New Zealand, Paris, New York – the late  Florence Longman led an adventurous life.

Now the story of the founder of Chester’s The Firs School’s early life – including a spell as an illegal alien in America – is revealed in a book  written by son Ted.

The 'My Mother’s School' tale begins in New Zealand in 1904 where she was born Florence Heffern and describes how she left in 1927 in search of adventure.

Twenty years later she founded the private primary school in Chester and died in 1996.

Ted, a director at the school, said he was persuaded to write the book after sharing her story at the school’s thanksgiving service in 2012.

He said: “I was able to put the story together  in what I hope makes an enjoyable and enlightening read with help from my wife Ruth,  my family and others including staff members who knew my mother.

“My mother had a heart for children and she wanted each one of them who came to the school to flourish and grow.

“She could communicate with them and her sheer determination meant her achievements for the school were significant and lasting.”

After quitting New Zealand Florence travelled to England, before teaching at the Ecole Berlitz in Paris. France was swapped for Canada where she headed for Niagara Falls. 

Sightseers were able to cross the falls to the American side and back in a day without a visa.

Florence left her possessions at her hotel and crossed the falls never to return to Canada.

In America she changed her name to Margery Allen and worked as an assistant buyer for a large store in New York in the fur department.

During the Great Depression years she married Englishman Robert Longman and Ted was born.

The family left America in 1937 aboard the Queen Mary for England and settled in Chester, where in 1945 Florence rented a room in 15 Abbey Street, opposite the cathedral and accepted her first full-time pupil.

Numbers grew and the school moved to several locations.

In 1950 Florence rented the disused Army Married Quarters on the Firs estate, off Wealstone Lane, and employed extra staff.

The school moved next door to its present location in 1962, a former secondary school building.

Edward Timpson, MP for Crewe and Nantwich and Children and Families Minister, wrote the foreword for the book.

It reads: “The Firs has been synonymous with the Longman family for as long as most of us can remember.

“This book brings that relationship to life.”

All proceeds from the book will go to the Firs  School Bursary Fund. 

Copies can be obtained from The Firs School office, by contacting 01244 322443 or email

Founder of The Firs School, Florence Longman circa 1930s