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A History of Education and Schooling in Hethersett

Education and schooling in Hethersett owes much to the vision of a number of benefactors over a considerable amount of time. 

In addition, close links with the church have ensured that youngsters through the ages have enjoyed a solid foundation in what is commonly known as the 3Rs. 

The history of education and schools in the village is a mixture of the ancient and the modern with Hethersett today providing full-time education from nursery through to the age of 16. 

The foundations for this were laid by a number of characters whose shining examples stand out today.  Without them education in Hethersett over the ages would have been very much poorer.  Throughout the history of village education runs a close link with the church with local clergy and rectors acting as school managers over the past 200 years. 

Formal paid for and non-compulsory education began in the village in 1817 – almost 200 years ago, but two of the current schools are modern additions to the education system. 

The first school building went up in the year that Venezuela became an independent country and James Munroe was inaugurated as the fifth president of the United States of America, the year that novelist Jane Austin died and John Constable painted Flatford Mill and the year in which there were riots in Derbyshire by workers over low pay and Waterloo Bridge was opened in London.  

The first National School building in Hethersett was situated just across from the present Middle School in Queen’s Road.  The original building was demolished in 1980 and today the site is a private bungalow, but in the front garden is a commemorative plaque. 

A new British School was built in Henstead Road between 1850 and 1854, just a few years before a major new section of the National School was put up in 1860 on the present Middle School site. 

The building of both the British and National Schools came as a result of individual and group efforts by people, irrespective of their religious persuasion who had sometimes the money and always the vision of improving the lives of others through education. 

Early in the nineteenth century William Hughes bequethed the sum of £300 a year towards the education of six children to be chosen by the village’s parish minister, the churchwardens, the overseers and the schoolmaster. 

A schoolroom was therefore erected in 1817 with funds raised by voluntary contributions and the Parochial Returns for 1818 record that there were 60 children supported by subscription and four children educated from the income amounting to eight guineas from the endowment in what became known as the National School. 

The village curate, the Reverend John Edwards, was one of the driving forces in setting up the school and this set the standard for a close relationship between education and the church which exists to this day.  Apart from the Rev. Edwards, sums of money were given by the Reverend J. Buckle, J. Browne Esq, T. S. Norgate Esq and one or two others.  The school took up less than 'a 40th part of an acre.' 

There was at this time a small girls school and Rev. Edwards observed that: 'the poorer classes thankfully avail themselves of the means provided for the education of their children.' 

By 1833, 125 children attended the school. They were charged one shilling (5p) a quarter apart from the six who were paid for from the endowment.  The returns of the National Society’s School Enquiry for 1846/47 recorded that 68 boys and 41 girls received instruction in the school.  Of this number 48 boys and 32 girls attended both on weekdays and Sundays, 19 boys and 6 girls on weekdays only and one boy and three girls on Sundays only. 

They were taught by a master and assistant mistress and five paid monitors.  The total expenditure in salaries amounted to £44. 6s and the estimated annual cost of maintaining the school was £63 1s. 

At this time education was neither free nor compulsory.  By 1861 fees at the national School had risen and varied from one penny to sixpence per week depending on the occupational status of parents. 

In 1860 the Rector of Hethersett, the Rev. William Collett, applied to the National Society for aid towards erecting a new mixed school measuring 53ft by 18ft to accommodate 120 children, with a teacher’s house attached.  The site, valued at £92. 10s was taken from glebe land and the cost of the new schoolroom and proposed teacher’s house amounted to £751 15s 6d.  A government grant of £280 4s was received and  £44 11s 6d was raised locally. Other substantial grants included £30 from the National Society. 

The new school was completed in 1861 and the original building was retained as an infants department. 

The boys and girls sections were divided in May 1871 when the boys' section added more geography and history to their curriculum and took over the former infants and original national school building. 

It was proposed to charge 1d per week for the children of farm labourers, 2d or 3d for the children of gentlemen’s servants and mechanics and 6d for the children of small farmers.   The school received an annual government grant and an additional classroom for infants was added in 1883 at a cost of £173, raised by local subscription and with local builders Bailey and Son carrying out the work.  The largest monetary donation was of £26 5/-d from the Reverend and Mrs. Collett.

The building followed comments by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools that 'a classroom for infants would be a great improvement. ' This amounted to a directive and order and so the work went ahead. 

