In 1884, Lichfield was a thriving and active settlement, consisting of 16 residences associated with the business of farming, tourism and the development of land in the area consisting of 250 000 acres.
The Thames Valley Land Company had based its activities at Lichfield and built the homestead for its manager, who, in 1884, was Mr A F Halcombe. A coach service operated by Giles Keeley ran from Morrinsville until the railway was completed. The telegraph office and post office was run by Gerald O’Hallaran, the first postmaster. The water tower and the stone building (used initially as the Hotel billiard room) offer remaining proof of their existence.
Miss Jackson and class in 1887
The Schoolroom was a hall provided by the Thames Valley Land Company Ltd and stood on the present tennis courts, in line with the swimming pool. At that time it was the main meeting place for church services, marriages and funerals, the Ministers travelling from Cambridge, Morrinsville or Auckland. Several of the early pupils were later married in that same schoolroom. In 1888 a visitor to Lichfield called Vaughan, died suddenly and was buried in the small cemetery near the School.
The Stone Building
The Land Co. had invested in land stretching from the Kaimai Ranges and Mamaku Ranges through to Atiamuri.
Of course, the first problem was access roads and several surveyors were employed during this time. Many of their families had school-aged children – in particular the surveyor Mr J H Jackson, whose sister Miss C M Jackson became the first teacher of Lichfield School when it opened as a private school on August 11, 1884. Five children attended that first morning. It is hardly surprising that the fathers of these children were the main petitioners to the Education Board for the establishment of an official school in 1885. The board accepted the responsibility for the maintenance of the school and confirmed the appointment of Miss Jackson as teacher. She continued in this capacity until 1889.
Travellers to Rotorua or Taupo would stay overnight at the Lichfield Hotel, owned by the Heanys, continuing the next day by horse-drawn transport provided by Mr Freeman.
His house still stands, today owned by the Berg Family (below)
A change of writing in the school roll signifies the arrival of Miss Isabella Kells as teacher, commencing February 28, 1889. Miss Kells described the area on her arrival, in her farewell speech of 1926: “There was a two-storey hotel, stores, a butcher shop, railway houses and a bank and it was nothing to see 40 or 50 settlers with their buggies at the station. At that time Putaruru consisted of two houses and Tokoroa was nothing but a wild plain.”
Certainly Miss Kells must have loved the area and its inhabitants because she taught at the School for 24 years and remained in Lichfield until her death on July 10, 1938. She is buried in the Putaruru cemetery. Our school leaders visit the gravestone each term and take a 'Miss Kells' rose as a sign of respect.
Miss I F R Kells in approx. 1905.
(Acknowledgements to The Lichfield School Centennial Committee for information).