WALTER T. BURR, Village Schoolmaster 

Researched by Irena White

Walter Thomas Gillett Burr was born in Fordcombe in Kent in 1850.  By 1861 he had moved to Bethnal Green where became a pupil teacher for five years at St Bartholomew’s School before leaving to attend Cheltenham Teachers Training College.  The college was founded in 1847 for the purpose of training Masters for Elementary Schools in connection with the Church of England.

Having spent one year there and acquired his qualification to act as an Elementary School Teacher, Walter arrived for his first teaching job in Ruyton XI Towns in 1872.  He was accompanied by another graduate of the Collage, Miss Martha Lewis who had also been a teacher at Dudley. She was to be in charge of the Girls School at a salary of 22. Per annum. and, at 22, the School Master`s salary was 40 with use of the School House, an Assistant Teacher`s salary was 16.

There would have been around 200 pupils in the school, aged between 5 and 10 years old. The leaving age of 14 was not made compulsory until 1918, with the school day starting at 7a.m. and finishing at around 5.p.m.  In 1870 the Forster Education act was passed whereby children between 5 and 10 and living within 2 miles of a school were forced to attend by an Act of Parliament passed in 1876. School was not free for most pupils until 1891 and the school running costs were met by pupils` fees as much as possible, this amounted to 35 pa in the 1870’s+ local subscriptions of around 50 and a Government Grant of 90 Total of 175.  Pupils were expected to pay a 1 penny a week which was a lot of money for a large family to find, consequentially, many children were kept at home or worked elsewhere picking damsons or bilberries or even picking stones and gleaning from the fields, all of which would have augmented the family meagre incomes.  Summer holidays were arranged with the Vicar and local farmers so that pupils would be available to help in the fields.

Mr Burr found much work was needed to bring the School up to the new standard. There were hardly any inkwells, no timetables and very few basic books.    He had many and varied interests which he introduced to the School His love of music involved him with the Church choir as Choir Master and organist, he was a bell ringer of the main church bells as well as hand bell ringing.  As a keen organist, he was instrumental in arranging for the old organ to be moved from the Church into the main school room.  A keen sportsman, he set up cricket and football teams as well as playing tennis and quoits.

In 1874 he also installed a gymnasium in the new room at the school, with parallel and horizontal bars, the gym was to encourage the pupils to keep fit and to get rid of their excess energy.  As well as operating the Penny Bank and Savings Club, he ran the Penny Reading Library and other evening classes as well as organising Temperance Meetings and being Secretary of the Foresters Club (a British Friendly Society a mutual  organization caring for the sick.   History was another major interest and he was a member of the Oswestry Archaelogical Field Club and assisted in the survey of Ruyton Castle which took place in 1878.

He married in Ruyton in 1875, his bride, Miss Sarah Ford eldest daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Ford of Bay Tree Cottage, Little Ness Road, Thomas being the local Excise Officer. Sarah had been a Nurse in London, but on her marriage, she was taken on a Sewing Mistress at the School. The family lived in the School House.   The couple went on to have 5 sons and one daughter, with one of their sons dying in 1916 as a result of illness brought on by his war service.

In 1883, after 11 years, Walter left for pastures new. The people of the village presented him with a clock, as a reminder of his time with the school.

His new post was as Head of the Soresby Street Boys School at Taplow, Chesterfield and then the next year he went on to be Head of Holy Trinity, Brimington in Chesterfield. He stayed in this post until 1916, one year after his promised retirement date of 1915 when he would have been 65.

While in Chesterfield he was a prominent member of the local Council and in 1907 also stood as an Independent Candidate for the Rural Council. He continued with his music and his archaeological pursuits and was instrumental in setting up the Derbyshire Field Club. He was said to be a pioneer of Technical Education in Chesterfield and introduced many Science programmes in the area. 

Walter died in 1930 age 80 and his wife Sarah in 1939 age 90.  Both are buried in the family grave at Brimington, Derbyshire.

   Walter Burr
   Waltter T. G. Burr  Mrs. Sarah Burr

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