St Mary's School Story

St Mary's School was founded in 1465 making it one of the oldest schools around. Shortly before the turn of the millennium, the school moved from its old site in East Street next to St Mary's Church to the impressive refurbished building in Boston Avenue to cope with expanding numbers of pupils. Additionally, in October 2012, we celebrated the 100 year anniversary of the current building as shown on the stone in the wall by the entrance. In September 2015, St Mary's School made a return to East Street because the school has expanded to three and four form entry so two sites have now become necessary.

I would like to say a huge thank you to Alan Eve for his painstaking research to present this fascinating history of St Mary's School.

St Mary’ School Prittlewell - a brief history
The original Manor of Prittlewell was known as PRIORS and part of it was the manor of MILTON (this was held by the church of Holy Trinity, Canterbury in 1086) It covered about 900 acres. Boundaries were: coast in south and east; around Chalkwell in west; Warners Bridge in north.
Changes occurred over the years and by the early 12th century Priors was joined by the following manors:-
TEMPLE SUTTON - so called from being held in the 13th century by the Knights Templar
MILTON HALL - now the site of Nazareth House
CHALKWELL HALL -site not determined but believed to be a quarter mile south west of the present building in Chalkwell Park
Earls Fee takes its name from the family of De Vere, Earls of Oxford who held it from the 13th century. The manor house was on the site of the later Earls Hall - about a quarter mile west of the Priory buildings and separated from it by the road to Rochford. This was the name that survived.
Polsted-Wic was at the eastern end of Earls Fee at the junction of East Street and Sutton Road.
The village of Prittlewell was part in Priors and part in Earls Hall.
A plan of 1717 shows the boundary of Earls Hall through the centre of the village, from Cuckoo Corner southwards along Rochford Road and North Street (now both Victoria Avenue) and along East Street; land east of the main road and north of East Street was Priors; west of the main road and for some distance south of East Street was Earls Hall.
The village pound was on the south corner of the junction of Fairfax Drive and Victoria Avenue - in Earls Hall manor. The old school was eventually established on the opposite side of Victoria Avenue in 1727 (in part the gift of the lord of Priors) in Priors manor.
References suggest that Earls Hall became the principal manor as far as the village was concerned: a grant of a market at Prittlewell in the 13th century was to the lord of Earls Hall.
Significant dates in later history:
c.1110 Robert Fitz-Sweyne endowed a monastery at Prittlewell. Monks were under the order of the Mother House at Cluny of Burgandy. They farmed land, maintained bridges, repaired highways, cared for the sick and the spiritual wellbeing of the villagers. There were on average about 16 monks. No mention is made of education.
1536 The monastery was sold up in the Dissolution and in the following years it was sold to various private owners for sums ranging from £400 (1537) to £800 (1547).
1800 Village consisted of property adjacent to church.
East Street - houses or shops to about half way between Blue Boar and Sutton Road.
A few houses at eastern end of West Street.
North Street property extended nearly as far as Earls Hall.
No direct road to south.
1801 Population of Prittlewell, inclusive of Milton and Southend, was 1213: 50 years later it was 2462.
1823 A guide book to New Southend, for visitors, described Prittlewell as “a large village, with handsome church suited to the extent of the parish.”
1824 Similar book mentions the vicarage which stood near the church. At the east end of the parish was “a Charity School and also a commodious Work-home.”
1842 With the creation of the new parish of St John the Baptist in Southend, Prittlewell lost some of its area.
1848 Population of Southend around 1600 permanent residents although the summer population was much higher.
1877 Prittlewell becomes part of the Urban District of Southend as a Ward with 3 representatives.
