Whitehall Infant School 1899-1923 (part 2): The Sarah Jane Parker Story

Introduction
This article follows on from that looking at the background and opening of the school in 1899. In this article I want to take a look the early years of the school, specifically the period between 1899 and 1923. This was the tenure of the first headmistress, Sarah Jane Woodward (nee Parker). The period covers the opening of the main school, the transfer from School Boards to the Local Education Authority in 1902, the building and opening of the new Infant Department in 1903 and of course, the harrowing time of the First World War. What will become clear is that Sarah faced a multitude of day-to-day problems regarding staffing, the children, the building, sickness and overcrowding. These problems and experiences will be seen through the eyes of Sarah herself, who detailed the daily life in the school log book. It will become evident in just how schools and education has changed. Remember, you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Whitehall Infant Department, fronting Weston Street, opened in c1902. 2014.

The rear of the former Whitehall Infant Department, fronting Weston Street, opened in 1903. 2014.

Sarah Jane Parker (Woodward)
History is all about context, so it would help if I first talked a little about Sarah. Sarah Jane Parker was born in Shenstone (near Lichfield), in 1863. Her parents were the 24 year-old William (originally from Edgbaston) and the slightly older, Sarah (originally from Cannock). William was a commercial traveller, selling flour and malt. His job saw the family up-sticks more than once, including a venture to Aylestone in Leicestershire. His position was lucrative enough for the family to settle in Vicarage Place, Walsall, by 1868. The family grew and by 1871 there were five children: Ann (9), Sarah (8),  William (6), Ada (3) and Edith (2). It is interesting to note that the census shows that the eldest children were at school, although the level of compulsory education in Walsall at this time is a moot point. The family were also affluent enough to afford domestic help in the form of Emma Rowley.

1871 census for the Parkers, at Vicarage Place, Walsall (National Archives)

1871 census for the Parker family at Vicarage Place, Walsall
(National Archives)

By 1881 the family were living on the Wednesbury Rd, Walsall. William is still a commercial traveller and there has been the addition of Ernest, who was born in 1872. None of the elder children have a profession listed, but William is described as a lawyer’s apprentice. The younger children are all scholars, including Ada who is 13. There is no longer any domestic help, but there is a visitor. It isn’t clear what the relationship is between Elizabeth Woodward and the family is, but I suspect she is a friend of Sarah Jane because she is the same age as Sarah and Sarah would go on to marry a John Woodward in 1902. By 1883, Sarah is working in the employ of the Walsall School Board. She is an assistant teacher at the newly opened Wolverhampton Road Infant School (now The Afro-Caribbean Centre, after the schools were closed in 1967 and 1971), She earned £40 p.a. She qualified as a full teacher in 1885.

According to the census of 1891 the family are still living on the Wednesbury Rd. William senior is still a flour salesman. It is interesting to note that both of Sarah’s youngest sisters have followed her into the teaching profession. William has become a clerk at a saddler’s and ironmongers, while Ernest is an apprentice there. All the family are still together and all are employed. The family must have been comfortable financially. Sadly, just after the census was taken, Annie would pass away. This was likely the second sibling that Sarah Jane had lost, as we know from the 1911 census that her parents had had seven children, but only five were still alive. On a happier note, a glance through the Walsall School Board records shows that by 1892, and still at Wolverhampton Road Infant School, Sarah was earning £55 p.a. In 1894, brother Ernest would fly the nest after getting married.

1891 census for the Parker family on Wednesbury Rd - all are working, with three of the girls being teachers. (National Archives)

1891 census for the Parker family on Wednesbury Rd – all are working, with three of the girls being teachers.
(National Archives)

Sarah’s career would advance in June 1896, when she was appointed as headmistress of the Wisemore Infant School (the school opened in 1873, as a part of the programme of school building under the Walsall School Board and closed entirely in 1937). She remained at the school for around three years, as she applied for and got the head-ship of the newly constructed Whitehall Infant School in April 1899. It seemed that there were two sets of interviews: nobody was appointed after the first round, but after the second set of interviews she was appointed after outshining Miss Chambers (from Grantham), Miss Mabbott (from Norwich) and Miss Tewlis (from Hull) .

