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Education

Stone Age Celtic Roman Saxon Medieval
Tudor Stuart Georgian Victorian Modern
Ethel May Payne age 6 Chewton Mendip used to have several schools. The oldest part of the modern school was built sometime before 1859. A building on Chew Hill had many uses, one of which was a school. There were also a number of schools teaching practical skills such as cheesemaking at Dudwell Farm. Ethel May Payne pictured on the left was a pupil at the girls school in Lower Street. The picture shown on the left was taken in 1896 when she was 6 years old. It is reproduced courtesy of Norah Weeks and Mervyn Speed. Ethel May was their mother. Education
Stone Age Many animals teach their young life skills and there was a lot for a hunter-gather child to learn at an early age. Knowledge has always been power and there was little separation between religion, science and art. The Mendip rocks and weather mean only a few flint tools and discarded flakes of flint remain as evidence of human occupation in the Stone Age. However, it is reasonable to assume that some shaman (or woman) may have claimed some ability to influence the hunt or harvest by performing some ritual in return for a share of the produce.We probably use a number system based on 10 because that is the number of digits we have on our hands. The earliest form of ‘writing’ was probably a form of tally marks on bones or sticks used to record the number of items in storage. Evidence from other places show that painting and sculpture were part of even very primitive societies. Hunter gatherers needed to have some concept of time and navigation to know where to find their food supplies. This may have included understanding the significance of the position of the sun and knowledge of the patterns made by the stars as well as reading the change in vegetation and other terrestrial signs. Return to the top of the list.
Celtic The ‘Ancient Britons’, or Celts, who inhabited all of what is now England and Wales and most of Scotland spoke variations of a language that would develop into modern Welsh. They did not appear to have a written language although some people claim a simple medieval script called Ogham had more ancient roots. The Romans described how the Celts were governed by fearsome priests called Druids who relied upon an oral history and knowledge that took years of training to learn. The trade in lead with the Middle East may have introduced other concepts such as a more sophisticated written language. Modern mathematics as we know it was developed in the Middle East and Ancient Greece during this time. Return to the top of the list.
Roman The Romans were a highly literate race but it is unlikely that they used Chewton Mendip for anything more than smelting lead ore and accommodation. Higher status finds suggest they may have practiced some form of religious ceremonies or other more ‘civilised’ activities. The composite Celtic-Roman goddess worshiped at Bath, Sulis-Minerva, was the goddess of learning amongst her other attributes. Latin was the language of the ruling classes although the Celtic language continued to be used. Return to the top of the list.
Saxon The influx of Anglo-Saxon invaders replaced the Celtic speaking society either through extermination or assimilation. The era is sometime called the ‘Dark Ages’ because of the lack of contemporary documentary evidence about the period. The language of the West Saxons was a different dialect from the East and North Saxons and these differences were increased by the Vikings who introduced Scandinavian influences. Both languages were mutually intelligible and could be written down but used different alphabets. The Old English spoken at the time contains few words that would be recognised today and is completely unintelligible to modern English speakers. One of Alfred the Great’s attributes was his admiration for learning and he encouraged his nobles to learn to read and write in English. Latin was still the language of the educated elite and Alfred translated some documents from Latin into English. Alfred’s work helped to establish the Wessex version of Old English as the ‘official’ language. He was the first monarch to have parts of the bible translated into English. Wells Cathedral School was founded in 909 but this was a ‘private’ school dedicated to training men for the priesthood and to serve in the Cathedral. Queen Edith, who held Chewton Mendip at the time of the Norman Conquest, was an educated woman who spoke several languages. Her education and piety were some reasons suggested for her childless marriage to Edward the Confessor. Return to the top of the list.
Medieval The traditional views was that the Normans re-introduced ‘civilisation’ to the savage English but the Doomsday Book is now seen as an example of English administrative ability. What is undeniable is that the Norman bought the French Language with them which means the language we now speak is significantly different from the Danish/Dutch combination that Old English may have developed into. The monasteries were centres of learning and the large number of ecclesiastical entities operating in the area means that education could have been provided to a number of people. The medieval history of Chewton Mendip is well documented partly due to the large number of ecclesiastical organisations that were in the area. Parish priests would offer education either to people who could afford to pay or to promising young men to be trained for the priest hood. Literacy could save your live in the medieval era. Cannon law did not allow the death penalty so anyone who could read could claim ‘benefit of clergy’ if they were accused of a crime which may have carried the death penalty if tried under common law.Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) is seen as the ‘father of English literature’ because he wrote in the vernacular Middle English. His best known work is the Canterbury Tales which is usually read in modern English translations. Chaucer came from Suffolk and Middle English showed greater variation of dialect and writing conventions than the Wessex dominated Old English.Public schools were founded in the late medieval period to break the church’s monopoly on learning and some of the famous ‘public schools’ date from this period. They were ‘public’ in as much as that anyone could attend if they were male and their parents could afford to pay. Return to the top of the list.
