Burston School Strike to be told on the big screen

PUBLISHED: 16:47 11 January 2016 | UPDATED: 09:14 18 January 2016

The Burston strike procession in 1914.
copy - Martin Barsby     8 of 9     
EDP SUNDAY cover story

The Burston strike procession in 1914. copy - Martin Barsby 8 of 9 EDP SUNDAY cover story

It is famed for being the longest- running strike in British history.

And now the story of the Burston School Strike, fuelled by the sacking of two loved teachers, will be told on the big screen.

History of the Burston School Strike

Before their move to Burston, the Higdons had worked at Wood Dalling School, near Aylsham. They clashed with authorities over their encouragement of farm labourers to join trade unions and their concern that children’s education was being disrupted because they were working on the fields.

The Norfolk Education Committee eventually gave them the ultimatum to move schools or be dismissed, so in 1911 they took up posts at Burston and Shimpling Council School. They soon clashed with local farmers again, and with the school managers – partly because of their repeated requests to improve conditions at the school.

In 1914, allegations of pupil abuse were made against Tom and Annie Higdon, which triggered a dispute between the local education authority, school managers, local community leaders and labour, social and political organisations.

On February 28, 1914, the committee met at the Shirehall and, although it found no evidence of abuse, the committee said the Higdons had been discourteous to the school’s managers and gave them three months’ notice.

The strike started on April 1, 1914.

Money was raised to build a permanent schoolhouse, which opened in 1917.

The strike continued until 1939, when Mr Higdon died and the last 11 pupils transferred to the county school.

The school building remains in Burston and is run as a museum.

The village holds an annual rally to celebrate the strike.

It was started by Tom Potter, the brother of strike leader Violet.

This year’s rally will take place on Sunday, September 4.

More than 100 years ago, teachers Tom and Annie Higdon clashed with school managers at Burston’s Church of England school after they repeatedly requested to improve conditions at the school and were given notice to leave. But many parents and pupils objected to the sacking and on April 1 1914, pupil Violet Potter led the school’s children out on strike.

Parents refused to send their children to the approved council school until 1939 – setting up their own school in 1917.

Burston, produced by Norwich-based production company OHMO Entertainment UK, will begin filming in the village in August.

Other locations including Diss, Norwich and Dereham are being considered and local people will be used as extras.

The film’s writer, Alice Instone-Brewer, has said it is a “story that needs to be told”. She said: “When Justin Eade [the film’s producer] told me about the story what I loved about it was that you had this young girl who starts this strike.

“It started out as trying to save their teachers who have been fighting for these working-class children to have their own education and make something of their lives. And you have this young girl going on this journey and making a choice to help her teachers and in doing so affecting the lives of everyone in the village.”

Actor Nicholas Campbell, who is from Colby in Norfolk, will play the role of Tom Higdon. And both the writer and director have said they hope to make the film as true to life as they can.

Mrs Instone-Brewer added: “I recently visited Burston and it was amazing. The museum was so useful and the people who run it have been very helpful. We’ve been talking to the people who organise the rally and we went to the Burston Crown.

“They were very excited that people were taking interest in the story and you could really feel the pride there is for the story.”

Producers are aiming for a summer 2017 release date, which Michael Copperwheat, former trustee of the Burston School Strike Museum, has said is fitting.

He said: “Two years ago it was the centenary year for the strike and next year is the centenary year of the strike school being set up. To have a film commemorate it is great. It is a very good story and shows it is possible to make a difference if injustice has been done. People are very interested but it is amazing still how many people don’t know about it.”

Mr Eade and the film’s director George Moore, hope the film will have a nationwide release.

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