Berbice House School – Great Dunmow

When fellow local historian, Austin Reeve, read my post about Great Dunmow’s Through all the changing seasons and the comments about the local boarding school, Berbice House, it prompted him to get in touch with me and send me 6 postcard images of the school. Adding his images to my own collection means that today I can bring you 9 photographs of Berbice House boarding school from the 1950s.

This boarding school was located on Great Dunmow’s Causeway at the place where today’s roundabout to Godfrey Way is located. The school building was demolished during the 1970s or the 1980s – and now, in its place is Godfrey Way (named after one of the heads of Berbice House School), a large winding road to the top of a hill containing hundreds of houses. There is turning off Godfrey Way, called ‘Berbice Lane’ – named after the school. Prior to the school being located in the building shown in the first photograph, during the 1940s, it was located in the Clock House.


Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Clock House, Great DunmowThe Clockhouse – sometime during the early part of the 19th century.


Berbice Lane, Great Dunmow

Clock House, Great DunmowThe Clockhouse – Summer 2013 – from the same location as the Edwardian postcard.

Clock House, Great Dunmow

Godfrey Way, Great DunmowThe top of the church steeple – visible from the highest point on Godfrey Way. The sun-scorched yellow fields of Stebbing in the distance.

Godfrey Way, Great DunmowGodfrey Way – looking back down the hill to where Berbice House once stood.

Godfrey Way, Great DunmowGodfrey Way and the fields of Stebbing in the distance.


Do you have any photos of your time at Berbice House School?
If so, please do contact me


This blog
If you want to read more from my blog, please do subscribe either by using the Subscribe via Email button top right of my blog, or the button at the very bottom.  If you’ve enjoyed reading this post, then please do Like it with the Facebook button and/or leave a comment below.

Thank you for reading this post.

You may also be interested in the following

– Great Dunmow – Through all the changing seasons
– Index to each folio in Great Dunmow’s churchwardens’ accounts
– Great Dunmow’s Churchwardens’ accounts: transcripts 1526-1621
– Tudor local history
– Pre-Reformation English church clergy
– Medieval Essex dialect
– Henry VIII’s Lay Subsidy 1523-1524
– The Tudor witches of Essex
– Building a medieval church steeple
– Great Dunmow’s Medieval manors

© Essex Voices Past 2012-2013.

This entry was posted in Local History, Then and Now and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Berbice House School – Great Dunmow

  1. In addition to the local interest might I suggest another aspect of social history here? Just who were these postcards produced for? Who would buy and/or send them? Were they used as promotional material by the school, did parents send them to tell their friends where their daughter was studying, or, in the days before picture messaging, were the girls sending them to their friends?
    Actually the questions aren’t just in respect of these cards, take a look at the vast variety of strange subjects appearing on early twentieth century postcards and you really wonder, who would have used them?

  2. the narrator says:

    An interesting point, Andrew. Maybe the girls wrote on the back of them and sent them to their parents as part of their weekly missives home?

  3. prudence lewis says:

    I went to Bernice house school for about 3 or 4 years around 1964 or so, I have photographs and other items which I can scan and send you.

    I was a border and often wondered if anything like this existed.
    Prudence Brown

  4. Andrew Briggs says:

    I am currently the owner of The Clockhouse and would be interested in collecting any photographs/postcards or information about the house. I have commissioned a a book on the history of the house and a copy is kept at The Maltings Museum for anyone interested.

  5. Maureen North (Morgan) says:

    I attended Berbice House from 1953 to 1960, as a boarder. I enjoyed reading the comments and seeing the photographs. I have these same postcards which I understood to be promotional material for the school. I certainly didn’t send them to anyone!
    I moved to Australia in 1967 but return to see my family regularly.
    I would be interested in any other material you have about the old school.

  6. Tom Ridge says:

    I was a pupil at berbice house in early 1940 and the school was evacuated to farm house I think near banbury.can you give me any information on this.
    I was one of ten boys.
    Many thanks. Tom.

  7. Anthony(Tony) Martin says:

    I was a pupil at Berbice house at the end of the 2nd world war. My parents and I lived in Rayne. My grandfather owned Old Hall Farm. after the war we moved to a house near the railway station. Used to ride to the school with the daughter of the owner of the bus company. We used to get the front seat upstairs as they knew she was the owner’s daughter. After this I attended Forest School in Snaresbrook as we moved to Ilford where my parents owned a house. Then we moved to Chigwell.
    I remember my years at Berbice with fond memories, especially the desks which had ink wells in them.

    • Susan Smith nee Miller says:

