Chosen by Brian Short, President of the Sussex Record Society, text by Ruth Brown
The Sussex Record Society decided that the school log book of Thomas Slatford was so good it should be published, and so proceeded to do so this year! All headteachers of Victorian elementary schools were required to keep logs of their pupils’ progress, but few are as vivid and meticulous as this one. Head of Littlehampton Boys’ School from 1871 to 1911, he describes daily events in the lives of pupils, parents and teachers, along with his unceasing battles to overcome the inadequacy of his buildings and to get his pupils to attend regularly: Sunday School outings, circuses, Littlehampton Fair, all feature alongside truancy, harvesting, picking blackberries and primroses, illnesses such as typhoid and diphtheria, and the challenges of the weather. His dedication as a teacher and his belief in the importance of education is shown on every page.
Local history can be traced, noted in concise and colourful detail, and there’s a lot of material here for family historians. Slatford was a close friend of the Vicar, the Rev. Charles Rumball, but that does not stop him from voicing a suspicion that boys were being bribed with drink and tobacco to get them to go to church. Descendants of William Sewell, highly esteemed harbourmaster, can read of the success as a school teacher of his son, also called William. The photo of the Littlehampton football team 1895 to 1896 shows Sewell, and another teacher trained by Slatford on the job as was then the custom, Reg Hale. Hale died in the 1914 – 1918 war, as did many other of Slatford’s former pupils.
Tourism brought many changes, not always welcome to a conscientious teacher: one budding young entrepreneur truanted from school in order to sell strawberries on the beach. Tourism wasn’t all bad however: Herbert Fairweather, whose family was host to the head of a firm of London architects, so impressed the gentleman with the standard of his homework that he was offered a job.
One archive leads to another in the Record Office, and it was helpful that Slatford’s log could be supplemented by related material that doesn’t on first sight seem exciting but can contain interesting gems – Littlehampton Board of Health minutes, for example, revealing that they threatened more than once to close the school down if the sanitation wasn’t improved, and School Board minutes which include an outraged letter to the inspector asking him to explain why he thought discipline was lax. But there wasn’t a photo of Slatford anywhere, and it wasn’t until after the volume was published that his great-great-granddaughter contacted the editor and produced both photos and a lot of information about the family. How vital is the work of family historians!
The log book was published in June this year by the Sussex Record Society, which was set up in 1901 and publishes original records of the county’s history from documents at the West Sussex Record Office, the East Sussex Record Office and in national institutions such as the British Library and The National Archives. Over 90 volumes have been published so far and further details of those in print, online publications and membership can be found on the SRS website. Copies of the Littlehampton School Log Book 1871-1911 by Ruth Brown, from the Sussex Record Society are also available to buy online. The next SRS volume The Letters of John Collier, edited by Dr R. V. Saville was launched at Hastings Museum on Saturday 29 October 2016.