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THERE are eight secondary schools in Colchester – two are named after saints, three have Colchester in their title, and three honour leading Colcestrians from previous centuries.

Over the next few weeks I shall give a brief history of each.

I start with the first of two instalments about the Gilberd School which is one of three education establishments operating in the town which have a common heritage from when they started at the former Colchester Technical Institute (now Colchester Sixth Form College) off North Hill.

William Gilberd was born in Colchester, in 1544, in Trinity Street in a house part of which survives as Tymperleys tea room.

Son of the town’s recorder, he was educated at the grammar school (nearly 350 years before it had “Royal” in its title) when it was located in Culver Street (just beyond Long Wyre Street).

He was physician to Queen Elizabeth I, but it was his pioneering research into electro-magnetism for which he is internationally famous – “the father of electricity”, a word which he is said to have created.

William Gilberd (some spell his surname as Gilbert) died in 1603 and is buried in Holy Trinity Church. His statue is on the outside of the Town Hall. A large painting of him giving a scientific demonstration to Queen Elizabeth I is displayed in the council chamber behind the mayoral chair.

Today’s Gilberd School can trace its origins back to September 1914, just weeks after the start of the First World War, when a junior technical school was established at the technical college (opened two years previously). It provided engineering education for boys only from the age of 12 or 13 for two years.

The head of the junior technical school was also the principal of the technical college – and this joint position remained throughout the lifetime of the junior technical school, until 1945, and its successor (which was called the North East Essex County Technical School) until the end of 1952.

In 1935, Colchester Technical College changed its name to the North East Essex Technical College and School of Art. From 1945 to 1958 the college and school had similar names, which presumably caused some confusion as it does 60-70 years later reading official documents from that time.

Records of the junior technical school, archived by The Gilberd, confirm the joint working relationship with the technical college because pages in the admission book in the early Thirties are stamped with an outer circle saying Technical College with the words Junior Technical School in the middle.

The junior technical school’s records end in July 1945. Unfortunately I have not located any school minutes of the early years of the North East Essex County Technical School, which commenced in September 1945. There is a gap until February 9 1953 when a governors’ meeting was held. Headteacher Mr R Sprason reported the register for January 1952 had 437 pupils (267 boys and 170 girls) whereas for January 1953 there were 494 pupils (295 boys and 199 girls).

In 1945, as a result of the 1944 Education Act, responsibility for Colchester’s schools came under the jurisdiction of the newly-established North East Essex Divisional Executive. The first meeting was held on July 271945 at Colchester Town Hall.

Minutes of the secondary schools committee on October 15 1945 refer to the North East Essex County Technical School, but are silent as to the age of entry of pupils and whether there are any girls.

Those of November 4 1946 state “at the end of the spring term there were 360 pupils on books of whom 283 were over 14 years of age”. It was also reported “the combined staff of the North East Essex Technical College and County Technical School is equivalent to 20 assistants, 17 of whom are employed in the County Technical School”.

The evidence indicates until 1949, the newly-named school continued to operate in the same way as the former junior technical school – boys only for two years education from the age of 12 or 13. Divisional executive minutes for April 30 1948 refer to a proposed new mixed technical school which was ultimately accepted.A school photograph taken in 1949 shows both boys and girls, the first intake of pupils aged 11 who had gained admission as a result of passing the 11 plus examination. This was the first year of a selective school which developed in the following years.

To be continued next week.

SIR BOB RUSSELL