North Runcton

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Sir Michael Caine and North Runcton

One of the changes brought on by the outbreak of the Second World War was the need to acommodate people seeking safety from the bombing of London. Evacuated families started to arrive in North Runcton in the autumn of 1939, and were billeted in the then unoccupied building behind (attached to) the school. Village children did their best to make it welcoming, with flowers, and collecting furniture and utensils from around the village. Even so, it must have been crowded and basic. It must also have been a tremendous culture shock for the city dwellers and villagers alike. The numbers of evacuees fluctuated during the course of the war - some returned to London, some new families moved in. The school had nearly 40 pupils (split into an infant and a senior class), from North Runcton and surrounding villages. By 1941 there were half as many again with the influx of Londoners. A few evacuees stayed on after the war and settled locally.

The Micklewhites arrived in the first wave in 1939/1940 and stayed for the duration, although they apparently visited London on occasions during lulls in the bombing. The two boys, Maurice and Stanley, had previously been evacuated to rural Berkshire, but found themselves mistreated. Their mother decided to accompany them after that, which is why she came to Norfolk with them. Maurice was 7 years old at the time.

From his biographies and autobiography it's clear that the spell here was a formative experience. He talks about the freedom and space, the clean air, the fresh local food. He also talks about getting into trouble round the village. Some of the local people were particularly important influences, notably Miss Linton, the school mistress. She is still remembered with great affection and clearly took a keen and benevolent interest in her charges both in and out of school. Michael Caine describes how she taught him maths over games of poker. He took the London County Council scholarship in early 1944 and having passed, went to the Hackney Downs Grammar School in Lynn ("the Grocers").

Mrs Micklewhite got a position as cook in the Grange, one of the large houses in the village. Living there with their mother also brought them into contact with the fine things in life, a taste which Sir Michael has had the opportunity to cultivate. He recognised too the kindliness of her employers and the interest they took in him.

In January 1969 Michael Caine paid a personal visit to North Runcton, and was reunited with many of the people he had known during the wartime years. He also visited in the 1980s to make some video footage of the village, and in November 2003 unveiled a plaque commemorating his connection with the school (pictures)

Rod Humby


The article below has been written by Freda M. Wilkins-Jones, Senior Archivist, Norfolk Record Office.

It draws on information in the North Runcton Church of England Voluntary Aided School log book, 1940-1983, which is deposited in the Norfolk Record Office (reference number is C/ED 127/1). Please note that only the section over 50 years old is open to public inspection.

Michael Caine's Norfolk Schooldays

As a seven-year-old schoolboy, the actor Michael Caine (or Maurice Micklewhite, as he was then known) was evacuated during the early months of the Second World War from London to North Runcton. He was accompanied by his mother and his brother Stanley. North Runcton, three miles south of King's Lynn, had a small Church of England School which Michael and his brother attended.

North Runcton School opened as a National School in 1863, was enlarged in 1895-6 and had accommodation for 88 children. Unfortunately, following its closure in September 1983 the admission register was lost and it has not been possible to establish exactly when Michael Caine was admitted to the school. However, the Headteacher's log book covering the period April 1940 to September 1983 has survived and has been deposited in the Norfolk Record Office.

The Headteacher at the time Michael Caine attended the school was Miss J. Linton, for whom he had a good deal of respect. 'Without her, my future life would have been such a dreary place.' Miss Linton had trained at Salisbury Diocesan Training College. Her assistant (and the only other teacher) was Miss Mary Covell.

Miss Linton recorded in the log book that five London evacuees were admitted on 14 October 1940 and a further five on 28 October 1940. There are a number of similar entries at later dates but she seldom names the children involved. The largest number of children at the school was 54 and the evacuees never appear to have numbered more than 19. There seem to have been many changes amongst the evacuees. For instance, on 20 June 1941 Miss Linton notes: 'Four of the nineteen evacuees have now returned to London in spite of all our persuasions.' Michael Caine and his family remained in North Runcton for most of the war.

The Rector, the Reverend Edward Montagu Plumptre, was a School Manager and frequently took religious instruction. Other visitors to the school included the School Nurse, the School Dentist, Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools and the County Library van. There was a lot of illness at the school: measles, chicken pox, scarlet fever, ringworm, mumps. The school was closed from 30 November 1943 to 10 January 1944 because of illness (coughs, colds and whooping cough).

As might be expected, references to wartime are to be found in the log book. Miss Linton notes that the gas masks (issued to each child and member of staff) were checked every week and any defective ones were replaced. On 27 January 1941 she recorded (referring to herself, as usual, in the third person) 'The Headteacher by permission of Managers has gone to telegraph to some relatives who have been bombed and invited them to come here to her home at once.' Who these relatives were is not stated but the following poignant and remarkable entry occurs on 10 October 1942: 'Headteacher absent for one hour this afternoon to attend her sister's funeral in churchyard opposite.' On 1 November 1943 'The Police sent an Officer today, to tell the children about anti-personel bombs etc. and to warn them about picking them up.'

Two entries relating to Maurice Micklewhite (alias Michael Caine) have been found in the log book. On 3 March 1944 Miss Linton records: 'School closed today for the Special Place examination by order of the Committee. One child from the L.C.C. (an evacuee) is taking the Metropolitan Test.' A later entry, dated 28 July 1944, makes clear that this child was Michael Caine: 'We have today been notified that Maurice Micklewhite an evacuee billetted here since he was 7 years old, from London, has passed the L.C.C. [London County Council] scholarship exam which he took from this school last March.

In 1945 many of the evacuees returned to London and Michael Caine subsequently attended the Hackney Downs Grammar School. Miss Linton noted that when North Ructon School re-opened on 3 September 1945 there were only 22 children on the register, of whom three were Londoners. 'The Village has very few children.'

Sadly, Miss Linton became very ill soon after this. On 19 October 1945 she made an illegible note in the register. Another hand has written after this: 'Corrections for October. 19 October. Rev. Plumptre and Mr. Read came today owing to Miss Linton's illness. Closed school for two days.' There were various temporary teachers and the on 25 January 1946 this entry appears in the log book: 'The Rev. E.M. Plumptre visited this morning, and told the children of the death of Miss Linton, their Head-Mistress.' On the following day it is recorded: 'The children attended a Memorial Service this afternoon, by permission of the Managers, in remembrance of their late Mistress.'