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The Burston Strike School

  Introduction

This guide covers the main records held by the Norfolk Record Office (NRO) relating to the Burston School Strike. 

Details of some resources held elsewhere are also listed, including those at the Norfolk Heritage Centre (NHC), Burston Strike School Museum and The National Archives (TNA).

  Background

Tom Higdon and his wife Annie were appointed as teachers at the Burston and Shimpling Council School in 1911. 

They had previously worked as teachers at Wood Dalling School in Norfolk where, as at Burston, Annie was headmistress.

The Higdons were Christian Socialists and they had objected to poor conditions at Wood Dalling School.

They had also been concerned about the employment of children by local farmers, which interrupted their education.

Many of these farmers were also school managers so the Higdons' activities created social tensions.

Eventually, the Norfolk Education Committee gave the Higdons the option of dismissal or employment at another school.

When the Higdons transferred to Burston they found conditions for many labouring families were similar to those at Wood Dalling.

Tom Higdon gained election to the parish council at Burston in the hope of making improvements, while Annie repeatedly made requests for better conditions at the school.

These activities created tensions with local farmers and the Rev Charles Tucker Eland, the local rector and chairman of the school managers.

Allegations of pupil abuse were made against the Higdons in 1914 and they were subsequently dismissed.

Many children and their parents believed the allegations to be fabricated. On 1 April 1914 Violet Potter led her fellow pupils out on strike to show their support for the Higdons.

A separate Burston Strike School was established for those pupils and parents who refused to send them to the official council school.

It was held outside on the village green at first and then above a carpenter’s shop in Burston.

Many labour organisations supported the Strike School and eventually enough money was raised to build a permanent schoolhouse. It opened in 1917.

The Burston Strike became the longest running strike in history and the school existed until 1939, when Tom Higdon died.

Its building still stands today and now houses the museum which tells the strike’s story.

  Documents held at the NRO

We hold a variety of documents which provide an insight into the strike and the Higdons’ activities in Norfolk. These include records of the Norfolk Education Committee, the Burston and Shimpling Council School and Burston Parish Council.

  • Thomas Higdon was a parish councillor for Burston and Shimpling and the parish council minutes record his election on 16 April 1913. They contain entries concerning the strike and its consequences between 11 March 1914 and 14 April 1919. Most of these entries relating to Tom Higdon and the strike were later crossed out, or noted as ‘out of order’ and ‘untrue’ in the margins, see reference PC 14/1. The Parish Council minutes for 6 October 1939 record Tom Higdon’s death, reference PC 14/8.
  • There are also entries concerning the Higdons’ employment at Wood Dalling, which commenced in April 1902, in the school’s log book. See C/ED2/120. Annie Higdon’s final entry, which was thought to contain political and inflammatory remarks, was expunged from this book with permission of the Norfolk Education Committee. See MC 31/51, 478X1 for a copy of the erased entry.
  • For minutes of the Norfolk Education Committee, which cover the initial period of the Burston Stirke, see C/ED 16/6. There are also copies of some minutes relating to the strike in the County Council’s file, see C/ED 36/5.
  • For Norfolk County Council’s file on the strike, 1914-78, see C/ED 36/5. This file includes exhibition material and photographs used at the Festival of Education 1970, extracts from the Burston Council School log book and a copy of the obituary for Annie Higdon from the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) in 1946. There are also photocopies of entries in the County Council’s committee minutes, 1914-50, relating to the Burston Strike.
  • For various records including letters, pamphlets, photographs and newspaper cuttings concerning the strike, collected by Bertram Edwards as research material for his book The Burston Strike School (London, 1974), see MC 31/1/77.
  • There is a microfilm copy of the Burston and Shimpling Council School’s log book, 1903-50, which contains references to the strike; see microfilms MF/RO 614/4 and MF/RO 615/1. The original log book is retained by Burston Community Primary School.
  • There is a school management file, C/ED 68/131, for Burston and Shimpling, which contains brief references to the Strike School and the Higdons. School management files contain letters from teachers and managers of individual schools to the Norfolk Education Committee, with copies of replies. The Burston file contains a newspaper cutting from the EDP of 26 January 1923, relating to the seizure and sale of Tom Higdon’s desk from the Strike School as a result of income tax non-payment. There is also a letter from the Rev Charles Millard to the Education Committee, dated 1 December 1932. This warns of the danger of losing the present mistress of the Council School due to the rise in rent for the schoolhouse and consequences of making a “less sensible appointment” with Mrs Higdon’s presence in Burston.
  • Minutes of the National Union of Teachers, Norfolk Division, include a few references to the Burston School Strike, mainly between April 1914 and 1917, which the branch supported, even though its union headquarters did not. The references for these records are SO 273/1/1/1 and SO 273/1/2/1.
  • Minutes of the South Norfolk Labour Party include some references to Tom Higdon and illustrate his broader political activity as a member. For minutes covering the period 1918-69, see SO 242/1/1-2.
  • We hold a recorded memoir of Tom Potter, the brother of Violet Potter who led the children out on strike, speaking to children at Hoxton County Primary School. See AUD 16/1.
  • The Burston Strike had many social repercussions for the community and some of these are documented. For diocesan court papers, 1917, relating to the controversy concerning the memorial to Sgt Herbert Garnham, a former pupil at the Burston School, see DN/CON 179. Sgt Garnham’s father supported the strike. He objected to a memorial tablet for his son being erected in the local church since its rector, the Rev Charles Tucker Eland, had opposed the strike. Having failed to obtain a faculty to remove the memorial tablet, Mr Garnham went to the church and smashed it with a coal hammer. Later, in 1917, a faculty was granted for the memorial’s removal. The events, including the removal of the memorial and imprisonment of Mr Garnham, are also recorded in the Burston and Shimpling Parish Council minutes for 3 March and 27 October; see PC 14/1.
  • We hold a few records documenting the Burston Rally, which is held annually on the first Sunday in September to commemorate the strike. The rally includes speeches by politicians and trade union leaders. Previous speakers have included Tony Benn, John Prescott, Arthur Scargill, Ken Livingstone and Ian Gibson. In particular, there are photographs of the 70th anniversary rally in 1984. See MC 2432.

