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Forget Covid, the disease that kept children away from school in Kent 100 years ago was measles


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We have become used to children missing school over the last year because of Covid, but we must not imagine that this is the first time that disease has interfered with our youngsters' education.

A hundred years ago in Kent, the illness most likely to keep them away from class was measles, which was actually far more deadly for children than Covid has been.

The staff and children of Chart Sutton National School in 1882
The staff and children of Chart Sutton National School in 1882

Following the Revised Code of Regulations in 1862, all head teachers had to keep a daily record of what went on in the school, much like a captain's log at sea.

The logs can provide a fascinating insight into education in years gone by.

The Chart Sutton National School at Chart Sutton near Maidstone opened on October 23, 1865, although the head teacher, Miss Martin, recorded in her new log-book with obvious disappointment "Only four boys and two girls came, it being very wet."

There were 70 school-age children in the parish at the time.

The weather was often given as a reason for low attendance, but it improved after April 1866 when Miss Martin was replaced by Mrs Dugdale who determined "to keep a register of attendances which will have weight in the distribution of prizes."

Goof behaviour was rewarded with Certificates of Merit - this one to a pupil named Lilian Rayner
Goof behaviour was rewarded with Certificates of Merit - this one to a pupil named Lilian Rayner

Sadly, the following November she was forced to record: "Measles has struck. One day 30 children were absent and one little boy has died."

Mrs Dugdale was replaced in 1880 by Miss Emily Wilson, who clearly had some disciplinary problems to deal with.

One boy was sent to report to the local vicar, the Rev J. Robinson, having "struck the mistress with his fist during Sunday School."

But she was to experience worse.

In the spring of 1885 a virulent outbreak of measles closed the school and caused a number of deaths among the pupils.

The school treat to Chart Sutton Vicarage
The school treat to Chart Sutton Vicarage

When the school was able to open again six weeks later, Miss Wilson wept to see so many empty desks.

However, it was not all doom and gloom.

One day Rev Robinson treated the pupils to cakes and even wine so they could celebrate his daughter's wedding and on another they were given a lantern show to celebrate Christmas.

The log book concludes in 1892.

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