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Dersingham Folk
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Dersingham Village School - Manor Road (previously Sandringham Road)
Elizabeth Fiddick ©

Further articles: "The Demise of the Village School" and "Alfred Richard Firth - The Schoolmaster's Son"
In 1875 the Prince of Wales leased the site at the bottom of Doddshill, next to Pakenham Manor House (seen to the right in the photo above), to the village at a peppercorn rent to build a school; he also donated £500 towards the costs. At this time the vicarage was in the gift of the Rev. Dr. Bellamy, President of St John’s College Oxford who defrayed other costs in the building of the school. There are several examples of the arrangements for education in the village prior to the 19th century. A Henry Beckham was ordained priest in 1608 and in 1634 was licensed to “ teach grammar in the diocese”. On September 20th 1614 Robert Legatt of Snetsham, “was licensed as a schoolmaster for Dersingham by Robert Read”. In 1714 Sir Robert Walpole gave £5 “to teach 8 poor children to read English and such of them as are girls to work plain work.” The Commercial Directory of 1830 under the Academies and Schools entry for Lynn Regis lists the Rev. Brett and Miss Lubeck as running the school in Dersingham. The census of 1851 records Ann Mann, wife of John Mann, agricultural labourer as schoolmistress and William Green as Schoolmaster. William came from Hull and lodged in the village with the family of Robert Green. In that census 41 children are recorded as scholars and 8 as scholars at home. Five of the last group were the children of Richard Stanton of Ling House who employed Charlotte Gosker a cousin of the family as a governess. The 11 children of the families occupying the cottages at Ling House (Nurse, Nobes and Jarett,) are all listed as Scholars at Bircham. This even included two-year-old Hannah Jarett, her three-year-old sister Sarah, one-year-old James Nurse and his four-year-old brother William. A few children under the age of twelve are recorded as agricultural labourers and one is listed as errand boy. A large number however are neither recorded as scholars nor as having employment. In 1864 Emily Vince is the schoolmistress and according to the Directory 45 children attended the Parish School.

The Parish Magazine records many interesting facts concerning the opening of the new school. The largest room when built in 1875 was fitted with desks to seat sixty children but on the opening day 66 children were enrolled. The average attendance for the first year reached 88. The Directory of 1883 records Alfred Firth as schoolmaster. He and his wife Susannah were both born in Kenninghall in 1851 and 1848 respectively. Alfred’s sister Emma, born in 1853, joined Alfred in Dersingham as the Infants’ Mistress. There were two sons recorded in the 1881 census. Alfred R. born in Castle Rising in 1876 and Fred.G. born here in Dersingham in 1880. It seems likely that Alfred, sen. was the first schoolmaster for the newly built school.

Between 1883 and 1891 three more rooms were added to the original building. The cost of the extension in 1891 was £240 and was chiefly met by the Prince of Wales, and the Rev. Bellamy. The Rev. E.W. Penney gave desks and other school furniture. By this time the school could hold 250 children with an average attendance of 180. Regular inspections were carried out. In 1899 the children were examined in Religious Knowledge by a Rev. Groom who reported that the children ”passed a good examination and the teaching staff take great pains with their instructions”. H. R. Mines Esq. H. M. Inspector reported, ” The scholars are orderly and attentive, and are being well taught”. It was also noted with some pride that for this inspection, ”201 children presented themselves the highest number yet reached on these occasions”.

When Mr. Mines inspected the school in June 1902 his remarks chiefly referred to the overcrowded state of the two larger rooms. He noted that the largest room had been built to accommodate 60 but continued, “ of late years we have struggled to seat comfortably a hundred upwards in this room. The latest added room…built to accommodate 57, but there are now upwards of 70 children on the registers of the classes occupying that room. It follows from this that the largest room now used by three classes will only accommodate two; the second largest will only hold one instead of two…the new rooms provided ought to be large enough for two classes of about 36 children”.

He emphasised the need for additional accommodation for the older pupils but, ”where that can be made without an enlargement of the present site is a most puzzling problem”. The school was enlarged in 1904 so that it could hold 326 children with an average attendance of 220. By that time Miss Mabel Tomlin looked after the infants with Mr Firth still as the Schoolmaster. He remained in that position until 1916 when Elton E. O. Wheeler succeeded him.