White’s Directory of 1864 describes the National School as 'a spacious brick building with master’s house and good playground attached which was built in 1860 at a cost of £700 and attended by 50 children.  The master receives £8 3s 4d yearly from £272. 8s 8d three per cent consols left by William Hughes for the education of six poor children.  The old school, built in 1817, now an Infant School, has also about 50 children in attendance.' 

The same directory describes the British School as 'A pretty brick building in the pointed style, erected in 1854, and attended by 40 boys and girls and 30 infants.'  In 1861 the population of the village is noted as 1,169. 

By 1883 the National School had 111 girls and infants and 66 boys on its roll.  The average attendance was 54 boys and 84 girls and infants.  The average attendance at the British School was 60 mixed students. 

Much of the credit for the building of the British School must go to the efforts of Caroline Lindley who tirelessly raised money to provide education for both children and adults in the Great Melton district.  

The original benefactor of the British School was Edward Lombe of Great Melton Hall who financially supported the project but died in 1852 which is the point at which Caroline Lindley enters the story. 

She visited her brother Joseph who was the agent for Edward Lombe.  Caroline had a great interest in the provision of education for children and, although by this point in her 50s and living in London, she raised sufficient capital for the school to be established in Henstead Road. 

Caroline Lindley was a friend of London businessman William Ellis who, despite having no connections with Hethersett, was to play a major part in education in the village. 

Ellis was manager of the Indemnity Marine Assurance Company and had a reputation for integrity whilst being both successful and affluent.  He had little use for personal extravagance and devoted a large portion of his income to education throughout the country. 

His wishes were for children to study Social Economy alongside the 3 Rs.  This included the study of moral principles and behaviour 'leading to honest workmanship and reliable business dealings.'  Ellis believed these principles would lead to a happy and prosperous society full of industry, skill, economy, sobriety, honesty, punctuality, courage and fidelity. 

Ellis established schools in numerous parts of London including the Birkbeck School, London Mechanics (1848), the Finsbury Birkbeck School (1849), Paddington Birkbeck School (1850), Bethnal Green Birkbeck School (1851), Westminister Birkbeck School (1851) and Beckham Birkbeck School (1852).  The Birkbeck schools were named in memory of George Birkbeck a mechanics lecturer, scholar and philanthropist. 

Outside London he established schools in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leith, Manchester, Salford, Blandford, King’s Sambourne in Hampshire, Dunton Bassett in Leicestershire and of course Hethersett. 

When Caroline Lindley approached Ellis she found his heart as open as always and in her diary of 23 July 1853 notes: 

'Received Mr Ellis’ answer to my letter, overjoyed with it and school bought.' 

Ellis purchased the British School with money belonging to himself and vested the property in four trustees – himself, his son Edward, Joseph Lindley and Julian Hill.  The first management committee consisted of Caroline Lindley of London and William Buckingham, William Morton, Benjamin Baker and James Spurgeon of Hethersett. 

Ellis was obviously much taken with Caroline Lindley whom he described as: 

'Possessing feelings ever ready to melt at the sight of misery and an intelligence prepared to examine the various means suggested for its relief, and to seize and apply the real ones.'


In commending Caroline’s efforts, Ellis said: 'To us be the delight of aiding her in her labour of love.' 

Obviously altruism ran in the Lindley family as Caroline’s sister Kate founded a school at Warmfield in Yorkshire. 

The National and British schools worked side by side until their amalgamation in 1951, when it proved obvious that neither of the existing schools could reach the standard in buildings and amenities laid down in the Education Act of 1944. 

When the British and National schools were amalgamated in 1951 the British School building was sold to the church and the proceeds used to establish the Caroline Lindley Trust which is still in existence and gives grants for the further education of men and women aged between 18 and 25.  In this way the name of Caroline Lindley lives on. 

The stated aims of the British School were to provide 'liberal and unsectarian' education for boys and girls, teenagers and adults.  Sunday and evening classes were provided for working teenagers and adults who couldn’t attend the day schools. 

School attendance in Hethersett became compulsory with all fees for elementary education being abolished in 1891.  In 1918 ancilliary services such as medical inspections were introduced. 

Archives also hint at the existence of shorter lived educational establishments in the village.  

In 1836 White’s Directory hints at three 'Academies' in the village.  There is the possibility that these could have been three non-conformist schools run respectively by two people with the name of Faulkner and a Thomas Matthews. No other records of these 'schools' seems to exist. 

An advert appeared in the local press in 1851 stating that:  

'Mrs Falkard’s preparatory school will open by Elizabeth Collins school mistress.  ' In addition the census for 1851 mentions a private school in 'a house on the turnpike between the Queen’s Head and the King’s Head.'   

The entry lists those involved in the venture as: 

Elizabeth Collins school mistress (aged 38), Mary Collins a mother, Sarah Lock governess (aged 22), Lucy Lock boarder (aged 11), Ringer boarder (aged 8, no Christian name given, Adele Lock boarder (aged 7), Alice Ringer boarder (aged 7), Maria Collins boarder (aged 6), Harriet Mitchell boarder (aged 5) and Emily Burn servant (aged 14). 

It was the British and National Schools, however, which continued to dominate education as the village approached the end of the century. 

A number of log books of the National School have survived and give an interesting insight into education in the village between the years of 1862 and the early 1900s. 

Numerous entries cover the subject of poor attendances for a variety of reasons including acorn gathering, fruit harvesting and numerous illnesses both amongst the children and staff.  There seemed to be many other distractions, however, which kept attendance down. These included: 

'Tombland Fair – small attendance' (24 March 1864) 

'Auction in village – poor attendance (27 April 1865) 

'Thin attendance –OldFellows arrive (22 May 1865) 

'Most of the boys absent to see soldiers pass through village' (6 October 1871) 

'Attendance very irregular – wet weather, many of the little ones having bad boots' (10 October 1873).

The managers felt that one way of getting more children to attend was by raising the fees as the entry for 27 March 1874 states: 

'Proposed to raise fees hoping to ensure more regular attendance.' 

At times fees seemed to be arbitrary and at different levels for different people: 

'A girls school fee was raised 1d per week on account of her irregularity' (26 July 1878). 

The girls' section seems to be dominated by illness amongst both the children and staff and bad weather which severely affected attendance.  There are many entries in the log such as the following: 

'The usual monthly exam was held yesterday but owing to the week’s holiday and the absence of teachers during the month, the results are not as good as could be wished (19 February 1900).  

Also time off seemed to be given on an ad hoc basis: 

'A half holiday was given this afternoon as the greater number of the children were desirous of seeing a wedding.' (17 May 1900). 

But the school was praised when the school inspectors attended: 

'Report – the school is very efficient.' (20 May 1868). 

'Singing was marked with care and reverence. The writing out of prepared portions of the catechism was excellently done.  The tone and discipline of the school are excellent.' (25 May 1900). 

Sadly there were a number of pupil deaths reported from illnesses such as diphtheria and croup.  The teaching staff seemed to change on numerous occasions as well.  Mrs Sarah Rotherham resigned her post on 7 July 1871 to be replaced by her sister Lucy Clark.  She returned as assistant mistress the following February, was appointed temporary head mistress in May and left again in June.  On 12 April 1874 she resumed in charge of the school. 

A flavour of the teaching at the turn of the century is given in a list of lessons approved by Her Majesty’s Inspector.  For the infants these included: Birds and their nests, ducks and geese, the swallow, pigeon, insects, the ant, butterflies, Honey Bee, fish, the herring, the salmon, corn, barley and wheat, hay and straw, trees, stone fruit, cherry, plum, the apple, cabbage, onion, peas and beans, the potato, rabbits and hares, the frog, hair, fur and wool, umbrellas, railway stations, shops, the grocers and farms. 

Subjects for standards one to three included many of the above plus feathers of birds, birds wings, parts of a flower, pollen and its work, the house fly, bees and their hives, the spider web, roots of plants and how plants are nourished. 

Standards above this had subjects such as the geography of the British Isles and Europe and the history of the Tudor period. 

At that time the school had four registered members of staff – E. J. Stace (Certified Master), A. E. Stace (Certified Mistress), E. R. Prewer and Mary E. Curson. 

Schooling in 1920s Hethersett is recalled by Vera Wyatt who was born in the village in July 1912 and still has vivid memories of the National School: 

'I can remember my first teacher so well.  Miss Casey, dressed in her starched white apron, so that her black dress did not get dirty, and her strong but soft ankle boots.


'In the winter time she would also wear gaiters, which had to be buttoned together using a button hook.  She was a maiden lady, and I believe that she really loved her little class of little ones, as she sat in the middle and re-countered her stories, and helped us to make models with our various coloured plasticine.


'She also made us start to read and write using copy books.  There was a line of impeccable writing with four clear lines underneath which we had to copy.'


Over the years numerous comments have been made about the lack of space at various schools. In 1900 a school inspection commented that at the National School 'The infants room is crowded and it is hoped the managers will see their way to enlarge it at an early date.' 

Some 83 years later the local Wymondham and Attleborough Mercury newspaper was advocating additional space for the Middle School: 'It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to realise that numbers will not always be falling.  A decision to improve the school in the near future would be a decision for common sense and the future well being of the children.'

The village was occasionally the focus of education for the whole county of Norfolk.  The county free library scheme was introduced in January 1925 when the National School was chosen to stock 'books of every type' and a Mr Cann undertook to act as librarian.  In May 1925 the original old school was renamed the Church Room and when not required for church purposes could be hired on application to Mr Cann. 

During the Second World War the National School provided education to 30 war evacuees, most of whom came from East Ham in London.  The school received no additional teaching staff to cope with this influx.  The majority of the evacuees stayed until the end of the war and one girl remained with her foster parents until she was an adult and then she married a Norwich man. 

The war certainly seems to have put off many proposed improvements to the National School.  In May 1939 there were plans for 'a better lavatory and cloakroom accommodation, electric light, central heating and new floors.  ' The work was deferred 'until the international situation became clearer.' 

That appears to have been September 1945, when the Hethersett parish magazine reported that improvements were to be made at the National School.   A canteen for meals and the installation of electric light to the school and school house were planned.  

Some suggestion that budgeting may not have been all the prudent, however, came in an August 1948 appeal for contributions of about £60 to clear a deficit before the new rector, Mr Townshend arrived to take his position as chairman of the managers.  It is not clear from the records whether this amount was forthcoming. 

After being in existence for just over 100 years, the British School building became the parish church hall.  The National and British schools amalgamated to form a primary school in 1956. This continued in existence until the present day Middle School came into being in 1978. 

The year 1954 was the last one that the National School had children of all ages.  In September 1954 all the children over the age of 11 were moved to schooling at Costessey near Norwich. 

In 1956, four classrooms were completed to the north-east of the old building and the children from the British School were transferred as their building shut down. 

Today’s Middle School in Queen’s Road has a number of the original 1860 buildings as well as a foundation stone from 1817.  Its full title is Hethersett Voluntary Controlled Church of England School – again underlying the Christian ethos that still exists today. 

The opportunity for children to spend the years from the age of four to 16 within the village came about with the foundation of two new schools in the village. 

Woodside First School began its life in 1972 and was officially opened on Friday 11 January 1974, by Margaret Thatcher, who at the time was secretary of state for education and whom of course went on to be one of the country’s best known prime ministers of the twentieth century. 

The opening ceremony took place in front of many county dignitaries including the Dean of Norwich Cathedral (again underlining the strong Christian connections). The school’s stated aims were: 'To provide an environment where children entering school for the first time can grow in confidence and competence.' 

The school had an unusual look with the individual classrooms leading off from a central hall used by the children for assemblies and other functions.  A nursery unit was subsequently added to the side of the main building. 

The year 1972 also saw the opening of a swimming pool at the Middle School which was used not only by the children but by the wider community. 

The quartet of schools for all ages was completed in 1979 with the building of Hethersett High School on land in Queen’s Road adjacent to the Middle School.  The school was officially opened by John MacGregor Member of Parliament for South Norfolk.  At the opening the Chairwoman of Norfolk Education Committee Judith Walpole stated that it was good to be present at a celebration instead of dealing with educational problems. 

Like the other major schools in the village, Hethersett High has expanded over the years into one of the county’s top achieving high schools. It opened with 210 pupils and a staff of 15. Today it has over 600 pupils. It was built on a 'pavilion style concept with separate teaching unit buildings grouped around a central library and resources area.' 

Over the years the high school has experienced all of the usual problems associated with educational establishments including complaints about the inclusion of temporary classrooms.  In 1985 it encountered an unusual situation, however, when pupils staged a protest to show their anger at the actions of members of staff who they claimed were threatening their chance of exam success in their fight for improved pay. 

'The teachers can go on strike at another time of year that doesn’t affect exams,' they told the local press. 

Head Barrie Frampton dismissed their allegations and called the pupils 'misguided as public examinations had continued as normal.'

The school’s immediate future was under a greater threat in the year 2000 when a serious fire destroyed computers and sports equipment and also caused considerable structural damage.  Despite this the school hit back with a building programme to bring it back to strength. 

As well as the state education schools, Hethersett boasts one of the country’s top independent girls schools – Hethersett Old Hall School.  This provides day and boarding facilities for girls aged between four and 18 and boys aged from four to seven.  At the time of going to print the school had 271 pupils which included 46 boarders. 

