A brief history of the School at Scarning

In 1604 a local farmer, William Seckar, left his house and land to his wife Alice for so long as she should survive but that upon her death the income from the estate shall be used for “the maintenance of one free school, to be kept forever in the said house, while the world endures, in Scarning.”

Following William’s death on 1st November 1604, Alice married again on 3rd December 1604. Alas, this second husband succumbed on 6th December 1608. Alice duly married for the third time on 7th January 1609. This husband died in 1622 and Alice did not find another. She died in 1638 but there were delays and litigation over the construction of the school but it was now eventually opened in 1645 to general rejoicing.

By 1700 the schoolmaster was teaching the sons of the yeomen and farmers many of whom boarded at the school. These boys were kept separate from the sons of labourers so that the poor scholars did not contaminate the wealthier pupils. The labourers’ sons were taught by the usher who taught them reading, writing and arithmetic during the day. In the evening the usher looked after the master’s boarders who came to the school from all parts of Norfolk and Suffolk. Among these were the grandsons of Roger North of Rougham, one of whom set the school-house on fire, twice!

In 1800 the Schoolmaster, Mr Priest, had attracted a large number of day-boys to the school because there was no room for them to board. These boys come to school on dickies (donkeys) which were turned out for the day on to Podmoor. The mischievous village boys took great delight in driving the dickies a mile or two to Daffy Green so that the young gents had to chase and catch their dickies before they could ride home.

Extract from White’s Norfolk Directory of 1845

The Free School was founded by William Seckar who endowed it in 1604, with about 86 acres of land, to which 16a 2r 3p was allotted at the enclosure in 1766. The master occupies the large house and garden, left by the founder, and also about 12a of the land. The other 90a are let for £164 a year, out of which the master receives a salary of £80, and £5 a year to provide stationery for the poor scholars.
The residue is applied as a fund for repairing the premises, and for providing for the arbitrary fines levied on the copyhold lands, on the admission of new trustees. The schoolmaster teaches reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography, without any charge, to all the children of the parish above the age of five years, who are sent to him, and has generally about 50 pupils.”

More about the history of the Trust can be found in part 3 of “The Hundred of Launditch…in the County of Norfolk ” by GA Carthew 1879. Carthew printed notes by Barry Girling, giving a spirited account of the Trust and the school down to 1850 with details of numerous controversies surrounding the conduct of the trustees and masters they appointed in the 17th and 18th centuries.

You will also find a modern account in “Scarning A Portrait of a Village” by Nick Hartley (2009). Nick has also prepared a list of those early pupils who went on to Cambridge University and their records from the Alumni Cantabrigiensis.

For more details of the School today, please visit our page, or visit the School’s website.

George Miller (Headmaster) encouraged children at Scarning School to learn about gardening - 1910
Another picture of the School, this one was taken in 1918. The tree at the rear appears to have been felled and the ivy on the front grown considerably in the intervening years.
School Cricket team 1922
Scarning Free School

Memories of Scarning School

Tony Blades who now lives in Suffolk but was born in 1928 at Woodhill, Gressenhall has kindly given his permission for the following recollections of his time at Scarning School to be included here.

At the age of 5yrs I started my education at Scarning School, I lived at Woodhill which meant about a 2-mile walk to school with my 10 yr old sister usually stopping to play in the stream at Podmore on the way. School dinners? There was no such thing, it was sandwiches which, regardless of weather had to be eaten in the playground. I can still remember that the headmistress was Mrs Grand who lived in the house attached to the school. One very vivid memory was of twins Olgar and Hubert. One sad day Olgar ran from behind the school bus to cross the road to school and although in 1933 there were very few cars on the road poor little Olgar ran across at the wrong moment and died. So very sad for her little twin brother who was there at the time. I was only at this school for about a year then moved to Dereham.

I can still remember a silly little song we used to sing as kids.

