We are indebted to the present head teachers of the two Cottesmore primary schools for giving us the opportunity to study the school logbooks and management minutes which recorded the daily happenings for much of the 19th century up to the 1970s. These provided a wealth of information as to the conditions in the schools, with their ups and downs, their difficulties and their successes.
The following is a snapshot from those records.
At the beginning of the 19th century the young children of Cottesmore were taught in a classroom attached or in the grounds of the Rectory. It is likely that there were about 20 children that attended in a fairly haphazard fashion due to demands made on the families by the need of labour on the farms, inclement weather and the cost.
In 1820 a new building was chosen which was just outside the Rectory garden and next to what is now known as the Tithe Barn in Mill lane. This was demolished in the 1980s, but had not been used as a school for 100 years. The school was known as the village school and like most schools in rural areas was run by the church. Later a second school was built which initially took the older children and was known as the mixed school but latter it took all the primary children. In the House of Commons Papers of 1835 it records 'Two Daily Schools containing 15 males and 42 females are supported partly by benevolent individuals including the Earl of Lonsdale and the Clergymen and partly by payments from the children of a penny per week'.
For much of the 19th century were are lucky to have copies of the school logbooks that were kept on a daily basis. These records continue up to the 1970s and provide a wealth of information as to the conditions in the schools, with their ups and downs, their difficulties and their successes.
Most of the entries relate to what was taught that day which invariably included scripture lessons and hardly a week goes by without a visit from the local rector. However the more interesting entries relate to the children, who they were, their illnesses and their need to work on the farms.
Attendance at school seemed more variable with numerous absences for illnesses from ring worm to pneumonia. The weather was a frequent reason for non-attendance particularly for those who came in from Barrow. When there was heavy rain or snow 5 or 6 children would not turn up and in very bad snowfalls the school would close down sometimes for a whole week.
Other interesting entries relate to frequent visits by the school inspector, whose main interest appeared to be the attendance record. Other frequent visitors included the doctor and the nurse and often a few children would have been sent home for having some contagious disease or 'nits'.
Few of the teachers are mentioned which is a pity, with one exception a, Mrs Rimington who appeared to fall foul of minor illnesses during the term. There was also the occasional mention of exams and the results which gave an idea of the curriculum, which seemed quite narrow with the emphasis on the scriptures, spelling maths and geography.
The 1870 Education Act stands as the very first piece of legislation to deal specifically with the provision of education in Britain. Most importantly, it demonstrated a commitment to provision on a national scale.
The Act allowed voluntary schools to carry on unchanged, but established a system of 'school boards' to build and manage schools in areas where they were needed. The boards were locally elected bodies which drew their funding from the local rates. Fees were also payable until a change in the law in 1891. Further legislation in 1893 extended the age of compulsory attendance to 11, and in 1899 to 12. One of the consequences of this and subsequent Acts was that the number of school children in Cottesmore increased. This necessitated the building of another school which was in the Leas, behind what is now called the School House. This became the school for the older children and subsequently for all the primary children.
It was at this time between 1860s and late 1890s that, on a number of occasions Cottesmore Village School was recognised as one of the best schools in Rutland. In the Stanford Mercury June 1865 Mr Cattell was highly praised for his excellent work and gave the competition list as follows, 'Oakham 5, Cottesmore 11, Preston 2, Exton 3, Tickencote 3 and Barrowden 2 Prizes.' In the Grantham Journal July 1883 following a similar competitive examination the Leicester Archidiaconal Board of education 'were pleased to see that Cottesmore School still maintains its high state of efficiency – the main prizes in both classes being awarded to pupils of this school'.
In the May 1889 the subscribers of the School (which included the Iron Stone Company) convened to set up a management Committee for the school. This included representatives of Countess of Lonsdale, Lord Gainsborough plus two of the Hollis family, and Mr Clayton of the Grange. One particular comment was, "It was the general wish of all present that no change will take place either in schoolmaster or schoolmistress this year, nor any reduction of salary made, it being considered by the meeting that both are at present handsomely paid".
At the meeting it was resolved that any shortfall in future funding would come from the ratepayers. This was the first local tax to be passed to pay for the School.
In 1898 in the same newspaper is, a letter from the Diocesan Inspector said that the head teacher, a Mr John Cattell had been awarded a number of books on appreciation of Cottesmore school being the best in the County adding, "I hope you may long be spared to carry on the good work you are doing in Cottesmore".
Clearly, for over 30 years Mr Cattell was a very impressive head teacher.
Inspector's Report May 1872
Notwithstanding serious drawbacks in the matter of ventilation and desks Mr Cattell carries on at the school with unusual vigour and excellent results. The addition of a shilling (pupils' payment) is an improvement. It is proposed to amend faults of ventilation by the introduction of air from without, beneath the stove so as to substitutes an upward current of warm air in cold weather for the alternative of cold down drafts or unwelcome stagnation and it may be well to replace some of the desks.
It appears from the balance sheet that the Rector bears, unaided by subscribers, the burden of maintaining the school. As he can at any time decline to continue his magnificence and throw the burden on the ratepayer, who are now bound by the new law to support efficient schools, the latter may fairly be called upon to improve the present room or ( which would be far better) to erect a new schoolroom altogether. The master complains of the unhealthiness of the present room and feels on his account that he must look out for employment elsewhere. The needlework is not on par with the excellence of the other work.
A G Stuart Inspector
Inspector's Report 1880
Mixed School :- as before the discipline and attainment of the children are excellent, and their work reflects the highest praise on Mr Cattell's management of the School. The Grammar and Geography were as usual most intelligently known, and the girls needlework was good.
