AGES AHA Brings Victorian Schooling to the Community

Hadleigh National School - A Talk by Chris Worpole

An illustration by David Hurrell - from TALES OUT OF SCHOOL

A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund allowed AGES AHA, the community archaeology group based in Hadleigh, to bring a free talk to the Hadleigh United Reformed Church hall on 24th February 2015.  Members of the local community were invited to join regular members of AGES AHA to roll back the years and experience education Victorian style!  To see details of future subjects for our club nights, and details on how to join us at AGES AHA please visit our website:

The talk was part of a project, “AGES AHA Bringing Archaeology to the Community” and a spin off from the finding of a slate pencil by students as part of the Access Cambridge Archaeology Higher Education Field Academy digging test pits in gardens in Daws Heath over 2013 and 2104.

The Slate Pencil

If the slate pencil was used by a Victorian child to practise their letters, what kind of school would they have attended? Well, Chris Worpole had spent some time recently researching for her book on the Hadleigh National School, its teachers and pupils and who better to let the community know the background to the characters actually involved?

Nick Turner, one of the Archive’s editors, was among many local people attending the talk and to give you a flavour, these are some of his notes.   Chris had carefully researched and written the 2014 book “Tales out of School” {1} about Hadleigh’s National School from 1855 to 1924.  This illustrated talk was a vibrant commentary on features of the school as it functioned within, and helped develop, Hadleigh’s society of the time.
A sprinkling of facts provided a starting framework for the talk and discussion following;

  • In 1855, over half the men in the village were farm labourers;
  • there was still a workhouse in Workhouse Lane (later Chapel Lane;)
  • in bad weather some children lacked adequate clothing and could not attend school.

In other words, there was real poverty in the village which explained the desperate need for some families to take their children from school to send them stone-picking and gleaning.

Chris drew a clear portrait of the key people with roles in the creation and development of the school.  A hard-working rector who lived in the parish made an immense difference to the quality of life for all in Hadleigh. He engaged a soon to become famous architect for the school building and church refurbishment. Capable teachers taught lessons with practical relevance for the local children and the all-important harvest was supported with school closure. Rewards and punishments (“consequences” in modern schools) were also applied.

Some modern management techniques have their origins in the methods developed in Victorian Schools.   Train-the-Trainer started with the older and brighter children attending school earlier, to learn the lesson for the day which they then helped to pass on to the others.
School inspection was performed by Her Majesty’s Inspectors with part of the school income depending on the outcome; now called payment by results. School attendance was followed up and penalties for non-attendance were financial fines on the parents, just like today.

Chris detailed the research methods she deployed to discover an impressively comprehensive life history for one of the teachers who had worked at the school; leaving at the age of 24.   The research techniques, creativity and attention to detail provided inspiration for the AGES AHA and Hadleigh & Thundersley Community Archive members who research  in their various disciplines.

This enthusiastically delivered talk was warmly received and helped us to better appreciate our community, linking the archaeology of the built environment with the people and their memories.

Reference   {1} “Tales out of School”    2014  258 pages,  pub: H&TCA
Written: Chris Worpole;   Illustrated by David Hurrell;     HLF Funded

More about early schooling in Hadleigh and Chris Worpole’s book.


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