A 19th century programme reveals an energetic array of activities enjoyed by Swindon High School pupils at their annual Sports Day in 1898.
The earliest record of a school in Swindon was the Free School founded in 1764 to educate 20 boys and 5 girls. Pupil numbers soon outstripped the accommodation in a cottage in Newport Street and the National School was built on the same site in 1835.
The school in The Sands began life as the Classical and Commercial School for Young Gentleman. Swindon Advertiser founder William Morris, one of the schools' early pupils, was enrolled for about eighteen months to complete his education where schoolmaster George Nourse, according to Morris, was a nice, kind, old gentleman but lacking firmness and ability to teach.
By 1869 Cornish born Samuel Snell was in charge. One of five sons of a lead miner, Samuel was a pupil teacher by the age of sixteen and the only one of his brothers to escape the Cornish lead mines.
In the census of 1881 the establishment at The Willows included Samuel, his wife Sarah and their children Jennie 18, Florence 16, Harold 14 and ten year old Lilian, assistant schoolmasters Stuart Blofield and Albert Everett, a cook, two housemaids and nine student boarders aged 12-17. The remaining pupils on the roll were day boys, sons of local businessmen.
The 1898 Athletic and Sports Day took place on July 28 at the County Ground where the umpires were C.W. Martin and Swindon JP W. Reynolds. Mrs Ponsonby, wife of St. Mark’s vicar the Rev. Maurice Ponsonby, awarded the prizes. The event was due to start at 1.45pm but a pencilled note reveals proceedings began at 2.00pm.
Among the events were the 150 yards Flat Race for the Lower School won by Wiseman (major) with Clappen (minor) the younger son of William Clappen, outfitter and tailor who had premises in both Old and New Swindon, coming in second.
The 100 yards Flat Race for Boys Under Ten was won by Master Gilbert who was presented with his prize by Mrs Snell. Other competitors included the Craddock brothers but there is no record of the runners up.
First prize in the 50 yard Three Legged Race went to Shawyer, the son of Old Swindon chemist, and his partner Dyer. Adams and photographer’s son Hemmins, were placed second with Read and Robinson coming in 3rd, the Wright brothers and the Craddocks, major and minor were unplaced.
Other events included the 120 yard Hurdle Race won by the son of tailor and outfitter George Pakeman but in the Pick-a-Back Race run across 60 yards Pakeman and his partner Couldrey were narrowly beaten by Masters Cleverly and King Smith.
Burderop farmer Charles W. Whatley recalls his schooldays at Swindon High School in his autobiography Farming and Foxhunting published c1940, where Mr Snell had the reputation of pushing on the smart and forward boys. ‘There were quite a few of us farmer boys, sons of the soil, but as far as I can remember we were all in the back row,’ wrote Whatley.
Swindon School Board was formed in November 1877. Within four years the Board had built Sanford Street Boys, Queenstown Infants and Girls, Gilberts Hill Girls and Infants and Westcott Infants Schools, accommodating more than 1,600 children.
In 1907 the High School was adopted by the Swindon School Board. Samuel Snell remained headmaster at 64 Bath Road until his death in 1911.
Images - William Hooper view of The Sands is published courtesy of P.A. Williams; the National School in Newport Street during demolition work in 1962 see the Swindon Local Collection on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal