Tanya Walls


I found this photograph in Judith Adam's Berrynarbor book. The original belongs to Lorna Bowden and perhaps came from her aunt, Muriel Richards, who was a teacher at the school. Judith's book says that it was taken in 1898, but we don't know how this is known, perhaps the date is written on the back. Unfortunately, school photographs are not mentioned in the logbooks, otherwise we might have a precise date. However, it is unlikely to be winter and so perhaps the photo was taken between May and October. I'd like to work out exactly where it was taken, the hills in the background are readily recognisable and it was probably somewhere in the school grounds.

Ron Toms identified a few of the people in the photograph: pupils James Ley [front row, third from left] and Bruce Pedrick [second row from the back, on the left, next to the teacher]. He suggests that the Headteacher was Mr. Brown. However, Alfred Brown did not start working at the school until January 1899, so perhaps this is his predecessor William Sanders Tarry, Headmaster from 1896 until the end of 1898. The other two teachers are Mrs. Burgess [to the right of the Headmaster] and Miss Lewis [on the extreme right of the photo]. Christiana Burgess was originally from Wolverhampton and had married an Ilfracombe man; she taught the Infants' Class for two years and in 1898 would have been about 54 years old. Florence Lewis was the Supplementary Teacher. She was 20 years old in 1898 and remained at the school until 1909. She was the daughter of Richard and Ellen Lewis of Watermouth Cottage. Her father was a farm bailiff, presumably for the Castle. Florence Lewis had been a pupil at the school, had gone on to be a monitress and eventually become a certificated teacher.

James Ley, one of the two boys identified, is six or seven years old on the photo. He was the youngest of the 12 children of Thomas and Mary Jane Ley who lived at Hole Farm. James left school at 14 and worked on his parents' farm until 1914 when he joined the Royal North Devon Hussars. During the First World War he took part in the Gallipoli Campaign. In 1918 he married Evelina Stanbury and they went on to have at least three children; the family lived at Hole Farm. The second boy, Bruce Pedrick, was ten years old in 1898. He was the youngest of the three children of Thomas and Emma Pedrick of North Lee Farm. After he left school, he too worked on his parents' farms; they moved from Berrynarbor to Morwenstow in Cornwall and then back to Arlington. Bruce does not appear to have gone to war. In 1915 he married Minnie Brooks and in 1917 was granted a conditional exception to work as a horseman at Tidcombe Farm in Arlington.

The school logbook records that on 7th June 1898 there were 131 children on the books and only 86 children appear on the photo. We wonder where the other 45 children were - is this a reflection of school attendance at the end of the 19th century? There may have been a degree of transience in the lives of some of these children, perhaps particularly those of farm labourers, with families moving between parishes and the children frequently changing schools. Large families also meant that it was common for children to live with grandparents or other relatives for periods of time. The Admission Register shows that children aged from four to fifteen were at the school and that the most common family names were: Crocombe, Harding, Huxtable and Ley. Apart from the three teachers and two pupils already described, there are two more children who probably appear on the photo and would be found on the back row. These are the Monitresses: Marian Lewis [aged 15] and Bessie Harding [aged 13]. Marian was the younger sister of teacher Florence Lewis. They may well be amongst the four taller girls standing on the back row and the one on the left may be wearing a badge. Monitresses assisted the teachers and were usually drawn from the school pupils. It was a paid position and in 1899 a yearly salary at Berrynarbor School was £4-0-0.

The HMI Report for the school year 1897-98 reads:

If any reader recognizes any of the other children in the photo, please get in touch, I can be contacted at tanyawalls@yahoo.co.uk




The 1930's and WWII

My previous two articles introduced the log books kept by the head teachers of Berrynarbor School [February 2019] and looked at the origins of the present school and its predecessors [April 2019]. Having recently finished transcribing the second log book, which covers the period from 1931 to 1963, I thought it would be interesting to write about it. This article concentrates on the 1930's and 1940's when the Head Mistress was Miss Lillian Veale [from 1921 1950] and the Supplementary Teacher.

Miss Muriel Richards [from 1931 c.1970]. The continuity and stability provided by these two long serving teachers carried the school through a period of great social change.

In April 1931 there were 51 children on the school register whereas at the turn of the century there had been about a hundred. There were a variety of reasons for this decline including: smaller families, wider availability of secondary education, movement to towns and the effect of the loss of a generation of young men during WWI. There were probably just two classes, with the older children being taught by Miss Veale and the younger ones by Miss Richards. Both Ron Toms at the school in the 1920's and Maurice Draper at the school in the 1930's and 1940's remember Miss Veale as strict. She gave Maurice the cane on his hand twice, probably for talking, but he also recalls that he liked her. Until March 1935 there was also a Monitress at the school, a young woman who usually helped with the younger children and had often attended the school herself.

