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Former Great Cressingham school, with separate toilet block and boundary wall

A Grade II Listed Building in Thetford, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.5815 / 52°34'53"N

Longitude: 0.7284 / 0°43'42"E

OS Eastings: 584956

OS Northings: 301681

OS Grid: TF849016

Mapcode National: GBR Q8Y.4ZD

Mapcode Global: WHKR9.5C4T

Plus Code: 9F42HPJH+H9

Entry Name: Former Great Cressingham school, with separate toilet block and boundary wall

Listing Date: 10 November 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1436741

Location: Great Cressingham, Breckland, Norfolk, IP25

County: Norfolk

District: Breckland

Civil Parish: Great Cressingham

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Great Cressingham St Michael

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

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Great Cressingham


Former school built in 1840, extended around 1890 and with a late-C19 or early-C20 porch and toilet block added, and with a boundary wall; now (2016) used as a Victorian school museum.


Former school built in 1840, extended around 1890 and with a late-C19-early-C20 porch and toilet block added, now used as a Victorian school museum.

MATERIALS and PLAN: built in flint with gault-brick dressings and chimney stacks, a slate roof and clay ridge tiles. Two metal ventilators are positioned on the ridge, one at each end of the roof. The porch is constructed in timber on a brick plinth while the historic rear extension is built entirely in gault-brick. Both the porch and extension have a slate roof covering. The detached toilet block to the rear is built in red brick with flint rubble panels and a single pitch corrugated metal roof.

Both the school and detached toilet block to the rear are rectangular in plan.

The school boundary wall runs along the N side of The Street, around the W side of the school and playground, and along the E side of the field to the E of the school. Constructed of flint rubble with moulded stone coping, the wall rises at the western end of the school boundary and is punctuated with gault-brick gate piers to provide access into the school yard.

EXTERIOR: the original school is a five-bay single storey building of simple rectangular plan-form with a projecting porch to the E elevation and a rectangular extension to the NE corner. Built in flint rubble with gault-brick quoins, jambs, stepped eaves and window detailing, it reflects the local vernacular architecture. Two tall, octagonal, chimneys stacks, one ridge and the other adjacent to the eastern extension, add a distinctive decorative detailing.

The principal elevation (E) is dominated by the timber porch which forms the second bay and sits beneath a slated, pitched roof, decorated with simply carved bargeboards. A single door provides access to the porch. The fenestration is timber framed throughout although the window arrangement varies; those to the E elevation (right of the porch) are vertically aligned six-pane fixed -lights; that to the left of the porch is three-over-three panes with a central hopper to the lower row. Those to the W elevation are either four-over-two or six-over-three, top-hinged, casements. A pair of nine-over-three lights, with the lower three being hoppers, are positioned either side of the central stack in the southern gable. Above these windows within the apex, is a carved stone inscription which reads ‘THIS SCHOOL/ For the Instruction/ of the Poor/was Built/1840'.

In the northern gable a plank and batten door provides a back entrance to the school room with a multi–paned hopper window sitting centrally (to the right of the door). The extension to the NE corner of the building provides another access in the N elevation with a plank and batten door with a rectangular overlight. Three-over-three horned sashes in both the N elevation and E gable of the extension provide light into this space. A small contemporary lean-to provides an externally accessed storage space.

The toilet block is positioned just N of the school building. This single storey, three bay structure, constructed of red-brick and flint rubble, has three timber plank and batten doors with a rectangular overlight above each. The first (left) is labelled ‘SCHOOL MISTRESS’, the central is for ‘GIRLS’ and the right hand door for ‘BOYS’. A similar door in the eastern gable provides access to a storage area but this was not assessed at the time of the site visit. The building has been re-roofed in corrugated metal sheeting in early C21.

The school yard boundary wall survives along the N side of The Street, along the western side of the school building and partially along the eastern edge of the adjacent field. The rubble flint construction with moulded stone coping and gault-brick piers is distinguishable from later walling by the refined moulded coping.

INTERIOR: the external door of the porch leads into a small lobby where a pair of four-panel timber doors (within a single frame), one marked ‘BOYS’ and the other ‘GIRLS’, provide access into the main school room. Internally the school comprises of three rooms; the main school room which can be subdivided by an original folding timber-panelled, half-glazed partition; a narrow cloak room at the northern end of the building and a small kitchen area within the extension. The cloak room has been created by the insertion of a half-panelled and half-glazed stud wall which cuts across a window on the W elevation indicating it is a later insertion. The roof space was inaccessible at the time of the site visit, and an inserted ceiling partially hides the roof structure, but the exposed lower reaches of the principal rafters, collars and purlins are testament to its survival.

The interior of the toilet block was not accessed at the time of the site visit (May 2015) but it is understood the WC fixtures and fittings survive.


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, followed in 1814 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; 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.

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. The tripartite plan remained in use, added to and modified as necessary; more complex plans are found particularly in the market towns.

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 a 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. During this period a growing interest in health and hygiene, with a concern to introduce light and fresh air, is physically represented by classrooms lit by large windows on two sides and by the introduction of hopper opening windows, allowing cross ventilation with reduced draughts; 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.

Great Cressingham School was built in 1840 and was initially attended by 60 children although it had a capacity for 115 children. By 1947 there were 25 children registered and the school was scheduled for closure in 1956-7 but remained open until 1992.

A porch was added to the eastern elevation and a detached toilet block was built to the north of the main school building but the exact date of these is unknown but probably late C19-early C20. An extension on the northern end of the eastern elevation was added around 1890.

Reasons for Listing

The former Great Cressingham School built 1840 is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: as an early-C19 school which subtly pays homage to the Tudor revival style, so popular in school architecture during the 1830s and 40s;
* Degree of survival: as a near complete example of an early-C19 school ensemble including yard walls and a toilet block. The high degree of intactness both internally and externally ensures its plan form and function remain clearly legible;
* Interior detail: for the exceptional interior survival of fixtures and fittings including the original folding partition and separate entrances for boys and girls.
* Group value: for the high level of group value it shares with the adjacent Grange, listed at Grade II;

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