Again, the 1901 census shows that the family are still at Wednesbury Rd. William senior had become a general insurance agent, whereas William junior had become a life assurance agent. In 1902, the now mature Sarah married a John William Woodward in Aston. The couple moved into their own house at 4 Westbourne St, Walsall. John Woodward turns out to be a bit of an enigma: he has a common name and unless I buy the marriage certificate, it is somewhat unclear as to who he actually is (and I am too miserable to do that). The question of Sarah getting married throws-up some interesting questions. Many female teachers were required to resign upon their marriage or elected to leave, but it must have been different for a headmistress as opposed to assistant teachers. Both of Sarah’s sisters remained unmarried.

Sarah would lose her father in February 1903. I also think tragedy strikes again in 1904, as we know from the 1911 census that she and John had had a child at some stage, but it had died. I suggest this sad event took place around February 1904 for two reasons: first, Sarah was 41 by this stage and second, she had 3 months leave of absence in from February of that year. This leave was sanctioned by the Walsall Education Committee. Again, I would need the certificate to be sure.

February 1904, Sarah passes over to Sarah Guy for 3 months leave of absence. (Walsall Local History Centre)

February 1904, Sarah passes over to Sarah Guy for 3 months leave of absence.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

The issue of John Woodward isn’t resolved by the 1911 census, as he simply isn’t on it. Still in Westbourne St, only Sarah is listed. She is described as Mrs W Woodward on the front-page and it is stated, as well as losing a child, that she has completed 8 years of marriage. John is listed in the Walsall Red Book as being the head of household, so we must assume he is away on business. Sarah lost her mother in March 1914.

The First World War would be a traumatic experience for Sarah: we know this for certain, as she had more than one nervous breakdown. It is evident that the continual problems she faced at the school, many exacerbated by the War, coupled with the lack of resources she had available to deal with them, eventually ground her down. Secondly, Sarah lost Edith, her youngest sister in October 1916. Finally, a suggestion: the school was a focal point of the local community and Sarah had been at the helm since 1899; I cannot believe she was not distressed by the fact that the very children that she had taught back then were now going to war and it was becoming increasingly obvious many were not coming home.

She continued to serve the school until she resigned in 1923, the record of which in the log book is a little underwhelming to say the least. I am not sure if this a spontaneous decision as she was 60 by this time, but  I did note that her husband disappears from the electoral register at that time (although I cannot trace a death). Sarah moved to Lichfield St in the early 1930s. She died in June 1935 and is buried at Ryecroft Cemetery.

Sarah's laconic resignation as reported in the log book. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Sarah’s laconic resignation as reported in the log book.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Sarah grew-up within a close family that was financially secure. Three of the girls went into teaching, which at that time was a widening profession and one open to women (once there was state involvement from 1870). When you read her log book, you really appreciate the difficulties she faced, often in the face of personal and suppressed tragedy. In an age of stiff upper-lip, she comes across as refreshingly honest and direct. In my opinion the school should be very proud of her.

The Building 1899-1914
The School was opened in 1899, with the Infant Department being located temporarily in the main school. This temporary arrangement was to see 205 pupils accommodated, but by the end of the first week 226 were on the roll. The number on the roll grew slowly over the next weeks and it also became apparent that desks were not suited to the infants, as they ‘are too large being standard 1 size and in consequence many of the children have to stand-up to write’. As the first winter approached Sarah Parker noted that ‘both teachers and scholars have been thoroughly cold; in fact the “babies” have looked quite blue and pinched’.

On 22 April 1901, Sarah noted, after an intake of 35 children, that the school was ‘too full to be workable’.  By mid-1902 there were 291 children on the books. This increased again in 1903, when 24 ‘standard 0’ pupils (‘very dull’ in the parlance of the day) were sent to her from the Junior Department. Finally, on 8 June 1903 the new infant school was opened.