Miss Veale lived next door to the school at the house now called Little Gables. In the late afternoon of 5th May 1937, her house and adjoining Bessemer Thatch caught fire. Bessemer Thatch was the summer residence of Canon Jolly, who was not there at the time. The fire is reported in the North Devon Journal where it suggests that a chimney spark ignited the thatched roof. The furniture from both houses was rescued and fire brigades from Ilfracombe and Barnstaple worked into the night throwing off the burning thatch. Maurice Draper, then 8 years old, recalls that he was allowed to stay up and watch the fire fighting and that a large crowd gathered. A photograph taken after the fire shows that the roofs and most of the timberwork were destroyed, the walls still stood but the houses had to be rebuilt and it must have been a while before they were habitable. In the logbook Miss Veale says simply: "The school was closed on Thursday and Friday by order of the Managers, my house having been completely gutted by fire on Wednesday evening May 5th." She comes across as a stoical and businesslike lady, the fire must have caused huge disruption to her personal life but she was back in school on Monday morning. By 1939 she was living at Little Gables again I wonder if any readers know where she stayed while her house was being restored?

The first reference to the Second World War appears on 11th September 1939 when the school "Admitted four children from an evacuated district." The war years were to see many evacuees come to the school, the first to arrive were 'unofficial' children and families who had escaped the towns and come to stay with relatives, friends, or in private accommodation. Later 'official' evacuees began to arrive, usually in small numbers, but on 20th February 1941 twenty six children plus teacher and helper arrived from Bristol. It was at this time that the Luftwaffe was bombing British ports including Plymouth, Bristol and Swansea. At the beginning of 1941 there were 88 children on the school register, already considerably more that there had been before the war, but by April this had risen to 104. How long did the Bristol class stay in Berrynarbor? This entry on 23rd April 1942 suggests it was for well over a year: "Mr. Ede of Bristol in charge of the Evacuation Group visited the school."

Miss Veale and Miss Richards had help from a county supply teacher from late 1940 until the end of July 1942, but resources must have been stretched and both the running of the school and the children's education disrupted. The log book, however, gives the impression that school life continued very much as normal and apart from the coming and goings of the evacuees the war is rarely mentioned. The war did give the teachers additional responsibilities and they took it in turns to be on duty during the school holidays, perhaps to assist with the co ordination of evacuees. Growing food for the war effort sometimes required extra help and in the summer and autumn of 1943, school was closed for days at a time to allow children to help with the hay and fruit harvesting. Such a thing would never have happened in peacetime and indeed the Victorian and early 20th century logs frequently complain of children being kept away from school to help on the farms. Maurice Draper recalls disruption to his education during the war, partly because of the comings and goings of the evacuees, but also because he was always one of the first to help with planting potatoes rather than be in school.

By 1943 the school numbers had fallen to just below 50, about the same as before the war. Some of the evacuees would have gone home by this time but the numbers in the school continued to decline and by September 1946 there were just 31 children on the register, probably the lowest number on record. In the later years of the war the school collected some impressive contributions towards national funding campaigns.



From left to right: Miss Veale, Miss Richards and Miss Wainwright, who was Monitress at the school from 1932 1933. [Photograph courtesy of Lorna Bowden]

During Wings for Victory Week in May 1943 the school collected £2060.11s for the RAF and in April 1944 it collected £1300 for the Salute the Soldier campaign. When Victory was declared on 8th May 1945, the school had a two day holiday to celebrate.

I should like to thank Maurice Draper for sharing his memories and showing me the photograph of Bessemer Thatch after the fire. If you would like to read more about his life, he has published a book entitled The Life and Times of Maurice Draper a Berrynarbor Man [2014]. If you have memories or photographs of the school you would be happy to share, please get in touch, I can be contacted by email: tanyawalls@yahoo.co.uk or via my parents Margaret and Keith Walls of Higher Rows Farm.




In the last Newsletter I outlined my research into the history of the village school and gave a short description of the first logbook. Three of these Head Teacher's logbooks have survived and the first one, which begins in 1874, starts with the words "School re-opened. . .". So, the school was already operational by 1874 and, of course, there is a plaque on the front of the school bearing the date 1847. This immediately raises several questions: were there earlier log books and if so, what happened to them? What can we find out about the school between 1847 and 1874? And was there a village school before 1847?

