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1806-1892: The unlikely schoolmaster ... 3/5

Let us now return to the subject of our memoir. At the period to which we have arrived the School became deprived of its master, and the Committee were at their wit's end to know who should fill the vacant place. Thomas Norris had distinguished himself in the culture of plants and flowers, much to the satisfaction of his respected employer, and it suddenly occurred to that gentleman's mind that his under gardener possessed sufficient attainments to develop the reasoning faculties of the rising generation.

Invited to be schoolmaster

Accordingly, on one particular morning, Thomas was invited into the breakfast room and questioned thus: ‘Should you like to be a schoolmaster?’ The young man was taken aback, but presently replied: 'Sir, I should like it above all things were I sufficient scholar to undertake the duties’. This answer, so meekly given, settled the question. Thomas was sent to London for a three months' training, and when he returned the boys welcomed him as their new preceptor.

Mr Norris entered on his duties with a good heart; he knew he had always been respected by the inhabitants generally, and he felt that respect might be retained by exercising due circumspection in his teaching and management. He invariably held his temper in restraint, and seldom spoke acrimoniously. The boys, as a rule, appreciated his manner, but they soon discovered how difficult it was to reconcile themselves to his mode of caning.

At that time discipline was considered absolutely essential to the management of a school, and, certainly, few could use the cane so expertly as Mr Norris. The boys said he mast have acquired the art in London; indeed, they believed that was what he was sent there for.

testing the teacher's patience

1888 Cartoon drawing. Wikimedia public domain image..

Some ludicrous stories have been told of his flogging, one of which is here given. A boy who had been caned went home and told his father that the Master had flogged him, but he didn’t knew what for; he had done nothing to deserve it. ‘Very well’, replied the parent, ‘then the next time you do deserve a hiding tell your Master you have already had it’.

The boy, it would seem, rather relished this parental injunction, and lost no time in getting the matter squared; so on the afternoon of the following day he took the opportunity to play a little innocent joke on the next boy in his class when he knew the Master had his eyes on him.

'Step out here, Ned’, said the Master, grasping his cane impulsively. ‘Please, Sir’, said Ned, ‘I was paid for this job yesterday’.

'Only the first installment’, replied the Master: ‘perhaps the second installment may have the desired effect’. and poor Ned writhed, for a few moments, under the infliction, eventually returning to his place a wiser lad.

But despite all the castigations Mr Norris inflicted he was particularly careful never to exercise cruelty, and as a teacher he turned out a better scholar at much less cost than is now effected under the Red Tape system. For seven years be conducted the school to the entire satisfaction of both Committee and parents, his weekly salary being the whole of that time less than sixteen shillings.

the new approach

The death, at this period, of the Rev. H Plimley and the subsequent installation of the Rev. TA Maberly [1842] constituted a now epoch in the historical control of the school and Mr Norris, as an underpaid official, resolved to press for an augmentation of salary. The modest request was not conceded; thereupon the Master resigned.

The Committee were summoned, and the first resolution passed was to this effect, namely ‘That under no circumstances shall the salary of the School Master be more than forty pounds a year (this was making a law of the Medes and Persians), but inasmuch as an Organist was needed for the Parish Church it was further resolved that an advertisement be inserted in the county paper for a gentleman who could undertake the dual responsibilities of School Master and Organist, at two distinct salaries.

This advertisement was responded to by a gentleman named Lloyd; his testimonials were accepted, and be eventually entered on the duties. Mr Norris was thus left to his own resources.

Part four will follow …

Mid Sussex Times, 9 February 1892



Thomas's dad, George Norris, was a Smith.

Thomas's wife was Ann Topper(1805–1858) from London she was a spinster. They were married 7 December 1844 at St George, Hanover Square, London. He was 41 she was 42.

3 Apr 1881 (age 74) Thomas was a widower and lived in Church Street, Cuckfield. Occupation a collector for the local gas company.

5 Apr 1891 (age 84), Thomas still lived in Church Street.

Death of sister Nancy Margaret Norris (aka. 'Ann') 1816, Cuckfield, January 1892.

Thomas buried 2 February 1892 at the Holy Trinity Church, Cuckfield.

1888 Cartoon drawing of two students receiving the cane from Mr JS Kerr. One boy has just been caned and sucks his fingers. The other boy stretches out his hand for punishment. A blackboard lies on the ground with a chalk drawing depicting 'Old Kerr'. Wikimedia public domain image.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.



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