FEATURE: Over 100 years of Hunts headmasters experiences recorded in school log book

In 1871 The British School started taking pupils in the old chapel building in Grammar School Walk, Huntingdon. Over 100 years the school s headmasters have kept a log book of their experiences, frustrations and challenges. The school, which is now St Pet

In 1871 The British School started taking pupils in the old chapel building in Grammar School Walk, Huntingdon. Over 100 years the school's headmasters have kept a log book of their experiences, frustrations and challenges. The school, which is now St Peters, has given the log books to Huntingdon library. ANGELA SINGER delved back in time to contrast 1871/2 with 1971/2.

TO pick up the log book of Huntingdon's British School, written in its first year, 1871, is like reading a novel.

The yellow pages smell of the coal burning in the room where the book was written. This is as close as you can get to going back to the past.

The diary was begun in December when headmaster Henry Snowden faithfully filled in the details of daily school life, writing at the end of each day in perfect copperplate, using a pen which had to be dipped into ink.

Towards the end of the first year, as he must have been busier, the entries are weekly rather than daily.

The log book was a requirement of the British and Foreign School Society: Mr Snowden was told to make "the briefest entry" and that "no entry may be removed or altered".

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However, the brief notes conjure up a world of warmth and meticulous effort. Every absent pupil received a home visit on the day they were absent and the reasons recorded in the register.

When, later in the school year, it is discovered that some pupils may have been covering for their friends' absences by answering their names in class, Mr Snowden decides to do spot checks by visiting the classes and calling out their names. He impresses upon his staff that they must be looking at the child when they write their name in the register.

Most entries start with whether attendance was good or bad. It could vary from morning to afternoon because the pupils went home for lunch.

Some days he describes the attendance as "thin". This is because the circus is in town, the military is holding a display, or it's raining.

During the harvest, children are also away from school as they work in the fields with their parents.

As the school expands - the number of students goes from a handful to 200 in just three months - Mr Snowden starts to employ pupil-teachers.

The pupil-teachers are so young that their parents' permission is needed and one mother says her daughter can go only for a limited time because the pay is so "small".

Like most moderns schools, the British School also had a night school, However, this night school was for children and it's Mr Snowden who was tasked with the night shift.

In his log book entries, the headmaster comes across as hard-working and optimistic. When pupils don't learn one way, he devises another.He is constantly thinking of new ideas.

And he is kind, when one of the teachers gets married, he gives the pupils the morning off because so many of them want to go to the ceremony.

League tables? They're still for sports teams.

A NEW century and a new master.

In 1971/2 George Thomas was also at a new beginning. Now the school is called St Peter's, aving moved from Grammar School Walk and Brookside to St Peter's Road.

The other major change is that the school had moved from being a secondary modern to become a comprehensive school.

It doesn't get off to a good start. The entry for September 2/3 announced that the "school opening [is] delayed" and that Mr Thomas "spent days...equipping [the] science block".

The school opens on September 6 and on September 14 the log notes that the new staff are working well. Another entry for that month says the school is continuing to settle well and the pupils are much easier and there is less "nuisance".

It seems that the staff were also prone to be a bit of a nuisance. September 27 reads: "Staff bulletin. 1.15pm design meeting. Very negative, hard work to change their views."

October 22, there is an optimistic note: "End of first half term. American teachers visited school, great success. This half term has been very encouraging. I think I am winning."

Now Reverend Thomas and living in Bluntisham, the former head told The Hunts Post: "Some of the staff still thought of it as a secondary modern and that the pupils' achievements were limited.

"I said I wanted every child to become a graduate. The problem was not all the staff at that time had degrees."

Mr Thomas retired from the school in 1985 and is now a priest, aged 80, and still presiding at weddings. He laughed when asked what three exclamations meant at the end of an entry.

"It must have been a bad day but as to what it meant, I haven't got a clue. The opening of the school was delayed because the builders went broke and we were in mobile classrooms for years. But we did build up the school."

The science, maths, art, chemistry, music and sixth form blocks were built under his headship and pupil numbers grew to 1,400.

When he first started the first and second years were still in Brookside.

"St Peter's had been the secondary modern and Hinchingbrooke had been Huntingdon Grammar School. At the beginning, some parents still saw the schools in those terms

"We had a fantastic team and the pupils were fantastic too. I was in hospital this month for a hip replacement and the receptionist, the nurse and the anaesthetist all remembered me from their time at St Peter's."

SCHOOL DAYS - 1871 (extracts from the daily entries)

January 16: Today the attendance was not as good as last week owing to the heavy fall of rain. I had all the absentees visited in the afternoon and the reasons marked in the register.

February 2: The plan I adopt with regard to the late ones is to detain them after time. This I find makes them attend by the time the bell ceases.

February 23: I have arranged the school in different classes according to the standard and shall work each class up so as is possible to make them do the standard higher than the one in which they have to be presented.

March 2: Have decided to go on with geography, grammar, history and algebra as the official subjects.

March 3: I gave the scholars a thorough drill today for a short time this morning. We cannot do this efficiently unless we have a playground.

March 23: Today I had to punish a boy (John Tibbs) rather severely for playing the truant. This is the first instance I have had and I did it as a warning to the boy and to the others.

May 15: Our attendance is not so good as we have many little ones who are suffering from whooping cough. I am sorry today that one of the girls who was to have come to us as a candidate for the pupil teachership has smallpox in the house so that we cannot have her here at present.

June 5: Attendance fell off on Thursday and Friday as the Militia had their review and sports

July 3: "I had to cane a girl (F Wright) very severely on Wednesday for playing the truant again. She has repeatedly done it and told so many falsehoods respecting it. I fully explained my reasons for punishing her to the whole school.

July 24: Attendance was very thin due to the circus being in town.

July 31: Attendance pretty good although some children are already away on account of the harvest.

August 7: I examined the whole school today in reading, writing and arithmetic. I feel these periodical examinations will act as a stimulus to the children and that the spirit of education will be created.

October 16: I have had to complain about the lack of punctuality of pupil-teachers who failed to arrive for their tuition at 8am.

October 23: I am sorry to say that we have lost one of our children by death to scarlet fever.

December 4: I admitted four fresh scholars on Monday. Two of them had however, come from the County School without their parents' permission and hence they had to return. I have thought of closing the year by given an entertainment for the children with recitations and part songs. There will be an exhibition of needlework, knitting, drawing, mapping, writing and arithmetic. A fitting close to our first year.