Ninfield School

by Liz Darbyshire, Ninfield Local History Group Member

A Parish School was held in the Chancel of Ninfield Church as far back as 1685.

Before the Education act of 1870 elementary education was provided by the Church of England, with local financial support. Prior to 1841 a school and playground were established on the opposite side of Church Lane to the current school.  It was built by The Reverend J Philips and maintained using pupil’s payments, subscriptions and his own money.

Records, from the 19th Century, show that a number of ‘non-conformist’ schools also existed in the parish.  

In 1852 an application was made, on behalf of The Reverend J Phillips, for assistance to build on a new site.  The new school was to consist of one room with a moveable division “to enable the girls to be alone with the mistress while at needlework”. Ninfield National School was built in 1853 for 324 pounds, 18 shillings and sixpence (£324.92½).

The school opened on 30th May 1854, with Mr. W. Trigger as Headmaster and 79 pupils on the register.  By 1859 Mary Vockins is assisting him as mistress. She is followed by her daughter Frances.

The Education Act of 1870 required “provision of efficient schools for all children of the labouring classes”.  The charge to parents seems to have been almost voluntary, 1 or 2 pennies a week per child. School fees were abolished in 1891.

Henry Nutley was Headmaster from 1874 to 1876.  He was succeeded by John Gates in April 1876.

Charles Edward Woodcock as Master and his wife Matilda as mistress took up duties in June 1876.  When Mrs. Woodcock died suddenly in 1883, their daughter Laura took over as Assistant Teacher. Mr Woodcock was given notice to quit in June 1884; he had 9 children to support.

In 1881 a classroom for the use of infants was added to the northern side of the original building.

In July 1884 Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Ridel became teachers at the school.  It appears they taught at Hooe prior to their appointment at Ninfield.  Mrs. Ridel died in 1896 and Mr. Ridel remarried.  Mr. Ridel and his new wife taught at Ninfield School until 1920, when they went to teach at Ashburnham.

In the 19th Century Children were often absence from school because they were needed at home.  An official Harvest Holiday existed, from the end of August to the beginning of October, so children could help with the harvest.  They would also be absent to; shave hop poles, pick soft fruit, cut beans and pick hops.

During the winter children would often be absent because it was too cold, or it was too far to walk – not all children had shoes.

By 1912 the number of pupils had risen to 180 and another classroom was built on the eastern side of the original room.

1914 saw the commencement of the school gardening scheme.

Ninfield School in 1917

Primary Education became compulsory in 1918.  There was a big advance in the provision of further education for all, according to ability, not means.

In 1921 Mr. Ridel’s son Alfred became Headmaster.  A position he held until 1946.

Pupils at Ninfield School, March 1923.

In 1950 Ninfield School became “Ninfield Controlled Primary All-range School”, when it was taken over by the East Sussex Education Committee. “Normal” school leaving age became 16 years (although pupils could leave at age 15) and further education became accessible for all.  Additional classroom space was required, so use was made of the Reading Room situated in Church Lane.

Mr. L. E. Wood became Headmaster in 1946.  He was succeeded by Mr. Stanley Trethewey in 1954.  Mr. Trethewey was Headmaster until 1980.

The number of pupils was significantly reduced in 1955, when Claverham Secondary School opened.  Until then the majority of local children spent all their school years at Ninfield School. From 1955 Ninfield School provided primary education only.

There was an increase of pupils in 1963 when Hooe Primary School closed and the pupils transferred to Ninfield School.

Ninfield school, much as it is today.