Memories of Wilburton School, Snowstorms, and Edwardian Earthworms


I started school when I was 5 years old [1904].

My mother [Adelaide (née Bishop)] was very good, she used to show us how to write, count and read as she taught the infants at Little Thetford school. Our school [Wilburton Primary] consisted of two rooms – a big one divided by a wooden and glass partition which was pulled across.

Mrs Alma Marchant with children from Wilburton Primary School, Cambridgeshire in about 1904.

Mrs Alma Marchant with children from Wilburton Primary School. Maude is apparently 5ft from left, on the third row. Image: CCAN.

There were over 100 of us with two teachers, Mr Harry Marchant and his wife Alma, who lived in the school house. The school was built on the back of their house.

Alma A. Marchant mistress at Wilburton School

Strict or soft? Alma A. Marchant mistress at Wilburton School. Image: CCAN.

The girls and infants had to go in the front way. We had a small playground and the
laboratories were in a block across there with the fuel shed. We only had a small porch for
hanging our coats and bags in, so they had to hang over one another which wasn’t very well on wet days.

There’s something in the water

We had a basket behind the door with a tin bowl on it where we used to wash in and a roller-towel on the door. We used to have to pump water to wash in but we were not
allowed to drink the water as we used to pump earthworms up sometimes and our teachers had to fetch their drinking water from another house.

We used to take food with us for midday and go out begging for water to drink. There were quite a lot of us dinner children, as the came from far away places.

Mother always cooked us some hot dinner when it was cold.

Lost in the snow

We lived a long way from school. I remembered my next sister, Jessie and I got lost in a
snow storm. We had to walk down a long path. It was dark and snowing hard and the school master had kept us in until 4pm.

The big children ran home without us, so mother ran to the station and told father (the stationmaster) and he had to run up the path looking for us in between train arrivals.

We were lost and it was snowing hard and we did not know which way to go. We were heading the wrong way – back to Wilburton. Jessie was five and I was six.

I think poor old dad didn’t get and tea that night. He used to have to get his meals when he could and if he had to put overtime in when trains were late he had to lay off the next day to make it up.

During dinner times we played with skipping ropes, hoops, tops, marbles and balls. We sat in school at long desks attached and tightly pushed together and it was very cold for those at the back as the stoves didn’t send much heat back there.

Father sent a letter to the school master the day after we got lost, and gave him a good
telling off! It was too dark to do lessons, so why didn’t he keep us in? After that, Mr Marchant let all the long-distance children go home sooner when it was dark early.

Schoolmaster Mr Marchant, with children at the Wilburton Primary School. Image: CCAN.

Schoolmaster Mr Harry Marchant, with children at the Wilburton Primary School. Image: CCAN.

Making Do

We were very poor as he only brought home about 15 shillings and 10 pence after he had paid house rent and club money.

Father was a good gardener and he grew us plenty of vegetables. He kept bees so that we
got some honey and mother made a lot of jam. We used to do sewing and knitting at night
when we had washed up.

Mother was good at that and she used to put us right and we used to teach other dinner children. We used to pull old socks undone to do it and children from farms brought fencing nails as needles.

We used to have some happy times, and we used to play in the road.

Passing exams and saying ‘goodbye’

I passed an exam when I was twelve and had to go and work in the fruit gardens to earn a few more shillings but the poor Dr. Banardos children were sent to Canada and Australia to work when they were twelve.

It did seem a shame and we didn’t see them again, poor little things. The people who had them were very upset over that as some of them had had them from babies.

About Maude Barber

Maude Barber (née Yarrow), the great grandmother of Andrew Martin. My blog posts are lifted from interviews and letters sent to him, and my granddaughter, during my 104 year life.
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3 Responses to Memories of Wilburton School, Snowstorms, and Edwardian Earthworms

  1. Valmay Young says:

    Wonderful! I look forward to reading more of Maude’s memories.

  2. Liz Finnie says:

    Simply and beautifully told!

    • Thanks Liz,

      Maude was a wonderful storyteller. I guess that’s what 104 years gives you – the ability to absorb life’s events, and share them with fondness and a spark of humour.

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