|Trumpington Local History Group
The School House, Trumpington,
and William Butterfield
|Text copyright © David Taylor, 2011. Updated 2 February 2011.
The School House, as its name implies, was built to accommodate the Master of the adjoining
school. It is situated in Church Lane and, together with the school, is in close proximity to the
village church which stands on the opposite side of the road.
The house was constructed in 1857 under the supervision of its designer, William Butterfield, an
eminent Victorian architect, and its main interest lies in being a simple but influential minor work
by an architect associated with a grander and more explosive style of building.
It can be considered, together with some other examples of Butterfield's smaller domestic
buildings, as an important step in the development of the later vernacular style of English
domestic architecture. This style, in turn, was to have an important influence abroad at the end
of the 19th century.
|Extract from 1885 Ordnance Survey
map, showing the School with the School
House to its east.
|William Butterfield's model plan for a school and school house
(Instrumenta Ecclesiastica, 1852).
|The main difference between the model design and the Trumpington School House is that the
latter is free standing rather than attached to the school. The explanation for this no doubt lies in
the difference of their date of construction. The free standing nature of the house in
combination with its plan size in relation to its height and its roof form and chimneys give it a
mystical, Medieval, appearance.
|Plan of Trumpington School House. Source: Cambridgeshire Archives.
|Victorian social structure is well illustrated in the plan arrangement. There is a clear division of
the house by the entrance hall and staircase, which separate the sitting room and principal
bedroom from the service rooms and secondary bedrooms. The census of 1861, four years
after the house was built, shows the occupants to be the Headmaster, his schoolmistress wife
and a servant girl. A visiting schoolmistress and a local nurse were also in the house on the night
of the census.
The building plans of the house also provide information on the domestic arrangement of the
time. On the ground floor, a space for cloaks is indicated under the stairs, a drop leaf table with
drawers under the kitchen window, a copper and a sink in the scullery and ample fitted shelving
in the pantry. Upstairs, the landing area contains a cupboard for the storage of linen. A free
standing outhouse located some yards from the rear outside door leading to the scullery
contained a large wood store, a toilet and a container for refuse. The latter was most likely used
for ashes, as it is labelled 'dust' on the plans. Foul drainage took the form of separate cesspits
for the toilet and scullery sink, both at some distance from the house.
Butterfield was considered to build to the standards of comfort expected at the time and he
even went as far as to install hot water central heating in his later, larger houses. At
Trumpington, all rooms except the scullery and pantry were heated by open fireplaces which,
from the evidence of the outhouse, burned wood rather than coal. The copper in the scullery
was placed back to back with the kitchen hearth so as to share the chimney. The plans show
the design of the flues in detail, arranged to obtain good updraft.
|North and West elevations of Trumpington School House. Source:
|The spaces within the
building are distinctive.
Although the room sizes are
modest, the main rooms
being 12ft square, this is
augmented by an ample
ground floor ceiling height of
8'6". This produces a more
cubic space which is one
regarded as giving an
atmosphere of repose.
Upstairs, the rooms are even
more lofty, with the ceilings
carried up into the roof
space to the level of the
collar beam. The whole
interior of the house
produces an uplifting effect
which is likely to have been
a deliberate choice by
Butterfield to give a spiritual
feel, reinforcing the mystical
Medieval feel of the exterior.
|Section through stairs and
porch, Trumpington School
|The Construction of the School House
The builder employed by Butterfield was L. Gray & Son of Post Office Terrace, Cambridge.
Constructional drawings with the signature of the builder are retained in the Cambridgeshire
County Records Office. These drawings do not bear the name of the architect but are likely to
be the signed contract drawings which have found their way to the Records Office from the
local builder's effects.
The construction of the house is in brick loading walls, foundations and chimneys; part solid
and part suspended timber ground floor, timber first floor and roof construction with a clay
plain tile roof finish. This constitutes a construction system which is still in use for two storey
The lower two brick courses of the walls are stepped out to give a larger load bearing foot.
Elsewhere, concrete or rammed rubble were alternative materials commonly used for
foundations. External walls below ground are 18" thick, decreasing to 14" above the damp
proof course at a level between the ground and the first floor. The damp proofing at
Trumpington is formed by a course of slates. Later Victorian building, after 1860, often used a
layer of bitumen as it was less liable to crack with any movement in the building. Intermediate
internal foundation walls, to support the ground floor timber joists in the sitting room, were
narrower at 9" and the remainder of the ground floor would have been clay brick paviours over
rammed rubble. The bricks are honey grey Cambridge stocks probably from the Burwell
brickyard which was in operation at that time. The brick-and-a-half wide solid wall was laid in
English bond which was Butterfield's preferred method rather than the alternative Flemish bond
which was used in the later extension to the house. The mortar used lime as a base rather than
cement which is used now. Lime mortar has the advantage of being soft and is resistant to
thermal movement without cracking.
