Video and photo gallery: Pupils mark 100 years since Britain’s longest running strike at the Burston Strike School

The Burston strike procession in 1914. The Burston strike procession in 1914.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
8:00 AM

It was the longest running strike in British history and today, 100 years on, youngsters in Burston recaptured the historic moment it all began.

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The Burston Strike School centenary event. Children from Tivetshall and Burston village schools and local residents taking part. Picture: Denise BradleyThe Burston Strike School centenary event. Children from Tivetshall and Burston village schools and local residents taking part. Picture: Denise Bradley

Pupils and teachers from Burston Community Primary School dressed up and made signs to walk the circular route taken by the striking pupils on April 1 1914.

The strike, which came after teachers Annie and Tom Higdon were sacked by Norfolk County Council, saw parents refuse to send their children to the official county school.

Instead, for the next 25 years, the striking pupils attended Burston Strike School, near Diss, which was set up as an alternative.

Carol Green, head teacher at the primary school, said: “This is a wonderful opportunity for the children of the school to celebrate the centenary of the Burston School Strike.”

About the strike

The strike, which was sparked when two teachers at Burston’s Church of England school were sacked by Norfolk County Council, ran between 1914 and 1939.

It saw parents refuse to send children to the official county school, in preference to sending them to the Burston Strike School which was set up as an alternative.

Before their move to Burston, near Diss, the Higdons had worked at Wood Dalling School. But they clashed with the authorities, particularly over their encouragement of farm labourers to join trade unions and their concern that children’s education was being disrupted because they were having to work on the fields.

The Norfolk Education Committee eventually gave them the ultimatum to move schools or be dismissed, so in 1911 they took up posts at Burston and Shimpling Council School.
But they soon clashed with local farmers again, and with the school managers – particularly chairman Revd Charles Tucker Eland – because of their repeated requests to improve conditions at the school.

In 1914, allegations of pupil abuse were made against Tom and Annie Higdon, which triggered a high profile dispute between Norfolk County Council, as the local education authority, school managers, local community leaders and labour, social and political organizations.

On February 28 1914, the committee meet at the Shirehall and, although they found no evidence of abuse, they said the Higdons had been discourteous to the school’s managers and gave three months’ notice.

But parents and pupils objected and, on April 1 1914, pupil Violet Potter led the children out on strike. Many parents refused to send their children to the council school and the Strike School was set up instead, initially on the village green.

Eventually, money was raised to build a permanent schoolhouse, which opened in 1917.

The strike continued until 1939, when Mr Higdon died and the last 11 pupils transferred to the county school.

The school building remains in Burston and is run as a museum.

Henry Hindle, 11, a pupil at the primary school, said: “It is a nice way to remember it and it is sort of like carrying it on so that it always stays in Burston School.”

After the ‘Candlestick Walk’, children and spectators returned to the village green to enjoy the sunshine with refreshments and snacks.

A logbook detailing the strike was handed over the trustees of the Burston Strike School museum, which resides in the old school building.

County archivist at the Norfolk Record Office, Gary Tuson, said: “The logbook keeps details of the ordinary activities of the school at that time. It is a really good record of what went on.”

Earlier this year members of Norfolk County Council met teachers and older pupils at Shirehall to reflect on the decision. A formal resolution stated that the decision to sack the teachers was wrong.

George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Coucil, said: “This event symbolises the changes in education and children services in Norfolk.

“The council then didn’t want the children to have any aspirations except working on the land. When we came into office we were determined to raise aspirations and this is a wonderful vote of confidence from these little children.”

A rally to commemorate the strike has been held every September since 1984 for trade unions and, this year, the event will mark the centenary.

Were you or your relatives affected by the Burston School Strike? Contact lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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