IN the first of a three-part series, Colchester High Steward Sir Bob Russell looks at the background to some of the town’s major education establishments.

This year is the 30th anniversary of Colchester Sixth Form College. The first students moved into the former Gilberd School, off North Hill, in September 1987.

Today, with several new buildings constructed over the past three decades, the number of students (aged 16 to 18) is now more than 3,000.

This is not, however, about the Sixth Form College but rather the oldest building on the site – the imposing brick-built structure which is a dominant feature looking towards the town skyline as one approaches along Westway, over the Roman Wall at the foot of Balkerne Hill.Three of today’s major education establishments in Colchester have a shared heritage – for, from just over a century ago, they operated from this building at the same time for 40 years before they made their separate ways to new buildings in the town. These are the Colchester Institute and Colchester County High School for Girls in the Fifties, and The Gilberd School in the Eighties.

Designed in the closing years of Edwardian Britain, it was officially opened on July 12, 1912 by Mr C.P. Trevalyan, Secretary of the Board of Education.

It was a remarkable collaborative effort by Colchester Council and Essex County Council which 105 years ago showed the two councils bringing together in a single building the provision of education in a manner which I am not aware of happening elsewhere or since. It thus seems to have been revolutionary in concept, but never repeated.

To illustrate the collaborative venture in a permanent form, the Essex coat of arms is featured in stone above the entrance reached by the flight of steps which give the building such a distinctive look, while the Colchester coat of arms is above both the east and west doors.

The Colchester Technical Institute, as it was known during the planning and building stages, was designed to provide accommodation for three separate education establishments for which the two councils had different responsibilities. A fourth was added two years later. Two of the original three merged years later.

The four publicly-funded education outfits operating under the same roof – which, with name changes, was to last four decades – were:

  • Colchester Technical College (forerunner of the North-East Essex Technical College, today’s Colchester Institute in Sheepen Road)
  • County Secondary School for Girls (later re-named Colchester County High School for Girls, now in Norman Way)
  • School of Art (later merged with and its name added to the North-East Essex Technical College, today’s Colchester Institute)
  • Junior School of Engineering (started 1914, boys only) which in 1946 evolved into the North-East Essex County Technical School (boys and girls), later The Gilberd School, now at Highwoods.

The Borough Education Office was also located in the new building at North Hill.

Benham’s 1914 Almanack stated that the Colchester Technical College had been built by Essex Education Committee and housed: County School for Girls, Science School, Art School and Commercial and Domestic School.

The 1916 Essex County Telegraph Almanac referred to a Technical College Evening School. However, I do not think this was another institution but rather a way of explaining that evening classes were provided.

To add to the mix, the Telegraph Almanac for 1923 mentioned a Junior Art Trade School – “specially adapted to boys and girls whose natural abilities point to an artistic rather than a mechanical or commercial occupation”.

Admission for both sexes was for ages 13 and 14, for attendance of two or three years. The headmaster was F.W. Hounsell, who was also the Head of the School of Art.