Heating the Old School

Sybil Perry’s huge file of Memories of Market Lavington, completed in 2006, includes information about her time at the school both as a pupil in the 1920s and a teacher in the 1940s. We will share Sybil’s memories of the heating system and the trials and tribulations caused by the stoves in Sybil’s own words!

“Each of the three classrooms had a large combustion stove on one side of the room to provide heat in the winter. They were called ‘Tortoise’ stoves because they were slow burning. Each one was lit by the school caretaker who was supposed to get them burning early enough so that the rooms were warm when the school opened at 9 am. They were very temperamental though, especially if the wind was in the wrong direction, and it blew down the chimney pipe. Then, instead of the smoke escaping, it was blown back into the classroom.”

Sybil said that these were about 90cm high and surrounded by an iron fireguard.

“When I became a teacher and taught there myself for ten years from 1941, I often had to let the class continue playing in the playground in the morning after the bell had gone, while I raked all the coke out of the stove – a very dusty job – and relaid and relit the fire. The room was full of the most horrible smoke, which smelt of sulphur, and of course it was very cold in the room as the windows and door had to be left open wide for the smoke to escape. I would then take the children for a walk for about half an hour to give the smoke a chance to clear. I think we must have been lucky with the weather as I don’t recall having to go on a wet day, probably because the wind was in a different direction and didn’t cause a down draught. What teachers of today (2000) would think of such goings on I don’t know, but that was all in a day’s work then! Before the children could put anything on their desks, I had to wipe them over as the smoke had made them dirty. There was no hot water in school for me to clean myself up after all that, just cold from a tap.”

Cold water from a tap was an improvement on the water situation when Sybil Baker was a pupil there. She wrote that (in the 1920s) “There was no water in the school, so every morning two of the oldest boys were sent to Broadwell spring, which was near the school. They had to take a galvanised bucket each to fill up. One bucketful was put in the girls’ cloakroom and one in the boys’ for drinking purposes, but each was only provided with one mug, which we all shared! We could only use a tiny drop for washing our hands. When the buckets were empty, the boys had to go and refill them.”

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