Schools and Education

A short history of schooling in Bowburn & Tursdale

[Note: Cassop schools are not included in this account, as there is an excellent Cassop Local History Society and Bowburn LHS no longer aims to cover that area. (See “Links and Contacts”, in main menu.) They do, however, feature in some of the events recorded on the subpages linked to this account. These subpages give more details about matters summarised below – plus much more! See bottom of this page for links to subpages.]

Tursdale schools

The first Tursdale school was built in 1868, in School Street, by Bell Bros., owners of Tursdale Colliery, with 200 pupil places. The colliery had begun production in 1860.

Tursdale was formerly part of Cassop Parish, which was a divided parish. Cassop School Board was formed in 1876. It was merged with Quarrington’s in 1887, to become Cassop-cum-Quarrington School Board, when the two civil parishes were joined together.

The Victoria History recorded that there were two schools in Cassop-cum-Quarrington, seating 418. (Was one of these the school at Tursdale?) However, in 1903, when information was collected for Durham County Council about all Board Schools, there were three such schools in Cassop-cum-Quarrington: at Cassop Colliery, at Quarrington Hill and at Tursdale Colliery. Presumably the School Board took over Bell Brothers’ original school in School Street.

In 1904, Tursdale Colliery Mixed School (in School Street) became Tursdale Council Junior Mixed School. The Council Schools in Ramsay Street replaced this one in 1913.


Location of two Tursdale schools shown on 3rd edition OS map.

(With thanks to Google maps for satellite view on which this is superimposed.)

Meanwhile the sinking of Bowburn Colliery began in 1906 and production began in 1908. Before the schools opened in Wylam Street, in 1909, children from Bowburn were schooled at Tursdale.

Bell Bros. Ltd. sold land at Standalone farm, at Tursdale, to Durham County Council Education Committee, to build a new school, late in 1911. The new Tursdale Elementary School (mixed and infants), in Ramsay Street, was opened by Lady Florence Bell, wife of Sir Hugh Bell, Chairman of Bell Brothers, on 13 December 1913. Designed by W. Rushworth, architect to Durham County Council, it had space for 180 children.

Thomas Robson was headmaster. (He was already in post in 1901 and remained so till at least 1920, possibly retiring in about 1922, when reached the age of 65.) By 1926, he had been replaced by Joseph Stanley Ruddick.

Mr. Ruddick died in 1958, aged 68, and presumably retired before that. He may have been succeeded by William Gardner, who was living with his family at School House in 1961 (and did so for some years after that). However Mr. Gardner may have been the first non-teacher occupying that house.

Tursdale Council Junior Mixed School closed on 31 August 1960. It was subsequently bought and used for business purposes and in 2005 was converted into four houses. Called School Close, these were first occupied in 2006.

Bowburn Schools

(Bowburn LHS’s meeting on 18th July 2022 was about “A Short History of Bowburn Schools”.  The main points from this can now be watched on YouTube. See Bowburn Schools.)

The first children in Bowburn Colliery village went to school at Tursdale. Then, from early in 1909, 75 children were enrolled in Standard 1 and Infants at the Primitive Methodist chapel, which had opened in October 1908 and was loaned to the Education Authority. The staff consisted of A. Pinkney, Head Teacher, and uncertificated assistant teachers E. Clegg and L. Trotter.

1.165 acres of land at the top of Wylam Street were sold by Bell Bros. to Durham County Council in February 1908 and Bowburn Schools were duly built, at a cost of about £5,000. By then production at the colliery had begun (in July 1908) and all five colliery rows south of Bowburn Beck were complete and occupied.

Bowburn Infants and Mixed Schools were formally opened on 12th August 1909, by Alderman G.H. Wraith. Designed by H. T. Gradon (who also designed the Miners’ Hall at Redhills), the two buildings were built to accommodate up to 300 mixed and 150 infants.

The schools opened the following Thursday (17th August), with 6 staff and 201 pupils in the Mixed School, and 4 staff and 65 pupils in the Infant School.

The first Headmaster was Joseph Pyke Wake, from Edmondsley. The Certificated Assistants were William Robson, Thomas Robson (neither related to each other, nor to the headmaster at Tursdale) and Sarah Ellen Crozier. Uncertificated assistants were Isabella Smith and Violet Elliott. The Headmistress of the Infant School was Miss Sarah Cuthbertson Smith, of Monkton, Jarrow. Her assistants were Miss S. Henderson (certificated) and Miss E. Clegg & Miss L. Trotter (both uncertificated).

