On 29 April our friends at Bisley Village Hall invited Shaftesbury Young People to attend an afternoon tea and presentation of their Heritage Project the aim of which is to bring to life the story of the former Shaftesbury School and the Village Hall. Around 80 people gathered at the former Shaftesbury’s chapel to share their memories; view artefacts and displays of memorabilia and contribute to the rediscovery of their local heritage.
In the second part of the 19th century Bisley became a place of refuge and support for poor, homeless and orphaned children. The Refuge Farm School was constructed in 1868 then, in 1873, the larger Shaftesbury School. In 1874, a chapel was built to accommodate the pupils and staff from both schools, with a separate room in which villagers could buy a cheap cup of tea and meet friends. This was the only chapel built by Shaftesbury Homes & Arethusa.
Farming was a common subject at the time, together with chemistry, engineering, gymnastics, gardening, music, technical drawing, and the trades (tailoring, boot making, carpentry, wood and metal work…). Vocational training was an important part of the curriculum, with some boys trained to join the armed forces. The boys, many of them from disadvantaged backgrounds and had few social skills often describe their time at the school as tough and the education method very strict. But they also say that it helped to set them up for life.
In 1919 the Farm School and the Shaftesbury School amalgamated due to changes in the law and became the Upper and Lower House of Bisley School. Even before they were amalgamated, they shared two buildings: the hospital - the first place some boys saw on arrival from London too weak to start with their studies - and the chapel.
Shaftesbury School was finally closed in 1959 and a prison was built on the site which is in existence today, Coldingley Prison. As for the chapel, this building exists today as the Village Hall and is very much the heart of the village for meetings, and community events.
We would like to thank the trustees at Bisley Village Hall for inviting us to be part of such an exciting project and we are very pleased that they will be attending our 175th anniversary celebrations on 3 August.
If you were a pupil at Bisley or are in contact with anyone who went to Bisley and would like to share your memories, please contact the trustees Graham Davey ((firstname.lastname@example.org / 07753 672778) or Susan Smith (email@example.com) who would be delighted to hear from you.