Young folk old folk everybody come
Come and join our company and have a bit of fun
Bring a bit of chewing gum and stick it on the floor
For Scarning Fen, Daffy Green, Churchgate and Podmore

That was all such a long time ago but still fresh in my mind. I moved to Dereham at the age of 6yrs and left when I married some 20 years later. It was a happy childhood in spite of the war years, in fact, it added to the excitement of those years, dashing out to crashed planes, collecting shrapnel, army badges etc and of course the generous handouts from the American troops of chocolate, gum, cigs plus the grub when we went on to the bases at Shipdham and Wendling, bearing in mind that our food was rationed.”

The Rev. St. John Priest, Master Scarning School

The Rev. St. John Priest was master at the school from 1789 until his death in 1818

The following is taken from “The Gentleman’s magazine”, Volume 124 October 1818.

“Rev. St. John Priest, A. M. died on September 28th 1818 at Scarning, Norfolk, in the 60th year of his age. He received his academical education at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, where he proceeded to the degree of A. B. in 1780, and had the high and distinguished honour of being classed as Senior Wrangler, and adjudged the first of Smith’s Mathematical Prizes. In 1781 he was elected Submaster of Bury school and in April the following year married Miss CROFTS, daughter of the Rev. Benjamin CROFTS, rector of Gressenhall. In 1784, he proceeded to the degree of A.M. ; and in 1786, was presented to the Vicarage of Parham, with that of Macheston annexed, in the county of Suffolk. In 1799, he was instituted to the Rectory of Kerdeston cum Reepham; and later to that of Billingford, both in the county of Norfolk.

In 1789 he was appointed Master of the Free School at Scarning, succeeding Robert Potter, who resigned the post in the same year. At the school Mr. Priest, after the example of his predecessors, allowed the children of all persons in Scarning to be taught free of expense. He resided upon the School Farm, and for many years took private pupils, but discontinued them at the time when the Income Tax was first imposed, (December 1798) being of opinion that no profit could then be derived from them. He was chosen Secretary to the Norfolk Agricultural Society at its first institution in 1800, and held that situation till his death.

His attainments were various and considerable. As a mathematician, his knowledge was deep and extensive ; as a classical scholar, his taste was accurate and refined ; and as a scientific Agriculturist, his skill was great, and generally acknowledged. His political opinions were those of an old and genuine Whig; of course he was a firm friend to Church and State………….

Mr. Priest’s publications are ” Delectus Groecorum Sententiarum cum Notis, tum Grammaticis tum Philologicis in usum Tyronum accommodatus,” 1793 ; second edition, 180-1, 8vo.; the whole volume will be found to be an useful Chrestomathia. It was once Mr. Priest’s intention to have subjoined a lexicon. He also wrote a ” General View of the Agriculture of Bucks.,”

School Farm

The school was founded in pursuance of the will of William Secker, “to be kept so long as the world continues” and endowed with a farm and house in the parish, of between 90 and 95 acres. The schoolhouse which had a thatched roof was originally constructed of stud clay and plaster and extensive repairs and alterations were made in 1748. The Rev. Augustus Jessop later wrote that the boarders lived in ‘a range of squalid rickety buildings’.

St. John Priest lived on the farm and cultivated 75 acres as arable and on the remainder kept a flock of south down sheep. He also kept six cows and five horses. After his death, his deputy, Rev Levi Walton who took over the role of schoolmaster had use of the schoolhouse, garden and twelve acres to the front of the house (perhaps these are the same twelve acres referred to in the letter?).

At this time the buildings were in a poor state of repair and the ‘old school’ was pulled down and the barn and stables were rebuilt in 1819 for a cost of £300. In 1850 the old schoolhouse was demolished and a new master’s house and school room which still stand today were built. This information and much more is included in Nick Hartley’s ‘Scarning – A Portrait of a Village‘.

George L. Miller – Headmaster 0f Scarning School

George Lane Miller b1874 son of a sea captain, who hailed from Kings Lynn was appointed master at the school at the turn of the twentieth century. Apart from teaching at the school he and his wife Mabel M Miller held evening classes three times a week at the newly constructed Village Hall (1902). The subjects including drawing, commercial correspondence and arithmetic, domestic economy and practical cookery.

They rented and lived in the Teacher’s House with their two children Kenneth b1904 and Alan b1907. The house included offices and gardens, now part of the current old school buildings. The master also had the use of a two-acre meadow. The rent for these being £10.0.0 and £5.0.0 per annum respectively.