There were many excellent reports of the work in the school. It was noted that some pupils gained certificates from the Education Department qualifying them as head teachers. However, ”others preferred the matrimonial certificate, confident, no doubt, of this qualifying them effectually to act as head mistress, although in that smaller school, - the home”. In his report of 1899 the Chief Inspector “urged upon the elder children the importance of regularity in attendance; not to let trifling reasons keep them from school, and pointed out how good teachers and good buildings and appliances are all wasted upon absent children.”

However, not everyone was convinced of the value of this modern system. In October 1899 the Parish Magazine reported that at a competition held at East Winch,” several of our men took prizes, Melton, Crowe, Harrod and Riches being very successful in the ploughing competition”. The writer went on to suggest that the Education Department should regulate the School training to the needs of the locality, “One does not need recurring decimals in agricultural districts…Education should help towards a man’s life work instead of being, as it very often is, a period of unfitting lads for useful work and rendering them unfit to do good work for their country”. Although professing to value real education beyond measure the writer ended with the plea to” decentralise and not waste time in training our future labourers by urban methods.”

In January 1900 it was reported that two children were awarded Norfolk County Council Scholarships. “Ernest Tupper and Jessie Smith are to be congratulated as they have been two of the most regular children in attendance during the year; while Tupper has long been looked upon as the best-behaved as well as the most persevering boy in the school”. These scholarships are mentioned again in 1902 when Alice Ainsley and Walter Smith, both aged 12 were successful. We learn that, ”These are worth about £20 per annum for three years.” Alice had only been absent from school once on 307 meetings and Walter nearly as regular. The Chief Inspector would have been delighted for there are many references to irregularity in attendance and that excuses for not attending were prolific. The Parish Magazine printed this anecdote: "A couple of boys tramped two miles in a half blizzard to school, and the youngest was quizzed on coming by another lad. His reply was, “What’s the good of stopping at home? You cannot get out, and you have to mind the baby all day, and maybe you’ll have three or four hidings before bedtime, and go to bed a-roaring! It’s better to be here.”

Compulsory education was difficult to enforce during the late 19th and early 20th century. There were not enough Attendance Officers and they were not highly regarded. Even if an officer did report a parent to a magistrate he often found that the magistrate was one of the farmer J.P.’s who provided employment for the children. The school logbook records some of the reasons for absenteeism. Boys would be away potato picking, helping with corn drilling or recorded as absent in the hay fields. In 1899 the school closed down on August 4th harvest operations having become general. Poor attendance was also recorded during the Sandringham shooting season with large numbers of boys being engaged by trippers at the Sandringham grounds, or being employed shot carrying. There were other reasons as well. One entry records, Lynn Mart. Cheap trains. Poor attendance. Another states Yarmouth races. 28 absent chiefly in the 1st class. A whole day’s holiday was awarded for the Sandringham Flower Show.

Discipline was enforced rigorously with the cane and recorded in the Punishment book. Repeated inattention was punished with 2 strokes, rowdyism on the road, 4 strokes and for being an inattentive dunce one poor child received 3 strokes. Another child was punished for repeatedly practising loafing and a tramp’s manner. Other misdemeanours included, using hymnbooks as weapons and chasing horses in Pasture Field. One pupil was punished for, hitting his sister (elder) after repeated warnings not to do so. While another, "Took boy’s pump from cycle on way home. Hit boy on head with pump."

Although constantly exhorted to work hard there were numerous treats laid on for the children. In February 1899 it was reported that the school treat had been revived and a Mr. Ernest Bryant undertook the organisation. The subscription list was headed by a handsome donation from The Prince and Princess of Wales; “On Thursday January 12th the Forester’s Hall was filled with a crowd of happy children.” Most of the principle inhabitants of the village assisted in waiting, “At a capital tea, Mr. Jannoch kindly lending the table decoration. Afterwards a Punch and Judy show was provided followed by prizes from the Christmas tree and bran tubs”. (Theodore Jannoch was a German national who settled here and is recorded in the Directories from 1883 as “nursery man and lily of the valley grower to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales.” More about him will follow in another article).

