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Weasenham Church of England Primary School

A Grade II Listed Building in Weasenham All Saints, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.7602 / 52°45'36"N

Longitude: 0.7442 / 0°44'39"E

OS Eastings: 585268

OS Northings: 321598

OS Grid: TF852215

Mapcode National: GBR R7Z.WH4

Mapcode Global: WHKQB.DWMB

Entry Name: Weasenham Church of England Primary School

Listing Date: 23 February 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1423683

Location: Weasenham All Saints, Breckland, Norfolk, PE32

County: Norfolk

District: Breckland

Civil Parish: Weasenham All Saints

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Weasenham St Peter

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

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School with attached teacher's house, built in 1859.


School with attached teacher's house; built in 1859 and designed by Daniel Penning of Eye.

MATERIALS: red brick with gault brick dressings to window and door surrounds, and to quoins and plinth; the roofs are slate.

PLAN: the 1859 school is an H plan, with a rectangular central classroom between cross-wings.

EXTERIOR: the school is built in a Tudor style. Its west, main elevation, consists of a single storey three-bay range with steeply pitched slate roof flanked by the full-height coped gable ends of the teacher's house and north classroom; the latter contains a tall window with four-centred arch and hood-mould over, the window with three lancets divided by two transoms; this appears to be a modern replica of the original. Between these tall gables is a prominent row of three polygonal section chimneys and two smaller gables: at the south end of the central range, and immediately north of the teacher’s house, is the coped gable of a two storey porch, mirrored by that of a single storey porch to the north, both with kneelers and entrances with four-centred arches. To the centre of the central range is an external stack, defined by gault brick quoins, stepped in at eaves level, and again below the base of the chimney, the front of which contains a carved stone quatrefoil decorative motif, seen in all three chimneys in this elevation. The stack is flanked by modern windows designed to replicate in timber the form of the mullioned windows shown on the architect's drawings: the window to the south of the stack has five lights with horizontal transom, that to the north has two lights crossed by a transom. The windows throughout the building are similar. All windows and most doors to the 1859 school building also have gault brick surrounds with chamfered reveals, the ground floor windows with hood-moulds with stops.

The double-height porch at the south end of the central range gives access to the lobby between the teacher's house and the central classroom. Above the door is a stone plaque with carved quatrefoil and shield with the date AD 1859. To the south the gable end of the teacher's house projects forwards from the porch. The house is of two storeys; the ground floor of the gable end has a canted bay with slate roof, above which is a two-light window with hood-mould over. Behind the foremost chimney between the roofs of the porch and house are two further chimneys, and there is a row of three more across the roof ridge, above the east gable of the house. The south elevation is symmetrical and contains a centrally placed front door below a four-centred arch, flanked by two-light windows with hood-mould over. Above a storey band are two smaller but similar windows. There is a dentilled cornice below the eaves of the teacher’s house, the central range and its flanking wings. At the south-east corner of the playground is a small rectangular building with pitched slate roof which appears to have housed the two girls’ privies and the coal house. One door to the north gable survives, the second infilled with brick. The most prominent features of the east elevation are the gable ends of the north and south cross wings (partially obscured by later additions) and a gable above the entrance to the south lobby between the teacher’s house and central range, similar to, but plainer than, that to the west elevation.

The C20 additions are single storey and built in the same style as the C19 school. Neither these, nor the playground and its wall, are included in the listing.

INTERIOR: the two original classrooms, for boys and girls respectively, are divided by a timber partition with glazing above, apparently designed to allow one half to slide open across the other. The partition has stop-chamfered recessed panels of diagonal matchboarding; towards the west end of the partition is a similarly panelled door with brass latch. In the north classroom a low ceiling has been inserted, cutting across the gable end window; the roof structure above is likely to survive. In both classrooms chimney breasts survive, but no fireplaces. There is a modern sliding screen in the central classroom, to the south of which is a plank-and-batten door to the playground.

