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Five bright scholars from Exminster

(left to right)

Cyril Mitchell, Leslie Soper, Dorothy Reddaway, HM Mr S.H.Kelly F.R.H.S, Willie Derges, Lily Wilkinson .

In the absence of other qualifications open to him, Mr Kelly used his Fellowship of the Royal Horticultural Society.


An escape route out of the terrible mess that the early years of education had become by the 1920s was provided by the so-called scholarship examination - an opportunity to have a place at an endowed school such as a grammar school. The brightest and best of the children who had been educated at council-run elementary schools would compete, at the age of eleven, in an exam which took place on a Saturday, for a chance to wear the distinctive uniform of what would have been a very good school.

Most headteachers were quick to see what wonderful  publicity the results  of these special exams could bring to their schools and five children from one school was pretty good. The system worked like this: as all schools except Grammar Schools  were then under the control of the County Council and most of the Grammar Schools had been set up and endowed by monarchs or medieval Guilds or other wealthy groups of people, it was fairly obvious that through their patrons these endowed school had control of considerable sums of  money and could clearly cover the cost of educating a few of the brightest children in the land and would undoubtedly reap a benefit from the kudos which would be brought to their schools by future examination results. So each year the two groups got together to decide how many scholarships the Grammar schools could provide in a given area. In 1923, the year in question in this case, Exminster's nearest Grammar School, which was at Teignmouth, decided it would offer 14 free places to children in its catchment area. Winners were graded and the placing was publicly announced - another feather in the cap for Exminster School was that the pupils who came first and second were theirs!


These were the results -  the children you see above wereall educated at  Exminster's school and these are their placings out of 14:

From the left were  Cyril Mitchell (1), Leslie Soper (2), Dorothy Reddaway (6) Willie Derges (9)  and  Lily Wilkinson (11). The placings (in brackets) related to the County of Devon as a whole.


Quite a few children in an area which had many Council Schools would  have been entered for the so-called Scholarship examination which took place on Saturdays so that other children in the schools may not have had an inkling of what going on and certainly wouldn't have known that their futures had been decided for them on that fateful day with absolutely no path now open for them to get any kind of Further Education.


One thing we don't know is if the happy children seen above ever took up their scholarships - there were still so many financial hurdles to overcome. For a start, the train or bus fare to Teignmouth from Exminster had to be paid on a daily basis, then there was the dread booklist - A dictionary, an atlas, a hymn book and a bible would be needed from Day 1 - they would last throughout a school career but then there was a growing list of books which had to bought annually to follow the chosen curriculum of the school. Different shoes and uniforms for sporting activities were required plus you had to purchase hockey sticks, tennis rackets and cricket bats as the seasons went by. Then you needed a school bag or satchel as they were then called, to carry everything to and fro school. And finally there was the blazer - this would be a nightmare purchase for all scholarship winners - it was expensive and had to have a special embroidered badge sewn onto a top pocket and usually it could only be purchased at an eye-watering price not from a shop but from the school itself. Of all the different parts of the special uniform, the blazer was the most vital because it distinguished the school from the others in the neighbourhood. The look of the thing was borrowed from the public schools of course, - poor consolation to a farm labourer whose son had just won a County Scholarship but who knew all too well that he could not sustain this kind of outlay. Of course, some parents made huge sacrifices for their children with the entire family giving something, a book, a pullover or a bathing costume as Christmas and birthday presents or a gift of money towards the book list so that somehow the years were got through and a son or (less likely, a daughter) was given a leg-up into another world - let's hope the parents got something good back by sacrificing their lives and possibly the lives of their other children in this way.


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