Whitehall Infant Department, 1926 photographed by W Bullock. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Whitehall Infant Department, 1926
photographed by W Bullock.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

There had been two additions, the Infant Department and a Cookery Classroom – this latter being sensibly placed away from the main buildings as it was a fire risk 🙂 . The building was designed and completed by the same companies as the main school. The Infant Department could now cater for the 350 pupils it was meant to and by the end of the first week there were 319 on the roll; by the end of 1903, the number had way passed the 350 mark.

The block-plan showing the position of the new Infant Department (Walsall Local History Centre)

The block-plan of the new Infant Department
(Walsall Local History Centre)

The new department was as equally impressive as the main school. The front on Weston Street had a porch which led into a vestibule area off which were cloakrooms and toilets. The classrooms to the left were for ’50 babies’; those to the right were for 60 children, as were the three classrooms at the back of the building. These were arranged in a horseshoe shape around a central ‘marching hall’ where drill classes would be taken. It was lit by high windows. Further cloakrooms were located near the ‘teachers room’, which had a small projecting tower as an architectural feature.

The new Infant Department, opened 8 June 1903. (Walsall Local History Centre)

The new Infant Department, opened 8 June 1903.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

The Cookery Class was separate to the main building, as stated, and it is interesting to note that the fire drills were inaugurated around the time that it was built. The classroom had its own pantry, sink, cooking range and oven grate. The main entrance was from Weston Street. One assumes that, in keeping with the times, this class was only for the girls (hence its location on the girls’ side of the junior playground).

The Cookery Class (Walsall Local History Centre)

The Cookery Class
(Walsall Local History Centre)

It is now joined to the main former Infant Department, although that is no longer a part of the school. It is currently used as a parent/toddler art class.

The Cookery Class, today. 2014.

The Cookery Class, today. 2014.

The school would not alter again under Sarah’s control. The freezing temperature of the classrooms (as low as 32F – that is freezing)  would never be resolved while she was at the school, despite continual complaints to the caretaker. She once described a class so cold that ‘the children cannot hold their pencils’.

Staffing 1899-1914
Sarah Parker’s first entry into the school log book listed her teaching staff. She herself was at the head. The next in seniority was Florence Clare, who was a certified assistant teacher. This meant that she had passed her Queen’s Scholarship Examination. All of the remaining teachers were pupil-teachers to some degree. A pupil-teacher was, in 1899, a 13 year-old pupil that was selected on account of ability to receive a further 5-years of education as well as being trained to teach. Lily Wilson was an ‘article 50’ teacher, in other words she had undergone this 5-year programme, but had not yet passed her teaching certificate. Miriam Craddock had received 3-years training, Lily Homer 2-years and Annie Smith was a new starter.

Sarah's first entry, listing the teaching staff. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Sarah’s first entry, listing the teaching staff.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Within days, Sarah was crying-out for more staff as ‘the school cannot possibly be worked at all satisfactorily with the present staff… the two girls from Bath St Girls’ School are quite lost with infants… and require to be taught themselves’. Parker was desperate for help and writes frustratingly in the log that she needs an assistant mistress as well as an ‘article 68’ teacher (this is simply someone over 18 that is considered moral and can prove they have been vaccinated). She cannot give any scripture lessons on account that pupil-teachers are not responsible for them. On 9 October relief came in the form of Miss James, an ‘article 50’ teacher.

