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The Old School and Boundary Wall, Stiffkey

Description: The Old School and Boundary Wall

Grade: II
Date Listed: 19 January 2015
Building ID: 1423711

OS Grid Reference: TF9746943035
OS Grid Coordinates: 597469, 343035
Latitude/Longitude: 52.9483, 0.9378

Locality: Stiffkey
Local Authority: North Norfolk
County: Norfolk
Postcode: NR23 1QJ

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Listing Text


School building and boundary wall, dated 1844, extended to the north c1880, with a replacement porch dated 1913.

Reason for Listing

The Old School in Stiffkey is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: as an assured work constructed with local building materials, and articulated with decorative red brick diaper work; * Intactness: as an intact example of a mid-C19 school building, extended in the late C19 and early C20; * Interior detail: for the interior survival of the original plan form, ornate roof trusses, doors and surrounds; * Group value: for its group value with listed structures including the church of St John the Baptist to the south, Stiffkey Old Hall and its registered park and gardens to the south-west, and a former rectory to the north-west.


The architecture of rural schools in Norfolk is a physical representation of the history of education for poor and working class children from the early to mid-C19 up to the Butler Education Act of 1944. Nationally, until the late C17 education was provided predominantly by grammar and endowed schools, but was generally restricted to those who could pay. In 1698 the newly founded Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) established charity schools, primarily to educate urban working class children, but until the early C19 the education of rural children depended on local initiatives, generally informal classes held in a variety of existing spaces, and often referred to as 'Dame Schools'. The provision of more organised and formal education for working class children appeared with the founding of the Church of England's National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor (National Schools) in 1811, followed in 1814 by the Non-Conformist's British and Foreign Schools Society (British Schools); the former were dominant in the countryside, while the latter were mainly urban based. These two organisations were the main providers of voluntary schools, although other bodies also set up schools, and particularly in rural areas these could be established by landowners and estates, sometimes in conjunction with the National Society. In 1833 the first government grants became available for those voluntary societies willing to submit to inspection, with an increase in the budget in 1843 to cover the cost of teacher's houses (particularly essential in remote areas of rural Norfolk) leading to an increase in the number of schools in the county built in the 1840s and 1850s. From the mid-C19 the religious societies were the main providers of education for the poor, but schooling was not universally available and the presence of schools in communities was patchy. The Education Act of 1870 recognised the need to widen access to education in response to social and political change, reflected particularly in the extension of the franchise by the Representation of the Peoples Act of 1867. The Education Act allowed for the setting up of secular school boards, empowered to establish local schools where there was a need; however, attendance was not made compulsory (for children aged between five and ten) until the Elementary Education Act of 1880. The next major change in educational provision did not come about until 1902, when the Balfour Act transferred responsibility to newly established Local Education Authorities.Historical changes in educational provision and funding, as well as the evolution of ideas about education, tend to be reflected in architectural styles, and in the plan and function of school buildings. The earliest rural schools are often very plain, single storey one room structures; porches are generally present, at least one, and sometimes two, where money and space allow for separate entrances for boys and girls, and these remained a consistent and sometimes prominent feature. Within the classroom, benches were arranged longitudinally on one side of the room, grouped to allow for the teaching of smaller numbers of children by monitors, a system known as the Madras method. A development of this plan was the addition of a smaller infants' classroom at one end, which may have had raked seating; evidence of this is rarely found, and no original benches survive. A variant on this plan is where the second classroom forms a cross-wing, while a tripartite plan might be formed with an integrated teachers' house as a cross-wing at the other end of a central classroom, forming an H or U plan. From the 1840s teachers' houses might include a parlour, kitchen, scullery and three first floor bedrooms. After the 1870 Act, progressive layouts are scarce in rural Norfolk, including the widely adopted plan, devised by the London Board architect, E R Robson, of classrooms off a central hall. The tripartite plan remained in use, added to and modified as necessary; more complex plans are found particularly in the market towns.Architecturally, the favoured style of early schools was the Classical, but by the 1830s and '40s Gothic had become dominant, combined with elements of Tudor architecture. Schools funded by local landowners or estates could be a particularly elaborate in their design as an expression of philanthropic wealth. After 1860, a style merging elements of the Tudor and Jacobean styles, the Jacobethan, emerges, and although the establishment of school boards after 1870 saw the introduction nationally of a more secular Queen Anne style, this was slow to be adopted in Norfolk, and Gothic or Jacobethan remained in favour, as well as the earlier legacy of building styles. After the creation of Local Education Authorities in 1902 the Queen Anne style was introduced, often fused with elements drawn from the Arts and Crafts movement, with the latter occasionally featuring as the predominant style. During this period a growing interest in health and hygiene, with a concern to introduce light and fresh air, is physically represented by classrooms lit by large windows on two sides and by the introduction of hopper opening windows, allowing cross ventilation with reduced draughts; marching corridors also provided opportunities for exercise. The Derbyshire County Architect George Widdows was a pioneer in the development of school plans capturing the new thinking, and although these are more usually seen, nationally, in larger urban schools, there are examples to be found in rural Norfolk. Stiffkey School was built in 1844 as a National School at a cost of £200, and was attended by about eighty children. A photograph of the school in 1876 shows a three-bay single-storey school building, with a projecting central porch to the front elevation. A plan dated 1880 by building surveyor John Plowman, shows a classroom measuring 30 x 20ft, with a central projecting porch to the west elevation, and a central projection to the east elevation, containing an infants’ classroom, and girls’ and boys’ toilets accessed from the exterior. Soon after 1880 the school was expanded northwards to provide a second classroom measuring 21 x 20ft, and the windows of the 1844 classroom were enlarged at this time. The second classroom is shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1887, and its layout is illustrated in a 1903 return for the Norfolk Education Committee. A single-storey lean-to structure was added to the west elevation of the second classroom c1900, and is shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1906. The porch was replaced in 1913 to provide a larger cloakroom, and two rows of coat pegs remain on the north wall of the porch. The school was closed in 1965, and was sold as a private dwelling in 1967. Two dormer windows were added to the east slope of the roof of the 1844 and 1880s classrooms and internally, an elevated timber platform was added to the south end of the 1844 classroom, and a mezzanine level was inserted at the classroom's north end with bedrooms beneath c1970. A lean-to garage was added to the north elevation in 1981.The school stands in a prominent location on Church Street, on a primary road from Wells-Next-the-Sea to Blakeney, and is surrounded by a flint boundary wall. It is located directly north of St John the Baptist Church, a Grade I listed Church of England church containing a late-C13 or early-C14 chancel, and an early-C15 porch. The former school stands in close proximity to a former rectory to the north west, and to Stiffkey Old Hall to the south west (both listed at Grade II*).


