of Swanbourne.

William Godwin died in 1706 and bequeathed the income from Swanbourne lands and property (to the value of £100) for the foundation of a charity for the education of poor children. According to Bishop Wake’s visitation of 1706, this was due to start on 5th April 1707, and in a subsequent report of 1709, it says that Mr John Anthony was ‘scholemaster’. It continues that ‘a charity school has been lately set up endowed with £17 a year for the teaching of 8 poor boys in order to fit them for trades; they are instructed in the principles of religion according to the church catechism.’

There was no school building at the time, and we do not know where the school was situated. It was not until after his brother Nicholas’s death in 1714 that this need was met. In his will, Nicholas left a rent charge of £9 per annum for the provision of a free school for the poor boys of Swanbourne and Mursley. Under the terms of Nicholas Godwin’s will his executor and heir, Ralph Carter, was charged with the building of a schoolhouse. In addition until he or his heirs provided £100 worth of lands and property in accordance with his brothers will, 6% interest should be paid, along with the £9 rent charge, from the proceeds of the Swanbourne lands, by them and by their heirs forever.

The Oldest School House (Godwin School House) in Clack Lane (Station Road).

The Oldest School House (Godwin School House) in Clack Lane (Station Road). From a painting by Emily Fremantle

Ralph Carter endeavoured to carry out the wishes of Nicholas Godwin, although William’s wish for the gift of land to the value of £100 has never been fulfilled. Instead £6 was paid annually along with the £9 rent charge. The annual payment of £15 was a substantial amount of money in 1714. It could not have been envisaged then how future inflation would erode its value. A school was built at the edge of the village on the Mursley side of what is now called Station Road, but then was known as Clack Lane, to the rear of the present village school. A painting by Emily Fremantle, dated around 1860, shows us that the school was little more than a house, where presumably the schoolmaster lived and to which his pupils came.

A stone and brick memorial to the two brothers at the south door of Swanbourne Church commemorates their act of generosity:


The first headmaster of the new school was John Anstee, who was appointed by Ralph Carter. The £15 paid the headmaster’s annual salary and the headmaster was expected to pay for repairs and maintenance of the school building out of this. The school provided free education for 12 poor boys from Swanbourne and 8 from Mursley.

Ralph Carter also appointed John Anstee’s successor, Thomas Henly. After Ralph Carter’s death the administration of the charity was passed to his heir Edward Stowe. In 1794, after the death of Thomas Henly, Edward Stowe appointed Thomas Osbourne as the new headmaster. On Edward Stowe’s death the duty of making the appointments passed to Thomas Stowe, a poor and uneducated man. His appointment of Daniel Walker as headmaster seems to have been considered unsuitable. In 1832 Thomas Stowe made an agreement with Sir Thomas Fremantle that Sir Thomas Fremantle should nominate headmasters and Thomas Stowe would agree to such nominations. Whenever the need arose Thomas Stowe would appoint whoever Sir Thomas Fremantle chose and since he was unable to write his name, Thomas Stowe would sign the agreement with a cross. As part of the agreement Thomas Stowe would receive a payment of £7 and an annuity of £2. The headmaster, Daniel Walker, was persuaded to retire with an annual pension of £5.

In the 1830’s two church foundations were opening charity schools in England, the Britain and Foreign Schools Society (founded 1808) and the National Society (founded 1811). The National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church ran more than four hundred schools in England. The Government began giving money to these societies to help with the building of schools. The managers of Swanbourne charity school applied to the National Society for help with building a new school. In 1832 a new school was built in Swanbourne on its present site (Winslow Road, Swanbourne), on land given by the Fremantle family. The total cost of building the school was £146. Of this, £86 was met by subscription including contributions from the Bishop of Lincoln £3, Revd Woodley £5, Sir Thomas Fremantle £10, the Marquis of Chandos £10, Lieutenant Fremantle £1, Lady Fremantle £2, and Mr Knapp 5s (a fine for drunkenness!).A grant of £60 was given by the National Society. Local farmers carted the building materials for free. The original building remains to this day and is typical of school buildings of that period, with high ceilings and windows above eye level to deter the children from outside distraction.