Parker bemoans the insufficient teaching staff and accommodation. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Parker bemoans the insufficient teaching staff and accommodation.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Sarah confided her criticisms of her staff to the book, but this wasn’t back-biting as she makes it plain that she spoke to those concerned and the log was open to inspection by the Education Authority. Annie Smith was a worry to her, as she was ‘not bright or energetic enough’.  Saying that, this type of comment was rare and after the initial teething problems the inspection reports were favourable. Smith stayed on and passed ‘well’ in 1901 and new probationers, Nellie Whitfield and Nellie Smith, started. By 1902 there were nine teachers, four being pupil-teachers and two ‘article 50s’. In the May, Florence Clare, certified teacher, resigned, but fortunately she was replaced within months by Miss Cotterell and a Miss Nevill (article 68). 1903 would see further pupil-teachers come, but the mainstay was the head, two certified teachers and three ‘article 50s’.

In 1904, one certified assistant was transferred to the Junior Department and Annie Smith went to the Stockwell Training College to continue her training. In the November, Agnes Millichip arrived to ease the burden on the staff. For the first time we also see supply teachers being sent short-term to the school to assist, as so many teachers fell ill.  Sarah Guy’s short stay as headmistress had proved ‘most satisfactory’. Staff turn over became more frequent, but the sickness continued with six staff absent on one day in November 1905.

There was nearly a complete change of assistant teachers in August 1908. Thereafter staff turn-over became an endemic problem, as teachers either left (to get married etc) or transferred to other schools; Sarah would write, on 6 June 1910, that ‘such constant change among the teaching staff [makes] it impossible for the work to be carried out’. Further, when Lois Frost (a certified assistant) arrived in April 1911, she had never taught an infant class before and required training herself – she lasted until the July, when she resigned. One success was Dora Shipley, she left Whitehall to become headmistress at Palfrey Infant School in December 1912.

The Children 1899-1914
When Parker talks of the children, she at times does not mince her words; political correctness was not an issue. It is interesting to note her annoyance over the children’s lack of prior schooling from her first intake, which should have been compulsory by 1899. She noted that a few children had been to a Dame School for a few weeks, but many children ‘did not know anything’ and ‘had not the slightest idea of a letter, or even of holding a pencil to start the rudiments of writing’. While things were to improve, initially, the more she examined the children the more she realised that the situation was ‘anything but satisfactory’. She took comfort in the  fact that the HM Inspector’s report for the first year stated that ‘a good start has been made’.

Sarah is frustrated that many of the children had not received direction prior to coming to Whitehall. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Sarah is frustrated that many of the children had not received direction prior to coming to Whitehall.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Sickness would become a continual problem, both for staff and children. This was in-part due to the freezing classrooms. In the October 1899, Parker noted that ‘children in this district stay away with the very slightest ailment’, yet the following week the school closed for a half-day for hitting its attendance target. In November she encountered her first outbreak of whooping-cough, when she describes the absence as ‘wholesale’ and ‘a very great number [of absences are] most fictitious and unreliable’. She points an accusative finger at the Board’s Attendance Officer. In January 1900 she wrote to all parents about attendance out of frustration. In the June the school closed for a whole month due to a measles epidemic (something unthinkable today), yet the Board continued to give time-off for special occasions such as the relief of Ladysmith, Mafeking and the Queen’s birthday (also pretty unthinkable).

On 3 August 1900 she notes how several of the children have left to go to Palfrey School as a ‘whim’, and she clearly felt that this shouldn’t be allowed. She couldn’t have been that much of an ogre, as one boy turned back-up at the school on 20 August 🙂 . Parker again gets frustrated in the September, when the fair arrives and sets-up over the road – as she notices ‘numbers of the children can be seen there’.  Sarah tried the disciplined approach, giving small detentions for late arrivals. These increased dramatically when the Board moved the school starting time to 9 am from 9.30 am, as the gates were locked at this time and children had to go back home if they arrived too late.

Lessons were somewhat simple in 1900 – I have a guess the teachers didn’t complete lesson plans 🙂 . The ‘babies’ would have lessons on; the cow, the sheep, a cat, a dog, a doll, a bed, an apple and an orange. The Infants would, among other lessons, have;  texture lessons (hard, soft, rough, smooth etc), nature lessons (flora, fauna and the natural world) and domestic lessons (foods, money and one on a candle 😦 ).

