Burston Strike School - Background To The Strike

Background To The Strike

Tom Higdon was born on 21 August 1869 at East Pennard, Somerset, the son of a farm labourer.

Annie Katherine Schollick (Kitty) was born on 13 December 1864 in Poolton-cum-Seacombe in Cheshire. They married on 4 July 1896, living first in London before moving to Wood Dalling in Norfolk in 1902. This coincided with publication of an Education Bill in Parliament which offered education to working class children, though in practice it was intended to ensure that they learned their place in society and respected their social betters. In Norfolk, as in most parts of the country, this meant that the boys were to be made farm labourers and the girls domestic servants.

Kitty was appointed headmistress at Dalling County School with Tom an assistant teacher. Identifying themselves with the local farm labourers, the Higdons ran up against almost immediate resentment from the school managers, who were mostly farmers. They objected to the cold, insanitary conditions of the school and especially protested at the farmers taking children away to work on the land whenever they were needed. Eventually, after a complete breakdown of relationships, the Norfolk Education Committee gave the Higdons a choice: accept dismissal or transfer to another school. They took up the latter offer and moved to the Burston School in 1911.

Arriving at Burston, the Higdons found conditions were no different. The newly arrived rector, the Reverend Charles Tucker Eland, was appointed chairman of the School Managing Body. Eland intended to recover the powers the Church had lost to the parish councils. He demanded deference and recognition of his right to lead the community. His situation, with an annual salary of £581 and a large comfortable rectory contrasted starkly with the farm labourers and their families, living on average wages of £35 a year in squalid cottages. Their employers, themselves mostly tenants of brewery-owned land, naturally allied with the rector.

In 1913, Tom Higdon successfully stood for election to the parish council, topping the poll with Eland not just being unelected, but coming bottom. However, although the rector and the farm owners had been defeated in the parish council election, they still had control of the school's Managing Body and were determined to use this power to victimise the Higdons. Since their arrival in Burston, the Higdons had complained about conditions in the school, particularly the dampness, inadequate heating and lighting, lack of ventilation and general unhygienic conditions. Looking for a pretext for action, the managers accused Kitty of lighting a fire without their permission - to dry the clothes of children who had walked three miles to school in the rain. She was also accused of gross discourtesy when reprimanded for this act. In addition, Kitty was accused of beating two Barnardo girls. Despite her pacifist principles, the manager found there was "good ground for the complaints of the Barnardo foster mother" and they demanded the Higdons be transferred.

Tom and Kitty also demanded an inquiry which was made by the Education Committee. The inquiry made no mention of the charge of "fire-lighting contrary to instructions" nor Kitty's repeated complaints about conditions at the school. The beating accusation was declared to be not proven. The final accusation of discourtesy to managers was accepted and the Higdons were given three months' notice.

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