Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, a Sherwood Forest Village, recorded in Domesday

The Victorian School Period 1878 to 1968. Mr George Walter Fitness was the first headmaster and with a staff of two, Miss Sarah Patching (an uncertificated Mistress) and Rachel Alvey (a candidate for pupil-teachership), taught 116 children, the majority of whom were from the families of framework knitters. Many of the children, who had never been to school before, could neither read nor write. Tuition fees of 2d a week were charged and the children were expected to provide their own books. Attendance was very poor as parents were unable to provide money for books and so in October the fee was reduced to 1d a week and books were to be provided from Charity funds. However, attendance continued to be very irregular and the children refused to learn their Home Lessons. As a result of this, all the staff had left the school by the end of 1880.

From Buckland’s history of Woodborough we learn that the……….”Governors made arrangements to sell the buildings and land at Woodborough and certain lands at Stapleford [see the NOTICE below taken from the Nottingham Guardian on 16th December 1881] to raise funds to build the new School. Eventually the Charity Commissioners authorized the following sales, viz.:

June 26th, 1877. The dwelling house and Schoolroom with the buildings, yard and garden containing 1r. 20p. at Woodborough for £574 17s. 0d

May 28th, 1878. A piece of land at Stapleford containing 2,170¾ square yards and a piece containing 1565 square yards, both known as Meakin's Croft at  Stapleford  for £1,012  3s. 9d

January 27th, 1882. A piece of pasture land at Stapleford containing 1,133 square yards for £340  0s. 0d

But the Governors sold the house and school with Mr.Taylor's land to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for £925 13s. The value of the school premises had therefore been increased by £350 16s., by Mr. Taylor's gift.  

The total realized was £2277 16s. 9d, out of which the Governors at once paid £200 to Mrs. Oldacres for timber, shrubs and fixtures”.

Above left: Miss Gertrude Biggs and her class in 1899 Above right: Commemorating the 1902 Coronation

At the start of the 20th Century, world celebrations were marked by Woodborough school children. Holidays were granted on 21st May 1900 to celebrate the Relief of Mafeking and on 2nd June 1902 when news was received that the Boer War had ended. The Coronation of King Edward VII arranged for 26th June 1902 had to be postponed due to his illness. Instead of planned events, a service of intercession was held at the church and all inhabitants were invited to a tea held in the field opposite the school. The children were also given treats, by Mr C.H. Hill and his wife, in the Hall gardens in the summer and at the school at Christmas. There were also “Gunpowder Plot” commemorative displays and point-to-point races.

Inspectors at this time continued to give good reports on the academic achievements of the school but commented adversely on the buildings. In particular it was said that the offices badly needed attention, that part of the playground should be asphalted for physical exercise and the main room should be divided by a suitable partition. In the autumn of 1905 work to the playground and main room was carried out but little was done to improve the condition of the offices. There were frequent outbreaks of serious cases of measles, smallpox, diphtheria, ringworm, colds and bad throats that resulted in the closure of the school for short periods. In may have been due in part to, “the unpleasant smells in the offices and the need for cleaning out the drains periodically and the liberal use of disinfectant and emptying of the ash pit and closets”. In September 1906, Mr Biggs left Woodborough after 13 years of distinctive service, to take up a post in East Malling, Kent.

During October, Mr Arthur Griffin was temporarily in charge of the school until the newly appointed Mr J.E.T. Gee and his wife commenced duties on 1st November 1906. They began to encourage children to record in notebooks, items of interest at home or school. In was felt that these methods gave independence and individuality to the children's characters. During the next few years the population of the village continued to decrease as more families left to find work in towns and like his predecessors, Mr Gee found it difficult to get children to attend school regularly when there was work for them in the fields. The younger children were often used to shout and scare the birds from the strawberries.

By 1910, political matters were being taken very seriously and the school was used to hold political meetings. On one occasion, when tempers were running high, a door was torn from its hinges. Following further criticism of the poor state of the school building by the Inspectors, building plans were approved in 1913 and a new room was built. This was known as the End Room. This enabled a new subject, “Educational Handwork” to be introduced. Woodborough has been one of 18 schools in rural areas chosen by the Director of Education to teach this subject. The room was also used to teach the girls Cookery and Household Management. Mr Potter of Lambley House Farm arranged for some boys to practice milking and then held a competition. Charles Poole and Henry Snodin were awarded prizes. Mr Gee continued to hold the evening classes started by Mr Biggs and also introduced a series of horticultural lectures for the market gardeners of the district.

On 24th June, King George the fifth visited Oxton and after a tea, arranged to celebrate the occasion, the children were taken in drays to see the King.

Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, schools were advised to use books and materials sparingly and the children encouraged to save pennies and halfpennies to buy essentials for wounded soldiers. Several families of Belgium refugees came to Woodborough and their children attended school. According to records, they made good progress in English and in return, a Belgium boy, Guillaume Vanden Broek was employed to teach French to the older children. During the war, new regulations by the Education Committee allowed children to work in agriculture and so again, they were often absent to help with gathering the crops. Other help in the war effort included knitting for the Red Cross fund and organizing concerts to raise funds to send parcels to soldiers. Sadly, there were times when news was received that former pupils had been killed.