  Resources at the NHC

Several photographs of the Burston Strike School, including Tom and Annie Higdon, are held at the NHC. Some of these photographs are also available online through the Picture Norfolk archive.

The NHC also holds copies of local newspapers which reported the progress of the Burston Strike, ensuing incidents and events at rallies.

  The Burston Strike School Museum

The Burston Strike School Museum is based in the former school building. It is managed by trustees who now run it as a visitor centre.

Their website provides a history of the strike, details of the Trust’s resources and publications, plus information about visiting the museum.

  Resources at TNA

Records concerning the Burston Strike School, particularly the school file, reference ED 21/12712B, are held by TNA.

See A Morton, Education and the State from 1833 (Kew, 1997) for further details of records held there relating to the Burston Strike.

  Bibliography

  • S J Curtis and M E A Boultwood, An Introductory History of Education since 1800 (London, 1966)
  • B Edwards, The Burston School Strike (London, 1974)
  • T G Higdon, The Burston Rebellion (London, 1917).There is also a facsimile copy: Trustees of the Burston Strike School, The Burston Rebellion (Diss, 1984)
  • P Horn, The Victorian and Edwardian School Child (Gloucester, 1989).
  • A Morton, Education and the State from 1833 (Kew, 1997)
  • National Committee, Burston School Strike and evicted Glebe Tenants (? London, 1916).
  • R Nevitt, The Burston School Strike (Oxford, 1992).
  • P Scobie, The School that went on Strike (Oxford, 1999).
  • W B Stephens, Education in Britain, 1750-1914 (Basingstoke, 1998). Available through the Norfolk Library Service.
  • W B Stephens and R W Unwin, Materials for the Local and Regional Study of Schooling, 1700-1900 (London, 1987).
  • Trustees of the Burston Strike School, The Burston Strike School: the story of the longest Strike in History (Diss, 1990s). Copies are available from the Burston Strike School Muesum.
  • R Vyrnwy-Pierce, The School Strike that lasted 25 Years, Norfolk Roots, no. 2 (Autumn, 2004) 23-27.
  • B Zamoyska, Burston Rebellion (London, 1985)