As of 2021, Eastergate school has been almost ceaselessly teaching for more than 185 years. It has served the parish, and also the surrounding localities, by educating numerous generations of West Sussex families. As you will have seen in the film footage below, the school underwent a huge transformation in 1970; turning from a traditional schoolhouse into a state-of-the-art institution for a new era of teaching. However, before that transformation occurred, its extensive history can be traced through the archives of the school, and its past schoolmasters and pupils…
Eastergate School on Film
Snippet from the film A New School for Eastergate by Screen Archive South East, part of the series for West Sussex Unwrapped.
Images should not be reproduced without permission from West Sussex Record Office.
Eastergate School in the Archives
It’s believed that the residents of Eastergate acquired their very first purpose-built schoolhouse in the late 1830s, and was situated next to the Rectory; ideal for visits from the parish Vicar. It was typical of many early 19th century schools, being a single-story brick building with several sizable windows. As you can see from the above plan from 1912, Eastergate had a large hall-like room at the front of the building in which the older boys and girls were taught. At the back of the building, the infants were taught in a much smaller room.
However, despite Eastergate’s airy schoolroom, schools were not exactly known for their sanitation. Towards the end of the 19th century, local sanitation committees and public health inspectors were increasingly well-organised and active within their communities. Inspections, planning, and recommendations for improvement were carried out to reduce disease and improve the health of the populace. Schools were (unsurprisingly) a breeding ground for illness, and public health officials sought to lower health risks and encourage a steady education. Schools were therefore a major part of overall changes to British public health policy.
So, as public health knowledge increased and hygiene provision improved, many schools – including Eastergate – underwent architectural alterations to make them safer for their pupils. The above plan illustrates proposals for enlarging the schoolhouse windows for better ventilation and more light. It also illustrates ideas for the building of proper lavatory blocks – an improvement for obvious reasons!
Article from the Brighton Gazette (11th July 1877) reporting on the Industrial Schools Visiting Committee’s suggested improvements to pipe work that transported sewage from schools. Also recommended, was the erection of a sheltered outdoor area, plus repairing school baths for use in boosting the hygiene of pupils.
Early schoolmasters; Stephen Cole and Henry Wyatt
Someone who spent their daily life in the schoolhouse was Stephen Cole, the very first schoolmaster at Eastergate. Born in 1802 in Walberton, Stephen was a local man and his tenure as master spanned three decades before he retired only on account of his death in 1867. Unfortunately, no school records survive from this period, leaving us with next-to-nothing about his time at the school.
Sometime between Stephen Cole’s death and 1870, the parish appointed Henry Horacio Wyatt and his wife Margaret to the role as schoolmaster and mistress. Henry had previously been the schoolmaster at Westergate – a neighbouring parish – which appears to have made him an ideal candidate. However, for some unknown reason, by 1874 Henry was working as a labourer in Angmering; we know this from his daughter Marabella’s baptism record from that same year.
It is clear from the log-book entry below that the Wyatt family had moved away quite soon after 1871. It also seems that the replacement schoolmaster, Edward Lulham, was not impressed by the consequential neglect of local pupils, and somewhat exaggerated the situation for the records…
Tracing Henry through the censuses reveals that he had a number of (very different) jobs throughout his life; he certainly wasn’t destined to teach…! His later roles included working as an agent to an assurance company and as a stockman at a farm, before finally retiring in his fifties and living on his “own means”. Perhaps he wasn’t, in fact, the ideal choice for the school, but was someone who was willing to take up the role at very short notice.
*Please note that the term used in this document is archaic and is included in the transcription not to cause offense or distress, but to accurately portray the record and the time period.
Schoolmaster Edward Lulham (1854-1873)
After Henry Wyatt’s departure, and quite some time without a schoolmaster, in April 1873 Eastergate finally gained a replacement in the form of 20-year-old Edward Lulham, who joined the (admittedly tiny) faculty as a newly-qualified teacher. Edward was not local, having been born and raised in Brighton, but was evidently keen to take up a position as soon as he could. Only three years prior to his appointment, the 1871 census records the 17 year old Edward as a ‘pupil teacher‘. Sadly, his tenure as schoolmaster was brief as he was suffering from tuberculosis . Edward succumbed to his illness and died on the 12th December 1873 in the company of his sister Sarah, having been schoolmaster for just seven months. The cause of death was given as “phthisis [tuberculosis] and tubercles in mesentery [abdomen]”.
Pupil Emily Hudson
In the archive there is a small group of documents that once belonged to a pupil named Emily Hudson. Emily attended school in Eastergate but also in Yapton during the early 1900s.