Lessons for 1900, for the 'baby class' and the Infants.  (Walsall Local History Centre)

Baby and infant lessons, 1900 style.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Christmas 1901 would see a poor attendance due to the severity of the snow, with only 37% of the children attending. Sarah, full of Christmas cheer, decided to close the school on account of it. Previously she had kept the school open when there was ‘snow up to the knees of the children’. On 9 January 1902 the first mention is made in the log book of corporal punishment, when three boys were given the tawse for playing truant. Later the same month, the first real parent’s evening was held and all seemed ‘very pleased’. The mid-year was hampered by a large measles outbreak.

The first parents evening? January 1902, when the school was 'thrown open'. (Walsall Local History Centre)

The first parents evening, January 1902.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

1903 shows what a different world it was. It opened with a teacher complaint, which saw a girl sent home due to her malodorous condition, followed by a parental complaint where it was alleged that a teacher had hit her boy on the head ‘with the bell handle’ as she called the children into school.  Then, the night of the 17 March would prove to be everyone’s worst nightmare. A ‘most unfortunate’ episode occurred where two girls went back into the school after home-time and managed to lock themselves in a classroom. They were ‘liberated’ the following day, apparently ‘none the worse for the occurrence’. The parents agreed that the teachers were blame-free – amazingly it appears that nobody missed them.

17 March 1903, two girls get locked in the classroom overnight and are only found the next day! (Walsall Local History Centre)

17 March 1903, two girls get locked in the classroom overnight and are only found the next day!
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Late 1903 saw a scarlet fever outbreak, forcing teachers and pupils into isolation in some cases; this was exacerbated by an outbreak of whooping cough – where many children were off for 8-10 weeks. The school still managed to close on 29 April 1904 for half-day, in consequence of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show visiting Walsall. Sarah had another outburst in January 1905, when 70 children were absent due to the weather, she felt ‘the parents in this district seem to think they can do as they please in this matter’. By the end of the 1905 school year, there were 424 scholars on the roll.

1906 opened with the customary transfer of pupils to the Junior Department, relieving the overcrowding; but as with other years, the numbers would increase to over-capacity as the year went on in what was a seemingly never-ending cycle. In the December several cases of diphtheria were reported. January 1909 would see the first free school breakfasts and dinners provided.

It wasn’t uncommon for children to be over the compulsory age when they started at the school, but an extraordinary incident occurred in May 1912 when two children were admitted to the school that were 8 years of age and yet had never been to school before. While the parental actions had been illegal in keeping them at home, Sarah just bemoaned the fact that it ‘spoils an Infant School’.

The War
And so the War came. It brought some fresh issues, but on the whole it simply exacerbated the already existing problems. Sarah starts off in the same frustrated way, as she saw the Infant Department turned over for military use. As far as I can tell, this was for the billeting of soldiers on the way to the front and continued on and off into February 1915.

16 September 1914, and the school is taken over by the military. (Walsall Local History Centre)

16 September 1914 , the school is taken over by the military.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

The teachers continued to play doctor, with children having to be sent home for turning-up at the school with mumps and other illnesses. Of course, the potentially fatal measles was ever present.

A 'great falling off' of numbers caused by the ever-present and potentially deadly measles. April 1915. (Walsall Local History Centre)

A ‘great falling off’ of numbers caused by the ever-present and potentially deadly measles. April 1915.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

On 21 May 1915 the school celebrated Empire Day, as it always did. This year however, along with the patriotic songs, the scholars collected £1 15s 6d for sending tobacco and other parcels to ‘the brave soldiers and sailors now fighting for the Empire’. This was no mean amount, as the school pupils consisted mainly of the children of railwaymen employed at Bescot and other places.

