top of page
A Short History of Willington School

The village of Willington in Derbyshire lies on the North bank of the River Trent, some seven miles to the south of Derby and five miles north of Burton.

The history of education in Willington dates back to 1714, when John Allsopp left the income from land in Lincolnshire to the children of Willington, Findern and Stenson. John Allsopp was born in Findern and became a prosperous farmer in Lincolnshire. The legacy left in his will paid for a schoolmaster in Findern to teach the poor children of the said villages. The legacy still provides money for educational purposes.

The earliest record of schooling in Willington itself is in 1824 when Mrs Spilsbury, wife of the vicar, ran a small Subscription Day School for girls and a Sunday School. There are also records of a Sunday School in Bargate Lane at a similar time. 

In 1831 Rev. Francis Ward  Spilsbury himself set up, at his own expense, a school in Willington and the first mistress was Ellen Backhouse. 

Following Forster’s Education Act 1870 the school by the canal bridge on Castleway was built in 1871 on land given by Rev. William Findley, the then vicar of Willington. It was built at a cost of £280, paid for by subscription under a Charitable Trust and was built to hold seventy pupils. 

The school logbooks fortunately are beautifully maintained and at the time of the first entry in 1877 the Headmistress was Elizabeth Watkins and there was a maximum of 86 pupils.

In 1881 the new Headmistress, Alice Chambers records the following in her logbook: -
 “I commenced my duties this morning by examining the children; I find them in a very backward state indeed, also very disorderly and totally undisciplined.”

By 1885 there was another new Head Teacher, Mr John Eales, with the attendance at this time being about 80 pupils. Mr Eales remained until 1889 but the Government Inspector’s reports of the time show a very poorly run school “Hardly any work is satisfactory.”

The new Head Master, Mr Arthur William Sealey, who we know, from the census records, lived with his family in the schoolhouse, wrote in the logbooks on his arrival of “a total lack of discipline and a lot of noise”. The situation under Mr Sealey’s leadership improved as shown by the next report, which concluded that the “order was fairly good and writing was much improved”

There was also a small school at the Baptist Chapel on Twyford Road, earliest records of which date back to 1881and it was known locally as the ‘Penny School’. Virtually all Elementary School fees were abolished in 1891 and this lead to the closure of the Baptist School and a resulting increase in numbers at the village school. Mr Sealey records: “I admitted 6 children, most of whom have been attending the Baptist School until it was closed”. The average attendance by 1894 was 108 pupils.

The new infant’s classroom was added to the school 1894, with the date recorded on a carved stone on the building.  

Mr Sealey left Willington School in 1901, after 12 years service and was replaced by Mr Christopher Mann. The School Board at this time comprised of Rev. Thos Strong (Chairman), Messrs Salt, Pope, Ley and the new Headmaster. 

Children Outside Willington School in c1920 

The First World War had a massive impact on everyday life in Great Britain and life at Willington School was naturally affected too. The first direct result of the war was that Mr Mann, the Headmaster was called up to join his regiment, the Sixth North Staffordshire Regiment.

Miss Daisy Keeley became Headmistress for the duration of the war; she lived on Elms Road in Stapenhill and was paid £2 per week.  The Government Inspector’s report in 1915 shows that she was an excellent teacher: - “The temporary mistress deserves credit for the way in which she has attacked the work of the school and for the enterprise she has shown in introducing changes to stimulate the mental activity of the children.” 

At the end of the war Mr Mann returned to his position as headmaster after 4¼ years in the army.  The school was closed on 30th June for the peace celebrations.

In 1924 Col. Godfrey Mosley, of the Grange, Willington, gave some additional land to the school, which was used as a playground.


Col. Mosley purchased it for £60 from Sidney Cook the farmer, but it was originally church  Glebe land, and is still even today under a reverter to the church.

In 1932, due to difficulties in raising the funds necessary to meet new Derbyshire Education Authority requirements, the school board, after consultation with the church decided to transfer the school to the Local Council under a 99-year lease.

Just prior to the transfer the Headmaster Mr Mann retired after 31 years of service to the community. A presentation was held at the school for Mr Mann and his wife, who had also taught at the school. During the reorganisation of the school as a council school it was temporarily led by Mrs Hough and the new Headmaster, Mr Raymond B. D. Brealey commenced duties in 1933. 

In the mid 1930s much work was carried out to the physical condition of the building; this included a basic electric lighting system, a new heating system, a veranda and toilets.

