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The Sharpening Stone

 January 1993, shows 9 year old Julie Armstrong, who looks pleased that she doesn't have to use them any more!

January 1993, shows 9 year old Julie Armstrong, who looks pleased that she doesn’t have to use them any more!

We were most interested to learn of the existence of a fascinating Victorian implement still left in the Cleethorpes’ Sidney Sussex area.

This artefact has been out of public sight for some years, though it may well be remembered by some of the older readers.

Following a lead supplied by a local resident, we eventually located the item in question and thoroughly researched its history. The resident, and ex- Chairman of Governors at William Barcroft School, Mike Smith, was pleased to hear of the item’s location, the publication of the history and most of all, that the item had recently reappeared.

It is an original, large and historically valuable school slate pencil sharpening stone, which is a long cylindrical stone block, about 0.9 meters [approx. 3ft] in diameter.

This type of device was new in Victorian times and although many were erected, very few appear to have been left. As they were seen to be of no practical use, most were consequently destroyed.

School equipment was very different in the Victorian era. Possibly the most well-known tool from that time was the slate on which children would write, with the aid of slate pencils, instead of paper. The reason for this was simple; paper was expensive and consequently it was cost effective.

Children had to bring a dampened cloth or sponge to school so that they could clean the slate and start again, but often they would use their own saliva and the cuff of their sleeve. This process is the origin of the phrase ‘to wipe the slate clean’, which we still use when referring to making a new start.

The stones themselves were erected to allow children to sharpen their pencils by rubbing them on the stone, before returning to the classrooms. This was instead of the less effective and damaging way of sharpening pencils on the school walls.

In more recent times such stones certainly were acknowledged to be historically important, being a very rare type of playground equipment associated with 19-century National Schools. The sharpening stone in Cleethorpes was consequently listed as Grade Two in 1988.

Originally there were three sharpening stones situated on site at Barcroft County School, as can be seen from the original building plan, currently found in the North East Lincolnshire Archives. Two stones were placed in the girl’s playground and one stone in the boy’s playground. Eventually two were removed and destroyed in the 1920’s at the time the old school had building alterations.

A decision was taken to re-locate the remaining sharpening stone to the new school site, but when the builders came to remove and re-erect the stone, it was found that it had been vandalised and the upper surface had been damaged.

The stone was eventually placed upside down on a new brick plinth in the grounds of the newer William Barcroft Junior School, close to the entrance doors and used as a seat.

Our hope and understanding is that this stone will in time be adjusted more like its former shape and be a true reflection of the original.