The beginning of North Street School and the start of CXXV

Foundation plaque for North Street Board School, 1894

Who were the people with their names on the foundation plaque and just what did they do?   How separate were boys and girls kept after entering the school through their different doors?  Did anyone ever sit in those shelters at the back of the school field?

As a researcher it helps to be curious, to notice things around you and to ask questions about them.  CXXV – the 125th anniversary of North School project – is perfect for curious minds as there are intriguing clues all around just waiting to be explored.

To make a start we’ve been going right back to the beginning and asking where North School came from and what was happening in Colchester in 1894 that needed a new school. We might need to ask this again in 1938 when the new Infant Department was created, again when the Reception bungalow was added, and most recently when the year 6 block was built.

North Street School’s first headmaster

So far, we’ve discovered that in 1894 North Street School opened with 181 children in the Junior and 103 children in the Infant departments. This new provision went some way to address an estimated shortfall of 1000 school places in Colchester at the time.

North Street was the first school to be completed by the newly established Colchester School Board, which had been set up to ensure children were being taught by trained teachers in appropriate buildings.  We take this as given today, but before North School and the other Board Schools at Old Heath, St John’s Green and Wilson Marriage were open, this wasn’t the case. Children at the nearby St Peter’s National Infant School had one untrained mistress teaching 74 children.  We wonder if John Harper was proving his teaching credentials by wearing his gown in the photo above?

We are just at the beginning of our research journey.  We’re interested in the changes to the school buildings and changes to what happens inside with the curriculum, clubs and special events.  We want to find out about the teachers and pupils of North School and what happens to them when they leave. 

Over the next few months our project research will take us off in many directions and to many sources of information. Former pupils have already come forward with their memories of being at school and with their class photos. One of our researchers has visited the National Archives at Kew to discover inspection reports from the 1950s and 1960s. The Essex Record Office in Chelmsford stores many school records including weekly reports from the original builders and the first furniture orders. ERO also houses the school admission registers and log books. The school itself has a collection that we can use to understand the curriculum and some of the sporting activities students were involved in.

We look forward to sharing our findings over the coming months here and at school open days.