1939 began as any normal year at the school in Willington but world events were soon to have a huge impact on life in Willington. Willington School was due to reopen on 4th September 1939 after the summer break, but, due to the outbreak of war and the arrangements necessary for the receipt of the evacuees, the school did not open until the 13th September. The first twelve evacuees arrived in Willington by train within days of the outbreak of war. The school was now very overcrowded with 119 children in three rooms and just three teachers.

By September 1940 more children began to arrive from Birmingham and arrangements were then made to educate the evacuees in the Co-op Hall in the village and it was not until November 1941 that the evacuees and the local children were educated together, the older children being in the  Co-op Hall (above the old Coop shop in Castleway)  and the younger ones remaining at the school. 
It was during these war years that the first school dinners were introduced at Willington School, in April 1944, at the cost of 4d per child. On the first day over 50 children stayed for dinner.

In July 1944 more evacuees arrived at Willington from London and by this time there were 130 Willington children and 65 evacuees.
The school was closed on 8th and 9th May to celebrate Victory in Europe. A party was held in the village, a piano was played on the village green and trestle tables set up on Twyford Road to allow everyone to celebrate together.

It was not until 27th June 1945 that Mr Brealey records the following comment in the logbook: -
“The 13 London Evacuees still in attendance at the school, entrained for London this morning. For the first time since 30th September 1940 no evacuated children are in attendance at the school. There are 141 Willington children”.

Even after the end of the war the accommodation was far too overcrowded at the school and the older children continued to be taught at the Co-op until eventually in May 1947 two “new temporary huts” were built on the school playground, these are known as HORSA huts due to their method of construction and are still in use today!

The majority of village children started and completed their education in Willington until after the Second World War. In 1944 the first ‘Eleven Plus examination’ took place, the few who passed went to Bemrose Grammar School in Derby. It was known for children to travel much further. Owen Brealey, Mr Brealey’s son and Reg Collow went to Ashby Grammar School, eleven miles each way on a bike!

this became Miss Bird’s classroom for the next 8 years. In January 1965 the first Deputy Head teacher was appointed, Mrs Joan Taylor, who was also the new reception teacher. 

In Sept 1965 Mr Brealey retired after 32 years, service to the school and he was presented with a transistor radio and a cheque by two pupils at a ceremony attended by many local people.

The new Headmaster was Mr Ian Ross Harpur; he started work on 1st September 1965 and was to serve as Headmaster in Willington for 20 years. Mr Ross was to gradually introduce many changes at the school; these included the first colour photographs taken of the children, visits by Mr and Mrs Keeling with their animals and 1965 also saw the first recorded visit with the children to Twycross Zoo. Mr Ross also introduced the idea of the Christmas Nativity play held in the church. May 1968 sees the largest single entry in the school logbooks! It records the children’s bus crashing into the bridge on Twyford Road on the return journey from a sports session on the playing fields. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. By the mid 1960’s the John Allsopp money was being used to fund school prizes and the recipients are recorded in the logbooks.

The first mention in the logbooks of a new school was in July 1967 and after long discussions the work began on the new school in Twyford Road in April 1970. By 8th January 1971 the building was ready, there was a delay awaiting the arrival of the furniture and the new open plan school on Twyford Road eventually opened on 1st February 1971. When the new school opened there were 188 children on the roll call.

An Aerial View of Willington School after the Second World War

The end of the war and the restrictions it had imposed on the education of the children began to be lifted and Mr Brealey took full advantage of the opportunities; the boys attending handicraft classes at Mickleover and the girl’s cookery classes at Repton.

The older children went on trips to local industries to help prepare them for finding jobs after leaving school. These included TG Green (Pottery Manufacturer) at Church Gresley, The Foundry of Messrs FH Lloyd and Co at Burton, Castle Gresley Colliery, and Leys Malleable Castings.

The first trip out of the area was in 1947 to Llandudno and this was the first opportunity for many of the children to see the sea. The next year saw a visit to Whipsnade Zoo; by 1950 Mr Brealey was taking the oldest children on four-day trips to London.

In 1962 Mrs Brealey who throughout the war years had taught the infants retired after 21 years service to the school. The following year, with 150 children on the roll call, it became necessary to erect a prefabricated building in the caretaker’s garden and 

The New School (photographed in 2001)

Mr Ross was to retire in December 1985 on the day which included the children’s Nativity play in the village church and he records this day in his final entry in the logbook as follows: -
“It was just by happy chance that my career finished in the church, because today I retire from teaching and the Headship here after 20 very happy and fulfilling years at Willington School”


Produced for Willington History Group.


Anita Staley
October 2015

bottom of page