The plaque on the front of Berrynarbor School: 'National School 1847'

Keeping a log book was regulation for all grant-aided schools from 1862, so it is likely that there was at least one earlier logbook, but it is probably lost. To try and find out about the school teachers, I turned to the census returns. The first census was in 1841 and unfortunately does not include people's professions, but in 1851 there were three teachers living in the village - and they were all related. Ann Hicks is described as a 'School Mistress', although since she was 80 years-old she may have retired. George Hicks, 'School Master & Engraver', was 44 years old and lived with Ann and was probably her son or nephew. Their address is simply given as 'Village'. Prudence Griffiths, a 'School Mistress', was 39 years old and lived with her family at Court Cottage, she was the daughter of Ann Hicks and perhaps the sister of George. It seems likely that George and Prudence were teachers at Berrynarbor School, probably with George teaching the older children and Prudence the infants. It is interesting that both Ann and Prudence were married women who apparently worked. Prudence had four children at home in 1851, one of whom was of pre-school age and would have required care. By 1861 Ann had died and Prudence and George appear to have moved out of the village. There is a teacher on the 1861 census, Priscilla Griffield, a single woman of 23 who had been born in Wales, but I have been unable to find out anything more about her. Her name is quite similar to 'Prudence Griffiths', but Prudence was older, married and living in Ilfracombe in 1861.

Trade directories are another useful source of information about people at this time. Kelly's Directory of 1850 lists 'Geo Hicks' as the village schoolmaster, thereby backing up the 1851 census. White's Directory of 1850 lists both Geo Hicks and Mr. James Geer as school teachers at Berrynarbor. There was just one adult named James Gear living in the area in 1851 and he was a farmer living with his family at South Lee and farming just 3 acres. He was born in Berrynarbor and lived there for most of his life but there is no mention of him being a teacher. The Kelly's Directory of 1866 lists William Harding as schoolmaster and Mrs. Jane Hicks as schoolmistress; the name Hicks again and another married woman. There was just one Jane Hicks in the village in 1861, the wife of stone mason James Hicks, but there is nothing to say she was a teacher. No teacher named William Harding appears on the 1861 census for Berrynarbor, but there was one in Ilfracombe and it is likely that this is him. Since teachers generally lived close to the school, he probably moved to Berrynarbor sometime after 1861 to take up the position.

This leaves the question of whether there was a school before 1847. The online catalogue for the National Archives at Kew shows they hold a document about the building of Berrynarbor School in 1847.

At the beginning of this year I went to have a look; this is the first time I have visited the Archives and it was a very interesting experience. I did not know how much information the document would contain, or what form it would take. When I arrived, I was given a large volume entitled 'School Building Grants. Certificates &c.' It proved to be full of application forms for grants to build schools all over the country - and it didn't appear to be in any particular order so I thought I might be there for quite a while. However, I struck lucky and found Berrynarbor quite quickly. The application was on a printed form and had been filled out by the village Rector, Samuel Thomas Gully, and dated the 20th February 1847. There are details about the building site chosen for the school, its design and the funds already raised, but more about these aspects another time. In answer to the question about existing schools in the village,

Reverend Gully says "[there are] two Dame Schools, in each of which, being about 12 feet? 50 children are crowded". Unfortunately, the word after the number 12 feet has disappeared into the binding of the book, perhaps it said 'square', however it is hard to imagine so many children in one room! He also adds that "the Sunday School consisting of 150 children, are taught in the Church, there being no other accommodation."

So we now know that in 1847 there were actually two schools in the village. These were 'dame schools', the earliest schools for the poor and generally held in the teacher's home - hence the cramped conditions.

There are no details about the location of these schools or the teachers, but traditionally such schools were taught by elderly women, hence the name. Perhaps School Mistress Ann Hicks, who would have been about 76 in 1847, was one of these teachers and encouraged her own children to follow in her profession.

Reverend Gully was successful with his application and the school must have been built quickly since the plaque on the wall says 1847. Arthur Davie Bassett of Watermouth, described in the document as 'Lord of the Manor', provided the site for the school. The Reverend Gully put forward £10 of his own money towards the fund and claimed they could raise another £10 by subscriptions. The sum requested in the grant application was for £130.

Tanya Walls

March 2019



I was inspired to find out about the history of the village school partly by Judith Adam's Book of Berrynarbor, based around the memories of Ron Toms, but also because this was my school and I have very happy memories of my time there.

