Burston Strike School

The Burston Strike School was at the centre of the longest running strike in British history, between 1914 and 1939. Take time to check out all the pages of this blog, you might even fancy coming along to the great day out that is the Burston Rally.

11 thoughts on “Burston Strike School

  1. Hi!

    This newly published article is likely to be of interest…

    Burston Strike School Museum

    The Burston Strike School Museum, Church Green, Burston, Norfolk (free admission, open all reasonable hours (key at adjacent bungalow)) website: https://burstonstrikeschool.wordpress.com

    Pre-visit publicity gives a rather misleading impression of the Burston Strike School Museum and its setting in the village of Burston, near Diss, in Norfolk. This is not a charming rural community but a straggling suburban development of retirement bungalows and nouveau-rich villas, interspersed with a few ropey farmsteads, home to a particularly unpleasant agribusiness installation. As such, the museum and the annual rally on the pocket handkerchief village green are rather incongruous. The large-scale rural poverty once found in this area is no more because the formerly ubiquitous ragged farm labourer, whose existence the Museum recalls, is no longer required. They have been discretely bundled off to hidden estates in the market towns or to the mean streets of the run-down coastal resorts.

    The Museum competently tells the story of the events leading to the Burston School Strike in 1914 when the teachers at the local school, Annie and Tom Higdon, were sacked after a dispute with management. The petty powers had objected to their industrial and political activities, and, led by the local priest, enacted the dismissal of the Higdons from their posts on trumped up grounds. The teachers were supported by the local farm workers, whose cause the Higdons had valiantly espoused. Pupils were withdrawn from the school as a protest (thus the strike was not an ordinary industrial one). Although unthinkable today, there was a rash of so-called Schoolboy Strikes in the years immediately before the First World War (see, for example, Dave Marson’s excellent 1973 pamphlet Children’s Strikes in 1911), so this was not an entirely isolated outburst.

    The Higdons set up their own alternative school in a tent on the village green. Later the school moved to local carpenter’s premises and then to a purpose-built school financed by donations from the labour movement, and it is this building which now houses the museum. The Burston Strike School carried on teaching local children until shortly after Tom Higdon’s death in 1939, becoming, therefore, the longest running ‘strike’ in British history.

    The displays in the museum, recently renewed to commemorate the centenary of the start of the children’s strike. are well maintained and informative in the conventional narrative style. A recent acquisition is a charming and entirely relevant bronze casting of one of the original Strike School chairs by Norwich artist Louise Richardson. The exhibition is backed up by extensive literature, which is on sale at the museum or on-line, including reproductions of The Burston Strike School by Casey (originally published by the Independent Labour Party) and T.G. Higdon’s The Burston Rebellion, as well as A Striking Village, which provides interesting background material. The latter was written by members of the Potter family, whose ancestor, Violet, led the schoolchildren in 1914. There is also an excellent range of postcards as well as well-designed mugs and pencils.

    There have been additional events during the centenary year, including the Burston Community Primary School six week project that culminated in a re-enactment of the original candlestick march round the village. On their arrival on the Green they were greeted by ‘Mr and Mrs Higdon’ from The Stuff of Dreams Theatre Company’s production of their new play The Bricks of Burston. The annual Burston Strike Rally will take place on 7th September 2014. This year it will be addressed by Owen Jones, author of Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. There will also be music from the NASUWT Band, and Thee Faction, an R&B band.

    Younger children especially will, doubtless, gain something from a visit to the museum. However, overall, the impression is of the quaintness of the past, of white pinafore dresses and tight lace up boots, of strange and antiquated hand tools and odd facial hair. To the discerning visitor, however, much is left wanting.

    Leaving aside footnote enquiries, such as details about the donors commemorated by the foundation stones lining the front of the Burston Strike School Museum building, whose brief inscriptions hint at fascinating untold stories, there is vital historical information which one needs for a full understanding of the case. Particularly, one would like to know the nature of the alternative education provided in the ‘Free School’. Besides being ‘nice’, what was this? The cursory treatment of this phrase is particularly disappointing because it was the duration of the school, a whole quarter century, which makes the incident noteworthy. In the era of McDonaldisation of education, independent education for the working class ought to be a particularly relevant issue.

