Gresham title  


Introduction References Early Days of Education The First Board School The Second Board School The Log Book Transcription



In the course of my family history research during 2016 I came across a scanned copy of the Gresham Board School log book that covers the years 1874 to 1900 (the original document has the Norfolk Record Office Catalogue Reference C/ED 140/1/1).  Over the following weeks I transcribed the 500+ pages of the book and the results are presented on this page.  I also tried to find out more about the people, practices and events that were mentioned and the resulting details are included in footnotes and seven supplementary appendices that I hope will add value.

It was a very interesting task, given the glimpses that it provides us of village life in the last quarter of the 19th Century,  with its difficulties, dangers and pleasures.  To my knowledge, none of the images are subject to copyright, the majority having been copied from books published in the 19th Century and old postcards.   I'm happy for anyone to use and re-publish extracts for strictly non-commercial purposes, otherwise I shall claim transcription copyright for the Log Book itself and full copyright © 2017 for the remainder.

Drafts of the document were sent to both the School and the Gresham Parish Council for review, comment and input, but 'answer came there none.'

Bill Atkins
Reading, Berkshire

old shuck e-mail

  The log book


  1. Gresham Voices and Faces by Keith Entwistle, published by Grasshopper 2000.

  2.  Kelly’s and White’s Post Office Directories of Norfolk.

  3. Gresham School log books 1874-1991 (ACC 2001/285) - Norfolk Record Office.

  4. Fifth Annual Report of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, published London 1816.

  5. Great Britain Census returns (National Archives).

  6. Norfolk Parish Registers (Norfolk Record Office).

  7.  Norfolk Annals Volume 2 (1851–1900), compiled from the files of the Norfolk Chronicle by Charles Mackie.

  8. Return of Owners of Land 1873 - Norfolk (HM Stationery Office)

Early Days of Education

A school was first provided in Gresham by the National Society for Promoting Religious Education, an organisation that was founded in 1811 to educate England's poor.  The school was in operation by 1816, when the Society’s Annual Report noted that it was open three days a week and was attended by 10 boys and 10 girls.  It is not known where in the village the school was, but the church is a possibility.

The Census records and Directories that are available record the following details of the teachers in this early period:

Later, in 1856, a purpose-built Parish (Parochial) School building was erected under the direction of builder and architect John Joseph Darken of Holt and remained in use until 1898.  The National Society granted £5 in Oct 1858 towards the enlargement of the school and later, in January 1866, £3 for books and slates.

The opening of the Parish school was quite a big local event and was reported in the Norfolk Chronicle on Saturday 28 August 1858. The Reverend Arthur Dewing Spurgin was then 26 years old and recently married.  He would serve Gresham as Rector for 35 years.

Reverend Thomas Dry was Headmaster of Paston Grammar School.  His chosen Romans' text says 'Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.'
School opening
This advertisement appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle on Saturday 21 September 1861 although, a few months earlier, the Census recorded a 19 year-old Pupil Teacher Lucy Wilson living with John & Mary Shinkfield.  The successful candidate was Susannah Clarke, the 21 year-old daughter of a West Newton shoemaker.   Schoolmistress advert

This report in Norfolk Chronicle of Saturday 20 August 1864 shows that children from the nearby workhouse at West Beckham were included in the celebrations.  In later years they would be taught in the Board School rather by their own schoolmaster in the workhouse.

Susannah Clarke stayed on at the school for the next ten years and was joined by a Mary Ann Painter, a young married woman who was born in Gresham and had presumably been a pupil-teacher in her teens.  John and Mary Shinkfield still appeared in the 1861 and 1871 Census records as schoolmaster and mistress, but its unclear whether all four of them were teaching at the same time - or even in the same parish.

Schoolmistress advert

The First Board School

A School Board was formed in February 1873, in response to the Elementary Education Act of 1870, and one of its first actions was to enlarge the existing school at a cost of £560.  Under the Act, as it applied to Gresham:

Old school location

 Location of the old school, shown in red.  Note the position of the Roamer Pit, which had a significant effect on the school's history.

The Old School House

The old school building (left) and its later additions

The story after 1874 becomes clearer, thanks to the log book.  The first Schoolmaster, George Chandler, who was in his early twenties and inexperienced, was unprepared for the amount of absenteeism and sickness among the pupils when he arrived in 1874.  It made it difficult for him to establish a stable teaching regime and his frustration and occasional anger are apparent.  George also had frequent visits from Board members, as well as their wives and daughters, who helped with the teaching but perhaps on some occasions only added to the disruption.  Reverend Spurgin, Clerk to the Board, appears to have been George's most enthusiastic supporter.

George left abruptly in August 1877, a month after receipt of a critical report from Her Majesty's Inspectors.  He moved to Worlaby, Lincolnshire, where he was head teacher for the next 28 years until his death.

Joseph Cox and his wife Catherine took over the running of the school in September 1877.   Although only 24 and new to the County, he developed quickly and became increasingly confident as his experience grew.  For the next quarter of a century covered by the Log, Joseph struggled against great variation in the level of absenteeism and found it difficult to carry forward his teaching with so many children dropping behind and dropping out altogether.  Undeterred, he remained largely positive, enthusiastic and innovative in his teaching methods, as the Log shows.

There were four main causes of absenteeism: the weather, sickness, outside employment and unwillingness or inability to pay school fees.

The weather.   Heavy rain and snow were guaranteed to keep many at home and this was accepted as a valid excuse, bearing in mind that several of the children had long walks to school and were poorly clothed and shod.  Joseph did however note on more than one occasion that those living furthest away often made more effort to come in on bad days than those in the village itself, like my own Field family who lived in Beeston Regis (2½ miles away).  There were harsh winters in the period covered by the log and some of the related reports from the Norfolk Annals (Norfolk Chronicle) have been included in the transcription at the appropriate times.

Sickness.  150 years ago any form of sickness was viewed with great fear because it could so easily result in death and there was no known cure for many of the diseases.  The Doctor's methods were often unsuccessful, even when they could be afforded; only those classified as Paupers could expect free medical treatment from the Poor Law Union's Medical Officer.  It took everyone a long time to realise that the Schoolroom was a breeding ground for disease, as well as a cause of it.

It was often the case that news of illness in the district prompted parents to keep their children at home.  Some sought to protect their children further by classifying them as being of 'delicate health' and too weak to attend.  The log book contains just under 50 instances of that phrase.

The diseases and symptoms recorded in the school log book (apart from colds and coughs) were:

  Typhoid Whooping Cough Measles
  General fever Tuberculosis/Rapid Consumption Scurvy
  Scarletina (Scarlet Fever) 'Inflammation' Chilblains
  Neuralgia Mumps Measles
   Face sores Abscess Influenza
  Chicken Pox Ringworm Diphtheria
  Inflammation of the lungs Bronchitis Eczema
Blood poisoning Diarrhoea Weak sight


There was no mention of Smallpox (thanks to the vaccination programme that started in the early part of the Century) and - perhaps surprisingly - lice and scabies.

Employment.  Children, predominantly the elder boys, were working regularly for local farmers and tradesmen, including School Board members, when they should have been at their desks, and larger numbers of both girls and boys became involved in the major annual events of hay and corn harvests.  This is not a social study, but it would be interesting to know whether the main pressure to do this work came from the farmer, who wanted cheap labour, the parents, who wanted more income for the household, or the child, who saw the work as being more enjoyable than school.

The types of work mentioned in the log book are:              

  Working in the fields Gathering acorns (pig food) Gathering sticks
  Getting the hay up Harvest Turnip & mangold picking
  Stone picking Beating for shooting parties Leading horses
  Rat catching Crow-keeping (scaring) Hay making
  'Keeping' pheasants Clearing corn from a threshing machine Weeding


School fees.  Each child was expected to bring fees of 2d. to school with them on the first morning of each week, unless exempted by the Board on grounds of poverty.  There are numerous cases of children being kept at home, or being sent home from school, if the fees could not be paid - the average weekly wage of a non-specialist Agricultural Labourer (Ag Lab) at this period was around 11 shillings.  Fees were finally abolished by the 1891 Elementary Education Act.

Other excuses for absence, or failure to do 'Home Lessons' (Prep) were:

No school bell was rung

Chimney on fire at home

Manders' Menagerie visiting Aldborough

Fetching yeast

Teacher had complained of their 'dirty, filthy state'

Whit Monday

Aldborough Fair

Flower Show in the locality

Parents cleaning up in the week before Christmas

Sent by Squire's wife to play cricket

Auction sale in the neighbourhood


Minding baby

Parents had no food for breakfast

Could not get the fire lit soon enough

Gathering chestnuts

Mother didn't wake them

Guy Fawkes' Day

Shrove Tuesday

Club Feasts and Anniversaries*

Michaelmas week (moving house)

Delicate health

Taking parents' dinners to the fields


"Mother says the boy is not right in his head & the doctor has given orders for him not to do them" (Home Lessons)

* Local and affiliated order friendly societies (savings and benefit clubs) proliferated in Victorian England, the most common being the Oddfellows and Foresters.  Their anniversaries became principal feast days for many villages.  The sickness and funeral benefits provided by the societies were of great value to agricultural workers

The winters of the early 1890s were disastrous for the school.  Apart from the severity of the weather, diseases became lethal epidemics and the school was often closed for long periods by order of the Medical Officer of Health.   A tenth of the children of school age died from Diphtheria in 1894.  Long-standing concerns about the school environment became more prominent and, although minor changes to hygiene were made at the school, it was almost two years before a fully-detailed inspection was carried out.  The associated report of July 1896 highlighted the following features:

The report concluded: "In view of the above report my Lords hope soon to receive from your Board proposals for the provision of a new School."

Roamer pit and rectory

View from the road in front of the first Board School, looking across the Roamer Pond (originally a marl pit) to the Rectory.

The Second Board School

 Plans were drawn up quickly for a new school building and a Master's house to be built mid-way between Upper and Lower Gresham, close to All Saints Church.  The design by architect Herbert J. Green was approved by the Board in November 1896 and building work was carried on through the following year by contractors T.H. Blyth at a cost of £2800.   The school was given sufficient capacity for 132 children (according to Kelly's Directory for 1900) and was provided with a clock and a bell.  The children and staff moved in on the 24th of March 1898.

New school location

The location of the new Board School, completed in 1898

In 1903 the school came under Norfolk County Council control as Gresham Council School, also known as Gresham Provided School, and it was later renamed Gresham County Primary School.  From May 1978, on the closure of Aylmerton Council School, pupils were transferred to Gresham Primary.  Later, in December 1991, it became Gresham Village School (grant maintained).

The new board school

The new Board School, soon after completion, with the Master's house on the right.

The Log Book Transcription

Main Log (PDF file - 3.5 MB)

Because of the frequent use of Roman numerals, I've used the serif font 'Georgia' to show them more clearly.  There are also several signatures where officials have endorsed entries and these are in 'Freestyle Script' font.   My own comments in the text of the book are shown <thus>.

Appendices (PDF file - 1.4 MB)

The file contains seven Appendices numbered as follows:

1. Alphabetical list of the teaching staff.

2. Alphabetical list of the members of the School Board.

3. Alphabetical list of the Government, County and District officials.

4. Alphabetical list of the local people who are mentioned in the book.

5.  Alphabetical list of the pupils.

6. Details of the Educational Standards that were used to classify levels of achievement.

7. A map of the local area.


Class 3 of 1900

Class 3 of 1900 - if only we could link faces to the names in Appendix 5. 
The lady on the left might be Catherine Cox (wife of Joseph) or, less likely, Pupil Teacher Lilian Barney who was then 16.