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Sale and Davys Primary School turns back time to celebrate 180th birthday


ONE of the county’s oldest primary schools has celebrated its 180th birthday by turning back the clock to the Victorian era – complete with 19th century lessons, desks, costumes and games.

Teachers and pupils at Sale and Davys Church of England Primary School, in the village of Barrow upon Trent, dressed as Victorians to mark the landmark anniversary and to learn about life in the 1800s.

The school, which is part of the Derby Diocesan Academy Trust, also invited past pupils to attend the celebration to explain how education at their school has changed over the years. 

Pupils at Sale and Davys enjoying some old fashioned games

Five generations of Anne Heathcote’s family have attended the village school and she estimates that between 40 and 50 relatives have been taught their over the years.

Anne, 71, said: “My grandparents attended Sale and Davys and every generation of the family since then has come here, including my children and grandchildren.

“This is what’s so lovely – it’s a family school in a small village where everyone knows each other. In my day there were about 30 pupils in the whole school and only one classroom, which was quite crowded.

“We sat in long rows, wrote with ink pens from a little ink pot and had a cardboard box for our pencils. My brother received the cane on one occasion and I remember my teacher’s method of encouragement was to flick you on the back of the head – with a metal thimble on her finger – if you lost concentration.”

Every generation of Anne Heathcote’s family since her grandparents have attended the school

Of course, corporal punishment is not the only thing that has changed since Anne attended the school; the building itself was originally located across the road from its existing location.

It was built on land donated to the village by the Harpur Crewe family after Elizabeth Sale left £100 in trust to the village towards “Teaching and instructing the children of the inhabitants of Barrow whose parents were unable to pay for their children’s education”.

The teacher’s stipend was further increased by Thomas Davys, of Ashby de la Zouch, who bequeathed an additional £100 in trust to the school and also requested that each child should be presented with a bible when they left. Christian teaching is still an important part of the school’s curriculum and learning about the legacies of Elizabeth Sale and Thomas Davy provides a valuable lesson in altruism, as well as the more obvious historical lessons.

Pupils dressed in Victorian clothing for the day

Current pupil Rueben Sahota, 10, said: “We have been researching the history of our school and making books about it which we can take home afterwards. It’s been really interesting to know that two people decided to make the school because there wasn’t one.

“We also learned that they used to use the belt, cane and slipper if you were naughty.”

Ellie Rowlands, 10, said: “We’ve learnt about what school was like, what it was like for the rich and the poor and what kind of punishments there were.

“There was the cane and there was a little cage that some people had to go in if they were the teacher’s pet. Nowadays we think of that as being a good thing but back then it wasn’t. I’m very happy that doesn’t exist today.”

During the celebration, which included two birthday cakes, children were taught in rows of desks, rather than their normal tables, and enjoyed playground games including marbles, skipping and hoop rolling.

They were encouraged to curtsey or doff their hats to staff and tried learning by rote, by repeating their times tables, rather than more creative methods used today.

The school admissions register, dating back to 1904, was available for children to look at, along with a display of photographs taken at the school across the decades.

Jo Bloor, 42, started at the school in 1987 and had such happy memories she moved back to the village when the first of her three children was born, specifically so she could attend Sale & Davy.

She now has two children at the school, with her third starting in September. Jo said: “This is just a wonderful school and the fact that so many parents also came here themselves in testament to that.

“My fondest memories are probably sports days on the field and the village fete – those occasions when the whole community came together. I remember being given sheep’s wool to make something from – I can still smell it now – and we had to wash it, spin it and then make something.

“I remember taking part in school assemblies and performances; those events instil confidence in you at a young age and I think that is carried with you for the rest of your life.”

One of the pupils enjoying hoop rolling

Another former pupil of the school understands its ethos better than most. Sarah Briggs not only attended Sale and Davys herself in the 1970s, but today she is responsible for each of its 100 pupils, as headteacher.

She said: “I started at the school in 1974 and have very happy memories of my time here. Of course, life was very different then – almost everyone went home for dinner and we even had a lunchtime lollipop lady to escort us over the road.

“In December Father Christmas visited and we were all given an individually named present, although it was only a small school with five children in my year group.

“The difference between school trips then and now is a really stark reminder of how much times have changed. I remember a teacher asking us to put up our hands if any parents could help on tomorrow’s school trip.

“I volunteered my mum and she took six of us – three on the back seat and three in the boot! We were all squabbling as to who got to travel in the boot; a far cry from the health and safety forms and risk assessments we do today.”

While many things have changed over the years, Sarah believes the school’s morals and values remain the same and that the wholesome, family centred approach she enjoyed as a pupil is still felt by its current cohort. 

And she says that while the children have enjoyed learning about life in the Victorian era, the concept of 180 years is a very difficult for young children to understand.

“One little girl said that 180 was such a big number it would take all day to count to it,” Sarah said. “It’s been a brilliant way to teach the children about the Victorians and they have thoroughly enjoyed dressing up – they all look absolutely fantastic.”

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