      Hi Tony, I read with interest your story of attending Berbice House School at the end of WW2. I also went to Berbice House, as a day girl. I went there in 1954 when I was 9 years old. I left in 1960. I came from Felsted where my father had a newsagents and general stores. It was called Bird’s after my father’s uncle who used to own the store. I used to catch the bus to Dunmow as you also would have done. The bus had been owned by my father’s uncle, the late Ernest Hicks of the Hicks Omnibus Company, and passed to his son Maxwell Hicks. It would have been one of his daughter’s who sat next to you on the bus, either Janet or more likely the younger daughter Christine, my second cousin. As you were older than me, we wouldn’t have been on the same bus, and the bus company was sold and became Eastern National. In 1954 when I started going to Berbice House, we used to get off the bus in Dunmow High Street and get on the Viceroy Coach which took us to the school about a couple of miles away. My memories of the school were that it was rather old fashioned. I think it might have been a farm at some time, because many of the classrooms were like converted cowsheds. I do remember the desks, all in neat lines with the inkwells. What about the uniform? Green velour hats in winter and Panama hats in the summer. I burnt mine when I left school. As girls, you had to wear a Robert Hirst raincoat in green or a green and gold blazer. Green pleated skirts which had to be long enough for the hem to touch the ground when you knelt down. Woe betide anyone whose skirt wasn’t the required length. Cream shirts with green cardigans and green ties. In summer you has green and white gingham dresses. The sportswear was a bit strange. There were 3 Houses, Dickens was green, Kingsley was yellow and mine, Shaftesbury was orange. These garments were an all-in-one shorts and blouse, not really very practical. I do remember many of the teachers. Obviously, Mrs. Marjorie T. Godfrey, the headmistress, a giant of a woman to a small girl. She seemed to be about 6ft.6ins. tall and had a severe haircut in white and a voice like a foghorn. You didn’t mess with her dressed in her black gown. Her husband was about half her size! Then there was Mrs. Spurgeon, who was the sister of Mrs. Godfrey. She taught poetry, literature and scripture.She used to sit with her eyes closed most of the time. Miss Booth I remember taught botany and was very strict. Miss Nora Wright was the history teacher. Mrs Gypps taught geography. There was Miss Turner and Mrs Clarke and Mrs Stainer who was the sports teacher. There was a Mrs Moss and Mrs Ruffell, they were sisters and they taught the little children and were also the aunts of my friend Carole Andrews. The hall was used for assembly, for music and singing, and also became the dinner hall each day. The meals were not the best. You could have either small, medium or large portions, but whatever you had you were expected to clear your plate. I remember when I became a dinner monitor, trying to persuade the younger ones to eat their food, when I didn’t like it either. We used to smuggle out the leftover food between the plates and the stacked mugs and take them to the kitchen for washing up. I don’t know what they thought in the kitchen The sports field was a large field behind the school and had bushes all around the back of it. We used to hide in amongst the bushes at playtime. The field sloped down towards the school buildings. I do remember the courtyard which was in the centre with buildings all around it. This is where we had our PT lesson every day, and was also the playground where we had skipping ropes etc. I left when I was 15 and because of a lot of ill health, I hadn’t done as well as I should, so I was sent to the Braintree College of Further Education to do a 2 year secretarial course which I thoroughly enjoyed and I did very well there. It’s quite strange that you don’t think about your school days for years and then when you do, the memories come flooding back.

  8. TOM RIDGE says:

    I was only at Berbice for a very short period and evacuated to a farm near Banbury. 30 girls 10 boys.I left and went to Brentwood. I can remember getting on a train with gas mask box. This was about 1941/2.but don’t have any pictures. Can anybody recollect this. .

    • Tony Martin says:

      The main thing I remember about Berbice is the Ink Wells in the individual desks.
      We moved to a house near Rayne station for the years following the war when my father returned and then to the family house in Ilford. Used to get from Rayne to Dunmow on the bus, which was owned by a female class mates father. We used to sit upstairs in the front row.

  9. Jennifer adams says:

    Hi I attended Berbice House from age of 5 1957 until it closed when I was fifteen I think the school closed in 1967. My name was Jennifer jostling. My two sisters attended for a shor while Rosemary Jostling now deceased and Christine Jostling whosee married name is Cohen. The pictures are just as I remembered. The headmistress!!was Mrs Godfrey and some of the tearchers were miss Wright deputy head. Mrs ruffle her daughter Mrs elliot miss Turner Mrs Robinson Mrs Aves Mrs stainer and lovely miss goodwill who lived next door to the school.

    • Tony Martin says:

      Hi there. I attended Berbice House from approx. 1946 till 1948 so for about 3 years. Had been evacuated to my grandfather’s farm in Rayne at Old Hall during the war.
      My little girl friends father owned the bus company, so we got to sit upstairs in the front seat going to and fro. Loved the school especially the Ink Wells in the desks.

  10. Jennifer adams says:

    It was also a day school as well as a boarding school . My sisters and I were day pupils

  11. Jennifer adams says:

    It was also a day school as well as a boarding school . My sisters and I were day pupils . I forgot to mention that is my blog

  12. Alex Bielecki says:

    Lovely to read all the comments. I am researching my family history and Mrs (Marjorie) Godfrey was my Great Aunt. The Godfreys also owned the tent and ropeworks in Chelmsford and had shops in a few local towns.

    Does anyone know why the school was called Berbice House – which, if googled – clearly has a link to Guyana?

    Any more photos of the school? Would be great to see some more! Thanks

  13. Peter Verley says:

    I remember the school well and the pupils wore a green uniform.
    We locals referred to them as cabbages.
    A guy, Tony Morgan, used to go there and he ended up my lifetime best friend.

    • Tony Martin says:

      Think cabbages is a bit rough, gives the impression that we were fat and round.
      Well done to Susan for remembering so much detail, admire your memory.
      The school obviously made a big impression on you.
      In my mid twenties I emigrated to California and stayed there for twenty years.
      A wonderful time both personally and career wise. Ended up working in Beverly Hills assisting to finance the entertainment industry, films, record companies etc. A lot of famous people and quite a challenge. Anyway never forgot my time at Berbice house, it not only stated to give you an education but also taught you a way of life and a structure going forward. So very grateful to have been part of it.

      Tony Martin

  14. Jenny adams says:

    Hi Susan your blog brought back so many more memories. One thing I didn’t know was that Mrs Ruffle and Mrs Moss were sisters. That would make sense as I remember them always chatting in each others class rooms. I was thought they were friends. . Actually I thought the meals were OK. My favourites were cheese and tomato tart and chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce yummy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *