10 July 2012

St Nicolas School Portslade - History

A History by Judy Middleton. (1990 revised 2020)

copyright © J.Middleton
St Nicolas C of E Primary School Portslade


It is fitting that in a history of a church school, the first teacher in Portslade of whom we have a record should be called Elizabeth Godley. She must have been an industrious woman because as well as being a wife and mother she taught the local children for 50 years. She began her teaching career in 1796 at the age of 17. It is not surprising to find that her daughter Sarah, having been brought up in such a household, should decide that teaching was her vocation too. Indeed it must have been difficult for Sarah to get away from the school atmosphere because it seems her mother taught her pupils in her own home, there being no school building at that time.

copyright © D.Sharp
Elizabeth Godley's gravestone in 
St Nicolas Churchyard
However, in around 1841 a schoolhouse was built on a site donated by George Hall of Portslade House. It cost £373-3-0d and the money was raised by public subscription and a Government grant. The exact site has not been pinpointed but it is said the building was situated in the South Street area – between Robin’s Row and where Windlesham Close is today.

Elizabeth Godley had a particular interest in this new National School because the first Mistress of it was none other than her daughter Sarah Patching. But the joy was short lived because in 1846 both Elizabeth (aged 67) and Sarah (aged 36) died within two months of each other – a double blow for the parish. Their memory is perpetuated in a long inscription on their tombstone in St Nicolas’s Churchyard, which is still visible today. Part of it runs ‘Mother and daughter alike showed the sincerity of their own faith by their unwearied exertions to lead those under their care to the knowledge of the Truth as it is in Jesus’.

Mary Wingenroth was the next head of the school but the inscription on her tombstone has not proved so durable. Although it was composed of 14 lines, only parts of it may be read today. At the top it states ‘She was Mistress of the Portslade Parochial School’ and further down ‘improving those under her care by useful knowledge’. Mary Wingenroth’s husband had arrived in Portslade from White Church, county Dublin. Henry John’s profession was described as a steward and perhaps he looked after the estate of one of the important local families. On 1st August 1841 the Wingenroth’s son, also named Henry John, was baptised at St Nicolas Church. Sadly, the little lad died before he was eight years old and was buried in Portslade. By this time Mary was teaching at the school, which she continued to do until her death at the age of 53 in 1858. As far as we know there was no tombstone raised for her son, neither is he mentioned on hers. Her inscription ends ‘Our days on earth are as a shadow and there is none abiding.’

In 1853 a house was built to accommodate the teacher at a cost of £250. Presumably, it was adjacent to the school. The 1861 census reveals that Charles and Elizabeth Groome lived there then.

It is interesting to note in passing the dominant role played by women is the first 65 years of formal education in Portslade. But in 1863 a new era dawned when Gabriel McConnochie arrived on the scene. Moreover he was a certificated teacher. He took up his pen and wrote the first entry in the School Log Book ‘took charge of this school 9th February 1863’. To generations of local children, school and McConnochie must have been synonymous because he did not relinquish his post until 1893.

It is a popular notion that Victorian children were well disciplined but by all accounts the Portslade boys were an unruly lot. They clambered about on a wall near the school so often that part of it collapsed; they swung on the farmer’s gate until it fell off its hinges and they removed huge quantities of acorns from the vicar’s garden during the lunch hour (McConnochie made the boys take them back). Then there were the scarves and wrappers that their mothers had thoughtfully provided only for them to be torn to shreds in the playground; the school windows were broken on occasions and graffiti was not unknown.

Added to this, unpunctuality and absenteeism were rife. The overall impression was that children came to school if there was nothing better to do. In summer there was the harvest and gleaning to attend to, besides hopping or pea picking and some boys were absent the whole summer in order to earn money working in the brickfields. In November 1870 twelve children went to Hangleton for the potato picking but they soon returned to school when they realised how cold it was out in the fields. At Christmas time some of the children went ‘gooding’. It was the custom for the farmers to give a gallon of flour to poor people and going to collect it was known as ‘gooding’. On May Day if the children were not given a holiday, they took it anyway and McConnochie noted disconsolately in the Log that many were absent gathering flowers for their May garlands. When McConnochie tried to impose discipline by keeping children behind after school for half an hour as a punishment, he could expect to find an irate parent on the doorstep.

Dirt and disease were also a problem. In April 1863 one of the mothers who always kept her children clean, came to see McConnochie. She complained bitterly and threatened to withdraw her children from school because of the quantity of vermin they brought home. McConnochie had to admit the truth of her accusation as several children were literally swarming with infestation. He resolved that unless children arrived in a clean state, they would not be admitted. There were later instances of children arriving at school with ringworm and being sent smartly back home again.

Attendance was often badly hit by outbreaks of serious disease. In 1864 smallpox came to the village; there were two cases near the school in March and one death in April. The infection dragged on and in May the children who came from Hangleton were told to stay at home for fear of transporting it there. In 1865 whooping cough and typhus fever played such havoc that systematic learning almost came to a standstill. In 1868 there was a measles epidemic; in 1870 whooping cough was back again and there was smallpox in Fishersgate while 1876 brought a bad outbreak scarlet fever.

For all these reasons McConnochie preferred to start the children’s education as soon as possible. It was a case of trying to instil as much knowledge as possible in the short time available. In 1866 he noted in the Log that it was impossible to keep children at school after 10 or 11 years of age ‘so the younger they come, the better’. The girls were no better off because they frequently had to finish their education prematurely in order to mind their siblings at home or to go into service.

The weather is a perennial topic of interest and McConnochie duly noted the extremes he encountered. It seems as though the winters were colder and the summers were hotter in those days. On the 9th February 1864 there was an incident that could have been tragic. The boys were accustomed to playing about on a nearby ice-covered pond but on this occasion they fell through the ice. McConnochie rushed to the rescue of the three boys and hauled them out with a rope. From then on he always kept a coiled rope handy. On 18th January 1866 McConnochie recorded ‘storms of snow, most wintry day I’ve seen at Portslade’. By contrast there was the summer weather. On 22nd June 1866 he noted ‘grilling hot 85 in the shade 116 in the sun’ and on 13th June 1867 ‘very hot upper school worked in the plantation’. It was a pleasant custom that in hot weather the scholars were taught their lessons under the shade of a nearby grove of trees. On 19th May 1868 he wrote ‘intensely hot thermometer 102’.

copyright © J.Middleton
Portslade Farmhouse in South Street was once known as the Old Schoolhouse

McConnochie had a rival in the 1860s – a Dame School run by a person called Mort. It is obvious that McConnochie, as a certificated teacher, disapproved mightily of this enterprise. So much so that when entering the name in the Log he did not deign to record whether this personage was a Miss or Mrs or indeed her Christian name. However, from other sources we know about a Frederick and Martha Mort living in the village at the same time as McConnochie. Fred Mort was a baker and perhaps Martha ran a Dame School as a sideline. It appears that sometimes children on their way to the Parochial School, would present themselves to the Dame School instead. Martha Mort was only following a local tradition because in the 1770s Dame Dod ran a Dame School and charged 7/2d a year.

But McConnochie had a staunch supporter in Mrs Gosset of Portslade House. She stopped the rot by announcing in June 1866 that not only would she be awarding prizes to children at Christmas time but she would also be inviting some children to take tea with her on Saturday afternoons. Later in the year she presented a rocking horse to the smaller boys – obviously a marvellous, expensive toy out of range of their experience. The older boys were soon forbidden to touch the rocking horse because they were far too rough and had caused accidents. Mrs Gosset’s generosity at Christmas soon became established as an annual treat to which she later added a magic lantern show. As one might expect the vicar was a frequent visitor to the school
copyright © J.Middleton
 This silk book-mark 
was created to
 commemorate the 
marriage of the
 Prince and Princess 
of Wales 
on 10 March 1863

But the Christmas visit was a special occasion. On the last day of term (usually the 24th) he would dispense oranges, nuts and sweets but in later years it was a penny for each child.

Treats for the children were provided on days of royal rejoicing. When the Prince of Wales married Princess Alexandra in November 1863, Mrs Poe gave the children a splendid tea and McConnochie recorded laconically that one little fellow (all of 20 months old) made the most of the festivities by downing eight slices of cake!

In the same month when McConnochie asked the class of infants who the Prince of Wales was, a bright youngster piped up that he lived just up here, referring to the pub of the same name. It sounds like a music hall joke but there it is inscribed in the School Log. It was marvellous how the prospect of a free bun fight could affect attendance figures. On 7th August 1874 McConnochie recorded ‘prospect of annual break-up tea induced many to recover from measles or abstain from work’.

There were two requisites before a child could attend school. The first was the payment of school pence, which was 3d a week per child. Given that many of the families were very poor, the cost of education must have seemed prohibitive. The second was compulsory attendance at church and Sunday School. If a child failed to attend church without having a good excuse to offer, his name was struck off the register. Sometimes, upon enquiry, it became apparent that the unfortunate child did not have the appropriate clothes for going to church but a rule was a rule. Most probably the vicar found his young captive congregation something of a rod for his own back because they frequently misbehaved. On the other hand several boys were recruited to sing in the choir. It should also be mentioned that McConnochie was organist and choirmaster at the church, a function he performed for 30 years.

This summary of the circumstances under which McConnochie laboured induces an admiration for his character. The odds against him were enormous and yet he does not seem to have been one of those stern, repressive schoolmasters, in fact he comes across as a kind, caring man. He even tried to instil into the rough boys the notion that robbing a bird’s nest of its eggs was cruel and when one boy brought a linnet in a cage to school, McConnochie persuaded him to set it free. For relaxation McConnochie liked nothing better than a good game of cricket. Indeed he was such a keen cricketer that he became the leading light in the Portslade Cricket Club where everyone knew him as Mac. He served as captain and secretary for 21 years and the club is still in existence.

A great encouragement in his life was his able wife Caroline Louisa who taught the infants. She was a competent teacher and Her Majesty’s Inspector commented that he found her infants well taught. She often continued teaching nearly up to the day of her confinement. Then when she was in labour, the school would be closed for the day. But she was soon back at her post. Between 1864 and 1876 Mrs McConnochie produced four daughters and two sons. It was almost as if she and the vicar’s lady were engaged in friendly rivalry in the maternity stakes because the stork was forever flitting between the Vicarage and the School House. Between 1867 and 1879 the vicar’s wife, Mrs Barbara Henrietta Louise Holbrooke, gave birth to four daughters and five sons.

In 1871, shortly after the birth of her fifth child, Mrs McConnochie decided to retire from schoolwork. Not that she could leave it alone entirely because in 1876 she returned as a teacher of needlework. As the HMI’s report for 1873 had stated that the standard of needlework was only fairly good, she must have felt there was room for improvement. In 1876 she was prepared to devote the whole afternoon of Thursdays and Fridays to the subject instead of one hour daily.

For years Mr and Mrs McConnochie were the only staff, although they had some help in the form of one or two monitors. Young Mary Ann Miles assisted Mrs McConnochie, and after the latter retired, she took over the infants, having passed her exam at Christmas 1872. In that year there were 156 children on the books and although that number was not in the habit of attending daily, it is still some indication of the pressure on the staff. If McConnochie fell ill, it was a question of either shutting the school or struggling on even more under-staffed than usual. In the winter of 1877/1878 McConnochie was ill for ten weeks and the school was kept going by Mrs McConnochie, Miss Miles and the monitors.

Despite everything, the schooling the children received was good. In 1872 the HMI’s report stated ‘the school is very carefully worked by Mr McConnochie and with satisfactory results’.

On 2nd March 1871 McConnochie noted that in accordance with a directive regarding Log Books he would make one entry a week instead of daily as had been his practice. It is a sad date for those interested in local history because much of the flavour evaporates from the Log. The entries he made between 1863 and 1871 are invaluable for all the details he records and gives us a real glimpse into the lives of ordinary Portslade folk as nothing else could do.

copyright © J.Middleton
Brackenbury School (now an annex of Brackenbury Primary School)
The inscription on the School's west wall reads: These Schools were erected by Hannah Brakenbury for the benefit of the Poor of the united parishes of Portslade and Hangleton A.D. 1872.

The year 1872 was important because the school moved to a brand new building on Locks Hill. It was made possible through the generosity of Miss Hannah Brackenbury who was born in 1795. Hannah lived in Manchester with her brother James Blackledge Brackenbury until 1844 when his health broke down and they moved to the south coast. But it was to no avail since he died on 2nd October the same year at Hove. His only child Harriette Mary died aged 28 in 1861 and Hannah’s sole surviving relative her brother Ralph, a retired surgeon, died in September 1864. Thus the wealth of the Brackenburys became concentrated on Hannah. Her father was a doctor but the family fortune was due to her brother James who was a solicitor in Manchester and adviser to the local railway company. Indeed the family fortune was founded on judicious investments in various early railway enterprises and when Hannah died she still owned shares in four of them. Hannah’s inheritance was so vast that she was able to give away at least £100,000 during her lifetime.

But of course the Brackenburys were nouveau riche and the attitude of Victorian society to such people was condescending to say the least. Hannah became convinced that she came from an ancient and noble family, descending from the redoubtable Sir Pearse de Brackenbury, companion in arms to William the Conqueror. In fact there is a break in the family tree between 1676 and the 1790s. Another ‘claimed’ ancestor was John de Balliol, father of John Balliol, King of Scotland. It was John de Balliol’s widow Lady Devorguilla who founded Balliol College, Oxford in 1282. In the 1860s Hannah donated at least £20,000 to Balliol College towards the construction of buildings on the south side of the quadrangle facing Broad Street as well as endowing scholarships for students of law or medicine, which still exist.

It is not known why Hannah decided to be generous to Portslade too. She lived initially at Brunswick Square, then Brunswick Terrace and finally at 31 Adelaide Crescent. It was her housekeeper Alice King who lived at Sellaby House in Portslade after Hannah’s death – the house being named in honour of the old Brackenbury link with Selaby in Durham.

Before the Brackenbury Schools could be built, the land had to be purchased. On the first page of the School Minute Book the following details are revealed. ’On 23 March 1871 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in whom were vested the Canterbury Archbishopric Estates, conveyed an acre of land to the Vicar and Churchwardens of Portslade for a school site in consideration of £100 paid by Miss Hannah Brackenbury.’ The schools were specifically for the children ‘of the labouring, manufacturing and other poorer classes of the Parish of Portslade’.

