In the archives of Surrey History Centre in Woking is a small but intriguing collection of documents and photographs relating to ‘Surrey’s First School for Gypsies’ at Hurtwood, near Shere.

Traveller children outside the school at Hurtwood, c.1926

Traveller children outside the school at Hurtwood, c.1926
Surrey History Centre ref. 2570/4

It would appear that Surrey Education Committee opened the first school for Gypsies’ located at Hurtwood, near Shere, in 1926. Later that year, the committee reported that in just 4 months the school was a resounding success with 70 children and 59 adults attending morning, afternoon and evening classes, with no truants.

The Daily Express covered the school’s success and the schoolmaster, Mr A.S. Milner, who was also living in a caravan on the site, reported that the pupils already knew everything there was to know about nature. He quotes “They have the names for every tree and know the habits of every animal and how to catch it”.

As a result of the school’s popularity the encampments which had been dispersed around the area became concentrated around the school.

Little else is known about the school and no records of the children or staff survive.

Further research into Hurtwood Gypsy School has revealed the following fascinating item featured in Surrey Through the Century, 1889-1989 (p.22), by Dr D Robinson, former county archivist. The research was taken from various Surrey County Council committee reports (see CC767/40/1/9, meeting of 7 Jul 1926, appendix to Elementary Committee meeting of 35 Jun 1926), the complete run of which are held at Surrey History Centre:

“Surrey County Council’s Education Committee made special developments to meet particular educational needs. A gipsy school of corrugated iron was set up at Albury at a cost of £240 in 1929 to serve children camping in the Hurtwood and a caravan was purchased for £174 for the teacher to live in. Local people were invited to make voluntary subscriptions towards food for the children and to supply part-worn clothing for them. Numbers of pupils increased and a further classroom was provided in 1927. In 1929, because of restrictions on numbers camping there, the number of children at the school was down to thirty-three. Thirteen of these suffered from medical problems and the school became a base for welfare work, with an unofficial baby welfare centre and regular visits from a welfare worker. The school continued until 1934, by which time most of the families had moved away to Walton-upon-Thames and the building was moved to East Walton Council Schools.”

Image from the Daily Express, 12 Jan 1926 (Surrey History Centre reference 2570/1/1)

Click on the images to see larger copies.

Article from the Daily Express, 12 Jan 1926 (Surrey History Centre refence 2570/1/2)

The Traveller Project, funded by the European Union and the South East Museum Library and Archive Council, was designed to encourage greater access to the region’s museums, libraries and archives for the region’s large Gypsy and Traveller population. The project was the British contribution to a 3 year pan-European effort to remove barriers in accessing cultural heritage. Click here to read more about this project and the final report.

Travellers Tales DVD

The hidden heritage of Surrey’s largest ethnic minority is uncovered in this film celebrating the history and culture of Surrey’s Gypsy and Traveller community.

Copies of the project video are now available to view through YouTube. See the links below:

Part 1

Part 2

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