Thomas Ludgate became the first headmaster of the NationalSchool in Swanbourne. Twelve boys from Swanbourne and eight from Mursley were taught free of charge under the old scheme and these boys were selected by the rector and churchwardens. Over one hundred boys attended from surrounding parishes for a payment to the school of 2d a week each. At this time teachers were expected to cope with very large numbers of pupils. A monitorial system was used whereby older pupils, under the supervision of the teacher, taught the younger pupils.

After the death of the headmaster Thomas Ludgate, John Moore took charge of the school. John Moore lived in the old school house in Clack Lane with his wife and four daughters. Thomas Ludgate’s widow lived in great poverty in Clack   Lane with their eight children.

In 1853 a further sum of £5 10s. per annum was given by a lady called Mrs Niven, a close relation of James Niven, the vicar of Swanbourne as a bequest for the educational benefit of the children of Swanbourne. In 1854 the Headmaster, John Moore, was succeeded by Joseph Thompson. Infants in the village were taught by Hannah Phillips. There was also a straw plaiting school for girls in Swanbourne which had been established and was patronised by Lady Fremantle in the early 1850s. Joseph Thompson was succeeded by George Bentley as headmaster of the National School.

In 1861 there were 3.5 million children in Britain but fewer than half of them went to school. Schooling was a matter of individual enterprise and charity rather than state provision. Boys from wealthy homes could attend public schools like Eton or Rugby. Boys Grammar Schools also existed but were not free. Girls rarely had an education unless they had a governess or they were sent to an academy for girls. Education for poor children was very limited. Sunday Schools, which had been started by Revd Raikes of Gloucester, became a nationwide movement and aimed to provide some lessons for those children who were at work during the week. Some factories also provided limited schooling for their young employees. There were also Dame Schools which were inexpensive but the ‘Dames’ in charge of these schools were themselves often poorly educated, so the educational merit of such schools was questionable. In 1861 the Government introduced inspectors for existing schools and teachers were given incentives to obtain good reports, which was called ‘payment by results’. Grants were dependent on good results and good attendance by the pupils. This financial incentive led to a concentration on the 3 R’s, ‘Reading wRiting and aRithmetic’, to the exclusion of other subjects. Rote learning and copy writing were popular teaching methods and the Bible, often the only book available, was used for reading and spelling as well as religious instruction. Later grants were given by the government to encourage the teaching of other subjects like geography and history.

George White became Headmaster of the school in 1864. The old school building in Clack Lane was deteriorating and in 1869 it was sold to a farmer, Charles Brook, for the sum of £25. Part of this money was used to exclude the Stowes from the right to appoint the Headteacher of the school. On the death of Thomas Stowe, this right had passed to his wife Elizabeth Stowe and in turn this passed to their son William Stowe. In 1869 William Stowe sold all rights to appoint the school headmaster to the school managers for a sum of £10.

The Education Act 1870 made it compulsory for all children to go to school until the age of ten. In 1871 an infants’ school was built by the Fremantle family to accommodate 50 children. Children as young as three attended this school. This building is in Mursley Road, Swanbourne, and is presently now used as the village hall. In 1872 the NationalSchool was enlarged to accommodate a hundred children. A separate entrance was built for the girls and the playground divided by a wall to provide separate play areas for boys and girls. George White remained headteacher at Swanbourne National School and his wife became the headmistress of the new infants’ school. The Whites lived at the ‘Old School House’ (7 Mursley Road, next to the Village Hall). Apart from his duties as headmaster, Mr White was also Clerk to the Parish Council, overseer of rate collection in the village, and Sunday school superintendent, as well as being a noted gardener – a very busy man!

Following the new legislation, Mursley had opened its own school to accommodate the children of the village. Mursley School now asked for their share of the Godwin Trust and it was agreed that after the retirement of George White as headmaster of Swanbourne School the Godwin Charity would be shared, 2/3rds to be given to Swanbourne School and 1/3rd to be given to Mursley School.

By a scheme developed under the Charity Trusts Act 1890, money was awarded to the children for regular attendance at school. The money was paid into a savings account on their behalf and money plus interest was taken out and presented to the child on leaving school. Attendance became extremely good!

In 1891 the school received a grant from the education department to assist with staff salaries. This meant that the school would be subject to inspection by the local education authority, in addition to the inspection already carried out by the Diocese.

In 1899 a school inspector made the following comment about Swanbourne School and its master:

‘This school is going on very well, Mr White is now leaving it having thoroughly earned his pension. He has done good work for Swanbourne since he took charge in 1864 and he is leaving a good record behind him.’

Mr White was replaced briefly by a Mr Falding as headmaster and Elsie Thomkins as his assistant, however both were asked to leave after an unfavourable HMI report. They were succeeded by Mr Bendal with his wife Mrs Bendal as his assistant. Mrs White continued as Infant School Mistress. The Education Act 1902 made provision for rate aid to elementary schools and elementary education became free of charge. Local education authorities maintained all schools including voluntary church schools like SwanbourneSchool although managers were still responsible for the fabric of the school building.

The school managers became the first foundation managers of the school in 1903. They were Lord Cottesloe, the rector Revd Pinhorn, Mr Cecil Fremantle, Mr Holdom and Mr Kibble (the latter two being churchwardens of Swanbourne Church). They met several times a year to discuss the upkeep of the school, staffing and liaison with the Education Committee and the Diocesan Church School Committee. They also decided the dates for school holidays which were chosen to meet the agricultural needs of the village, since many school age children were needed to assist with the hay and corn harvests.

Lady Verney obtained works of art to be displayed in the school from the’ Association for Loan of Pictures’ for the cultural benefit of the pupils.

In 1904 Revd Pinhorn was replaced by Revd Canon J R C Forrest, a gentleman who was to take an active role in the management and religious teaching at the school for the next 50 years. He is remembered by ex-pupils for his lantern-light lectures as well as his weekly visits to the school when they had to recite the Collect of the week.

In 1902 staff salaries were as follows:

Headmaster £65 per annum (Mr Bendal)

Assistant £25 per annum (Mrs Bendal)

Infant Teacher £39 per annum (Mrs White)

Sewing Mistress £10 p.a. (Miss Allen)

An additional payment of £3 would be given to the headmaster if the Inspectors’ report was satisfactory and £2 given to the Infant Teacher also subject to a satisfactory report. Mr Bendal left Swanbourne and was replaced in 1903 by Mr Dawes with his wife as assistant teacher and sewing mistress. They lived at Rose Cottage, 3   Mursley Road, Swanbourne, with their three children, all of whom attended the village school. Mr Dawes was church organist at St Swithun’s Church. Their salaries were £90 p.a. and £35 p.a. respectively. The school became Swanbourne Church of England School.

By the terms of the 1902 Education Act an accommodation survey was carried out at the school. In 1903 open fires provided heating for each classroom and at this time the fires did not have guards. Oil

lamps provided artificial light. The sanitary offices were in a separate block in the playground and were earth closets. There was no water supply, no mains drainage and no electricity at the school.

On occasions the school was closed because of severe winter weather or sickness. In 1906 both the Infant School and the elementary school were closed for a period of 11 weeks owing to a measles epidemic which affected nearly all the pupils.

Mrs White remained as Mistress of the Infant School until 1908 when she retired. She was replaced by Miss Cooper. Miss Cooper lodged in the village at Fir Tree Cottage, Nearton End, Swanbourne. The Infant School was closed in 1913, as there had been a drop in pupil numbers at both the National School and the Infant School. The infant teacher, Miss Cooper, resigned. She appears to have been angry about the managers’ decision to close the Infant School and destroyed all the Infant School records! Improvements were made at the NationalSchool to accommodate the infants. Mr Dawes’ daughter Queenie Dawes became the infant teacher. A piece of land was rented across the road from the school to be used as the school garden. This plot was used until 1956, when it was sold and the bungalow, called ‘Goodwyn’ after  the school’s founders, was built.

