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Old School, Minor Hall, Church Lane

The National (Church) School is a little-known ancient fabric that still exists in the village. This was constructed in 1835 [The Reverend J.P. Shawcross gives an earlier erection date of 1815 but this is incorrect], and 1835 is the date given on a plaque at the front of the building above the door.


More importantly, the Title Deeds, which the Rev., Thomas Lewis Fanshawe presented to the Vestry, show the date 20/6/1835. They were deposited in the iron (parish) chest in the chancel of the church at that time.

Parish Chest.jpg

Iron Parish Chest in St Peter & St Paul Church, I. Vickers

These Title Deeds include the following: An Indenture: A Lease for a Year, dated 20/6/1835; An Indenture of 25/6/1835; and a National School Deed, 10/11/1845. Today they can be located at Chelmsford in the Essex Record Office. These give us an excellent understanding of the origin of the building.


The first Indenture illustrates that the land where the structure was to be built was once part of Church Hoppett. Its transfer was subject to the right of way remaining open into both Church Field (or Ten Acres) and Church Hoppett for the landowners, John Joyner and Thomas Lewis Fanshawe respectively; and to enable: "their tenants, with horses, carts and carriages to go pass and repass along the western side of the said piece or parcel of land". It was this right of way, which later became Church Lane.


It is apparent from another document that the Church Hoppett was purchased by Fanshawe on 25/04/1826 from John Joyner. It then became part of the vicar's glebe.


The School Indenture, dated 25/6/1835, shows a Lease & Release date of the 3rd and 4th October 1826 for its sale and its buildings. The Release being made between: Luke Hepworth, Joseph Devey and Mary Tyler Greenhill on one side: and on the other Sarah Bonynge, Dennis Le Marchant, T.L. Fanshawe and the Executors of the last will and testament of Joseph Cuff, with this being dated 25/6/1835.

Plan showing the initial grant of land for the construction of the school house. The right of way later became Church Lane. Copied & enhanced from the original in the possession of the Essex Record Office by Ian Vickers.

The Old School in Church Lane opened in 1835. 
Photograph by I. Vickers, 1999.

These parties and other villagers were eager to open a school for the poor, in the principles of the Christian church. They had obtained from the Lords of His Majesties Treasury a grant of £60, and from the National Society £30 for the erection of the schoolroom. Mr Fanshawe had given up part of this glebe land and had agreed to convey a security of £800 to cover the initial debts of the mortgage.


So the National School was erected here and opened by Fanshawe on this site. The frontage of which now lies in Church Lane, just south of the main church gates.


It has often been said that the hall was once thatched, by a number of people. I have come across no records of this fact, but an old Dagenham resident Don West explained to me, "The old church school, within the church grounds was once thatched. I have been told this, so this must have been before the First World War, as I do not remember it. My earliest memories are from (the 1920s) when the roof was corrugated iron," (as it is today). It has been suggested that Mr Henry Gentry of Beam Road thatched the original building.


In the early decades of the 1800s, there was a dispute over tithes between Mr Fanshawe and a local farmer named William Ford. It has long been thought by some that they competed as to who could build a school first. This is highly likely as when Ford died in 1825, he left £10,000 to found a free school, and it stated that no member of the Fanshawe family was to be Governor. Although Fanshawe beat him in this race, Ford's legacy did not go to waste and went on to the building of the later Endowed School in 1841, which took his name.

Ten years later a further piece of land was needed for school use, and on 10/11/1845 another Deed was drawn up between the parties. This Rev., Fanshawe conveyed and merged, and the said land was discharged from mortgage debts of £1960 and £800 and from any interest due. This new piece of land was just south, adjoining the school building; being another part of Church Hoppett.  It was here that the Teachers College was constructed (parcel 1527), which still adjoins the school today. 

1845 plan, copied & enhanced by I. Vickers from the original 

It is hard to imagine schooling taking place in the old building today. On my visits, I have found the structure stifling in the hot months and equally diverse in the winter. There is a musty smell about the place, which is one of dampness, and a packed hall of around 50 children must have been very confined in this tiny hut.


It was described as the little infants school from the mid-19th century and continued until it was shut in 1878, owing to the erection of a new infants board school four years before this and the restructuring of William Ford School in 1877. It was then used for church purposes. Later it became known as the Minor Hall, after a new building was constructed on Exeter Road in 1953, then functioning as parish offices. Currently, various groups utilise it, including: the Women's Fellowship, the Beaver Scouts and the London Wildlife Trust.

Minor Hall Interior, photographed by I. Vickers

It certainly owes its survival due to its connection with the parish church, and its position within the old glebe land. In June 1999, the hall was another one of the structures in the borough on English Heritage's 'Buildings at Risk Register'. It is noted as being in poor condition, but it was envisaged that it would be repaired as part of the scheme to restore the village.


Between June and July 2002, the structure had been repainted outside (including the door), in its original colours, and a new replica plaque was placed in the window area above the cross.

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