In 1915 a much-needed new heating system with hot water pipes and radiators was installed. In the following year the school was closed for a long period due to a measles epidemic during which time Mr Gee taught at West Bridgford Higher Elementary School. Shortly after the school reopened, it was closed again when there was an epidemic of diphtheria. On 31st March 1916, Mr & Mrs Gee's daughter Connie died at the age of seven. Mr Gee, who blamed the open drains for Connie's death, did not return to teaching at Woodborough, but after two temporary posts, was appointed Headmaster at Sutton-in-Ashfield, where he remained until his retirement.

A reminder of Connie lives on in the shape of a holly tree still growing in front of the old Victorian school. It is said that she planted a holly berry in her garden shortly before she died, the berry germinated and grew into the tree, which stands today. It has been known ever since as 'Connie Gee's tree'.

In May 1916, Mr A W Saunders became headmaster of the school. The diphtheria epidemic continued (only 30 children were attending regularly in June), and the war dragged on. Children were disturbed by Zeppelin alarms and raids but both children and villagers continued with the war effort. Boys helped local farmers with their crops, articles were made for Patriotic Fairs and Carol Singing Parades raised funds for St Dunstan's Home for soldiers and sailors blinded in the war. When there were food shortages in early 1918, the school closed for a few days so that teachers could help with the Government Rationing Scheme and also at around this time, part of the recreation ground was converted into a school garden. School was closed for another day when children collected more than 200lbs. of blackberries, which were sent to Mansfield and Nottingham.

Incentives, such as, reducing fees; making all materials (except slates) free of charge; offering half fees for 85 attendances; awarding prizes to six scholars who made the greatest number of attendances and also to those who passed satisfactorily the Government Examination, failed to work. Only one child out of twelve succeeded in passing the required standard for total exemption from attending school and others failed even in the requirements for partial employment. There was however, a gradual return of scholars from the opposition school, but even when the Free Education Bill became law, attendance did not improve. One of the main reasons for this was the great demand for labour in the fields and the framework knitting industry.

In January 1893, Mr George Biggs became Headmaster and was supported by his sister Gertrude. Given the circumstances, this must have seemed a daunting task. Many people in the village still wanted the school to be controlled by a School Board and on 16th February, the school was used for the purpose of taking a poll. The proposition being, “whether a School Board should be formed for the Parish of Woodborough”. The result was – for a School Board 69, against 102. Mr Biggs and his sister were determined to overcome all difficulties and make teaching so interesting that children wanted to attend school. Visual aids such as clay models, lantern slides and attractive illustrations were introduced. A simpler and clearer handwriting style was taught and all lessons were aimed at getting children to think clearly and carefully. Their efforts were rewarded one year later when Mr Biggs reported that all children were attending regularly and many received full attendance prizes that year. As well as his teaching role, Mr Biggs trained a Pupil Teacher between 7am. and 8am. and in the evenings started an Evening Continuation Class, which was attended by a large number of men and youths.

In 1895, Mr Mansfield Parkyns presented the school with a library of 800 books. At around the same time a Savings Bank was started, and children who made a full attendance during a quarter of the school year, had 6d. added to their account.

In 1896, Her Majesty's Inspectors considered the school to be good in all respects. However, by this time, framework knitting was in decline and families started to leave the village to look for work in the towns and by 1897, there were only 86 children on the school register. Some of them were lucky enough to be taken to a performance of “The Merchant of Venice” at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham where Sir Henry Irving placed a box at their disposal. Sir Henry played Shylock and Ellen Terry, Portia. In September 1899 two loyal and hardworking members of staff, Miss C. Holmes and Mr Henry Smith left to take up duties elsewhere.

Woodborough Woods Foundation School - Revised October 2022

The photograph left shows the rear elevation of the school as seen from the playground. This 1922 photograph of the school taken from Lingwood Lane, approximately mid-way during its life as a school. The building remains today but has been sub-divided into dwellings; the bell cote was removed in 1969.

On 10th January 1881 Frederick Houseley became Headmaster assisted by his wife and E. Blanksby as the Monitor. Later in the same year, Mrs Houseley gave up teaching and Miss Charlotte Holmes was appointed Infant Mistress. Matters did not improve. Attendance remained poor, as many of the children were employed in fruit and potato picking or helping their parents in frame knitting. From the following list of letters, sent to or from the Governors, it can be seen Mr Houseley was not popular and he eventually left the school in 1893. Items from the  letters – which were mainly the shortcomings of Mr Houseley, the head teacher, at Woodborough School:

21st November 1884: Mr J.B. Taylor was a governor and had obviously wished to resign (he was a descendent of Montague Wood).

15th April 1887: Letter to Houseley telling him to remove the Fowl House from the playground to his own boundary (the playground was grass at the time).