The School House has some stone detailing in the window sills and in the top of the plinths
under the south window bay and in the porch. Brickwork over window and door openings is
carried on pointed brick arches that are flush with the wall and have an infill of brickwork over
the flat window and door heads below. These arches are structural as shown by the recent
collapse of a brickwork panel below during a window replacement. The chimney brickwork is
highly detailed with carefully constructed splays of raked brickwork and the articulation of
individual flues within the stack.
|South elevation, Trumpington School
House. Source: Cambridgeshire
|Appraisal of the School House
Butterfield's Trumpington School House is an interesting example in the development of English
domestic architecture. While demonstrating the strong mid-Victorian interest in the Medieval
style, it also points the way to later developments in housing design.
The Medieval ethos is clearly seen in tall, narrow shape which is exacerbated by the steep roof
and towering chimneys. Another Medieval motif appears in the use of pointed brickwork arches
over openings in the external walls. These, being flush with the wall, are however less
emphasised than those at Butterfield's earlier Woolstone Parsonage (1851) which project and
are therefore more visible.
The strongest Medieval details are found in the porch and even more so in the extraordinary
south bay which appears to be a design unique to Butterfield. The first floor window head detail
had been used in his earlier design for a school house in Altington in 1850 and the timber frame
pattern, in a modified form, in the later Lodge in Hursley. A unique combination of the two
appear at Trumpington. In particular, the pattern of a cross within a diamond seems to have no
precedent in any timber frame work.
|East elevation, Trumpington School House. Source:
|Many features of the house relate to the later English vernacular style at the end of the century.
The Builder Magazine of 1865 refers to Butterfield as the leader of the English Farmhouse
School. Thompson, in his definitive study of Butterfield, is of the opinion that his domestic
work outlasts his churches as an active architectural influence. Architectural historians generally
agree that Philip Webb's Red House, designed two years after the School House, is a seminal
building in the development of domestic English architecture. As the only contemporary
buildings known to be sketched by him were Butterfield's, it can be assumed that Webb was
influenced by his work. Many of the features of the School House, simple brickwork, hipped
gables, small pane glazing and irregular fenestration, appear in the Red House. This strongly
indicates the significance of the Trumpington School House, alongside other work by
Butterfield, in the development of later house design.
|School Building Programme
The Victorian period saw an unprecedented increase not only in the quantity of construction but
also in the variety of types of building. One major area was a school building programme which
accompanied an expansion in education. This was initially the responsibility of the Church and,
later, the Government.
In the early part of the 19th century, education, while meeting practical and commercial needs,
was seen as an important agent in the stabilisation of society at a time of perceived unrest and
change. The Church was considered an important influence in this aim, with its established
educational centres and Sunday Schools teaching morality.
The early day schools were funded by charities or by endowments from local private sources
but the Church soon followed, setting up organisations for the provision and administration of
schools. The Anglican Church's National Society formed what were known as National Schools.
Due to an increase in the importance of education, the Government gradually became involved
and eventually, not without some conflict, it took over the administration of schools from the
Compared with other areas of population growth, Cambridgeshire has a considerable number of
elementary schools built between 1780 and 1835. The first school in Trumpington was thriving
by the 1780s, when the Pemberton family took responsibility for the endowment. It was one of
the first schools in the county to introduce the Monitor system of teaching following a
promotional speech given in Cambridge by Joseph Lancaster, one of the first advocates of the
In 1842, Trumpington Parish in partnership with Trinity College purchased a site on the north
side of Church Lane for a National School. This was built the year after with two classrooms to
accommodate a total of 100 pupils. An existing cottage adjoining the school served as a house
for the School Master. In 1857, a new school house was built to the design of William
Butterfield, a London architect.
Victorian Domestic Architecture
In England during the 19th century, the choice of architectural style for domestic buildings was
wider than ever before or since. Designs included rustic cottages, Italian country farms, Gothic
castles, French chateaux, Scottish baronial castles, Swiss cottages and Indian bungalows.
It is difficult to summarise such a diverse and complex mixture of styles, but in general, housing
design for the upper and middle classes shifted from a classical influence to the picturesque or
gothic during the first half of the century. The later form of the Medieval style is generally
attributed to Augustus Pugin. He advocated the use of the Gothic pointed arch as the only true
expression for Christian architecture together with more practical aims such as the virtue of
sound construction, true expression of the building materials and a sober and sensible
arrangement of accommodation.
These principals can be seen in the vicarages, parsonages and school houses designed by
architects such as George Street and William Butterfield, one example being the school house in
William Butterfield's connection with Cambridge stemmed from his membership of the
Cambridge Camden Society, later known as the Ecclesiological Society. This was a learned
architectural society formed in 1839 by undergraduates, mainly from Trinity College. It
promoted the return to a Medieval style of architecture based on the middle pointed, or
decorated period of English Gothic architecture. In this respect, it followed the views set out by
Augustus Pugin although this was never acknowledged by the Ecclesiological Society due to the
fact that Pugin was a Catholic. Butterfield himself, despite never attending a meeting of the
Society, was considered to exemplify its chosen style.
His commission to design the Trumpington School House was most likely due to his contact
through relevant members of the Society with Trinity College, which purchased the land for the
Butterfield was among the leading architects of the Victorian era, the favourite architect of the
Ecclesiological Society and the creator of important buildings in the High Victorian style. He
came from a tradesman's background and was self-taught but had a detailed knowledge of
construction and was well thought of by his clients.