A Royal birthday was another occasion the children would have enjoyed. In December 1899, “The children were as usual most kindly thought of by H.R.H. the Princess of Wales and had a bountiful tea served in school, the three rooms being well filled with happy children. There was an abundance of good things for those present, as well as sufficient for a nice parcel to be sent to the sick children and some of the old people in the village”.

In June 1902 it was noted that, “ Gunner Sidney Rainbow, invalided home from South Africa, has kindly helped in giving some time, nearly every day, to teaching military drill in the playground, and the school children have apparently enjoyed this professional coaching.” It is salutary to think that in just 12 years some of these same children would be involved in a Military Drill of quite a different order.

There are also frequent mentions in the Parish Magazine of a Night School. In November 1899 an obituary notice for Mr. Enoch Beckett who had been the Postmaster recorded that ”He also helped in the early years of the Night School.” In February 1900 an entry reads, “The Night School, which has been held three evenings a week since October, was visited by H.M. Inspector Mr. G. Johnson. The young men and boys are making fair progress. Each meeting lasts for nearly two hours….” In December 1900 the villagers were informed that the Evening School, was“open three evenings a week for instruction in Agriculture, Mensuration and Drawing.” It was noted that 23 lads had attended the courses.

The rather serene picture below shows the school on the right in context with the Coach and Horses pub in the distance and the Methodist New Connexion Chapel on the left; it dates from about 1910.
As I walk round our village these days (2017) I am saddened by the sight of our old school at the bottom of Doddshill.  The building, that once echoed with children’s voices, is now silent, its windows barred and boarded.  The playground, where the children raced about, shouted and even squabbled and Gunner Sydney Rainbow, invalided home from the Boer War, taught them military drill, is now being overtaken by weeds and thistles.  In the photograph above there is the tantalising glimpse of the corner wall of another building that also once stood on the playground.

Since 1875 generations of Dersingham children have walked from their homes along the roads and tracks of the village to their lessons at this school under the stern eye of the first headmaster Mr. Alfred Firth.  Boys like Ronald Beck who was in trouble several times for “chasing horses in Pastures Field” or little Roland Linford, aged just 7, who was given 4 strokes of the cane for “rowdyism on the road and in the playground”.  The children came in all weathers but the log book records many absent during severe snow storms.  June 1913 was an extremely wet month and during one very heavy downpour many children had to be sent home as they were too wet to stay.   In 1914 poor Willie Bird was sent home as it was suspected he had Scarletina.  Soon afterwards many were absent with measles and Scarlet Fever so that the school had to be closed for over a month. Later that year Diptheria was reported among several families and the school was closed again due to an outbreak of Mumps. 

Other children went on to great success passing their exams for further education in Lynn and beyond.  Singing classes were held in the school on Saturday evenings, and young men attended evening classes in Agriculture, Mensuration and Drawing.  I have seen old photographs of these children all gathered together in front of the school and in the  middle of the playground the grand old chestnut tree is there for us to see so many years after it was removed as seen here.  

When the school was built in 1875 on land given to the village by the Prince of Wales a pair of cottages occupied part of the site.   These carstone cottages had stood there for as long as even the oldest resident could remember but in the autumn of 1934 it was decided to demolish them as the school needed more space for the growing number of children in the village. 

The last occupants, the Melton and Biggs families, were moved to other cottages and were perhaps among the villagers who stood to watch as their former homes were reduced to a pile of rubble.  The walls were reported to be over three feet thick so these were no ordinary cottages. The best of the stones were removed and used to build a wall around the land granted to the village by the King for an extension to the churchyard.   Mr. Ken Martins recalled the event. “There was a house in the school yard and they were pulling it down.  Us boys had the job of wheeling the bricks and rubble rather than doing our lessons.  We used to volunteer for that.” The school managers met Mr. Beck the Sandringham agent to report that a school garden had been created from the extra land.  Doreen Asker remembered it. “My brothers did a lot of gardening there.  The garden was at the back. We used to grow marguerites and if you were good you were allowed to pick a bunch”.

