Of the many postcards produced by University College, Reading, the image below is not the most inspiring view of the London Road campus.
It shows the east cloister looking north towards Acacias and the porters’ lodge. In the distance, behind the Botany Department, is the sign for Zoology and Machine Drawing and, behind that, the sign for Building Construction. This matches a site plan published in the Students’ Handbook in 1907; the original Physics building would have been just behind the photographer.
There are much better images of the cloisters from this period, but what makes this postcard particularly interesting is that the student who sent it to her mother in Gosport was the young Nellie Eales who went on to work for the College and University for 42 years (retired in 1954), and lived to reach her hundredth birthday in 1989.
The message reads as follows:
‘Thanks for the chemistry apron. It will do very nicely. We shall have to get a new Strasburger [see note below] as it must be up to date. It will come to about 13/6 I expect.’
‘Imagine having to run along 3 cloisters the length of this one when you are late. The Chemistry, Physics and Geography Halls are beyond this. The view looks towards the older part of the college. Where the posts occur on the R. hand side are gardens. There are beautiful flowers about still. We had a splendid time on Sat at the at Home. Please keep this p.c. as I want to get a collection of Reading College views.’
Written upside down in the space at the top it says: ‘Love from Nellie.’; and in very faint writing: ‘What about galoshes? It is wet here.’
Nellie Eales combined her studies in Science with Teacher Training. She passed the two-year course for Primary Education students (Class I) in July 1909 and was awarded her BSc (Hons, Pass Division II) in 1910.
Following graduation, she worked briefly for the Marine Biological Association before being appointed Curator of the Zoological Museum at University College, Reading In 1912. The museum had been founded by Professor Francis Cole in 1906. Today the Cole Museum is located in the new Health and Life Sciences Building on the Whiteknights Campus and still contains the skeleton of the circus elephant that figures prominently in the image below.
By the beginning of the academic year 1912-13, the museum’s collection had already been completely catalogued and labelled, and Eales’s duties are described in the College Review of December 1912:
‘The Curator will be employed in the first instance principally in making anatomical preparations to assist students in their routine work, and when this is accomplished she will enter upon the much larger task of making preparations illustrative of the general principles of comparative anatomy.’ (p.21)
During Professor Cole’s frequent absences on military duty between 1914 and 1919, Eales took over the Zoology Department laboratory and covered his teaching. She became Lecturer in Zoology officially in 1919, and in 1921 was the first woman at Reading to be awarded a PhD. This was followed by a DSc in 1926.
Dr Eales had a highly successful academic career, details of which can be found in Claire Clough’s post on the Special Collections Blog: “Guardian Angel” of the Cole Library: Dr Nellie B. Eales. The post also recounts how, following the death of Professor Cole, she arranged the transfer of his vast collection of rare volumes (The Cole Library) to the University and compiled the printed catalogue. She is also celebrated for donating a valuable Book of Hours from the early 1400s.
One thing that surprises me, given her academic standing within and beyond the University, not to mention her indispensable contribution to running the Zoology Department, is that it took until 1951, only three years before her retirement, for her to be promoted to senior lecturer.
Nellie Eales died in 1989 shortly after her 100th birthday. Her obituary was published in the Journal of Molluscan Studies.
An online exhibition about the Cole Collections, curated by Claire Clough, can be found here.
‘Strasburger’ refers to the Botany textbook by Professor Eduard Adolf Strasburger, originally published as ‘Lehrbuch der Botanik für Hochschulen’ in 1894. An English translation of 1898 was purchased by the University College library under the title ‘Text Book of Botany’ in 1903.
The wording of the postcard is ‘a new Strasburger’, which sounds as though the students had been urged to buy an updated edition. The German original had reached its 8th edition by the time Eales had sent her card, so it is likely that the English translation followed suit.
University College, Reading. Official Gazette. No. 30. Vol. II, 3rd December, 1903.
The Reading University College Review, Vol. V, No. 13, December 1912, pp. 21-2.