1887 Prittlewell described as “an ancient and agreeable village, consisting of two streets at right angles to one another.”
1899 Victoria Avenue opened as a direct route to Southend. Prittlewell Station was also opened.
1929 An Open Air School in Fairfax Drive.
1938 Southend High Boys moved to Earls Hall Estate (old premises became Municipal College).
Earls Hall elementary School opened - for Prittlewell’s increasing population.
Early education was undertaken possibly by the monks and the parish priest.
The school had the privileged use of the church using a chapel and school room, probably in the Priest’s Chamber, in the early years. When the tower was built in c1470 the school building continued as part of the church - it was built against the lower stage on the south side of the tower. The four corbels supporting it and the weathering course being still in position.
In the early 14th century a Ralph or Ranulf of Prittlewell - believed to be of humble birth - was a monk in Christchurch Priory, Canterbury, and is recorded as giving five books to the convent library there. To have this position he must have received education in Prittlewell.
The first school of which a record was maintained was run by the Jesus Guild and the Guild priest was the schoolmaster.
The Prittlewell Jesus Guild was formed in about 1468 and was given recognised status by Royal Licence in 1477. This empowered the Guild to hold land for the support and maintenance of a chaplin “to perform divine service daily in the Church of Pritwell at the altar of St Mary and to act as schoolmaster.“ [Patent Roll of Edward IV, P.M. 16] The parish at this time numbered about 300. The Guild allowed membership of both men and women and was very active during the period of change from manor to parish control of the village. It was a social/religious group of representative parishioners whose main concerns were the religious, moral and social welfare of their members and the village as a whole. As time passed they took a greater part in the secular affairs of the parish, caring for the poor, sick and old and the education of the young as well as care for the fabric of the village. They had their own chapel and altar in the church and their own priest.
The Jesus Priest and schoolmaster had a house that stood on the west side of the East Street entrance to the church. Excavations discovered the basement of a house with a 15th century spiral staircase similar to that in the tower in the church.
These Guilds were suppressed nationally in 1547 by Edward VI and this meant the loss of the Chantry Priest.
It is not clear whether the village continued the school after the suppression of the guild but they probably did.
1548 The Guild had gone but the schoolmaster and priest was Sir William Rowbotham [Certificate of Charities, Essex, Roll 20, No.1] (On the loss of this post he seems to have been inducted as vicar of North Shoebury, a living of which he was deprived in 1557. No further details appear.)
1581 Reference to a schoolmaster, John Corbett, in will of John Coker.
1627 a scholar from Prittlewell School sent to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
1653 Nathaniel Benson - schoolmaster and overseer of the poor; he died in 1661 leaving his widow Pooll’s Gardens in East Street - which may have been his residence and the schoolhouse
1727 The Rev Thomas Case, Rector of Southchurch, an ex-curate of Prittlewell tried to organise some teaching for the poor children. He enlisted the help of The Lord of the Manor Daniel Scratton who entrusted Glynds (built c1634) and a small part of the garden of Mill Croft (at the time occupied by John Coles, schoolmaster. The schoolroom was approximately 20 feet wide by 30 feet long. This was near to and south of the bridge on the east side of the road, and was set aside for the purposes of education. This building, described as “a messuage called Glynds, lying near Prittlewell bridge” probably stood opposite the end of Fairfax Drive.
Provision was made for a school for ten poor children of the parish and a qualified schoolmaster. The children were to be taught freely to read and write and instructed in the catechism and principles of the Christian religion according to the usage of the Church of England.
