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School records guide

Trade directories, local newspapers and census records

Trade directories

Printed trade directories give a brief history of the school. They can also help identify the most likely school attended by children from a particular town or village. 

Some directory entries name the headmaster or mistress, give details of school boards and average attendance figures.

Kelly’s Norfolk Directory of 1900 provides particularly detailed information about schools. 

However, directories can vary in the depth and quality of information they give.

We hold a number of trade directories for Norfolk, but a more complete set is held by the Norfolk Heritage Centre (NHC).

In particular, the NHC holds Norwich directories from 1783 to 1975 and Norfolk directories from 1836 to 1937 (with gaps).

Local newspapers

Newspapers can be a valuable source of information.

They often report the introduction and activities of school boards established by the Education Act of 1870.

They also give details of events ranging from prize days to high profile disputes, such as the Burston School Strike.

Obituaries of teachers, editorial comment and letters to the editor expressing views on education are other useful sources from newspapers.

They sometimes also include advertisements for teaching posts or to attract pupils to private schools.

In some cases, they may relate to schools which have no surviving records and give an idea of the school’s size, fees, curriculum and location.

For further advice about using newspapers and advertisements as a source for school history, see W B Stephens and R W Unwin, Materials for the Local and Regional History of Schooling, 1700-1900 (London, 1987).

For Norfolk, newspapers and newspaper cuttings can usually be located as follows:

  • Copies of newspapers for Norfolk and Norwich dating from the early 18th century to the present day are held at the NHC.
  • The NRO and NHC hold a select two-volume printed index to local newspapers. C Mackie, Norfolk Annals, (Norwich, 1901) covers the Norfolk Chronicle from 1801 to 1900 and a supplement by H B Jaffa, Norfolk Events (Norwich, 1939) covers 1901-38.
  • Many schools, whose records are deposited at the NRO, kept their own files of newspaper cuttings or scrapbooks of articles. These are usually listed with records of the individual school.
  • There are files of textual records compiled by the BBC relating to its broadcasts from the 1980s to 2002. They include copies of newspaper cuttings from local and national newspapers, press releases and other publicity material, published reports and working notes and papers, including scripts, cue sheets and annotations. The files covering schools are arranged in an alpha-numeric sequence and are referenced AUD 1/1/1014-1172.

Census records

The censuses will record pupils and staff present in a school on census night.

It is therefore a particularly useful source for boarding and public schools, although in such cases the census will not include any day pupils.

For households in general, census returns can indicate the number of children in a family classed as scholars.

However, the term ‘scholar’ appears to have been applied quite loosely and its application became increasingly vague over time.

Children classed as scholars may also have been working in some capacity.

Some parents avoided disclosing details of child employment to the census enumerators at a time when it was increasingly limited by legislation, particularly following the introduction of compulsory education.

For more information on how to use the census for researching a school, see E Higgs, Making Sense of the Census Revisited (London, 2005), pp43-47 and pp104-06.

For general advice on accessing census returns, see our guide Tracing your Family Tree.