Cromer Girl's School
In the book A Dictionary of Cromer and Overstrand History you'll find just how many schools there have been in the town over the years. However, in spite of the large number of private schools, the majority of children growing up in Cromer from the 1890s onwards went to the Board Schools, founded to provide education for all as a result of the Education Acts of the 19th century.
The three Board Schools were on one site in Louden Road. In the 21st century the buildings are all still there but have been converted into the private houses of Norman Trollor Court. From 1947, the separate Infants, Girls and Boys schools were restructured into the Infant and the mixed Junior School, the arrangement that continues today on their respective present sites.
In 1977 former Cromer Junior School Headmistress Kate D.L.Barrett researched and published Cromer Girl's School - A History. This deals specifically with the Girl's School from 1872 to 1947. Miss Barrett will be fondly remembered by many, feared by some but respected by all as a teacher at the Girl's School and the first Headmistress of the combined Junior School.
For those who attended the Junior School under the tutelage of Miss Barrett, the concept of an international network joining computers together would have seemed highly unlikely! The main concern was to ensure the inkwell at the corner of the desk didn't let you down and that you didn't create ink blots when writing. The following text of her book remains in the copyright of her assignees but we are confident that she would be more than happy that it is reproduced here. If you have stories of time spent at the Girl's School or at the subsequent Junior School, please make use of the feedback pages and we will add them to this section of the site.
Miss Barrett's Introduction
Until 1949, when re-organisation took place, the present Junior School, situated in the centre of Cromer, housed three separate departments, each with its own Headmaster or Headmistress. The Boys' School had its entrance in Louden Road, the Infants' in the Loke, and the Girls' School in Cross Street. There was an extra entrance in Bond Street, which led to the Board Room, in which the School Board (and later the School Managers) met to discuss the business of the three schools. Before the existence of this building, however, there was an earlier Girls' School, situated approximately where the Parish Hall now stands, and which was owned and run by the Church. This school is known to have existed as early as 1854 and may have been there even before this, but the only written evidence (as far as I know) is the Log Book which dates from 1872.
The first Parliamentary Act granting aid for elementary education was made in 1833; the Act of 1870 went further, and presumably, it was then that the Vicar of Cromer, the Rev. Frederic Fitch, was prompted to apply for a grant to help to finance the running of his school. To obtain this he had to agree to certain stipulations, e.g. the Headmistress must be qualified, the school must be inspected and examined yearly by one of Her Majesty's (Queen Victoria's) Inspectors of Schools, and must satisfy him of the standard of work required, and a Log Book must be kept in which the Headmistress must make daily entries recording anything which affected the life of the school. Later on, the entries were made weekly, and later still, at the discretion of the teacher, who judged whether the item was worthy of note. Thus it may be seen that although valuable as a means of forming an idea of the schools of that period, such a Log Book was by no means complete, as it did not record anything which happened outside the school hours, and in later years much did happen after school hours; concerts, visits, Jumble Sales, and Sports Practices, to name but a few.
So, as this old Log Book is the main source of the existence of this early Girls' School, this history, incomplete as it is, is nevertheless of interest in giving a picture of what went on in schools at that time. The old Log Book and the one which followed, tell of eight Headmistresses over a span of seventy-seven years. Each will be dealt with separately, trying to give a picture of the kind of school which existed then, the subjects taught and the kind of people who taught them.
ELLEN HEBE COLLS
April 2nd 1872 - January 15th 1875
CHURCH AND SCHOOL
The opening entry made by Miss Colls in the Log Book of 1872 runs thus:
"April 2nd. Entered on duties as Mistress of Cromer Girls' School.". Such a bald statement of such an important event, for it fell to the lot of this unknown woman to establish a recognised school and transform it from its somewhat neglected state into one more nearly conforming to the standards required in that day. Whether she succeeded or not I shall endeavour to point out, following the thirty-eight pages of daily recordings in a neat, clear script which scarcely varies, noting and commenting upon absences from school and their causes, punishments meted out, numbers in classes, progress or otherwise of her pupils, visitors to the school, and countless references to Religious Instruction, which, as a Church School, formed a most important part of her work. This was in addition to the three R's, as they came to be known in later years, plus Spelling, and these four subjects formed a basis of elementary education at that time. History is only referred to as a reading exercise, Geography consisted of learning long lists of rivers, mountains, counties and towns by heart, while Singing formed an occasional diversion, and Physical work appears only as a mention of "marching" in the playground.