I have always been fascinated by the past and - like many people - have researched my own family history. Although I grew up in Berrynarbor and have always considered it to be my home, my parents are from the Midlands and the places of my ancestors are not ones I know. I have always been drawn strongly by a sense of place and so came up with the idea of researching the history of Berrynarbor School. This school was central to my childhood, that of my sister, brother, niece and nephews; it is also the heart of the village.

I am gathering as much information as I can and then I intend to write a history of the school. Sue Carey, Head Teacher of Berrynarbor School, very kindly showed me three historic log books which are held at the school. The first covers the years 1874 - 1931; the second 1931 - 1963 and the third 1963 - 1992. At the moment I am transcribing the first book and have reached the year 1903.

Keeping a log book was regulation for all grant-aided schools from 1862. The teacher was required to write in the book at least once a week, noting details about pupil attendance, visitors to the school, results of exams and information about what was taught. The book includes the names of teachers, school visitors and pupils and these can be looked up using family history online websites to produce short biographies.

The first entry in the log book reads:

"January 16th 1874: The school was re-opened under Government on Monday January 12th, but as the Registers did not arrive from London until Wednesday the children could not be marked until Thursday morning. The school was visited during the week by the Rector [The Revd. W Fursdon], his wife, who took the first class to a Reading lesson; and Captain Williams of Watermouth Castle. Susan Harding appointed as a pupil teacher."


These words were written by Rebecca Burgess, the Certificated Teacher at the school, who appears to have been newly appointed at the beginning of the year; she remained at the school until 1878. Unfortunately, because her name is quite common, it has not been possible to find out any more about her, teachers often came from outside the area so it is unlikely that she was local. Miss Burgess was assisted by Susan Harding the pupil teacher. Pupil teachers were, as their name suggests, teaching assistants drawn from the pupils at the school usually at 13 or 14 - the age at which most children left school. Susan Harding was born in Berrynarbor in 1859, her father was a cordwainer [shoemaker] and she was the youngest of five children. In 1861 her family was living at number 29, the Village. She left the school in 1880 and worked for a time as a shop assistant before marrying Willis Watts Furse and settling in Ilfracombe. Furse was a Fruiter & Florist, a business he shared with his brother-in-law Edwin Huxtable. In 1901 the two families were living together at No.1 the Promenade, Ilfracombe, probably beside or above their shop. Susan and Willis Furse had three children. They appear to have done rather well for themselves because the 1901 Census shows that five staff lived with them: a governess, three domestic servants and a shop assistant. Susan Furse died in 1905 at the age of 45.

From the log book it can be seen that the children learned the elementary subjects [reading, writing and arithmetic], did quite a lot of singing and that the girls did needlework. The school was divided into infants and the main school. Children in the main school were further divided into standards [I - VII], probably on the basis of a combination of age and performance. There are frequent comments about the children's attendance levels and the weather is a big factor here, some children had to walk a distance to school and wet weather in particular reduced their numbers. They were also kept back to help at home and on farms, particularly with the potato planting in March. Throughout 1874 there were frequent visits from the Rector, the Reverend Fursdon, also by Mrs Fursdon and their two daughters. Other regular visitors are Captain Williams, Mrs Williams, their daughter and Squire Basset and his sister. The Bassets lived at Watermouth Castle and owned most of the property in the village at this time; Mrs Williams was the married sister of the two Bassets. The Bassets and the Rector were managers of the school and the teachers were accountable to them.

Notable events at the school during 1874 include an evening concert in February to raise money for a school bell. The bell was erected in May. On Lady Day [25th March] several children leave school to go into service. The school children were vaccinated in April; this would have been against smallpox, the earliest disease for which a vaccination was developed. In May the school had its annual inspection: there was praise for the sewing, singing and discipline; reading and writing were fair, but arithmetic was very weak. The school was threatened with a reduction in its grant if improvements were not made. Three children are mentioned for poor attendance: B Bere, MJ? Holmes and G Bere. Squire Basset brought wood for the school fires in December.

Although this part of the school story is too early for the memories of anyone living today, I intend to continue into the mid-20th century. Lorna Bowden has very kindly shown me some old photographs of school children, some of which had belonged to her aunt, Muriel Richards. Miss Richards my first teacher; she had attended the school as a child, gone on to be pupil teacher and then qualified as a teacher.

If any reader has old school photographs or memories which they would like to share I should be very pleased to hear from you. Although I no longer live in the village I visit often. My parents, Margaret and Keith Walls, live at Higher Rows Farm in the Sterridge Valley. I can be contacted by email at tanyawalls@yahoo.co.uk or via Margaret and Keith Walls.