Our lives are influenced by the type of education we have received.

Formal state education started with the passing of the Elementary Education Act in 1870, one of a number of acts between 1870 and 1893.

Together they created a compulsory education system overseen by local Education Boards in England and Wales.

All children between the ages of five and thirteen were to attend.

The main sponsor of this act was Liberal politician and Quaker William Forster (1818-1886).

There was a need to ensure that people were able to read and write following the passing of the Reform Act of 1867. This gave the right to vote to many working class men.

Interestingly, we still mark our ballot papers with a cross to this day even though the majority are now literate.

In England and Wales before the 19th century only a small percentage of the population received any education, often from private tutors.

Daily Echo: Schooling.

Writer Jane Austen, at 8 years old, attended Mrs Cawley’s school near the Bargate which she had set up in 1783.

The early schools set up a system with the emphasis being simply to repeat and memorise what was said by the teacher or rote learning. Pupils would not be allowed to ask any questions or interact.

Discipline was strictly enforced with the cane. Some children who found learning difficult could be made to stand in the corner wearing a hat with a D on for dunce.

Early classrooms often had up to 50 children of various ages and abilities.

It would occasionally fall to some of the older students to teach the younger ones what they had been taught.

Early teaching standards could vary considerably depending on the teacher’s ability.

The focus was on reading, writing and arithmetic.

Over the years the curriculum would expand and develop from teaching by rote through chalk and talk to modern teaching methods.

By the 1920’s education in Southampton had not moved on a great deal from those early days.

Daily Echo: Northam Board School.

Records from the old Northam Boys and Girls School in Kent Street show significant absenteeism.

There was sickness with both teachers and pupils being away with numerous ailments such as mumps, measles, whooping cough and diphtheria.

An anonymous account of Northam school, written in 1965, is in the Hampshire archives.

“In the Boys’ School, Mr Long was headmaster and he married the headmistress, Miss Norris. I well remember the ‘thwack’ of his cane on the hands and other parts ….one of the teachers, ‘Buzzer’ James’ used to take sly nips of whisky behind the half opened cupboard door.”

The excuse for not attending school did not need to be “the dog ate my homework”, as the reasons could be far more local.

Due to the riverside location of the Northam School it was yearly affected by flooding. At those times roads would be impassable as they were under water, making schooling impossible.

Through the 1920’s there are records of children being kept at home because they had no boots to wear to school. Some families got shoes out of the pawnbrokers for the weekend to attend church, only to put them back in hock on a Monday to get money to survive the week.

Daily Echo: Schooling.

In 1927 footwear was such an issue that a fund was set up by the Mayor for 50 pairs of boots to be given to needy children from the Mayor’s Flood Fund.

The mayor for 1927 was Lucia Foster Welch who was the first female mayor of Southampton.

Flooding and lack of appropriate footwear were not the only reasons for preventing children from attending school.

The coal strike of 1912 was still creating an impact on society years later with coal being a major source of home heating and cooking.

Some of the young girls were kept at home to look after other children while their mothers went out to obtain their coal tickets to ensure that the family had enough to warm the home and cook with.

Daily Echo: SeeSouthampton logo

Martin Brisland and Maurice Keys are tour guides with SeeSouthampton.co.uk .