Review of ‘Derbyshire Children at School’, by George Power

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on (date of publication unknown), and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

DERBYSHIRE CHILDREN AT SCHOOL

This is George Power's companion book to the fascinating Derbyshire Children at Home, though each title stands perfectly well on its own. They cover the same period, 1800-1900, again comparing huge differences between the 'have and have-nots'.

Placing historical accuracy before 'political correctness' the author separates Schools for the Rich from Schools for the Poor. Aristocratic scholars litter the former, with young FitzHerberts and Turbutts rubbing shoulders with the offspring of enormously wealthy industrialists like Arkwright and Strutt. These boys were dispatched to establishments such as Eton, Harrow and Charterhouse. Their letters home show a typical preoccupation with 'tuck' but some missives must have frightened parents to death. In 1834 John FitzHerbert wrote home to Tissington Hall from Harrow: 'There was a fellow ... blew his eye out and both his thumbs with gunpowder ... There was a fellow run away a day or two ago ... P.S. Two more fellows got the Scarlet Fever to-day.' Mentioned in passing were 10-hour days, chilblains, pimples, jaundice and whooping cough.

Good education for the poor was a matter of luck and the author bares the shortcomings of charity schools, factory schools and Dame schools. Many poor children of the 19th century were employed in rural and urban workforces; after working hard all week they 'would rather be in bed than go to school.'

Early written records about village schools are scarce but many survive from Tissington, though one document bears a cross instead of the signature of Mary Fletcher - and she was the teacher!

What rich and poor schools did have in common was corporal punishment, dished out without favour. We learn of two six-year-old Derbyshire boys caned for arriving late at school and of rich scholars who endured full-blown floggings. D'Ewes Coke, who had three sons at Risley, had to ask headmaster Mr Bidon to stop cuffing them on the head 'on account of the danger of causing deafness'. This humane father suggested ' ... substitute a Strap or Rod for the hands instead.' Some months later he entered in his diary: 'In the Evening had the unpleasant intelligence that William had run away from Risley ... Wrote to Mr. Bidon to desire he would flog him most severely before the whole school.' The best days of your life indeed!

With 112 pages and assorted evocative illustrations, Derbyshire Children at School by E.G. Power is published by Scarthin Books. Available from bookshops and local outlets at £6.95 (ISBN 1 900446 06 5)

Review by Julie Bunting


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