Even after reading the first page or two of Miss Colls' entries in the Log Book it is possible to form an estimate of her character, for her comments show that she was conscientious and painstaking, as she diligently examined each class in turn on all the basic subjects, to satisfy herself on the general standard of proficiency, and (as I suspect) to make it clear to a visiting inspector of the state of affairs when she took over, for it is evident that all was not well with this school, and she was obliged to be strict and insist on quietness and diligence; as well she might, for at least three classes were working in the same room, and whether they were separated by any sort of partition from the Infants is doubtful when reading 'between the lines'. As for the numbers concerned, nowhere are they given in their entirety, and we can only guess at the size of the school by being told, "Full attendance in 3rd class. (41)", or "Dec. 4th (1873) Average for week higher - 106.", and as the average does not mean the full number on books and was recorded at the worst part of the year when inclement weather, colds and poor clothing inevitably kept some of the children away at this period, the number on books probably far exceeded one hundred.
That Ellen Colls, however wise and good she may have been, could not possibly deal adequately with such a large number of children unaided, is obvious. At least one assistant was needed, and indeed when she first began as Headmistress in Cromer, there was a teacher of sorts in charge of the Infants, unqualified, and as was proved by a subsequent Inspector's report, unsuitable. This person was eventually dismissed, but not during Miss Colls' headship, so was of no benefit to her.
They were talkative, inattentive and idle, according to Miss Colls, and often had to stay behind after school hours, though one cannot help pitying them, as much of this trouble was scarcely their fault, and was obviously the result of circumstances over which neither they nor Miss Colls had much control.
Meanwhile, there were inspections to be faced, the result of which could make or break both school or Miss Colls; for she had to satisfy the examiner in order to receive the coveted grant from the government. This momentous first inspection took place near the end of what was then the school year on June 13th 1873. (The school year ended on June 30th, and was divided into quarters, and not terms as it is now). We have observed that Ellen Colls had had tremendous difficulties before her in this first year, but she received little encouragement from H.M.I. whom I will quote as follows:
"The school is being worked under considerable difficulties as the supply of desks is insufficient and the desks that are in the school are bad and inconveniently arranged. The Infants are backward and the arrangements for their instruction need improvement. The other children appear to have been taught as well as the arrangements permit"
"More books and better easels should be procured"
"The grant is equal to half the annual expenditure"
So Ellen worked the miracle and a grant was available; what is more the Church provided some new desks, and the woman (before mentioned) to help with Needlework to relieve the pressure on Miss Colls. The report of the following year twice emphasizes the shortage of books, but it was far into the future before this deficiency was made good. Meanwhile, Ellen Colls carried on teaching each and every subject and class, but always giving the due attention to religious matters, as was natural in such a school. Then, quite suddenly in Jan. 1875 she announced her resignation, perhaps because she was tired of the uphill grind, though one feels that this would be out of character; what is more likely is that it was because of family trouble, as was recorded by her in the previous December.
So, having firmly established the school as one recognised by Her Majesty's Government, Miss Ellen Hebe Colls left, the first of the eight recorded Headmistresses of Cromer Girls' School.
MISS X. A LADY OF MYSTERY
March 2nd 1875 - January 5th 1877
IMPROVEMENTS AND ALTERATIONS
Miss Colls' post was vacant from the end of the second week of the 1875 entries, until the beginning of March, and there is no indication to show who ran the school in the meantime; though I have a strong suspicion that it might be one of the daughters of the Rev. Fitch, probably Miss Edith, who figures so strongly in the later history of the school.
The new Headmistress introduced herself as follows;
"1874 March 2nd. Entered on duties as Mistress of Cromer Girls' School."
This, of course, was wrong, for the year was 1875; nor was the mistake rectified until I read through the Log before beginning this short history. This in itself is odd, because the Log Book was open to inspection, not only to H.M.I., but also to the Rev. Fitch and his diocesan colleagues. More peculiar still, is the fact that nowhere does the name of this Headmistress appear in the Log, even though the regulations printed at the beginning of the book state clearly that the names of the staff must follow the H.M.I's reports when they are copied into the book. Not only did the Rev. Fitch forbear to comply with this regulation, in the case of the unknown lady, he also neglected to enter the second report upon her headship.
