Miss Margaret McNiven – Headmistress 1871–1900
Plan of Dilton Marsh British School showing the extension built in 1895 – 1896
The School wishes to thank Mrs. Hill, Mrs. Puttick and Mrs. Randall who researched this project, Mr. Poole who undertook printing and production and the children who provided the illustrations.
The School wishes to thank Mrs. Hill, Mrs. Puttick and Mrs. Randall who researched this project, Mr. Poole who undertook printing and production and the children who provided the illustrations.

The Story of Dilton Marsh Infant School

Home 9 Village Life & Memories 9 The Story of Dilton Marsh Infant School


In putting together this history of Dilton Marsh County Infants School, we have tried to find evidence of when and where exactly the school began.

The earliest reference to schools in Dilton is from Parliamentary returns: “Abstract of Education Returns 1833”- “Dilton Chapelry (Pop. 2,172) – Two daily schools in one whereof 12 males and in the other 12 males and 16 females are instructed at the expense of their parents. 5 Sunday schools: in one of which are 30 males and 30 females, who attend the Established Church; the other four are connected with Dissenters and consist of 265 males and 248 females, these Sunday schools are all supported by subscription.

Following this, comes the minute book of the Ladies Committee started in 1845 so we know our school was in existence by this time when, by law, it was compulsory to keep a record of school management committee meetings.

1845 – Ladies Committee Marsh School

The minute book was begun 18th November, 1845. The meeting was held “for the purpose of forming a Ladies Committee and electing officers for the future management of the British School at Marsh…. when the Secretary of the Gentlemen’s Committee be requested to lay before the Ladies Committee a statement of school accounts”
At the same meeting “The last day of the year was fixed on for a Public Meeting to be held at Penknap Chapel for the purposes of explaining the principles and rules of the school.

The school was run with subscriptions from individuals and firms and collections from Penknap and Westbury Leigh chapels. The ladies also canvassed the neighborhood for children for the school.
After one such effort the numbers rose from 60 pupils in 1859 to 90 pupils in 1860. The committee was also determined that “no child be allowed to come to school without bringing his or her penny.
It was a weekly penny.

The ladies visited the school and reported back to the committee on the work being done and the state of the school buildings etc.
The minister also visited the school to say prayers at the beginning of term or to see scripture lessons. Later (1918) two ministers were apsointed to inspect the Religious Instruction given each year.

According to a book of 1859 (Warburton, W. – “An account with map of all schools for the children of the labouring classes…….in the County of Wilts.”), the population of Dilton Marsh was 1,874.
This Is what he says about the Dissenting School in December, 1858: “40 – 50 scholars are taught in a building originally erected for. carpenter’s shop, and used occasionally as a chapel and now serving for both school-room and chapel.”

The New Building

In 1863 the Committee received the “Revised code of the Committee of Council on Education to aid small to poor schools” and asked for a Government Inspector to visit the school with a view to receiving a grant.
Consequently a visit was made in July, 1864, and a grant of £15. 11. 10 was awarded. The report stated that “The premises are insufficient to accommodate more than 60 and are consequently overcrowded.” It also said that if the school wished to receive a grant in the future, it must::

  • Improve the ventilation by altering the windows and inserting ventilators,
  • build a gallery for the infants,
  • exclude all boys above 7 years of age or else provide a separate privy (with a separate approach from the school) for them.

In conclusion “My Lords” added that “their experience leads them to think that a room only nine feet high can never be made into a really suitable schoolroom”.

By October, 1864, a Gentlemen’s Committee for the Building of the New Schoolroom had been formed.. The site had been chosen and arrangements were being made for its purchase.

The Government Inspector in the report of his 1865 visit states “The managers are about to build a new school at once” and by July, 1866, he is able to report on his third visit that “school has for a week past been transferred to capital new buildings just erected.”

P.S.  A tea meeting was held on 13th November, 1867; to celebrate the completion of the New School and the freeing of the enterprise from debt. “200 friends of education sat down to tea” and there were “cheering statements made by the Ministers and Gentlemen present.

1891  At a committee meeting of the managers it was carried unanimously that “we abolish all fees and make our school entirely free, and accept the offer from the Department in the New Act of 10/- per head in lieu of fees.” This came into effect on 1st September of that year.
At a meeting later in 1891 it was recorded that the Managers finding that children under 3 years of age having considerably increased since 1st. September, they are compelled to say they cannot receive them.

Enlargement of the School

1894  The Government Inspector reported that the infants classroom was too small and separate approaches were needed to the girls’ and boys’ “offices”. At a special meeting of the Trustees and Managers it was proposed that “the Trustees empower the Managers of Dilton Marsh British School to take down cottages adjoining present school-room and make such alterations and enlargement of Infants class-room as may be deemed necessary to meet the requirements of the Education Department.”

