The Bluecoat School finally closed in 1914. A new council school was opened and the building was used as a classroom for cookery and woodwork.
Later in the 20th century the building became an overflow classroom for the new Kennet School.
The building was eventually put up for sale.
The 20th and 21st Centuries
In 1914, the Bluecoat School closed its doors for the final time when the Schoolmaster left to serve in the First World War. After the war a new council school was opened in Thatcham (Now Francis Bailey Primary School) and the Bluecoat School never reopened in its own right.
As Thatcham continued to grow, the council school became overcrowded and the old chapel building was put into use as an overﬂow classroom. During the early parts of the 20th century it served as both a woodworking room and as a cookery room. In the 1960s the Kennet School was built as a secondary school for the town but this was found almost immediately to be too small for the number of pupils attending it. The chapel was then put into use again as an overﬂow classroom and was used for teaching of both History and Mathematics. It also appears that signiﬁcant ʻmodernisationʼ was undertaken during this period.
Once the Kennet School expanded to cater for the number of pupils attending, the chapel was removed from use and left empty. The building then continued to fall into disrepair again until in 1992 public pressure forced the now defunct Newbury District Council to bring the building back to a state of good repair.
After this ﬁnal round of repairs the building was leased as an antique shop and was used as such for the remainder of the 20th century. At the end of this period the building was again falling into disrepair and the lease holder closed the antiques shop. The building again remained empty.
At the beginning of 2003, West Berkshire Council put the building up for auction as part of an ongoing asset disposal scheme. This caused a large amount of objection by the public and a campaign was quickly established to save the building for the community. West Berkshire Council then removed the building from the auction. A steering committee was set up with two objectives in mind: to secure ownership of the building; and to establish a Charity who could raise funds, repair the building and then run it for the beneﬁt of the community.
We Went to the Bluecoat School
In recent years (after the first World War), the Old Bluecoat School has been used for a wide range of different uses, including an annex to the local school and an antiques shop. We are fortunate enough to have obtained some first-hand memories of those days from local Thatcham residents:
Sylvia Hawkins (Bartholomew in the 1950’s) remembers learning domestic science and cookery “I was a pupil at the Thatcham Council School (now Francis Baily) I walked to the Bluecoat School in the early fifties for lessons. As you went into the main room there was a row of cookers and a range on the left-hand wall. I think the range burned solid fuel as I remember a chimney on the outside wall. There was a row of four to six desks down the middle of the room. There were 15 to 20 pupils and the blackboard was in the right-hand corner by the main door. A small round stove with iron railings around it heated the room, and must have burned coke as I can remember a strong smell of sulphur. There was an uneven, well-worn wooden floor, which was never polished. During breaks from lessons we went outside where there was just enough room though it was a bit of a squeeze. The toilets were an old brick building on the side facing Harts Hill, they were awful, spooky and full of spiders”
“I started to learn to cook when I was ten years old. Our first lessons were domestic science. I had to take a handkerchief to school to launder it. I had to boil it in an old saucepan on top of the cooker to clean it properly, then wring it out by hand, hang it up to dry, then iron it. We did not have electric irons so we heated the (flat) iron on top of the cooker. I also remember being taught how to clean hairbrushes.”
“I was taught how to make bread and put the loaf on the warm range to rise. One day there was a lesson on making and tossing pancakes. I was far too nervous to toss my pancake but one girl tossed hers right up into the rafters and there it stayed until it disintegrated. Once I remember making a cheese and potato pie which I took home, it was so small that with a family of four there was only enough to have a spoonful each and Mum had to find another dish to satisfy everyone. My Aunt Doris who was much older than me went to the Bluecoat School for cookery classes in the evening. These days my lads prefer pizzas and modern food so I don’t do much ‘old-fashioned’ cooking.”
“My Granny lived in Dunstan Green Road (now Harts Hill Road) so the Bluecoat School has always been a Thatcham Landmark for me.”
David Bonner who now lives in Lower Way also had lessons at the Old Bluecoat School:
“I started as a pupil at the old Council School but in 1958, when it opened, I transferred to the Kennet School. I did not have practical lessons at the Bluecoat School but I remember going there and to the Parish Hall for ‘O’ level maths and geography. The Kennet school was not big enough! Every day we had eight lessons each one lasting 35 minutes, if we had a double lesson (i.e. 70 minutes) we went to the Bluecoat School or the Parish Hall. Our maths teacher was a Mr Jones and a Mr Frank Graham who has been my form master at the Council School, taught geography. We carried our books backwards and forwards for the lessons for about eighteen months in the early 1960’s. I remember the desks in the middle of the room at the Bluecoat School. There were around 15 pupils and we sat 2 or 3 to a desk. Outside was a high wooden fence and a gate with pointed tops.”
“My wife went to Shaw House School and out two sons to the Kennet School. One son lives in Newbury and the other in Thatcham, so we have strong local connections and memories.”