Paston Grammar School

North Walsham



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(Much of what is written here is courtesy of "a History of the Paston Grammar School" by CR Forder)

"I was born September 29th 1758, in the parsonage house, was sent to the high-school at Norwich and afterwards removed to North Walsham......"

So Lord Nelson in his own memoirs, gives his own introduction, and records his entry to the Paston School. Nelson and his older brother and constant playmate, William were together sent to Paston School when Mr Jones* was Master. 

Contemporary records tell us that the school had approximately 60 boarders. The terms at the time were 18 per year for board and education, two guineas entrance, and thirty shillings per year for washing.

Some interesting pictures of Nelson's schooldays are preserved. The incident of the pear tree, is of course, well-known.

"The master, the Rev. Mr. Jones, had some remarkably fine pears, which his scholars had often wished for; but the attempt to gather them was in their opinion so hazardous, that no one would undertake it: when Horatio, on seeing his companions staggered, came forward and offered to brave the danger. He was accordingly one night lowered down from their dormitory by some sheets tied together, and thus, at a considerable risk, secured the prize: but the boldness of the deed was all that the young adventurer regarded; for, on being hauled up again, he shared the pears among his schoolfellows, without reserving any for himself; and added, "I only took them because every other boy was afraid." Five guineas were offered the next morning to  discover the plunderer: but young Nelson was too much loved for any boy to betray him."

It is on record that the pear tree in the Master's garden was still standing in 1850.

While Nelson was at the School, he like many another boys, had the measles. The year in which this happened has not been determined, but we hope it was not after the meeting at which the Governors instructed that the room over the "muck bynn" should be used as an infirmary. His nurse was a Miss Gaze, later Mrs Cressswell, the daughter of the parish clerk of North Walsham. In her old age. her small grandchildren stood much in awe of so distinguished a lady, who proudly related her story.

Even more interesting is a letter from Levett Hanson** to Nelson, dated April 29th 1802, which actually speaks of Nelson learning lessons in the Schoolroom.

"Your Lordship, though in the second class when I was in the first, were five years my junior, or four at least, and at that period of life such a difference in pooint of age, is considerable. I well remember where you sat in the schoolroom. Your station was against wall between the parlour door and the chimney, the latter to the right. From 1769 to 1771 we were opposites. Nor do I forget that we were under the lash of Classic Jones; as arrant a Welshman as Rees-ap-Griffith, and as keen a flogger as merciless Busby of birch-loving memory. Happy I am indeed, my Lord, to find, by your very kind letter, that Haec Meminesse Juvat...."

At the beginning of this present century there was a controversy in the local press concerning the schooldays of Nelson, and this letter was considered by Walter Rye as clinching the argument for Paston School. True, no school is actually mentioned, but Jones the Master is definitely named, and that is quite sufficient. Besides Nelson's own mention of North Walsham in his memoirs, he also states the fact in a letter to General Bulwer***.


St. George, Baltic   May 7th 1801


My Dear Sir


                      I not only remember you most perfectly well at North Walsham but am made happy in this opportunity of receiving a letter from an old Schoolfellow..........................


Believe me Dear Sir

Your ever obliged

Nelson & Bronte




A theory was advanced on Stacy's Norfolk published in 1829, that Nelson went "to a private seminary at North Walsham," but this has now been entirely refuted. In Christ's College, Cambridge, Admission Register it is definitely stated that William Nelson was at school at North Walsham under Mr. Jones, before he entered Christ's in 1774, and we know that the brothers were together at School at North Walsham.

There is a question as to the length of time Horatio was at the School. The general agreement is that he came soon after the death of his mother, so that he arrived at the beginning of 176. There has been some difference of opinion concerning the date of his leaving. Bigraphers Southey and Tucker say the spring of 1770, but the Hanson letter says 1771. Mahan cocludes, after calculations, that he was rated on the Raisonnable, 27th Nov. 1770, but says that this does not mean that he at once joined the ship. In fact McArthur says says, "The Raisonnable not being ready for sea, the two brothers returned, after their Christmas holidays were over, to the school at North Walsham, where Horatio remained until the spring of 1771. Some other evidence has been adduced to show the cause of the delay, and William Nelson said that his brother left the School in March or April. The traditional leave taking between the two brothers took place one dark spring morning, and this could not have been the springof 1770 as Horatio was not then twelve. We can be fairly certain that he was at the School for three years, 1768-71, while his brother remained for six, 1768-74.

Two relics of Nelson's schooldays are preserved at the School, a Brick and a Pencil Box. Both have a history. Apart from these two items the school has preserved Nelson's scoolroom and has its own Nelson collection.


