No places for idle rogues

8th August 2003 at 01:00
In 1655 heads were more upfront about selection procedures. Emily Clark digs into the archives of some of our oldest schools

CHILDREN being sent home for being dirty and others arriving without their penny payment for lessons are among the many daily occurrences revealed in a Victorian log book for a Manchester school.

Outbreaks of scarlet fever and events such as Queen Victoria's birthdays were also logged. Lessons were put on hold when the vicar visited and the first motor car drove through the village.

The 140-year-old book is part of a valuable archive at Didsbury Church of England primary which, dating from 1561, is one of the oldest schools in Britain. Its valuable contents have now been preserved by the John Rylands University Library, Manchester.

Sue Good, the head, said: "I think it is important children understand the social aspects of life then. It was a time when children had a thirst for knowledge because education was quite new and there was so much poverty."

John Rylands is also preserving the archive at Manchester high school, revealing secrets from one of the oldest girls' secondary schools in Britain. In 1923 the school doctor wrote of the "foolish" and "dangerous" fashion for bare arms, which he said caused rheumatism and chills. An earlier letter warned that extra-curricula amusements such as plays were causing nervous strain.

Kathleen Hale, author of the Orlando marmalade cat stories, who attended the school in 1907, was considered "un-educatable" aged eight. She was nearly expelled twice for keeping a white mouse in her blouse and "drawing bare-bosomed mermaids".

Chetham's, Manchester, has a library for more than 100,000 documents. One reveals that the conditions of entry in 1655 state that pupils must be of honourable parents, not "idle beggars or rogues" and must not be "bastards, lame, infirm or diseased".

Boys worked from 6am to 5.30pm and dined mainly on boiled bread and beer.

They were expelled for ill health. Confidential notes were kept on all students ranging from the "completely stupid" to those who "will not do well". A weekly letter home was inspected by the headteacher and the boys were allowed one visitor a term.

John Woodhouse, head of preservation at John Rylands, said: "You find social history in these books which nobody has ever seen. Like fine paintings, books should be preserved and valued because they put our experiences in a historical context."

Leader, 12

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