Mr George Stephenson Retires as Headmaster of the Church School

An Article in the Herts Advertiser of 1.8.1930 outlining his time in Harpenden (LAF - People - Stephenson)

Harpenden National School class with the headmaster Mr Stephenson c 1909
St Nicholas School
LHS archives Buck 2.5
16 Tennyson Road 2021
J Marlow


By the retirement of Mr George Stephenson this week, from the headmastership of the Harpenden Church School, scholastic circles in the village have sustained a great loss.

The start of his career

A native of County Durham, Mr Stephenson started upon his teaching career at thirteen years of age as a pupil- teacher in a large school in County Durham nearly fifty-two years ago. After having finished his apprenticeship he passed what was called in those days, the Queen’s Scholarship, which enabled him to enter Bede College Durham as a first class student.  While at that  college, he took part in  practically every sport.  He was the tennis captain, a member of both the Soccer and Rugby teams and one of the crew in a four boat.

Mr Stephenson left college with thirty-five other students and was one of eleven out of that number who secured posts immediately, going straight  to the headmastership of a small school of fifty-five children at Wensleydale, Yorkshire.

Mr Stephenson considers that post the finest experience he ever had.  There were seven standards in the school, with two classes of infants and the four-years’ experience he gained fitted him to take any position in a school.  He worked that school up and obtained for it the highest possible grants.

He becomes head at Harpenden Church School

Relating to a “Herts Advertiser” representative, how he came to Harpenden, Mr Stephenson said his Vicar at Wensleydale had been a curate at Harpenden under Canon Vaughan, and it was through the Vicar that he was informed that Miss Salmon had retired from the post of headmistress of the Harpenden School after twenty five years’ service.  There were fifty-eight applicants for the post, and Mr Stephenson became the first headmaster when he took over his new duties in 1894.

When he first came to Harpenden, the infants’ department was housed in the large school, but that department grew so rapidly that, in 1895 the infants’ school was built. The next development was in 1911, when a change in the requirement of area per child was made from 8 feet per child to 10 feet.  As a result, the accommodation of the school was lowered, and a new classroom was built.   Following that Mr H T Hodgson secured both the playground and the girls’ and boys’ offices for the school, the children previously having to play on the greens outside the school or wherever else they could.

Teachers in his early days were paid by results, but, Mr Stephenson told a “Herts Advertiser ” representative, he was of the decided opinion that, in general, both  the methods of teaching and the school life of to-day are very much happier for children.  Whereas, in the olden days, playing truant was very common, the difficulty to-day was to keep children away from school.  The change of system was that, instead of forcing children by corporal punishment, more was done by way of encouragement and persuasion.

He retires

Mr Stephenson said that, apart from the fact that that school was going to be a junior school under the re-organisation scheme, he was very sorry to retire; he was not however leaving the district.

Miss Morgan also retired

The school has suffered another loss, as Miss H. M. Morgan, headmistress of the infants’ department has also retired during the week.  Miss Morgan came to Harpenden in 1893  and was assistant teacher under Mr. Stephenson until the infants’ department was built, when she was appointed headmistress. (Mr Stephenson was one of the executors of her will.  She died 22nd March 1933 and left £300 to St Nicholas Church).

George Stephenson’s Family

George Stephenson was born on 16th October 1865 in Birtley Yorkshire and his father was a moulder.  He had three sisters and three brothers and in 1881 census, at 16, he was a miller but he obviously had his sight set on better things – see his career above. In the 1891 census he was a border in Aysgarth so perhaps that was where his first headship was although he is only recorded as an elementary teacher. Three years later he was in Harpenden as head of the National School which today (2021) is St Nicholas CofE  Voluntary Aided Primary School.

He married Margaret Stobart just prior to his move to Harpenden, in the first quarter of 1894; it was register at Gateshead but could have taken place at Ryton on Tyne where she was born.  They had two sons Frank and and Kenneth and one daughter, Kathleen.

He died on 16th April 1940 still living at 16 Tennyson Road. Margaret outlived him by ten years dying on 23 January 1950 and from her probate we know that their sons did not follow them into teaching; Frank was a Civil Servant and Kenneth an engineer.

From other cuttings in the archives we know that George, apart from singing in St Nicholas church choir was active in other ways in the village:

Items from the Archives

  • From the Parish Magazine, February 1913
    ‘Mr Billingham, organist at the Parish Church, has asked Mr Stephenson to be choir conductor, and I have sanctioned the appointment.   It is really kind of Mr Stephenson to add this rather taxing duty to the many other calls upon his time. Kean M. Pitt
    (NC- SCRAP 2.31)
  • Item in the local press 21.7.33
    ‘….The suggestion was forthcoming at a meeting of Harpenden Unemployment Welfare Committee, on Monday , Mr G Stephenson presiding…….’  (NC-SCRAP 14.11)

  • Report of Memorial Cross Committee
    Chairman:  Mr C F Sibley
    Secretary:  Mr Geo. Stephenson
    Hon. Surveyor: Mr C W Latter
    Hon. Architect: Mr Stanley Salisbury      (RB 135.12)
  • Item in the local press 14.7.33
    Harpenden Nursing Centre
    …Dr W H Blake  (the President) was supported by Mr Sutherland Græme, (Chairman of the Committee) and Mr G Stephenson, (Hon. Secretary)….   (NC-SCRAP 14.18)
  • From the brochure for the Bygone Harpenden Exhibition 1924
    Cottages by “Cock” Pond. Oil by G Stephenson. (BF 18.1)


The successor  to the post will be Mr F. R. Smith, the Herts Education Committee having confirmed his appointment, which was made by the Church School Managers.

Mr Smith, who is a native of the Isle of Wight, became assistant master at the school in January, 1914.  He joined the Hampshire Regiment in September of that year, and served throughout the War in India and Palestine.  He was wounded in the leg during the Palestine campaign, but was able to resume his scholastic duties at Harpenden in 1918.  An accomplished tenor vocalist, he is a well-known member of the parish church choir and Toc H. concert party.

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