So farewell then, HORSA…

No, not the legendary Saxon brothers Hengist and Horsa. We have just said goodbye to the Frith Centre, the last remaining HORSA hut on our site, as it has been demolished to make way for our new entrance and training suite.

Frith Centre

The Frith Centre, most recently used as our temporary searchroom

But what exactly is a HORSA hut, and why is its name all in capitals?

Well, HORSA is an acronym – it stands for ‘Hutted Operation for the Raising of the School-leaving Age’. HORSA huts were temporary buildings provided at schools across the country in the late 1940s to solve the problem of overcrowding caused by the raising of the school-leaving age to 15 under the Education Act of 1944. Schools which had enough places to accommodate pupils up to the age of 14 suddenly had to fit in an extra year’s worth of children, and didn’t have anywhere to put them – which is where the HORSA huts came in.

There were a lot of changes happening in the education system in the late 1940s, including the raising of the school leaving age, the introduction of a three-stage system of education, and the institution of three types of secondary school. There were also rather more children about than usual, due to the post-war baby boom!

The 1944 Education Act completely redesigned the education system in England and Wales. Before the Act, the national education system had consisted of “elementary” education (basic education, compulsory for all children, from infants up to the school-leaving age, which was 13 up to 1918, and then raised to 14 until 1944) and “secondary” education (advanced vocational or academic education for those over 11 who needed it). This was replaced by the three-stage system we still know today, consisting of “primary” education for all children aged four to 11, “secondary” education for all children aged 11 to 15 (the school-leaving age was raised again to 16 in 1972), and “tertiary” education for those aged over 16 who needed it (either “further” education at college or sixth form, or “higher” education at university).

In Gloucestershire, children had been educated in all-ages elementary schools ever since the late 19th century. Some senior schools had been opened in the 1920s and 1930s in the larger towns to take the older pupils from the towns and surrounding villages, but many smaller schools continued to cater for pupils right up until they left school. After the Second World War, the local education authorities had to provide secondary schools to take all of these older children, but money was scarce and some areas didn’t get their new secondary schools until the mid-1950s.

The Education Act 1944 also established a three-stream system for secondary education: grammar schools to provide an academic education, technical schools to provide a technical, scientific and engineering-based education, and secondary modern schools to provide a practical, vocational-based education. The grammar schools already existed and the senior schools were mostly converted into secondary modern schools, but more technical and secondary modern schools needed to be created from scratch to take all the children who would need to attend them. The eleven-plus exam was introduced for all children, to determine which type of school was most suitable for them. In theory, this system was supposed to allocate children to the school which would give them the best education for their aptitude, whether they were academically, technically or practically inclined. However, in practice, not enough technical schools were provided, and the system quickly became regarded as two-tier, with the secondary modern schools being seen as inferior to the grammar schools. This system fell out of favour in Gloucestershire in the 1960s, and with a few exceptions the grammar and secondary modern schools merged to form comprehensive schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Another factor affecting the schools in the 1940s and 1950s was of course the baby boom. It’s possible to track the boom through the County Council’s education records: at first, more infant places and infant furniture and supplies were needed, then after a few years the infant numbers fell but more junior places, furniture and supplies were needed. Then, by the late 1950s, it was secondary school places that were at a premium. New schools were provided when the local education authorities could afford to do so, but in the meantime many schools operated under overcrowded conditions and had to use temporary accommodation – such as HORSA huts.

The fall in pupil numbers at secondary schools when the baby boomers had worked their way through the education system and left school coincided with the rise in favour of the comprehensive system. Rather than several small secondary schools, the local education authorities decided to amalgamate them into one big comprehensive school for each area: for example, Tewkesbury used to have four secondary schools, a girls’ secondary modern and a boys’ secondary modern, a girls’ grammar and a boys’ grammar. These were all closed and replaced with the co-educational Tewkesbury School in 1972.

Back to our HORSA huts! As you may know, our building was opened in 1926 as Kingsholm Council School, and it was an all-age school until the 1950s, catering for infants, juniors and seniors in different parts of the building. It became a boys’ secondary modern school in the late 1950s until its closure in 1973. The school was run by the Gloucester City Education Committee and they provided the HORSA huts in late 1947 and early 1948.


Storage, workshop accommodation and County Archaeology store.

There was one long hut along each side of the school, and a smaller one to the right of the main gate. In the later years of the school there was also a wooden temporary classroom which stood more or less where our new entrance is being built.

The huts stayed on the site when the Record Office took over in 1978, although the wooden classroom was demolished when the building was converted for us. The northern hut was converted into lecture rooms and a coffee lounge in the mid-1980s, and the other two have been used as storage for us, additional workshop accommodation for our conservators, and a store for the County Archaeology Service. The hut to the right of the gate was demolished in the late 1990s to expand our car park. We refurbished the customer coffee lounge in the early 2000s, at which point the northern hut was renamed the Frith Centre after Brian Chapman Frith MBE, our longest-standing researcher. In 2008 the Family History Society moved into one end of the Frith Centre and we refurbished the lecture rooms so that they could be used as a training suite and hired out. Then most recently the lecture rooms have come in very handy as our temporary research room while the main building was remodelled.

Now that we have all moved into the main building, it is time to say goodbye to our last remaining HORSA hut. It has given us and our predecessors good service for seventy years – which isn’t bad considering it was only ever intended to be a temporary building!


Karen Davidson

2 thoughts on “So farewell then, HORSA…

  1. Thank you Karen for the update and very informed History about HORSA huts which I did not know. Averil Kear

    Sent from my iPad



  2. Pingback: Blogging a building (19) | Gloucestershire Archives

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