Emily was born in 1895 in Brighton to Charles Hudson (a police constable) and his wife Caroline Frances. Caroline’s death was registered in the same quarter as Emily’s birth, suggesting that she died in childbirth; she was just 26 years old. Emily was sent to live with her grandmother, also called Emily Hudson, in Eastergate. It was common practice at the time for widowed fathers to place their children in the care of female relatives.
Despite these difficulties in her early life, Emily clearly thrived during her school years, and was awarded certificates for good attendance and for completing her religious education, as set by the diocese of Chichester.
Pupils Edith and Hilda Ruff
Another noteworthy Eastergate family emerges from the archives of the school; in particular two sisters called Edith Minnie and Hilda Ruff, who attended the school between 1890 and 1910.
Edith was born in Bignor to Ruben and Catherine Ruff. The family lived in Eastergate where Ruben worked as a gardener, groom, and general domestic worker. This likely meant that he was employed in a number of roles within a local household; it was not uncommon for families to ‘double-up’ on the duties of their domestic servants to save money.
Edith attended school along with her younger sister Hilda, and younger brother Gilbert. According to the log books, in 1902, Edith was commended by the Royal Humane Society for her bravery in saving Gilbert’s life when he fell into the River Arun, whilst on a trip to Tortington. She was just nine years old and probably never taught to swim – an uncommon skill at the time – making this feat all the more remarkable.
After finishing school aged 14, Edith went into domestic service. She is recorded on the 1911 census alongside her colleague, cook Kate Howick, who were both employed in the household of John Charles Thorowgood, a retired physician, and his family. Three years later in 1914 she married local dairyman William George Gibbons of Bognor, who went on to serve in the R.A.M.C during the First World War before being discharged for neurasthenia in 1917. They lived the rest of their lives in Bognor.
Edith’s sister, Hilda, grew up to become the assistant mistress of Eastergate school. For young unmarried women in the 1920s, new career options were increasingly available. The most common (and thought most appropriate) were jobs in offices, shops, and schools.
After teaching for for several years, Hilda married Stanley Bennett (a local builder) at the school; a service attended by over 100 guests according to the Chichester Observer. The couple moved into Mandalay in Church Street, Eastergate, and remained there for many years.
Article from the Chichester Observer – 7th April 1926
A constant battle for attendance
By the standards of the day, Emily Hudson and Edith and Hilda Ruff appear to have been perfect pupils. Yet, despite government efforts to regulate the school leaving age (the Education Act of 1880 demanded attendance to age 10, and then to age 14 in 1918), there was no guarantee that a pupil had spent all those years in education. Attendance Officers were a common sight in school, and they would even pay visits to the homes of truanting pupils.
Eastergate was a rural village and the resident families largely farmed or otherwise undertook agricultural labour; work dominated family life and was as changeable as the seasons. It should come to no surprise, then, that children were not always free to attend school. The school log books are full with entries on attendance – or poor attendance as often was – but offer us an insight into the day-to-day, and often inconsistent, life of the village.
A common reason for non-attendance was that a child was kept home to assist their parents. For impoverished families this was a frequent necessity, not being able to afford the help of domestic servants. Older siblings were often needed to watch over the younger ones whilst their mother was out on errands, worked, or got on with essential housework.
Another cause of being kept from school was for seasonal agricultural work, such as haymaking. This was an annual event which required a large workforce to tackle the job and consequently drew entire families to the fields, sometimes for several days at a time. It was not uncommon for families to have travelled several miles from home for seasonal work such as this.
The unpredictable British weather also kept children from venturing to the schoolhouse. Low temperatures and rain were not only a cause of aches, pains and chesty coughs, it was also horrendous for pupils who did not have appropriate clothing or footwear. To save these items from complete ruin, pupils simply stayed home. Poor weather also impacted day-to-day life for the village, sometimes requiring children to assist their parents in weatherproofing buildings or attending to their farms.
Occasionally, the schoolmaster had no choice but to shut the school gates for a week or so at a time. This was usually done as a precaution against exacerbating an epidemic in the local community. The log-books contain numerous occasions of widespread illness. For example, children were sent home for a week in May 1902 due to an outbreak of diphtheria:
This edition of West Sussex Unwrapped feels particularly pertinent during the Covid-19 pandemic. As we have seen, Victorian schools were constantly calculating the risks of illness and non-attendance (before the age of remote-schooling, of course!), but would seem to chime with the experiences of many teachers, pupils, and families across the world today. Nevertheless, the archives of Eastergate reveal many joyful stories, not least in the accomplishments of pupils in less-than-ideal circumstances.
Next month, we’ll be looking at the early Victorian estate, Warnham Court.
Screen Archive South East will showcase early film footage of the Warnham Court, featuring the estate’s brave beekeepers, highlights from sporting matches, and an elegant 1920s wedding.
Look out for Episode 4 on Tuesday 11th of May!
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