After careful consideration, the Managers decided that they would “carry the Infants Class room as far back as the present wall of playground, to take down cottages and utilize as much of the old material as possible in enlargement of class room and, to meet Department’s requirements as to separate approaches to offices, to make new playground of present gardens for boys, convert present playground for girls only and erect new offices in both.”

The boundary wall mist have been built at this time too. The work was carried out in 1895 for the sum of £131.15.-. by Mr. Hopkins of Dilton Marsh.

October, 1903  “Today the School passes under the County Education Authority as a non-provided school.”

1905  As it became increasingly difficult to make ends meet, it was clear that the Managers had to make some approach to the County Education Authority for assistance.
After considerable correspondence with the Authority and a special committee meeting of the Managers followed by a meeting of Managers, Trustees and Subscribers which endorsed the decision, it was resolved “that the British School at Dilton Marsh be handed over to the Education Authority for the County of Wilts. in fee simple subject to the condition that the Council take over the responsibility for the deficit on the accounts of the school.”

1906  Dilton Marsh British School became a council school on 31st January and was known as Dilton Marsh Council School No. 101% from 1st April.

1910 The senior department had accommodation for 102 and the infant department accommodation for 54.

1st Sept. 1930 “under the Re-organisation Scheme, this school becomes a Junior Mixed and Infants School.” The senior children were transferred to the Senior School in Leigh Road, Westbury.

1st Sept. 1938  The Junior children moved up to the present Junior School building (the old National School) and the school now became an Infants School with accommodation for 94 children.

April, 1941  Hot meals were provided at the Junior School and the Infants had to walk up there to have their meal. This was found to be unsatisfactory in practice and it was agreed that the Infants could eat at their own school. In 1948 a Meals Supervisor was appointed and out of 62 pupils, 44 had hot meals.

1st Sept. 1930  “under the Re-organisation Scheme, this school becomes a Junior Mixed and Infants School.” The senior children were transferred to the Senior School in Leigh Road, Westbury.

1st Sept. 1938  The Junior children moved up to the present Junior School building (the old National School) and the school now became an Infants School with accommodation for 94 children.

April, 1941  Hot meals were provided at the Junior School and the Infants had to walk up there to have their meal. This was found to be unsatisfactory in practice and it was agreed that the Infants could eat at their own school.. In 1948 a Meals Supervisor was appointed and out of 62 pupils, 44 had hot meals.

Additional jottings from the School History

1877 – Christmas Day School used for a dinner and tea for the old people 01 Marsh.

1900, 2nd August  (Managers) “Miss McNiven retired from the headship of this school. In the afternoon the Scholars and Teachers presented her with an electro-silver inkstand.”

1901, 9th March  “Received a bronze medal from the High Commissioner for Canada awarded to Lily Wheeler for the best paper on the history and geography of Canada.”

1901  (Managers) “It was resolved to set apart proceeds of the School entertainment £3. 1. 8. towards a Piano Fund and that the money be invested in the Bank (Capital and Counties).

1903, Nov 27th  “Today the chain connecting the bell rope broke, but the boys who were ringing the bell escaped unhurt.” Dec. 4th. “Three mornings this week I have had cocoa made for the Infants and Lower Standards, which the little ones seemed to enjoy.”

1904, April 18  “The bell dropped from its bearings last week.
Nov 14  “Bell repaired.”

1906 (Managers)  The “piano Fund” of 25. 2. 9. was allowed to remain (In the bank) for the present. The hope was expressed that some day the Education Committee would provide the remainder of the cost of a piano.

1910, 4th October  The Children were first weighed and measured.

18th October  The first school medical examination carried out by the doctor.

1912, 13th May  “Mr. C.N.P. Phipps visited the School Gardens.”

20th May  “The Gardening Class visited Chalcot Gardens.”

1913, 6th February  “Took the First Class boys to Dilton Vicarage and were joined by Mr. Webster and his boys for the purpose of showing how bees were packed for the winter and to show how they are spring fed.”

1914, 1st July  “Owing to the excessive heat the classes were taken in the shade of the fir trees opposite the school during part of the afternoon.”

1917 The School Dentist visits for the first time. (29th June)

1918, 29th April  The School Oculist visits for the first time.

1920 From the Government Inspector’s report: “The cocoa club is now running profitably.”

1925, 15th September  “Requisitioned 15 pairs of slippers for children who remain at School during the dinner hour or for children who walk long distances so that they may wear them during wet weather.

1928, 23rd April  “At the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, the following girls entered work under Section 4 (Lingerie) and the school was awarded the bronze medal: Edna Noakes, Helen Wilkins and Lily Hough.

1930, 6th October  “Received piano today.”

1931  “Electric light was put into the School.”