Edmund Evan Scott was the architect chosen to design the schools and he belonged to a family of local artists. His grandfather Edmund Scott painted portraits including fashionable miniatures and in 1811 was appointed portrait engraver to the Prince of Wales. Edmund Scott’s three sons and two daughters were all recognised artists and it was the second son Charles James Scott who was the father of our architect. Edmund Evan Scott’s great-niece Amy Scott, another artist, lived most of her life at Hove and when she died in 1950 bequeathed her family’s archive of work to Hove Museum.

copyright © J.Middleton                                                                         copyright © D.Sharp
top left:- St Andrews Church Portslade, right:- Brackenbury Chapel at St Nicolas Church Portslade, lower left:- Portslade Cemetery Chapel

Edmund Evan Scott’s first work in Portslade was in conjunction with his partner, a Mr Suter, and they designed St Andrew’s Church, built in 1864. By himself EE Scott designed the Brackenbury Schools and around the same time the two chapels in Portslade Cemetery and all these buildings were flint-faced in a Victorian Gothic style. It is also possible that he designed the Brackenbury Chapel at St Nicolas’s Church although there is no proof because remarkably the documents have not been discovered. But the style is similar to his other Portslade designs. His most celebrated work is without doubt St Bartholomew’s Church, Brighton, which opened in 1874. It is a soaring edifice built of red brick and there could not be a greater contrast between that and his flint buildings in Portslade.

The Brackenbury Schools were officially opened on Saturday 25th May 1872. The church bells started a joyful ring in the morning and kept it up at intervals throughout the day. At 3pm the children assembled at the old school in the village for the last time and with Devin’s pier band leading the way, marched down to the new schools. At 4pm Hannah Brackenbury arrived with a party of friends including Lady Westphal, the wife of the famous Trafalgar veteran Admiral Sir George Augustus Westphal who lived in Brunswick Square. The welcoming party at the gates included the vicar the Revd FG Holbrooke, Mr Dudney the parish churchwarden, and the three school managers Alfred Hardwick, Edward Blaker and Frederick Sundius Smith. McConnochie described as the ‘highly respected master’ led the children in giving three cheers and then the company of guests, children and parents sat down to a splendid tea. They consumed 50 large loaves, 36 gallons of tea, 6 gallons of milk and 200lbs of plum cake.

John King was the builder responsible for the erection of the building, which was intended to accommodate 250 children with the boys and girls being taught separately. John King was the brother of Alice King, Hannah’s esteemed housekeeper. Less than a year later Hannah Brackenbury was dead. She died on 28th February 1873 and her funeral was held at St Nicolas’s Church on 7th March. Her mourning coach was drawn by four horses and followed by four similar coaches and her private carriage. The cortege took an hour to travel from Adelaide Crescent to the church. The polished oak coffin with silver furniture and nails was placed in the family vault. The children of the Brackenbury School attended as a mark of respect and the large congregation included the Revd Professor Jowett, Master of Balliol. The following month there was a 3-day sale of all the effects from Hannah’s house.


The year 1875 was a controversial one for parish politics in Portslade. It started off early in the year with a dispute in the court of Queen’s Bench. The case arose because of the opening of the Brackenbury School and the disposal of the old school site. The Revd GF Holbrooke, after carefully obtaining permission of the Home Secretary and the Charity Commissioners, advertised the property for sale. However, the plaintiff claimed that although the late Mr George Hall had conveyed the land to the vicar for a school, it was in fact only lent and now that the old school was redundant, the Hall family wanted their land back. But Justices Mellor, Lush and Quain were unconvinced by counsel’s arguments and referred the case back to the parties. If an agreement could not be found, then the parties would have to give the court power to come to their own conclusions.

The case was a blow to the vicar for he had hoped to use the money from the sale to put towards the cost of running the schools. Finance became a pressing problem. It might seem that having a purpose built school given to the parish, everything in the garden would be lovely. This was not the case. The children’s pence and the Government grant were simply not enough to keep the place running.

The Revd FG Holbrooke sent out a circular to his parishioners in April 1875 asking for voluntary subscriptions. He did not need an impossible sum – just £65 a year in voluntary subscriptions and £65 in annual subscriptions to keep the schools solvent. If the money were not forthcoming, he would have to relinquish control to the School Board. The spectre of the School Board was a useful bogeyman to rattle at his parishioners because it was well known having a School Board was almost always more expensive in the long run.

In Portslade it would probably mean the imposition of a rate of 10d in the £ and people had only to look to Brighton, which was already groaning under the burden of a School Board. The problem was relevant to the whole of Portslade because if St Nicolas could not afford to keep its schools running, then the School Board would take over St Andrew’s School in Portslade-by-Sea as well.

The crisis arose because the population of Portslade was changing. The old established well-off families were moving away while the working population continued to increase rapidly. Father Holbrooke must have grown fed up trying to get blood out of a stone and so he decided to put the whole matter to the vote; and just so nobody could say he was exerting an influence, he declined to take the chair.

The meeting proved to be a stormy one with heated participation in the form of hisses, applause, or shouts of ‘hear, hear’. Frederick Sundius Smith, churchwarden, moved a resolution asking for a School Board and for a petition to be forwarded to the Guardians of Steyning Union. He made a long speech in which he intimated that the schools were £70 in debt and a school rate would only be 3d in the £ (hisses). William Hall seconded the resolution – he can have hardly been the vicar’s favourite person because he had already been involved in the land dispute earlier in that year. In the event Portslade people voted against having a School Board and there were few votes in its favour. The Brighton Gazette summed it up as follows, ‘Some liveliness was imparted to the meeting by the appearance of the stormy petrel Mr William Hall, but a fatality of failure seems to attend him and he only succeeded in securing one more defeat’.

 copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
This historic photograph dating from around 1914 shows long-vanished parts of Portslade. The Britannia Flour Mills stand at the centre with a ship at the wharf, the Crown Inn is on the right, the Star Model Laundry is on the left while in the background the spire of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, and St Denis is visible.

As for Frederick Sundius Smith, he too must have been a trial for the vicar because as well as being churchwarden, he was also one of the school managers and yet he had been in favour of turning over control to the School Board. Smith was the owner of the Britannia Steam Mills overlooking the canal – he had to be a man of property to qualify for being a manager. He was still connected with the schools in the 1890s, by which time the Revd FG Holbrooke had left Portslade after a ministry of 21 years. It is interesting to note that the two families were to have a further connection when in 1908 the vicar’s son Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Frederick Roper Holbrooke of the Indian Army married Beatrice Muriel, Smith’s daughter. Smith and his wife had five sons and three of them followed a military career with Indian connections. They were Colonel Donald Geoffrey Sundius Knightley Smith of the 1/15th Punjab Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Brian Leslie Sundius Smith DSO of the Baluch Regiment and 2nd Lieutenant Ronald Christian Sundius Smith of the Indian Army who was killed at Neuve Chappelle in 1915 whilst attached to the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment. There is a beautiful window designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones in memory of the latter in St Andrew’s Church, Portslade.

Also in 1875 more controversy was to follow, Frederick Gosset of Portslade House wrote a letter to the Brighton Gazette accusing Revd Richard Enraght who was the Curate-in-Charge of St Andrew's Church Portslade of Puseyism (used here as a term of abuse) and of trying to turn the St Nicolas School into a Puseyite school. Mr Gossett, a Protestant anti-ritualist, stated, "The Revd Mr. Enraght, whose doctrines, if they were not doctrines of the Church of Rome, he (Mr. Gossett) was ignorant to what Church they belonged."

In reply to this personal attack, Revd Enraght sent the following statement to the Brighton Gazette,

" My attention has only just be drawn to an attack made upon me, in my absence, by Mr. Gossett, of Portslade. I only noticed Mr. Gossett’s slander for the sake of the people to whom I lately ministered. I beg to inform all who care to know that ‘my doctrines’ are those of the ‘one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’, in which Mr. Gossett has professed to, but does not, I suppose ‘believe’; whereas I do.” In Fr Enraght’s letter he goes on to list all the doctrines of the Church of England held in common with the Roman Catholic Church, and ends his letter saying “It is shameful that ‘Protestants’ should persist in deceiving the people with this palpable fallacy.”


A new room for infants was opened at Easter 1875 and was one of the causes of the financial difficulties. Not only did the room cost £40 but there was also an influx of 40 children. The existing staff became even more stretched. However, the standard of education continued to meet with Government approval.

The Diocese was also pleased with the way religious knowledge was imparted and Portslade consistently became top school in the subject within the Rural Deanery of Hurstpierpoint. John Sayers and Reginald Ward took the first two prizes in 1876 and McConnochie proclaimed a half-holiday to celebrate. He must also have been pleased when in 1879 his son Bertie won first prize in the viva voce for religious knowledge. Laudable as these achievements were, it has to be said that there was a financial angle to it as well because McConnochie’s salary was enhanced by the results. In 1883 his basic salary was fixed at £120 a year with half of the Government grant received for the boys’ school plus 1/- a head of average attendance of children who had passed the examination of the Diocesan Inspector. For some reason not specified, by 1890 his salary had been reduced to £115 and a quarter of the Government grant but the 1/- per head of average attendance remained.

In 1879 the Revd FG Holbrooke left the parish and the choir boys clubbed together to present him with a somewhat unusual leaving gift – a butter knife. The Revd CA Stevens was the new vicar and he had barely got into his stride before McConnochie was pressing him to allow more staff to be hired because there were only Miss Sayers and two monitors to assist him in teaching 200 children.

Unfortunately for McConnochie the HMI visit in 1881 went badly. McConnochie had the children standing to attention to greet the great man at 9.30am but owing to the train’s delay he did not turn up until 10.30 by which time the children were restless. The infants were up to scratch but standard two was a different matter. There had been no teacher for them from October 1880 to June 1881 and the teachers appointed since had not proved to be efficient. The result was dreadful – 50% of the children failed. McConnochie wrote gloomily in the Log ‘it has been the most unsatisfactory examination since I had charge of the school, now nearly 19 years’.

But he soon cheered up because in 1882 a new assistant arrived and in 1883 the girls moved to a separate newly built department. In 1884 Mr G Riley started work as an assistant teacher and McConnochie celebrated his 21st anniversary at Portslade. He received a silver watch and chain from 180 scholars and friends.

Shortly afterwards there was a nasty accident in the playground and it sounds as though the school was fortunate not to have a fatality. In McConnchie’s words, ‘an accident occurred to Robert Cherriman, a knife passing into his back causing a small wound, which bled freely. I stopped the bleeding with cold water, took him home, I hope all will be well.’ All was well as Cherriman returned to school the next week.

In 1888 there was a late harvest and so the school did not close for its summer break until 17th August; the harvesting still not being finished by the last week in September. The summer holidays were customarily called the harvest holidays and McConnochie knew it was hopeless to keep the school open during harvest time because it was a case of every hand to the fields.

By 1890 clouds were beginning to gather in McConnochie’s sky. The HMI visited in July and reported ‘this school which appears to have been weak last year, now shows a decline and the attainments can hardly be regarded as satisfactory’. McConnochie had now been at the school for 27 years – perhaps he was getting old and tired. In 1892 McConnochie was ill from 23rd March to 14th April and the assistant Mr Groves ran the school on his own. An inspector from the Science and Art Department came to examine the boys’ drawings for the first time. He was satisfied and so was the Diocesan Inspector who thought the religious knowledge was better than last year.

However, the HMI’s visit in the summer produced a bombshell. In the Log for July 1892 there appears the following, ‘HM Inspector having reported the Boys’ School to be inefficient My Lords hereby give formal warning under Act 86 that should he at his next visit again report the Boys School to be inefficient, the entire grant may be curtailed’.

McConnochie must have spent the intervening months labouring under a dread of failure. In 1893 the HMI was again unsatisfied and the annual grant was withheld. The report states ‘both discipline and instruction here are unsatisfactory. Reading is bad and arithmetic … a failure. Recitation is most defective and … the Boys’ knowledge of English and Geography is almost worthless. The examination results this year seem worse that they were last’. The managers told McConnochie that they would not require his services after Christmas.

McConnochie wrote his last entry in the Log in December 1893 ‘closed school for the usual Christmas holidays and my duties as Master after 30 years and 9 months’. As McConnochie closed the school door for the last time he must have been reminded of another sad Christmas 15 years earlier when his 12-year old daughter Alice Louise died on 16th December 1878 after a long and painful illness. She was buried in St Nicolas Churchyard.

The managers agreed to send particulars of McConnochie’s service to Lewes in order that he might receive a pension. But he did not enjoy his pension for long because he died aged 63 on 31 August 1898. His wife did not die until 5th February 1917 and they were both buried in Portslade Cemetery.


The boys’ school had been run as a separate department since 5th November 1883 but it is easier to take up the story from January 1894 when Robert Price, the new headmaster, took over. At the same time there was a new assistant master and Mr Worsfold replaced Mr Groves.

Discipline was tightened up on all fronts; not only must the boys be punctual but the masters must be ready to receive the scholars in their classrooms five minutes before the appointed time. Truancy was no longer such a problem since the managers had the good sense to employ Captain Dowell as attendance officer. One can imagine him (ramrod straight ex-Army man) going from house to house to enquire about absent scholars. It is impossible to ascertain when he embarked upon his duties but there are several references to him in the Log Books from 1884 to 1903. In the Minute Book for 1898 there is an acknowledgement to him for the ‘kindly and effective performance of his duties as attendance officer and the valuable assistance he has for many years given to the teachers and managers in bringing about so high a rate of attendance’.

Mr Price and Mr Worsfold soon turned the school around and by May 1894 the Diocesan Inspector could report that he saw ‘evidence of useful and conscientious religious teaching’. The HMI was also impressed – ‘a decided improvement’ he wrote.

But the school was not yet out of the woods because the HMI found the accommodation insufficient and he warned that next year’s grant might be endangered. The managers were taking no chances about losing out on the money this time and by September 1894 work was already in hand to build two new classrooms (one for boys, one for girls) at a combined cost of £761. They also purchased new equipment including 6 dozen framed slates and 3 dozen Bibles.

However, there were still other matters to consider. In 1896 while the HMI conceded that ‘this was an efficient and improving school’ he then attacked the state of the playground. ‘Playgrounds must be enclosed and made reasonably level from the large stones (almost boulders) that encumber it. The slope of the playground is now so arranged that after heavy continuous rain, some of the Schoolrooms (if not all) will be flooded’. Prompt action was again the order of the day and soon the playground was properly levelled and new iron railings were provided at a cost of £25.

