By Ishbel Beatty

Hatley school, Hatley Cambridgeshire – front-elevation.

Hatley school – front-elevation. It opened in 1874 and closed in 1965.

At the side of the road between Croydon and Hatley St George, half a mile from East Hatley, stand what are today two private dwellings, with gables, high windows, and a stretch of front garden.

Look at them closely and you will see lines of coloured brickwork and the tall entrance doors of a public building.

This double fronted edifice was once the village school for the two Hatleys.  Standing alone in the fields, for nearly 100 years it served the educational needs of the local children.

In 1872 the Board School Management Committee was formed of gentlemen who reflected local society: the Rectors of East Hatley and Hatley St George; two important landowners – Major Vernon of Hatley Park and Mr James Wagstaff of Potton; the Bursar of Downing College who farmed and hunted on the Downing estate; and two local farmers, Charles Mott and John Hart. The school’s pupils would be the children of their cottagers and farm labourers.

These gentlemen decided that a church school should be set up in contrast with the growing move to secular education following the Education Act of 1870.  This was to be a voluntary-aided school rather than rate-aided, because in the thinking of the Rev H W P Stevens, Rector of Tadlow and East Hatley, religious education should be ensured and the danger of ratepayers ever favouring the cheapest option should be avoided.

The school opened in 1874, with room for 88 pupils, and the building plans show a modest house for the school teacher with three bedrooms, parlour and kitchen; a school room 30′ x 18′ and, at the back, the mistress’s yard and the girls’ yard, with outside privies.

Where did the boys go out to play?  Perhaps they were thought not to need the protection of a fenced space.

Most of the yearly cost came from subscriptions, but fees were charged – at 2d a week for the first child, 1½d for the second child in the family, and 1d each for third and subsequent children.

Hatley school, Hatley Cambridgeshire – section.

Hatley school – section.

There were 12 pupils enrolled when the school opened, only one of whom could already read and write, and most were girls.  Within a few months, 25 names were on the register.

Miss Annie Morris was the first teacher, newly certificated, and she wrote down some of her memories of the school at the request of the Rector in 1922.

She found the pupils a testing group, but she persevered and remained in post until 1877, returning again in 1886 and serving another 14 years.  At age 22, Miss Morris was paid £50 a year and given a furnished house.

In the school log book she records varying attendance with excuses of poor weather – full-time attendance to the age of ten was not compulsory until 1880.

Many of the children had to trudge the field tracks through mud and rain from remote farms like Hart’s Old Farm and Hatley Wilds and parents did not all see the use of education.

Miss Morris did not at first understand the children’s names because of their unclear speech and local accents.  In addition to her paid duties, she recalls she started a night school for the boys already working on the farms, some of them as young as seven or eight.

Hatley school, Hatley Cambridgeshire – side-elevation.

Hatley school – side-elevation.

“But, in a wonderfully short time, I got used to them, and they to me.  They came tired to death… often with soiled garments and with grimy hands.  Oh! but they were so weary it was little I could do with them… but I kept on regularly…”

Miss Morris was also required, though she expressed reluctance, to take over the Sunday School and the discipline of the choir, who had not hitherto behaved in an orderly manner going in and out of church.

This she did by ‘the power of the eye’.  “When I resigned, solely to please my mother, these dear lads bought me out of their meagre wages quite a handsome photo album.  I left with great regret.”

Four different teachers covered the next nine years, with a falling-off in acquirements and discipline noted by the managers in the time of the last mistress.  Miss Morris was re-appointed in 1886, and returned to live in the school house with her blind elderly and widowed mother.  In 1898 the Government Inspector’s report described the school as ‘substantially well disciplined, but a gentler and quieter mode of teaching would be more efficient.’

After Miss Morris’s resignation in 1900, there were some more unsatisfactory years: one teacher resigned after being noted not quite sober on more than one occasion.  The post was advertised as follows in 1902: ‘28 on books. Nice type of children. Would suit 2 sisters or two friends.’  114 applications were received, perhaps attracted partly by the furnished house offered, but the married couple appointed left in a year or two after the wife was ‘offensively rude’ to the curate, who had remonstrated with her.  In 1915 ‘there have been 3 head teachers in the past 12 months.’

