Now no more, but the memories are there....
The First School?
There were no doubt 'dame school' and private tutors in the villages before any formal education. In fact, a letter from the Rector of Hethel, Rev Miles Beevor (living in Mulbarton Hall), to the Archdeacon of Norfolkin 1814 sums up general feeling about the value of educating the majority of children:
'My parishes of Hethel and Ketteringham are small and the population not numerous - the poorer class of people chiefly consisting of Peasantry; of course their occupations are of such a nature as to leave little time for literary instruction without materially affecting their pecuniary interests, and the means of obtaining their daily portion of sustenance. What little time can be spared from their necessary occupations is on the Lord's Day, employed by well-disposed Parents in the education of their children, at different small schools in the neighbouring parishes. This on the whole, I think a sufficiently practicable mode of answering all the purposes requisite for their advantage.' [Transcript of NDS/275/1 in NRO - from C Nicholls]
Maybe the Lord of the Manor was more positive, as just over 30 years later the first village school was erected on the Green. 19th Century Directories comment: 'A School occupies a neat building erected in 1846 by the late Miss Berney, and is now used as a Sunday School only.' (White, 1883) and the 1908 Kelly's Directory adds: 'There is a Church Sunday School, the property of Augustus Berney esq, which is also used as a parish reading room' and it was still the property of the Berneys in 1922. Hawkes Lane is called Schoolhouse Lane in the 1861 and 1871 censuses and named 'Hawkes Lane or Old School Lane' in 1881. The building was of of 'clay lump' and measured 25 x 16 feet (above) and housed the village school until the new County School was opened in 1878. The old school that became a Reading Room and the church Sunday School later it became the Village Hall, under trustees, and was replaced by a modern building opened in 1970.
The Founding of a United School
The following extracts are from school records and give an account of the founding of the school in Bracon Ash:
First meeting of the Bracon Ash & Hethel United School Board held on July 22nd 1875.
13 Sep 1875: At a meeting held on Bond's Green the Board voted that the piece of ground known as "Bond's Pightle" bounded on the North & West by public road leading from Bracon Ash & Hethel and on the South by pasture belonging to the trustees of Sir Kenneth Kemp containing about 1 acre, be applied for as a site for the new school if it can be obtained.
28 Feb 1876: At a meeting it was agreed to buy the land for £85. One member of the board opposed the site on the grounds that it was unhealthy. The Board of Education, however, approved of the site.
13 July 1876: Mr Pearce was authorised to submit plans for a school of 80 with classroom much like the plan for Thurlton.
2 Oct 1876: Tenders were received for the erection of the new school:
Messrs. Ludkin & Son, Banham £957. 0 shs.
Brown £1032. 3s 2d
Colman & Woodbine £1075. 3s
Tender of Ludkin & Son accepted. New school and teacher's residence and the Public Works gave a loan of £1150 towards building and site.
Photo of building below, with teacher's house on right
17 Dec 1877: Clerk instructed to advertise for a Schoolmistress to commence her duties at £60 per annum with furnished apartments in the school house, fuel and light.
[There were several applicants for the job including one man but he was not considered eligible. The job was offered to one woman but she turned it down on account of the house being too damp. Opening of the school delayed because of smoking chimneys and damp in the house.]
29 Aug 1878: Miss Curtis Elizabeth Pyle appointed.
23 Sep 1878: Miss Pyle commenced her duties as Mistress (certificated) of Bracon Ash and Hethel U. D. Board School. On that day 27 boy and 19 girls were admitted.
The school continued in use as an all-age school and later a County Primary School and then an Infants/First School until July 1980 when it was closed and the children transferred to Mulbarton First School. Although for one day parents who were against the closure ran their own 'protest school' in Bracon Ash village hall - gathering plenty of publicity for the cause of small village schools.
In Hethel -despite the Rector's opinions on education (above) - the cottage behind Hethel Church is marked on the Tithe Map of 1842 as 'School House & Garden', The present owners have a family story that it was a 'penny-a-day school', and say that one room has a higher ceiling than the others and once had a door out to the garden. During the 1850s, it is said that landowner Hudson Gurney provided a school for 20 children - whether in this or another building is uncertain, but it would have been the equivalent of the first school in Bracon Ash, provided by the Berneys.
Most people will not be aware that Hethel Hall was a prep school for Eton for a short while in the mid-19th Century! It was purchased by Sir John Boileau of Ketteringham Hall in 1840 and when he had managed to oust the sitting tenant - the Rector of Ketteringham and his wife - he installed his children's tutor, Rev Frederick Bickermore, and his new wife - who had been their governess. They set up a small prep school there for Sir John's youngest two boys and sons of the gentry who wished them to gain a place at Eton. The headmaster's brother ran a similar but larger school at Mergate Hall in Bracon Ash. The memories of one successful alumnus are here.
But the Hethel School that people still remember is the one set up by the local education authority for growing number of children at Hethel Camp. Hethel County Primary School was also short-lived - opening in Sept. 1951 and closing in July 1958 - and had only one Head Teacher, and seems to have served its rather special community very well.