Serving the communities of Bures St Mary and Bures Hamlet



Absenteeism late 1800`s

On an Autumn day in 1870 the master at Bures village school wrote: "Attendance Bad. Some are absent acorn picking".

The Log book of the school (kept as required from 1863) has recorded many occasions when school attendance was poor; most of these were linked to the seasonal demands of agriculture. In 1870 the harvest was poor, one of a series of poor harvests, and fetched poor prices. Cheap grain was coming in from the prairies of North America and as a side effect of bad times in farming, the old custom of acorn picking was revived all over Britain.

Other seasons made their demands on the school children of Bures; the master's laments in his log book on poor school attendance figures, continue year by year through the seasons. In the same month as the acorn picking reference, October 1870, children were absent from school dropping seeds (Winter Corn, into holes made with dibbers, the ancient method in use before the invention of the Seed Drill).

The earliest account which we have received of the revival of acorn picking by schoolchildren dates from the year 1868. Gloucesteshire farmers had great faith in acorns for fattening pigs. In Shropshire, pigs were fattened at the farmyard on acorns collected by the local children. On the day after the Bures schoolmaster had entered his lament in the school log book, on October 13th 1870 the Reverend Francis Kilvert, of Clyro in Wales, noted down in his diary that the local schoolchildren were gathering acorns to make up for the bad harvest. The farmers were paying them at the rate of two shillings or two shillings and fourpence (that's ten or twelve new pence) per Bushel

A meet of the foxhounds in Bures or the horse races at Sudbury also reduced the attendance figures; and in 1864 the same thing happened when a steam barge came up the river Stour in the village and in 1879, when the river froze over, there were very few in school. In 1880 attendance at school was made compulsory up to the age of ten years, by Mr Gladstone's Government.
Before that there was a temptation for elder children to earn a little money by working in the Maltings or in Mr Dupont's Matting factory in Bridge street, or the brick yard by the railway line

Gleaning, coming immediately after the corn harvest, was an activity of the utmost importance, involving every available child and able bodied woman in the parish.

Published 27/06/17