Old School House

OLD SCHOOL HOUSE                                                 

The ‘Old School House’ in Powdermill Lane was built to house the Leigh National School.  It predates the 1841 Tithe Map and other earlier maps or documents which could show when it was built have not yet been located.  However, the website “formerchildrenshomes.org.uk” states that Leigh National School was started in 1831.  It would have been built on land provided by the Hall Place estate.  As can be seen from the outside brickwork, the original school building was a lot smaller than the ‘Old School House’ today.

Lawrence Biddle (in his book ‘Leigh in Kent 1550 to 1900’) states that by 1841 there was both a Charity School and a National School in the village: the 1841 Tithe map shows a ‘Charity School’ on the Green and also a National School on the north side of Powdermill Lane, what is now called the ‘Old School House’.

The 1826/7 Pigot’s directory does not mention Leigh.  However, it is mentioned in the 1840 Pigot’s Directory (under Penshurst area) when the National School at Leigh is given, with the master being Thomas Humphrey.  John Wickenden is mentioned in Directories (Post Office/Kellys) between 1851 and 1862, although he was still Schoolmaster in 1871.  One of the assistant teachers given in the Directories is Miss Wheatley: in 1851 she is described as National School Mistress.

By 1870 the National School is described as “School (Girls)”, while the newly built school on the site of the present school is described as “School (Boys)”.  (The Charity School on the Green had been demolished by this time).

In 1870 The Elementary Education Act was introduced bringing in a partially state-funded education and this was reinforced by The Elementary Education Act of 1880 which made attendance compulsory between the ages of 5 and 10: by 1899 the leaving age had increased to 12 years of age.

This would eventually mean the end of the National Schools movement and the Old School House’s role as a school for girls would eventually cease, although not necessarily immediately as the National Schools did continue to operate alongside the new Board schools for a time.

However, the exact date when the Old School House lost its role as a Girls’ School is not clear.  The Boys’ School on the site of our current school would have become the co-educational school of the village at some point following the 1880 Act.  However, what we refer to today as Old School House was certainly no longer a school by the end of WW1 and probably considerably earlier.

In an article in the Courier dated 6 March 1936, Frank Older is given as living at Old School House, perhaps in the attached cottage, probably with his parents and brother.  He was 17 at the time and he was bound over for some driving offences – however, in the 1939 Register (at Findmypast website), the Older family have moved to 8 Barnetts Road.  In 1939, the residents at Old School House were George Wood and his wife, Ann.  He was born in 1865 and was a general farm labourer, Ann was born in 1867 and described as ‘Domestic Duties’.  Living with them was Leo Hennessey, born in 1931 and described as at school.  He is possibly a grandson.

The Fautly sisters say in ‘We Had Everything …’ by Chris Rowley’ that after the First World War, there was a Church Shop in what is now called the Old School House which sold things that parishioners had made: in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Mrs Ingram, who lived at Oak Cottage on the Green, was one of the great contributors of jams and marmalade.  The Old School House could also be hired for special occasions and in 1943 it was used for Kath’s (Fautly) wedding reception.  At one time, Roger Dadswell had his hairdresser shop there.  Also in the 1920s and 1930s the Girl Guides Troupe used to meet there.  They also said that Dr Glaisher had a surgery in the Old School House.  “It was not an ideal place – when there was heavy rain the water would come in at the front door and run out at the back”.

In 20 October 1955 the Hall Place Estate conveyed the Old School House and attached cottage and land to Elsie May James of “Southmead”, Penshurst Road for £725.  (Looking at the 1870 Sales Particulars on the purchase of Hall Place by Samuel Morley, the Old School House building does not appear included in this document).

On 30 June 1956 Elsie James sold the property to Winifred Mary Genner who was then the Headmistress of Stratford House School in Bickley for £1,575.  On 16 July 1956 Miss Genner applied to Sevenoaks council to make some alternations to the front of the property and to erect a garage.  The application was approved on 7 August 1956.  Nancy Vernet remembers that in the 1950s, Miss Genner and her friend owned it as a holiday house for the summer.   When it was not being lived in, Miss Genner allowed it to be used as a Church Shop every Friday afternoon. The entire village brought their unwanted things.  Once the Kindersleys (from Ramhurst Manor) brought a picture which looked rather good: and so a reserve price was put on it.  But Betty Crawford was still not satisfied, so she took it to a specialist in London who said it was worth £100 (about £3000 today) – a fortune in the 1950s.  So they told Lord Kindersley and asked if he wanted it back.   He said ‘no’ …  (Wonder who bought it!).  At other times during Miss Genner’s ownership, part of the property was used as a barbershop.

In the early 1960s Miss Genner  had Timber Tops built, the first house on the left in Lealands Avenue,  and moved there permanently.  On her death, she left a very large sum to the Church, part of which was spent on building the two storey extension to the Church.

The Old School House was bought from Miss Genner by Ian and Lesley McIntyre, formerly of “Old Stables”, Weald, for £4,000.  The McIntyres raised their family there before moving to the West Country to start an engineering firm in Bristol in 1968, when on 8 October 1968, they sold the house to Dorine Frieda Margarete Johnston of Tudor Cottage, Horsmonden.  During her ownership, the property was let out for 3 to 4 years to Colonel John and Rosie Speight.  Colonel Speight was a senior person in the War office and served in the Corps of the Royal Engineers.

In 1972 and again in 1973 the Parish Council became concerned that the Old School House (and Slaughterhouse on the corner of the Green) might not be included within the Conservation area.  The result of these discussions was that Old School House did get included.

In February 1979 the property was then sold to Evelyn Catherine Lucas and D S Thomson.  In 1980 the family employed the firm of Marsham Brown to raise the roof of the main old school room to make an upper floor.

On 30 November 1998, the property was purchased by James and Janet Oppen.  The Oppens did a great deal of work, extending and renovating the property to its current size of a 3 bedroom house with a dining room, large lounge, study and kitchen.

On 5 January 2016, the property was bought by John Tuke and his wife Louise.

(October 2017)