The very first mention of anything to do with a school in Birchanger was in the Parish Register under Baptisms and Marriages - 1826 Elizabeth Maryanne daughter of James Newman, Schoolmaster. Which school he taught at we do not know as certainly Birchanger Church School was not there then. It was not until 1839 that all parish priests had to fill in a questionnaire by law regarding the education provided in their parish. We have a copy of Birchanger's form and there is only a mention of a private school and we do not know where this was. We do not know the date the old village school was built but the first school log book we have, runs from 1863 to 1898. During this time the size of the school varied from 26 to 88 pupils. Many pupils took time off in September and October for gleaning. The School year started in April in those days. Grants were given by the Government Inspector according to the number of pupils who passed exams. The second Log book is from 1899 - 1927 and these are now going to be kept safe in the Chelmsford Records Office but we have copies.
By far the most significant fact not only for the school but for the whole of Birchanger village was the appointment of Mr H. F. Lightwood as Headmaster in 1908. From everyone who knew him, either as a pupil or as a fellow villager, his name is revered by all and he, along with the Reverend Cam were one of the prime movers of Birchanger village life. Discipline in the village was maintained by Mr Lightwood and Mr Theobald the village policeman though corporal punishment was very seldom used. Mr Lightwood's reputation as a schoolmaster was widely known and the authorities were constantly asking him to move to larger schools such as Dagenham but he firmly rejected even offer. His heart was truly in the welfare of the children of Birchanger, now a village of about 800. When it was heard he was shortly to be married, instead of being obliged to climb a ladder and sleep in a loft above the school room, the authorities built him a house next door to the School. This is now called Rectory Cottage but has now been sold and no longer houses the school teachers. Mr Lightwood was known throughout as the "The Master" and Mrs Lightwood was called "Governess". He represented Essex Teachers on the County Teacher Association and many other appointments. All testify that he entered into the life of the village, being a wonderful fund-raiser -the Church Ball, children's outings and sports such as cricket, football and bowls and many others. In 1913 Mr Lightwood won a competition in the Dailv Mirror which was for Father Christmas to land in a field in the village bringing Christmas presents for the children. There is a photograph of this event and Mr Stanley Reed's Aunt Nell is in the picture. The aeroplane landed in the field where the Digby View houses are now.
The annual day trip to the seaside was organised by Mr Lightwood in about 7 charabancs, children and parents starting at 7 a.m. and getting home late in the evening. The only exception to this was in 1924 when the day was spent at Wemb!ey amidst the splendours of the Empire Exhibition.
The whole neighbourhood mourned when Mr Lightwood died in April 1941 at the age of 55. We have copies of the many tributes paid to him written in local papers at that time and an account of his funeral held at St Mary's Church, Birchanger. His wife took over the Headship from him for a time and afterwards lived with her daughter, Joan at Ware, returning to live at Birchanger until 1951. She died aged 92 in March 1975 and had a Memorial Service at St Mary's Church packed with all her past pupils. Since then the School has seen several headmasters or headmistresses come and go.
The last head mistress at the Old School was Mrs Rose, who, when she left, had been at Birchanger for eighteen years.
The new school was built at Birchwood and was opened in 1981 with Mr Sid Levey representing past pupils of Birchanger School. Now Mrs Robbins is the headmistress and there are 50 pupils in the school aged from 5 to 11 years. In Mr Lightwood's time, many pupils stayed until they were 14 years old and then left to go straight out to work.
Nowadays it is just a primary school and all pupils have to move to another school at 11 years old and until they are 16 or 18 years old they have to travel out of the village to go to them.
Miss Knowles recalling her childhood in Birchanger never remembers being bored although they had very few toys or games provided for them. Children used to fish in the streams and ponds for minnows with a bit of cotton and a small worm, - with a bit of practice you might be 70% successful. Hoops were popular to run along the road with, the girls having wood ones and the boys iron with an iron hook; spinning tops with whips to keep them going and some could spin them without a whip by just winding string around and throwing it. Almost every boy of any size had a catapult and many girls too - some were very skilled and many a rabbit was taken home for a pie. It was not always rabbit - at night the bigger boys would go "bat folding" mostly after sparrows. This was two poles with a length of netting or a very thin cloth between and this was held up to the hedge on one side and then other people hit the hedge sending out the birds into the trap - ivy on the walls of houses and outbuildings were very rewarding places. Sparrow stew or sparrow roast is quite good when young - "young" applies to the birds and humans. Other games were played with buttons, something like Tiddlywinks and the mothers were always on the rampage if their button box had been raided. Games like marbles and conkers were played, though methods of hardening the conkers have changed - deep-freezes and microwave ovens have been tried these days though maybe to no greater effect.
The old school has now been replaced by one more useful for its purpose in the 21st century. However the old school structure has been retained as a residential accommodation.
A picture of the old school
Ruth Clewer's Exercise books
Return to the Birchanger Homepage