Mr Thomas Cattell certificated a Teacher of the 1st class ( joined as a pupil teacher)
A G Stuart Inspector
Early 20th Century
It is interesting to note the difference to the earlier period and how the school reacted to the Great War. In general there seemed to be less reference to the children staying away to help on the farms although it still occurred. There are references to the War, but they are less frequent than might have imagined. Also of interest was the large number of influenza cases in 1919. Did this reflect the pandemic that crossed the world in that year causing millions of deaths, or was it a coincidence. The weather still looms large in the attendance rate and in one year there was snow on the ground right through to May.
Two extract that related to the War.
May 24 1916 - Empire Day – The children assembled at 9:am – had an Empire Map given them and saw which lands composed our Empire – sang songs about sailors, and soldiers and saluted the flag – Recitation about the union Jack – Sang God Save the King and were granted the remainder of the day as a holiday.
July 13 1916 - The last lesson was interrupted by an aeroplane passing over the school. The children went out to see it and as it came down in an adjoining field they all went to see it.
After the War the Cottesmore secondary school (Central School) had been built made of buildings taken down from an old army camp near Ashwell. For the children of Cottesmore to go there they needed to pass an exam, if they failed they only went to the craft classes or in some case to Market Overton.
In 1932 5 children passed the exam:- Iris Bentley, Joan Collard, Raymond Hill, George Stafford and Mary Stafford. The number of pupils was still around 30 but was soon to increase to double that number requiring a new building. Illness was still an issue such as in 1934 when half the children were away with measles, a common occurrence in that period. At one time only 8 pupils attended the school. In November 1935 the school had a day's holiday to celebrate the wedding of the Duke of Kent and Princess Marina.
By this time Cannon Guilford was the vicar at St Nicholas and was to remain there till the late 1940s. He was a common sight at the school holding prays at least once a week and testing for the children's knowledge of the Bible. One child was given special permission to attend the Central school even though she had failed the exam. This was because she suffered from Polio and could not attend the school on a regular basis.
In 1938 came the first instance of the effect of the new aerodrome as 4 children joined the primary school and in 1940 the first intake of evacuees arrived with 6 arriving form the Fleet Central School in London. In July work on the new air aid shelter began which was to be used quite frequently the first being on Sep 19th at 3:30 and lasted one hour. Fortunately most of the alarms were to be false. By November there are 41 children for Cottesmore and 23 London evacuees attending the school. In the same month there were a numerous night raids which meant a number of children did not attend school the following day. By 1942 a number of the evacuees were retuning to London only to come back to Cottesmore later on. During this year a number of incidents involving parents are recorded which no doubt caused stress to the head teacher. Again in 1943 there was a severe outbreak of measles followed by whooping cough leading to a large number of absentees.
In December of 1943 the head teacher wrote "I am managing the whole school again. Numbers present 22 infants, 22 juniors, evacuees 12. We have to carry on as best we can." By the next term the total numbers had swollen to 60 and still only one teacher. Later in the year she complained that the evacuees' school at Cottesmore Hall had 3 teachers for 25 children whilst she was on her own. This was remedied when one of the teachers joined the Cottesmore School, but this was to last only 8 months. Just to add to the burden 14 children from the Burley School were now to attend Cottesmore.
In May 1945 VE day was celebrated and the school was closed for two days. By 1946 the roll call had reached 81 and new infants section was built in the yard of the Sun Inn. In the event the move appeared to be a mess with outside toilets with no running water, only buckets which were often empty. (86 children up to over 90 in 1947) Discussion started about the RAF having their own school as over 30 were attending Cottesmore. At one time the head teacher a Mrs Hart had 76 children in the school with no help. She resigned and left in December 1947. Clearly the year had been very difficult with the number children , the poor accommodation, stolen books, lost keys, ongoing arguments with the caretaker. Plus an outbreak of Polio with possibly 20 children contracting the disease. A very difficult time.
In 1948 the RAF school was open so alleviating some of the pressure on Cottesmore. Between 1948 and 1952 there was new head, Mrs Margaret Laing, a who claimed great success in getting pupils though to the Oakham school, in comparison to the previous head who did not achieve any. I thought this was a bit harsh given the conditions that the previous heads were working under.
In any event anew head was appointed, a Miss Lorna Pearce who also saw the introduction of piped water into the school for the first time but had to wait till 1958 before a new sewage system was installed. It was at this time that the new RAF school was built and had decided to call it Cottesmore Primary school so lifting the name that Cottesmore School was known as. The managers therefore decided to call it St Nicholas C of E Primary School. Miss Pearce Left in 1960 and for a very short period the famous DH Smith looked after the school before a new head was appointed, D Ward.
In July 1963 The Foundation Stone of the new school was laid in Mill Lane and was opened in September 1964 although it took a number of years before all was running smoothly. Over the next few years there are three heads with Miss Nichols joining in September 1969. The PTA seemed to be very active raising funds for various causes including, later on, a swimming pool. In the same year they played Exton at football who brought their own goal post as these were not available at St Nicholas.
From various comment it was clear that the machinery of local government ground slowly on with the school having to wait may months(over 1 term ) for light bulbs (20), not having a finished playground or a proper canteen or kitchen. An application was made for a sewing machine but this was turned down as it was considered that the school was too small to warrant one.
By 1970 there were about 100 in the school including a few from Cottesmore Primary (RAF) that had fluctuating numbers. In February 1971 decimal coinage was introduced and the logbook said "there was no problem with the dinner money". The following month there was great excitement when the Dutch barn across the road with 60 tons of straw caught fire requiring the school to be evacuated and fire engines called from Oakham.
In the early 70s the school was used as a social venue and this was causing a number of problems including vandalism resulting in a discussion with the PTA and other bodies as to the future use of the hall. In late 1978 a swimming pool was built after a number of years fund raising by the PTA. Now alas gone to be replaced by an extension.