University College, Reading, Annual Report and Accounts, 1908-09, 1909-10.
University College, Reading. Calendar, 1910-11.
University College, Reading (1907). Students’ handbook. First issue: 1907-8. Reading: UCR.
University of Reading. Proceedings of the University, 1953-4.
Sometimes referred to as ‘the experimental outdoor school’, the Farm School at Shinfield was set up in June 1912 and continued until 1926. It was the brainchild of Herbert S. Cooke, Master of Method in the Education Department.
The motivation behind this initiative is explained in the College’s Annual Report for 1911-12: Cooke was trying to counteract a longstanding trend for student teachers to prefer employment in urban rather than rural schools and wanted to impress upon his students the opportunities afforded by education outside the school classroom. The Farm School took place during the weeks reserved for Teaching Practice in the summer term and at first involved second-year male trainees only. Female students were eventually included in the scheme following a suggestion from the Board of Education, although initially their involvement was just for one week, later extended to two.
The first group of pupils consisted of forty thirteen-year-old boys from Redlands Council School, the College’s ‘demonstration school’, who attended daily for two weeks. Lessons took place in the barn which was equipped with desks and teaching materials.
According to Cooke (1913) there had been a growing realisation during previous years that the curricula of urban and rural schools needed to be different, and a Rural Curriculum was devised that centred on nature study and rural science. Pupils engaged in agricultural arithmetic, measuring distance and volume, and studied cattle, crops and soils as well as fruit growing, pruning and grafting in the College’s experimental gardens. They learnt folk songs and dances, studied the architecture of the nearby church at Arborfield and sketched the landscape and barn under the guidance of Allen Seaby and Mr Pearce from the Department of Fine Arts.
Cooperation between the Education Department, the Faculty of Agriculture and Horticulture and the staff of Redlands Council School ensured the success of the venture. Reports in the College Review and Annual Reports give a special mention to Mr Cooke, to Mr Sweatman, the head teacher of the Boys Department at Redlands and Mr Pennington, a Lecturer in Agriculture who became the Farm Manager in 1914.
But perhaps the most telling testimony comes from the Annual Report referred to above:
‘The Board of Education Inspector of Training Colleges paid a special visit to the outdoor school and expressed the opinion that it was one of the best experiments he had ever seen in the training of young teachers for their future scholastic careers.’ (Annual Report, 1911-12, p. 41).
His Majesty’s Inspector of Training Colleges, Mr J. F. Leaf, suggested further that the two weeks be extended to three. This resulted in an extended curriculum where individual topics could be dealt with in greater depth and drew on the expertise of any trainee teachers who had specialist knowledge in relevant areas such as practical geography, plants, animals or gardening.
Two summers later, in 1913, the College Review reported the inclusion of girls as well as boys, and the participation of St John’s School in addition to the Demonstration School. The three weeks were further extended to four. The Farm School was now firmly established:
‘…what was once regarded as an experiment has now become an important factor in preparing the students for their professional career.’ (p. 186).
The scheme went from strength to strength and during its final three years sixty boys and sixty girls aged eleven to fourteen were invited. The children were from the poorer parts of the Borough and had all failed to qualify for secondary (grammar) schools.
Over the years, there was considerable variation in the makeup of the pupil groups and in the format of the school day. And for at least part of the time, the curriculum, number of weeks and transport arrangements differed between boy and girl pupils.
The most detailed account of the Farm School is to be found in an article by H. S. Cooke published in the College Review in 1913. From this and other sources such as Isabella Campbell’s and Albert Wolters’s retrospective accounts written in 1949, we can reconstruct an approximate format of a day for the boys. I can’t claim this to be a ‘typical day’, but it is certainly a possible one:
The children walked or cycled from Silver Street in town. Some arrived as early as 8.30 and took part in what Isabella Campbell referred to as ‘much intensive cricket practice’ (p. 34).
9.30: School opened.
9.45: Assembly at the barn, prayers and exercises.
9.50: Each pupil recorded weather observations.
