The Priory Church of England ( VA ) School on Wick Lane, Christchurch, is celebrating its 150 year anniversary this year and has many plans in place to mark the occasion.

Founded on January 18 1867 the school was run by a Mistress and Pupil Teachers who were responsible for teaching children reading, writing and scripture. Classes were separated into boys and girls with around 60 children on the register which varied greatly throughout the year.

Claire Bowden who has been researching the history of the school said, “The number of children attending the school on a daily basis fluctuated regularly depending on the weather. On May 4 1869 it was referenced in the school log book as a ‘very wet day, only 30 children present’. On May 14 1876 ‘only nine children were present owing to the wet weather’.”

Poor weather conditions in the winter months had a huge impact on whether children made it to school or not. In the school log book there are lots of reference of children being late ‘on account of the weather’ or not making it to school at all. The cold weather also affected the children’s health, as was recorded ‘several children away on account of chilblains’ and in December 1867 ‘several children absent on account of bad colds and coughs.’ Three accounts of a child death were also recorded in the school’s early years.

“In January 1876, the weather had been so bad that children were unable to get to the school owing to floods as the ‘school unapproachable due to the floods’ and on November 13 1877 ‘only 46 children were present owing to the rising of the tide’,” said Claire.

Sometimes children were absent for other reasons. On November 19 1868 the school recorded ‘attendance small on account of great excitement prevailing in the town owing to the election of previous days’. This was the first election following the Reform Act 1867 which enfranchised many male householders, thus greatly increasing the number of men who could vote in the election in 1868. In June 1871 many absences were recorded with ‘the chief excuse being want of boots.’

Another entry in the log said there was ‘a very poor attendance owing to a fair being held in town’, so in later years the school gave the children a holiday to enable them to attend the fair. Other holidays were given in commemoration of the Queen’s Coronation Day on June 28 1869 and for the annual treat which was held at the vicarage.

In contrast there are 219 pupils at the school today, with one form of entry from the Reception class through to Year 6. The site of the school is the same as it was 150 years ago and many of the original classrooms are still in use.

“The Christian foundations of the school were at the forefront of school life in its early years as it is today. Rev. Zachary Nash visited the school two or three times a week. In 1868 he ‘cautioned the children against the practice of running behind carriages or other vehicles’ and ‘reproached several children for untidy hair and dress’. However it wasn’t all about disciplining children. In the December of the same year he ‘gave the children some toys and buns’ and when he visited the school the following February he gave the children some oranges. These visits continued for many years with the additional offering of apples,” said Claire.

Bad behaviour was acted upon with severity. The log book sites lots of punishments for throwing stones, swearing, playing truant, arriving late, telling untruths and disobeying the Pupil Teachers. Children were also ‘kept in’ for being listless, inattentive, noisy, and ‘holding their looks carelessly’.

Priory School 150 years later has changed a lot since Victorian times but its connection with Christchurch Priory is still strong. It continues to serve many generations of Christchurch families and has built upon the Christian values of love, forgiveness and respect. Like Rev. Nash in the 1860s, Father Charles and Father Richard visit the school every Tuesday to lead worship. Children regularly attend church services and are encouraged to take an active role in church life.

Headteacher, Mrs Anita Cubitt, teachers, pupils, governors and parents have been busy preparing for the anniversary. At the beginning of the school year a new uniform was introduced and many events have taken place throughout the year to raise money to make improvements around the school. The children have also designed a beautiful mosaic to be erected at the front of the school.

On Friday there is a Summer Fayre at the school from 4 -7pm with a marque displaying memories and pictures of former pupils. Anybody who went to the school is more than welcome to join them in celebration.