During the First World War (1914-1918) it was acknowledged that boys over 11 years old might be needed to help with farm work because so many young men from the village had been called up. School children spent half a day a week during the season collecting blackberries which were to be made into jam to be sent to the troops overseas. The Education Act 1918 made it compulsory to attend school until the age of 14 years. School attendance was administered by School Attendance Committees.

In 1920 Swanbourne House Preparatory School was opened. Swanbourne House had previously been the home of the Fremantle family. The Headmaster of Swanbourne House School, Lionel Evans, and his son Harold Evans, who succeeded him as headmaster, were actively involved in the management of Swanbourne Villag eSchool for many years.

The children at the village school had a full programme of activities. The three R’s were stressed. Children sat at dual desks and writing was done with a slate and slate pencil or with dipped ink pens. Reading was taught in groups. There were also object lessons where the teacher would bring a variety of objects into the class for discussion. Studying the Bible was central as was showing respect for the Royal Family. The school had its own flagpole and Union Jack. Outings, school plays and parties were highlights of the year and half -day holidays were given for special days like Empire Day. The school took part in music festivals in Winslow and Buckingham. Occupational skills were encouraged like needlework for the girls and gardening. The boys went to Bletchley by train once a week for lessons in woodwork. They had to walk to and from Swanbourne train station. The girls had cooking lessons in Winslow. Later boys and girls were transported by bus to Winslow for these activities. There was an emphasis on physical health. Physical exercise (drill) was part of the curriculum and there were regular visits by the nit nurse, the school dentist and the school doctor. Discipline was strict and the cane used on occasions. Several ex-pupils recall an incident when a naughty boy took the cane from his teacher and broke it over his knee.

In 1925 the Swanbourne Village School was also used for adult education lessons in the evenings. In 1931 the school was connected to the electricity supply and electric lights were installed. A wireless was obtained so that the children could benefit from educational broadcasts. In 1936 the school managers agreed to the LEA plan for the older children to attend secondary school. It was sometime after this date that Swanbourne children over the age of twelve years went by bus to Winslow Central School or to The Royal Latin School in Buckingham for children who had won a scholarship. Children of poor parents were often prohibited from using a scholarship because of the financial implication for the family of losing a potential wage earner as well as the additional expense of a uniform. Trustees of the Godwin Trust approved anew scheme of grant aid for successful candidates from poor families.

There was also an annual exam set by the Diocese called the Bishop’s Prize. The names of the Prize winners along with those children obtaining a scholarship were engraved on a scholarship board displayed on the wall – this is still held by the school.

Financing the school continued to be difficult despite grants from the County Education Department and the Diocesan Church School Committee. The managers still had to meet the cost of many repairs. Some income came from letting the school building, and a list of charges was drawn up by the managers. In 1936 the following charges were made:

Whist drives and socials 8/-

Dances (with piano) 4/6

Political meetings 10/ –

Educational, e.g. folk dancing or choral society 2/6

These charges were regularly reviewed. The managers also each made a personal annual subscription of 10/- per annum. Garden produce and needlework were also sold.

Mr Dawes retired in 1926 and was succeeded by Miss Clues. Miss Clues did not live Swanbourne and travelled to work by car. Her assistant was initially Miss Latham and later Miss Daniels. Miss Daniels lodged in the village. After Miss Clues resigned in 1937, Miss Britton-Jones became Head Mistress for a short time. She was to be replaced by Miss Lee who had worked as a missionary in Nigeria before coming to Swanbourne. Miss Lee was succeeded in 1943 by Mrs Harrison.

During the Second World War (1939-1945) the number of children at the school rose sharply due to the influx of evacuees from cities like London. Talks were given to the children to explain the dangers of wartime and air raid practice took place in the cellar of Mr Kibble home of Church Farm which is next door to the school. Blackout curtains were made for the school windows and wire screens fitted. Free milk was provided for the children. Initially this milk was obtained from the neighbouring farm and needed to be regularly tested. Later pasteurised milk was delivered in 1/3rd pint bottles from Nestles.