10th August 1887: Rev’d Slight writes about Robert Howett not being fit to remain as a school governor as it was in the local and London papers that he had abducted two village girls. (letter to secretary of Charity Commission).

10th November 1887: Letter to Roby Thorpe, a school governor, from Rev’d Slight stating his complaints against Houseley. Putting a poultry in the pen was one. Inspector said the religious standard was the lowest in the Diocese.

3rd March 1888: Letter from Rev’s Slight saying that the governors should give Mr Houseley his notice.

6th March 1888: Damning letter by Rev’d Slight to Mansfield Parkyns re conduct, manners, etc., of Houseley only looks after his poultry. Government inspector alleged to have said “This man will do nothing unless he’s made to”.

23rd April 1888: Complaint by parent via governors regarding Mr Houseley’s teaching.

On 22nd September 1882, the Medical Officer of Health (Basford District) closed the school to try and prevent an epidemic of scarlet fever from spreading. The school remained closed until 4th December. Following the re-opening, attendance improved slightly but when fees were increased in February 1883, more than half the children refused to pay and were sent home daily. By September, only 40 children were attending regularly. At around this time, Mr Lilly [formerly named as Lenny which is most probably an error] started an opposition school in the Baptist Chapel and for two years this unsatisfactory situation continued. In the meantime, despite efforts by the Trustees to encourage attendance, matters did not improve.

Left: Mr Saunders with Mr J Smith, Miss G Small and Miss C Harvey in 1923.

The war ended with peace celebrations in August 1918 and the school began a period of steady development. On the academic front, children from both Woodborough and Epperstone schools made good use of the domestic science/handwork room and produced articles for the school and garden. School trips were introduced. Records show that a party of children enjoyed a day at Wembley in 1924 when they visited the Empire Exhibition and in 1935 a group was taken to Liverpool. After a visit to the docks and Lever Brothers. works the children travelled through the Mersey Tunnel to New Brighton.

In 1926 Mr Saunders ran a series of geographical and historical lanterns lectures in the evenings, which were well attended. Two years later in another evening class, seven out of eight students were successful in the EMEU examination. In 1931 the Governors presented the school with a magic lantern, a projection sheet and other accessories for classroom use and in 1938 the children enjoyed their first wireless lesson.

Following criticism in the past of the state of the buildings, two major improvements were made. In 1930 electric lights replaced oil lamps and in 1933, the old water pump, which had often been out of order, was replaced with a new water supply. In 1936 Mr Saunders was successful in getting a dairyman to supply the children with milk. One third of a pint was supplied for one penny. This was later reduced to a halfpenny and eventually it was supplied free of charge.

Throughout the ‘20’s and ‘30’s national celebrations were marked with holidays. These included the weddings of Princess Mary in 1922 and the Duke of Gloucester in 1935, and the Silver Jubilee of 1935. School was often disrupted because of illness such as scarlet fever and there were also unofficial days off when floods hit the village and children were unable to get to school. On 28th January 1936 a special service for the death of the King was held in the church and attended by all the children. In 1938, all the children were fitted with gas masks as a precaution in the event of war.

The World War two years from 1939 to 1945 were understandably often very difficult. The school had to cope with overcrowding; in 1939 evacuees were received from Sheffield. In 1940 more evacuated children arrived from the severely bombed cities of London and Birmingham. All available desks were used and the Handicraft Room was turned into a classroom. Shortage of materials and equipment, erratic coal supplies, air raids and severe attacks of diphtheria, mumps and the cold were but a few of the difficulties. By the end of 1941, in spite of warnings, many evacuated children returned to their homes.

A new kitchen was brought into use in 1944; food was prepared centrally and delivered in metal containers to the school where meals would then be served to many of the children. In the Education Act of 1944, the school leaving age was raised from 14 to 15 and Elsie Leafe was the first pupil to leave on 31st May 1948 after her fifteenth birthday following the introduction of the new regulations.

At the end of the 1949 summer term, all the children who were aged 11 or more were transferred to the new Secondary Modern School at Redhill in nearby Arnold.

After almost 35 years as Headmaster, Mr Saunders retired in December 1950. From many tributes paid to him at farewell gatherings, it was clear that all his pupils would remember him with goodwill, affection and gratitude.

Right: Teachers, Miss C Harvey, Miss M Smith,

Mrs M Perrin and Mr A W Saunders, in 1940.

Mr Saunders taught at Woodborough School from 1916 to 1950 and his team including Miss Harvey 1918-1957 and Miss Smith 1925-1966 thus providing a total of 114 years service.

Mr G Sinfield took up the post of Headmaster in April 1951 and like many of his predecessors, continued the tradition of long service by remaining at the school for 28 years. This was to be a period of many changes for the village, the school and for teaching methods. Possibly the greatest event during his headship was the opening of the new school building in 1968.


Back to top Next page

Above: This photograph of the school was taken from the

Sycke Field, the opposite side of Lingwood Lane in 1951.

To Lily's school