Burston Strike School

Burston Strike School
Friends of Diss Museum Talk - Friday 15th March 2019

Brian Thurlow is a great speaker who doesn’t rely on power points but acts out the characters thus bringing the story to life!

Tom and Kitty Higdon taught at Wood Dalling School where a Mr Boast took children from their lessons to work on his farm. Kitty taught the girls shorthand typing and subjects not taught in other schools. Tom became Chair of the Parish Council which displeased local farmers as he was also a Farmer Workers Union member. Mrs Higdon got the sack from the school, accused of calling a member of the parish council a liar.

They took up the post at Burston School in 1911. The new rector Charles Tucker Eland, earned £495 a year plus the money from renting out Glebe land for allotments to villagers to grow food.

Parents and children loved Tom and Kitty. Mrs Higdon used to bring in her typewriter and sewing machine for the children and would dry their clothes in front of the school fire without permission from the managers to light it! Mrs Higdon could afford to pay for extras as she had a private income from an inheritance, she also bought a May pole and used it on Labour Day - much to the annoyance of the school managers. Tom Higdon soon became the new chair of Burston Parish Council too.

Villager, Mrs Philpot fostered two girls from Barnardo’s home. The girls claimed a boy exposed himself to them in the playground; he wasn’t even in school on the day of the alleged incident. They admitted they got it wrong but then accused Mrs Higdon of caning them, later admitting that Mrs Philpot and the rector told them to say it.

Mrs Higdon wrote to the head of Barnardo’s and complained, this was forwarded to the local agent, Rev Eland. A National Union of Teachers agent came to listen to their story but ‘character witnesses’ were told to annihilate the Higdons. They were sacked and left on 31st March 1914, so Violet Potter got 65 of the 71 children to go on strike! On April 1st Emily Wilby marched the children round the candlestick.

Mrs Bolton from the post office gave them sweets and they sang their strike song accompanied by Violet on her squeeze box. News of the strike appeared in local and London papers. Parents of striking children received summons to appear at court at Diss Corn Hall. They were fined 2/6 but the huge crowd had a collection which paid the fines. Next time it was 5/- but again it was paid for by crowd funding! The Higdons started a strike school on the common. Ambrose Sandy who was blind offered them his old workshop, which the school Inspectors came and loved how the Higdons taught the children.

The Rector evicted parents of striking school children from the Glebe allotments which meant they would have no more vegetables. Various socialists came to Burston on Sunday afternoons to speak to the crowds including Emily Pankhurst. They collected money and after a year there was £1,000 and they built their very own school which Violet Potter opened on Sunday 13th May 1917!

Emily Pankhurst wrote in the Women’s Dreadnought Suffragette Magazine that when she arrived at Burston Railway Station on opening day, she noticed a defeated Rev Eland. She was delighted to see all the flags and banners of the various trade unionists who had turned up for the occasion!

In 1939 Tom died, his coffin was driven through the village on a wagon by a horse. After that the School soon closed as there were only a few children attending. Mrs Higdon died in 1946 at Swainsthorpe and was buried with her husband in the Churchyard at Burston Church. In 1919 Rev Eland was re-elected onto the local Parish Council; he died in Eastbourne and left £3,000.

To this day there are still Rallies every year.

Thanks to Roella Trudgill for this write up.

For further information about Burston Strike School visit:
Picture courtesy of Burston Strike School.


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