The Victorian head teacher at Hallam Fields in the 1880s faced very different challenges to today. Despite the school being such an integral part of the Stanton community, the headmaster, Mr Pullen, was often unaware of things that today would be easy to notice. For example, after the Christmas holidays in January of 1881 the headmaster recorded ‘small attendance.’ There were also ‘many applications received daily for leaving school at 11:30,’ but it is unclear from the school logs who it was making the applications.
In order to improve things the managers of the school advised the head to ‘revise the time table and give Religious Instruction’ between 11:30 and 12:00. Again it is unclear why this would have improved attendance! There were severe snow storms at the time and he complains about the cold and there being ‘only one fire in the room,’ which may well have affected attendance. Yet it was only after four weeks of low attendance and bad weather that the head finally ventured out and discovered that ‘measles and whooping cough is very prevalent in the neighbourhood.’ How did he not know that?
This particular head teacher had tended his resignation by May 25th 1881 and a new head, James Siggens arrived. He makes notes in the logs about poor attendance and the ‘wretched state’ of some of the classes and set about making improvements. However, by October 28th he was again lacking in local knowledge and discovered that very low attendance was due to the Ilkeston Fair! Happily he recommended that ‘for the future it will be advisable to give a holiday’ when Ilkeston Fair came. (Somehow along the way we seem to have lost that one!)
The school does not appear to have been easy to manage. Low attendance, illness and the poor state of the buildings due to the closeness to the Ironworks all took their toll. The School Board visited regularly and took lists of absentees. The Reverend G Oliver made regular visits and would check up on various subjects not just Religious Scripture. Even Mr George Crompton Esq or Mr James Crompton Esq would visit from time to time to see how their school was doing.*
James William Siggens continued as head teacher alongside Ada Cooper who was mistress of the Infant School, Mary Norbury the Assistant Mistress and three pupil teachers, Emily Mitchell, Gertrude Pounder and Joseph Frost. A small staff for a school with an average attendance of by now over 135 pupils. This was not uncommon in Victorian schools. In fact they were over-crowded, drab, regimented and run by very strict characters.
The pay was poor so the job was usually taken by unmarried women as they were not allowed to work once they wed, so we can assume that Ada Cooper and Mary Norbury were known as ‘Miss’. This is probably why we still get called ‘Miss’ today, wedding ring or not! The pupil teachers at the school were bright students who stayed on to learn as kind of apprentices. The head taught them something the day before and they would teach the class the following day. However, according to the logs it would seem that Joseph found ‘the correct method for teaching verbs’ a bit beyond him!
Emily Mitchell was allowed to stay on as a pupil teacher by her father, but when her brother George had previously tried his father had stepped in with ‘his characteristic intolerance’ and insisted that ‘the boy has gone to work’ in a local shop to earn money for the family. This probably tells us quite a lot about the local opinion of this new thing called Education in Victorian Stanton.
* George and James Crompton were the sons of Samuel Crompton; they owned the Stanton Ironworks. The Crompton’s are often mentioned in the logs, but whether it was their duty to visit or whether they had a genuine interest in the school is uncertain.