Keswick Hall College of Education

College in the 1930s and 40s

The inter-war years saw a period of austerity and uncertainty as far as the college was concerned.

In 1934 for instance - “We passed a somewhat anxious Autumn…. (the Board of Education considering)… advising the closure of the College, not that we cannot hold our heads above water financially, but… (we do not possess) ‘study-bedrooms’”.  Miss Winnington-Ingram (the Principal at the time) goes on to say “…I was appointed in 1924, and we had 14 very strenuous and eventful years together, which have seen the enlargement of the College to 130, with all the consequent additions (of accommodation).”

However, soon after Miss Duff took over in 1938 there was further doubt that the College was viable, exasperated by the onset of the Second World War.

The location of Norwich, within easy reach of enemy bombers, and the danger of invasion, quickly led to consideration of the evacuation of the entire college, students and staff, to amalgamate with Derby, Liverpool, Salisbury or Selly Oak teacher training colleges. There were so many air raid warnings and raids that the education of the student teachers was severely disrupted, sometimes with less than 30 minutes lectures a day possible. The Board of Education considered that the training of teachers was of national importance and must go on.  More serious were declining numbers of students and consequent financial difficulties that threatened the very existence of the college.  The college authorities decided “most strongly in favour of carrying on (in Norwich) if at all possible… (not) to break a tradition of 102 years…. If we were closed we (might not) start again” reported Miss Duff.

In March 1942 the Board of Education issued an ultimatum - a year to resolve all the problems, or the College must close.

On April 29th 1942 however the matter seemed to be abruptly settled when the college was bombed! The Daily Mirror of May

1st 1942 tells part of the story. The ‘school’ mentioned was in fact the College in College Road.

“Next day” wrote Miss Duff “ we assembled ourselves and sent everybody home who could go home – they wouldn’t all go. Everyone had either a coat or a dressing gown and a pair of shoes. In the context of the survival of the college the disaster seemed conclusive. Miss Duff continued, “I enjoy a fight but I know when I am beaten. The main building was burned out on Wednesday night, which I fear settles the question of our future. We hope to carry on this term and distribute our…students among other colleges.”

However, a few days later there seemed a ray of hope when a letter from the Board of Education enquired how the college planned to continue. With that the College authorities changed their attitude like a phoenix, rising from the ashes. Loans of equipment from other colleges, gifts from previous students as far away as Texas and Melbourne and the provision of three Maycrete temporary buildings meant that Norwich Training College could at least survive!  


The bombing of Norwich Training College -  a student's perspective 

I lived in Norwich form September 1939 to July 1947. From September 1940 to July 1942 I was a student at the Norwich College of Education in College Road, doing the (as  was then) 2-year Teachers’ Diploma Course, under Miss Duff, the Principal.

 In April 1942, the entire College building was destroyed by enemy bombs. The students (some 250) managed to get out of the burning building and took shelter in the dug-outs under the tennis courts. We went on to spend the rest of the night in Colman Road Rest Centre. On our way back to the College area, at 6.30 the next morning, we had to run the gauntlet of time-bombs igniting all around, on the pavements and the road. The WVS were a wonderful support at the College area. They had prepared a field-kitchen, and as we had only pyjamas and dressing gowns, they provided a bank of adequate day clothes, sent from Canada.

 I made my way down to the city station, which had been heavily bombed. I saw many sad sights on the way and eventually walked along the track to catch a train to Fakenham where my parents were then living. 3 days later, I returned to make-shift lodgings near the College, in order to sit my final exams in the gymnasium which had survived the bombing untouched.

Being the only Advanced Music student, I was also much engaged in preparation for the Valedictory Service now to be held in St Thomas’ church opposite the junction of College Road and Unthank Road. I left all my special music in readiness in the organ loft the night before the Service. At 3a.m. the raids began again, and this time St Thomas’ was struck and completely gutted. A group of us stood on the pavement opposite and watched it burn. Some of my own personal music and manuscripts were there, so in a sense I had lost everything twice.

Later, in September 1942 I began a job as Music Specialist at the brand-new Bowthorpe Road School, where I had a very odd interview. Within a short time, the school, which was a mass of plate-glass, was dive-bombed during school hours. In January 1943, I was moved to Avenue Road Senior Boys, just round the corner from College Road. I stayed there until 1948. Mr Beeston, the new Education Officer decided men only would teach in Boys’ Schools. On my departure, the most poignant gift the boys gave me was a pair of bookends made by them of charred wood from the College ruins!

Nita Nicholson.