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Old School House and boundary wall

A Grade II Listed Building in Gunthorpe, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.8761 / 52°52'33"N

Longitude: 0.988 / 0°59'16"E

OS Eastings: 601177

OS Northings: 335140

OS Grid: TG011351

Mapcode National: GBR S88.QM6

Mapcode Global: WHLR0.4ZR0

Entry Name: Old School House and boundary wall

Listing Date: 23 February 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1423819

Location: Gunthorpe, North Norfolk, Norfolk, NR24

County: Norfolk

District: North Norfolk

Civil Parish: Gunthorpe

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Gunthorpe St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

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National School, built 1868, designed by Frederick Preedy, with boundary wall.


National School, built 1868, designed by Frederick Preedy, surrounded by a boundary wall with gate piers, converted to a house in the late C20.

MATERIALS: the school is constructed of local flint, with limestone quoins and surrounds. The pitched roof has a natural slate covering to its south-east slope, and replacement slate covering to its north-west slope.

PLAN: the school building, built 1868, is rectangular in plan with a single-storey, perpendicular projection from the north-west elevation. The school is shown on the 1886 Ordnance Survey map.

EXTERIOR: the school has a pitched roof, with natural slates to the south-east slope, and replacement slates to the north-west slope. The single-storey projection has a flat roof. The walls are composed of local flint, with limestone quoins, a chamfered limestone plinth course, and limestone window and door surrounds. All windows are uPVC, unless otherwise stated. The north-east elevation has a pointed-arch former door opening, now infilled by a window, with a timber battened door opening to the exterior. The south-west gable bears a sextafoil window, under a carved armorial shield set within a trefoil frame. The south-east elevation is composed of three window bays divided by a chimney stack: the two window bays to the north of the chimney stack have three window openings; and the window bay to the south of the stack has four window openings. Each window opening has a finely carved pointed trefoil arch and chamfered reveals. The external, axial stack is rectangular in plan, tapers above eaves height and supports an octagonal shaft with limestone coping. The stack bears a carved quatrefoil plaque with the initials ‘J H S’ of its patron J H Sparke. The south-west gable has a tripartite window, consisting of three pointed-arch trefoil-headed windows. Over the tripartite window is a quatrefoil window containing a fixed latticed light, and a wrought-iron crucifix stands on the apex of the gable. The north-west elevation has two bays of windows: the south bay is composed of three window openings with pointed-arch trefoil heads; and the north bay comprises two small square-headed window openings. The single-storey, flat roofed projection to the north-west has a pointed-arch door opening on its north-east elevation, with a chamfered limestone door surround, timber battened door, and decorative wrought-iron strap hinges. The pointed-arch door opening to the south-west elevation has a yellow brick surround, suggesting a later date, containing a timber battened door, again with wrought-iron strap hinges.

INTERIOR: the former school building is entered from the single-storey porch on the north-east elevation. The former classroom retains its original plan form, with a double-height space from the original floor level to the roof structure. A raised platform was added to the south end of the classroom c1970, and a mezzanine level, ground floor bedrooms and a bathroom were added to the north end at this time*. The original king-post roof is supported by four round-arched trusses sitting on carved limestone corbels. Diagonally aligned timber panelling has been laid between the rafters, enhancing the decorative detailing of the roof. A fireplace survives at the original floor level with a replacement tiled surround and stove.
* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the site is bounded by a flint wall with curved, yellow brick coping. There are two pairs of yellow brick gate piers: one pair to Sharington Road to the north; and another pair to the north-east to the junction of Hall Lane and Sharington Road.


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.

Gunthorpe National School was built in 1868 to accommodate 126 children. The school building was commissioned by Canon J H Sparke, owner of Gunthorpe Hall, who purchased the Gunthorpe Estate in 1830. Gunthorpe Hall was designed by Sir John Soane c1790, remodelled by William Butterfield c1880, and is listed at Grade II. Canon Sparke commissioned Frederick Preedy of Worcestershire to undertake restoration works at St Mary’s Church in Gunthorpe in 1863-64, a C15 church listed at Grade II*. Sparke commissioned Preedy to build Gunthorpe National School in 1868, on a prominent site at the corner of Hall Lane and Sharington Road, to the south of St Mary’s Church and to the north-east of Gunthorpe Hall. Frederick Preedy (1820-1898) was an accomplished ecclesiastical architect and stained glass painter, and much of his work was undertaken in Worcestershire and Herefordshire between 1850 and 1880. Preedy carried out work for his influential cousin Henry Le Strange at the Church of St Mary in Hunstanton, Norfolk in 1867, restoring the church and providing stained glass windows. Although Preedy did not witness great fame during his life time, his rich and vivid use of colour is regarded as some of the best stained glass of the High Victorian period.

The school is present on the 1886 Ordnance Survey map, and shows a rectangular plan school, with a rectangular-plan perpendicular projection to the north-west elevation. It is likely that this projection contained a porch, cloakroom, and toilet. Kelly’s Directory of Norfolk of 1896 records that the average attendance at the National School at this time was 54 children. The school was closed c1970, and is labelled ‘Old School House’ on the 1975 Ordnance Survey map. It has since been converted into a domestic dwelling; a mezzanine and bedrooms were inserted and the windows replaced with uPVC alternatives.

Reasons for Listing

The Old School House, Gunthorpe is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: as an assured work by accomplished ecclesiastical architect and stained glass artist Frederick Preedy;
* Historic interest: it demonstrates the evolution of educational provision in the second half of the C19, the later extension being carried out sympathetically to the original design. Also for its historical association with the nearby Gunthorpe estate;
* Intactness: it has survived with a high level of intactness, and both its plan form and function remain clearly legible, providing an important and near complete picture of a mid - late C19 school;
* Group value: for its strong group value with other listed structures in close proximity, including the church of St Mary, Gunthorpe Hall and its associated barn, and the White House and its associated barn.

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