EARLS COLNE HERITAGE MUSEUM
The Old Water Tower
Earls Colne Colchester CO6 2SZ
Schooldays Past and Present
An exhibition telling the story of Earls Colne Schools
(on this page)
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
Thomas Pitt ran Anglo-
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-
Earls Colne Station
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 -
It was also in 1958 that the school needed to take on extra teachers to cope with the post-
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-
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-
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-
The trap door in the Village Hall stage was an absolute god-
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 -
The new Headmaster was Mr Joe Yelton, a science graduate with a young family. But more far-
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-
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.
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-
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
Bob Bird in his school uniform
Andrew Crane wearing his school tie
FORTY YEARS ON