Nelson's Brick

 A brick in the School wall with the initials "H.N." was known to the schoolboys at the beginning of the nineteenth century as "Nelson's Brick," but later, when the school declined, the tradition was forgotten. It came to light in 1881 in quite an exciting way. In that year there was a great storm which blew down a number of very fine poplars that ran along the eastern end of the playground. The School had three days holiday in order to fell the trees and cut up the remainder. Just at this time an Old Pastonian, William Rider Haggard, of Bradenham Hall, arrived at the School, accompanied by his son Henry, afterwards the well-known Sir H. Rider Haggard. The father remembered that in his schooldays, sixty years previously, a brick was in the playground wall, bearing the initials "H.N.", and this had always been pointed out as being "Nelson's Brick." The tradition had been forgotten in Dry's time. The wall was inspected with the light of a lantern, for the autumn evening had closed in. The brick was found. It had very narrowly escaped destruction during the storm, as a tree had fallen just at this point. The brick was taken out by Mr. Wimble and preserved in the School House, where it still is.


Nelson's Pencil Box

The pencil box has had no such exciting history, but perhaps for that reason we can be surer of its authenticity. It came into the possession of the School in 1932: indeed this was the first time its existence was known to the School authorities. It originally belonged to Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy, R.N., Lord Nelson's great friend. It was bequeathed by him to John Hardy, who left it to his great-granddaughter, Miss Pamela Hardy. From her it was purchased by Mr. Hubert Palmer, of Eastbourne, who retained it for a few years only, and then offered it for sale with many other Nelson relics. It was purchased in 1932 for the School from Messrs. Christie's. It has a brass plate affixed to it, presumably added by Hardy, inscribed:


Box used by

Horatio Nelson

at his School

at North Walsham

Norfolk, 1770.



Nelson's Schoolroom (and the Nelson Collection)

The original entrancehall to the schoolhouse contains the Nelson Library. From here a doorway leads to the "Nelson Room" where the young Horatio took his lessons. 


The school's Nelson collection, in addition to the brick and pencil box, includes paintings, engravings, busts, personal items and other Nelsonia. There is a Beechey copy of that same artist's original Nelson portrait which is displayed in St Andrew's Hall, Norwich.


In 1907 Louis N. Parker wrote the current school song. It extends to six verses but I will here just transcribe verse four, which refers specifically to Nelson.


'Twere long to tell of all who came,


Their names are on the role of fame, 

   And never shall be lost.

But stand and shout as the last we bring:-

HORATIO NELSON - of him we sing,

   For he is our proudest boast1

His eye was clear and his head was cool,

   His glory is our star;

For ehat he learnt at the Paston School

   He taught at Trafalgar



Such was the Paston School!

Such is the Paston School!

And we will see

That such shall be

For ever, the Paston School!


   *John Price Jones

Headmaster 1767-1778


Contemporary reports tell us that "having elected the Rev. Mr Jones for the schoolmaster, the School has flourished to such an unexpected degree, that he has now, and has had some time, 60 young gentlemen boarders in his family, to the great advantage of the town."

Jones was noted particularly for classics (indeed he was nicknamed "Classic Jones"), but he began the mathematical tradition of the School. A number of his pupils proceeded to Caius, and figured in the Mathematical Tripos.

The Revd Jones is mentioned on his wife's tombstone in North Walsham's churchyard as "Master of the Free Grammar School of North Walsham". When and where Jones himself died we do not know, very probably at Patton or Knapton, but there is no record of his burial, nor is there a monument to him at either of these two places. He came to the school a mystery, and he left it in the same way, but not before he had played his part in its history.


**Levett Hanson 1754-1814

Schoolfellow of Nelson


Hanson left the Paston School in 1771 and after two years with a private tutor went up to Cambridge. His subsequent career was somewhat unusual. He travelled on the continent, stayed much at foreign courts, and held important positions in the various orders of knighthood which abounded on the continent. He was Knight Vice-Chancellor of the Order of St Joachim, 1800, and was instrumental in having this order conferred upon Nelson. The latter's acceptance occasioned the letter from HAnson to Nelson, which describes their schooldays. Sir Levett, as we may call him, for he was a knight of many orders, published in 1803 An Accurate Historical Account of all the Orders of Knighthood at present existing inEurope. Very probably no other man in Europe was cxapabl;e of attempting such a task. The book was dedicated to Nelson, and Hanson explains the reason in a letter to his mother written from Hamburgh in 1802. "...It will be inscribed, with his permission, to my old schoolfellow, Lord Nelson, with whom I studied at Noth Walsham Academy from 1769 to 1771.

Levett Hanson died in Copenhagen in 1814, and his death was much lamented by many courts of Europe.


William Earle Bulwer 1757-1807

Schoolfellow of Nelson


Bulwer was a member of the family of Bulwers of Heydon Hall. He was Colonel of the regiment of Norfolk Rangers, raised by himself, and afterwards he was promoted to General.

"He was an athletic, strongwilled and ambitious soldier, with a rough temper and the gout. He quarelled with his mother-in-law and frightened his wife. He was one of four generals entrusted in 1804 with the arrangements intended to meet the expected invasion by Napoleon, and was in high hopes of a peeriage, when he died suddenly at Heydon Hall in 1807.