Tudor The monasteries were still the most common centres of learning and Latin was still the language of learning although English was the working language. This was the English of Shakespeare which was the beginning of Modern English. The gentlman shown on the right, Roger Manners, is one of the people suggested as the real author of Shakespeare’s work. The English Tudor period coincided with the renaissance when science and art split from religion. Astronomy split from astrology and chemistry and physics split from alchemy but biology and medicine was still based on concepts developed in classical times. Some members of the upper classes were educated. Both Mary I and Elizabeth I were fluent in several languages but their education was aimed at preparing them for a role as a subservient wife, not the monarch they both became. Return to the top of the list.
Stuart James I of England was known as the ‘wisest fool in Christendom’ to confirm that monarchs at least were educated. James I reign was also the beginning of colonisation which spread the English language throughout the globe.The first record of a school teacher in Chewton Mendip so far discovered is Brian Thomas who was teaching in 1636. He was appointed by the Bishop of Bath & Wells in what was a highly charged situation that would soon erupt into civil war.The Wells Blue School was established in 1641 and it is probable that some of the wealthier people of Chewton Mendip sent their sons there. It is probably girls also received some education based on the ability of some women to at least write their names on documents that survive from that period. Return to the top of the list.
Georgian The will of John Dory the younger of Chewton Mendip dated 1759 provides money for endowing a girl’s school and other 18thcentury records make reference to a ‘girls’ school. ‘Apprenticeships’ were provided to poor children paid for by the parish. Sometimes skills like blacksmithing were learnt but what records remain suggest that the children were used as cheap labour. The records show that many members of the ruling oligarch were literate but some relied upon other people to prepare the accounts and documents they put their name to. The majority of people could only make their mark if they were required to sign a document despite the free school mentioned in Collision’s History of Somerset published in the 1790s. Return to the top of the list.
Victorian Several buildings in the village were associated with schools during the 19thcentury and the current village school could have been built any time from 1823, when the ‘Old Rectory’ was built, to 1859 when the current school appears on the deeds of what is now the ‘Old Vicarage’. A 1846 National Society’s Return of Church Schools reported that Chewton Mendip has a population of 1216 and there were 141 children at the school. 100 years later the population had fallen to just over 500 and the school photographs of 1939 show approximately 50 pupils. This means that the percentage of children attending school in the middle of the 19th century was not very different from the middle of the 20thcentury. However, the earliest school registers date from the 1860s so attendance cannot be compared and some of the children in the Victorian era may have been over the age of 11. George Tredwell, the head master from 1867 to 1892, conducted analysis of attendance figures and census results in the earliest register so far discovered. The schools were amalgamated on the site of the current school in 1861 when the previous vicar, the Rev David Drakeford, sold the land to the ‘Minister and Churchwardens’. The site of the school is the most likely location of the mediaeval vicarage house where some of earliest lessons may have been given by the vicar of the time. The vicar at the time of the 1861 transaction was the Rev Richard Philpott who took over from the Rev David Drakeford in 1858. James McMutrie, the manager of all of the Walderave estates, wrote to Francis Countess Waldegrave in 1872 complaining it was uneconomic to employ the 20 boys under 12 in the mines because of the unreasonable demand imposed by recent legislation (presumably the Education Act of 1870) that they had to attend school for half a day! The school registers still available start just before that date and record the names and addresses of the people who attended the school and documents the decline in the population of the village. ‘left the parish’ is a description of what happened to many pupils when they finished their time in the school. Very few went on to secondary education. The factory Act of 1876 recommended that fulltime education be made compulsory to prevent child labour and full-time education became compulsory for 5 to 10 year olds in 1880 but a few was payable until 1891. The cost and other practical necessities meant the start of the autumn term was probably more influenced by the end of the harvest than the school calendar. Another issue was the attitude to education. The main requirements for farmers were the ability to milk a cow and lift a sack of corn. Practical skills were taught to the children, including knitting to both boys and girls ,but this probably did not improve the attitude towards education of farmers, miners and other people involved in hard physical work. Compulsory school attendance was extended to 11 in 1893 and to 12 in 1899. The earliest school photograph available to this website is from 1892. Return to the top of the list.
Modern The first school photographs are from the victorian era and there are class photographs for many years. Some of the older ones are published in this website.The school is still on what was probably the original site but there were plans to build a new school near ‘The Folly’. These plans got as far as marking out the plan on the ground but the development was cancelled. Instead, new buildings and facilities were added and the school attracts pupils from several villages.Return to the top of the list.

Please refer to the acknowledgements page for a list of the contributors to this website.

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