School history book tells tales of punishments, evacuees and barn classes

Margaret Dowland outside the Antingham and Southrepps primary school building.

Margaret Dowland outside the Antingham and Southrepps primary school building. - Credit: Richard Batson

The turrets and towers of a north Norfolk village school make it a stunning landmark – and a new book charting its 200-year history shows just how special it is.

Antingham and Southrepps Primary School was built and opened in 1826 by the local lord of the manor, Lord Suffield, Edward Harbord.

A group outside the school in the 1930s.

A group outside the school in the 1930s. - Credit: Southrepps Society

Margaret Dowland, a retired nurse who lives a stone’s throw from the school in Lower Street, wrote the book called A School Through Time after becoming fascinated with its history while she was a governor there from 2007-12.

She said she was inspired by the school's imposing, church-like, facade, but wanted to highlight the social history behind the Grade II-listed building, rather than just the “flint and stone”.

The cover of the new book, A School Through Time.

The cover of the new book, A School Through Time. - Credit: Supplied

“The more I looked, the more interesting it became, and the more I realised that this school is of historical significance and that its story should be recorded," she said.

The school is Norfolk's fifth oldest still operating in its original building, and at one time had more than 300 pupils from surrounding villages.

The early days were challenging, with poor families often needing the children to work rather than study.

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Absenteeism was dealt with by carrot and sticks.

An 1890 school photo.

An 1890 school photo. - Credit: Southrepps Society

There were medal for good attendance – and even a pocket watch for seven years unbroken schooling. But there were also draconian measures, including fines and hard labour, for parents of children who were absent too often.

Ms Dowland said she had spent 15 years, on and off, researching the history, with help from others including friend Sarah Westlake.

The book charts the evolution of the school from its philanthropic beginnings when Lord Suffield paid for the building and the headmaster’s salary, and fees were linked to estate farm workers wage.

A page from the 1900 punishment book

A page from the 1900 punishment book. - Credit: Supplied

It ends in 2014 when the school became part of the North Norfolk Academy Trust.

Its pages reflect the tough lives of the earliest pupils and parents, and there are extracts from the school's 'punishment book' for misdemeanours ranging from laziness and talking in class to setting fire to bushes on the common.

Some children’s absence excuses in poverty ridden rural families included lack of boots – needed for walking miles to school in all weathers.

Southrepps Society

Infants boys in 1914 who were displaced by billeted soldiers. - Credit: Infants boys in 1914 who were displaced by billeted soldiers.

A wartime chapter tells how pupils were taught in a barn for six weeks while soldiers were billeted there in the First World War, while in the Second World War, the school was swamped with evacuees from Dagenham which temporary doubled its number of pupils.

Ms Dowland said: “Log books and minutes recorded a newly married teacher whose husband was killed in the Great War – which was heartbreaking.

“But there are also funny entries, such as a 1946 delivery by the Ministry of Supply of light bulbs and shades to the school – which didn’t have electricity until 1951.”

A school sports day on the village rec in the 1950s.  

A school sports day on the village rec in the 1950s. - Credit: Southrepps Society

A list of children, their parents and occupations is also a snapshot of village history from 1875 to 1911.

The book reflects the national changes in education as well as providing an insight into the people involved in the village institution, including a list of senior staff and anecdotes from pupils.

Ms Dowland added: “I hope it tells people where the school came from, so they value it.“

A School Through Time is published by Poppyland Publishing. Copies can be ordered via the school at or the publisher’s website

Ahead of his time

The school's founder, Edward Harbord, was known as a radical politician, anti-slavery campaigner and prison reformer. Becoming the 3rd Baron Suffield, he thought the children of farmworkers on his estate should have an education, long before schools were a part of everyday community life.

 Edward Harbord, the 3rd Baron Suffield, who built Antingham and Southrepps Primary School. Portrait from 1831.

Edward Harbord, the 3rd Baron Suffield, who built Antingham and Southrepps Primary School. Portrait from 1831. - Credit: British Museum

He held the seat of Great Yarmouth in parliament from 1806 to 1812 and once outraged his family by declaring himself a liberal at a public meeting in Norwich in support of an inquiry into the Peterloo massacre.

He later represented Shaftesbury in parliament, and advocated for the abolition of the slave trade in the House of Lords. He died aged 53 after falling off his horse on Constitution Hill in London, and was buried at Gunton.