Solving the mystery of 'St Etheldreda's College'
PUBLISHED: 07:34 15 July 2017
It was a challenge posed to us by Jimmy Woodrow of Beccles Museum: 'Have you heard of St Etheldreda's College in Norwich?'. We hadn't, but then Derek James set off on the trail...
This is one of those “mystery solved” stories which crop up in newspapers from time to time and often they uncover an important piece of local history... as is the case today.
For a long time the whereabouts of what Jimmy Woodrow of Beccles Museum thought was a college in Norwich called St Etheldreda had been a real puzzle.
“It has frustrated me for years. It was surely near to Norwich and was for young ladies for the years 1913 to 1915. We have a photograph of the college group which included Dorothy Benns who later married John Elsling who had a newspaper business in Beccles.
“The photograph became more interesting because we have a collection of autographs (comments and sketches) by many of the girls. My main objective is to complete our records with the history of the college,” said Jimmy.
St Etheldreda’s College in Norwich. Was there ever such a place?
I asked Norfolk historians to put their thinking caps on and one, Philip “Mr Wymondham,” Yaxley stepped forward.
“It could be referring to The Norwich Diocesan Training College for school-mistresses, which moved to College Road in 1892,” he said.
Further investigations discovered the college was originally founded in 1839 in the Cathedral Close in Norwich and then operated between 1853 to 1892 on St George’s Plain.
It was then that a fine-looking and fully-equipped college was built on College Road between Earlham and Unthank roads.
The college, designed by Messrs Oliver & Leeson of Newcastle, cost around £14,000. The site of one and a half acres was presented by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and an additional quarter of an acre was acquitted for future extension.
There were more than 60 resident students at start with which rose over the years to almost 150. There were recreation rooms, lecture halls, a science room, a dining hall, tennis courts, lawns and....more importantly a chapel.
Designed by G F Bodley, RA, it had been dedicated as the Hinds Howell Memorial Chapel of St Etheldreda, the Princess of East Anglia and Abbess of Ely in the 7th century, and Canon Hinds Howell had taken a leading role in getting the college built.
So, is that where the name comes from? It must be.
The chapel was described as quite beautiful and had been built by Mr J S Smith of City Road in Norwich. Smithfield Road is named after him.
Sadly the college was destroyed, along with so much of Norwich, during the Blitz of 1942. It was hit by a shower of incendiary bombs. The staff and students managed to escape but the water supply failed and the building was gutted.
The neighbouring community rallied round to help the students. Many had to return home to get more clothes but within a few days they were all back and prefabs were put up on the site so they could carry on with their studies.
With peace eventually came a new teachers’ training college. This was Keswick Hall which operated between 1948 and 1981 and Wymondham Teachers’ Training College (1947-1950) on the site of the Second World War American hospital at Morley and now Wymondham College.
As for St Etheldreda... there is still the church sitting proudly off King Street in Norwich which bears her name. A former centre of worship with a long and proud history.