Seaham Schools

Reproduced here with kind permission of the Sunderland Echo, this article by

C. A. Smith appeared in the Sd Echo on January 14 1965. old news paper article at bottom of this section


Lady Frances Anne Always Took An Interest In Seaham Schools

A fascinating picture was reproduced this week of the old coast road, intersected by a foot bridge close to the area known, I believe, as “Bessie’s Hole” and the buildings which, after all, were the first public baths. I found that these were mentioned about 1856 by Fordyee and so there is no doubt that they were used for bathing and not merely for washing linen, as has been suggested. We are now in the vicinity of the North and South Terraces, according to the plan drawn by John Dobson and William Chapman. The South Terrace project, however, hung fire and in 1831 William Chapman produced another plan to show the extent of the township’s progress to date.

I am obliged to a pupil, David Reed of Bede Boys’ Grammar School for a skilful reproduction of the whole setting. The area teems with interest which will, without doubt, be increased by numerous pictures of the old docks, steam and sail, buildings long sice vanished, former street scenes, the Londonderry Volunteers, railroads, collieries and their sad disasters, sporting events and many other items belonging to Seaham’s eventful history. For these our gratitude to Mr J.C.Currie is profound.

Soon after the Crimean War, of which we shall hear more later of its bearing on Seaham, there were at least two boarding schools for young ladies, as well as a number of day schools kept privately for boys and girls.

The “National” School was in Church Street, opened, I believe, in 1848 and was under Government inspection. Perhaps we might profitably digress here a while for a very brief summary of the types of education which prevailed before the advent of the board schools of 1870. Most children in the 18th Century did not go to school at all for there was no comprehensive (horrible word!) system of education in England. A number of charity schools, supervised by the S.P.C.K., taught the “three R’s” and vocational interests to poor and orphaned children with partial success but they soon ceased to flourish.

The grammar schools catered for the middle classes only, the main item in their curricula being classics. Public schools did the same for the upper classes. By the end of the 18th Century the grammar schools were declining and in the early 19th Century were often very sparsely attended. However, the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 opened the way to better progress and, thanks to the evangelical movement, a far greater interest in education arose, and in 1869 the Endowed Schools Act was passed whereby dormant charitable funds helped to revive such moribund institutions and their curricula.

Soon the public schools found new life and fees from the wealth forthcoming from those enriched by the Industrial Revolution. Great headmasters such as Arnold, Butler, and Thring, left a trail of light behind them (post tenebras lux); but there was still no progressive system of education laid down for the children of the poor. When the charity schools ceased to function or were on their last legs, the Sunday schools, founded by Robert Raikes in 1780, performed yeoman service. Side by side with these were the Dame schools kept by old women who taught the “three R’s” for a meagre profit in basements or garrets, as did the Common Day schools in certain large towns.

Here we come to the so called “National” school, opened in 1848 in Church Street, Seaham.  This type of school was a great step forward; in fact, those run by the National Society for those of the Anglican persuasion and those run by the British and Foreign Society for nonconformists were the only really effective schools for the education of the poor in the early 19th Century. Their system was the Lancaster or Bell method for a master aided by monitors, the master being responsible for the main teaching, the Monitors assisting in spelling and learning by rota.


By the time the Seaham school was in operation, Government grants were available for education though religious differences were a barrier to the proposed maintenance of schools out of the rates. The Newcastle Commisions had in 1858 already advised the setting up of Local Boards of Education, with powers to obtain finance for the rates – but all in vain. In fact, in 1860 a proposal by the same committee was adopted to the effect that “teachers should be paid by examination results”, a most iniquitous practise which often led to a mere cramming for examination set by the school inspectors. One has only to read the old log books to realise the upset caused by the visit of an overbearing inspector.

It was not until the Foster Education Act of 1870 that elementary education was controlled by the local school boards, financed from the rates at first, but soon to be a “free for all” and with a religious teaching which was no longer denominational. So far as we are concerned here, the last step came in 1902, when under the Balfour Act the school boards relinquished their control for better or for worse – in favour of local education authorities.

Bleak Report

But to revert to the National School at Seaham, an inspection was held in 1853 when 139 boys and 186 girls took the examination. Incidentally, 38 boys and 34 girls had already left school  before June 6 when the examination began! The report was bleak and, as usual, consisted of general observations. We read that the boys’ department contained a good-sized room, but no classroom. Furniture, books, discipline and instruction were classed as “fair” only. The apparatus consisted of four blackboards and easels and two card stands.