Meanwhile, although we are left in considerable doubt as to her identity, there can be little question about her popularity, and apparent youth. She seems to have been temperamental and more up-to-date in her methods than was Miss Colls. Her writing varies from a small, even, stylish and somewhat modern script, to a larger, more dashing style, carelessly scribbled with great flourishes which extended almost across the page; all of which appears to indicate that she was moody, sometimes careful', and sometimes in a tearing hurry (perhaps to keep an assignment?) and quite often annoyed, as well she might be; for even though she had a "sewing woman" to help with the needlework, plus, at last, an Assistant Teacher for the Infants, and, from certain entries in the Log, that she also had a little help with the teaching of. Religious Knowledge, she had inherited some of the troubles which had so plagued Miss Colls: there was still a very large number of Infants crowded into unsatisfactory accommodation (the quoted number in May 1876 was 85) babies of only two years of age were still being admitted, and boys over the age of seven were still attending this school, quite illegally. Further, the report of 1875 says "There is still no proper supply of reading books".
Besides all this, there were other and fresh troubles: Cromer was fast becoming a fashionable watering place, and hotels were being built where extra help was required in the summer months. Then there were families like the Barclays, Buxtons, Gurneys and Hoares who had large summer residences in Cromer, and, although they undoubtedly each brought a retinue of servants with them, they all entertained a lot, so that extra help was required in these large houses too, from about the end of June until well into September, and sometimes beyond that.
As to where such help came from, well, of course, it came from the older girls in the Church School, and many and bitter are the remarks penned by the Headmistress, not only by Miss X, but by those who followed her.
As I have already said, our mysterious person was more progressive than Miss Colls; this can be deduced from the extra subjects she introduced namely, Formal Grammar, Poetry, and Natural History. She also made a practice of reading aloud to the girls while they did their Needlework, which must have been appreciated in a school where reading matter was so restricted. But the innovation which caused the most stir was the introduction of Kindergarten Methods in the Infants' Department. These methods (German in origin) were based on activity, involving the development of muscles by using the Kindergarten "toys" - pieces of apparatus which developed the dexterity of the fingers - and which also involved movement and singing. This, although it had been in existence since 1854, was quite new to Cromer, and Miss X records a number of visitors who came to watch the children at work.
Besides the delivery of the Kindergarten "toys" Miss X records a new supply of reading sheets for the Infants, a new board and easel, new framed slates, new desks, a gallery (a low raised platform) for the Infants' room, and even a new classroom; though the Inspector in his report refers to it as being "enlarged and improved", which I think was nearer the mark. Gas was laid on in both rooms, which must have been a boon to girls who spent so much time sewing; but where the money came from for all these improvements is another mystery, when presumably the Church was unable to supply the school with the proper amount of reading material.
Miss X did not stay long to enjoy all these extra blessings. She left suddenly at the beginning of January 1877 and did not even record her resignation. The Assistant Mistress wrote: "Mistress left suddenly. Log kept by Assistant. Assistant Mistress and P.T.'s carry on school". Our Lady of Mystery remained an enigma until the last.
EMMA A. HILL
February 7th 1877 - July 24th 1895
THE ATTENDANCE "WAR" AND THE NEEDLEWORK "FACTORY"
Emma Hill's headship was the second longest known to us in the old Girls' School. It lasted eighteen years, compared with that of Miss Ryde which almost doubled that span. Her writing is angular, plain, uncompromising and unvarying, and, from her entries, one may picture her as a typical 'schoolmarm' of her day. That she was both determined and a disciplinarian is evident from the history which emerges as one reads her lengthy entries over a period of years; they were weekly now, instead of daily as before, so that we do not always have the exact date of events, though she usually details them. She had a cane and used it; she also made it plain to protesting parents that she was Mistress and intended to control her own school, which she certainly did; and, after the initial outcry at her methods of punishment and her strict discipline, we hear little more of parental protest. Perhaps they, (like the visiting inspectors) soon realised that Miss Hill was capable, and determined to improve the standard of work in her school.
Her opening entry records the size of the school. There were 157 on the books. She later remarks (in 1886) that the average attendance was 190, so it is obvious that the school grew in numbers, but this was after attendance became compulsory.
