School Then and Now: Change and Continuity

Our Learning from History Manager, Valina Bowman-Burns, is here to bring the past to life for schools. Here she shows us how one of our local primary schools has changed over the last hundred years – and what has stayed the same.


Click here for information on a free schools resource pack of the images below, as well as other packs on life for Victorian children, and more.


The archive holds a beautiful collection of photographs. The ones of Ford End School were particularly detailed capturing the school inside and out. Inspired by this I wanted to retrace the photographer’s steps and retake the photographs. The kind staff and pupils of Ford End Primary School made me very welcome and showed me around their school.

In taking this photograph of the front of the school I came across an issue the original photographer probably did not have: the fast moving and constant traffic on the road through Ford End – changing the soundscape as well as the look of the area.

This image shows the back of the school. Here we see a hard working group bringing in the harvest with horse and carts.

There are still working farms around the school, but this particular area is now the school playground for games and fun.

However some traditions have been continued. Here we see the former pupils of Ford End working together to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

The school still has an allotment. Unfortunately my photograph from a chilly day in February doesn’t show the area in its full glory, but pupils today are still growing their own.

This is my favourite of all the Ford End photographs. I have shared this image with schools around Essex. The pupils’ sharp eyes still sometimes pick out features that I hadn’t noticed before. There are clues on the walls and around the room that hint at science, art and geography lessons.

Believe it or not – this is the same classroom! It is now divided into three rooms: a class room, a staff room and the head teacher’s office, but the windows and chimney are in the same place. I was not able to stand in exactly the same place as the original photographer due to the addition of a cloak room.

In 1900 the girls are sewing and the boys are writing. Present day we have a vibrant classroom with computers and smart boards. The layout and position of the desks are different and the children’s best work is displayed on the wall. The number of children in a class has decreased. I counted around 70 in the Victorian classroom, the school today has around 70 children in total, divided into different classrooms. The gaslights have been replaced by electric lights and the fireplace has been boarded up and replaced by radiators.

Do you remember the three arched windows nearest to us in the photograph of the front of the school? We could also see it at the back of the Victorian classroom from the inside. That distinctive window is still there, but a dividing wall now makes this the head teacher’s office. There is no false ceiling here and the full height of the Victorian classroom can be seen.

The small staff room shows the two internal walls that have been added. Notice through the window the wall and entrance gate, still in the same location.

One mystery remains. This photograph shows a cookery lesson. Searching the school for original features like the high ceiling, fireplace and what appears to be a very large door at the end of the room. I looked around hoping to rediscover the beautiful murals around the room – the black and white photograph hinting at the possibility of vibrant colour and a perhaps a moral story unfolding for the improvement of the children’s minds.

Yet it could not be found. It is certainly not in the current school building, but could be in Ford End or perhaps further afield.  We know that pupils used to be bundled onto a carriage –perhaps to reach this classroom?

Do you know where this is? Do you have any school memories that you would like to share?

8 thoughts on “School Then and Now: Change and Continuity

  1. What a super post! I drive past this often and it’s good to see it before the busy road got installed! You can also imagine the pupils crossing the road to the church for harvest festival.

    • Thank you Karen! The road has probably made the journey for cars a bit smoother, but the journey between the church and school is just the same (if with more traffic!).

  2. There are murals like this upstairs in Braintree Town Hall? Only visited once but look familiar, Glynis

    • Hi Glynis, interesting, thanks for letting us know. We’ll have to have a closer look if one of us gets the opportunity to visit Braintree Town Hall.

  3. Very interesting. However I noticed a church tower in the background which isn’t in the same place, nor the same sort of tower at the present Ford End church.

    • Hi Patricia, thanks for your comment, could you tell us which photo you mean though? If it’s the 3rd image I think the spire-type feature that’s visible is part of the roof of the school

      • Ah yes. I see what you mean. The school tower has been demolished now but is on the old photos. Apologies.