Victorian school’s fascinating history unearthed in new book thanks to 99-year-old former pupil

Ray Whitehand's latest book focuses on the story of the former National School in Wickham Market Pic

Ray Whitehand's latest book focuses on the story of the former National School in Wickham Market Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk historian has unveiled the history of one of the county’s Victorian schools in his new book.

Historian Ray Whitehand’s new book ‘A Victorian Place of Learning’ focuses on the Wickham Market National School between 1841 and 1934.

The school is no longer in operation but once attracted students from around the local area including Campsea Ashe and Hasketon.

“About six or seven years ago there was talk about the whole area being redeveloped,” said Mr Whitehand.

“It’s not a listed building so that’s what got me into doing the history.”


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Worried that the building’s varied history could be lost Mr Whitehand set about his research.

The building had plenty of surprises in store for Mr Whitehead.

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Perhaps the biggest being when he met Inez Benham, one of the last living people to have attended the school.

Ms Benham, died recently at the age of 99 but was able to tell Mr Whitehand a lot about life at the school having been a pupil and having had been taught there by her aunt Nora.

“She gave fascinating accounts of what life was like,” said Mr Whitehand.

“She lived in Wickham Market all her life.”

Ms Benham’s recollections covered a number of areas including the town’s former workhouse, which is usually Mr Whitehand’s area of expertise.

For Mr Whitehand the book has been a step away from his normal work, however, he couldn’t resist writing about somewhere that had a special place in his own family’s history.

“It’s a deviation from my normal works,” said Mr Whitehand.

“There’s a family connection with it.

“My mum went to school there in the early part of the 20th century.

“After they built the area school elsewhere.

“A farmer purchased it and he wanted to use the area for a beef herd.

“My dad used to work the cattle there, so I spent many an hour running around it.”

For more information about Mr Whitehand’s book visit the Historical Suffolk Research Services website.

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