Our Oldest School

by Diane Ketcher

Originally printed issue 74  December 1998


Norton, St Nicholas JMI School recently celebrated its 125th anniversary. Opened in 1873 as Norton School, it catered for children up to the age of 14. The entry for the first day, June 16th states: "Miss Luff commenced duties as mistress of this school. Rev. G. Pierson read prayers. Found the children very ignorant, this being the first time the greater number of them have been to school." There has been a school in Norton since 1832, but the first school did not have its own building. It was held in the back room of The Three Horse Shoes public house, with Miss Elizabeth Chamberlain as mistress.

I've often wondered why Norton has no village green. It is because the school was built on it! The village stocks and whipping post had to make way for the head mistress's cane!

The school's 125th anniversary was celebrated, firstly at an extra special Summer Revels on Saturday June 13th. The May Queen was crowned by Mrs Hazel Bowry who was herself the first Norton School May Queen in 1926. The May King was crowned by *Mr Brian Chamberlain*, a relative of the first school mistress in The Three Horse Shoes pub. Two very appropriate people. Unfortunately it rained all day so the event was held indoors. Undaunted, everyone gave of their best with entertainment from every class in the school. The following week a special assembly was led by the Bishop of Hertford in the new school hall.

The school has had many extensions since it was first built. 4 classrooms in 1960, 2 more in 1973, the Nursery in 1983 and in 1996, a new school hall. The old school house is still in use, mostly as storage areas, and the old teaching area, known to present occupants as the Old School Hall, is now the TV and music area and the dining room.

Yet more building. Preparations for a new classroom are taking place this summer, but before building can begin, archaeologists are busy collecting evidence of Norton's past. The team from the Heritage Network have so far found evidence of an early medieval site, mostly in the form of ditches, post-holes and domestic rubbish such as broken pottery and slaughtered animal bones. We will have to wait until they have completed their dig and collated all the evidence before further information will be available.

**Brian Chamberlain will be talking to the Society on November 20th about the history of his family and The Three Horse Shoes.