For more than a century St Augustine’s School provided free education to the children of working-class families of the area.
The first school, known as St Augustine's District School, was founded in 1838 by a philanthropic gentleman, William Geary. His school, partly funded by the Church of England, drew its pupils from the nearby parishes of St Augustine’s and St Martin’s at Oak as well as from the newly expanding suburb of New Catton. Before this date there had been virtually no educational provision in the area apart from occasional religious instruction in Sunday schools run by the Established Anglican Church, as well as by Quakers and members of other non-Conformist faiths such as the Baptists and Methodists. National, state-funded education did not yet exist.
Following the Education Act of 1870, Geary’s Distrct School was greatly expanded, with new buildings designed by city architect and surveyor John Patience, and was renamed St Augustine's Council Schools with separate mixed infants, junior and senior girls, and boys schools, all packed into a small triangle of land opposite
St Augustine's Gate, bounded by Aylsham Road (then called St Augustine’s Road), Waterloo Road and Alma Terrace.
Glimpses of life at the schools can be gleaned from the log books and admission registers kept by the head teachers, many of which have survived.* For example, the headmistress of the Infants School noted in August 1914 that the noise of military traffic passing up and down Aylsham Road was so disruptive that their classroom had to be moved to a quieter location away from the road. During the war many of the pupils lost fathers and brothers at the Front, then in 1918 the log books note that several pupils and staff became victims of the great influenza pandemic that killed more people worldwide than the war.
From 1925 until the 1930s St Augustine's Girls' School produced its own annual school magazine, its cover emblazoned with the school motto: 'ALL MY IDEALS ARE FASHIONING ME'. Judging by the contributions of pupils in the magazine, standards of literacy at the school were very high. Civic dignatories, such as the Lord Mayor and the Sheriff, visted the school from time to time on special occasions such as Empire Day. Pupils were taken on trips to see plays or musical productions deemed serious and educational, as well as on annual outings to the seaside or countryside. A series of charming photos in the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library's image collection show girls and staff of St Augustine's School, accompanied by the Revd Dalby, curate of St Augustine's church, on a trip to the seaside at Mundesley in 1924.
In 1939, with the threat of another war becoming more and more likely, underground bomb shelters were dug in the playground and an alarm gong hung on an outside wall. The end came during the Luftwaffe's so-called 'Baedeker Blitz' raids of 1942, when a 500 kg bomb exploded inside the school during the early hours of 29 April. Fortunately, no one was killed or injured as the school was empty at that hour, but the damage was so extensive that the school had to be closed for the duration of the war and many buildings in the surrounding district suffered structural damage and shattered window panes (see photo right).
The school was not rebuilt after the war and local children were sent to nearby schools in Bull Close Road and Angel Road. In 1961 Norwich City Council built a public swimming pool on the site, designed by the City Architect David Percival. Now even that has gone to be replaced by a parade of shops and flats and only photos and memories remain to remind us of the school that had been such an important part of the lives of local children and their families for over 100 years.
* The following log books and admission registers are held on microfilm at the Norfolk & Norwich local studies collection in the Millennium Library in the Forum, Norwich: Admission Registers: Mixed Infants (1886-1942), Girls (1894-1929), Junior Girls (1913-21), Senior Girls (1929-35); Log Books: Boys (1874-90), Mixed Infants (1879-1942), Junior Girls (1900-24), Senior Girls (1879-1939).
Text © S. J. McLaren, 2007, revised 2017.
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St Augustine's District School
Staff and pupils of
St Augustine's Mixed Infants School, 1880s
St Augustine's School,
Pupils and teacher of
St Augustine's Mixed Infants class, c. 1916
St Augustine's School, in the late 1920s
First issue of St Augustine's Girls School magazine, 1925
Scene of devastion after enemy bombing