1739 A further grant by Thomas Scratton, added to the endowment, allowing an increase in the number of children to 16.
The provision of the school seems to have been prompted by the developments in popular education in the 18th century.
The schoolmaster was allowed the use of the building and lands and “all the profits thereof enjoying the same so long as he should diligently and faithfully, in the office of a schoolmaster, be teaching freely ten poor children” and keep at his own cost the schoolhouse and premises in good repair at the yearly inspection of the trustees.
From 1839 to early 19th C. provision of educational facilities for 16 children seems to have been adequate.
1817 The school was extended, an additional room of brick (gift of Robert Scratton) added to the rear of the old lath and plaster building. It seems to have been known as the Prittlewell Free School and was conducted on the national system.
Numbers increased and the new room became the boys school; the girls had the old building under a schoolmistress.
1818 “Three schools in Southend, containing together 53 children, and two at Prittlewell, comprising 55 children, and another 25, which latter is attended by the children of small farmers and petty tradesmen.” (Digest of Parochial Returns. Select Committee on Education of the Poor.1818)
Pigots Directory 1823
John Hardwick schoolmaster
William Heard parish clerk & schoolmaster
Rev. Fredrick Nolan Vicar
Prittlewell Voters 1826 Borough of Maldon
John Hardwick schoolmaster
Pigots Essex 1832-3 Trade Directory
Here is, besides an excellent free school, conducted upon Dr Bells system
1833 “One Day and Sunday National School, attended by 50 males and 40 females daily, and 10 children of each sex additional on Sundays, is endowed with a house and land (the latter of which produces £30 per annum) is further supported by subscription.” [Source: House of Commons papers,Vol.41. Abstract of Education Returns 1833]
1836 Thomas Hussey - schoolmaster. His salary, made up of rents from land of original endowment (then about £23) was for educating the 16 poor boys, together with a sum, not exceeding £30 per year, partly by subscription in the parish and partly by the collection after a sermon preached annually in church for the benefit of the school. He also had the use of a house and premises attached to the school and could take private pupils on his own terms. The sum received from subscriptions and collections was for educating the girls and the additional 16 boys since 1817, and for performing the duties of master to the Sunday School. His wife was schoolmistress and responsible for teaching the girls: she received no salary but derived “some emolument from the needlework of the children”. There were generally 40 - 50 boys and 30 - 40 girls in attendance -all except the 16 free scholars paid 1 penny per week. The entrance age was 7 and all were nominated by the Trustees from children of poor parishioners, members of the Established Church.
1839 A school for infants was built in the village.
1841 Census: Edward Rolph - schoolmaster- in schoolhouse his wife Catherine and his six children.
Kellys Directory 1862
Population in 1861 was 3334
Fair on 15th & 16th July each year
There is an endowed Parish school
Whites Directory 1863
Rev. Fredrick Scratton Little
Rev. Arthur Richard Start curate
Academies & Schools
George Bigsby Free School
Mary Button Infant School
Mrs Hall
Miss Smith
1866 On the application of the vicar, the old site of the school was exchanged for Vicarage House and garden.
Essex Almanac 1866
Rev. S R Wigram Vicar
Mr G Bigsby National School (free) - master
1868 New school dedicated by the Bishop of Rochester in whose Diocese it was. This was done in the Church to give assurance that church and school should continue as an inseparable unit. It had been erected at a cost of £1565, raised by voluntary contribution and chiefly through the generosity of the Heygate, Wigram and Scratton families. It was opened in the spring.
Built of Kentish ragstone, it comprised a schoolmaster’s house and three classrooms.
It provided accommodation for 175 children (1882 averaged at 150).
The site of the old school and premises was sold.


