School Bell "Returns
Home" to Bunce Court

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Bunce Court plaque unveiling, July 2007 (photo: Arthur Percival)
Bunce Court resident Graham Galer welcomes guests at the unveiling ceremony of a commemorative plaque and the return of the original school bell.
Bunce Court plaque unveiling, July 2007 (photo: Arthur Percival)
Julia Miller who, with husband George, played a leading role in organising the special day, gives some of the backgound to the links between Bunce Court and the Herrlingen School.
Bunce Court plaque unveiling, July 2007 (photo: Arthur Percival)
The perfect setting of George and Julia Miller's garden at Bunce Court... accompanied by (at the last minute!) perfect weather.
Ernst Weinberg at Bunce Court plaque unveiling, July 2007 (photo: Arthur Percival)
Ernst Weinberg, who arranged for the return of the school bell from his home in California, where it had been for 25 years.
Hans Meyer at Bunce Court plaque unveiling, July 2007 (photo: Arthur Percival)
Hans Meyer, a former member of the school at Bunce Court, unveils the plaque and original school bell.
Bunce Court plaque unveiling, July 2007 (photo: Arthur Percival)
The new plaque.

Right on cue at 3pm on Thursday, 19 July 2007, torrential rain gave way to bright sunshine to greet guests arriving at historic Bunce Court, Otterden.

They had come to see the return of the original bell for a school once located at Bunce Court and the unveiling of a plaque to recall a former resident, Anna Essinger, who died there in 1960.

The house was not just her home. From 1933 to 1940 and again from 1945 to 1948 it was where she ran a school, among whose many distinguished pupils were Frank Auerbach, one of Britain's finest living painters, and the late Gerard Hoffnung, the humorist famous for his comic London concerts.

Born in Ulm, Germany, in 1879, Anna, a non-practising Jew, went to live with an aunt in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1899. In 1919, at the end of the first World War and not long after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, she was asked by the American Society of Friends to organise Quaker post-War relief for children in the south of Germany.

Teaching turned out to be her real vocation. In 1927 she started a progressive co-educational boarding school at Herrlingen, near Ulm. To the pupils, many of them Jewish, she was not 'Miss', but 'Tante Anna' (aunt Anna).

When Hitler came to power in 1933 she realised there would be no place for such a school in his scheme of things. With the help of British Quakers she moved the school - lock, stock and barrel - to Bunce Court.

At first the official education inspectors were not impressed - everything was makeshift, and hand-to-mouth. But within a year or two new buildings had been added, and a replica Greek theatre even built in the grounds. The Whitehall hawks now recognised that they had a treasure on their hands.

In November 1938 came 'Kristallnacht' (the night of broken glass), when Nazi thugs terrorised Germany's Jews, setting fire to hundreds of synagogues. Anna, now regarded as a safe pair of hands, was asked to organise a reception camp at Dovercourt for 10,000 Jewish refugee children from Germany - the 'kindertransports'.

Their parents stayed behind, and most later died in concentration camps as a result of Hitler's 'Final Solution'. Dozens of the children she had rescued, effectively orphans, joined her 'New Herrlingen School' at Bunce Court.

The buildings were requisitioned by the military in June 1940 and the school found a new haven at Trench Hall, at Wem, Shropshire. It returned in 1945 but closed in 1948 because it had fulfilled its purpose.

Guests at the unveiling ceremony were mostly 'O.B.C.s' (Old Bunce Courtians). Several had come specially from the USA. Some had not seen Bunce Court since they left it over 60 years ago. Among non-O.B.C.s present was Hansjörg Greimel, from the school in Ulm now named after Anna Essinger, with four of his students.

Julia Miller and Graham Galer welcomed guests on behalf of the present residents at Bunce Court. Guest of honour was Ernst Weinberg, very much the inspiration behind the event arranging for the return of the bell from his home in California, where it had been for 25 years.

The plaque and the school bell were unveiled by Hans Meyer, a former member of school staff who lives in Doddington.

Report and photographs by Arthur Percival,
with additional material by Graham Galer.
To read more about Anna Essinger
and the Herrlingen School,
CLICK HERE

This page was last updated on August 3, 2007