Price had been at the school for only a year when he boldly approached the managers to ask for his salary to be increased from £120 a year, particularly because the average number of boys had risen from 91 to 130. He received his pay rise and was awarded £132 a year and in 1889 the managers were so pleased with results that they gave him an extra £8 too. Like the McConnochies, both Robert Price and his wife Ruth taught at the school.

By this time the name Brackenbury had been quietly allowed to fade away and since 1884 the establishment was known as the St Nicolas, Portslade and Hangleton Boys’ School. (It should be remembered that the parishes of Portslade and Hangleton had been united since 1864).

School was not only for children because young adults could attend evening classes. But adult in this context meant those who had left school, which in 1894 could still be done legally after the 11th birthday. The syllabus was very limited – for instance in the Autumn of 1897 only shorthand and drawing were on offer at evening classes. But it was an excellent idea even if the managers had forgotten one important item: the provision of artificial light. Although evening classes started at 3.45pm winter darkness soon closed in and lessons became difficult. Gas lighting was not installed until 1899 when the Welsbach Incandescent Company undertook the task. If the school was late in obtaining gas lighting, it was certainly reluctant to relinquish the same, and gas lights were still spluttering away up until the 1940s.

In 1896 a novel piece of equipment was acquired for the school from Mrs Randall of Hove for 5 guineas – it was a second-hand American organ. Hymns now had a stirring accompaniment and hopefully it would have strengthened Christian virtues such as tolerance to those less fortunate. There were some scholars without the means to pay the school pence because they were either orphans or their parents had fallen on hard times and were in the Workhouse. There is a note in the Log for January 1898 stating that the Guardians (of the Workhouse) would pay the school fees for the following children; Frank, Albert and Ada Blake, Alice and George Burtenshaw, Violet and Reggie White, Daisy and Martha Damper, and Albert and John Willard.

Charles Price began his duties as assistant master in February 1902. It seems probable that he was related to headmaster Robert Price but whatever the relationship he did not stay long as in March 1905 he left to emigrate to Canada. It is interesting to note that three scholars left the school in October 1886 to emigrate to Canada too – probably under an assisted passage scheme. Sussex already had connections with Canada because the Earl of Egremont had encouraged the Petworth Emigration Scheme, which from the 1830s to 1850 sent almost 2,000 Sussex people to Canada.

In 1901 the Board of Education was not pleased to notice a considerable diminution of voluntary subscriptions and said ‘they trust … that a larger amount will be raised in future years’. Despite this ominous note, further improvements were made at the end of 1903, which coincided most fortunately with the closure of the school because of an outbreak of measles. There was a new wood-block floor in the main room and the small classroom together with a new window in the latter. The east porch was enlarged and two new fireplaces were put in the main room. In addition every room was repainted and distempered, and the lower playground was levelled and covered with tar paving. It was only fair that the boys’ school should have money spent on it because in the same year the infants had moved to a brand new building.

 copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.   
The new St Nicolas' Infants School

However, there was no getting away from the fact that the school was overcrowded and there were now 210 boys on the books. The HMI recognised the problem and in 1906 wrote ‘the size and close crowding of the classes make instruction difficult’.

Conditions at home were often difficult too. Some boys frequented the soup kitchen at Southern Cross that had been set up in January 1908 for the benefit of children of the unemployed. But in spite of such poverty the school celebrated Empire Day every year with great enthusiasm. In 1908 a senior boy recited Kipling’s poem Recessional, which is certainly not so jingoistic as the usual fare served up on such occasions.

Around about this time, there were two funerals that affected the school. The first was of Miss Boyle, the vicar’s sister and devoted co-worker. As the cortege passed by the school on its way to Hangleton in June 1908 the boys sang ‘Brief Life is here our Portion’. The second funeral took place on 11th March 1909 when the headmaster and 20 boys attended the service. Young Walter Pegden, a scholar at St Nicolas, died suddenly on 4th March. In the words of the Log ‘he slipped on the snow, and fell down injuring his head, while on an errand for his mother during the evening’.

In 1909 the HMI stated that there was no school library. This is odd because the girls’ school had one in 1898. The local education authority sent a selection of titles to the boys (two or three copies each). It is amusing to note that in 1911 the Daily Mail Year Book and Whittaker’s Almanac were not supplied as ordered. Were they not available or did the authorities not approve of the choice?

The HMI was still pleased with the school and wrote that ‘with very few exceptions all the boys were properly classified and many are more advanced than is common in the county’. But in the same report he worried that too much time was given to mechanical work and he would like to see a more liberal course of studies. Quite what he meant by ‘mechanical’ is not clear. Did he have the chanting of time-tables and the recitation of poetry in mind? He cannot have meant manual skills because there was precious little of that anyway.

In 1911 the school decided to set up a wood working class and drew up a list of necessary tools. But the Elementary sub-committee would not sanction the idea. The school then decided to hold the class in the church hall instead. But there is no further mention of wood working until 1923 when a class started in the vacant part of the cookery hut with Mr Privett in charge.

Much more successful was the gardening class formed in November 1909. It was only a small class and 14 boys were selected from a number of applicants. In 1915 the gardening class was held in the grounds of Sellaby House and the boys worked an area of 28 rods. Naturally there was an inspector to come along and report on the good work (necessary to claim the relevant grant). In 1921 the inspector found the garden in excellent order, the plots and paths well arranged and neatly kept. In 1928 he was of the opinion that there was room for some fruiting trees and some neglected fruiting trees ought to be reclaimed. By this time gardening was a two-year course and the boys kept notebooks that were also inspected. The garden was lost in 1936 when the new Portslade County Infants School was built in the grounds of Sellaby House.

An associated interest was poultry keeping and when in 1924 there was a local lecture on poultry rearing, it was arranged that ten senior boys should attend. The note in the Log reads, ‘these boys own fowl and are much interested in the matter’.

The overcrowding has already been mentioned. By 1912 it was worse. The HMI noted that ‘the work is carried on under difficulties in the main room where three teachers have to take their respective classes in very close proximity to one another’. This situation led to a fairly damning report in 1913 (dealt with in a later chapter) but meanwhile the war years intervened and the matter was not taken in hand until the 1920s.
copyright © D. Gedye
2nd Lieutenant Arthur Gates
  St Nicolas School teacher.

When World War I broke out, the immediate effect on the school was that two masters joined up. Arthur Gates joined the Territorial Army (becoming 2nd Lieutenant) and Mr R Winters joined the Royal Naval Volunteers. Both men survived the war and came home and although Gates resigned in 1919, Winters resumed his duties that year. Soon he was striding over the Downs taking his class for nature study rambles. But perhaps his war service took more out of him than he realised because in 1925 he died suddenly. The school purchased a suitably inscribed marble vase to stand on his grave.

As for Arthur Gates, he may have resigned from St Nicolas but he had won the heart of Miss Mary Gertrude Austen who had started teaching there in 1912, four years after Gates had arrived. Did they fall in love before the war and did she spend the long years worrying about his safety? Or was it the relief of seeing him again that kindled the romance. Whatever the story the couple married in January 1921 and three months later Mrs Gates resigned her post in order to join her husband in Cologne. She was presented with a set of silver fish knives by the school. Later on, Arthur Gates returned to Portslade where he taught at St Andrew’s School. There is a curious parallel to Mr Winters because Gates too died in 1925, leaving his widow to bring up the children on her own.

In 1915 so as to save on gas and coal at school, the afternoon sessions were re-arranged to run from 1.30pm to 3.45pm. In September 1918 several days were devoted to the picking of blackberries as part of Government Food Control. The boys went to their task with enthusiasm and one can only assume that masses of blackberry bushes existed locally in those days. On 2nd September they picked 1cwt 11lbs; on 5th September it was 3cwts and 3quarters while the haul on 12th and 19th came to a total of 260lbs. The fruit was taken to the Maison-de-Bry jam factory.

In 1914 two new teachers were appointed temporarily to take the place of the two men who had gone to war. They both came from Ellen Street Girls School in Hove. They were Miss Annie Louise Steers, who was obliged to leave in 1919 when Mr Winters returned, and Mrs Atherfold who stayed until 1924. In September the latter lady was bitten on the face by her dog and was absent for two days – one because of the bite and the other through the shock of it.

copyright © A.V.Greenyer
St Nicolas School c.1920, the teacher Miss Gladys Mary Austen taught at the school from 1912-1921 
and married fellow teacher Arthur Gates

It is worth noticing that Mrs Atherfold’s maiden name was Price. Was she too a member of the Portslade Price teaching clan? If so she was a contemporary of Mr and Mrs Price, having been born in 1873. But Miss Hilda Mary Price, a certificated teacher who started work at St Nicolas in 1916, was the Price’s daughter: she was born in 1895, the year after her parents had arrived in Portslade. In November 1916 Mrs Ruth Price, the headmaster’s wife, retired after 20 years of teaching the boys at St Nicolas. The managers, teachers and scholars (past and present) gave her a beautiful silver tea service together with silver knives and spoons. Miss Blaker made the presentation.

copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
St Nicolas’ Boys School c.1907. Mr Robert Price, headmaster 1894-1922, is standing on the far left.

Robert Price’s departure was rather more subdued. He was absent from school from 9th May until 14th August 1921. The Log does not specify the illness, merely stating that he was away on the advice of Mr Fletcher. In reality he had a nervous breakdown. He retired in 1922 after 28 years at St Nicolas. In early January 1929 Miss Price learned that her father was dying and told the managers she would not be able to teach for the time being. The doctor said he might linger on or he might not. In the event he died on 9th January 1929.

In November 1924 the boys’ school moved across the road to the building formerly occupied by the infants. Mr JW Burns was the new headmaster and the school soon earned the nickname of Burn’s Academy.


The girls’ school opened as a separate department of St Nicolas on 5th November 1883. Robert Blight, the Diocesan Inspector, was very pleased about the separation of boys and girls - ‘an incalculable boon to the Parish as regards the education of the Children’ he enthused. Miss AR Chrimes, the first headmistress, did not share his enthusiasm and resigned by Christmas of the same year. Her successor, Miss LC Niblett, wrote boldly in the Log ‘found children very troublesome’ and did not stay long either.

In April 1887 Miss Mary Florence Rose became headmistress. She was made of sterner stuff and soon had the girls under control so that by 1890 both the Diocesan Inspector and the HMI were singing her praises. The former wrote ‘Miss Rose deserves to be congratulated on the admirable tone which pervades the School’. What is more, he placed the school on his ‘Excellent’ list that year. As for the HMI he too was impressed by the general conduct – ‘the Girls deserve great credit for quietness and order’. Their needlework was well done and care had been taken with their singing while their grammar was fair.

This brings us to the interesting point of the girls’ curriculum. Arithmetic was taught, religious instruction was a necessity and penmanship inevitable. But on the whole girls were educated to perform a domestic role, either at home or in service. Practical cookery was not started until 1910 but before then girls were instructed as to what might be found in the store cupboard. In 1895 they were treated to a series of lessons with riveting titles such as ‘Monday’s work in preparing for the Wash,’ ‘How to wash Flannels,’ ‘How to wash Whites.’ ‘Blue and Starch’ and ‘Drying, folding and Mangling’. A little science was imparted on the subject of the circulation of the blood and even the digestive system but naturally nothing at all to do with the birds and the bees.

Culture was represented by singing and a few poems. In 1905 the Diocesan Inspector was pleased to hear the girls singing Mendelssohn’s I Waited for the Lord, which he found admirably rendered. In fact singing was their party piece and they were expected to perform for visiting ladies at the drop of a hat. For example on 18th September 1889 some ladies came to visit and as they wished to hear the girls recite and sing, the timetable for that day was disrupted. The teachers must have found these interruptions tiresome but as the visitors were often related to the school managers or were willing to give donations of goods or money, it was impossible to refuse. Entries in the Log were punctuated by visits from the vicar’s daughters, to whom no doubt visiting the school was part of their duties.

As for poetry, in 1891 Wordsworth’s The Brothers and Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith were being studied. Perhaps ‘studied’ is not the right word since the girls would have learnt long chunks off my heart in order to recite them. In 1897 a Victorian classic was on the curriculum – Casa Bianca by Mrs Hemans. If that does not stir the memory, how about the first line ‘The boy stood on the burning deck, whence all but he had fled’.

In 1897 a course of history lessons was introduced with the early Britons and the Norman Conquest for the younger girls and the Tudor Period for the older ones.

Needlework and knitting were very important and the girls were taught how to mend clothes. The subject was labelled needlework but there was obviously nothing fancy in the art taught at Portslade – good, plain sewing would probably be a more accurate description. In 1910 sewing and charity were learned at the same time when the girls made 25 petticoats from material supplied by Mrs Metcalfe and gave the finished articles to poorly clad girls. This was all hand sewing too as the school did not receive its first sewing machine until two months later.

There are two pleasant anecdotes concerning knitting. In October 1887 Miss Rose had a cold and lost her voice completely and consequently the time-table was re-arranged so that copy-book writing was substituted for dictation and knitting for reading. In March 1891 there were heavy falls of snow and when school re-opened on the 12th only 53 girls turned up (there were around 90 on the books at the time). Normal work was suspended while the entire school settled down to some knitting. It conjures up a peaceful scene of girls with their heads bent over their clicking needles while outside the village was blanketed in snow.

Some things did not change. The battle against dirt started by McConnochie continued and a typical example was the Best family. On 19th October 1888 the three Best sisters were not allowed into school because they were not clean enough and on 19th February 1889 Emily Best was sent home for ‘uncleanliness’. However, there is a note in the Log for 7th February 1890 to the effect that the Bests were to be allowed back to school provided they arrived in a clean state.

In February 1899 Elizabeth Peters came to school with her hair full of curling pins. The teacher removed them and tidied up her hair. Far from being grateful, the outraged mother promptly removed her daughter from St Nicolas and sent her to a private school instead.

By the way, the mother’s reaction was fairly typical. Present day teachers who suppose it is a modern phenomenon when parents are angry at their offspring being disciplined, are wrong. Quite often the Log records that a child has been kept in after school and the mother (or father) has arrived to complain. On one occasion the mother was using such foul and abusive language that the headmistress refused to see her.

In September 1888 Elizabeth Mitchell was given a stripe across the hand for repeated carelessness and inattention and her mother refused to send her to school for the rest of the week. In February 1892 Mrs Smith removed her daughter Edith from school for good as she objected to her daughter being disciplined. In Mrs Smith’s view, being kept in after school was just as bad as being caned. In January 1908 Gladys Jones tore her school reading-book and scribbled on it and when the teacher told her to report to the headmistress she refused to obey. She was caned on the hand for each offence and Mrs Jones removed Gladys, as well as her sister, from the school forthwith.

