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In 1876, a new Board school was built in Shaldon and Alfred Page was appointed as its first headmaster. In his day there was a long schoolroom and an infants' classroom accommodating 160 children. In 1880 another classroom was added which, like the original room, had a gallery providing additional teaching space when required. Like all Board schools, Shaldon's school was managed on a day-to-day basis by a Board of locally-elected managers to whom the head teacher was answerable for the conduct  of the school.
The old Board School at Shaldon


At first all went well and by the standards of the day this was a good school. but as the years passed and new people came into the cosy set-up under which the school was run in its early years, a real-life story began to be played out in the columns of the local press for all to read. To get straight to the heart of the matter, the reader needs to understand how Head Teachers were paid in those days.

There were no set pay scales for teachers at this time. Alfred Page's salary was supplied by a government grant based on the attendance of his pupils and measurement of their progress made during regular visits by government inspectors. Some Head Teachers lived in accommodation attached to their school and the value of this benefit was assessed and deducted from the total salary.. Others added to their income by conducting classes in the evenings for adults. By the time Alfred Page disappeared, his salary averaged a little over £130 a year.

Over the years, a very cosy relationship had developed between the Chairman and the vice-Chairman of the Shaldon School Board and Alfred Page, to the extent that the latter attended Board meetings and was counted as part of the quorum of three required to pass resolutions - a highly irregular procedure, in fact. 

The remaining Board members grew very unhappy with this arrangement as the years went by and on December 13th 1901, everything blew apart when the men who had gone along with this state of affairs were ousted from the Board to be replaced by new blood ( including a woman who had topped the polls). Alfred Page turned up to the first meeting after the election to discover that the new brooms intended to make a very clean sweep.

Discussions about his salary began immediately. At his appointment, it had been set at £120 per year so why, they asked,  for so many years, had he been receiving £130? 


Alfred Page's house adjoining the school

The answer hinged around this house which still  stands next to the school and in which Mr Page and his family lived. In spite of its current name, it never belonged to the School Board but was rented by Mr. Page from the owner, a Mrs. Besley, under a private agreement. At one of his early meetings with certain managers it appears Page had mentioned that although it was very convenient for the Board to have him living alongside the school, he found the rent very expensive so it had been decided by those present at that meeting to give him a subsidy of £10 a year towards this, as a later report says "just to help him out".

"The Old School House", Bridge Rd., Shaldon


This amounted to overpayment of salary and as it had been allowed to go on for years, by 1901 the overpayment involved a substantial sum of money. It began to emerge that the newly-constituted Board felt that this overpayment should be repaid. 

It must have been a terrible Christmas for Alfred Page. He had run a good school conscientiously for a quarter of a century and had the Inspector's reports to prove it. He and his wife, a former school teacher now dead, had lived there with their 7 children, 5 of whom had attended the school with the other two training there as pupil teachers. Shaldon School had been his life and now, leading local figures were saying appalling things about him which had become common knowledge and which he could not defend or repute in court because of the privileged nature of the Board's private meetings. On January 13th 1902 he could take no more. He stepped out of his front door, turned to the right and just kept on walking.


From then on, the Board's meetings received the undivided attention of the Teignmouth Post who faithfully and extensively reported everything that was said. Alfred Page left behind two of his daughters - Edith Lucy Page and her sister Ada. Edith taught at the school and during the first week of her father's absence failed to report for work on two of the mornings - understandable as the strain must have been considerable. Immediately, the Board turned its attention to her and, indirectly, to her sister who had kept house for her father and sister. How dare she be absent without their leave! Were she and her sister not living in a house on which £10 of the annual rent was being paid by them?

They swiftly called yet another meeting at which someone declared that Miss Page was "making the Board a laughing stock in the eyes of the children". Heedless of the presence of the local reporter, they went on to discuss Miss Page's salary. She had, they said, been drawing a salary of £45 a year as an assistant mistress, a position for which she was not qualified. "That", said the female Board member, "was entirely due to the action of the late master". "Quite so", said another member "but it won't happen again."

Next day, the local newspaper came thtough the letterboxes of the houses in Shaldon, Teignmouth and the surrounding area with verbatim reports of these and other reckless and unsupported statements made by Board members swept along by the excitement of the moment.

Edith Page was 30 years old and single and relied on teaching to support herself and Ada. It was a foregone conclusion that they would lose their home - unless she defended herself publicly and successfully, she knew that she would lose her livelihood as well.

She began defending herself by giving one month's notice to the Board. Then she addressed herself to the parents of the Infant Class which she taught. They rallied round her by writing an open letter to the Board which was immediately published in the Teignmouth Post. It  concluded with the words:

"We all feel when she leaves, we shall lose a most valued teacher"

Edith Page then turned her attention to professional matters. Her progress in training over the years, her ultimate certification and her right to be paid a salary as an assistant mistress were a matter of record. Slanderous remarks about these issues had been made in meetings behind closed doors and had been converted to libel by their publication in the local press. She wrote an open letter which was published in that same paper early in March refuting all of the Board's allegations and suggesting that the readers should suspend judgement for the time being. Her next step was to consult a solicitor.

Then - and only then - did the individual members of the Shaldon School Board realise the danger they had put themselves in - a realisation which came rather tardily to the editor of the paper as well.  On April 4th 1902, two letters appeared in a prominent position in the Teignmouth Post, and later, in other local newspapers. The first was a fulsome apology and total retraction of all previous allegation made by the Board and others, concluding with an agreement to pay all of Edith Page's legal costs. The second was signed by the editor of the newspaper:  He concluded:

"I regret exceedingly that the report should have appeared in the form it did."

And Alfred Page - last seen walking across Shaldon bridge? There were reports of a sighting in Plymouth a few days after he left but it seems far more likely that he went straight to the railway station in Teignmouth and took a train to Yorkshire where his son, also a teacher called Alfred Page, lived and worked. If so, then it is just as likely that he died there in the summer of 1909 at the age of 67.

As for the feisty Edith, it seems that she went on to find somewhere where her undoubted teaching skills were more appreciated. The little school in Long Bredy in Dorset had only 60 pupils but there was a house attached for the teacher, and hopefully her sister too - Edith Page was still there, living happily we hope, in the 1920s.


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