North Runcton

The School in 1863-5.

With the kind permission of Mr John van Dyke, I have been looking through the school log book from 1863, and deciphering the handwriting of the master of the boys' school, William Orton. The entries are by and large mundane, but gradually a picture emerges of the Victorian village school.

For a full transcript of March 1863 to March 1865, with notes and additional cross references, click here

For an extract from 1895, click here

For a photo of the school building, click here

Mr Orton refers to himself in the third person throughout, so the entry for April 16th 1863 reads "Master gave first oral lesson on Eng: Hist: to the 2nd Class; subject, the Roman Period. Children seemed very much interested". His main preoccupation in the log is with the fluctuating classes and the average weekly attendances. You have to feel that he was battling valiantly against the odds. If the weather was wet, children from further away did not come to school. Employment in the fields kept children from school too ­ in the spring there was "seed time", potato planting and crow scaring. As the summer progressed there was the harvest, and the school "Harvest Holiday" would be brought forward if the weather had been favourable. If the harvest was extended, it would affect numbers after the holiday, and there was the gleaning, the potato harvest and fruit. On a couple of days in the summer he says it was so hot that the children were drowsy and work was difficult.

Added to this, there was the Tuesday Market in Lynn, stock fairs and The Mart, all of which took their toll. To celebrate Valentine's Day there was parading in the village, so numbers were thin that day. By contrast, on May 1st there was "not one absentee. Master finds from the experience of past years that the custom of School Children parading the village with garlands is wearing out."

Being "absent without leave", however, was another matter altogether. Truants were cautioned or detained in the "noon hour" or after class, and latecomers got the same treatment. The children were clearly expected to attend if they could, and they came from as far as Wormegay (four miles), Tottenhill and East Winch (only slightly nearer), as well as Middleton, West Winch and North Runcton itself. There are occasional mentions of the actual numbers attending in 1864. On one day in February, with very bad weather, only 5 were in school. Elsewhere, total attendance of 14 was described as "low", while 24 was "fair". On a day in June 1865, when pupils were presented for examination, numbers were "very good" at 45, although the general weekly average around this time was stated as 34.

Topical events are sometimes mentioned in connection with the subjects of geography lessons, such as the conflict between Denmark and Germany (February 1864) and the disastrous Sheffield flood in March of the same year.

The varying numbers made it difficult to plan progress in the subjects taught, but also you sense that Mr Orton found small classes much less enjoyable. When they were thin, the classes were "tame", but with better numbers they had "zest". The reports of Her Majesty's Inspector demonstrate that he was working in difficult conditions. In 1863 the Inspector wrote: "The room is very rough and unsuitable. There are no proper offices or playground. The children are very fairly instructed". The 1864 report was even less glowing: "The schoolroom is inferior to any that I visit in the County of Norfolk or Suffolk. The walls are rough and unsuitable for maps being hung upon them. There is no ceiling nor any roof except a covering of tiles. The floor is good. The Offices are more than one hundred yards distant from the Schoolroom. Furniture is very moderate. Apparatus is fair. The Schoolmaster is capable. The Order good. The spelling of the elder boys and the Arithmetic of the younger ones require attention."

On September 21st 1863, the log reads: "No increase in number. Several after potatoes &c. In the afternoon Sir Thos and Lady Troubridge called, and expressed themselves pleased with the singing." They were presumably visiting Daniel Gurney, Lady (Louisa) Troubridge's father. Just over 4 years later Sir Thomas and his wife were dead, and their orphaned children came to live at Runcton Hall, where they were tutored by William Orton.

In "Life Amongst the Troubridges" Laura Troubridge writes: "... three times a week, came the village schoolmaster, Mr. William Orton ... his department being arithmetic and geography. He was a kind but weary looking man, with a flowing Abraham-like beard, a long upper lip and a bald head. He had an odd pompous manner, but we liked him and marvelled at his complete knowledge of arithmetic in all its hateful roots and branches."

William Orton retired from the post of Schoolmaster in 1884, on account of ill health, having been Master of the school since July 1840. The Inspector's report for 1884 mentions that: "The Condition of the School reflects great credit upon Mr Orton, and I only wonder that with his enfeebled health, he has been able to maintain it in so high a state of efficiency."

© 2002 Copyright Rod Humby