On rare occasions parents made their daughters apologise. In October 1889 Cicely Croft was sent into the porch as a punishment but she was upset and rushed home without her hat, not bothering to return for the afternoon session. Her mother brought her in to apologise and Cicely returned to school. In May 1903 Ellen Ring was rude to the headmistress and moreover snapped the cane in half. The next day she sent in a written apology for her conduct. Back in 1885 when Annie Madgwick stole another girl’s scarf, the vicar suspended her for a whole month and she was allowed to return only after a plea from the other girl’s parents.

On a happier note, Annie Strange received a medal on 2nd August 1906 for attending school for four years without once being absent. This was quite an achievement considering the epidemics that swept through the village from time to time. In September 1887 young Elizabeth Giddings died from diphtheria. A glimpse of the living conditions is provided by an entry in the Log for March 1895 recording low attendance owing to broken chilblains and influenza.

On the whole attendance had been good since Captain Dowell was employed to deal with truancy. He visited the school regularly to report on the situation. In January 1894 he came to tell the children about a new law that had come into effect, which meant no child could leave school under 11 years of age, no matter what standard of education had been reached. In April 1898 Captain Dowell was so delighted at the good attendance record, which had reached 90% that he purchased a guinea’s worth of new books to add to the school library. On his next visit the girls sang for him by way of a thank you.

In the 1890s Mrs Mary Florence Sayers, the new headmistress, continued Miss Rose’s good work. In 1894 the Diocesan Inspector wrote ‘Mrs Sayers continues her religious work with excellent results … I am glad to note the readiness with which the children find their way about the Prayer Book’.

By 1897 the HMI had recommended the school for the higher principal grant because of such excellent results. Mrs Sayers combined the role of efficient teacher and mother, which could not have been easy in those days as the managers were not sympathetic to domestic problems. Probably her good record stood her in good stead when she was obliged to take some time off owing to her daughter’s sickness. In November 1895 her daughter was ill with pneumonia and in February 1901 Mrs Sayers wrote in the Log ‘my little daughter is ill with diphtheria and the doctor considers it advisable to stay away from school for two weeks’.

Miss Alice Edwards took up the post of assistant teacher in January 1890 and when she completed seven years, she was given a £5 gratuity plus a £5 increase in her salary. An interesting sidelight into teachers’ working conditions is provided by the reaction in 1898 when she stated her intention of getting married in the summer holidays. She was obliged to obtain the managers’ permission to retain her post after marriage. The managers graciously consented but only on condition that if she ‘had to absent herself from school work’ she would provide a qualified replacement or else resign. Miss Edwards became Mrs Worsfold and resumed her duties on 29th August 1899. Mrs Worsfold was head assistant teacher in the girls’ school while her husband held the same post in the boys’ school. They both resigned in December 1901.

In 1895 when the number of girls on the register stood at 152, the staff consisted of Mrs Sayers, Miss Edwards and two pupil teachers. By 1899 the number of girls had risen to 176 and the HMI said the staffing was insufficient and more teachers were required to comply with Article 73. However, the staff continued to number just four with the addition of a probationer until 1903 when the number of staff rose to seven plus a young probationer. Probably pressure was brought to bear in certain quarters but then the school did have recognised places for 200 girls.

While Mrs Sayers was headmistress, the curriculum took on a wider aspect. In February 1894 a naturalist by the name of Pratt came to the school to exhibit various specimens of snakes in bottles and also some live adders and slow worms, which must have caused some excitement.

Letters were despatched to various manufacturers asking for samples of their wares and these soon began to arrive, The school managers donated £1 each to buy a cupboard in which to display the items, which by May 1894 contained samples from Bryant & May, Colman & Son of Norwich and some ‘handsome specimens of the cotton plant from Horrockses & Co, Preston’.

Improving lectures were also given: on the evils of alcohol in 1905 and on being kind to animals in 1910. A popular ploy to arouse interest was to award prizes for the best essays. Thus we find that the well-known Temperance Movement called the Band of Hope awarded 25 certificates to the St Nicolas girls for their essays on the demon drink.
copyright © Dorothy Gedye
St Nicolas Girls School c.1907, Mrs Sayers, Head Teacher, stands in the back row, second from left.

In 1910 the girls who had been awarded prizes for their essays on kindness to animals went to the Royal Pavilion for the ceremony. They were accompanied by Miss Elsie Sayers, pupil teacher and daughter of the headmistress. It was obvious she hoped to follow in her mother’s footsteps; and there were other Sayers connected with education in Portslade too. There was Miss Emma Sayers, headmistress of the infants’ school in 1879 and Miss H Sayers, an assistant teacher at the same date. In 1915 Miss Mabel Sayers spent two months at the school as a temporary assistant, covering for illness amongst the regular staff. But young Elsie’s dreams were not to be realised because she became ill in 1911. She was suspended from her duties for one year because of her illness and the powers that be decided that she would not be allowed to complete her apprenticeship. She appears to have taken this decision in good heart and the next thing we hear about her is that she has undertaken some valuable voluntary work for the school. She taught the girls gymnastics and Swedish drill in the parish hall but only to those who could provide themselves with the appropriate clothing for the classes.

copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Physical education c1907 style with Mrs Sayers the Head Teacher supervising

It is interesting to be able to chart the careers of some of the teachers. For instance Miss Winifred Bellchambers started at the girls’ school in October 1904. By September 1906 she had become a certificated teacher and in the same year she took up a post in the infant’s school. She left there on 18th September 1908 in order to take charge of the infants’ department at Steyning.

Miss Ethel Patching also did well for herself. She started off in 1903 as a probationer at the girls’ school and became a certificated teacher in 1910. She left on 24th March 1911 to become head of Iford School. She later returned to this area and taught at St Andrew’s School, Portslade-by-Sea, and then to St Nicolas School where she taught the boys from 1921 to 1929 and thereafter in the junior and infant schools until retirement in 1950; she died in 1965. The Patchings were an old established Portslade family; the Misses Annie and Hettie Patching ran a grocery shop at Southern Cross and were renowned for the quality of their sausages. Their sister married Norman Baker of the undertakers Baker & Sons. She was a tiny woman but managed to give birth to three daughters and six sons.

copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
St Nicolas’ Girls School celebrate May Day in 1912, with Miss Terry and Mrs Sayers standing in the background

Miss Winifred Terry began as a pupil teacher, became an assistant teacher and left in October 1913 to be married. She must have been popular because the entire school, staff and managers gathered together to present her with a handsome marble clock as a wedding present. The girls then sang Wagner’s Bridal Chorus. A holiday was declared for 14th October so that everyone could go and see Miss Terry as a blushing bride.

It was normal that the standard of education achieved by the girls should vary but some of them did not have much of a chance. For example, there was Alice Hilton, who joined the school when she was already 11 years old. Her parents earned their living by hawking and poor Alice arrived in October 1889 having had only one month’s schooling in her entire life. In 1896 24 girls moved up from the infants and except for four, the rest of them were found to be backward. Indeed two of them, Rose Peters and Rose Green were sent straight back to the infants, as they knew practically nothing. But there was an excuse – the girls were delicate.

Girls were often delicate in Victorian times. Another one was Annie Trigwell who had the misfortune to fall out of her bedroom window at the age of two. As a result she was liable to suffer from headaches and her mother had asked her teachers not to push Annie in any way or to make her worried over her lessons. Her family kept pigs at Mile Oak and another Trigwell was a well-known local shepherd famous for his wide smile.

By 1899 girls were drawn only from the parish of St Nicolas and St Helen, Hangleton. By mutual agreement between the vicars, those residing in the parish of St Andrew, Portslade-by-Sea, went to that school. In October 1891 by way of encouraging regular attendance, the vicar announced that school pence would be abolished for children in standards II, III, IV, V and VI with only those in standard I continuing to pay one penny a week. The result was that the highest attendance ever recorded was soon logged.

copyright © Mrs Marriot
St Nicolas Girls School c.1912

National events were duly marked at the school and in 1900 there was a holiday to mark the relief of Ladysmith and the relief of Mafeking during the Boer War. The following year 21 of the older girls went to Brighton to hear the proclamation of the accession of King Edward VII read out.

copyright © J.Middleton
King Edward VII  and Queen Alexandra

 On 1st May 1912 the school was closed at 1pm so that teachers and children might attend a matinee in aid of the survivors of the Titanic. In 1914 the ‘expert needlewomen’ put aside their normal work to make garments for Belgian refugees in Portslade. The girls gave up sweets for Lent in 1915 and put their halfpennies into a box to buy comforts for wounded soldiers at the Front. The comforts were in fact cigarettes and when the box was opened, there was enough money to buy 4,000. The cigarettes were forwarded directly to a nephew of Mrs Sayers who was going to pass them on to stretcher-bearers to give to the wounded.

copyright © Mrs Marriot
St Nicolas’ Girls School bazaar and sale of work. 4 June 1913

Naturally there were some events that were special only to Portslade. There was such an occasion in May 1908 when Mrs Sayers celebrated 21 years at the school. Everybody, together with old scholars and parents, assembled at Victoria Recreation Ground at 3pm to witness the presentation made to Mrs Sayers. She returned the compliment by ensuring every child received a packet of sweets. Then followed an afternoon of games. When Mrs Sayers celebrated 25 years of service in 1912 there was another presentation. This time Mrs Sayers received a silver-plated tea and coffee service and tray and everybody (including the managers) crowded into the infants’ school for the occasion.

Another personal celebration was the holiday given on 29th April 1909 for Father Boyle’s wedding. The Revd Vicars Armstrong Boyle had arrived in Portslade in April 1899 and he came to say hello to the children on 2nd May. He and his sister Sophia lived in the vicarage and she was a great help to him in running the parish. Perhaps it was her influence that made him a supporter of the suffragette movement. It must have been a great grief to him when she died aged 47 on 14th June 1908. On the day of the funeral the children gathered in the playground to pay their last respects to ‘our esteemed friend, the late Miss Boyle’. Thus the holiday for the vicar’s wedding ten months later had an added poignancy. Father Boyle did not leave St Nicolas until 1919 and he was such a popular figure that the little St Francis window was placed in the church in his memory.

There were two innovations in 1911. The first was an Open Day when parents had the novel experience of entering school to see their children at work. The second occurred in October when the girls were taken on an outing. They had been saving their money week by week and they visited Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and the Zoological Gardens.

By 1912 the HMI was far from happy about the girls’ level of achievement. Up until then Mrs Sayers had been keeping a fine balance between the academic and domestic sides of their work. In a detailed report he outlined his misgivings and his conclusion was that the girls spent too much time on domestic skills and not enough on academic subjects. They failed badly at mental arithmetic, their compositions were not up to standard and the books provided for silent reading were too difficult for most of them. He noted ‘these matters have been fully discussed with the Headmistress who must be left to decide in what direction the curriculum may best be curtailed so that, while liberal provision continues to be made for the domestic side of the work, there may be no loss of thoroughness in the work of the class as a whole’.

In July 1916 the girls were suitably impressed when the vicar’s martial brother came to present certificates for good attendance and good conduct. He was Captain Gerald Boyle of the 2nd Manchester Regiment. A first cousin was Lieutenant-Commander Edward Courtney Boyle, commander of the submarine E14 and holder of the Victoria Cross. In 1915 his submarine daringly managed to enter the Sea of Marmara by diving beneath the minefields and then sank a Turkish gunboat and a minelayer.

In January 1917 the girls were warned against the sort of behaviour that later inspired the Second World War motto ‘Careless talk costs lives’. But this official War Office pamphlet was entitled Don’t Tell Germany. The war was also brought home to them when in December 1917 the husband of Mrs Bringloe, one of their teachers, arrived on leave from the Front and she was given some time off to spend with him.

By 1918 a note in the Log stated school attendance was being hit because of having to queue for food, particularly margarine. Food shortages led to a national effort to gather in as much as possible from the countryside. The St Nicolas girls were given three half-holidays in September 1918 and with their teachers in charge, they marched off to the Downs for a stint of blackberry picking. The girls were paid 3d a pound and the total weight picked was 97lbs. The sum of £6-13-9d was distributed amongst the pickers. It seems a shame that after such healthy activity the school succumbed to influenza and was shut from 21st October to 2nd December. Closure was inevitable because no less than 109 girls were ill (out of a total of 227 on the books) plus two of the teachers, Miss French and Mrs Avery. This was in fact the Spanish Flu pandemic that started in March 1918 and lasted until June 1920. Worldwide some 500 million people were infected and there were many deaths.

Peace was celebrated heartily in 1919. In July the timetable was suspended so that the girls could learn a special peace song. The summer holidays lasted for five weeks at the express wish of His Majesty who wanted all schools to celebrate the signing of the peace treaty with an extra week’s holiday. Every girl also received a set of six cards illustrating the medals won by our gallant soldiers. Another reminder of the war occurred on 1st February 1921 when the Prince of Wales (later the Duke of Windsor) visited Brighton to unveil the Chattri on the Downs above Patcham. It commemorated the Sikh and Hindu soldiers who had been cremated there. The St Nicholas teachers plus every girl who could afford the fare went to Brighton to wave flags as the Prince of Wales drove back to the railway station.

 copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
The Duke and Duchess of York visited Ronuk on 17 October 1924. T.H. Fowler, director, P.W. Felton, director and D.E. Sundius Smith were on hand to greet the royal couple.

A more personal brush with royalty occurred on 17th October 1924 when the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) visited the famous Ronuk polish factory at Portslade. The St Nicolas children were marched down to the Ronuk works at mid-day to line the route to the factory. It was a great day for Kathleen Adams, head girl, for it was she who presented a bouquet to the Duchess.


The infant school had been run as a separate department since 1881. Mrs Emma Green, the headmistress, had been responsible for them since 6th June 1879. She was almost swamped by a tide of eager children and she certainly earned her salary of £50 per annum, which was less than half of the sum earned by the headmaster of the boys’ school.

The great problem was lack of space. On two occasions the inspector warned that numbers were too great. In 1881 the attendance figures exceeded the limit of 8 square feet per child and in 1888 the inspector warned that if the average attendance exceeded 111 children again, the entire Government grant would be forfeited. This worked out at £71-10s, being 16/- per head of average attendance.