The school at this time still had fairly basic facilities. Water for washing was obtained from a rainwater tank on the roof. Drinking water was brought into the school from Church Farm. Heating was by open coal fires in the classrooms. Mrs Currell, who was the school caretaker for many years, had to light the fires daily as well as clean the school. Children went home for lunch, returning for afternoon lessons. Toilets were still primitive pit toilets and were situated in a block in the school playground. These toilets were replaced in 1959 by Elsans. A high brick wall divided the playground into two, one side for the boys and the other side for the girls and .infants.

In 1944 mains water was supplied to the school. A hot water boiler was donated to the school in 1950. Open fires were replaced by solid fuel heaters. The brick wall dividing the playground was taken down in 1953 to provide more space for the children to play. A school meals service was introduced, with meals being delivered from Winslow so that children could stay to lunch

In 1955 the school had to decide whether it would opt for ‘controlled’ status (and be totally funded by the Local Education Authority) or ‘aided’ status (to still have some funding by the Diocese). A new diocesan scheme provided funds which enabled the school to retain voluntary aided status.

A Swanbourne School outing to London in the 1950s

In 1956 Mrs Harrison left to live in Rhodesia and Mr Rees became headmaster. Miss Daniel remained as assistant teacher until 1958. She was replaced by Mrs Shaw who was succeeded 1960 by Mrs Jones.

In 1960, 27 children were on roll, 17 juniors and 10 infants. Oil stoves with guards replaced the solid fuel heaters in the classrooms. Mrs Cotton who was caretaker at the school for 17 years remembers the tricky business of lighting these stoves which involved filling the reservoir of each stove with paraffin and dropping alighted paper into the heater (mains gas heaters replaced these in the mid-1980’s). The school now had a telephone. Repairs were covered by a scheme called the Diocesan Maintenance Scheme.

Mr Robert Smith became headmaster in 1961 joining the then assistant teacher, Mrs Viccars.  Mr Smith had been a Colonel with the Kings African Rifles during the Second World War. He lived at Fir Tree Cottage, Nearton End, Swanbourne, whilst Mrs Viccars lived at Moat Farm also in Nearton End.  Mrs Viccars had started teaching as a pupil teacher at Mursley when only 16 years of age having moved to the area from Whitchurch, Shropshire.

Plans were made to increase the size of the school buildings to provide additional classroom space, modernise sanitation and to provide a kitchen area. Little HorwoodSchool was due to close and more space was required at SwanbourneSchool to accommodate the children of Little Horwood. In 1964 indoor sanitation was in place. The new extension was officially opened by the Bishop of Buckingham on October 22nd 1965. Little Horwood children came to school by bus; they were accompanied by an escort, initially Mrs Callaghan, who also helped at the school, and later by Mrs Hill who continued to work at the school until 1983.

There were now 56 children on roll and a third teacher Mrs Rambridge was appointed. The final account for the extension was £10,580 17s 2d and was paid for by a 75% grant from the Ministry of Education and a loan taken out by the school to be repaid over a 50 year period.

After the completion of the new extension, meals were prepared on the school premises for the children’s’ lunch. Mrs. Boughton, who had been organising lunchtimes at the school since 1951, now took on the role of cook, a role she continued until her retirement in 1985. She was assisted by Mrs Gurnett. Mrs. Gurnett (nee Mary Colgrove) had been a pupil at the school in the 1930s.

In 1967 there was a County proposal to reorganise primary schools. Children would be divided into three age groups -5-8 year olds, 8-12 year olds, and 12-18 year olds. Swanbourne hoped to keep the 5-12 year age range. By 1968 there were 72 children on school roll. A terrapin hut had been erected to accommodate the children. Additional land had been offered by Commander Fremantle at a nominal rent to extend the playground. In 1969 the County Education Committee had decided to retain a school in Swanbourne for 5-9 year olds. The Winslow School would accommodate the 9-12 ~year olds and the new Winslow Secondary Modern School would accommodate the 12-16 age group. Buckingham Junior College would be for 16-18 year olds who wished to continue their education. Swanbourne wanted to keep the 5-12 age range but this was not possible because combined schools required a roll of at least 180 to be viable. The Managers of the school accepted the situation and the school became Swanbourne C of E (Aided) First School, which meant that children over the age of nine went on to a middle school.

