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Old Fakenham Grammar School building holds so many good memories for me

A ‘For Sale’ sign has prompted our Fakenham columnist Jim Harding to reminisce in his weekly Wensum column about his time teaching at a town grammar school...

This might well be something of a trip down memory lane for the hundreds – nay, thousands - of people who were educated at the former grammar school in our town. I can’t claim to have played a major role in its history but my time there as a PE teacher had a big impact on my life as things turned out.

I had just returned from a spell living and teaching in Victoria and was at a bit of a loose end, wondering what the future might hold for me. When an advert for a temporary teacher in Fakenham caught my eye I had to check just where that was in the county of Norfolk.

A 'For Sale' notice at the entrance to Highfield House
A 'For Sale' notice at the entrance to Highfield House

My wife and I were living in Lowestoft, trying to sort out the next steps in our careers, so this opportunity seemed worthy of a follow-up. I phoned the then-head, Ian Andersson, and he suggested an interview. This was successful and I was taken on to replace a colleague who had suffered a stroke and would be absent for some while.

What has prompted this recall now is the ‘For Sale’ notice I have recently seen on the Highfield Road entrance to the school. The same one I drove up all those years back which also changed the direction of my future. My first impressions were favourable, from grass tennis courts to an indoor swimming pool.

I also liked the idea of a compact school, relatively small in number, led by a staff of around 30 teachers. Gradually things began to fall into place. We were able to sell our Lowestoft house and to begin with I was welcomed into the home of Latin teacher Don Jones and his family until we could find a permanent place in the town.

This next step happened thanks to an English teacher, Noel Jones, who had put his house in Westmead Road on the market at a price we could afford. In retrospect, there seems to have been a genuine attempt by new colleagues to make us welcome.

Anyway, within months we had upped stakes from Lowestoft and moved to Fakenham. I seemed to fit in well throughout those early days, enjoying the freedom to take part in a variety of activities which the students took to with enthusiasm.

There was a liberalism in my approach and the culture of the time allowed me to accompany groups on cross-country runs which I suspect would be prohibited nowadays. I was fit enough then to demonstrate all manner of gymnastics which seemed to be appreciated by those I taught. Something I guessed they had not experienced much previously.

With the passage of time it became inevitable that the school could not continue to survive on its own and that a new comprehensive arrangement, to be known as Fakenham High School, would have to be made in conjunction with the Lancastrian school at the other end of Field Lane.

This process proved challenging with both staff and students having to switch sites for certain subjects. The realisation dawned that everyone had become a bit territorial so the process caused some degree of distress. The appointment of new head teacher Lee Muston was the key to providing the unity required as he made it abundantly clear that Fakenham High was one school and needed to be confirmed as such.

Subsequently, the old grammar was closed down and all teaching took place on what became known as Fakenham College – now Fakenham Academy. Doubts existed about the fate of the grammar with all sorts of rumours doing the rounds. The site has been empty since 2017, and its grounds were allowed to become overgrown and a bit distressing to those of us who knew it in its prime.

The main building, Highfield House, is Grade II listed which is a factor in its future use. It remains to be seen what happens to this place which holds so many good memories for so many people – including me.

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