A population increase was the cause of the problem. In 1881 the number of people living in the parish of St Nicolas, Portslade and St Helen, Hangleton stood at 1,597 while ten years later it had risen to 2,279. By contrast the population of Portslade-by-Sea had deceased from 2,198 in 1881 to 1,195 in 1891. Trying to squeeze the extra infants into school was like trying to pour a quart into a pint pot.

However, Mrs Green assisted by Miss Emma Dickinson coped well. The HMI was impressed by the standard, commenting in 1883 that ‘elementary subjects are well taught, especially writing’. The Diocesan Inspector was also happy with the way religious instruction was imparted and in 1885 he distributed ten Honour Certificates, and 16 Very Good Awards to Miss Dickinson’s group. This was a feather in her cap because she had only joined the school that year. In the same year an extension to the infants school was erected but there were still too many children.

In 1887 there was a little light relief when the Misses Dudney visited the school to distribute medals in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. The Dudneys were an important family in the village because the Misses Dudney’s grandfather John Dudney founded Portslade Brewery in 1849 and by 1871 their father William Dudney employed 13 men. Meanwhile John Dudney had been busy buying up parcels of land and in 1881 a grand expansion took place with the erection of the massive building and tall chimney we know today. Perhaps the Dudneys would be proud to find that the building is now classed as a fine example of Victorian industrial architecture and enjoys protected status.

By 1890 Mrs Green’s new assistant was Miss Elizabeth Thurkettle and for a while she was obliged to take sole charge when Mrs Green became ill. The 1890s turned out to be an unsettled time for the infants. Mrs Green had to resign in 1895 because of failing health and although Miss RM Chapman replaced her, she only stayed for a couple of years. In June 1898 Miss Alice Kate Johns became the new headmistress. Meanwhile, assistants had been coming and going with speed. The year 1896 was a difficult one; a scholar died from diphtheria, there was smallpox in the village and a new west window was installed, which meant lessons were punctuated with banging and hammering.

Miss Johns was an excellent headmistress and the HMI had nothing but praise for the standard of instruction and discipline in the school. By contrast his opinion of the building became more vitriolic as the years passed. Thus in 1899 he wrote that ‘the enlargement of the school must soon be effected’ while in 1900 the tone was stronger with ‘it behoves the Managers to take a hand in the enlargement of the premises as speedily as possible’. By 1902 as well as the usual grumble about overcrowding, he also added a plea that the playgrounds be drained and made level. But the managers must have been gratified to learn that praise in the highest degree was due to Miss Johns and her staff, which consisted of three assistants and one probationer, It is amusing to note that two of the assistant teachers rejoiced in the names of Miss Gertrude Badger and Miss Nellie Sole.

The average attendance was well over 100 children and the school was literally bursting at the seams. An unlikely benefactor in the shape of the Hall family came to the rescue; not the William Hall who had caused such a fuss in1875 when the Halls were the largest landowners in Portslade but his nephew John Eardley Hall, a partner in the Union Bank, Brighton. Although he lived at Barrow Hill, Henfield, he continued to take an interest in Portslade and indeed from 1897 he was one of the school managers. He donated land on the west side of Locks Hill, almost opposite St Nicolas as a site for a new infant school and a building fund was opened. Hall also sold land to Portslade Council at various times, which enabled Victoria Recreation Ground to be laid out, the Fire Station to be built and Church Road to be widened. He died in 1915.

The architect EHL Barker drew up the plans, which were approved by the Board of Education. An interesting feature of the building is the steep pitched roof of two colours, the red tiles contrasting with blue/black slates. Today moss has grown on the north elevation so that it is green but the original colours can still be seen on other parts. The colour scheme continued in the brickwork with a band of blue/black bricks approximating to a stringcourse.

The Bishop of Chichester formally opened the new infant school on 23rd July 1903 and the children were given a half-holiday to attend the ceremony. There was room to breathe at last with four large classrooms and a suitable hall. After the summer holidays the attendance figures were good as the children were curious to find out what the conditions were like in the new building. Unfortunately some of the new furniture had not yet been delivered and the partitions separating classrooms were not up. But when the HMI arrived on his annual visit, he was very pleased. He noted ‘the relief of getting into the new building will be great and most welcome’.

However, germs were quite as capable of circulating in a new building as they were in the old one. The school closed on 27th November 1903 and did not reopen until 11th January 1904 because of a measles epidemic. There had been a previous measles outbreak in November 1900 when the school was closed for a month on the orders of Dr Kelly, the Medical Officer of Health. In June 1906 measles was back again with a month’s closure.

By 1904 the Board of Education recognised that the infant school had sufficient space for 250 scholars. This made it the largest department of the St Nicolas Schools because the boys had accommodation for 189 while the girls could take 200.

In 1910 the first mention of the NSPCC appears in the Log. The family is not specified and the note merely related that dirty children were sent home and the inspector ‘has been apprised’. By this time it was recognised that a child who turned up in a filthy state was a victim of child neglect.

In February 1914 a case of neglect reached the Hove Police Court when a couple living in Pitt Street, Portslade, were summoned for neglecting their six children in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering. The NSPCC Inspector Alfred Manning told the court that he had had the family under observation since the previous July and in November and December he found the house in a filthy state, the children verminous and the bedding offensive. All the children were ‘under-sized, pale, thin and ill-looking’. Dr Eccles was called in and the children were taken to the Infirmary. There they were weighed and found to be underweight as follow; Alfred aged 14 years weighed 58lbs (normal 81lbs) Florence aged 12 years 8 months weighed 53 lbs (normal 69lbs) Frederick aged 10 years 8 months weighed 37lbs (normal 58lbs) Elsie aged 8 years 8 months weighed 33lbs (normal 44lbs) Frank aged 6 years weighed 27 lbs (normal (39lbs) and Albert aged 11 months weighed 12 lbs (normal 17lbs 8 ounces).

The mother said the children only had bread and margarine to eat and tea without milk to drink while occasionally there were a few meat scraps. The baby was not weaned but occasionally she gave it a bread sop softened with water. Dr Eccles agreed with the evidence about the house and said it was one of the worst cases he had seen. Miss Gertrude Mary Colman, assistant teacher at the infant school, also gave evidence – the Log duly notes the reason for her absence that afternoon. She said she had been teaching at the school since 1904 and had often been obliged to send the children home because they were dirty.

The father said he worked in the flint pits and had done his best to provide for the family. His average earnings were 13/- a week. The mother also stated that she had done her best. Superintendent Suter reported that the father had been up before the magistrates previously for drunkenness and theft. The magistrates sent the father to prison for two months with hard labour while the mother received one month with hard labour. It is not clear what became of the children.

Meanwhile sickness continued to be a problem. The doctor visited the infant school on 15th March 1915 and found 52 cases of chicken pox amongst the children he examined. This coupled with the cases already known came to a grand total of 102 scholars struck down by the disease. The doctor ordered the school to be closed at once.

 copyright © E. Redman
St Nicolas’ Infants School c1918

The year 1918 was particularly bleak. When the school opened on 11th January the children were already debilitated by whooping cough, which had caused the school to be closed from 12th December and there was still plenty of coughing. Then measles re-appeared and the school was shut from 17th January to 8th February and from 25th March to 15th April. As if that were not enough for one year there was a further epidemic and no school from 21st October to 2nd December. The new year of 1919 was marked by the death of two little scholars from diphtheria – Edith Godley and Florence Pratt. Conditions were not helped by the difficulty of obtaining coal and the school was closed for a fortnight in February because there was no heating.

The HMI was not satisfied with conditions at St Nicolas School and he wrote a long catalogue of complaints. For some mysterious reason the report (although dated 7th October 1913) does not appear in the Log until 1920. Although the report refers to all departments, it appears in the Infant Log and the Boys but not the Girls. The list makes depressing reading – poor lighting, windows letting in rain, the skylight leaking, defective ventilation and inadequate heating. There was not a single hand-wash basin in the boys’ department and only one for the girls. As for the infants, they had basins but they were set too high in the walls for the little mites to be able to get their hands into them and no water was plumbed into them. Then there were the ‘closets’ used by the infants, which were furnished with enormous wooden seats far too large for young children. The HMI sounds like a very understanding person.

The report’s delayed appearance may have had something to do with the arrival of a new vicar in 1919, the Revd Donald Campbell. It fell to his lot to try and put the house in order.


When the Revd Donald Campbell arrived in his new parish, he was faced straight away with the dreadful conditions of the church schools. For six years nothing had been done to remedy the criticisms in the HMI’s dire report and now the matter was crucial. It was a case of the managers finding enough money for repairs and renovations or the schools being lost to the church and taken over by the state.

To the practical businessmen the problem was regrettably simple. Would it be cheaper in the long run to make a donation to help refurbish the schools or if the state were to take them over, would the rates be higher?

The firms to whom Father Campbell sent his plea did not beat about the bush. Ronuk was the largest and most important business in Portslade and the matter was discussed at two board meetings. In his first letter the managing director said he wanted to be sure that appeals were not going to be a regular occurrence. Part of the second letter is worth quoting because it gives a clear indication as to the opinion of Ronuk’s directors in August 1924.

 copyright © E. Redman
St Nicolas’ Boys School in 1924

‘Voluntary schools cannot stand for long against public bodies, and although the voluntary schools may patch up and drag on for a year or two, the end must come. All my Directors are Churchmen and although they much regret the dropping out of Church Schools, they are forced to the conclusion that really first rate, efficient Council Schools are better. They are not cramped for lack of funds’.

In the event it seems rather a lot of hot air because Ronuk only managed to cough up ten guineas, whereas the Brighton & Hove General Gas Company donated £500 with no fuss. That is not to say that the company did not make careful enquiries first. Mr CH Rutter, general manager, remembered contributing towards St Andrew’s School some 22 years previously, which was saved for a few years but ultimately the infant school fell on the rates. Thus he must have been convinced that St Nicolas School was still viable.

copyright © Mrs Marriot
Class 2 of St Nicolas School in 1926

Kinglsey Willett of Smithers Brewery in the Old Village did not agree with the appeal at all. He thought the school should be taken over forthwith and rebuilt by the education authorities. He did not contribute the first time but later had a change of heart and sent a cheque for £250.

There was no joy from London County Council although they were gracious enough to concede the point that ‘the boarding of London boys in your parish results in an extra charge upon the managers and ratepayers’.

There was of course a great deal of help from the Diocese. The Diocesan Fund donated £1,853 and local churches chipped in too while contributions came from Brighton College, Lancing College and Bramber Church. Father Campbell was a persuasive man and many of his clerical friends sent money. There was also a warm letter and a gift of ten guineas from the previous vicar, the Revd Vicars Armstrong Boyle, then living at Menton in the south of France. The Archdeacon of Lewes and the Bishop of Chichester sent donations although the latter did not wish his name to be printed in the published accounts.

It is interesting to note a letter of recommendation printed in the appeal pamphlet. The Bishop of Lewes states ‘I most heartily commend the appeal on behalf on the St Nicolas Portslade Church Schools. The sum of £5,000 required is of course a very large burden and the making of an appeal and the collection of the money should not rest entirely on the Vicar of Portslade’.

The idea was that £2,000 ought to be raised immediately and £3,000 soon afterwards. Within twelve months the money was in the kitty and the most urgent work had already been carried out on the girls’ and infant schools, which reopened in March 1925. The next hurdle was raising money in order to get to grips with the boys’ department. Another appeal was launched and the good old Gas Company came up with a further contribution. A proportion of money raised came from the widow’s mite, as it were, with 2/- here and a half-crown there from local people. It all helped. By October 1926 the money had been raised and the necessary work done. In publishing the completed accounts Father Campbell’s opening remark sums it up ‘our only difficulty is to find words to express our gratitude that it has been possible to complete the task and that no debt remains’. The schools were not only saved but all classrooms had been rebuilt to conform to the latest regulations regarding light, ventilation and size so that the Board of Education and the Local Education Authority were both satisfied.

Father Campbell came to Portslade from a tough part of Brighton as his previous parish was St John’s, Carlton Hill, which was known for its poverty and slums. In 1927 Father Campbell left Portslade and became vicar of Preston. But such an outstanding churchman could not be allowed to remain in obscurity and soon he was appointed Archdeacon of Carlisle. It was a great tragedy when he died in a car accident on 24th September 1933. He was on his way to a Harvest Festival when the car skidded and landed upside down. It was thought the sliding roof had blown open while the whole weight of the car landed on top of him. Mrs Campbell had an amazing escape and climbed out of the back window without a scratch. Portslade people were shocked at the news and felt they must have a tangible memorial to him. They decided to install oak flooring in the chancel of St Nicolas together with a small oak plaque on the wall.


The Revd Lubin Creasey was the next vicar and it is fair to say that administration was not his forte. Poor man – one gathers the impression he was muddling through and getting things wrong as often as not. His stay in Portslade was one of the briefest on record (one would have to go back to the 16th century to find a parallel) and he was gone by the close of 1928.

Father Creasey was perforce involved with the schools because he was correspondent to the school managers, which meant that all the paperwork came his way. He was always sending school repair bills to County Hall, forgetting that the managers were supposed to settle the bills first and then forward the receipts to County Hall for reimbursement. Sometimes he was not sure who paid for what but Mr JH Baines, Director of Education at Lewes, knew all the ropes and would put him right. Once Father Creasey sent the gas bill for St Nicolas Church Hall to the education department but of course it was shot straight back to him because it was not their responsibility.

When it was not the education chief finding fault, it was queries from the county accountant. In 1928 the latter wanted to know how the water consumption at the boys’ and girls’ departments had shot up to 49,000 gallons in the last quarter, whereas consumption for the same quarter in the two preceding years had been only 9,000 gallons. The row rumbled on with dark accusations that the Cookery Mistress might be to blame but she strongly denied it.

In December 1928 Mr AH Self, the succeeding correspondent, was no doubt startled on receiving two letters, one from the Brighton & Hove Gas Company and the other from Chichester Diocesan Fund, informing him that the accounts were already paid up and therefore they were returning the cheques.

However, it was Father Creasey who exchanged letters with Miss Dorothy Cora Hunt, prospective new headmistress of the girls’ department. In her second letter Miss Hunt so far forgot herself as to address him as the Revd L Curry. But it is of interest to quote part of her letter of application written on 2nd April 1927 from Crowthorne, Berkshire.

‘I have had experience in teaching every standard in an elementary school; I am used to very large classes, especially in the upper standards. I have taught needlework and cutting out for 12 years and I have done special work in physical training, country dancing and organised games for girls’.

