Lizzie Atfield &
The Blackheath School
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Prior to the school opening in 1892 the village children had the long walk to Shamley Green, Albury Heath, Chilworth or Wonersh for their education – and pay 2d per week per child. Considering that some families had ten or more children, and that a workman’s wage stood at about 9/- per week, this was quite a challenge for all concerned.
Henry Prescott, a retired banker who lived with his two unmarried sisters at “Brantingeshay” had, with Sir William Roberts-Austin, already been involved in the construction of the church. Once built, the vestry afforded a temporary room for a small infant school to be established.
Elizabeth Charlotte Fuller, a seventeen year old pupil-teacher at Bramley School was “headhunted” as an ideal young woman to employ - and so began her thirty years of educating every village child up to the age of eight, when they went on to Chilworth “big” school. When the village hall was built (also created by the same group of benefactors), the school was moved there and remained so until it closed in 1922. At that time, a larger school having been built in Chilworth, and the number of Blackheath children dwindling, the decision was made to close it. Circa 1897/8 the average attendance had numbered 27.
In 1897, Lizzie married and became the wife of Arthur Atfield, at that time a gardener for Sir William and Lady Roberts-Austin. The couple raised a family of three children – each, amazingly, born during the school holidays! Lizzie took each of her babies to work with her, placing them in a Moses basket under the table. No maternity leave in those days!
Lizzie was required to visit Henry Prescott once a month to report, on attendance numbers and report progress, and to receive her wages. These were ten shillings per week, eventually ending as £1 per week by the time the school closed thirty years later. Corrie Atfield, Lizzie’s younger daughter, remembered that she and her sister Evelyn sometimes accompanied their mother on those visits and said that Mr. Prescott and his two sisters were very kind, gentle people. While Lizzie was “reporting” the elderly ladies would entertain the girls in the kitchen with milk and biscuits – and with the fact that they directly descended from Oliver Cromwell. When deemed able to appreciate the historical significance they were shown the family heirloom of a pair of bootees, which had been worn by Cromwell as a baby! Hopefully these still remain somewhere in the Prescott family!
A number of the children living on the Albury side of Blackheath continued the long daily walk to the pretty school on Albury Heath. Many of the older children also attended the Shamley Green school. In their records it is easy to spot the names of Blackheath children, it appears they did not have a good attendance record!