On 14 August 1917, Bombardier Joseph Pyke Wake, of “Dunholm”, Durham Road, Bowburn, headmaster of Bowburn Schools, died of wounds in France, aged 41 years. He had enlisted in the Royal Artillery the previous July.

His widow, Minnie Wake, had been appointed as an assistant teacher at Bowburn Council Infants School on 17 April 1916, the ban on the employment of married women being waived due to the shortage of teachers. After her husband’s death, she was absent from school for two weeks.

In December 1917, she was appointed as Headmistress of Catchgate Infant School, and moved to live at Annfield Plain.

1920s & 1930s

In 1919, George Frederick Holmes was appointed Headmaster. (Mr H. Smith had been acting Head since 1917.)

Mr. Holmes lived at the Wakes’ old home, “Dunholme”. He probably bought it from Minnie Wake. (He sold it to Arthur Leslie Colbeck in 1947.) His mother-in-law was a sister of the manager of Bowburn Colliery, Peter Harle. His wife was in 1924 a founder member (Secretary) of Bowburn Women’s Institute.

Mary A. French took up duties as the new Head Teacher of Bowburn Infant School in January 1920. Later in the 1920s, the Infants’ mistress was Miss Annie Wilson.

In 1923, Bowburn Mixed and Infant Schools were amalgamated. They had previously (since 1909) been separate. The reason for the amalgamation was presumably because of what considered to be a low roll, for a letter from the Board of Education said: “In the event of any substantial increase in the number of Children attending the school, the question of re-organisation will be further considered.”

Mr. David John Evans joined the staff in 1928. After Mr Holmes retired in 1946, there were two acting Heads before Mr Evans himself was first acting and then permanent Head from 1948 until 1966. He founded the Bowburn Boys’ Club (later the D. J. Evans Youth Club) in 1937.

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1940s & 1950s

Bowburn Infant School was opened again as a separate department, with 84 children on roll, in February 1949. The staff of the new school were Mrs. Catherine McGougal Sawdon, Head Teacher, and qualified assistant teachers, Mrs. Martha Thompson [or Thomason?], Miss Jean Mary Hudson and Mrs. Edith Welsh.

Mrs. Sawdon retired in December 1953. Miss Kathleen Addison commenced duty as Head Teacher in March 1954. Other post-war heads of the Infant [and, later, Nursery] School were Vera Scott, Mrs. Grierson, Mrs. Charlton, Sandra Withnall (formerly Neasham) and Christine Ormerod.

Under the tripartite education system, following the 1944 Education Act, children aged 12 and above attended grammar schools, technical schools or modern schools, depending on how they did at the 11+ exam. However that depended on such schools being available. Most Bowburn children still went into the Seniors at Bowburn Mixed School, leaving at the end of the term in which they reached the age of 15. Some children went to Whinney Hill Modern School, in Durham. Those who passed the 11+ exam mostly went to the two single sex grammar schools in Durham – Durham Johnston, for boys, and Wearside, for girls, Bowburn was growing from a relatively small pit village to a very large one. [See “Housing” on this site.] Bowburn School buildings already had to be supplemented by demountable classrooms, and the “scholarship class” (11+ hopefuls) were taught down at the old Miners’ Institute, by Miss Grady Jordan.

In 1956, Durham Rural District Council conveyed land to Durham County Council, between Surtees Avenue and the Welfare ground, to build Bowburn Modern School. The School was officially opened by Alderman W. Hirst, on 5 February 1959 (after teaching began there in Sept. 1958). The school was 3-form-entry, built to accommodate 450 pupils.

Bowburn Modern School in 1959

The first Headteacher of Bowburn Modern School was Allan Roxby. Vernon Campbell and Alice Thomson were joint Deputy Heads. The Chairman of the Governors was Cllr. J. E. Wright.

Children who passed the 11+ now went to Tudhoe Grange Technical School or Spennymoor Grammar School.


