Memories of Wilburton School, Snowstorms, and Edwardian Earthworms

Memories of attending Wilburton Primary School, Cambridgeshire, during the Edwardian era, including snowstorms and 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.

Mother’s Day 2013

It’s Mother’s Day today in the UK – here’s a photographic gallery of my female ancestors.

Today is Mothering Sunday here in the UK, so what better way to mark it than to share a gallery of photos of my female ancestors.

The photographs show both my paternal and maternal direct-line of mothers, reaching from my mother to my Great Great Great Grandmother (Ann Bowers) on my maternal line, and from my father’s mother to my Great Great Great Great Grandmother (Avis Tall) on my paternal line.

Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version, and to view them as a slideshow.

Happy Mother’s Day!

My Maternal branch of Mothers

My Paternal branch of Mothers

Surname Saturday: BISHOP

 Bishop is the 201st most common surname in the UK, a fall of almost 30 places from the 1880s. According to John Ayto (Encyclopedia of Surnames), the surname of Bishop originates from a person who was a servant in the house of a Bishop or from someone whose appearance or demeanour was similar to that of a Bishop.

I’ve managed to trace my Bishop ancestors back to the 1700s with the help of fellow researcher and distant relative Gerard Kelly.

My most recent Bishop ancestor was my Gt Gt Grandmother, Adelaide Bishop (born in 1877, pictured). She was the fourteenth child of a total of eighteen children of a James Simpson Bishop and his wife Ann (née Bowers) of Wicken, Cambridgeshire. With this many children it’s a wonder how the name has declined at all, but in this family alone daughters were most common.

James Simpson Bishop was born in 1842 in Soham, a place that unfortunately needs little introduction. However, for the 1851 census the family had moved to a farm at Twineham in West Sussex – an unusual move considering that very few families at the time moved much further than the next village. I can only assume that James’ parents took the family there for work – perhaps as tenant farmers. By 1858 the family had returned to Cambridgeshire and are living close to Soham in the village of Fordham, before moving again to Wicken.

The family remained around this area with many children marrying and starting their own families.