A Potted History

Our little thatched school has sat in the heart of Benhall village since 1848. Then it used to be just one building, with two rooms, heated by coke stoves and housing upwards of 100 children from the local villages. Back then, children were taught in rows in very cramped conditions and wrote on slates. Toilets could be found in the playground, and the whole school was surrounded by the school orchard and allotment. The school was renowned for its gardening at the time, sending food parcels and fruit tree rootstocks across the county. Live stock was even kept, with children collecting the goats milk daily, taking it to be used in the school kitchen, which is now Benhall Club.

Nowadays things are of course very different, but a lot remains the same. The ‘old’ school now houses Woodlands’ class (Year 5 and 6) and the hall, which is largely used for Collective Worship and our drama productions. In 2019 the tired suspended ceiling of the 1970s was removed back to the original full height of the 1800s revealing the original picture rail and giving a real sense of Victorian architecture. The thatch was also redone this year, with evidence of the old writing slates, coke and other artifacts being found in the roof. Roofpuss, our little thatched cat now prowls the roof watching over us and our little historic school.

The allotments and orchard are sadly long gone, most of the land now being used as a carpark and sports field for the village club. But the heart for gardening and outside education still remains with our own raised beds, polytunnel and weekly ‘forest school’ sessions (Guardians of the Garden). Fruit trees have been replanted by the children but it is lovely to see the original pear trees still climbing the ‘old’ school walls, and we often wonder just how many other of the local fruit trees were grafted by our children all those years ago.

We are very lucky to still have so many artifacts from ‘the olden days’ like the old school bell, Victorian workbooks, historical photos, log books and even the old punishment book (quite a read!), and we house them all in our Cabinet of Curiosity – a great resource for teachers and children to use in their everyday learning.

And as for the old toilet block? Well, it’s now the PE shed of course!

Benhall St. Mary's CofE Primary School
School Lane, Benhall, Saxmundham, Suffolk IP17 1HE

Headteacher: Mrs Julia Bowles

Email: admin@benhallschool.co.uk • Tel: 01728 602407