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Former Swafield School and boundary walls

A Grade II Listed Building in Swafield, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.8392 / 52°50'21"N

Longitude: 1.3939 / 1°23'37"E

OS Eastings: 628676

OS Northings: 332251

OS Grid: TG286322

Mapcode National: GBR WF5.Z3T

Mapcode Global: WHMSJ.CWZS

Plus Code: 9F43R9QV+MG

Entry Name: Former Swafield School and boundary walls

Listing Date: 23 February 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1423694

Location: Swafield, North Norfolk, Norfolk, NR28

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Swafield

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Trunch with Swafiels and Bradfield

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

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Small school built in 1852 and extended in the late C19.


Small school built in 1852 and extended in the late C19.

MATERIALS: small, closely laid, uncoursed flint nodules with buff brick dressings and a slate roof covering.

PLAN: rectangular plan with two entrance porches on the south side and an outshut at the east end of the north elevation. The original schoolroom occupies the east side and the later infants’ room the west side.

EXTERIOR: the school is in a simplified Tudor style. It is a single-storey, five-bay building under a pitched roof with exposed rafters at the eaves and decorative bargeboards. It has blocked brick quoins and brick banding just above the flint plinth. From the left, the gabled entrance porch in the first bay has decorative bargeboards and a finial which also drops below the apex. The door is set in a blocked brick four-centred arch surround and has narrow vertical planks with applied fillets. It is lit by a small single-pane window on the right return which has a surround of chamfered blocked brick and a hoodmould, as have all the windows. The window on the left return has been blocked up with flint (in the 1980s). The second, third and fifth bays are lit by four-light windows, the upper lights of which open. The fourth bay is occupied by an entrance porch very similar to that in the first bay, although it is slightly bigger and has a louvred bellcote with a pyramid roof and intact bell. The door has four vertical planks with applied fillets and both the windows remain in use.

The east gable end which faces onto the road is lit by a large nine-light window in which two of the lights open. There is a pierced stone trefoil opening in the gable head in a blocked brick surround, and below the window is a stone plaque inscribed with ‘SWAFIELD NATIONAL SCHOOL MDCCCLII’. The west gable end is similar except the window is smaller and the trefoil is in wood. The north (rear) elevation is blind, and on the left is an outshut with bargeboards. The return walls have a blocked brick surround and segmental arch head belonging to the original doors which have been blocked with flint (in the 1980s) and pierced by a single-light C20 window.

INTERIOR: both the former school room and infants’ room have a canted ceiling with the lower half of the rafters exposed. The party wall between the rooms has a wide opening but this has lost its sliding partition or doors. Some of the matchboard dado panelling remains, as does the fireplace in the infants' room, although it has been boarded over. The school room has narrow floorboards, but the floor in the infants’ room has been concreted. The east porch has a brick-lined floor, and the four-centred arch doors to both porches, set in chamfered brick surrounds, have applied fillets and latches. There is a plank and batten door with thin strap hinges leading from the east room to the outshut.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the plot occupied by the school has flint boundary walls along the north and east sides. The east wall ramps up at the northern end and both walls have segmental coping; that on the north wall has recently been replaced (in 2014). The south and west sides have iron railings which probably date to the late C19 when the school was extended.


The architecture of rural schools in Norfolk is a physical representation of the history of education for poor and working class children from the early to mid-C19 up to the Butler Education Act of 1944. Nationally, until the late C17 education was provided predominantly by grammar and endowed schools, but was generally restricted to those who could pay. In 1698 the newly founded Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) established charity schools, primarily to educate urban working class children, but until the early C19 the education of rural children depended on local initiatives, generally informal classes held in a variety of existing spaces, and often referred to as 'Dame Schools'. The provision of more organised and formal education for working class children appeared with the founding of the Church of England's National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor (National Schools) in 1811, which was preceded, in 1808, by the Non-Conformist's British and Foreign Schools Society (British Schools); the former were dominant in the countryside, while the latter were mainly urban based. These two organisations were the main providers of voluntary schools, although other bodies also set up schools, and particularly in rural areas these could be established by landowners and estates, sometimes in conjunction with the National Society. In 1833 the first government grants became available for those voluntary societies willing to submit to inspection, with an increase in the budget in 1843 to cover the cost of teacher's houses (particularly essential in remote areas of rural Norfolk) leading to an increase in the number of schools in the county built in the 1840s and 1850s.