    And it is the failure to create links between the past and the present which makes the Burston Strike School Museum, like the People’s History Museum in Manchester, a failure. History is never finished business, done and dusted. Only by analysing society, how it came to be and how it is, can we hope to advance to a better future.



    Needless to say, agreement is not expected and feedback welcomed.

    Yours for a world of free access,

    Robert Stafford
    Internet Committee

  2. I am completely baffled by this person’s analysis.

    Burston is now a fairly typical prosperous rural community where local people enjoy proper well-paid jobs, including those who still work on the land. Ragged farm labourers are indeed no longer required along with miners, steel workers, deep sea fishermen and others in dangerous and soul-destroying jobs, surely that is something to be proud of.

    In all the years I have lived locally I have never heard of anybody being packed off to mean streets or run-down coastal resorts, no doubt it happened in Soviet Russia and other socialist hell holes but not rural Norfolk. Retired local farm workers now live in the retirement bungalows mentioned, they are not dispatched to the workhouse as they were when the Higdens were alive, that is something else to be proud of.

    The sad thing about the Burston event is that it has recently been hijacked by the labour movement along with their cohorts, the Trade Unions; the very people who let Kitty Higden down so badly.

    The inhabitants of Burston treat the annual “Strike Rally” in the same way that the people of Appleby treat the annual horse fair when hordes of undesirable “travellers” descend on the town. Thankfully, in Burston it only lasts for a couple of days.

    • Howdy. My “packed off” was a metaphor for where you will now find the British poor (ie. not in Burston). Although I am proud of the efforts of the trade unions in raising living standards, and in the pressure put upon governments to end the workhouse and other institutions of poverty, unlike Barry, I am not complacent. ‘Our’ mineworkers, steelworkers and so forth now work in China or elsewhere and are just as hard pressed as ever (where do you think your bloody – literally – coal and steel come from). And why the union and left bashing? The stones on the outside of the building recall exactly how these groups contributed. And today do the Rally people really deserve to be called filth? If Barry is a typical Burstonite and Museum supporter, my scathing tones really were underdone! KAZ

      • My goodness me we certainly can not afford to be complacent especially with what is going on in this country at the moment. Bashing the most vulnerable in society. need to come together more than ever to fight exploitation of workers.

      • Why don’t you grow up and try living in the real world. We have never been so well off.

  3. I suppose I must live in one of the nouveau-riche villas of Burston. I am very sorry to have a job. I work in a factory in Thetford. I realise that Kaz only writes such stupid uninformed comments to deliberately provoke a response, but could I point out that HE is the only one who used the term ‘filth’, probably because of some inferiority complex. I do like the rally, and , thankfully, over the 20 or so years I have lived in the village, the people who come to it are not like Kaz and I hope they feel welcomed. The residents of Burston actively support the Rally, with, for example, the tea stall. I come from South Shields, in the North East of England, where the display of banners at the rally have special meaning to me. Kaz has rather spoiled it all for me. Thanks for that.

  4. Very interesting comments!although I am one of the lucky ones being retired and on a good pension I am not so naive as to believe all is well especially with the current austerity measures which definitely hit the less well of and have seen the necessary huge rise in food banks.The Burston school strike is an inspiration to us all to show what can be done. When people join together to fight injustice.

  5. I was inspired to know of the courage and bravery of the Higdens when we visited Burston last week September 2014. We think Violet Potter was related to my husband’s mother( Nee POTTER her father left Worham about 1890 to work as a jobbing gardener in South Tottenham. not very different i amagine two of his sons were killed at Vimy Ridge and Ypres. Whatever our views we owe a priceless heritage to the yeoman of Suffolk and Norfolk and the villages which reared them and the their “masters” who were so cruel. deserved the criticism . Well Violet. Tom and Annie

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