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Far-sighted Colman’s gave city children a fine start in life

PUBLISHED: 07:09 21 October 2017

Carrow School on Carrow Hill, which was opened in 1864. Colmans pioneered education about 20 years before the State system began in Norfolk.

Carrow School on Carrow Hill, which was opened in 1864. Colmans pioneered education about 20 years before the State system began in Norfolk.


It was 160 years when one of the first schools of its kind in the world opened in a small room above a carpenter’s shop in King Street, Norwich, with 53 young scholars. Derek James tells the story of the Carrow School.

Working on the school allotments at Carrow Hill School in Norwich.Working on the school allotments at Carrow Hill School in Norwich.

“As from a tiny acorn springs the strong and stately oak. So grew the school at Carrow from the effort made at Stoke.”

Words used many years ago to describe a school in Norwich which was established by Jeremiah James Colman and members of his family in 1857.

As the campaign to keep Colman’s and its sister companies in Norwich it is important we remember the leading role the family and the company has played in Norwich and Norfolk over so many years.

Who else would go to the time and trouble to open a school for the children of its employees? It was an extraordinary achievement.

In a letter sent to the workers at Carrow and Stoke Mills at the time of the opening of the school Jeremiah wrote:

“My partners, although resident in London, are quite willing to join me in the expense that may attend this effort, and we shall rejoice to find that the school helps you to educate your children, and to train up a set of men who will go into the world qualified for any duties they may be called upon to discharge.”

It was Mrs Colman who was the moving spirit behind the school and it was said she took control of the school – and the building of the new one.

The small school moved from Stoke to Norwich but within a few years the boys and girls had outgrow the room off King Street, reached by a step ladder and hand rail, and a new bright and bold building – which thank goodness we can still admire today – was built on Carrow Hill.

The Norfolk News of March 5 1864 said: “The spacious and elegant building erected on Carrow Hill has been opened for the Day and Sunday Schools. Special attention was directed to the admirable arrangements adopted for ventilation lighting and for the separation of classes, in addition to the large and spacious infant class-room.”

The school quickly grew and a second block of buildings of built in 1871/2.

The headmaster at the time was Francis Issac Beales and under his guidance gardening, manual instruction, physical care, games and domestic economy were added to the activities.

Francis loved the countryside. He made sure the school gardens – where houses now stand – flourished. It was written at the time: “The bees and the honey – the lazy bees stealing sweetness from Cooper’s Sweet Factory (Albion Mills), thereby colouring the honey – the angry bees which, greatly daring, used their stings with some effect on Masters and Scholars alike.”

Such wonderful words.

What started with 53 boys and girls in a small room off King Street had now grown to a busy and bustling school with more than 600 pupils.

Word of its success spread across the world. Visitors included professors and education leaders from all over this country and India along with chiefs from South Africa, Jubilee Singers from America, Doctors of Divinity and missionaries.

King Edward, when Prince of Wales, spoke to the children when he visited Carrow House in 1880.

John Olorenshaw, the third and last headmaster, was connected with Carrow School for more than 50 years, first as a pupil, then as a pupil-teacher, then as assistant and finally, for more than 20 years, as headmaster.

He was a much-loved and highly-respected man who dedicated his life to helping and instructing others. He was “Mr Carrow”.

When the school closed he became headmaster at Lakenham Council School, where the pupils were transferred and the formal opening took place on Armistice Day, November 11, 1919, with members of the Colman family present.

It was the end of an era but the buildings were still used by J & J Colman for Sunday Schools and adult school work, entertainment and evening meetings.

Today the former school still stands proud on Carrow Hill – surrounded by homes once owned by the Colman family.

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