The “three R’s” were taught, with some geography, grammar and scripture. There was one master and two pupil teachers or monitors. The master was responsible for five classes in all subjects. For the girls the report was similar except that they did possess a classroom but only one blackboard and easel. A perusal of this and other similar reports would seem to indicate that the Inspector set out to apportion blame rather than praise; possibly to conceal his own inadequacy for such commitments as well as to keep the salaries down.

Here is a picture of the old school premises in Church Street as they were long ago. Compare it with a recent picture of the new Technical Grammar School, built just 116 years later and think of the present-day total of more than 5,000 children attending the 21 schools in this township under the North-Eastern division of Durham County Education Committee wherein every aptitude and skill are catered for. One cannot bu feel profoundly grateful to members of the Londonderry family, and, in particular, to the third Marchioness, Frances Anne, for their generosity and foresight in the cause of education, which would, surely, have been slower to rear its head in the villages and towns in receipt of their manifold amenities, both sacred and secular. We shall be describing some of these next week with pictures, old and new.

Meanwhile, have you heard the true story of the Seaham woman who fell dead while she was making a cake for her husband, who for all his life preserved a piece of the cake as a memorial for her? When he died in  January, 1851, he left instructions that he should be buried beside her in his wedding suit, with the piece of cake in his pocket, in the cemetery of Saint John’s Church. Seaham wives obviously knew the best way to a man’s heart! (To be continued)


  • 1844 National School
  • 1844 T R Woodfield Boy’s and Girl’s School, North Tce.
  • 1847 Elizabeth Baxter School, Church St
  • 1847 John Ellemore School, Railway St
  • 1847 John Marley, Day School, Back North Terrace.
  • 1848 Stephen Waller Day School, Back North Tce
  • 1848 T R Woodfield School, North Terrace.
  • 1848 Lucy Nicholson School, North Tce
  • 1851 John Ellemore Day School, John St
  • 1855 Seaham Harbour Academy
  • 1856 Misses Dodds Ladies School, Blandford Place.
  • 1856 Miss C Irwin Ladies School, Frances St.
  • 1862 Misses Hodges and Irvine Boarding and Day School, 22 Marlborough St
  • 1864 Colliery School, Seaham Colliery
  • 1864 Infants School, Seaham Colliery
  • 1864 Londonderry School, Seaton Colliery
  • 1864 Infant’s School, Seaton Colliery.
  • 1864 John Marley School, Tempest Place
  • 1864 Roman Catholic School, Back North Tce
  • 1871 Londonderry Cottages Infant School (later New Cotts/ Swinebank)
  • 1871 St Mary Magdalene’s Catholic School
  • 1873 Young Ladies Boarding School, Seaton House (Hall)
  • 1871 Seaton Village School
  • 1873 Sarah Archer’s Ladies School, Sea View, (North Tce?).
  • 1873 Todd’s Buildings School
  • 1879 Colliery National School, Boys and Girls
  • 1879 Ropery School (mixed)
  • 1890 Ropery Walk Voluntary School
  • 1890 Londonderry Colliery School Boys (Stockton Rd)
  • 1890 Londonderry Colliery School Girls         “
  • 1890 Elizabeth Jane Foster Preparatory School for boys and girls, 2 George St
  • 1890 Misses Hannah, Frances and Mary Mitchison Preparatory School, 9 Tempest Pl.
  • 1902 National Sophia St Infanfs
  • 1910 Station Rd Girls and Infants
  • 1910 Back Viceroy
  • 1910 Bottleworks Road Girls School
  • 1910 Queen Alexandra Rd, Boys, Girls and Infants (Dawdon Schools)
  • 1910 Emily St East (special subjects)
  • 1914 New Seaham Council School, mixed and infants
  • 1914  Saint Cuthbert’s Catholic Infants
  • 1914 Seaham Harbour Upper Standard Princess Rd (later Girl’s Grammar)
  • 1914 Central Council Infants

Please use this list as a rough guide only as some of these schools may be duplicated under different names at different times and some may be missing  as it is not always clear from the directories whether it is a school or a teacher residence listed.

The dates given are of the first entry in the Trade Directories and not necessarily the opening date of the school but should be close.

same article in old news paper


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