Some of the trials which had so plagued Miss Hill's predecessors were still with her, and the first Inspector's Report stresses the old familiar pattern: shortage of reading matter, poor staffing, illegal attendance of babies under three years of age and of boys over seven; but Ellen Hill was made of different material from the two former Headmistresses. Whatever else she may have been or not been, she certainly was a fighter, and she obviously refused to take the blame for circumstances which had been in existence before her time; she probably put some pressure on 'the powers that be' for soon we read that the Managers (first mention of this body) had decided that babies under three should not be admitted, and in the following January she records that boys over seven had been removed from the school. Many more years passed before the reading-book supply was considered satisfactory, and as for the staffing and the subsequent weaknesses of the various subjects taught, it was some time before these matters were righted; but Miss Hill was given extra help in the teaching of R.I. and Arithmetic: Miss Fitch assisted in the latter subject and the visiting clergy took over some of the Religious Instruction.
The curriculum did not change very much under Miss Hill. Composition is mentioned, but this was only the reproduction of a story, and Map Drawing is mentioned as something new, but by far the most important subject under this new regime was Needlework. This subject occupies a great deal of space in the Log Book entries of Emma Hill. Even the Infants had to sew and knit, and this was fine stitchery with minute stitches, so small that they could scarcely be seen, and even, and regular. Emma is horrified when she discovers that not a single Infant could "even thread a needle" - poor little souls, what a revolution has taken place since Emma Hill's time, and no one requires little eyes to be so strained, nor the tasks set to be so difficult.
Space (or rather the lack of it) will not allow me to deal satisfactorily with the subject of Needlework under Miss Hill, but here is a list of some of the garments for which the girls made their own patterns, cut out and then sewed by hand:- pinafores, chemises, frilled nightdresses, boys' shirts, and babies' shirts; also the girls learned to mark linen with initials, and to darn and patch, for mending was most important in the days when money was scarce, and clothes, table linen and bed linen, etc. had to last a long time. The girls also hemmed innumerable dusters, glass cloths, sheets and other articles and made pillow cases in such numbers that I became convinced that few if any of the articles made, mended, marked and sewed found their way into the girls' homes, but were destined for some important house in the neighbourhood, or some hotel or boarding-house. I say this with some conviction, because when I joined the staff in 1928, the girls in the school were still being supplied with material for sheets and pillow cases by local gentry and others, and the articles made up in school, some by hand, and some machined.
As for the knitting, socks formed the greater part of the output, but cuffs and mittens are mentioned, and a comfort to cold wrists and hands they certainly were in under-heated schoolrooms and houses. Both cuffs and mittens were a convenient way of teaching children to knit on four needles, and therefore led naturally to the ever-present need for the knitting of boys' and men's socks. A certain Mrs. Sidle was the Sewing Assistant during Miss Hill's headship and she was. greatly missed when absent, judging from the type of work which the girls did while she was away, mainly plain sewing consisting of hemming as noted above. The following entries typify the work done under these conditions:
"Oct. 4th (1878) 24 dusters and towels hemmed and marked. Oct.18th 12 teacloths hemmed and marked".
There is nothing in the Log to indicate why the amount of time spent in Needlework was eventually curtailed, but it certainly was, as witnessed in the following extract from the Log:
"Dec.6th 1888 In future only 1J hours will be given to Needlework on the afternoons of Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The time, 2.10 to 2.40 will be spent in Reading by Classes 3 and 4 and in Arithmetic or Poetry by Classes I and 2".
From then onwards there is less mention of sewing, though we know it continued to reach a high standard of work, for the girls gained prizes at a local Show at Baconsthorpe.
Meanwhile, something more important engaged much of Emma Hill's time and attention. This was the poor attendance, especially during the summer months, to which I referred in the previous chapter; and it was not only in the summer, for, after attendance became compulsory in 1880, there was much antagonism amongst the parents, though oddly enough, before this they needed less persuasion to send their offspring to school. Perhaps (Norfolk-like) they did not like being made to do so!
So here we have two causes of bad attendance: the employment of children of school age in hotels and other large houses occupied for the season, plus resentment against the law which disturbed the freewill co-operation of the parents.