In 1916 George was appointed Collector and Assistant Overseer of the Poor at a salary of £10.0.0 per annum. The handwritten records of the receipts and demands for payment, balance sheets. show that this was no sinecure. At this time he also took on the unpaid role of Clerk to the Scarning Parish Council.

At the inaugural meeting of the Scarning United Charities in April 1919, he was elected as the Clerk for a salary of £2.0.0 per annum. Subsequently, he became the Honorary Secretary and Treasurer forgoing his salary. A book recording the minutes of the meetings records that he was in ‘the hospital’ (perhaps Dereham?) in 1926 and the minutes were accordingly taken by his wife.

One aspect of his duties for the charities was the seeking of tenders, ordering, allocation and distribution of bread twice yearly to residents of the village. The archives include school exercise books listing, in his own hand, each household with address and the number of loaves allocated.

He also held the same posts for the Trustees of the Village Hall and one of his first tasks was to offer the village hall for use by soldiers serving in the First World War and subsequently pursuing their commanding officer for damages and the return of and inkstand given to the village by the Rev. Jessopp.

In 1927 he was elected as a governor of the school after confirmation that there was nothing in the foundation of the school which prevented this even though it could be said that he might have a conflict of interest being both a tenant and a landlord. In the same year, he was appointed as the local Registration Officer.

One of the duplicate pen carbon books held in the archives which cover the period from June 1929 until his death at the end of 1931 gives an interesting insight into other aspects of his life. He was a keen gardener and seems to have specialised in the growing of sweet peas. He sent several consignments to Messrs D Ingamells of Covent Garden (the firm still exists) and he exhibited at the Norfolk Show. Both he and his wife won prizes at the Special Provincial Show in Norwich. He also had a greenhouse and keen to harvest rainwater ordered guttering, brackets and a cistern. He was the Honorary Secretary of the Scarning District Horticultural Society which also included the villages of Wendling, Dillington and Gressenhall. We also learn that he owned a fabric topped Austin 7 with registration number NG1660 and was ordering oil, grease, ‘Karpol’ polish, radiator muff and spare wheel cover for it.

One of the letters concerns the supply of 13 pairs of rubber shoes noting that one pair was absent from the delivery. One can only guess that these were for the children and that he was instilling his interest in gardening in his pupils. several others seek tenders for the transport of 60 children and 24 mothers for a day out to Sandringham, Hunstanton and Castle Rising. The trip in August 1930 was to start at 9 am and return at 9 pm.

In the Autumn of 1931, he ordered raspberry, gooseberry, redcurrant, blackcurrant plants and climbing roses. Less than a month later on 12th November, he wrote his last letter concerning the extinguishment of the copyhold for a 2acre 3roods piece of land for the Scarning United Charities. He died soon after.

George L. Miller – Football Referee

Q – What links Scarning with Norwich City Football Club, the Titanic disaster and an FA Cup Final at Old Trafford?

A – George Miller, a former head teacher of Scarning School.

Details of Mr Miller’s life as a headteacher  and stalwart of Scarning can be found elsewhere on this website but here is a tale of his passion for football, by John Treleven from Jersey.

George was born in King’s Lynn, the son of a sea captain, and he became well travelled too.

He was playing football for King’s Lynn Juniors when they won the Norfolk Junior Cup Final in 1893 and was with Norwich C.E.Y.M.S. (Church of England Young Men’s Society) when he represented Norfolk in 1896. He married Mabel May Ives, who was a few months older than him, in Norwich in 1899 and was appointed headmaster of Scarning School at about the same time.

He and Mabel lived at the Teacher’s House with their two children Kenneth George William (1904-81) and Alan Ives (1906-??) and became pillars of the community taking on many posts in the local area. George was also a keen gardener exhibiting at the Norfolk Show and owned an Austin 7 car.

Whilst undertaking all this locally, George was also busy as a football referee and organiser. He refereed the first match played by Norwich City when they met Harwich in September 1902 and on 2nd April 1911 travelled across to Rotterdam to take charge of Netherlands v Belgium (3-1). It was census day and he is found on the S.S. Munich returning to Harwich after the match.

