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Westgate Primary School

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History of Westgate Primary School

The History of Westgate Primary School

In 1882, the first Warwick School Board was formed. Its job was to improve existing schools and, if necessary, build new ones, so that each child of school age (3 to 10) was guaranteed a place. After an examination of the existing schools in Warwick, it was recommended that most be closed due to the unsuitability of their buildings. All Elementary Schools, apart from the Borough in Chapel Street, All Saints in Emscote and St. Mary’s in West Street, were gradually phased out. They were replaced by two modern purpose-built schools at each end of the town: Coten End Infant Board School and Westgate Mixed Board Schools. Both schools opened in 1884.

Westgate Mixed Board Schools were designed by G.H. Cox of Birmingham and built by Messrs Bisset and Son of Sheffield at a total cost of just over £9000 (which would equate to £1,097,217.78 today). The word schools, rather than school, is important here, because originally Westgate was made up of three separate schools—Infants, Boys and Girls. Each school had a large school room, two smaller classrooms and a playground. Both at work and play the children from each school were carefully separated and do not appear to have mixed.

In 1891 a modern Cookery room was added on to the Girls School at a cost of £351, (£43,753.10 in today’s money) and in 1893 the Boys received a new woodwork room at a cost of £260 (£32,778).


Westgate Primary School—History of the School Building 

By the late 1940s, the schools were expanding so much that extra classrooms were needed, and many rooms were used in various parts of the town. St. Paul’s Parochial Hall was used as a dining room from 1948 and later as a classroom; the Brook Street Hall from 1951; and the Old Liberal Club in Theatre Street from 1953. The Methodist Hall was also used for a short while.


During this period of time Westgate itself changed. In 1946, as the result of the Education Act of 1944, it became known as a Primary School comprised of two departments—Infant and Junior Mixed. The following year the older Boys moved down to Coten End. The Infants then moved into the old Boys School and the Juniors occupied the Girls and Infant Schools.


In 1961 there were further changes when the Junior Department moved to new premises at Newburgh. The layout of the now Infant School was arranged as follows: 4 classrooms in the old Boys school; staffroom, Head’s Office and kitchen in the Infants and an apparatus hall and three classrooms in the Girls school. The final change came in 1976 when Westgate became a First School, as a result of the newly introduced Comprehensive System.


The original windows were very tall with the windows high above the children’s heads to discourage them from looking out! Impressive steel girders supported the whole structure (and this can be seen most clearly in the newly refurbished hall). Quarry tiles were on the floors and the walls were painted brick. Today much remains the same, though many of the ceilings have been lowered and some of the classrooms have been partitioned to make smaller more compact rooms. The school possibly feels much warmer and brighter today, but it still retains a distinctly Victorian charm. It is great credit to Mr. Chester that the building is kept in such a good state of repair.

Hopefully, today the heating is more efficient than it was. Originally, the schools were heated by coke-fired central heating. After some problems throughout the years, the central heating boiler eventually blew up in 1945 in a rather dramatic incident. It was replaced in 1947 (I am not sure what happened during the two year gap!) and in 1971 oil-fired heating was installed.

The 1945 incident is described in the log in the following words:

Main boiler burst under Headmaster’s room. The Headmaster and Prefects … proceed in haste to the Furnace room steps … approach impossible because of flames and steam … Fire drill clearance of children carried out … phone fire and ambulance. Headmaster removes Mr C (caretaker) from lower steps of stokehold and accompanies patient who is now conscious, in the ambulance to Warwick Hospital. Firemen have cleared the fire. Pupils commenced an excellent drill.


The lighting system has also changed considerably. At first all of the rooms were lit by gas lights. There are records that reveal that the children remembered the dull ‘plop’ as it was lit by the long tapers. Gas was replaced by electricity in 1937. Changes and improvements were made to the buildings throughout the years and an extensive modernisation was carried out in 1976.


Extracts from the Log Books 

October 1911: The main room of the Infants have been divided by glass partition.


August 1913: New window blinds put in during the holidays.


December 1920: The school (Boys) is very cold, the temperature ranging from 42°F (6°C) to 46°F (8°C). The pipes are only lukewarm. Windows have been kept closed and the gases lit in order to raise the temperature within 50°F (10°C). This causes great stuffiness and teachers complain of the effects—billiousness and headaches. (*A guide to average room temperatures and thermostat settings. The average room temperature in a UK home during the winter season is roughly 18°C, while central heating thermostats are generally set to around 20°C)


January 1972: 5 additional washbasins have been installed for use by the older children, and fluorescent tubes have been fixed in a north facing classroom to improve lighting.


