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First National School (HT)

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About First National School (HT)

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Sometimes called the Free School, the Rochford National School opened in around 1812 and Peter Pond was employed as the headmaster on a salary of £40 per annum.  However, it wasn’t until a school board was created in 1837 that it was agreed to build the National School at the end of West Street, which was completed in 1840. The schoolhouse was completed at a slightly later date, so the first headmaster, John Popplewell, had to rent premises close by. The headmaster’s salary had now risen to the lofty sum of £46 per annum. Today, the building is home to the Rochford Day Nursery.

There were other schools in the area, two were for the wealthy and often had pupils as boarders. Another was in the grounds of the Congregational Church, who believed that education should be available for all. Eli Beckwith was headmaster of the Congregational Church school from 1823-39, alongside his other trades of bookbinder and thatcher! 

The National School had two rooms separated by framed partitions, one for boys the other for girls, and a small entrance porch was added on. The cost was 1 old penny per day, although every third child in a family was free. This was good for John Popplewell and his wife Phoebe as they had a family of 12! The children were educated and managed day to day, by a School Master and Mistress.

The school had many rules, some of which we would consider peculiar today:

  • No child under six would be admitted.
  • Children must be vaccinated.
  • A halfpenny fine was imposed if an excuse for absence was deemed invalid.

Twice yearly, the school ran a bazaar lasting two days, to raise funds for the school.  The bazaar sold objects made through the year by the children, mostly needlework: handkerchiefs, collars, shirts, aprons and frills selling for 1 shilling each, and nightcaps selling for 4 old pence.

The census of 1840 showed attendance at the National school at 212 students and the school was rebuilt to house more pupils in future, with the resultant Rochford Primary School emerging in 1877. Education around this time consisted of the three ‘R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic) and religion. Boys may have also learned practical activities like shoemaking, tailoring and gardening.  Girls would have learned knitting from a young age and as they got older they learned spinning, sewing, lace making and baking.

From the mid-nineteenth century, due to the industrial revolution, vocational activities took second place to academic subjects.  There was an increased need for clerks and the education system found it easier to train pupils for clerical work than for manual occupations.

The need for better education for all classes was the subject of numerous parliamentary discussions, as many were against educating the poor.  However, it finally transformed into the educational structure that we recognise today.

Address:2 Ashingdon Rd
Postcode:SS4 1NJ
Categories:Point of Interest, Rochford

First National School (HT) is included in the following trails:

Outer Heritage Trail