Father Creasey forgot to mention one thing at the interview and probably at the insistence of the school managers he had to write to her again but fortunately she was in complete agreement that there should be no smoking on school premises. She was also grateful to him for helping her to find suitable accommodation; she said she required two furnished rooms, a bedroom and a sitting g room.

Miss Hunt took over from Mrs Sayers who had been connected with the Girls’ School for 40 years and 4 months. There must have been something in the Portslade air that made a headmaster or headmistress (once appointed) practically impossible to shift because Mr McConnochie had been head for 30 years and 9 months while Mr Price notched up 28 years. It seems that perhaps Mrs Sayers had overstayed her welcome. Nothing was said overtly but there are indications in the Log for 1928. Thus the Diocesan Inspector wrote ‘the future of the school seems most promising under the guidance of the recently appointed Headmistress’ while the HMI reported ‘the present Head Teacher has been here a year and her influence is already noticeable’.

An indication of the fresh wind blowing through the school occurred not long after Miss Hunt’s appointment when she took 14 senior girls to Brighton to see the film Ben Hur and they all enjoyed it very much.

Not that all was gloom under the previous regime. For a start the older girls learned how to play netball in 1926. They were already proficient at stoolball and in the same year their team won the Silver Cup for the second time, having won each of their league division matches. A score from the 1925 Stoolball League makes satisfying reading – St Nicolas 100 Patcham 41.

copyright © Mrs Marriot
St Nicolas’ Girls stoolball team in 1928

In 1927 Miss Hunt was able to write proudly in the Log that St Nicolas Girls now held all the trophies possible for girls in the area; thus the School Shield, Bowl for Senior Relay, Cup for Junior Relay, Girls’ Championship (150 yards) and the District Championship.

There was success again in 1929 when the netball team played against Rye in the Final of the East Sussex Netball League and won 15-5. The girls had also won all its matches in the Stoolball Division. It was a good note on which to close the Log for the last time.

The boys were also doing well in the sports field because in 1928 St Nicolas Boys and Southwick were joint holders in the Sexton Cup Final Football Competition.

The end of the summer term of 1929 brought to a close another chapter in the history of St Nicolas School. When the new term started, a grand re-organisation had taken place.


It was in 1927 that the re-organisation of the schools had first been considered; in fact it was part of a nationwide stocktaking in the wake of the Hadow Report. The aim was to make the most efficient use of the resources available. It was felt that a rigidly parochial system did not always benefit a child’s education. For example there was a school in Portslade (not named in the discussion document) where there was an age range of four years between children in the same class. It was surely better to teach 40 children of approximate age and ability than 20 of widely differing ages. There was also the need to provide proper schooling for children who remained until they were 15 years old. This was to be done by screening them into either an academic or a practical education once they had reached senior school level. Parental opposition to re-organisation was feared especially when it meant a child might have to attend school at some distance from his home. But the report stated somewhat optimistically ‘the system works smoothly and well where proper arrangements are made’.

In 1927 the Portslade schools were composed as follows

St Andrew’s Boys 298 on books Head + 8 teachers

St Andrew’s Girls 213 on books Head + 5 teachers

Infants’ Council School 202 on books Head + 4 teachers

St Nicolas Boys 202 on books Head + 5 teachers

St Nicolas Girls 198 on books Head + 4 teachers

St Nicolas Infants 111 on books Head + 2 teachers

It is interesting to note the total of boys in both schools was 500 and the total of girls was 411, whereas the proportions were reversed for the teachers. Not counting head teachers, there were 19 women teachers but only nine men. It is also apparent that the population of Portslade-by-Sea was growing.

One of the first proposals was quickly thrown out. This was to make a new senior boys’ school in the St Andrew’s School buildings to be attended by boys from both schools, while all the senior girls would go to St Nicolas. Both sets of managers and their respective vicars went to a meeting in Lewes on 15th November 1927 to talk the matter over. The St Nicolas managers recognised some re-organisation was necessary while at the same time they did not agree with some of the Education Committee’s proposals. The St Andrew managers were generally in favour of the proposals but their vicar, the Revd HW Leycester Ward, begged to differ.

Subsequently JH Baines, director of education, held a private conference with the two vicars and as a result revised proposals were sent to the managers in June 1928. Meanwhile the vicar of St Nicolas had resigned and the proposals hung fire until a new one was appointed. Thus in January 1929 the Revd NEC Hemsworth, the new vicar, received a letter from Mr Baines asking for the views of the school managers as soon as possible.

The final agreement meant that St Nicolas Boys’ School (west side of Locks Hill) became the Senior Boys’ School and St Nicolas Girls’ School (in the Brackenbury buildings) became St Nicolas Mixed Junior and Infant School while the St Andrew’s buildings accommodated a Mixed Junior and Infant School plus a Senior Girls’ School.

 copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph  from his private collection.  
The former St Nicolas' Infants School renamed  the  Boys School in 1929

The re-organisation caused a flurry of paperwork flying between Portslade and Lewes. For a start all the teachers had their contracts terminated and new agreements drawn up. In the new St Nicolas School the headmistress Miss Hunt had a staff of eight teachers – Mrs Chennel, Mrs Edwards, Mrs Goddard, Miss Patching, Miss Price (all certificated teachers) and Mrs Kenward, Miss Dann and Miss Stevens (un-certificated teachers).

As a postscript to these changes, the managers relinquished control of the Senior Boys’ School a few years later in 1936 and it passed into the care of the local authority.

copyright © D.Sharp
The former St Nicolas Boys' School on the west side of Locks Hill in 2014 (demolished in 2018)


Re-organisation might have been of benefit in some directions but conditions at St Nicolas School were very cramped. In September 1929 there were 377 children on the books; classes I to V contained 50 children each while the accommodation for classes I, III and V was quite inadequate. In October the situation was relieved temporarily when 16 children living near St Andrew’s were transferred there. But there were still children waiting to be admitted.

copyright © B. Figg
St Nicolas’ School in 1930

The building needed to be re-roofed in 1930. The workmen arrived when classes were in full swing and set to work. For one dreadful day the teachers tried to carry on as usual with bangs and crashes coming from the roof and dust and pieces of falling plaster flying about the classrooms. Then, thankfully, school closed until the work was completed. More alterations were carried out later in the same years but sensibly it was done during the school holidays. This time it was new flooring in four classrooms, two cloakrooms and at the end of the corridors.

The medical profession showed a marked interest in the St Nicolas children during this time. In December 1929 Dr Bruelfield from Hastings arrived to measure the heads of every child in order to collect data on the development of the brain. The Medical Officer of Health sanctioned the intrusion and so he must have put a convincing case. Hot on his heels, as it were, Dr Dunstan came in 1930 to collect statistics on eye colouring.

Nurse Shannon was a regular visitor who inspected hair for nits and the school Medical Officer, the important sounding Sir Alan Moore, kept an eye on things too. In July 1930 six cases of diphtheria were diagnosed and the affected children were removed to the sanatorium. Just when everyone thought the outbreak was over, another case was confirmed at the end of September. The District Medical Officer then descended on the school and took swabs from the throats of the teacher and children from the relevant class. But all the results were negative.

 copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
St Nicolas Boys School in 1932

In July 1932 a milestone was passed when Mrs Chennel retired. She had been headmistress of the infants since 1898 and re-organisation cannot have been easy for her because she lost her headship and became an ordinary member of staff of the new Mixed Junior and Infant School. At least she had the satisfaction of seeing her daughter arrive at St Nicolas as a supply teacher in the same year in which she retired. The HMI recorded that Mrs Chennel gave ‘many years of conscientious work’. But she did not enjoy a long retirement since she left in July and died five years later, also in July.

In 1932 the HMI mentioned the problem of overcrowding and there were 58 children in one class and 56 in another. In the previous year 30 children had been transferred to the senior school to ease the situation but the problem always returned. By 1935 overcrowding was serious. St Nicolas was officially recognised as having sufficient accommodation for 372 children but there 414 on the books. The previous year an additional standard class I was established in St Nicolas Church Hall. But at around the same time 16 new boys were admitted from Loxdale Boys’ Home next door – the boys were aged from 5 to 7.

As regards religious education, the Diocesan Inspector was well satisfied and the Winchester syllabus was introduced. In February of that year the children had a change when Brother Edward arrived to take prayers and to teach. He was in Portslade to conduct a parochial mission. In 1933 the parish also had a change of vicar when Father Hemsworth left. It can hardly have been a sad farewell for him because he was off to the sun, having been appointed Canon Residentiary of Bermuda Cathedral.

An example of what might be termed trendy thinking is mentioned in the Diocesan Report of 1934 when the worthy inspector thought it would help if teachers were to use the word ‘sign’ rather than ‘miracle’ as ‘it might help to withdraw interest from the mere sensationalism of the incident’. Possibly it was the same inspector who grumbled about the too frequent use of ‘wonderful’ by the children in 1926. In 1934 the music at school did not please his ear. This was due not to the children’s singing or the teacher playing the piano but rather to the piano itself, which ‘has no tone or has lost whatever it had’.

In May 1933 Empire Day was celebrated in the customary manner and it was recorded that many parents assembled outside the school railings to watch the proceedings while Miss Edith Ellen Blaker (one of the school managers) had a grandstand view from a window in her home Sellaby House. She had moved there in around 1923 with her sister Isabella Maud Blaker – they were the spinster daughters of Edward Blaker of Easthill House. Isabella died in 1926 and Edith died in 1938. Their names are inscribed on a Blaker memorial at St Nicolas Churchyard but of course they were not buried there since it had long been closed to burials.

When the children were old enough to leave St Nicolas School there were some options available to them. In 1932 nine children passed the written examination for the County Junior Scholarships, which meant they continued their education outside Portslade. Four boys went to Brighton & Hove Grammar School while three girls moved to Lewes County Secondary School and others joined East Hove Senior Girls. In 1938 it was even more diversified with some girls moving to Southwick Senior Girls.

In 1935 as part of the Silver Jubilee celebrations of King George V and Queen Mary, all the children were photographed. In May the chairman of the managers and the chairman of Portslade Urban District Council visited the school to present a Jubilee mug and a Jubilee box of chocolates to each child. 

At the end of December 1936 St Nicolas School ceased to cater for infants and became solely a Mixed Junior School. The infants were transferred to a temporary home in the vacant Windlesham House School buildings at the top of High Street until a new school could be provided. It became a Council Infant School. The changeover also meant some disruption for the staff. Miss Stevens, who had worked at St Nicolas for 32 years, moved with the infants and so did Miss Lewis who had only recently started at the school; while Mrs Goddard retired, having taught the juniors since 1915.

St Nicolas School re-opened in 1937 with 343 names on the books and a staff of nine teachers, including a man at last. But unfortunately Mr Campling did not last long. He was in charge of class IV, which owing to pressure on space was held over the road in the building occupied by senior boys. He was taken ill at school a couple of times but returned to work. Then in May acute appendicitis was diagnosed and he underwent an operation at Southlands Hospital. He took a long time to recover and chiefly on account of his health the managers gave him notice.

It was a year of gloomy happenings, one way or another. Ian Wilson aged eight died in June after falling out of a tree and in July Ian McClean aged nine drowned in the canal. Then on 28th July there was Mrs Chennel’s funeral.

In September 1938 the number on the books had risen to 406 and the managers took the drastic decision not to accept any children from the infants that school year. There was simply not enough space.


By 1938 the coming war was casting its shadow even on a comparatively small school like St Nicolas. In September the children were fitted with gas masks although some had already been issued with one. Gas masks were an important feature of the early war years and had to be carried about everywhere. They were checked regularly for effectiveness. Mrs Stone was a pupil at St Nicolas then and she remembers the gas mask inspection clearly. Apparently the drill was to put the gas mask on, breathe through the respirator and if the test piece of blotting paper stuck to the base where the holes were, then the mask was in working order. If the blotting paper fell off, the mask needed adjustment. In May 1942 when all the gas masks at school were examined, 56 were found to be useless.

Fire drill practice was intensified and air raid shelters were prepared and protected with sandbags. In April 1942 the Ringmer Building Co constructed some brick built shelters.

Staff endeavoured to continue school life in the normal way but it was difficult. Miss Hunt gave the lead and nothing daunted her. She was a lady of statuesque proportions whose forte was swimming and she continued to shepherd members of the swimming club into the Medina Baths at Hove on Fridays after school. The HMI considered the school was fortunate to have a headmistress with such interests.

copyright © J.Middleton
  Median Baths in 1913 was also used by other schools, these are pupils of Hove College

The opening of the winter term in 1939 was delayed by the declaration of war, which also brought into action the evacuation scheme.  London evacuees arrived in Portslade within days of Chamberlain’s broadcast and Miss Hunt and her staff were at full stretch sorting it out. On 20th September Mr Faulkener was called up. He had only been teaching at the school since March 1938 but in April 1939 he enlisted in the Royal Volunteer Air Reserve.

Overcrowding continued to worsen and by September 1939 there were 417 children on the books although the official accommodation figure was set at 362. In addition there were children from Norbury Manor Junior Mixed School, Croydon. The use of classrooms had to be juggled between the two schools and in October it was decided that the schools should alternate week by week – for example, should St Nicolas have the use of the school during the mornings one week, then the next week their lessons would be in the afternoon while the Croydon children would have the afternoons one week and the mornings the next week.

When the St Nicolas children could not be inside the school, they had to be taken on nature rambles or take part in organised games and sometimes if the weather allowed they could have lessons in Victoria Recreation Ground. In September it was noted in the Log that there were no halls that could be used. Happily by the end of October the Rothbury Hall and the Methodist Hall (both in Franklin Road) were made available to both schools. It was the best that could be hoped for but as the halls were at some distance from the children’s homes, attendance was not good.

To add to these difficulties another school was evacuated to Portslade in November – the Latchmere Senior Boys School. This meant that St Nicolas lost the use of their third classroom as well as the classrooms they had been using on the west side of the road. Nobody realised the situation was to be so short-lived but it soon became obvious that the south coast was not a safe haven for evacuees – indeed quite the reverse.

In June 1940 Mr Reginald Figgins became the new head of St Nicolas. He knew Portslade well, having taught previously at St Andrew’s School. For whatever reasons Miss Hunt decided to leave and become headmistress of Benfield School. By the end of 1940 Mr Figgins must have been heartily sick of writing ‘air raid warning’ in the Log. Lessons were interrupted continually when the sirens went off and everybody scrambled into the shelters. The Autumn term was particularly bad and it was not until 20th December he could record the first week that term not to be interrupted by air raid warnings during school hours. There had been frequent warnings in September and October with the worst three occurring on 11th September (three times) 10th October (four times) and 11th October (three times). School opening time became flexible. It was moved to 10am to enable families to catch up on their sleep if they had been kept awake by raids and even when it reverted to 9am parents had the choice of sending their children in later.

