Braithwell, Micklebring and Clifton History and Heritage

The ‘New’ Braithwell School: The significance of Head Teacher Mr J.J. Fox


Some insights into education in our villages prior to his time

The latest, very worthy, recipient of the J.J. Fox Award was Mike Hoyes of Braithwell. The Award was set up by the Fox Family to acknowledge outstanding contributions of individuals to the local community.

So who was J.J. Fox?

Braithwell School 001.jpg
The New School (1928) and playing field, now Birchwood Gardens


He was appointed the first Head Teacher of the ‘new’ Braithwell School when it was built on the corner of Micklebring Lane and Doncaster Road, in 1928. Our recordings of the memories of the older generation who were born and grew up here, frequently feature the value of his inspired and enlightened leadership. Not only were academic successes achieved, but pupils ‘were really interested in learning’; behaviour and attendance improved. To ensure attendance at the school, Peter Dunstan remembers that Mr Fox would walk up the High Street from his home on Maltby Lane, gathering pupils from farms and cottages as he went. In 1994 this school, the third in Braithwell, was closed, demolished, and the small estate of Birchwood Gardens built.

JJ Fox and kids good photo.jpg
Jeannie Butterfield, Tom Butterfield, Alan Frankland, Gordon Brewster, Peter Davis, Doreen Houghton, Peter Dunstan, Jean Dunstan, Mr Fox, Christine Petty, Sheila Bolsover, Donald Houghton, Brian Cocking, Peter Frankland, George Petty.


Braithwell School (Master's House) from Carol Narey2.jpg
  The original school in 1893!

The building of the first school in the village, what is now known as The Master’s House on the High Street, was financed by the Bosviles and the Gleadalls. This tiny listed building often had 60 – 70 pupils attending – a miracle any child learnt anything at all! The chronic overcrowding led to the building in 1872 of the new National School (now our doctors’ surgery) in part of the garden, financed by public subscription. This building doubled as the only venue the villages had for dances, concerts and various entertainments, and many are the complaints in the Head Teacher’s Log Book about the damage and disruption caused by these extra-curricular activities! The only recreation area was the current driveway up the side of the original school, not tarmaced then, and described as ‘a quagmire’ with the mud often coming over the boys’ boots.  The ‘toilets’ were a privy at the back of the building which was supposed to be emptied once a month by the caretaker, but it frequently was not. These ‘offices’ existed until 1900 when an extension with toilets was built.

The overcrowding in this school, the poor quality of the education and the unsanitary conditions are often commented on in Inspectors’ Reports. The Log Books recorded the despair of several Heads : “Hard work to hold one’s ground without books and apparatus, but our motto is still onward.” Not surprisingly, there was a fast turnover of Head Teachers and assistant teachers, one of whom was moved to write :I pray that God will give me grace to discharge my duty faithfully, honestly and fearlessly, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.

The Rector and his family often had to step in and teach themselves. There are many periods when the school was closed because of outbreaks of scarlet fever, mumps, whooping cough, measles, diphtheria and influenza, and several children’s early deaths are recorded. As a reflection of rural life, parents routinely kept their children away from school to plant potatoes, gather cowslips for cowslip wine, ‘tent’ cows (i.e. turn them out into the fields after the winter and watch they did not escape through the hedges), ‘single’ turnips (i.e. thin out the turnip seedlings) in spring; in summer the reason would be pea picking, haymaking or harvest; in autumn school closed for a fortnight for potato picking. Sometimes the school itself went harvesting – in 1918 the older children “visited Maltby Woods and gathered 45lbs of blackberries.”

Other causes of absence were the Fitzwilliam Races held at Micklebring, children going to shows and fairs in Maltby and Doncaster, and festivities at Sandbeck Park. As children walked to school from Micklebring, Stainton, Ravenfield and Clifton, heavy snowfalls meant they simply could not make it to Braithwell.  The National School had fires in each of the 2 classrooms, separated by a curtain, but there are many occasions when the coal was not delivered and temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit, only just above freezing, were recorded. It was a great event when enough slates were provided for each pupil, and books, maps and new ‘double desks’ (which Alllen Smith remembered from his Primary School in the 1950s!) were delivered in 1907.

Despite all these shortcomings the numbers of pupils in the school rocketed as the local mines were being opened and railway lines were being constructed. In 1914 there were 48 children in the Infants and 120 on roll! This rose to as many as 156 in the 1920s when for a period the Infants were taught in the tiny Chapel Schoolroom on Austwood Lane. In April 1893 the then Head Mr C. Heitmann wrote :

I have admitted two infants today. The infants gallery is now very full which causes the children to be very restless; the babies also take up so much of the time that ought to be devoted to the children of six years old and over.

An Inspection Report from 1912 is telling : having praised the generally good behaviour of the pupils and their neat and tidy appearance, and the satisfactory standards “in all mechanical parts of the work such as writing and sums worked according to rule”, the Inspector comments :

Mere performance of things taught is all that is aimed at. The futility of this was shown during the visit, and the necessity for changing the whole aim of the instruction into an effort to stimulate intelligence and cultivate ideas ….The change must be carefully made, but something must be attempted at once to relieve the tedium of the present perfunctory and unstimulating work.

This change came about with the building of the spacious and commodious new school and the appointment of its first Head Teacher, Mr. J.J.Fox.

I am indebted to my colleague Allen Smith who transcribed the Log Books, now to be found filed at The Ruddle Centre with the Les Pugh Archive - Christine Goldsack. Chairman, BMC: History and Heritage (2020)