A new enthusiastic young teacher, Miss Mabel Tant, did rather better in the next two years.  She resigned to marry, but failed to realise her hope to bring her first baby to be christened by the East Hatley Rector before she and her husband left England for South Africa.  This daughter recently wrote for information as to the background of her mother’s life here.  She is writing her family history and recalls her mother’s happy memories of the beginning of her teaching career.

Records of the school after this period are scanty – only the Punishment Book of 1907 to 1951 remains.  Church schools became council schools administered by an Education Committee.  The school’s new title was Hatley Junior Mixed.  Pupil numbers of around 55 before 1900 fell, with the diminishing population, to little over 20.  There were 35 children enrolled before 1922, when those of secondary age were transferred to Gamlingay.

Fewer and fewer of the village inhabitants had connections with the agriculture, which was once its reason for existence.  With only about 15 pupils, the Junior School remained in the old Victorian building until 1965. since when children of all ages have bussed to Gamlingay and elsewhere, and the school house and classroom have taken on a new use, while the green fields still remain an enduring backdrop.

Gamlingay Gazette, December/January 1998

Memories of Hatley Church School

By Tommy Hood, writing in 1998

I first attended Hatley Church School in October 1932.  My parents, my sister and I had moved to Holbein’s Farm, and as my sister was eleven years old, she attended Gamlingay School.

I can still remember my first day at the school.  Holbeins Farm was the last delivery point for our postman, Mr Sidney Cole.  He took on the responsibility of taking me to school sitting on the carrier of his postman’s bicycle.  He took me into school to tell the teacher who I was and told the other pupils to look after me.  Sidney was the father of Fred Cole.

The teacher, Mrs Watts, lived in the school house.  She had two daughters, living away from home, but I do not recall ever seeing Mr Watts.

I was reasonably happy at the school under Mrs Watts, but was aggrieved that, on one occasion, I was punished for bringing candles and matches to school and lighting them in the boys’ toilet.  About six other boys were involved, two brothers having brought the candles and matches, but mine was the only name mentioned in the punishment book.  My memory tells me I had to write out a hundred lines after school.

The School Inspector used to visit the school about once a term and sit in on the lesson.  On discovering my name was Thomas Hood, he asked if I was related to the poet of that name.  As I had never heard of him, I said I did not think so.  He then said I was to find the poem The Tail of the Shirt, learn it by heart and recite to himself and the class on his next visit.  Fortunately he had forgotten about it when he next visited the school.

Moving to Gamlingay School at eleven, getting my first job and then being called into the army, I lost touch with the school for about ten years.  During this period my cousin, Mrs Joyce Dixon, was the first pupil to gain a scholarship from the Hatley School.  (This was the equivalent to passing the 11+ examination.  Ed.)

My involvement with the school was renewed when I was elected to serve as school manager representing the Hatley Parish.  This was in about 1955.  The managers consisted of the Vicar as chairman, Councillor Charles Careless, representing the Education Committee, a representative from Downing College and one other Parish Representative.  Downing College always seemed to be interested in the welfare of the school, and gave financial help to its upkeep.

Early in my term, we had to appoint a new teacher.  There were two applicants, a Mrs Cook, the wife of the Vicar of Orwell, and Mrs Sybil Marshall, the authoress.  We asked Sybil if she would be willing to teach religious education.  She told us in no uncertain terms that she didn’t consider that it would be her job and, if religion was to be taught in the school, the vicar would have to do it.

She told us that her main hobby was keeping and breeding pigs.  “What would you do if one school morning you found a pig farrowing or found it to be ill?” she was asked.  “I would see to the sow first and the children would have to wait” she said.  As she was living at Kingston (Cambridgeshire) at the time (the school house was no longer used for the teacher) we didn’t think it a good idea for the children to wait outside until she arrived.  We appointed Mrs Cook, who did an excellent job for many years.

During the interval from my being a pupil to becoming a manager, the children must have been well behaved.  The 1930s punishment book was still available to the managers and on more than one occasion it was pointed out to me that it contained the name of Thomas Hood.

Another appointment as teacher before the closure of the school was Mrs Phyllis Johnson of Castle Farm, Gamlingay.

Serving as a manager of the village school qualified me to become a founder governor of Gamlingay Village College serving as representative of the Hatleys for 25 years.

Gamlingay Gazette, May 1998

Do you have memories of your school days in the Hatleys in the 20th century?  Please let us know via our webmaster, Peter Mann –

Re-published on the original Hatley website, August 2006; minor changes March 2019 and October 2022.