From the mid-C19 the religious societies were the main providers of education for the poor, but schooling was not universally available and the presence of schools in communities was patchy. The Education Act of 1870 recognised the need to widen access to education in response to social and political change, reflected particularly in the extension of the franchise by the Representation of the Peoples Act of 1867. The Education Act allowed for the setting up of secular school boards, empowered to establish local schools where there was a need, and between 1870 and 1902 160 new schools were built (including church schools); however, attendance was not made compulsory (for children aged between five and ten) until the Elementary Education Act of 1880. The next major change in educational provision did not come about until 1902, when the Balfour Act transferred responsibility to newly established Local Education Authorities. New Building Regulations issued by the Board of Education revealed some schools to be substandard; new schools were built, but there were also some closures in Norfolk. In the inter-war years the building of elementary schools slowed, and further closures followed. Under the Education Act of 1944 the newly established Ministry of Education required all LEAs to submit development plans with provision for secondary education, and also laid down a minimum standard of accommodation for primary schools. A programme of new school building was proposed to replace inadequate schools, and although ambitions for the building of new schools and the closure of those that were deemed sub-standard or too small were not realised, by 1990 190 schools in Norfolk had been closed.

Historical changes in educational provision and funding, as well as the evolution of ideas about education, tend to be reflected in architectural styles, and in the plan and function of school buildings. The earliest rural schools are often very plain, single storey one room structures; porches are generally present, at least one, and sometimes two, where money and space allow for separate entrances for boys and girls, and these remained a consistent and sometimes prominent feature. Within the classroom, benches were arranged longitudinally on one side of the room, grouped to allow for the teaching of smaller numbers of children by monitors, a system known as the Madras method. A development of this plan was the addition of a smaller infants' classroom at one end, which may have had raked seating; evidence of this is rarely found, and no original benches survive. A variant on this plan is where the second classroom forms a cross-wing, while a tripartite plan might be formed with an integrated teachers' house as a cross-wing at the other end of a central classroom, forming an H or U plan. From the 1840s teachers' houses might include a parlour, kitchen, scullery and three first floor bedrooms. After the 1870 Act, progressive layouts are scarce in rural Norfolk, including the widely adopted plan, devised by the London Board architect, E R Robson, of classrooms off a central hall. In the countryside the tripartite plan remained in use, added to and modified as necessary.

Architecturally, the favoured style of early schools was the Classical, but by the 1830s and '40s Gothic had become dominant, combined with elements of Tudor architecture. Schools funded by local landowners or estates could be particularly elaborate in their design as an expression of philanthropic wealth. After 1860, a style merging elements of the Tudor and Jacobean styles, the Jacobethan, emerges, and although the establishment of school boards after 1870 saw the introduction nationally of a more secular Queen Anne style, this was slow to be adopted in Norfolk, and Gothic or Jacobethan remained in favour, as well as the earlier legacy of building styles. After the creation of Local Education Authorities in 1902 the Queen Anne style was introduced, often fused with elements drawn from the Arts and Crafts movement, with the latter occasionally featuring as the predominant style. The new Building Regulations reflected a growing interest in health and hygiene, with a particular concern for light and fresh air. This is physically represented by classrooms lit by large windows on two sides and by hopper opening windows in lower panes, allowing cross ventilation with reduced draughts. A programme of enlarging windows in existing schools was also introduced, sometimes by inserting dormers to rise above eaves level. In new schools, marching corridors also provided opportunities for exercise. The Derbyshire County Architect George Widdows was a pioneer in the development of school plans capturing the new thinking, and although these are more usually seen, nationally, in larger urban schools, there are examples to be found in rural Norfolk. In the inter-war years school building slowed, and the design of new schools adopted a functional Queen Anne style.

The National School at Swafield was built in 1852. The 1884 Ordnance Survey map depicts the original plan consisting of a single schoolroom with an entrance porch and rear outshut for the WCs. By the publication of the 1906 map an extension had been built on the west end to provide an infants’ room. This was built in the same style as the original building, and it is likely to have been added in 1891 as there is an existing deed of this date. The school closed in the 1930s, thereafter being used as the village hall. In 1961 it was declared a charity and it has continued in use as the village hall.

The school has been subject to some alterations. The chimney stacks have been removed, as has the fireplace in the original room, whilst that in the infants' room has been boarded over. The two external doors to the outshut have been blocked and C20 windows inserted in the openings. The west porch has been adapted to provide catering facilities.

Reasons for Listing

Former Swafield School, built in 1852, is listed Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: it is a particularly good example of a small rural school in the pared down Tudor style that was popular in the mid-C19. Simple and well-proportioned, the building is enlivened by the use of Tudor hoodmoulds and decorative bargeboards which give it a picturesque quality;
* Building materials: the carefully laid small flint nodules with buff brick dressings have considerable textural richness and aesthetic appeal;
* Historic interest: it demonstrates the evolution of educational provision in the second half of the C19, the later addition of the infants’ room being carried out with a marked sympathy for the original design;
* Intactness: it has survived with a high level of intactness, and both its plan form and function remain clearly legible, providing an important and near complete picture of a Victorian National school.

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