1976: Since 1972 the PE apparatus has been erected in the old woodwork room in the playground. This building is no longer fit for use. It is very damp. The walls are covered with mildew and the floor is uneven.


January 1979: The weather has been extremely cold since the beginning of the month. Children and staff have had difficult journeys to school. Medical examinations were cancelled as the doctor was snow bound. Today a pipe has burst and the heating had to be cut off at 9:20am. Parents were fetching children from school throughout the day, but the last children were not collected until 12:30pm by which time they were huddled together in the Head’s office in an attempt to keep them warm.


HMI’s (the equivalent of OFSTED) Description of the Infant School in 1933

The school of 7 classes is housed in four large and very lofty rooms… The Babies Class only has a room to itself. The other two classes of younger Infants share a well-lit room … the two classes of the older Infants have to occupy undivided rooms in which the lighting is so poor that not even a curtain or low screen is possible to divide the classes.



Memories of Mrs. Thornton (ex-pupil 1924-1929) “In the playground there was a shelter, corrugated roof supported on wooden posts, where we stood if it rained at playtime.”


Memories of Mrs. Johnson (ex-pupil 1919-1930) “There used to be toilets down in front of the school by the old Cookery. They’ve been demolished. There were only simple wooden seats with a hole below—(privies). The teachers, whose toilets were next door, had flush ones!


Westgate History—The Children

Westgate was built to accommodate 800 children and that number was realised in the late 19th Century. During that period, children often started in the Infants at the age of three. When they were seven or eight they moved up to the ‘big’ Boys or Girls school where they remained until they were at least ten. By 1918, the school leaving age had risen to fourteen where it remained for many years. Infants were usually grouped according to age but the older children were put into Standards which were based on ability. Until 1902, no child could go up a Standard unless they had previously passed the annual exam. There were seven Standards and the first began in the top infants.

The classes were much bigger than they are today. Conditions were much more cramped. In 1910 there were eight Infant classes in three rooms. Conditions in classes were not always comfortable. During one cold winter, Mr. Symons ordered all of the boys out into the playground to keep warm! Mr. Reader, the caretaker used to splash disinfected water between the rows of desks to try and cool the atmosphere during hot summers.



To begin with, girls wore white pinafores over their ordinary dresses, and ankle length boots. Boys wore jackets and knee length trousers, though some wore sailor collars collars or jerseys with neck fastenings. A beret was introduced in the 1920s and one former pupil considered this to be very ’posh’. 



This is an extract from the school log book on October 3rd 1884.


“Commencement of new school year. Caned Monday pm S and C (trifling) one stroke: Tuesday am H (copying) B and M (careless work) one each. J (fighting) two. Pm B (writing on desks) one—Wednesday W (repeated disobedience) three in school time. Thursday H and T (fighting) one; ! (truant) one.”


This does not seem to have been sufficient for this entry appeared the following year.


November 1885: The mode of punishment on the hand no longer continued, but punishment on the back adopted.


The History of Westgate—The Teachers

By the 1880s, teaching was becoming an increasingly respectable profession with a recognised training scheme. It was one of the few jobs open to ’respectable’ girls and many young women became teachers, although their turn over rate was high as married women were discouraged. When the Westgate Board Schools opened in 1884 they had a total of three Head Teachers, twelve Assistant Teachers, three Pupil Teachers and two Monitors. Teachers were originally expected to cope with much larger classes than would be allowed today. In the Infant School in the 1890s many classes had as many as eighty children! Right up until the 1950s classes of between forty and sixty were common. The teachers did not have their own classrooms and often two or three classes were crowded into one large room, which was divided only by glass partitions or curtains. Teaching in such conditions must have been very difficult. To lessen the load, there were monitors and Pupil teachers and later classroom assistants, but not every teacher got this help.


Pupil Teachers and Helpers

Pupil teachers were apprenticed at the age of thirteen or so to do five years training in a school—usually the one at which they had been pupils. After the five years, the pupil teacher could either remain where she was as an assistant teacher, or go on to Training College where, if she successfully passed the course, she could become a Certified Teacher. Westgate Schools had a well organised Pupil Teacher scheme. They were taught for six hours a week by a certified teacher, as well as receiving instructions on lesson preparation by the Head Teacher. They were expected to teach for half a day and study for the other half.

September 1976: Parents are helping in the school for the first time. Seven mothers are helping to supervise library periods, two are helping with needlework and two are helping with needlework and two are organising cookery. Another parent, fully qualified in PE, is giving additional training in games and skills with small apparatus.


In spite of fairly low wages, jobs were much sought after. In 1883, for example, there were twenty seven applications for the post of Head Mistress to the Girls School, at a salary of £80 per year. The successful applicant was Miss Sarah Parker, then aged twenty seven. The advertisement was issued by the Warwick School Board in 1883 ’Wanted immediately as Assistant Master …. capable of teaching standards IV-VII. Applications stating age with copies of testimonials to be sent to the undersigned …. Candidates invited to attend the Board will be allowed Third Class railway fare.’

With so many newspaper headlines reporting gender pay gaps, the following table makes very interesting reading. Notice the large discrepancies in pay between men and women and in the teaching of boys, girls and infants. This was not really amended until the Equal Pay Act of 1969.










Head Teacher Boys





Head Teacher Girls





Head Teacher Infants





















After 7 years





Ex Pupil











Thankfully, for our female staff, times have changed. 


Attendance from the archives

Education was not made compulsory until 1880, and then it was only necessary to attend between the ages of 5 and 10. An Act of 1893 raised the leaving age to 11, another of 1899 to 12 and then the Education Act of 1918 finally raised it to 14. Like most schools during this period, attendance at Westgate fluctuated enormously. This was due to many factors including the weather, epidemics, labour and distractions. Good attendance was much praised and rewarded with prizes. Attendance Officers were appointed to deal with truancy, and in extreme cases parents could be summoned to Court if there children were continual non-attenders.



In the early years children were often absent from school during the summer term to help with the harvest or other farm duties.

September 1894: Several children have gone hop picking this week.

Mr. Shirley: I suspect the ‘old boy’ who started at Westgate in 1892 aged 3, remembers he was once absent from school for three weeks when he accompanied his father hop-picking in Hereford.

April 1900: Several boys appear to be more or less careless in their attendance.; and some parents state that they are powerless in this matter, but it is unsatisfactory as there is good reason to believe the parents receive what the boys earn or beg.



Occasionally some pupils did not come to school simply because there were interesting things going on in town such as the Mop Fair, Yeomanry Review or Races. Apparently the children enjoyed the Races so much that they were allowed to leave school early on Race Days so that they could watch the last race which was free!

November 1898: Several boys canned for absence especially on Race Days without adequate reason.

September 1897: On Friday pm there were 60 less than in the morning due to a visit of a circus to the town.


The Weather

The weather often closed all the schools in the early days. Snow, storms or freezing conditions either prevented the children from walking to school, or once they were there it was too cold for them to remain.

January 1936: The attendance is poor owing to heavy snowfall.

December 1982: The children sent home due to heavy snow and frozen pipes.



In the early years, epidemics swept through the schools with alarming frequency, often causing the school to close for days or even weeks. The most serious illnesses were Whooping Cough, Measles, Scarlet Fever and Chicken Pox, though occasionally cases of Impetigo, Ringworm and even smallpox occurred. All these illnesses are no longer serious thanks to inoculations and better health care generally but school life is still affected by these outbreaks.

February 1885: Whooping Cough prevalent. 60 children absent on this account.

June 1895: An epidemic of Scarletina in the town (All schools in Warwick were eventually closed for three months).

April 1935: Closed school this afternoon until the Easter holiday, due to Measles.



November 1936: School closed for one week and two days due to Chicken Pox.

June 1967: We are still affected by Chicken Pox and Measles epidemic.

December 1982: During this term there has been considerable absence due to an epidemic of Whooping Cough. It would seem that the children of First School age have been victims of a scare period during which vaccinations had been suspended, as inoculations, in some cases, had produced disastrous ‘side-effects’.


School Attendance Officers

The Officers were responsible for the children’s regular attendance at school. In 1900 for example, before a child was allowed to leave he or she had to have passed Standard III or attended school at least 300 times a year for the last 5 years. Mrs. Hirons (1906-1915) remembers having to visit a Mr. Johnson who lived in Cherry Street, to see whether he had attended enough times to leave school. The older pupils or monitors were often sent to the homes of suspected truants to try and coax them to school before the Attendance Officer was notified. On one occasion the reason given for a child not attending was that there was no bread in the house for his breakfast. A teacher at the school immediately sent round a penny to buy the child some breakfast.


Non-attendance was punishable by the cane, whereas, good attendance was rewarded with prizes of a book or a medal. The prizes were distributed at an annual ceremony.


December 1896: The prizes distributed this afternoon by Lady Warwick—Lord Warwick gave a short address.


1905 Prizes awarded: Perfect attendance 39, good attendance 7 and efficiency/conduct 53