21 May 1915, Empire Day. Celebrated at the school with a collection of tobacco for the troops - can't imagine that now. (Walsall Local History Centre)

21 May 1915, Empire Day. Celebrated at the school with a collection of tobacco for the troops – can’t imagine that now.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

In June, things began to change. Suddenly the frustrations and annoyances give way to stress and exhaustion. Miss Crump absented herself for several weeks after having what was described by Sarah as a nervous breakdown. She would not see the War out at Whitehall School.

Today it is called a stress-related illness. Sarah pulls no punches (Walsall Local History Centre)

Today it is a stress-related illness, then a breakdown
(Walsall Local History Centre)

This extract from 29 October shows the almost repetitive nature of Sarah’s frustrations over the poor heating, which she directly relates to the continual coughs, colds and chest troubles among the staff and scholars. This would simply have not been allowed today on health and safety grounds.

October 1915, same old.. same old. The sickness of the teachers and scholars caused by poor heating. (Walsall Local History Centre)

October 1915, same old.. same old. The sickness of the teachers and scholars caused by poor heating.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Finally in December 1915 the grinding down of Sarah was complete and she too succumbs in her own words to a nervous breakdown. Ironically, things were just going to get worse… and worse.

December 1915, Sarah has a breakdown. (Walsall Local History Centre).

December 1915, Sarah has a breakdown.
(Walsall Local History Centre).

1916 opened without optimism. The last day of January arrived and so did a new menace that was equally out of Sarah’s control. Walsall would sit through a bombing raid by two Zeppelin airships. The first struck the town around 8 pm and would result in the deaths of several people; the second struck just after midnight on 1 February and left one further fatality. From a German point of view, it could be argued that the airships were aiming for legitimate transport targets, namely the railway (first raid) and the canal (second raid), as all of the traceable bombs do fall close to these targets; however, the fact remains they strayed to hit a church, hospital and a set of urinals in Bradford Place. From a Walsall perspective, it would appear to be an indiscriminate attack: Sarah sums-up the feeling within Walsall on the following morning, when she describes the ‘universal shock’ felt by the community. One teacher reported sick for a week with a bilious attack, which was attributed to the raid.

Sarah describes the 'universal shock' felt within Walsall after the Zeppelin raids the night before. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Sarah describes the ‘universal shock’ felt within Walsall after the Zeppelin raids the night before.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

The raid was followed by terrible weather, with snow lasting all the way through to the March. On the 13 March there was no fuel available to heat the school and it closed for a couple of days. The same day is marked by Sarah complaining that two teachers were absent (one having been so for a month) and that no supply teachers had been sent. On the 28 March, the severe weather saw only 17 children turn-up.

March 1916 sees the school hit by snow blizzards  and the War has resulted in a shortage of fuel for heating (Walsall Local History Centre)

March 1916 saw the school hit by snow blizzards and the War has left a shortage of fuel for heating
(Walsall Local History Centre)

May 1916 witnessed Miss Chapman going off for a number of weeks on account that her nerves being ‘very much unstrung’. A few days later, Miss Marsh would suffer a heart attack. Sarah’s comment in the log on this may appear a little harsh: she simply mentions that fact and that she had been off for a month, just a couple of months before. I think this is stress. In the August, Miss Malcolm simply fails to arrive at school without giving any warning – thus leaving a class of 58 boys without a teacher. The October saw scarlet-fever return.

On 8 November, Sarah really explodes. Supply teacher, Dorothy Breeze had been recalled to her own school by the Education Department. Sarah emphatically pointed out that the whole school of 282 children (it was early in the school year) was left to be taught by three teachers; she goes on to say that a fortnight before, when she was away, there were only two teachers present – making 141 scholars per teacher 😦 . She simply states that this is ‘retarding the progress of the school’.

