National Schools, Esher

The former National Schools, opposite Esher Green, Surrey, by Benjamin Ferrey. 1858; opened in 1859. The Surrey Pevsner dates both nearby Christ Church and the "Church Schools" to 1852 (222), but the date "May 1859" can be seen on a shield over the Infants' and Girls' entrance. The building materials used were similar to those used at Christ Church, which Ferrey had indeed built a few years earlier, though not quite as early as 1852: it was completed in 1854. These materials were warmly coloured coursed rubblestone with white stone dressings. The school's roofs are of red tile with bands of fishscale patterning.

The school lies in a conservation area. Though it lost its Grade III listing when that category was abolished in 1970 (see "Grade II Listed Buildings..."), it is of great historic interest. There had apparently been a charitable provision in Esher for teaching three children from 1779, when a certain John Winkin had left £6 yearly for this purpose. Then, in 1837, "National Schools were fitted up by subscriptions in the disused workhouse" on this site, just beside and below the church ("Parishes: Esher"). Such schools were aimed at giving some basic schooling to the children of the poor in the church parish, along, of course, with religious education. When a purpose-built school was erected here, it was rather a grand one: its first patron was Queen Victoria's uncle, Prince Leopold. Later to become King of the Belgians, he was at this time living at the nearby royal estate of Claremont. On Leopold's departure to take up his new role, Queen Victoria herself became the patron (see Reading).

National Schools, towards the church

View of the school buildings nearer the church.

The Gothic buildings have a series of gables of varying heights and projections, for instance with steeper ones at the Infants' and Girls' entrance, and the assembly hall; and a variety of windows, such as triple lancets with trefoil and circle tracery, rectangular windows, and a dormer. There are also trefoil designs and some buttressing. The complex is an altogether attractive landmark, harmonising well with the church. By 1878, Edward Brayley could say, "The national schools form a picturesque range of buildings near the church; they were erected by Mr. B. Ferrey, and have at present scholars to the number of 323, divided among the three departments [Infants, Girls and Boys]. They contain also residences for the master and mistress" (182).

Left to right: (a) The school house to the left of the Infants' and Girls' entrance. (b) The Boys' entrance (the word above the door now partly obscured by ivy) at the side of the Infants' and Girls' entrance. (c) The complex as it continues round the corner, this part facing the church.

The school house is a pleasant cottage to the left of the main school. Then at the other end, past the three separate entrances for infants, girls and boys, the range continues right round the corner, where it is overlooked by the church. The number of pupils must have grown after William Forster's 1870 Elementary Education Act, and it is not surprising that the school had to be enlarged. Even the larger complex was later outgrown. It is now used as an Adult Education Centre.

Photographs by Jacqueline Banerjee. Thanks to the staff of the Esher Green Adult Learning Centre for explaining the building's current status. You may use the photographs without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite it in a print one. Click on the photographs to enlarge them.

The schoolhouse porch, with tiled floor.

Related Material


Brayley, Edward Wedlake. A Topographical History of Surrey. Ed. and rev. by Edward Walford. London, J. S. Virtue & Co., 1878. Internet Archive. Contributed by Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center. Web. 16 December 2014.

"Grade II listed buildings to be re-graded as 'Grade III.' GovYou. Web. 16 December 2014.

Nairn, Ian and Nikolaus Pevsner, rev. Bridget Cherry. The Buildings of England: Surrey. 2nd ed. London: Penguin, 1971.

"Parishes: Esher." In A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 3. Ed.. H E Malden (London, 1911): 447-451. British History Online. Web. 16 December 2014.

Reading, Pamela. How Esher changed between 1850-1918. Monograph No 26. August 1998. Online at Esher District Local History Society. Web. 16 December 2014.

Last modified 16 December 2014