1934  A radio was acquired for the sum of £12. 11. -. From the Government Inspector’s report;- “The excellent folk dancing at the School has won them a prize at the local Folk Dance Festival. They have at the School a gramophone and a capital collection of nearly 40 records.”

1944  An electric kettle was bought for the school.

1946  Proposed building of a new school!

High Days and Holidays

According to the Minutes of the Ladies Committee, Christmas treats or rewards were given to the children each year. Initially these took the form of clothing and then it was decided to change this to books “wherever possible”. By 1897 this had changed again.

December 23rd Closed for Xmas Holidays. A very full school in anticipation of oranges and cards which were distributed at closing.

The annual tea was also referred to in the log book and took place either at the end of the summer term or at the beginning of the autumn term. Now follow accounts from the log book of other important events of local and national interest:

1897 28th June  Re-opened after a week’s holiday on account of Jubilee. (Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrating sixty years as Queen)

1898 5th July  A holiday on account of Miss Phipps’ Marriage.

1899, 14th Feb  Gave a half-holiday at the urgent request of the children “that they might have time to eat their pancakes”

1900, 24th May  A half-holiday in the afternoon at the urgent request of the children “Because Mafeking has been relieved

1902, 2nd June – Owing to the Proclamation of Peace in South Africa a holiday has been given today by kind permission of the Managers.
20th June  School closed in the afternoon for one week. “Coronation Week” (Edward VII)

1909, 21st June  Half a holiday in the afternoon on the occasion of the Prince and Princess of Wales passing through Westbury on their way to Longleat.

1911, 21st June  School closed for Coronation. (George V).

1921, 9th June  School visit to Farleigh Castle. (first one mentioned)

1923, 26th April  Wedding of Prince Albert, Duke of York. (to the present Queen Mother)

1928, 23rd May  Half holiday. Area Sports at Trowbridge (first mention)


The following references to attendance from the school log give us in their own inimitable way, quite an insight into the life of the times:


  • 28th Feb. – An epidemic of chicken pox is affecting attendance.
  • 9th March – Several boys under 11 are away bird scaring.
  • 9th Oct. – The gathering of acorns (masking) is affecting the attendance.


  • 8th Jan. – Numbers in the Infants’ class very low owing to an epidemic of whooping cough.
  • 18th Jan. – A thin school owing to the cold weather and the snow.
  • 9th April – Attendance in the Infants’ class is still very meager; some of the children have not yet recovered from the whooping cough.
  • 9th July – Pea picking and hay making is affecting the attendance especially in the upper standards.
  • 6th Sept. – Westbury “Sheep Fair”. Attendance very meager.
  • 23rd Nov.No fewer than 9 families absent through measles.
  • 24th NovOut of 53 children on the Infant Register only 13 present.
  • 2nd Dec. – Advised by Dr. Reade, the Managers have decided to close the school for a week.


  • 26th April – Mr. Hall (newly appointed Attendance Officer) visited and examined registers. He expressed surprise at the low percentage of attendance. In the district he has left the percentage was from 90 to 92 whilst in our school last month was 72.
  • 9th May – Mr. Fall visited and took the names of 4 children, who had been absent for several days gathering dandelions.
  • 16th May – Mr. Hall visited. Wednesday being Frome Market, the attendance on that day used to be the worst in the week; now it is the best as Mr. Hall generally visits on that day.
  • 15th Sept. – Blackberrying and potato gathering are affecting the attendance.
  • 26th Oct. – Of 14 boys in the 4th Standard only 6 are present; several of the others are beating out pheasants for Mr. Laverton.
  • 1901, 5th Sept. – At the end of the month all the children who have made full attendance will be allowed to stay for the Magic Lantern entertainment. This has had a wonderful effect and has greatly imp- roved the attendance.
  • 1903, 11th Sept. – Many children are kept at home today to gather firewood from the wood, so much having fallen yesterday.
  • 1904, 20th Jan. – I have bought a football for the boys and also obtained permission for the class who makes best attendance to go into a field belonging to Mr. Jones once a week. This has greatly improved the attendance.
  • 1930, 4th July – Eureka. All children present this morning.
  • 1940, 1st Feb. – Numbers on registers 46 + 1 evacuee. Afternoon session attendance, 11 including 1 evacuee.

School during the First World War (from the log book)


  • 17th Sept. – Exhibition of flowers and vegetables from the school gardens in aid of the Red Cross Society. A sum of £4/10/0 has been raised and sent to Headquarters.
  • 2nd Dec. – Holiday. School Entertainment on behalf of Belgian Relief Fund. Realised £5. 5. 9.


  • 14th Sept. – The School was closed today by permission of Managers to enable the children to witness the inspection of the 26th Division by Major General Pagett previously to their departure for the front.
  • 8th Nov. – National Egg Collection. The children brought 38 eggs to school today to be sent to ours wounded soldiers and sailors. A collection of eggs will be made each week.
  • 29th Nov. – Sent 8/6 from Scholars towards our sailors and soldiers Xmas presents.


  • 24th Oct. – The boys and girls are busy each day in their spare time collecting horse chestnuts and acorns the request of the Director.
  • 15th Nov. – 31 bushels of acorns sent to the Cordite Factory near Wimbourne.


  • 17th Oct. – During the autumn, school was closed for several afternoons for the scholars to go blackberry picking. Up until 18th October 664 lbs. of blackberries were picked for which a claim of £8. 6. 2. was made. I am pleased to hear that Arthur Collier, an old scholar of this school, has won the D.C.M. Also Willie Newnham has won the Military Medal.


  • 30th June – At the opening of the school the children sang a verse of the National Anthem after my address on the signing of the Peace Treaty which took place on Saturday, 28th June at Versailles.
  • 1st Aug. – Peace Cups were given to the children this morning. The last lesson took the form of chat on Admiral Beatty’s. Order to the fleet on the occasion of the surrender of the German Fleet.

The School during the Second World war (from the log book)


  • 4th Sept. – School still closed owing to outbreak of war to allow evacuation of London school children to take place.
  • 11th Sept. – Ten evacuees admitted.
  • 26th Sept. – Miss Jackson, H.M.I., examined the ditch provided in “The Firs’ for the children as an air raid shelter.


  • 16th July – All windows in the infant classroom covered with butter muslin to prevent splinters flying in case of an air raid.


  • 11th March – During the morning an army officer called to inspect the building with a view to occupation. Informed the correspondent.


  • 25th April – Examined children’s gas masks.


  • 4th April – A warning would be given to the schools by an air raid warden should paratroops be dropped in the area.


  • 8th May – V.E. Day. School closed for two days. Fires let out.


From a scheme of work set out in 1902, the Mixed Department in the large room studied Recitation, Arithmetic, Grammar, Drill, Music with set songs to learn, Geography, History, Religious Instruction, Needlework and Object Lessons (e.g. water, the oak and the fir, salt, glass, a spider’s web, starch etc.).

The Infants had their own set songs “O Little Black Lamb”, “Children’s Goodnight”, “The Ringing of the Bell”, “Pretty Dolly”, a piece for recitation “A Penny to Spend” and another list of object lessons, e.g. a tree, buttercups and daisies, a doll’s house (inside) etc.

They were tested regularly and the government inspector called once a year. The older children took the Labour Certificate Exam at the end of their school career in Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. They left school at 14 whether they passed or not but those who had taken the exam early and passed could leave.

In 1911 Drill took place three times a week for twenty minutes and Gardening once a week for one hour. About this time evening classes began with Gardening first of all. Land for the school garden next to the school had been purchased. Evening school was also started about this time with pupils signing on for English (38), Geography
(36) and Arithmetic (39).

In 1920 English compositions set were:

  • “(Girls) A discussion between two girls on the most suitable occupation for girls. Mary favours domestic service and Alice favours factory work.”
  • “(Boys) A discussion between two boys on fox hunting. John is in favour and Willie is against.”

In that year also the first reading books were lent by the County Library.

In 1921 “Physical Exercises” were introduced and for this purpose the following were bought “2 large balls, 12 small balls, 17 ropes of various lengths, 72 lengths of braid”.
A cookery class was held at the Memorial Hall for the Older girls in 1923.
In 1928 the girls were attending a domestic centre and in 1930 the boys started a woodwork course at Westbury.

Staff – Pupil Teachers

In 1896 the school was run by a certificated mistress with the help of pupil teachers, One started her training in that year and worked for four years as a pupil teacher, taking quarterly exams and a scholarship exam at Bath. When qualified she obtained an assistant’s post at Corsham.

In 1900 the P.T.s as they were known had time off to attend a training centre in Trowbridge and then from 1902 onwards in Westbury.

In 1903 another P.T. obtained a seat at Swansea Training College and went away to train.

Head Teachers

1859 – Miss Grace Wakefield
1861 – Miss Hart
1862 – Miss Slade
1864 – Miss Woon
1866 – Miss Bickle
1871 – Miss Margaret McNiven
1900 – Mr. George Wooldridge
1931 – Miss Gertrude, A. Edwards, who became Mrs. Rabbits in 1933
1964 – Miss B.M. Smith
1982 – Mrs. B.R. Snow

Cover Illustrations

Miss Margaret McNiven – Headmistress 1871 – 1900

The School during the 19th Century

The School wishes to thank Mrs. Hill, Mrs. Puttick and Mrs. Randall who researched this project, Mr. Poole who undertook printing and production and the children who provided the illustrations.