A year later he was in Jersey for the Muratti Vase Semi-Final v Guernsey. Alderney were on the rota of byes to the final, pre-war, and awaited the winners. The match was drawn and so Miller had to delay his return a day as the replay was hurriedly put on 24 hours after the first match. The match report shared the front page of the local paper with the news of the Titanic disaster.

In 1913 George was on international duty again when he travelled to Stockholm when Sweden hosted Denmark (0-10) and in 1915 he was a linesman for the FA Cup Final at Old Trafford, Manchester when Sheffield United defeated Chelsea 3-0.



Miller became Chairman of the Norfolk F.A. but possibly was not in the best of health as he was reported as being in hospital in 1926 when his wife took the minutes at a local meeting instead of him. He was hospitalised again in 1931 and died in Norwich Hospital on Friday 4th December 1931, aged 57.

Mabel was in Norwich the following day making funeral arrangements when a runaway van ran down Orford Hill and knocked her over on the pavement. She was taken to the same hospital that her husband had died in the day before but she died that evening.

A joint funeral was held at Scarning the following week when the wreath that Mabel had just ordered was placed on their grave, it read – “To Laddie, my husband from M’Amie Petite. When the last great recorder comes to write your name, he will not write how you won or lost but how you played the game.”

John Treleven – Jersey

Pupils from a famous School

Scarning School has produced many illustrious pupils, among them Edward Thurlow, who went on to become King George III’s Lord Chancellor, Edward Hase, who built Salle Park and Horatio Nelson’s father, Edmund. To this list can be added Jacob Mountain, who in 1793 became the first Anglican Bishop of Quebec.

The grandson of French refugees, Mountain was born at Thwaite in Norfolk on 1 December 1749 and initially attended grammar school in Wymondham and Norwich. After working for two years in a counting-house he entered Scarning School, which at that time was under the mastership of Robert Potter. (Potter’s arrival in the village had been met by rioting outside the schoolhouse.)

In 1769, Jacob Mountain was admitted to Caius College, Cambridge. He graduated in 1777, having been ordained a deacon three years earlier. He married in 1783 and went on to father seven children, four of whom became clergymen. His first clerical posting was as perpetual curate of St Andrew’s in Norwich, where he remained six years.

In the summer of 1793, he was appointed Bishop of Quebec. He set foot in the city in November that year, accompanied by the ‘Thirteen Mountains or extended members of his family. At that time there were only nine Church of England clergymen in the whole of Canada and Quebec had no church or rectory. Mountain promoted the construction of churches in all the country’s more populous towns, including a fine stone cathedral in Quebec and increased the number of clergymen to sixty, among them his son, George Jenoshaphat Mountain, who similarly went on to become Bishop of Quebec.

Jacob Mountain died on 16 June 1825 and buried four days later beneath the chancel of his cathedral.

The Elusive Sir Charles Turner

One afternoon we went in search of Sir Charles Turner. We had looked for him at Houghton Hall, searching for the portrait his brother in law, Robert Walpole, commissioned of him in 1717. We found traces of him in the Custom House at King’s Lynn, the construction of which his uncle financed and which still stands as an enduring testament to the power of the Turner family. And then there was the Nelson connection. Charles Turner was Horatio Nelson’s great grandfather.

Turner himself remained elusive. The simple facts of his life were clear. A lawyer’s son, he was born in North Elmham on 11 June 1666. He and a brother were sent to school in Scarning. Both were boarders.

In its long history, Scarning produced a few well known figures, among them Horatio Nelson’s father, Edmund, and George III’s Lord Chancellor, Edward Thurlow. Charles Turner is much less well known, but uncovering his life reveals him to be no less an important figure.

After the death of his father, when Charles was twelve, he was raised by his two uncles. The Turners were one of Norfolk’s great merchant dynasties. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the family controlled the valuable port of King’s Lynn. It was the Turners who not only built the Custom House, but also the Dukes Head inn, which became the centre of their political power. The Turners represented King’s Lynn in Parliament for almost a century, passing power from father to son, uncle to nephew, like all good dynasties.