The garden and the extended playground were a great asset to the school but with the demolition of those old cottages the village lost a tangible, visible link to its ancient history.  The area where these cottages stood and that around the Feathers and Doddshill formed the Manor of Pakenham one of the seven manorial estates that made up this village.  Pakenham Manor was at one time part of the Houghton Hall Estate before being acquired by Sandringham. An old map I have from 1720 shows much of the land in this area was owned by Robert Walpole of Houghton.  About 1804 the owners of Houghton commissioned a survey of all their holdings which included the properties here in Dersingham.  So I was delighted to discover not only a description of the cottages but also an illustration.

The valuation of 1804 describes it as a Dwelling House let in three tenements.   The surveyor writes, “The stacks, the long low windows, and the heavy dentellated quoins suggest that all three parts date from the sixteenth century”.   He continues that the right hand range is perhaps the latest and the latin-cross windows are an updating from the eighteenth century. He suggests that it may have been the home of a well-to-do yeoman farmer.  So these are our cottages but in fact they formed the Manor House of the Pakenham Estate built about four hundred years earlier.  With the illustration it is easy to imagine the house as one comfortable dwelling with associated farm buildings surrounded by pasture land that probably looks much the same today.  The Lord of the Manor would sometimes appoint a manager or steward to administer his lands and he would often be the one to occupy the Manor House.  There are extensive records about Pakenham Manor and the many different families who owned it over the centuries before it was absorbed into the Sandringham Estate and this small part of it given to the village for its school.  I do not know when the house first ceased to be a single large dwelling and was divided into separate tenements but we do know that after 400 years it was demolished in 1934.

So with the help of these illustrations it is possible in your mind’s eye to travel back in time to see this small area of our village as it used to be over 100 years ago.

Dersingham School Class Photograph - Probably 1914
Class A1 - no names available at this time

Dersingham School Class Photograph - March 1914 - Class B1
Back Row Standing

Stanley Daniels, Florrie Fitt, Phyllis Green, Mary Riches, Dorothy Nurse, Elsie Nurse, Stella Lines,
Edie Daniels, Elsie Cross, Mabel Balding, Hilda Fiddman, Elizabeth Riches, Edna Balding.

Third Row Standing
Martin Senter, Jack Prince, Jack Asker, Bob Crisp, Louise Grief, Dorothy Francis,
Maisie Terrington, Isabel Newling, Blanche Wells, Ivy Fiddman, Mary Lynes, Doris Natpher(?),
Arthur Riches, Dorothy Riches, Hilda Crisp

Second Row Sitting
Arthur Fitt, Herbert Fitt, Cecil Green, Kathi Daniels, Adelaide Grief, Winnie Daniels, Violet Daniels,
Percy Hill, Gordon Melton, Reuben Tuck, Geoffrey Rolfe, Dolly Riches, Phyllis Riches, Doris Ralph, Alice Nurse

First Row Sitting
Bob Way, George Riches, Irene Benstead, Ivy Walker, Susie (?) Daniels, Daisy Daniels,
Bertha Forward (?), Aggie Riches,
Ivy Forward (?), Ivy Riches, Jimmie Riches, Phyllis Crow, Ivy Bartlett, Violet Daniels, Ida Riches

Dersingham School Class Photograph - Probably 1914 - Class C1
For names see C2 below, taken at the same time with same children but has subtle differences.

Dersingham School Class Photograph - March 1914 - Class C2
Back Row Standing

Dick Reynolds, Sidney Southgate, Jimmie Yallop, Charles Asker, Arthur Riches, Alfred Sayer, Arthur Mitchell,
Eva Neave, Jennie Chambers, Georgie Coe, May Sayer

Third Row Standing
Alfred Lines, Norman Ralph, Leslie Forward, George Riches, Stanley Lines, Willi Lines, Bernadette Batterbee,
Arthur Batterbee, Edith Emerson, Diris Mitchell, Amy Cooke, Susie Mitchell, Walter Neave.

Second Row Sitting
Willi Pitcher, Tom Harlow, Tom Walpole, George Sayer (?), Willie Riches, Reggie Southgate, Bertie Scaife (?),
Geof. Jakeman (?), Willie Hudson, George Crowe, Fred Melton, Ella Grapes

First Row Sitting
George Dunger, John Pitcher, Ella Standaloft, Nora Taylor, George Dodman, Gillie Dorer, Philip Alderton,
Elsie Crowe, Nora Wagg, Mabel Bugg (?), Edna Rutland, Nellie Eastwick

Elsie Crow (first row) and Amy Cook (third row went on to become teachers at the Dersingham School

Dersingham School Class Photograph - March 1914 - Class D1
Back Row Standing

Fred Houchen, A. Green, Leonard Yallop

Third Row Standing
? Waller, Wallace Twite, Charlie Rand, Alec Keeley, Albert Nurse

Second Row Kneeling
Horace Crisp, Fred Biggs                    W.Lines, H. Walker

First Row Sitting
Alfred Johnson, Willie Walden, Albert Southgate, Jack Hartley, Ted Kerrison, Leonard Cross, Ted Dawes,
Cyril Green, Leslie Smith

Dersingham School Class Photograph - 1914 - Class E1
For names see E2 below, taken at the same time with the same children but has subtle differences.

Dersingham School Class Photograph - March 1914 - Class E2
Back Row Standing

Fred Walker, Ivy Fenton, Nora Wells, Phyllis Yaxley, Ivy (?) Linford, Ivy Riches, Maud Keeley, Edna Riches.

Second Row Standing
James Jackson, James Yallop, Percy Terrington, Cecil Ralph, George Batterbee, Tom Kerrison, Harry Fulcher,
Fred Drew, Willie Wells, Leonard Jarvis, Gordon Richardson

Front Row Kneeling
Charles Whitmore, Honor Allen, Edith Nurse, Eva Eastwick, Violet Bird, Gertie Drew, Mary Sayer, Hilda Playford, Ada Lincloln, Clarence Green

Dersingham School Class Photograph - Probably 1914 - Class number not shown
Back Row Standing

Crisp, - , - , D. Reynolds, - , S. Lines, W. Walden, Pitcher, - ,  - , - , C. Sayer

Third Row Standing
- , - , Bugg, Francis, Ives, Lines, - , Balding, - , - , - , C. Green, -

Second Row Kneeling
Riches, Tom Riches, A. Fitt, - , Bunn, - , - , Walpole, - , - , A. Hooks, Grief

First Row Sitting
Fiddaman, - , - , F. Melton, P.Sayer, Riches, L.Smith, - , - , - , H. Grief, D. Wade

Mr. Alfred Firth with staff taken about 1905

Mr Alfred Firth at the time of his retirement in 1915.

Includes Mr. Clarke. Mr. Wheeler, Elsie Crowe, Polly Hudson, Miss Caitlin and Miss Alexander

On the right is Elton O. Wheeler, Headmaster, and Mr. Clarke, probably the Deputy Head, Mr. Wheeler took over after Mr. Firth.
Below is a photo of the Chapel opposite the school where the cookery class was held. The girls in the class photograph are identified from the left but our source does not say if it is from front to back or vice versa:
Left:  Cissie Lines,  Edie Reynolds, May Clayton, Sylvia Shepherd, Ethel Bird, Nancy Haslow
Middle:  Eva ?,  Irene?  Doris Johnston, Annie Biggs, Nellie Welhams, Phyllis Grief
Right:   Mary Lee,  Phyllis Green, Ada Jakeman,  Betty Bird,  Lorna Nurse,  Audrey Meech
Dersingham children off for a school treat.

A nice photograph of the school taken in 1968 by the late David Watson and kindly permitted to be shown here by his son Chris Watson.  It is good to see that the original walnut tree was still in situ, long gone now though.
So far the only references to final closure of the school have been found in "The Times" newspaper:

9th January 1980
Queen offers school
The Queen is offering the village school at Dersingham on the Sandringham estate to Norfolk County Council for use as a youth and community centre.
It is closing in the summer.

24th March 1980
Queen's gift to village
The Queen, who owns the junior school at Dersingham, on the Sandringham estate, which is closing, is giving it to the village as a community centre.

So a slightly different situation, I can only presume at present that it was the building, maybe just its use, that was gifted and not the land. Perhaps someone can provide more detail.