10.00: Pupils divided into groups for Farm Arithmetic.
11.10: Outdoor geography, nature work, e.g. walk to the River Loddon to measure variations in the speed of flow and the reasons for them (on one occasion a child had to be fished out of the river!).
1.00: Midday break – the College Farm provided milk; lunch was eaten under the trees; the students organised games of cricket and football while College staff congregated in the ‘Black Boy’ (now the ‘Shinfield Arms’) where they conducted what Albert Wolters referred to as ‘vigorous and animated discussions’!
2.15: The trainee whose turn it was to be Headteacher blew the whistle and pupils and students moved to the farm for lessons on topics such as soil, cattle, fruit trees, pests, ploughing, farm implements, etc.
4.15: Tidying up, prayers and a hymn.
The curriculum for girls appears to have concentrated more on areas such as dairy produce and poultry keeping, together with training in first aid. There was daily folk dancing.
Sadly, the Farm School was discontinued after the transition from University College Reading to the University of Reading in 1926. The priority for the Education Department moved from primary schools to postgraduate secondary training, and for practical reasons teaching experience could no longer be delayed until the summer term.
Writing in 1949 to celebrate fifty years of Teacher Education at Reading, Professor Albert Wolters, by then Head of the Psychology Department, described the Farm School as ‘our greatest experiment‘. Quite an accolade from one of the most distinguished scholars in the University’s history!
I am struck by the coincidence that, as well as being the beginning of the Farm School, 1912 marked the publication of Eliza Chattaway’s ‘School Nature Rambles’. At the time, Chattaway was head of the Infants Department at Redlands Council School and had already been taking pupils on educational visits to the Shinfield Farm, details of which are documented in her book.
In the preface she gives thanks to H. S. Cooke for checking the proofs and I can’t help wondering to what extent Cooke was inspired by this pioneer of outdoor learning in developing the concept of the Farm School.
The compilation of a first academic biography of Eliza Chattaway is currently being supported by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) under the leadership of Dr Rhianedd Smith (University Museums and Special Collections Services). The research is being conducted by Leah Rashid. On completion, the biography will appear on the website of the Berkshire Record Office.
I can’t guarantee that the images below of Eliza Chattaway with her pupils from Redlands School were taken on the College farm, but it seems likely.
There is a discrepancy about the continuation of the Farm School during World War I – the Redlands School logbooks show it to have been suspended between 1915 and 1918, whereas H. Armstrong of the College states that it took place every year except 1918. This inconsistency might be explained by the fact that Redlands was evacuated in 1915 when its buildings became a temporary military hospital. Presumably the Farm School continued with pupils from elsewhere during this period; the College’s annual report for 1916-17, for example, states that:
‘The outdoor school was held in June on the College Farm. A new feature of this year’s work was the preparation and cooking of the midday meal by the students and school-pupils.’ (p. 20).
To Dr Rhianedd Smith (University Museums and Special Collections Services) and Mark Stevens (County Archivist, Berkshire Record Office) for their help.
Armstrong, H. (1949). A brief outline of the growth of the Department. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 9-17). University of Reading.
Campbell, I. E. (1949). The farm school, 1912-1926, and the development of courses in rural science for intending teachers. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 33-6). University of Reading.
Chattaway, E. (1912). School nature rambles. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Childs, W. M. (1933). Making a university: an account of the university movement at Reading. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
Cooke, H. S. (1913). An outdoor school. The Reading University College Review, Vol. VI, No. 16, pp. 56-66.
Curtis, S. J. (1949). Early days. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 23-5). University of Reading.
The Reading University College Review, Vol. IV, August 1912.
The Reading University College Review, Vol. VI, No. 18, Aug 1914.
Rooke, P. (1991). Redlands: a hundred years at school, 1891-1991. Reading: Redlands School Parents’ Teacher Association.
University College Reading, Annual Report and Accounts, 1911-12, 1912-13 & 1916-17.
Wolters, A. W. (1949). Early days. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 18-20). Reading: University of Reading.