Story by former pupil Valina Bowman-Burns

John Harper Street, Google Maps
John Harper Street, Google Maps

Every day, from Reception to Year 6, I went past ‘John Harper Street’ and glimpsed the school, before walking down the tunnel to school.  I was a pupil at North County Primary School in the 1980s and 1990s.  It sometimes felt like the first head master, John Harper, had only just left.  I often wondered what he was like and imagined him walking through the hall and into the classroom, just as I did nearly (in my time!) 100 years later. 

In 2015, when I started working at the Essex Record Office, I heard that all Victorian schools (and, I have also discovered, many schools continue today) kept log-books. These log-books recorded the headteachers thoughts and notable moments throughout the year.  It didn’t take me long to decide which log-book to look at first – the one for North School.

John Harper's signature in the school log book, courtesy of Essex Record Office
John Harper’s signature in the school log book, image courtesy of Essex Record Office

I turned the first pages and saw, in his own handwriting, the signature of John Harper. It was as perfect as the day he signed it – once again giving the feeling that he had only just stepped away from the log-book. The journal revealed a kind man, interested in the progress of his pupils and reluctant to use corporate punishment. 

To explore the log book for yourself go to: http://www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/education/education-resources/ , and scroll down to Victorian School log book.

Look out for that signature.  I’m no longer at Essex Record Office, but have shared these pages with 100s of school children from around Essex.  I like to think John Harper would approve.

North Street School’s first headmaster John Harper