History of the building

St. Michael's School 1814-1978

You can not miss the old building that stands next to the graveyard in Trinity Road. But what is it used for today, and why was it built back in 1814?

Some people still refer to our premises as "the old St. Michael's School", so let's explain a bit of it's history.

The New School - Highfields County Primary

On 21st July 1978 a new school was born - Highfields County Primary, Colchester Road. But the children didn't just materialise out of thin air to fill a new school. Two other buildings, that had once housed St. Michael's Primary School in Trinity Road and Wesley School in Oxford Road, now stood vacant and empty.

But let's go back a couple of years, to 1976...

The Headship of St. Michael's became vacant in January of that year, and for two terms Mr. Norman Brunning was appointed temporarily to hold the post. Around this same time the Managers of both schools decided that this was an opportunity to amalgamate the schools. By September Mrs J. Reynolds had been appointed Head Teacher of the combined schools.

Mrs Reynolds wrote: "Although we were to continue renting the same buildings as before we now became a State Primary, but continued to have a very close relationship with both Churches".

In February 1977 the news was received that building work would start on the new school at the orchard site in Colchester Road. There were to be some hitches along the way but by July 1978 Highfields was complete and Mrs. Reynolds received the keys to the new school.

"On the 21st July 1978", wrote one of the children, "the morning was nerve racking as nobody could wait to go. At about 1.15pm we walked out to the top of Mill Hill and the Royal Staffordshire Regiment's Band came over the bridge with the children from the old Wesley School following. They went down the hill and we followed all carrying our T.S.B. plastic bags with our books in. Two ladies carried a banner to show everyone that we were moving to our new school".

"When our two Manningtree primary schools ... amalgamated and moved to their new building ... a physical link was broken, for generations of Manningtree children, and indeed Mistley and Lawford, and in earlier times Brantham and Bromley children, had been to school in the two old buildings." - Norman Brunning.

This was the time for Norman Brunning to start digging deep into the history of the old
schools, and some of his material concerning St. Michael's is featured here.


St. Michael's was founded in 1814, as The Manningtree and Mistley National School. It was founded "on the Madras Principle, a very new and up-to-date educational system then .." But by 1854, when the Wesley School (now the Manifest Theatre) was founded, the educational pendulum had swung away from the "mechanical rote teaching" of the Madras Principle to the "Glasgow System" where all teaching was to be by "Object Lessons, and information on any subject was to be given to the pupils by skilful use of questions drawn out from the pupils themselves."

The Account Book "1814 - 1844"

"At a Meeting held at Manningtree, on Monday 28th day of March, 1814, to take into
consideration the necessity of forming, on the principle and basis of the Sunday School
already instituted, a daily school for the Education of the Children of the Poor, in the principles of the Established Church, it was unanimously resolved:
[selected extracts]

That the local circumstances of the Town of Manningtree, the increased and numerous
population, and the very considerable population of Mistley and the vicinity render such an establishment highly desirable

That every child whether Boy or Girl admitted into this school, shall weekly, on the
Monday morning, pay into a box kept for the purpose, one penny towards defraying the expense of his or her tuition."
[The Account Book, 1814 - 1844]

On the last page but one of the Account Book appears the account for the building of the school, which seems to have been ... £490. 17s. 7d.

Mr. W. Cooper had been appointed the Master of the school and in 1814 his salary was £7 per month, but had slipped to £5. 16s. 8d. by 1815. When his successor, a Mr. Wallis was appointed in 1816 his salary was only £1 per week.

The entry in the Account Book for January 1815 makes interesting reading:
"2,000 quills at £3. 12s. 0d.; Nutgals, Green Copperas and Spirit Wine 10s. 2d"
Norman Brunning asks if Mr. Cooper made his own ink? Did Copperas, a sulphate of iron, come from the River Stour at Copperas Bay? Nutgals are galls found on dyer's oak and were used for making dyes.

By Christmas 1833 there was an average attendance at St. Michael's School of 235 children, 158 boys and 77 girls.

The Log Book "1866 - 1886"

In 1866 the Master of the school was Mr. Brice David Pizzey, assisted by two "pupil teachers" and two Monitors who had to be over the age of thirteen to help with the teaching! Mr. Pizzey died in 1868, at the age of 22, of smallpox and is buried in the graveyard in Trinity Road.

While there was a very strict regime in the school the behaviour of children - especially
the boys - outside the school hours caused concern. "The boys threw stones at each other, at horses, trains, chickens and at the school windows. They also walked over the railway bridge parapet." No mention of the girls!

Here are some extracts from the Log Book of this period:
26th July 1870: "attendance not so good owing to several boys being employed in unloading slates from several barges opposite Manningtree Quay"
5th July 1871: "School Treat"
6th July 1871: "Holiday to clean school after Treat"
22nd April 1884: "Shock of an earthquake felt in the town this morning about 9:30am"

Into the 20th Century

An extension to the front of the school was built around 1905. In 1913 the Log Book tells us that the Headmaster was Mr. A. P. Blacklee, and the staff were consisted of such names as Miss Barr (later Mrs Ellis), Miss Dent, Miss Disbrey and Miss Taylor. Mrs Buck was the student teacher and Miss Lily Skeats the Monitoress. There were 177 children on the books at this time.

1914 - 1918

Apart from the darkness of a world war that was raging, this was a hard time for children
and their families at home. In 1914 many children had diphtheria and other sicknesses, and the school was closed at one point for two and a half weeks. There was also a great worry about heating during the winter as there were no coal deliveries. School closed at 4.00pm to allow cleaning to be done without lights because of the war.

During 1918 whooping cough was very prevalent, and an influenza outbreak closed the school in October. The school had to be disinfected. Two children were sent home because their clothes were so tattered and had to be repaired.

No records are available of the loss of life of former pupils of the school during the
World Wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-45. But many of both those periods will have their own personal histories and memories of those dramatic years.

1950s onwards

When Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne St. Michael's School had been in existence in Trinity Road for 139 years. Some photographs of the pupils and teachers during that period still survive.

But on 21st July 1978 an era came to an end. Highfields County Primary School came to life. At the official opening gas-filled balloons were released, each with a child's name written on them. St. Michael's School stood empty after 164 years.

Well, in May 1977 a new church had come into being, calling itself at that time Lawford
Evangelical Church. It had come about when a few Christian families who had been meeting together in homes for Bible study reached the point when they felt it was right to hold public services on a Sunday. Ogilvie Hall became the venue. Then in 1977 the decision was taken to inaugurate themselves as an independent church. But this church was in need of a permanent home, premises that would belong to the church.

In 1980 the old St. Michael's School was put up for sale by the Church Commissioners,
spotted by the young church meeting at Ogilvie Hall and subsequently purchased.

And so, what was once St. Michael's School now houses a living church!