Old Hall School was founded in 1928 by Mrs C. P. Andrews as a preparatory school at Hellesdon House near Norwich.  She opened the school for her two daughters, a niece and three of the girls’ friends.  Mrs Andrews turned outbuildings into classrooms and staff flats and new teachers joined. Hellesdon House had the feeling of a country rectory but soon became too small. 

It moved to its present site on the former A11 at Hethersett in 1935 when Mr and Mrs Andrews quickly added a dining room, new classroom and a gymnasium.  As the second world war approached, the number of pupils reached 50. Over subsequent years the historic Georgian house has been at the centre of development and modernisation whilst keeping its essential character. 

During the war the school was re-located to Hay Tor in Devon due to concerns about the safety of children in Norfolk.  On returning to Hethersett, the staff and pupils found the Royal Army Service Corps ensconced and so the school took up temporary residence at Old Catton, just outside Norwich.  When the Hethersett site was de-requisitioned, it once again returned to be a seat of learning. 

Mrs Andrews relinquished control, handing over to Mrs C. M. Brabner and Miss M. P. Thomson.  Mr and Mrs Andrews continued to live at the school, however.  In 1950 the estate and enterprise was purchased by Miss Christabel Lewin.  The old stables were converted into teaching areas with the hay loft transformed into an art studio. 

By 1958 Old Hall School had over 100 pupils aged from 5 to 12 and six Arcon temporary buildings were purchased from a defunct United States air force base.  A senior department was developed in 1965 as the school catered for 200 pupils, aged between seven and 16, including 60 boarders. 

In 1969 the school was granted full independent recognition by the Department of Education and Science and a Board of Governors was formed in 1972 when the school was registered as a charitable educational trust.  Alterations and improvements continued although some of the more fanciful ideas such as a dining hall with clock tower (1974) and cloisters (1980) were shelved. 

After Christabel Lewin, the school had a succession of head teachers including a Mr Ramsden, Miss Pilgrim, Miss B. Wharton and Miss H Beswick – in fact six Heads in an eight year period before Mrs Victoria Redington became Head in January 1983 and worked tirelessly for many years to modernise the school.  In 1986 Jim Prior M.P. opened a new £105,000 teaching block which was the third phase of a £170,000 extension programme.  The block included new laboratories, a computer room, economics room and subject teaching areas. 

The village archives contain many interesting snippets from the history of Old Hall School.  Early publicity states that the number of pupils at the school is deliberately kept small due to the fact that the 'happiness, personal development and well being of the girls is the first concern.' 

'The development of the character and personality of each girl is vital.  Each is encouraged to work for some definite career, be a useful daughter at home and serve those less happily situated than herself.' 

These aims didn’t always seem to be achieved, however.  In 1982 the soon to retire Head, Hilary Beswick, accused the pupils of 'intellectual complacency and a lack of practical common sense: 

'At worst this manifests itself in the girl who thinks that her parents, having paid the fees, her mere presence at lessons will guarantee academic success.' Miss Beswick urged the girls to put more efforts into their studies.

On another occasion a report showed concern that: 'a number of the girls have been slimming unnecessarily.' 

Over the past few years all Hethersett Schools have been the subjects of first rate reports from Ofsted (The Office for Standards in Education). The future of the 3Rs in the village is in good hands just as it is today and has been for almost the past 200 years.   

FOOTNOTE: The education system in Norfolk and therefore in Hethersett changes once again from September 2007 when First and Middle Schools will be done away with and replaced by Infant and Junior Schools. This means that Woodside First School will lose its Year 3 pupils and become Woodside Infants' School and Hethersett Middle School will lose Year 7 but gain Year 3 and become Hethersett Junior School. Hethersett High School will gain Year 7 pupils




First National School built in Queen’s Road


New British School built in Henstead Road


New National School built on present Middle School site in Queen’s Road


School attendance becomes compulsory


Fees for elementary education abolished


Introduction of Ancilliary Services


Preparatory School founded at Hellesdon House


Hellesdon House School moves to Hethersett as Hethersett Old Hall School


Hethersett Primary School formed (amalgamation of National and British). British School is sold to the church.


Building and Opening of Woodside First School


Hethersett Middle School formed (formerly Primary School)


Hethersett High School opened


Demolition of first National School Building


   Woodsifde First School becomes Woodside Infants and Hethersett       Middle School becomes Hethersett Junior School