'Architects and contractors are an unstable lot of fellows in general, though I have been spoilt
by old Butterfield who kept his time to an hour, never exceeded his estimates by a shilling
and whose work, some of which I have known for forty years, seem as if it would last for ages.'
John Duke of Coleridge in a letter (1894)
He ran, by all accounts, a happy office with loyal staff. He prepared all the design drawing and,
until his later years, all the working drawings and details. The execution of the building work
was closely supervised with frequent visits by Butterfield and also by a site clerk on larger
projects. Materials such as bricks and tiles were always sourced locally but stone and timber
were obtained from larger firms of good reputation.
Butterfield resisted contemporary French and Italian styles of the time which were favoured by
some Victorian architects and he was consequently thought to characterise a style which was
harsh and ruthless in its use of materials and its structural expression. Yet as well as being an
architect of the High Victorian style, he was also a romantic medievalist and a country builder at
ease with common brick, pit sawn rafters and simple details.
The Design of the School House
The Victorian school and the School House were purposely situated in close proximity to the
village church and vicarage as befitted their close relationship and their standing as important
buildings in the hierarchy of village life. The Ecclesiologist magazine was of the opinion that
after the church, the school should be 'the prettiest building in the village'.
|The School House from
Church Lane. Photo:
Andrew Roberts, January
|The School House, with the former Church School
to the west and Church Lane to the north east, from
Maris Lane. Photo: Andrew Roberts, January 2011.
|The Church, School and School
House, looking west from
Church Lane. Photo: Andrew
Roberts, January 2011.
|The Trumpington school building has now been so altered that it is not particularly rewarding as
a study of Victorian building. While the addition of an infants' room in 1867 was in keeping
with the original building, later extensions and use by a more modem school has left little of
social or architectural interest. In contrast, the School House has retained its original character,
which has not been unduly affected by a wholly sympathetic Victorian extension. This
consideration will however concentrate on the mid-19th century section of the house.
Of all Butterfield's school houses, the one in Trumpington follows most closely the plan and
form of his model design for the simplest village school which was published in Instrumenta
Ecclesiastical in 1852.
|The shape of the original building is distinctive for a detached house, being tall and narrow. The
plan is a long rectangle with the main entrance, through a covered porch, positioned centrally on
the east side. This opens into a small hall with a dog leg staircase standing opposite on the far
wall. To one side of the entrance hall is the sitting room and to the other is a kitchen with a
scullery and a pantry beyond. Upstairs, the rooms are to either side of the landing with the main
bedroom over the sitting room and the secondary bedrooms on the kitchen side. The extension
of the house, sometime before 1901, creates an additional ground floor room with a bedroom
above on the service side of the house. This extension closely corresponds to the original
building and is likely to have been built before Butterfield's death in 1900, however a different
brick bond was used and this may indicate that he was not involved in the later work.
|The east elevation of the School
House. Photo: Andrew Roberts,
|The main rooms are located at the southern end of
the house with windows facing due south. The
remainder of the original rooms are at the northern
end having east west windows with the scullery and
pantry positioned in the coolest part of the house
with north facing windows. Rooms are well lit with
windows placed where needed to give internal light
rather than conforming to an external architectural
pattern. This is best shown on the north and west
elevations with their irregular fenestration. On the
west side, the smaller kitchen window is not centred
with the bedroom window above but located to give
the best light to the cooking hearth. The staircase
window, to the right, is placed at mid-storey level to
illuminate the winder treads on the stairs. Likewise,
on the north side of the house, the windows are
placed centrally in the respective rooms, ignoring any
pattern of external vertical alignment.
|The south elevation and garden of the School House.
Photo: Andrew Roberts, January 2011.
|The roof is a timber king post construction. The rafter feet on inner timber wall plates hardly
project from the face of the external walls, producing clipped eaves. These, together with the
window frames set flush with the outer wall, date the building at before 1860 after which
Butterfield favoured projecting eaves and windows set back into the walls. The roof pitch is a
steep 57° and typical of the architect's early work. The local clay plain tiles are able to prevent
water penetration at a much lower pitch so the steeper angle is, in part, to give head room to the
bedrooms. It could also be a conscious design objective as it follows Pugin's recommendations
that roof sections form equilateral triangles.
Windows and doors are painted wood. The sash windows have small pane glazing. Larger
sheets of glass were available but the small scale division by glazing bars was a particular
feature of Butterfield's work. The large south facing windows to the sitting room and bedroom
above are constructed in a shallow brickwork bay and separated by a panel of timber framing
and plaster infill which forms a highly decorative external pattern. The head of the upper
windows are further embellished with timber detailing to reproduce Medieval cusp work. The
interior of the ground floor window is fitted with shutters and a window seat.
|The porch and window
structure of the east elevation of
the School House. Photo:
Andrew Roberts, January 2011.
|The roof line and chimney of
the School House. Photo:
Andrew Roberts, January 2011.
|The windows on the south elevation of
the School House. Photo: Andrew
Roberts, January 2011.
|The porch of the School House. Photo:
Andrew Roberts, January 2011.