The Old Water Tower  

Earls Colne  Colchester  CO6 2SZ

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Schooldays Past and Present

2016 Exhibition

An exhibition telling the story of Earls Colne Schools

 Grammar School

(on this page)

Private Schools

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Primary School

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Earls Colne Grammar School

In 1520 the Revd Christopher Swallow, Vicar of Messing, set up a trust fund to employ a Grammar School master in Earls Colne. The fund provided a basic salary for the master but no buildings.

For the first 370 years of the school’s history, successive masters had to provide their own accommodation.

When the Revd Ralph Josselin was appointed schoolmaster in 1650, in addition to his duties as parish priest, he explains in his Diary how he managed to combine both jobs:

June 10th. Began to teach the school. 8 children came, but none of their parents. I find I go through the matter of the school without any extraordinary burden. The times of school I make my times of study.

He converted an upstairs room in his Vicarage to a schoolroom and both his sons became pupils. Thomas, the elder, was so anxious to get away from lessons on one occasion that he fell down the stairs.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a cottage in Lower Holt Street served as the schoolroom. It was not until 1893 that Reuben Hunt, himself a former pupil, paid for the first permanent classrooms in York Road

This painting shows the architect’s design for the Headmaster’s house and the Boarding house, added four years later to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

Arthur John Appleton became the first headmaster in the new premises. Fees were £1.10s per term, with extra charges for carpentry and games.

Although the school’s catchment area covered most of north Essex, a set number of places were reserved for boys from the village. Ted Scillitoe, recorded at the age of 82, explained how he became a pupil in 1913.

They had this examination for the Grammar School and I went in for it. They had to admit 3 or 4 boys every year to the Grammar School. (Cut to)

The first examination was held at the Council School in Halstead and 24 boys went in for it and there was only one passed out of the lot. So they had to fill the places, so Mr Appleton who was headmaster at the Grammar School, he held a Saturday morning examination and I got in with two others from Colne

 The following sequence of photographs takes us on a tour of the classrooms, as they were arranged before 1938.

The school Gymnasium

The members of staff photographed in 1956 will include teachers familiar to pupils over a span of some 40 years

  J. Gordon Sykes, the Headmaster, was appointed in 1934. His Deputy, George Pointer was there from 1935 to 1968. George Wainwright remained until the school closed in 1975 and was Acting Headmaster during that final year.

J Gordon Sykes

George Pointer

George Wainwright

 Thomas Pitt ran Anglo-French Summer Schools where English and French students learnt each others’ languages and mixed socially... Harold Sims became Chairman of the Parish Council and served as a Governor of the school.

Thoma Pitt

Harold Sims

Brian Firmin became a pupil at the school in 1942 and found the school timetable arranged by Mr Sykes disregarded the problems of wartime travel. The Halstead bus left Earls Colne at twenty to four, but lessons did not end until a quarter to four.

This was done with great malice of forethought so that you stayed behind for after-school activities, because you couldn’t catch another bus until 20 to 5, which was absolutely packed to the gunnels because it was full of the Colchester Royal Grammar School boys and the Colchester High School girls. So sometimes we used to cheat a ride on a train.

Earls Colne Station

Brian Firmin

Some boys were coming from as far away as Steeple Bumpstead.  They cycled to Birdbrook station, caught the train at something like 7.30 in the morning, then walked up from Earls Colne station.

I helped supervise the boarders at weekends and some evenings, and taught English, History, Art, P.E. and games with the younger boys. That meant taking them for football and they knew more about the rules than I did! Art was hopeless for me. Again, many of the lads were quite good and those who were not were allowed to help in the garden. We were all expected to grow as much food as we could during the War and Reg Cowlin, the gardener was always glad of extra hands.

To fill wartime vacancies, the school employed two female members of staff, one being Connie Pennick who had returned to Earls Colne while her husband was away in the forces

As Connie Pennick mentioned, the school had a Boarding House providing some 30 places for pupils unable to travel in daily. Mike Dixon, who became Secretary of the Old Colonians Association, wrote an article for the school magazine in 1958, recalling his experience as a junior Boarder from the lofty heights of the Fifth Form.

As any boarder will tell you, five years in the Boarding House is not only an experience, but an achievement one should be proud of. Every boarder returns to school after the holidays thinking, “Well, never mind, only twelve more weeks and we’ll burn the place down!” One custom, however, has been entirely abandoned officially - that of making juniors clean shoes.

It was also in 1958 that the school needed to take on extra teachers to cope with the post-war “baby-boom”, which produced double the number of new pupils in the First Form. Brian Firmin returned to the school as one of those new members of staff.