8 November 1916, Dorothy Breeze fails to turn-up prompting an outburst in the log from Sarah. (Walsall Local History Centre)

8 November 1916, Dorothy Breeze fails to turn-up prompting an outburst in the log from Sarah.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

And so 1917 arrived with Miss Wilson reporting sick as she was ‘completely run down’. In the March, as if the teachers had nothing else to do, they were employed in war-work. The school was closed as Infant teachers (generally everywhere) were utilised to distribute National Service forms. The school was then closed the following week as they had to go and collect the forms. The April saw just two teacher in to teach what was now over 300 pupils and Sarah despaired over the ‘utter impossibility’ of the situation; little wonder that by the end of the month she was suffering from a second breakdown. The winter again brought freezing temperatures within the school and the usual illnesses. You can almost feel the pain in her words when she wrote on 8 March 1918 that ‘the school was fearfully cold again this morning’. 25 March would see another closure for war-work, this time to distribute meat-rationing cards.

The school is fearfully cold again... (Walsall Local History Centre)

The school is fearfully cold again…
(Walsall Local History Centre)

The middle months of 1918 seemed to be ones of sickness. The school was closed on 31 May for 2 weeks by order of the Medical Officer of Health on account of a measles epidemic, as all schools were. Similarly, on 4 June all schools were closed for a week and two days due to an influenza outbreak. On 25 June, Miss Millichip collapsed at work. She was taken to the doctor, who ordered to bed as she was suffering from an ‘acute attack of influenza’. Today, much is made of trying to keep teachers with a particular class; contrast this to the top class at Whitehall in October 1918, they had had five teachers in four months after the departure of Mildred Heys after just four days.

The ongoing staffing turn-over is shown by Mildred Heys, who works for just 4 days. (Walsall Local History Centre)

The ongoing staffing turn-over is shown by Mildred Heys,
(Walsall Local History Centre)

On 23 October, Ida Hubble joined the teaching staff at the tender age of 16. Ida had passed her Cambridge Exam while in Wolverhampton Orphanage. Ida could be teaching classes of 60 pupils. I asked my 17 year-old daughter if she fancied taking on a class of 60 children, she shook her head, admitting that if she couldn’t even keep her room tidy, what the hell would she do with a class of infants 🙂 .

Ida Hubble, a 16 year-old prospective teacher could be taking classes of 60 pupils.  (Walsall Local History Centre)

Ida Hubble, a 16 year-old prospective teacher could be taking classes of 60 pupils.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

The guns fell silent on 11 November 1918. You may expect this to have been greeted enthusiastically by Sarah as it was all over, or possibly annoying her as there was a risk of a day’s school holiday in celebration! The pupils were not awarded a day-off, nor did Sarah even mention it. There was good reason for this and one very much in keeping with the time: the school had closed for two months on account of the Spanish Flu epidemic. This flu killed more than the War that year, and it was the bloodiest year of the War.

30 December 1918, the school has re-opened after a lengthy closure due to the Spanish Flu epidemic.  (Walsall Local History Centre)

30 December 1918, the school has re-opened after a lengthy closure due to the Spanish Flu epidemic.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

To the End
1919 opened as countless years had before; the end of the War had changed nothing. On 17 February, Sarah’s sister, Ada Helen Parker started at the school. You would assume this was a blessing as she wouldn’t have employed her otherwise, but it may simply have been that staffing numbers had forced it. Three members of staff were away in the April, when the school was described as an ‘ice-house’ by Sarah. Empire Day was observed on 23 May, with the pupils saluting the flag.  Peace Day was also celebrated on 19 July, with a tea in school, sports on the field and every child receiving a toy and bag of sweets. The Inspector’s report for 1919 acknowledged the problems but was also critical of the children not being taught to their full capabilities. The year ended with school joining the ‘welcome home’ to the South Staffs Regiment.

1920 saw the usual admittance of over-aged children to the school. Sarah may have been worn down by the War, but she still clearly cared as ‘they cannot skip over the elementary training or they are ruined for their school career’. 1921 would see the school close on account of the ‘census returns’, something that would have likely annoyed Sarah but will amuse current family historians. 1922 started with yet another of the ‘everlasting’ staffing crisis, this time four teachers were away. On 10 February the school closed early on account of the Children’s Fancy Dress Ball in aid of the ‘After-Care Fund’. The HM Inspector’s report was generally favourable.

