Fringe Box



Never Absent, Never Late

Published on: 27 Feb, 2012
Updated on: 27 Feb, 2012

by David Rose

Although attending school was compulsory by the 1900s, truancy was often rife. However, schemes were introduced to reward children for good school attendance by presenting them with coins, medals and postcards. Once such postcard that has survived features a picture of the ruined chapel at St Catherine’s and is linked to a pupil who went to nearby Artington School.

Now, John Theobald from Godalming, who is a collector of these items as well as a keen local historian, is trying to piece together their fascinating story. At some schools pupils were given a special metal coin or token for regular attendance, punctuality or good behaviour. If this continued, the token would be exchanged for a medal. Even better attendance would result in a silver medal being awarded.

In other instances, tokens were issued throughout the school year to children for good attendance and behaviour and so on. At the end of the year they were exchanged for a small amount of money and paid into that child’s Post Office Savings bank account.It was often a local philanthropic person who generously donated the money. Some of these items have survived and are now being avidly collected while their history is being researched – as in the case with John Theobald. However, those silver medals are extremely rare as the parents of working-class children were likely to have quickly sold the silver for some much-needed cash!
Schemes along these lines took place throughout Britain, but things were a little different here as the Surrey Education Committee issued a series of picture postcards. They feature black and white scenes from across the county including places such as Richmond and Kingston upon Thames, Hampton Court, Bisley, Cheam, Reigate, Farnham, Godalming, Sutton, Wallington, and Guildford.
To date, 47 different postcards have been identified as being issued by the Surrey Education Committee, and all of them have printed on them the words ‘Never Absent, Never Late’.

In many cases a pupil’s name has then been hand-written on the card and sometimes the name of a school. Most of the cards that turn up at postcard and collectors’ fairs today have not actually been postally used. But those which have, and if a date has been added next to the written name of the child, that date so far recorded has always been within the year 1905.
In the field of postcard collecting these cards are not deemed rare – so thousands must have been issued at the time. They were issued to each child who attended one whole week of school. It is possible that many pupils ‘earned’ a good number of cards. And they would have been thrilled indeed. Picture postcards were the ‘in thing’ back then. Not only were they the latest quick and easy way to convey a message (just like sending a text on your mobile phone today), but people of all ages collected them for the scenes and illustrations the cards displayed.

Children would also have swapped cards among themselves, such as if they had ‘doubles’ of the same view. If a pupil gained a postcard for every week in a school term, they were then issued with a ‘Never Absent, Never Late, certificate. Evidently, the Surrey Education Committee kept a register with all the names of the pupils and what they had achieved.
The hand-written name on the card that features the chapel at St Catherine’s is that of F. Aslett. Unfortunately, we do not know who he was. John Theobald wonders if a reader with some local knowledge may recognise the name. But we do know a little about Artington School, which he attended. Another Godalming local historian, John Janaway, has discovered some information about this school that was actually in Littleton – part of Artington Parish that borders St Catherine’s. In records of head teachers listed by the Surrey Education Committee and now filed at the Surrey History Centre in Woking in appears that the original school in Littleton was opened in 1843. The school was built (or funded by) James More-Molyneux of Loseley House.

Old Littleton School now St Francis of Assisi Chapel.

In the head teachers’ register it states that in 1902 the headmistress was a Mrs Susannah Dale, a widow, who had occupied the post since 1884. At that time the school was called ‘Loseley Artington’. Kelly’s directories of Surrey for 1905 and 1907 have Mrs Dale at ‘Littleton (mixed)’, but this was unlikely to have been the school’s official title. John Janaway has traced a Miss Mary P Mitchell who became headmistress of ‘Artington C School’ in 1914. The original school at Littleton was rebuilt on a new site on the other side of the road and opened in 1909. The old school building was then much extended and became Littleton Church, dedicated to St Francis of Assisi.
At the changeover Mrs Dale must have retired. She was replaced by a Miss Alice Vellendar. John has yet to trace her in the Surrey Education Committee records. He concluded: “Therefore it seems fairly certain that the card (the one bearing F Aslett’s name) was issued from the original school at Littleton, which probably became known as “Artington Council School’ sometime between 1902 and 1909.”
Any correspondence about this school, any clues to F Aslett, information on these fascinating cards, or any details about tokens, coins or medals issued at other schools in this area, please contact Martin Giles who will forward details on to John Theobald.

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