     Frank Hood    Brian Firmin

 He was made so welcome. As people know,he was always called “Jammy” while he was at school. And the first thing he was greeted with as he walked into the staffroom was Frank Hood saying, “Hello, Jammy!” and that broke the ice.

As the playing field in York Road was too small for a full-size football pitch, the school started an annual competition of Six-a-Side matches, competing against other schools in the area for the Potts Cup

The school’s main sports facilities were “detached” from the York Road buildings. “Top Field”, as it was known, required a long hike up Curds Road before taking part in football, cricket or athletics.

Drama productions were popular after-school activities. George Bernard Shaw’s play, “The Man of Destiny” was the first to be staged in the Village Hall in 1956.

By the time Brian Firmin returned as a member of staff, the school Drama Club had become recognised as an official Youth Centre activity and girls from the village were able to take part in productions, as this scene from “The Importance of Being Earnest” in 1963 shows.

Plays during this period were directed by Dr Ernst Wangermann, whose perfectly grammatical English still showed a trace of his Austrian origins. Brian Firmin played the lead in his production of “Hobson’s Choice” with Sean Robinson as the boot-maker, Willie Mossop, who works in the cellar beneath Hobson’s shop. Brian describes one performance which nearly came to a standsttill.

The trap door in the Village Hall stage was an absolute god-send for that production. “Come up, Will Mossop!” I called him up, took off my belt ready to belt him and we got the conversation going so we got in a “loop”. He gave me the cue, I followed the cue and the cue kept coming back. And Ernie, who was stomping about with his torch and his script at the back of the hall, was doing his nut! Eventually, after three goes of getting out of the loop, he yelled the prompt from the back of the hall and we got back on course. Ooh, I got a right wigging at the end. “All your experience, you should not have got into a muddle like that. You nearly ruined the scene!” Oh, dear, dear dear!

Hobson’s Choice

James Gordon Sykes retired in 1963 after 29 years as Headmaster of the school. Among the many tributes paid to him was this one, by Douglas Merson, in the school magazine.

All those who knew him will have their own memories of his many interests - in music, in cricket, in gardening and in the church, where he served as assistant organist. He was a perfect example of what Christopher Swallow wanted his schoolmaster of Earls Colne to be: “an honest, learned and godly man”.

The new Headmaster was Mr Joe Yelton, a science graduate with a young family. But more far-reaching changes were starting to become apparent as the County Council began to consider a wide-ranging scheme for comprehensive education.

The future of the smaller Grammar Schools like Earls Colne hung in the balance. Joe Yelton left to become Head of the Stanway Comprehensive School and his place was taken by Mr Peter Scott, who was fully aware that his appointment would not be a long one, as Brian Firmin explains.

It was made quite clear by the powers-that-be that none of the Heads that were in situ at the time would become Head of the new Comprehensive school at Halstead and Peter was offered the job at Dunmow and advised to take it. So he went the year before the school closed, otherwise I don’t think he would have done. Which meant that George was Head for the last year of the school, which he deserved really. He worked very hard during a very difficult time.

 And so, at the end of the summer term in 1975, staff, pupils, parents and Governors gathered for the last time.

The Daily Mail sent a reporter to record the closing ceremony in, what he called, “the hamlet up the lanes of East Essex”.

There was no sadness. It just happened. 163 boys and 14 masters walked out and the ghosts took over. Nobody had a bad word about comprehensives. What they couldn’t understand was why there wasn’t room for Earls Colne as well. A bell tolled in the church beyond the cricket pitch. The boys went, the masters went, the parents went and the rain came down a lot heavier.

BUT that was not quite the end of the story. When the buildings of the Earls Colne and Halstead Grammar Schools were sold in the 1970s, the proceeds were placed in a Trust. Each year, the Trustees make grants to young people who wish to extend their studies.

Nikki Bristol was able to study music in France. Josie York added to her medical training with a student placement at a hospital in South Africa. And in 2001, Michael Carter spent 8 months teaching English on a remote South Sea island.

Old Colonians

Memories of the Grammar School have also been preserved by the Association for its former pupils, “The Old Colonians”, which organised regular events to re-unite its members.

In 2015, forty years on from the closure of the school, the Old Colonians held their final reunion with a church service and a lunch at the Colne Valley Golf Club. Here are just a few reminders of that day.

Photographs by John Watt

Rev’d Captain Peter Allen, Vicar of Earls Colne, led the church service.

Brian Firmin, president of the Old Colonians Association, visiting Earls Colne Heritage Museum

The Reception


Bob Bird in his school uniform

Andrew Crane wearing his school tie


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