In January 1923, Mary Marsh was appointed to the headship of Sarah’s old haunt at Wisemore Infant School. Sarah’s last days at the school saw her face a measles epidemic, before she herself became ill with pneumonia. She eventually handed over the reigns to Grace Hepworth on 21 December 1923. It is interesting to note that not one male teacher had taught at the school in Sarah’s time.

Final Thoughts
The first thing that struck me when reading the log book was, in an age before antibiotics, just how many teachers and pupils were off sick at any one time at the school. Sickness duration could be for weeks and often, months. Cases of influenza, mumps, scarlet-fever, chicken-pox and whooping cough were all continual, particularly in light of the poor heating systems at the school. Throughout the War there were nervous breakdowns and heart attacks, which would have led the Education Committee to have been sued today (on a no win no fee basis, of course 🙂 )

It was a different world; the simplistic nature of the lessons, kids openly bunking off to go to the fair, school closures for good attendance or to see Buffalo Bill, the school staying open in three feet of snow, corporal punishment for infants, the transfer of Junior children back to the Infant Department and kids been locked in classrooms overnight. What hasn’t changed is Ofsted (HM Inspectors) and the want of the teaching staff to do the best they can… ‘no efforts are spared by [the staff] to do their best for the welfare of the children in their charge and in the main these efforts meet with creditable success’ (HM Report, 1914)… which is why this article is dedicated not only to Sarah, but to all the staff that have ever walked through those school gates 🙂 .

My thanks to:
Walsall Local History Centre
Whitehall Infant School – especially Marie Poole
National Archives

Comments
  1. Karen Woodward (nee Thursfield) says:

    I lived in Weston St. and attended Whitehall Infants & Juniors in the 1960’s and it’s been fascinating to read about the early days. I remember the school being quite cold too even though there were enormous central heating pipes running round the class rooms and in those days of free milk, the bottles were put onto the pipes to thaw out when it was winter. They couldn’t have been very warm those pipes because the milk was still half frozen at break time! I was also interested to read that Sarah Parker married a Woodward from Aston because so did I. Wouldn’t that be some crazy kind of conincidence if the first school I attended was the one where an ancestor of my husband was its first headteacher!

  2. wyrleyblog says:

    Just thought I would post an email I received from Luke, who works at the school.

    Hello,

    Thanks again for your blog. It’s interesting!

    I work in Whitehall Infants School, so I’ve found the posts about the school to be especially interesting. One of my roles at the school is to help look after the school website. A few years ago I put together a history for the site here: http://www.whitehall-i.walsall.sch.uk/about-us/our-histor/ I’ve updated it slightly now since reading your blog posts about the school. Thanks!

    In the second blog post you wrote about the school, there is a short paragraph about the old cookery classroom that says:

    It [i.e., the cookery class] is now joined to the main former Infant Department, although that is no longer a part of the school. It is currently used as a parent/toddler art class.

    It might not be that important, but I thought I’d say that the old cookery classroom is actually still part of the school. It’s called the FLAC, which stands for Famliy Learning and Art Centre, and it’s used by the school as a studio space for music, drama and art activities, as a classroom, and as a seminar/workshop room for parents and teachers. It’s also used by the communnity: as you say, by a mums and tots group and also by a church group who run English classes for people with English as a second/additional language.

    Thanks again for the blog.

    Yours,
    Luke Buckler

  3. wyrleyblog says:

    I would like to highlight this great little article from Johny G’s Walsall Lives blog – take a peek – https://walsalllife.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/whitehall-infant-junior-schools-an-ex-pupils-memories/

  4. Deep says:

    That was really nice reading. I attended this school in the early 80’s and seem to remember 1903 written on one of the buildings. I would love to go back and walk around the place.

  5. Reymond Bart Hillback says:

    I was a pupil at Whitehall Infants & Junior from 66, had a great time.

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