Post Office Directory of Essex 1874
Rev. S R Wigram Vicar
Rev. Clement Fox Harvey Curate
1877 The Prittlewell School Board was formed under the Education Act of 1872.
The vicar, Rev S R Wigram was the first chairman of the Board.
1916 A large proportion of the land held by the Trustees of the school was sold to Southend on Sea Borough Council for educational purposes. Westcliff High Schools for Boys and Girls were built thereon; the remainder of the site for playing fields.
1923 Enlargements were made. The schoolmaster’s house was converted to a classroom on the ground floor and a headmaster’s room and teachers’ room upstairs. Two additional classrooms, a boiler house with central heating and additional cloakroom accommodation were provided at a cost of £3000. This cost of alteration and additions to the school was met by a loan from the capital sum received from the sale of land and “is being repaid by interest received from remaining portion which is held in trust by the Charity Commissioners.”
1936 Further extension needed. Vicarage Terrace (little more than slum property with no facility for water and sanitation within houses) and the properties adjoining were purchased. The demolition of these buildings together with those between the school and the entrance to the church made possible the widening of East Street by the Borough Council.
Six additional classrooms were built along with additional cloakrooms. The original classrooms in the old building were converted to an Assembly Hall. The new rooms were built so as to provide the necessary playground space and to make provision for the maximum amount of air, light and sunshine in the rooms.
A £500 gift enabled an infants room to be built. A tablet on the wall stated: “To the glory of God and in glad remembrance of Frederick William Davison. This room was given by his wife.”
The Foundation Stone for the new extension was laid by the Bishop of Chelmsford Right Rev. H A Wilson DD on 12th October 1935 and was opened on June 13th 1936. Alderman H A Dowsett presided [ his father Alderman Thomas Dowsett JP - the first Mayor of Southend Borough - had been a pupil at the school.
Quotes from various records
The Jesus Guild Endowment of 1478
Consisted of a tenement called Reynolds in Prittlewell; 60 acres of land also called Reynolds (the name of the donor) in Shopland; and twelve acres of land called Palgraves in North Shoebury; together having an annual value of £7 - 17s -4d. Of this £1 - 4s - 0p was rent for the Lord of the Manor and from the remainder was paid the stipend of the Guild Priest, who declared he received from the wardens ten marks annually.
The Priest was William Rowbotham “of the age of 52 years, of honest conversation and teaches a school there…the said priest singeth within the said church at Prittlewell.”
The Scratton Grant of 1727
“…did grant, bargain, sell, enfeoff and confirm all that messuage or Tenement called Glynds lying near Prittlewell Bridge, and a parcel of Garden and an orchard to the said Tenement adjoining and also all that Garden late parcel of an ancient Garden lying near the pathway from Prittlewell Priory towards Prittlewell Church on the east. And also all that small parcel of land, parcel of a Cottage and Garden called Bampston’s containing in length fortyfive feet and a half and also all that croft of land containing Two Acres more or less called Mill Croft or by whatsoever other Name or Names the said premises or any of them of which are situate lying or being in the Parish of Prittlewell aforesaid….And are now in the Tenure and Occupation of John Coles, Schoolmaster.”
The Trustees are named:
“…the Lord of the said Manor together with the Rev. ye Vicar and upper Churchwarden of the said Parish of Prittlewell for the time being or any two of them whereof the said Vicar to be one.”
Purpose to :
Appoint a “Qualify’d Schoolmaster to reside, dwell upon and occupy the messuage or Tenement and Premises and to take to his own use and Benefit all and singular the profits thereof. And to enjoy the same so long as he shall behave himself Diligently and faithfully in the office of Schoolmaster by teaching ten poor children of the Parish of Prittlewell aforesaid … to read and write and instructing them in the Catechism and Principles of the Christian Religion according to the usage of the Church of England.”
September 28th 1865
Award of Exchange between Daniel Scratton, Lord of the Manor of Prittlewell and Rev. S R Wigram Vicar of Prittlewell and Churchwardens (Daniel Scratton and S R Jones) transferred the site of the school from North Street to its present position in East Street.
The old vicarage of wood, which occupied the site, was transferred bodily to the opposite side of East Street.
St Marys School and the Buildings
1868 St Mary’s School moves to the East Street site.
1913 Southend High School for Girls in the Boston Avenue site.
1926 Westcliff High School for Boys opened.
1931 Westcliff High School for Girls opened.
1956 Southend High School for Girls moves from Boston Avenue to Southchurch Boulevard site.
Southchurch Hall High School for Girls moves from Ambleside Drive to the Boston Avenue site and renamed Dowsett High School for girls.
1966 Westborough High School for girls moves to the Boston Avenue site.
1981 Southchurch Hall High School for boys and Dowsett High School for Girls amalgamate to form Thorpe Bay High School in Southchurch Boulevard.
1987 Fairfax and Westborough amalgamate to become Prittlewell High School at the Boston Avenue site.
1992 Prittlewell High School moves from Boston Avenue to the Fairfax site.
1999 St Mary’s School moves from East Street to Boston Avenue.
2006 Prittlewell High School changes its name to Chase High School.


2015 St Mary's School expands across two sites, Boston Avenue and a return to East Street.

BENTON (P) History of Rochford Hundred 1867 - 1888
BURROWS (J W) Southend on Sea and District - historical notes 1909
Victorian History of the County of Essex Vol.1 1903
GOWING (Ven. E N) The Story of Prittlewell Church 1932
Prittlewell Church 1958
POLLITT (William) A History of Prittlewell [ Museum Handbook No.9] 1943
REANEY (P H) The Place Names of Essex 1935
SIPPLE (Mavis) Prittlewell : A History 2008 [has some good photos of the school buildings]
SMITH (J R) Southend Past - a photographic record 1865 - 1940 [Essex Records No. 73] 1979
Web sites:
History House

© Alan Eve 2012