Kings Lynn Custom House

When Charles Turner married Robert Walpole’s older sister, Mary, it was the Turners who were the dominant family. Houghton Hall at that time was a rambling old Tudor manor house with mullioned windows, tall chimneys and open fireplaces. Mary’s father had no political ambitions, nor did her brother, Robert, who, sent off to Cambridge after schooling at Great Dunham, was expected to become a clergyman.

When Walpole’s two older brothers died, he was unexpectedly thrown into the limelight. In July 1702, he was elected the Member for King’s Lynn alongside his more politically astute brother in law, Sir Charles Turner. The pair celebrated their success with a lavish ball at the Duke’s Head. It was the first of many victories.

The Turners greased the wheels of power, but it was Walpole who proved the better politician. He quickly rose through the ranks and became the embodiment of an age in which corruption was normal and politics was a quid pro quo of deals and alliances.

At the same time, he did not forget his brother in law. When Walpole became Secretary at War in 1708, Turner was made a Lord of Trade, a position that carried immense wealth. Six years later, Turner was appointed a Lord of the Admiralty, another great money spinner.

Turner played witness to Walpole’s rising fortunes. In 1721, Robert Walpole was made England’s Prime, or First, Minister. A year later, the foundation stone was laid for the new Houghton Hall. The rambling old manor house was demolished and in its place rose a grand Palladian edifice that hosted not only Walpole’s magnificent art collection, but his Norfolk Congresses, at which the great and the good gathered to drink, hunt, plot and intrigue.

Charles Turner was part of a set that included the Townshends of Raynham Hall, the Hoste family of Sandringham Hall, and the Windhams of Felbrigg. He was at the very centre of political influence. When he died in November 1738, Robert Walpole wrote that he had lost ‘the oldest friend and acquaintance I had in the world.’

And yet after his death, all trace of him disappeared. The portrait of him which formerly hung in the Supping Parlour at Houghton vanished and there is no identified image of him. A few of his letters remain in the library at Houghton, but none are revealing of his character.

Nowadays when we think of the Nelsons, Turner is not a name that springs to mind. But it was Sir Charles who supported his daughter after her clergyman husband died in 1730 and who rented her a house in Brooke from which she and her daughter, Catherine (Nelson’s mother) later launched themselves on society – Catherine marrying an impoverished clergyman and former Scarning pupil, Edmund Nelson, who was later to take over the rectory at Burnham Thorpe with the help of his wife’s Walpole relatives.

Charles Turner is one of the many forgotten figures that pepper the history books – bit players in the great scheme of life. But without Turner there is no Horatio Nelson and no Trafalgar, which set the seal on Britain as the world’s greatest maritime empire. And without him, the fortunes of Sir Robert Walpole may well have been different. Walpole has been described as ‘one of the greatest politicians in history,’ but it was the Turners who gave him his break.

And so it was that we went in search of Sir Charles, following him to his last resting place in the family mausoleum at Warham. Turner had lived in the village for many years, although his home has long since been demolished, and the land subsumed into the neighbouring Holkham estate.

In medieval times, Warham had three churches. Now there are two. In the smaller of these, St Mary Magdalene, lies the Turner Mausoleum. And it is there that we find Sir Charles.

The mausoleum itself is cold and dank. On the floor are nine black ledger stones. Sir Charles is buried with his wife and his only son. In another row is Charles’ brother, John, who when Robert Walpole was imprisoned in 1712 on charges of corruption stood in for him as the member for King’s Lynn and then compliantly stood down the following year to allow his return.

After the death of his wife, Turner had remarried, but in spite of this it was at Houghton Hall that he died, and it was to Warham, at which he had lived with Mary Walpole, that he returned. In 1730, he had been made Father of the House, the title bestowed on the senior member of the Commons with the longest unbroken service. By then, he had represented King’s Lynn for thirty five years.

History tends to forget the bit players, but as Shakespeare reminds us ‘all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.’

Nick Hartley
01362 687492

To read more about the Turners and other former pupils of Scarning School, a copy of Arcadia (A History of Scarning free School) by Nick Hartley can be found in Dereham Library.