Lichfield is a rural settlement about midway between Putaruru in the north and Tokoroa in the south on State Highway 1.
In 1884, Lichfield was a thriving and active settlement, consisting of just 16 residents who were all involved with farming, tourism and the development of some 250,000 acres of land.
The Thames Valley Land Company had based its activities at Lichfield and built the homestead for its manager who in 1884, was Mr AF Halcombe. A coach service operated by Mr G Keeley ran from Morrinsville until the railway was complete. The telegraph office and post office were run by Mr G O'Hallaran, who was the first postmaster. The water tower and the stone building (used initially as the hotel billiard room) remain standing today.
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. Mr Freeman's house still stands, today owned by the Berg Family.
The schoolroom was a large 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. Ministers traveling to and from Cambridge, Morrinsville or Auckland would attend there. Several of the early pupils were later married in the same schoolroom in which they were schooled.
The Land Co had invested in land stretching from the Kaimai and Mamaku Ranges through to Atiamuri. One of the first problems was building access roads and during this time, several surveyors were employed in the area. Many of their families had school-age children - one of whom was a surveyor by the name of Mr JH Jackson. His sister Miss CM Jackson became the first teacher of Lichfield School when it opened as a private school on 11 August 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.
Miss Isabella Kells arrived in February 1889 and worked at the Lichfield school as a teacher. In her farewell speech, Miss Kells remarked on the area, "There was a two-storey hotel, a few 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 10 July 1938. She is buried in the Putaruru cemetery. Today's junior class occasionally visit the gravestone and tidy the site when they study the history of the area.
Acknowledgement: Lichfield School website.