Access to the lobby is at the south end of the classroom, and there is access from the lobby into the teacher’s house (this is not shown on the original plan), the parlour of which is now an office. A plank-and-batten door at the east end of the lobby opens onto the playground; the main entrance to the west contains a more substantial plank-and-batten door with latch. In the teacher’s house the plan survives, consisting of two rooms each to ground and first floors, one to either side of a central stair. The first floor has an additional long space above the ground floor lobby, and the ground floor, which contained a kitchen as well as the parlour, had a single storey wash house (now a small kitchen) to the east. Surviving detail includes chimney breasts (but no fireplaces), the plank-and-batten to the wash house and some plain four-panelled doors.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: in the playground, the outbuilding that housed the girls’ ‘offices’ (toilets) and coal house survives, although entrances have been altered: of the two privies, one entrance remains, the other bricked up.


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, which was preceded, in 1808, 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, and between 1870 and 1902 160 new schools were built in Norfolk (including church schools); 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. New Building Regulations issued by the Board of Education revealed some schools to be sub-standard; new schools were built, but there were also some closures in Norfolk. In the inter-war years the building of elementary schools slowed, and further closures followed. Under the Education Act of 1944 the newly established Ministry of Education required all LEAs to submit development plans with provision for secondary education, and also laid down a minimum standard of accommodation for primary schools. A programme of new school building was proposed to replace inadequate schools, and although ambitions for the building of new schools and the closure of those that were deemed sub-standard or too small were not realised, by 1990 190 schools in Norfolk had been closed.

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. In the countryside the tripartite plan remained in use, added to and modified as necessary.

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. The new Building Regulations reflected a growing interest in health and hygiene, with a particular concern for light and fresh air. This is physically represented by classrooms lit by large windows on two sides and by hopper opening windows in lower panes, allowing cross ventilation with reduced draughts. A programme of enlarging windows in existing schools was also introduced, sometimes by inserting dormers to rise above eaves level. In new schools, 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. In the inter-war years school building slowed, and the design of new schools adopted a functional Queen Anne style.

Weasenham Church of England Primary School, almost equidistant between the parishes of Weasenham All Saints and Weasenham St Peter, but closest to the Church of All Saints, was built in 1859 to serve both. Part of the Holkham Estate, the land was donated by the Earl of Leicester, who by 1870 had contributed to the provision of a school in every parish on his estate. The school was designed by the architect Daniel Penning of Eye, who also was responsible for the design of Rudham School (also 1859) and in 1863, for the restoration of Great Massingham Church, Norfolk.

The original plan of Weasenham explicitly separates boys and girls, both in the playground and in class, and although no permanent partition is drawn between the classrooms, each space had its own fireplace. The main entrance for the boys appears to be through the front (west) porch, while that for the girls was presumably through the door beside the teacher's house. There was also separate access to the playgrounds, which each have a pair of privies. No direct access is shown from the teacher's house into the school, the main entrance to which is through the front door, facing away from the school. The teacher was provided with a parlour, kitchen and wash house, a yard with privy and coal house, and three first floor bedrooms, each with its own fireplace.

The Ordnance Survey (OS) maps of 1885 and 1905 show the plan largely as it appears in the original drawing, but with a rectangular structure to the east of the playground wall. This no longer exists, except for its east wall, which now forms the playground boundary. By 1977 an additional classroom had been built to the north, and subsequently extensions have been added to the east of the main range, to the north and south of the playground. A bellcote on the ridge of the roof (shown on Penning's drawing) has been removed.

Reasons for Listing

Weasenham Church of England Primary School, built in 1859, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: the school, with its attached teacher's house, was designed by the local architect Daniel Penning of Eye, responsible for the restoration of Great Massingham Church, listed at Grade I. Penning’s carefully considered, picturesque composition is enhanced by constructional and decorative detail that continues across all elevations;
* Intactness: the building retains its integrity, and both its fabric and plan form survive substantially intact, including the original classrooms separated by a panelled timber sliding screen, and the plan form of the attached teacher's house;
* Interior detail: significant historic features have been retained; these include the well-crafted and carefully detailed sliding panelled timber partition between the girls and boys classrooms, and plank and batten and four panelled doors in the school and the teacher’s house;
* Historical interest: the school was built under the patronage of the Earl of Leicester for the children of the tenants of the great Holkham Estate, and is embedded in the historical social fabric of the county;
* Group value: the school has group value through its proximity with the Grade II* listed church of All Saints, about 150m to the west.

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