Bishop’s blessing as junior school celebrates 200 years

A cutting that originated from Queen Victoria's wedding bouquet has been planted in a school garden to celebrate its 200th anniversary.

Bishop of Norwich Graham James presented the hebe which grew from that cutting to Dereham St Nicholas Junior School yesterday, during a special bi-centennial thanksgiving service.

The pupils sang songs, dressed up from the Victoria era, the 1960s and the second world war, and performed country dancing.

He also blessed the new garden, which featured impressive wooden sculptures carved out of existing confiers by Ben Loughrill from Bungay. The hebe was planted alongside bulbs.

Bishop Graham said: 'It is wonderful to be in such a marvellous garden.'

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He added: 'What is wonderful is a group of people who started a school, on behalf of the Church of England, for the poor all over the country 200 years ago will be remembered.

'Dereham was one of the first of these schools and it is great to remind children now of the extraordinary richness of their lives compared to children 200 years ago.

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'It is brilliant to learn about the school's history and of course to celebrate the life of the school.'

The hebe was presented to the then Bishop of Norwich after the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840. The Bishop was a guest and the hebe was then planted in the Bishop's garden.

A national school in Dereham was founded in 1812 by the National Society – a Christian movement to provide schools for poor children in every parish.

It is not known where the Dereham school was first based but it was led by master Theodore Stoakley and taught 24 children in the first year.

Mr Stoakley was master until 1834 and since then there have been nine headmasters – the current headmaster Andrew Milbourne will leave the school in Easter next year and his successor will be Neil Topliss.

Bishop Graham said: 'It is an extremely happy day. St Nicholas Junior School is one of our biggest primary schools and it is one of the best in Norfolk.

'I hope it continues to develop and prosper. It is a delight to see the children and teachers.'

The Dereham national school was based on the corner of Cemetery Road and Theatre Street from 1840 and it moved to the current site in Gilpin's Ride between 1972 and 1974.

Following a reorganisation in 2000, the school changed from a middle school to St Nicholas Junior School and currently teaches 408 children.

Mr Milbourne said: 'The children today were just brilliant. The garden is a superb creation.

'When it blooms in spring it is going to be a fantastic place for children for many years to come. It is an exciting year.'

As part of the celebrations the pupils researched the school's history by visiting the Norfolk Record Office, working there with Victoria Draper, education and outreach officer, and looking at school logbooks.

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