In the years 1878, '79, '80 and onwards, Miss Hill makes frequent references to girls requesting leave of absence for the summer (which was condoned until attendance became compulsory) and then in the September of the same year remarking about the number who had not yet returned to school, indeed sometimes they often remained away until October, which naturally badly affected their schooling; but from 1880 onwards the girls who were employed in seasonal work did so illegally, and a means was sought to remedy this situation. A certain Mr. Kemp was appointed as Attendance Officer but with little or no result as far as can be determined from the Log. Certainly, the Attendance Officer and Emma Hill were soon on very bad terms, which developed on her part into a state of open war; and many and bitter are her recorded remarks concerning this gentleman. Though I must say that I have a sneaking feeling of sympathy for him in such a difficult situation, particularly if he was a local resident; on the one hand here is the redoubtable Miss Hill, stern and uncompromising, writing to him and accusing him of inefficiency, and reporting him to all and sundry, while he (who had probably been reared in the tradition of his day which trained young folks to revere their elders and betters, and who probably enjoyed a drink at one or other of the offending hotels) anyway did not dare to dictate to the rich and powerful families who employed the erring girls in the summer, and as a consequence remained unable to deal with either Miss Hill's demands, or to carry out the law of the land and demand the return of the absentees to schooL
Not so Emma Hill. She could, and did dare, at any rate as far as the parents were concerned, and resorted to sending to their homes and demanding that the absentees return to school. This she did on a number of occasions.
That this poor attendance had a bad effect on the work of the school is evidenced by the remarks in the Inspectors' Reports. Several times references are made to the irregular attendance during the summer months and its bad effect on the standard of work. In 1894 one of these gentlemen remarks:
"The irregularity of the attendance makes the work of the school discouraging to the teacher". I deliberately quote this sentence since it is the first time that I find a hint of sympathy towards a teacher labouring under difficulties, The Inspectors of those days were a hard, tough lot who were out to criticise and to see that the Government got its 'value for money'.
Naturally, other factors and events affected the attendance, notably the visits of personages, circuses, fairs, wrecks, bad weather, and, inevitably, illness, of which at this time there was a great deal, and of a very serious nature. Scarlet Fever, which was often fatal, Typhoid, and, equally serious, Diphtheria, were common outbreaks; there was also of course Tuberculosis, known at this time as the 'wasting disease' or Consumption. Both homes and schools were insanitary places at this time and personal hygiene was of a very low standard generally. There was a period in the history of this Girls' School, which occurred from about 1878 to 1894 when there were several recorded outbreaks of some of the aforementioned diseases, often prolonged, with one or two deaths. Nor was this the end of such trouble, for as late as the early days of Miss Ryde's headship a case of Diphtheria is mentioned.
As I have already said, sometimes the weather affected the attendance, and no wonder. Neither footwear nor outer clothing was water-tight, and, once soaked, took_ a long time to dry, and many of the poorer classes had no change of boots, and often not more than one coat. 1891 and 1895 were typical examples of years when the weather was a deterrent to good attendance. For instance, in January 1891 this extract shows how severe the weather was just then:
"Isobel Ellis" (a teacher)" could not use her hands owing to one hand being frost-bitten and in a sling, the other covered in chilblains". Then in January 1895 the girls could not start their Needlework for the examination as they usually did just then because "owing to the severity of the weather there has been no water on the school premises for many weeks", and who could keep examination Needlework clean with grubby fingers? During that particular month Miss Emma makes a special point of recording the effect of the weather on attendance with remarks such as the following:
"Jan.14th to 19th. Weather severe and attendance low".
During the eighteen years of Emma Hill's headship, certain far-reaching changes took place. We have already noted that attendance became compulsory; it also became free of charge in 1891. Up till then the charge per year for attendance at Cromer Girls' School had been 8/-. This we know from the following entry made by Miss Hill:
"Oct.26th (1888) Gave each child a 4/- ticket - half the School Fee for past year". This was intended as a reward for good attendance.
Secondly, in September 1888, at the insistence of Her Majesty's Inspectors, the Infants' Department, which had greatly grown in numbers, was made a separate school, with its own Head Teacher, a Miss Amelia Offer, who had hitherto been the Assistant Teacher in charge. This reduced the number of children in Miss Hill's school and made it a more manageable unit, with numbers of 111 in 1889, 113 in 1890 and 127 in 1894, for whom she had a recognised teacher as assistant, plus one, two or sometimes more Pupil Teachers. One such who qualified under Miss Hill's tuition was Eva Howes Burton, who was accepted as a Candidate in 1882, did four years as a P,T. and then taught in Miss Hill's school as an assistant teacher until 1894 or '95. Others who qualified in similar fashion were Jessie Wightman 1879-1882, Fanny Sidle 1879-1885, Bessie Deacon 1880-1886, Isabel Ellis 1887-1893 and Flora Turner 1889-1893. Flora left to teach in Aylsham Girls' School, while Bessie Deacon was one of the lucky ones; she went to Norwich Training College to obtain her certificate after teaching as assistant with Miss Hill for one year. Others fell by the way, some for reasons of bad health, such as V. E. Beck, or Agnes Ellis, and others because they failed their exams.
