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Cabbage days

"Derek Wilson swallowed a marble intentionally during a wireless nature talk. He said he had done the same thing on three previous occasions and had also swallowed live fish."

Watford Field junior school log book, May 27, 1943

Headteachers' logs can make entertaining reading but they are also precious historical documents (page 9). There is often a Pooterish quality to the earliest records that state-funded schools were obliged to keep from the 1860s - "Today we returned five empty ink bottles to the manufacturer."

However, these apparently humdrum notes provide evocative pictures of a time when school years were punctuated by visits from local gentry, travelling circuses and deadly diseases.

Today many pre-1953 logs (50-year restrictions usually apply) can be read not only in libraries but on the web. If you click on a page and breathe deeply you may even catch a faint smell of boiled cabbage and disinfectant.

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