The DJ Evans Youth Club (known as “the Boys’ Club”, after its predecessor, though its charitable aims were to provide a service for both boys and girls) was opened by HRH the Duke of Gloucester, President of the National Association of Boys Clubs, on 25 October 1963. The new premises cost £14,000. The land was leased by the NCB to the National Association of Boys’ Clubs for £15 p.a..

Bowburn Secondary Modern School Brass Band was formed in 1965, under the direction of Mr. D. H. Whittaker. Mr. George Eales later (1974) took over responsibility for the band, and continued to lead it, through the formation of Landsdowne Comprehensive School in 1976, till that closed in 1985.

Coxhoe Modern School was officially opened on 11 February 1965. The school was later merged with Bowburn Modern School to form Landsdowne Comprehensive School.

After D. J. Evans retired, Thomas Sutton Gill became headteacher of Bowburn Junior School, in 1967. He had started his teaching career at Bowburn and then gone to teach at Browney. He was to remain at Bowburn until his retirement in 1993.


Bowburn County School became Bowburn County Junior Mixed School and moved to new premises at Surtees Avenue, in 1974, with Tom Gill as headteacher. The formal opening was on 15 October 1975, by County Cllr. George Fishburn, Chairman of Durham County Council. 

Bowburn Infant School then occupied the whole of the premises at Wylam Street, with the new headteacher, Mrs. Charlton, who took over from Mrs. Grierson. Most of the demountable classrooms were removed and a Nursery Department was added in the former infant school building.

Bowburn Junior School staff in 1974

Back row: Barbara Ogden, John Hope, Tony Smart, Jean Holmes, Ann Stevenson, Sue Woods and Dave McKenzie. 

Front row: Joyce Manning, Mary Lumley, Tom Gill, Ida Bell and Pat Richardson.

In 1974, Durham County Council put forward proposals to bring in comprehensive secondary education throughout the county. “As an interim measure”, three split-site comprehensive schools, each with 6-form entry (900 pupils each), would be formed, including Bowburn & Coxhoe Schools (11–16 years). All local sixth formers would initially go to Spennymoor Comprehensive School.

“Eventually, as resources become available, three purpose built comprehensive schools will be established by the extension of Spennymoor Secondary, Tudhoe Grange Secondary and Bowburn Comprehensive School” (extract from County Council press release). The field between the pit baths and the allotments was reserved for the future single site school at Bowburn.

(This “interim measure” proved later to be an interim before a quite different arrangement. Ten years later, the new Landsdowne Comprehensive School was being run down, prior to closure in 1985.)

Coxhoe and Bowburn Secondary Modern Schools were amalgamated to form Landsdowne Comprehensive School on 23 July 1976. Bowburn became the lower site (Years 1 to 3) and Coxhoe the upper school (Years 4 & 5). The Headteacher was Ian Bolt.

1980s & 1990s

In July 1980, Derek Sowell, Director of Education, presented a report to the County Council Education Committee, entitled “Falling rolls in primary and secondary schools: strategy for the 1980s”. In December the following year, Durham County Education Committee approved the closure of Landsdowne Comprehensive School, and other measures.

The Landsdowne Action Group led the campaign to keep the school open. The County Council’s Deputy Director of Education, Mr. Keith Grimshaw gave “a guarantee that your children will go to the schools named” – basically Johnston for Bowburn, Gilesgate for Cassop & Kelloe, and Tudhoe Grange for Coxhoe. In March 1982, a delegation from the Landsdowne School Action Committee met Rhodes Boyson, the Junior Education Minister (under the Education Secretary, Sir Keith Joseph) in London. In September, Sir Keith Joseph rejected their pleas.

Landsdowne Comprehensive School closed on 19 July 1985. The Bowburn school site had already been advertised for sale in June. The school was boarded up in January 1986, after considerable vandalism. In 1991, Shepherd Homes obtained planning permission to develop the sites of Bowburn colliery pit baths and Landsdowne School. This was superseded, in January 1993, by permission for a different development, granted to Barratts of Newcastle.

Tom Gill, headteacher of Bowburn Junior School, retired in 1993. George Ford was appointed in his place.

In 1996, Mr. Ford left to become headteacher of Reid Street Primary School, Darlington, and was replaced by Mrs. Lynne Lyons.

An Arabic School began at Bowburn Community Centre in 1997.

In 1998, Durham Johnston Comprehensive School started a weekly After-School Learning Club, at Bowburn Community Centre, led by Deputy Head Carolyn Roberts.

