Did anyone in your family go to this Victorian school in Suffolk?

PUBLISHED: 13:47 18 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:26 18 June 2020

Ray Whitehand's book about Wickham Market National School reveals the village's strong educational past. Image: Ray Whitehand

Ray Whitehand's book about Wickham Market National School reveals the village's strong educational past. Image: Ray Whitehand

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Columnist Lynne Mortimer tells of a new book about Wickham Market National School between 1841 and 1934 and recalls her own school days in Ipswich

Ray Whitehand's book about Wickham Market National School reveals the village's strong educational past. Image: Ray WhitehandRay Whitehand's book about Wickham Market National School reveals the village's strong educational past. Image: Ray Whitehand

Ray Whitehand, who lives near Felixstowe, sent me a copy of his slim, 38-page volume, titled A Victorian Place of Learning; the story of Wickham Market National School 1841-1934.

Ray declares a special interest as his mum went to cookery classes there and his dad, a stockman, worked at the site in the 50s and 60s rearing a herd of beef cattle. Young Ray would occasionally lend a hand.

He traces the history of schooling in Wickham Market back to the 17th century (the residents were an educated lot, by all accounts) and brings us the life and times of the National School, with information gleaned from a number of contemporary sources and history writings as well as some great first-hand stories from a former pupil. Some of it wasn’t so far from my own school memories – albeit that I didn’t start school until 1960. The ink wells on the desks, for example.

In 1966, when I started at Northgate Grammar School, in Ipswich, we had to write with nibs dipped into ink. Anyone who produced splodges had to go to weekly handwriting lessons with the art mistress.

And, at my primary school, the lavs, supplied with highly water-resistant toilet paper, were housed in an unheated outdoor block. I think they contributed to my lifelong unwillingness to use public conveniences.

Inez Benham, who was interviewed for the book but has since died, I’m sad to report, had her first day at Wickham Market National School on September 7, 1925. She was the niece of class teacher Nora Johnson, who started on the same day.

“Inez recalled the special subjects centre being built behind the main buildings… (she was) taught invalid cookery which included adding a little posy of flowers on to the patient’s tea tray.”

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Other skills Inez acquired were learning to make a bed with the patient still in it. Although this particular area of expertise passed me by, my own early schooldays were not so very different.

Ray’s book draws us a picture of education in a small market town over the centuries. It colours in part of the background of our education history and if, like me, you were at school in the mid 20th century it will doubtless evoke quite a few memories.

You can get a copy of Ray Whitehand’s book for £9.95 inc p&p by emailing historicalsuffolk@virginmedia.com or by writing to 112 St Mary’s Close, Trimley St Mary, Felixstowe IP11 0TY.

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