On 10th October 1940 during a German raid two Spitfires of 92 Squadron collided over Portslade. Flying Office John Drummond was injured by machine-gun fire and bailed out but his plane hit another one. Drummond’s parachute became tangled on his plane’s wing and the Spitfire crashed onto the Jubilee Field at the junction of Easthill Drive and Easthill Way. Drummond died and Father Holmes, vicar of St Nicolas since 1933, administered the last rites. The other Spitfire crashed in Hove and its pilot died too.

November 1940 was an eventful time. On the 12th some sharp-eyed observers gave a warning ten minutes before the official siren went off. They had spotted some German bombers approaching from the west and seven bombs were dropped, one near the Gasworks. On 21st November an explosive bullet from a German plane hit the school roof on the south side, shattering four tiles.

In February 1941 Mr Figgins decided that air raid warnings were causing too much disruption to schoolwork. From then onwards lessons continued during warnings while Mr Figgins and two boys perched on the roof to act as spotters, armed with binoculars. Mr Figgins would give his own private warning if he considered the situation warranted it; he knew the children were well drilled enough to leave school quickly and get into the shelters within minutes.

In March 1941 some of the St Nicolas children were evacuated to Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire. There is no record in the Log as to how many children were sent but it was a voluntary scheme and it seems the majority of children stayed in Portslade. In May Mr Figgins personally conducted a party of 35 evacuees from Portslade (18 from the Junior School) to join those already in Yorkshire including the boys from Loxdale.

It is interesting to note that two people mentioned in the wartime Log were still connected with the school in 1990. In June 1942 June Broadbridge was one of 18 children awarded a special place in the senior schools. In 1951 she became a teacher at St Nicolas, marrying fellow teacher Mr John Stone in August 1970 and continuing to teach. Roy Westbrook became a monitor in 1944 and assisted the headmaster in his clerical duties. By 1990 he was one of the school governors. But wartime memories remain clear. He recollects doing his stint at aircraft spotting on the school roof and indeed like other boys became something of an expert at recognising the different types. He was also in the church choir, which involved choir practice twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. One Tuesday there was an air raid during practice and bullets rattled like hail on the tin roof of the vestry. Later the boys climbed up on the roof to extract a few bullets as souvenirs.

The children who remained in Portslade still needed to go into the shelters from time to time. One morning in October 1942 the children spent so long in the shelters that by the time the all clear sounded, they were cold and damp. They were told not to bother to return to school in the afternoon. In November 1942 two enemy planes flew overhead and the air was full of machine gun fire. In May 1943 several pieces of shrapnel from AA gunfire fell into the playground, one piece breaking another tile.

In 1943 there was a sad event when Mrs Bringloe, who had been sent home from school because of illness on 10th November, died on 18th November. She was one of the teachers who had accompanied evacuees to Yorkshire and she had stayed there until she was obliged to return home in December 1941 for an operation.

Miss Hinde was with the evacuees the entire time they were in Yorkshire from March 1941 until 12th December 1944 when the children returned home on the orders of the Government.

In October 1945 teachers and children were sad to hear of the death of the vicar, the Revd EPW Holmes, who was at Portslade throughout the war years. It had been a busy but useful time because Father Holmes was responsible for St Helen’s and the Good Shepherd as well as St Nicolas but at least he had two assistant priests to help him out. Father Holmes kept St Nicolas Church open for around twelve hours every day so that people could take shelter if they were caught outside when the siren went off. Mrs Mary Holmes played her part too by doing her spell of fire watching at night by the church with her hard hat on her head. Many years later she became a somewhat formidable figure as lay chairman of Hove Deanery Synod.

Donald Elder taught at St Nicolas School from 1950 to 1954. His wartime experiences must have been dreadful since he was a Japanese prisoner of war.

copyright © D.Sharp
St Nicolas blazer badge
of the 1950s

During the first months of peace, the school was occupied with a rather basic problem – the lavatories (or offices as they were called in the Victorian Log). Not only were they were inadequate but they were also situated outside, which meant the cisterns froze solid in cold weather and the children had to be sent home. The caretaker did his best by installing braziers in severe weather but still the water froze. This sorry state of affairs brought a rush of clerical gentlemen to inspect the premises, including Bishop Crotty who visited in 1946. But it was not until April 1947 (after another freeze-up) that the lavatories were reconstructed.

School colours are mentioned for the first time in the late 1940s. There were four houses – red, green, yellow and blue. It is not clear whether or not the saints were introduced at the same time or later but the colours denoted respectively St George, St Patrick, St David and St Andrew. Mrs Wells devised the idea of a party to honour the relevant saint’s day with cakes and biscuits after school.

The school uniform also changed at around this time. Before the war girls sported bright red berets on their heads but after the war school colours became black and white.

Mr Figgins retired in June 1948 and as a change from the usual silverware, parents and children presented him with a wireless set. Mr Douglas Ternouth became the new head.

In 1948 the first school nativity play took place under the direction of Mrs Wells. It soon became an annual event of some importance. At first the play was performed in St Nicolas Church Hall in Abinger Road and then at the Good Shepherd Mile Oak. In those days there were two separate casts – one for lower Portslade and one for Mile Oak. In the mid-1950s the nativity play moved into St Nicolas Church where it continued to be performed every year until around 1980. At these events the church became crammed to capacity with a jostle of admiring relatives and the extensive cast included a host of diminutive angels with tinsel halos. Extra lighting was rigged up and a spotlight and a dimmer light hung from the choir gallery but sometimes the equipment grew dangerously hot. One small boy cast as a shepherd went about for weeks muttering his lines that included the immortal phrase ‘the sheep are restless tonight.’ It became a family joke.

copyright © D.Sharp
 The former St Nicolas Church Hall in Abinger Road and the original 'Tin Hut' Church of the Good Shepherd Mile Oak, the two venues of the schools's nativity play

In 1950 the benefits of electricity finally arrived at the school. As a gentle nudge to the authorities the hymn most frequently sung at assembly was Thou whose Almighty Word because there is the refrain ‘Let there be light’. However, electricity did not encompass the whole school right away. In April 1950 it was installed in class I, and the staff room. Class I was soon the proud possessor of a record player and a radio to receive BBC schools broadcast. In May 1950 the children were able to listen to a special school broadcast for Empire Day. Also in the same month Father Knight gave the children a concert of recorded music.

However, the rest of the school had to put up with spluttering gas-lights. In November 1950 it became so bad gas fitters were called in and the result was the lights packed up completely. The gas fitters had to return and do a complete overhaul in classes IV, V and VI. In June 1951 additional wiring was installed so that the whole school could receive radio broadcasts through loud speakers. It was not until the Christmas holidays that the rest of the school was converted to electricity and when school re-opened on 7th January 1952, the old building was virtually ablaze with light.

A few weeks afterwards King George VI died and the children took it very much to heart. On the day of the King’s funeral, there was a special service in St Nicolas Church and from 18th February children were taken in parties to the Embassy Cinema in Hove to see a film on the life of the late King and coverage of his funeral. In 1953 school patronage of the cinema was extended to the Rothbury in Franklin Road (to see the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II) and to the Granada in Hove on 24th November (to see The Conquest of Everest). On Sports Day 1953 every child was presented with a coronation souvenir tumbler embellished with the royal coat-of-arms.

Another step forward in 1952 was the start of school dinners. These were provided for a select few because there was no kitchen at St Nicolas and the children had to walk in a crocodile to Benfield School. The children qualified for school dinners according to how distant their homes were from school. The first twelve children to take part in the scheme walked to Benfield in November 1952 with Mr Eastwood in charge. The number later increased to around 20 children and this continued to be the drill until 1964.

It was not only in comparison to Benfield’s kitchen facilities that St Nicolas was found wanting. The school was desperately overcrowded and much of the equipment was antiquated. Some of the desks were the solid, old-fashioned, two-seater variety, which although durable, further restricted movement in the classrooms. In March 1952 one young girl had an unfortunate encounter with her desk when taking her seat because a long splinter ran into her thigh and she had to be taken to Hove Hospital for treatment; the offending desk was removed.

There was also no hall in which all the children could meet together. As for classrooms, the best two were those built on in 1929 because they were large and soundproofed. The other six classrooms were arranged in two sets of three, divided from each other with folding partitions. Conditions were so cramped children had to move sideways between desks. In one room you had to move the blackboard before you could get out of the door and once it was knocked over accidentally and went straight through the wood and glass partition. Noise was an added problem and in particular there was one teacher with a stentorian voice whose lessons could be heard in other classrooms too.

By 1953 the HMI’s report was beginning to look distinctly bleak. ‘The building is old and totally inadequate for the large number it accommodates’ runs the opening sentence. There were 316 children and five of the classes contained 40 pupils. The HMI also observed that there were only ten wash-basins and not a drop of hot water either.

copyright © June Stone
St Nicolas C of E Junior School, 1st Year Class, July 1954

Despite the refurbishment of the lavatories, freezing weather caused problems because they were still situated outside the school building. In January 1954 they froze solid like the bad old days and the children were sent home. In February 1956 when the same thing happened, a blowlamp was brought into action without much success. Later on that month the plumber shook his head and said there was nothing he could do, which is not surprising when the temperature inside the lavatories stood at 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cold weather could affect the water tank in the roof too and that froze solid in February 1956. School had to be closed for a week because there was no water. In January 1963 frost again turned the water tank solid and affected the heating too. When the thaw came, water filtered through the ceilings of classrooms III and IV.

Even the modern blessing of electricity was not without its hazards because the system overloaded now and again. Then the cry went up for Mr George Slack, who started teaching at St Nicolas in 1955, and was something of a dab hand with the fuse wire.

However, there was hope on the horizon and in March 1957 a visit was made to the site of the new school, which was right next door to the old one. It was to be ten years before the project was completed but at least things were moving along the right lines. In the same month Mr Jones, deputy Education Officer, arrived to discuss building plans. But Mr Ternouth, headmaster since 1948, was not to preside over the rise of the new school building. He left in 1957 and went to Wimbourne Minster in Dorset where he became headmaster of another junior school.

copyright © J.Middleton
The "new" St Nicolas C of E School

Mr John Humphreys became the new headmaster in 1958. On his very first day he found a saint’s day party in progress to celebrate St David’s Day and since he hailed from Mold in North Wales he considered it an auspicious start. St Nicolas School provided a startling contrast for him because he had been head of a small church school in Wales that had from twelve to sixteen children in a class with the grand total being not more than 40 pupils. Now here he was at Portslade with a bustling school of 320 children, one or two classes containing 45 children while no class held fewer than 30. The school managers, which included the vicar as chairman, interviewed him; Mrs Dickin asked him the happy question ‘Can you sing?’ What a query to put to a Welshman. In fact Mr Humphreys was very musical and played the piano with a light touch. He also deputised for the church organist on many occasions.

No doubt he took a keen interest in the school choir trained by Mrs Wells, which took part in the annual music-making programme at Benfield School; in May 1958 the choir earned a very creditable report. There was also a recorder group that performed at Hove Town Hall.

Not long after Mr Humphreys arrived, Father Gill, curate at St Nicolas for the previous four years, left the parish. The school took up a collection and presented him with a book token to the value of £1-13-6d, which believe it or not, was enough for him to purchase a book or two.

When Miss Hilda Price retired in July 1960 she was given a more substantial gift in the shape of a record player – and why not seeing as she had given 43 years of service to the school. She was an upholder of old-fashioned discipline and a former pupil remembers her deadly aim with the blackboard eraser if she considered a child was being inattentive. Her retirement brought to a conclusion an association of 66 years between the school and the Price family – not forgetting that her father was head of the boys’ school from 1894 to 1922.

For many years the Nativity Play was an eagerly anticipated event that took place inside St Nicolas Church. This photograph was taken circa 1962. The children look somewhat solemn but al least Mary is enjoying the occasion.

In 1959 another door to the past was shut literally when the air raid shelters were sealed off. The shelters had been used for general storage but in May of that year a boy was looking around inside when he fell over an easel and cut his leg and so it was decided to shut them off.

From 1960 the pace for the building of the new school accelerated and in October 1960 Mr Heather, the architect, came to the school while in March 1963 an architect from Denman & Son visited. As to cost it is interesting to note that in June 1964 the figure was put at £41,119 whereas the sum quoted in the Evening Argus (13th July 1967) was given as £70,000. Mrs Stone thinks £71,000 a more accurate figure.
copyright © D.Sharp
St Nicolas mural on the west wall of the school,
 (due to tiles falling this mural was removed in 2013 for safety reasons)

Mr John A Guillam Scott, secretary of the Church Assembly, laid the foundation stone on 7th June 1963 and the Bishop of Lewes dedicated it. It was a fine warm day as the procession headed up Locks Hill to the site, which was then well wooded. Two former headmasters were in attendance, Mr Figgins and Mr Ternouth, and the local MP Mr Anthony Marlowe also came.

copyright © A.Richbell
A Drawing of the St Nicolas mural
 on the west wall of the school, (this
tiled mural was removed in 2013
for safety reasons)
Building work proceeded smoothly and by June 1964 the first stage was completed. There was a headmaster’s room but best of all for the first time St Nicolas could boast of a proper assembly hall not to mention a dining hall and kitchen. Mrs Margaret Holden was the first cook and was still hard at work there in 1990. The first meal was served on 1st June 1964 and Mrs Holden and her helpers had prepared goulash and vegetables followed by cherry shortcake to 136 appreciative children. The meal was served in two sittings of 68 children and cost one shilling per child.

The dining hall was quickly pressed into service as an extra classroom because new classrooms had not yet been built. Work on these started in the summer of 1966 but not before a large area of small trees and bushes had been cleared. On 12th July 1967 the official opening and dedication of the new St Nicolas School took place. There were 350 guests and 300 children present. As refreshments were served afterwards, it is a pity nobody recorded exactly what was consumed as had happened when the Brackenbury Schools were opened 95 years earlier. Among the guests were Mrs K Kenward, a sprightly 83-year old who retired in 1945 after 25 years at the school and Miss Price who retired in 1960. It was a repeat performance as far as the weather was concerned as it was fine and sunny, just as it had been when the foundation stone was laid.

