ACROSS THE FIELDS TO SCHOOL

In the first volume of the History of Hesters Way we spoke of the schools and children of Hesters Way today but what of the schools to which the children of this area went to long before the estate was built? Although, some 'Public Schools' date back to Elizabethan times, education did not become compulsory for everyone until the last quarter of the 19th Century. For the poorer children education was not considered necessary, in fact, undesirable in case it gave them ideas above their station.

Two of Cheltenham's earliest schools which served the children of Arle and Hesters Way, were 'Red Roofs School' on the corner of Roman Road and Rowanfield Road and 'Christ Church School' in Malvern Road and in Alstone Lane, (both long gone).

The registers of St. Mark's School (Red Roofs) show that several children from Arle attended: the Betteridges of Hesters Way; the Gabbs of Hesters Way Farm; the Booths; the Birts and others. Meanwhile Christ Church School Registers show the Iles Children of Bank Cottage; the Kearseys of Hope Farm; the Taylors of Elm Cottage; the Cocks of Fiddlers Green and later the Fletchers of Hesters Way Farm.

All of these children, from the age of five, had to walk a very long way across the fields and footpaths to school. There were no buses in those days and no school dinners, and whatever the weather, lateness was frowned upon. Hardly surprising that the School Log Book shows a large drop in attendance during inclement weather and an entry on 8.11.1929 states that the walls of the cloakroom were so wet the children had to take their coats into the classroom. Discipline was very strict and the cane very much in evidence. Schools then had many health problems as diphtheria, measles, mumps, whooping cough and even smallpox occurred frequently. But despite all these troubles the school continued to get excellent reports from the School Inspectors.

Public events usually led to a half-day holiday and Empire Day was a time of great festivity. In 1933 the school closed to celebrate the Royal Wedding of HRH the Duke of Gloucester and again in 1936 for a less happy occasion, namely the death of King George V.

By September 1939 the number on the Roll was 114 which included six evacuees and because of the blackout, particularly in winter months, the afternoon timetable changed to 1.30 to 3.30 instead of 2 - 4. Trenches were dug in the playground and all children carried their gas masks at all times.

In July 1940 the children had to take cover in the trench as there was an air battle overhead and several times that year lessons were interrupted by air raids. A National Savings Scheme was operated and in October 1941, 5 had been raised and sent to Mrs. Churchill from the children for 'Aid to Russia'. By 1942 immunisation against diphtheria was carried out and despite the war and deprivations, children's health began to improve and school dinners had been introduced.

By 1952 the numbers on the Roll were 373 and the little school was bursting at the seams. Rowanfield School was ready, but not Monkscroft, and some classes had to be held in the Parish Hall around the corner in Rowanfield Road.

Red Roofs was a popular little school serving the children from as far away as Arle Village but the building of the new schools in Hesters Way and Rowanfield meant that this little school had to close and so in 1975 after serving the community for 89 years, its doors shut forever.

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