Mrs. Roberts subsequently left to become headteacher of St. Hildaʼs CofE Comprehensive School, in Hartlepool, but she returned as headteacher of Durham Johnston in January 2005, following the retirement of Richard Bloodworth.


Sandra Whithnall (formerly Neasham), headteacher of Bowburn Infant & Nursery School, left in July 2005. Her replacement, Christine Ormerod, could not start till January 2006, so there was an acting headteacher, Mrs. Cochrane, for one term.

A planning application was submitted in December 2006 for a new single site building, at Crossgate Moor, to accommodate Durham Johnston Comprehensive School. Site preparation work had started the previous month and construction began in September 2007. It was the first school in the county to be developed as part of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. It was planned to spend £29 million on rebuilding the school and improving facilities.

Durham County Council had already started to consider admission arrangements for the school when it all moved into the new building. Fears had been growing that Bowburn children might lose the right to attend what had been the village’s local secondary school since Landsdowne School closed in 1975. Apart from promises made at that time, Johnston’s lower school site at Whinney Hill was Bowburn’s nearest school. However the Crossgate Moor site was not. It was thought that Johnston would continue to be Bowburn’s local school, because of the County Council’s “assisted transport” rule. However recent legislation had cast doubt on the future of school transport.

Ernie Mann, deputy head at Bowburn Junior School since about 1988, retired in December 2008, after working in Bowburn for 33 years. Paul Soler was appointed the new deputy head.

The new Durham Johnston Comprehensive school building opened in March 2009. Students in the upper school (years 9 and above) moved into the new premises from the beginning of the summer term. The current years 7 and 8 then joined them from the Whinney Hill site in September, as did the new year 7.

Meanwhile the admissions criteria for the new school were still not finalised. Durham County Council’s first attempt to re-word them, to keep Johnston as Bowburn’s local school, had been rejected, in 2008, by the independent Schools Adjudicator.

Durham County Council Cabinet agreed new rules in May 2009, to take effect from September 2010. These listed a number of “Feeder Schools”, including Bowburn Junior School.

The new rules were overruled by the Schools Adjudicator in July 2009. He said DJCS must have the same admissions criteria as all other Community Secondary Schools in the county, for the next three years. The nearest school (measured by the shortest walking route – not necessarily along roads), for Bowburn north of the A1(M), was to be Gilesgate, and for Park Hill it would be Tudhoe Grange.

(As it turned out, both those schools were to close within a few years, meaning a further change of Bowburn’s “nearest schools”.)

Bowburn Infant & Nursery School held a party on 10 July 2009, culminating a year of celebration of Bowburn School’s Centenary – almost exactly 100 years after the school opened on 12 August 1909. Cllr. Brian Myers, the Chair of Durham County Council, congratulated the school and officially opened the Centenary Garden. Vice-Chair of the Council and local councillor, Mac Williams, and other local Councillors Jan Blakey and Dennis Morgan were in attendance.

Mrs. Julie Worral, deputy head of Bowburn Infant & Nursery School, retired in July 2010. Miss Claire Noble was appointed in her place and started teaching in Reception in September.

In March 2011, a public meeting was organised at Bowburn Community Centre, by John Denning, of Shincliffe, to urge local parents to help set up a new Free School in Durham. He said the school would serve areas south of Durham, including Bowburn, Shincliffe, Langley Moor and Browney. Four possible sites had so far considered: the old Whinney Hill School, part of Houghall Agricultural College, Old Shire Hall and the old Durham City baths, in Elvet. It was hoped to appoint a headteacher in December and to open the new school in September 2012.

The links below list events reported in the local press and elsewhere. They include items which are not specifically about schools but, for instance, mention local teachers or pupils engaged in other activities. All events are listed in datal order, not in order of importance. The number of events reported increased significantly after the village newsletter, Bowburn Interchange, began publication in 1996. That publication is now the best source for most recent information about the village’s schools – and everything else about Bowburn!

Schools & Education 1800s – 1920

Schools & Education 1920 – 1940

Schools & Education 1941 – 1960

Schools & Education 1961 – 1980

Schools & Education 1981 – 2000

Schools & Education 2001–  2011

A brief history of Bowburn's schools – video summary of presentation to one of Bowburn LHS's meetings in 2022