Earlier that month the school had the novel experience of holding Sports Day in their own grounds instead of making the usual hike to Easthill Park. Being at home, as it were, it was possible to use a greater variety of equipment. However, the children did not escape acting as porters just yet because before the old school was closed, everything had to be moved across to the new premises. The children made frequent journeys carrying books and papers while the milk trolley proved to be very useful for trundling along weightier items. Here again the weather was kind and removal day passed without a hitch. Mr John Stone captured it all on his home movie including a scene where Mr Humphreys inscribed his initials on a brick before cementing it into place.

The School Badge
in the 1980s
One scene Mr Stone could not record for himself was his wedding in 1970 when he married Miss June Broadbridge, a member of staff since 1951. The school gave them a canteen of cutlery and since they had thoughtfully chosen August for their wedding, the children were able to turn up in force and mob the happy couple as they left St Nicolas Church.

It is probably a coincidence but the new school led to wider horizons on more ways than one. Organised visits to places of interest had been a feature of school life since the early years, London or Portsmouth being the usual destination. However, in 1969 there was a school visit to Belgium and Holland and it was such a success that it was repeated for many years. Mr and Mrs Stone were the backbone of the organisation behind these trips and Miss Brown and Mrs Kenward, school secretary, also made many trips in the early years. Father Coles, curate at the church, volunteered for duty too.

In 1969 Father Hellaby, who had been vicar during the rebuilding saga, left Portslade to go to Brightling. In 1974 Mr Humphreys retired and so that was another link with the building days gone. He took early retirement because of ill health and as he had had a serious operation he was not well enough to receive a formal presentation until 31st January 1975 when he was showered with gifts. He was given a gold watch, an electric shaver and a cheque and Mr Westbrook, correspondent to the school managers since 1966, provided him with a garden chair. Mrs Olive Humphreys received bouquets of flowers. Mr Humphreys died on 16th November 1988. 

Mr John Plumpton became the next head and like his predecessor he came from being head of a small country school. In his case it was Dorset rather than Wales, and there were 62 children on the roll.


The School Badge
in the 2000s
The nearer one draws to the present day, the harder it becomes to write history. Besides the inevitable lack of perspective, there is also the fact that official documents are not available for study. It is now 22 years since this history was typed up on an ordinary electric typewriter with frequent recourse to Tipp-ex. Everything has changed rapidly since then.

But one point needs to be commented upon - the way St Nicolas had several long- standing members of staff who taught the children of former pupils. If you add together the years of service given by Mrs June Stone, Mr Derek Oliver, Mr George Slack and Miss Valerie Brown, you reach the startling figure of 116 with Mrs Stone as the front-runner.

The role of school managers has changed. In the early days there were four men who had to be substantial landowners in the area. This was later broadened to include a representative from East Sussex County Council and a representative from the Urban District Council. By 1990 there were twelve school governors and they include people with church connections as well as teachers and that new breed much encouraged by the Government – parent governors. Some things do not change and the chairman of the school governors is still the incumbent, namely the Revd Richard Rushforth, who has been vicar of St Nicolas Church since 1981 (retired in September 2012).

An invitation to the official opening of St Nicolas C.E. Primary School. 
The school buildings were further extended and its status changed to a primary school in 2013
copyright © D.Sharp
The Ven. Douglas McKittrick, the Archdeacon of Brighton & Lewes gave the welcoming speech and the school was officially opened by the youngest child (girl) and the oldest child (boy) of the Primary School, who jointly cut the red ribbon on 25 October 2013

It is pleasant to record that St Nicolas School appeared in sixth place in a list of the top ten performing primary schools in Brighton and Hove. (Argus 17 December 2019)

The School Bus and a Heartening Response

The Brighton & Hove Bus Company donated an old double-decker bus to St Nicolas School. It became something of a community project when parents, volunteers and staff spent precious time at weekends and during school holidays in renovating the bus. The result was an outdoor learning space, both colourful and useful, where lessons could be held, games played, or books read.

It was therefore depressing news when in early January 2020 it transpired that some teenagers had trashed the bus. They stabbed and tore seats and bean bags, scattered papers, pencils and pens around, used hockey balls to break every window, attempted to burn books, and to set the bus alight. Andy Richbell, head-teacher, was horrified by the destruction of what he described as ‘a magical place’, and the children were upset.

However, it is heartening to note that volunteers soon rallied around, as well as the authorities. One of the council’s road-sweeping vehicles soon arrived to rid the tarmac of shards of glass, while the bus company replaced every window. Furniture and paint were donated by B & Q, and families brought in games and toys. The teachers set up a crowd-funding campaign to raise £2,000 to sponsor the renovation, but in no time at all around 150 donations were received with the total coming to £5,000. (Argus 7/1/20 / 27/1/20)

Inga Moore

Inga Moore was born in 1945 and attended St Nicolas School. When she was aged nine she emigrated with her family to Australia but she returned to England in 1982. Since then she has become very successful in the world of children’s books – both as an author and an illustrator. By 1990 she had written seven children’s books including The Truffle Hunter and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. In the same year her book Six Dinner Sid won the Smarties Book Prize for the best book in the under-five category. By 2020 her tally was fourteen books she had written plus six books she had illustrated, and in the latter category were old favourites such as The Secret Garden and The Wind in the Willows. 


1796 Mrs Elizabeth Godley, died 1846
1841 Mrs Sarah Patching, died 1846
1846 Mrs Mary Wingenroth, died 1858
1858 Charles and Elizabeth Groome (census)
1861 Mary Packham, infant teacher (census)
1861 Maria Mills, infant teacher (census)
1863 Gabriel McConnochie, retired 1893 died 31 August 1898
1863 Mrs Caroline Louisa McConnochie, retired 1871, taught occasionally to 1879
         died 5 February 1917
1865 Mary Ann Miles, left 1879
1879 Miss Harris
1879 Miss Lee
1879 Miss H Sayers


1884 Gabrield McConnochie, headmaster, retired 1893
1884 Mr G Riley, left 1889
1889 Alfred Groves, left 1893
1894 Robert Price, headmaster, retired 1922
1894 Mrs Ruth Price, left 1916
1894 John Henry Worsfold, left 1901
1896 Sydney Constable, monitor
1898 Victor Drouineau, monitor
1898 Geoffrey Cross, monitor
1899 Mrs Glanville
1900 Victor Drouineau, pupil teacher, resigned through ill health 1901
1901 Florence Bambridge, left 1905
1902 Charles Price, left 1903, emigrated to Canada
1904 Mr WO Morris, left 1906
1904 Mrs Florence Adelaide Cook
1904 William Sanuel Robert Clapham, left 1906
1905 Margaret Ellen Funnell
1906 John Terry, monitor
1907 Arthur E Veale, left 1908 appointed head of Selmeston School
1908 Robert John George, left 1912 to go to Ditchling Road School
1908 Mr Balmforth, left 1922
1908 Arthur Henry Gates, certificated teacher 1913, joined Territorial Army August  
         1914, left St Nicolas, died 30 November 1925
1909 John Terry, student teacher
1912 Gladys Mary Austen, married Arthur Gates January 1921, left 1921
1913 Mr Winters, joined Royal Navy Volunteers 1914, rejoined school 1919, died
         17 February 1925
1914 Mrs Atherfold, temporary, left 1919 (maiden name Price)
1916 Hilda Mary Price
1921 Ethel Patching, transferred to junior and infants 1929
1921 Herbert Chinn, left 1923, head of Ditchling School
1922 Arthur W Privett, left 1924
1924 John William James Palmer, left 1925
1924 Gwendolen Mary Clothier
1925 John H Whiting
1925 William James Couter


1883 Miss AR Chrimes, headmistress, left 1883
1884 Miss LC Niblett, headmistress, left 1887
1884 Miss Hounsome
1887 Miss Le Clerq, left 1887
1887 Mary FLorence Rose, headmistress, left 1891
1887 Mrs Mary Florence Sayers, became headmistress 1892
1888 Miss Cole, left 1889
1890 Alice Edwards, became Mrs Worsfold 1898, left 1901
1894 Maria Louise Miles, left 1901
1895 Ella Fairweather, pupil teacher, left 1898
1899 Verna Awcock, pupil teacher, left 1899 
1900 Alice Glanville
1900 Annie Maud Haddleton, left 1903
1901 Norah Bridger, probationer, became assistant 1906
1902 Miss W Brigden
1902 Mabel Beatrice Loader
1903 Miss A Curry
1903 Miss AE Badger
1903 Ethel Patching, probationer, certificated teacher 1910, left 1911
1904 Mrs Stannard, pupil teacher 1904-1908, certificated teacher 1909-1920, then   
1904 Winifred Bellchambers, left 1906 for infants
1906 Mrs Bignell, left 1909
1906 Maud Blaker, monitor
1908 Mildred Louisa Durrant, probationer
1909 Winifred Terry, formerly probationer, left 1913 to be married
1910 Miss Berry, temporary
1911 Elsie H Sayers, pupil teacher, apprenticeship not completed through ill health
         on supply occasionally 1917-1919
1911 Emily Hounsome
1912 Miss Downs, left same year
1912 Miss Brigden, left 1915
1912 Ethel Spurgeon, left 1915
1913 Miss WA Bolwell
1913 Miss Bringloe
1915 Miss Lade, later Mrs Avery, left 1916, then supply 1918
1915 Mabel Sayers, temporary, covering for illness
1915 Sophie Harris
1915 Mrs Bringloe, un-certificated teacher 1903-1905, left 1924 after 21 years
         on supply, 1930s and 1940s
1915 Miss French, left 1923
1915 Mrs Goddard, left 1936
1920 L Dorothea James, left 1921
1920 Mrs Kenward, left 1945
1921 Miss Heywood, left 1924 on marriage
1924 Mrs Edmonds
1924 Miss H Chambers, left 1928 to be married
1927 Dorothy Cora Hunt, headmistress
1928 Miss Durrant, probationer teacher


1879 Emma Sayers, later Mrs Green, left 1895
1883 Emma Dickinson
1890 Elizabeth Thurkettle
1896 RM Chapman, head, left 1898
1896 Miss Conner
1897 Miss Keen
1898 Alice Kate Johns, headmistress, left 1898
1898 Mrs AK Chennel, headmistress, 1929 teacher mixed & infants, retired 1932
1899 Elizabeth Turner
1899 Constance Greenshields
1900 Gertrude Elizabeth Badger, left 1903
1901 Miss AF Chennel, resigned through ill health 1922
1902 Nellie Sole
1903 Miss Clissold, left 1904, mother ill
1904 Miss JAM Stevens, left 1936, died 1941
1904 Mrs H Burrow
1904 Miss G Colman, witness in NSPCC case 1914, left 1915
1904 Susan Dickinson, pupil teacher, certificated teacher 1908, married 1913, became
         Mrs Miles, left 1919
1906 Winifred Bellchambers, left 1908 to become head of Steyning Infant School
1908 Miss Hurst, left 1908
1909 Miss Gates
1910 Miss Maud Ward, left 1911
1913 Nora Harrison, monitor, left 1914
1915 Ivy Bowring
1916 Mrs Steer
1927 Miss Richardson, temporary
1927 Miss M Dann


1841-1846 Mrs Sarah Patching
1846-1858 Mrs Mary Wingenroth
1858-1863 Charles Groome
1863-1883 Gabriel McConnochie


1883-1894 Gabriel McConnochie
1894-1922 Robert Price
1922           Mr JW Burn


1883-1884 Miss AR Chrimes
1884-1887 Miss LC Niblett
1887-1891 Mary Florence Rose
1891-1927 Mrs Mary Florence Sayers
1927-1929 Dorothy Cora Hunt


1883-1895 Mrs Emma Green
1896-1898 Miss Chapman


1929-1939 Dorothy Cora Hunt
1940-1948 Reginald Joseph Figgins
1948-1958 Douglas Joseph Ternouth
1958-1974 John George Humphreys
1975-1988 John Raymond Plumpton
1989-2001 Peter Cox
2002-2009 Trevor Cristin
April 2009-September 2009., Christine Connolly Acting Head, before Mr Richbell's appointment
2009           Andrew Richbell

HEAD TEACHERS - PRIMARY SCHOOL (change of status in 2013 from a Junior School to a Primary School)

2013            Andrew Richbell


East Sussex Record Office – Log Books

ESC 135/1/1 1863-1881 (Mixed and Infants)
ESC 135/1/2 1881-1908 (Infants)
ESC 135/1/3/1908-1929 (Infants)
ESC 135/1/4/1883-1915 (Girls)
ESC 135/1/5/1915-1954 (Girls)
ESC 135/1/6/1955-1967 (Junior Mixed)

East Sussex Record \office – Admission Registers

ESC 135/2/1 1929-1934
ESC 135/2/2 1934-1939
ESC 135/2/3/1939-1957

Two other Log Books (1881-1908) and (1908-1929) both Boys were held at Portslade Community College when I was researching the history in 1990. The establishment is now Portslade Aldridge Community Academy.

In 1990 the School Minute Book (dating from 26th June 1881 to 10th January 1924) was lodged in the church safe together with other documents.

Album of photographs and news compiled by Mrs June Stone from 1963 at St Nicolas School

Encyclopaedia of Hove & Portslade (2001-2003) in 15 volumes

Brighton Gazette 28 May 1872 / 30 January 1875 / 22 April 1875 / 24 April 1875

Evening Argus 26 September 1933 / 13 July 1967

St Nicolas Church Registers – Baptismal dates of children born to Gabriel and Louise McConnochie

1864 – 27th November Annie Nora
1866 – 25th November Alice Louise, died 21st December 1878
1868 – 26th July Ronald Walter
1870 – 31st July Sidney Herbert
1871 – 18th October Arthur
1873 – 30th November Edith Lucy
1876 – 30th July Florence Gabrielle

St Nicolas Church Registers – Baptismal dates of children born to Revd Frederick George Holbroke and Henrietta Louisa Holbroke

1867 – 26th May Gertrude Mary
1868 – 26th July Georgina
1869 – 28th November Helena Barbara
1871 – 26th November Bernard Frederick Roper
1872 – 30th March Philip Lancelot
1874 – 29th November Francis Lyttleton
1876 – 30th April Constance Violet
1877 – 30th September Gerald Howard
1879 – 29th June Cecil Dacre More

Information derived from interviews with Mr John Stone, Mrs June Stone, Mr John Humphreys, Mr John Plumpton and Mr Roy Westbrook

The website of St Nicolas CE Primary School Portslade

Copyright © J.Middleton 2012
page layout by D.Sharp