Author: Ruth Brown
Volume: Volume 95
ISBN: 978 0 85445 077 0
LITTLEHAMPTON SCHOOL LOGBOOK
All headteachers of Victorian elementary schools were required to keep logs of their pupils’ progress, but few are as vivid and meticulous as that of Thomas Slatford, head of Littlehampton Boys’ School from 1871 until 1911. The march of history can be traced, noted in concise and colourful local detail. The reluctance of the church to cede control of education to elected School Boards, well-documented in general histories of the period, shows up in the log in the suspicion that the vicar was bribing boys with drink and tobacco to get them to go to church. The growth of tourism in Littlehampton is reflected in Slatford’s concern that children were allowed to run wild whilst their parents looked after paying visitors, one budding young entrepreneur truanting from school in order to sell strawberries on the beach. Tourism wasn’t all bad however: one boy, whose family was host to the head of a firm of London architects, so impressed the gentleman with the standard of his homework that he was offered a job. There was a surprising amount of social mobility. The detail about everyday events in the lives of his pupils is interspersed, unusually for a school log of this period, with Slatford’s reflections on education and society at a time of far-reaching change. His role was an ambivalent one. On the one hand, as headmaster of an elementary school in 1871 he was supposed to be the servant of a system designed to preserve class difference and keep the poor in order. He was to teach a narrow and closely regulated curriculum. But this was not the only ideology on offer: Slatford’s logs show how, under enthusiastic and conscientious leadership, the tightly regulated class-bound system could be modified in accordance with another Victorian frame of mind, that is, a faith in technology, progress and hard work, and the optimistic belief that all were educable within a culture that could ultimately do away with classes. It is a spirit captured briefly by Conan Doyle when he has Sherlock Holmes describe Board Schools as: ‘Beacons … out of which will spring the wiser, better England of the future.’ As a dedicated teacher optimistic about human progress and prepared to write what he thought, Slatford is among the unsung heroes of Victorian elementary education, and his logs invite a reappraisal of its achievements.
Cover illustration: Memorial to Thomas Slatford River Beach School, Littlehampton.
At the time of publication, no photograph of Thomas Slatford had been found. Subsequently, Ruth Brown was contacted by Thomas’s great-great-granddaughter Andrea Martin, a family historian who had also inherited a collection of family photos, including one of Slatford and members of his family. The story and the photo can be seen on the Littlehampton Gazette website 16 October 2016.
Ruth Brown is a retired teacher, lecturer and writer. Born in New Zealand, she attended a primary school in the 1950s remarkably similar in its organisation and ethos to Thomas Slatford’s Littlehampton school in the early 20th century. After graduating from University in Wellington and Teachers’ Training College in Christchurch, she taught briefly in Marlborough before coming to England where she taught at Steyning Grammar School. She left Steyning in 1982 on marrying a widower with four young children, and with her husband’s enthusiastic support went back to study and research. She completed an M.A. and a D. Phil. at the University of Sussex in the 1980s, a time of radical new developments and feminist, post-modern and postcolonial approaches, requiring an exciting re-think of established attitudes to English literature and history – and to the evaluation of their archival legacy. She was an Associate Tutor in the Centre of Continuing Education at the University for 23 years, whilst publishing in academic journals, and also keeping up an involvement with elementary education as school governor and classroom volunteer.