Burston (Norfolk) School Strike – the longest strike in history.

Kitty and Tom Higdon married in 1896 and lived first in London before moving to Dalling, Norfolk in 1902 and onto Burston School in 1911.

Kitty was a certified head teacher and Tom registered as an assistant teacher.  They were both members of the NUT, were Christian Socialists and were innovative educators.

Kitty and Tom wanted to educate local children to make more of their lives -not just to be farm labourers and domestic servants.

Tom even went into the fields at harvest time and brought children back to class (much to the annoyance of farm owners).

There was also no union for adult farm workers.  So Tom helped organise them into a branch of the Agricultural Workers Union and got them involved in the Parish Council.

All of this went down badly with the local establishment.  The local Rector -who had noted that the Higdons attended the village's Methodist chapel rather than the Parish Church- was chair of the School Management Board.  Many of the other board members were farmers or landed gentry.

Matters came to a head on 1 April 1914 when Tom and Kitty were dismised by the Board on trumped up charges.

The children, led by 13 year old Violet Potter, went on strike.  They marched around "The Candlestick", a mile and a half of Burston lanes, gathering other kids on the way and ending up at the village green.

With the help of local supporters and the wider labour movement, an alternative school was set up. The Higdons continued to teach and the vast majority of the children refused to be directed elsewhere.

When Tom died in 1939 Kitty, now in her 70's, was too old to carry on alone.  The school closed down soon after.

Kitty herself died in 1946.  She and Tom are buried side by side in Burston churchyard.

The Burston Strike School, formed after their sackings, had lasted from 1914 to 1939.  At 25 years it was -not surprisingly- the longest strike in history!

From The Guardian newspaper 2011 :

Thanks for the article (We Glasgow students were inspired by the spirit of Red Clydeside, 1 September). Uplifting stories are thin on the ground, due in part to a failure by the media to report favourably, if at all, on peaceful actions that spring from a deep sense of injustice felt by people. Another largely unheralded event is the annual Burston strike school rally this Sunday in the village of Burston, Norfolk. It celebrates the longest strike in history: schoolchildren "went on strike" in 1914 to support their teachers, Tom and Kitty Higdon, sacked by the rural squirearchy for organising agricultural workers. A "strike school" was set up on the village green, attended by all the village children until it closed in 1939. This year marks the centenary of the Higdons' arrival in Burston. Most important of what's on offer is the feeling of solidarity which flows from meeting so many like-minded people (last year's estimate was 1,500).

Eddie Dougall

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk