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Lady Sidmouth's School at Smeatharpe

The Elementary Education Act of 1870 required all parishes in England to provide elementary education for all children in the parish between the ages of 5 and 12. School Boards were set up to administer such schools in many parishes and as was the case in Smeatharpe, the Lord of the Manor (Lord Sidmouth) provided a building to house the school. 

Known as Lady Sidmouth's School at Smeatharpe, a building consisting of one school room was completed in 1871 close to the centre of Smeatharpe village and a  stone plaque was set in the outside wall of the school, reading "This school was founded and given by William Wells, 3rd Viscount Sidmouth, 1871"


The plaque can still be seen today from the road past the school and it is believed the land on which it was built was part of the Sidmouth Estate at the time. The original single school room was built of flint and heated by a single stove for which coals were provided by the parish/school board. Lighting, when needed, was provided by candles/oil lamps and the children would have used chalk and slates for their work. At the back of the building, enough land was enclosed to provide a playing field and a well was dug at some time to provide a water supply. Before the well was dug, children collected water from the springs that are in the garden of the house now known as Springdale (previously believed to have been known as "Perry's").

The first teacher at the school would have had one class for all children between 5 and 12 and although the school grew in the 1900's there was only ever two classrooms at the school. Initially, the teacher would have lodged in the village, but eventually a one up - one down house was added to the school room as the teachers accommodation, Such schools were commonly known as "Dame Schools" as the teacher was often an educated spinster of the parish. 

Later, the teachers accommodation was extended to provide a "two up - two down" house for the teacher and her family and separate outside toilets for boys and girls were built. A wooden wash house was built over the well which had a quarry tiled floor with a drain running down the centre. In the 1920's, when a second school room was added, an entrance hall was added to the building to which water was then pumped to from the well.

In 1878, the teacher was Miss Elizabeth Hine and in 1897, the teacher was Mrs Sarah Churchill whose husband was butler to Lord Sidmouth at the Manor House in Upottery. In 1906, Miss Kalloway was the school mistress and in 1926, the school mistress was Mrs Pountney.

The two school rooms each had their own doors from the entrance hall and in place of the wall between the rooms a wooden folding screen was installed, with two large wooden beams over the opening.  A stone on top of the beams has the date 1926 carved on it.

From when the school first opened, the teacher at the school was required to keep a weekly log of attendance and anything of note that happened at the school. These records are now in the Exeter Record Office. Lady Sidmouth would make regular visits to the school to hear the children read and see examples of their writing and arithmetic. These were big events for the school and Lady Sidmouth's reaction was always recorded in the log. The logs also record other events of note:

"Few children at school due to the diptheria epidemic."
"Many children missing from class at harvest time."
"Not enough coals to keep the stove lit all day" (The stove remained the schools only source of heating) 

In the 1920's it is said that Lady Sidmouth was concerned that villagers in Smeatharpe were not walking the two miles to the Parish Church in Upottery, but were taking a short stroll to the Baptist Church at Newhouse for Sunday services. As a result, Lady Sidmouth paid for a chapel or sanctuary to be added to the school building at Smeatharpe so that Church of England services could be provided for the villagers of Smeatharpe and children at the school. The Sanctuary was consecrated in 1924 and a brass plaque was mounted there with the following inscription:




The sanctuary at Smeatharpe School opened and decorated for a Harvest Festival Service. 

The hymns are No 381, 382 and 383. The alter and communion rail are now in the side chapel at Upottery Church and the memorial on the wall to the fallen in the Great War is now in Smeatharpe Village Hall. Note the words on the beam which read "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism". It has been said that the words "One Baptism" were a reminder not to go to the Baptist Chapel on a Sunday! Note also the plaster missing from the wall at the upper right of the picture.

By all accounts the school (and village) thrived through to the second World War, when the whole area became part of a military zone supporting Smeatharpe Airfield and the road through the village was closed. Smeatharpe Airfield, is where East Company of the US Army 101st Airbourne division flew from in support of Operation Overlord through V-J Day, made famous by the 2001 Tom Hanks film, "Band of Brothers". The airfield was abandoned after World War II, and given over to agriculture. The school eventually closed in 1959, but only after the MP for Tiverton and Honiton at the time, Mr Mathew, asked in the House of Commons for the then Education Minister to reconsider his decision to close the school - sadly without success.

The coronation of 1937 was said to have been celebrated at the school by the planting of an oak tree and at the base of a large oak tree in the garden, a plaque with the following inscription was found in 2000:



The tree is a fine specimen of an English Oak and it was under this tree that the sign was found: 


Measuring the circumference of the trunk of this tree shows it to have a girth of 3.3 metres and using the Woodland Trust 
guide to estimating the age of an oak tree indicates that a tree with a 3.3 metre girth is approximately 150 years old (in 2017). This would mean that the tree was planted around 1867, not 1937. It seems likely that this was not the tree planted in 1937, but instead was a tree planted around 1871 when the first school building was built. Another oak tree in the garden has a much smaller girth, approximately 2 metres, and it is much more likely that this amaller tree was the one planted in 1937. It seems that time tends to make things bigger in more ways than one!

The school playground had iron railings around it and a flagpole stood near the road. In the 1940's before VE Day, when the area was a military zone, a picture of the pupils at the school was taken in front of the school's flag pole. It is believed they were collecting waste paper for the war effort:


In the picture:
Front Row, left to right:
Gerald White, Rodney Peters, Derek Mitchell, Joyce Woollacott, Chris Poole, Philip Faxwell, Gerald Parsons, Michael Shire.
Second Row, left to right:
Chris Perry, Freda Perry, Derek Dimond, Pam Mitchell, Hilda Clark, Bill Parsons, Vera Parsons, Maurice Foxwell.
Back Row, left to right:
Geoff Hayes(1), Florrie Perry, Blanche Smith, Miss F. E. Simmons, Myrtle Hill, Geoff Hayes(2)

The base of the flagpole still stands there today. Following closure, the school became a private house, which it remains and is now known as The Old School House at Smeatharpe.

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