A new classroom was built in 1886, probably to house the Infants, who (as already suggested) had become a large and somewhat unwieldy unit by this date, while a movement was already on foot to make them into a separate school; but the final and most far-reaching change of all which eventually led to the abandonment of the old building and the erection of the new, was the formation of the School Board, referred to by Miss Hill in the following words:
"Jul. 11th (1895) School Board Election on Thursday 11th. Room used as a Polling Place".
The Church was about to hand over to the Board, and, once again, we do not know what happened to Miss Hill. Her final entry runs thus:
"Jul. 24th. Rev.F.Fitch came into the school and said it was at once to be closed by order of Mr. Fenner, one of the medical men. 118 children present at all this week out of 128 on books.
Emma A. Hill
July 24th. 1895."
We know now that this was not the final closure of the school, but a temporary one for sanitary reasons, but perhaps this was not known when Miss Hill penned the preceding lines. At any event, this was her last entry in the Log Book of Cromer Girls' School. There was, however, an echo - In the Visitors' Book supplied by the new Board of Managers, is the following signature with date and address:
"1905 March 10 Emma A. Hill, Hayes Common, Kent."
September 30th 1895 - December 23rd 1898
Miss E. Murphy (no Christian Name mentioned) commenced her duties in the old school in Church Street, for, although it was unsatisfactory, no other building was available as yet. However, I have no doubt that plans for the erection of a new school were being considered, even if work had not already been started on it. That the old building was insanitary has already been made clear, and the late date of starting in September was due to an enforced closure by the Sanitary Authorities. Yet another followed during the first term, when the school was closed from November 11th. until January 6th. 1896. This closure was undoubtedly due to yet another outbreak of Scarlet Fever, as there is an entry in the Log Book in October 1895 referring to girls who had been excluded because of Scarlet Fever in their families. It is difficult at this time to realise how dreaded was this scourge, and how serious both the disease and its results were, for not only was it a killer, it also left behind a legacy of rheumatism and other injuries, which adversely affected its victims for life.
The first entry made by the new Headmistress was symptomatic of change. Here it is:
"Visited by the Chairman of the School Board."
The name of the Chairman (no longer dominated by the Clergy) appears in writing a few days later:
"October 7th. Visited by Mr. Randall, Chairman of the School Board." Thereafter, his visits, and those of Miss Fitch, were weekly, and often more frequent still. Mr. Randall's writing appears on page 344 of the old Log Book for the first time, when he writes:
"Register examined and found correct. 28 Oct 95 R L. Randall"
This duty, which was compulsory, was punctiliously carried out by him and his successors as Chairman of the Board. The other Managers, Miss Buxton, Mr. W. J. Burn, Mr. J. Hoare, Mr. B. Rust, and, later, Mr. Bower, Mr. A. Woodward, the Rev. Sheldon and the Rev. Hersee, were equally conscientious in their duties, visiting the school regularly, "sitting-in" on lessons to see that the children were being taught correctly, and even, at times, testing them for the same reason. In fact, they truly were the ruling body and made their presence felt. The School Reports were now entered by the Clerk to the Board, a Mr. A.E.Salter, and were doubtless well-studied and discussed by this public-minded band of men.
The frequent visits which sometimes lasted for half a session or more must have been an embarrassment if not a downright nuisance to Miss Murphy and her staff at times, as when, for instance, on page 367 of the Log we find there were no less than fifteen visits by managers during the period November 10th to December 9th. Sometimes they even came in pairs, but most of this activity occurred after the move to the new building for, after a year, Miss Murphy writes:
(1896) "Sept 7 School began in the new school rooms this morning with a good attendance."
What a momentous entry, and how little is known of the events which preceded it; but we do know that the work had been carried out by local workmen, some of whom I knew personally in later days; men who took a pride in their work and for whom nothing was good enough but the best. So they built a good, solid building, which stands to this day, and which now houses the Cromer Junior School, but, when first erected, contained three separate schools under its roof, the Boys', the Infants' and the Girls', each with its own Head Teacher. There were no refinements such as are considered necessary today, but this building was considered by all concerned, to be the last word in school accommodation and other schools followed which were built on the same lines, in the years ahead.
The Girls' School, with its entrance in Cross Street, had three classrooms, the access to which was by corridor, and which measured as follows: the largest room was 48' by 22', the next was 28' by 22' and the smallest was 22' by 20'. The floors were stepped, and furnished with fixed dual desks, each with a shelf beneath for the storage of books. The largest room accommodated 100 girls, the next 60 and the smallest, 40. There was a cloakroom fitted with iron pegs for clothes, a storeroom, basins with a cold water supply, and, across the paved playground, a row of mechanically-flushed lavatories. No room was provided for the use of teachers, for in those days they were not supposed to need one, and fifty or more years elapsed before any such attempt was made. The school also had a shelter in the playground for the use of children in inclement weather. This is now a classroom.
The accommodation provided for the Infants' and Boys' Schools was on similar lines, and, with its own separate entrance, there was a Board Room, where the School Board members sat to discuss business, and, where later, the Managers of the Council School did likewise. This room disappeared when the school kitchen was made, as it then helped to form its northern end. So a part of the school which had been its hub, so to speak, and where meetings presided over by such persons as Benjamin Rust, Daniel Davison and Lady Suffield, was given over to suet puddings and beef stews!
Attendance was still a problem, and Miss Murphy, like her predecessor, had no good opinion of the unfortunate Attendance Officer, but the School Board now introduced an Annual Prize Day when medals and certificates were given for good attendance, and which continued to be held until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
The Cookery Room for the girls was built in 1897, and lessons commenced there in January 1898; but, judging from her remarks about the amount of time spent by the girls in this subject when, obviously, she felt they might have been better employed, Miss Murphy did not altogether approve of this innovation. Nor was this the only cause of annoyance. In July 1897 the top class Infants were retained in the Infants' School for a further year instead of being sent up into the Girls' School as before. They were therefore eight and some of them nearly nine before being received by Miss Murphy, and she resented this strongly. She writes:
(1898) "Dec. 21st. Have examined the whole school this week and am satisfied except with the second standard. The step between Infant School Standard I and the Girls' School is too wide." The Headmistresses who followed had the same opinion, but did not express themselves so openly and freely.
Nor was this the only cause of Miss Murphy's resentment; there were others. She thought that the Boys' and Infants' Schools had been shown preference by the School Board because when they had low attendance they were closed while her own school in similar circumstances had to remain open; this may have been a trivial complaint, but she had reason to be dissatisfied on a more serious matter. An entry in the Log Book runs thus:
(1898) "Apr. 22nd. Since October 6 the staff has consisted of an assistant who takes St II and the object lessons and a pupil teacher for St III leaving St IV V VI VII for the mistress. Exactly half the school - 69 out of 138 - was in these standards which have dwindled very slowly till now five girls in St VI VII have not returned after Easter holidays. These are 14 and 15 years old and though sorry to lose the best their absence is a distinct relief as a little more individual attention can be given to the remaining 58." (One wonders how on earth she managed to give 58 girls of varying ages and attainments any attention at all!) On June 8th she writes again: "There are now seventy-three girls in the four upper standards. Happily the Candidate and the Candidate on probation have grown quite useful."
One of these two Candidates was undoubtedly Dora Stibbons, and the other may have been Grace Chapman, who is referred to as Monitor, a term which gradually superseded that of Candidate. The former subsequently became an assistant teacher in the Girls' School, and when Miss Ryde retired, was made Headmistress; the latter was to be a future Headmistress of the Infants' School. So 'coming events cast their shadows before'.
Miss Murphy also records two instances when the other departments had holidays when she had none, but the real humiliation came when the Inspectors' Reports were received by the other departments and not by her until she had been told of their reception by "the pupil teachers of the Infants' School". One can imagine her feelings at such an insult, for insult it undoubtedly was, whether deliberate or not. She carried on for another term but left at the end of the next one.
N.B. Miss Stibbons did not complete her training at this school. She was probably transferred to Overstrand.