School building and boundary wall, dated 1844, extended to the north c1880, with a replacement porch dated 1913. MATERIALS: walls built with local flint, having red brick diaper work, and red brick dressings. The roofs have clay plain-tile coverings, with replacement ridge tiles. PLAN: the original 1844 school building was a three-bay single-storey structure, and comprised a rectangular-plan classroom measuring approximately 9m x 6m, a central rectangular-plan porch to the front elevation measuring 1.5m x 1.2m and a rectangular-plan projection to the rear elevation containing an infants’ classroom measuring approximately 3m x 2m, and a girls’ and boys’ toilet accessed from the exterior. A second rectangular-plan classroom was added to the north c1880, measuring approximately 6m x 6m. A single-storey lean-to structure was added to the west elevation of the 1880s classroom c1900. The 1844 porch was replaced by a larger porch in 1913 and a lean-to garage was added to the north elevation, in 1981. EXTERIOR: the former school is a single-storey four-bay structure facing west to Church Street. The pitched roof features a red brick chimney stack at the junction of the 1844 and 1880s classrooms, incorporating a former vent. Each gable end has stepped coping, with finials to the apices. The 1913 porch has a pitched roof gabled to the west; the single-storey projection to the rear has a hipped roof, and the single-storey extensions to the west and north of the 1880s classroom each have a cat-slide roof. Each elevation is composed of local flint, with red brick quoins and surrounds, a moulded red brick string course over a red brick diamond-patterned plinth infilled with flint, and a chamfered red brick plinth course. The north and south gables feature decorative diaper brickwork. The south gable bears a scrolled date plaque, with ‘ANNO DOMINI 1844’ carved in relief. The west gable of the porch bears a date plaque of ‘1913’. The primary entrance, by way of the 1913 porch, is through a double-leaf raised and fielded timber panelled door with wrought-iron strap hinges. The east elevation of the rear projection has a narrow timber battened door set within a pointed-arch door surround, and was formerly the entrance to the boys’ toilet, now the kitchen. A former door opening in the south-east corner of the 1880s classroom has since been blocked up. The front and rear elevations each have three, nine-light timber-framed windows, the top panes of which are bottom hung casement windows. The south gable has a 12-light timber-framed window, with casements to the top row. The rear projection has a chamfered window surround to each of its north and south elevations, containing a replacement timber window. The door opening to the former girls’ toilet on the east elevation of the rear projection has been infilled with a timber window. INTERIOR: the 1844 classroom contains its original hammer-beam roof, with camber-arched braces terminating in carved pendants. Original oak floorboards survive at the original floor level. The west wall contains a double-leaf half-glazed door to the 1913 porch, and to the left of the door is a chimney breast with a plain timber lintel (added in 1913). The porch contains two sets of four hangers on the north wall, which may have been installed in 1913. To the east wall of the 1844 classroom is a pointed arch door surround leading to a kitchen, which formerly contained an infants’ room, and a girls’ and boys’ toilet. The north wall of the 1844 classroom retains the original door opening between the 1844 and 1880s classrooms, and has since been divided in two by the addition of a bedroom to the north east corner of the 1844 classroom under the mezzanine installed c1970. The 1880s classroom has been subdivided to create a corridor and two offices. The single-storey lean-to structure off the 1880s classroom contains a pointed-arch red brick door surround, with a decorative hood moulding to the exterior wall. SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the original boundary wall survives, although the north-west corner may have been rebuilt c2010, when terracotta coping was added to the south and west walls. The south-west corner contains a replacement metal gate. The lean-to garage attached to the north elevation is architecturally modest, and is excluded from the listing, as indicated on the map.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Harwood, E, England’s Schools: History, Architecture and Adaptation , (2010)
Stiffkey Local History Group, , Stiffkey with Cockthorpe – a story of Norfolk people, (2013), 95-97
Wade-Martins, S, Longcroft, A , Building an Education: An Historical and Architectural Study of Rural Schools and Schooling in Norfolk c.1800-1944. Journal of the Norfolk Historic Buildings Group Vol. 5 , (2013), 146, 147, 184, 186, 198

National Grid Reference: TF9746943035

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.