Mrs Hibbard, who acted as Supply Teacher since moving into the village in 1967, replaced Mrs Rambridge as a full time member of the teaching staff in January 1970.  Mrs Viccars retired as assistant teacher in 1973 although she continued to work on a part time basis until 1976 (aged 67 years), and even beyond this time she would help the school by playing the piano at school events. At the time of Mrs Viccars retirement in 1973, the earlier County proposal to reorganise schools was implemented.  This involved children being divided into three age groups of 8 to 8 year olds, 8 to 12 year olds and 12+ to 18 year olds.  Swanbourne had hoped to keep the 5 to 12 age range but this was not deemed acceptable by the authorities as the school was below the minimum prescribed 180 pupils.  The Managers of the school accepted the situation which meant that children over the age of 9 years travelled to Winslow.  Following these changes the school became Swanbourne C. of E. (Aided) First School.

After the reorganisation, Mr Smith and Mrs Hibbard continued to run the school with part time assistance from Mrs Viccars who invariably also played the piano for various school events including the annual Nativity play performed in both Churches of Little Horwood and Swanbourne.

Mr Smith retired in 1977 and he was replaced by Mrs Clare.  Thereafter Mrs Griffin, Mrs Sledge and Mrs Briggs joined the staff as part time temporary assistants.  Sadly, Mrs Briggs was killed in a car accident in 1978 and daffodils were planted in her memory under the sycamore tree in the school playground.  She had two full time qualified assistants, Mrs Hibbard and Mrs Briggs.

Both Mrs Griffin and Mrs Sledge continued on a part time basis until Miss Symons, was appointed as a full time teacher in 1978.  Whilst at Swanbourne Miss Symons married and became Mrs Swepston.  At about the same time, Mrs Clare was appointed a clerical assistant. Mrs Walker was employed as both clerical assistant and welfare assistant and despite retiring in 1985, she continued to do cookery with the children until 1996.

In 1978, Mr Alcock resigned as school correspondent after 40 years of working with the school managers and in the same year the first PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) was formed.

In 1979 Mrs Clare resigned and a temporary Headteacher for the September term was appointed before Mrs Gillian Macdonald was able to join the school as the new Headteacher.

In 1980 school meals went up to 40p a day and free school milk was withdrawn. In the same year an Education Act in introduced new rules for admission and School Managers became School Governors. Maximum admissions for one year should be no more than 15 pupils and special criteria were introduced for children applying to the school from outside the catchment area. In 1986 the schools meal service was discontinued and children were required to bring packed lunches to school.

In 1985 Mrs Martin-Smith became School secretary and Mrs Horwood was appointed Welfare Assistant.  The following year the school meals service was discontinued and pupils were required to bring packed lunches.

Mrs Hibbard continued teaching at Swanbourne school until 1986. From then until the 1990s, a number of different part-time teachers and assistants have worked alongside the full time head teacher. Mrs Macdonald retired in 1995 and was replaced by Mrs Lindsay Hall, and then in 1997 by Mrs Kay Pistell.

In latter years there have been several alterations to the building including the refurbishment of the old kitchen to make a library/quiet area, the addition of a kitchen area as an annex to the large classroom and the conversion of the old coal shed to make a school office. There is also a new nursery play area. Recent changes in Buckinghamshire have reduced the age of transfer for children going from first school to middle school, to seven years old. Swanbourne First Schools’ status as a voluntary aided church school enables children to remain at this school until they are nine years old.

The Godwin Trust was closed in 1997. The new library area at Swanbourne First School has been named ‘The Godwin Room’ after the Godwin Brothers.

By 2013 Swanbourne First school became part of a consortium of 3 schools (run in collaboration with the infant schools in Mursley and Drayton Parslow).  The children there now are largely in the 9-11 age range.  During 2016, a newly constructed classroom and library building came into use.

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