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Anniversaries and birthdays have a way of slipping by us unnoticed and it was only at the last moment that we realised the 2nd of February was the Fiftieth Anniversary of the opening of St Bede's Harold Street School. The event seemed to warrant some celebration and we intend to mark the occasion with a Solemn High Mass of Thanksgiving and, for the children, some more material form of rejoicing. At the same time, it seemed that the people might welcome an account of the history of our schools. We have to remember that six years today all the old schools which have served us so well, will, with the exception of this school, have disappeared taking with them old landmarks and much history. The history is a glorious and touching record of the fight of the Priests and Faithful of Jarrow to have and retain Catholic Schools for Catholic Children under Catholic management. And then, it may remind us of the Faith and constancy of our parents and help us to emulate their example and value our hard won heritage.
St Bede's Church was opened on 27th December 1861, and within months of that event small House-Schools began to spring up, one in Caledonian Road, another in Hill Street. Of these we have have no details, but that is how the story starts. On the 19th October 1868 the first real school was opened, the "Chapel Road School" for Older Girls, one large classroom now identified by the three windows in Chapel Road. That the first school should be for "Older Girls" may seem strange, yet it testifies to the foresight of Father Meynell who saw in them the Pupil Teachers who were to staff the school of his dreams, and some of them, indeed, from being Pupil Teachers at the age of 12, rose to full teacher status. Meanwhile a new school was being built and, on 28th March 1870, the Monkton Road Junior School, identified by windows overlooking Monkton Road, was opened. The idea of school building seemed by now to have taken possession of the small Catholic Community, for almost at once yet another school was begun and on 8th January 1872 a single room Junior School was opened among the White Cottages at Low Jarrow and in the shadow of St Paul's Church.
In those days it must have seemed but Midsummer madness, yet it was a glorious story of Faith, Hope and Sacrifice for Priests and people.
Four schools in four years, with no public assistance for building, furniture or the payment (a few shillings a week) of teachers, and only an insignificant grant for pens, ink and paper, not to mention slates and squeakers. The cost was high, and what remained? Four schools, a huge debt and the birth of a zeal for the education of children which, thank God, still inspires the people of Jarrow. The fourth school has not yet been identified. Where were the Infants? Since 1870 they had been growing up, like another great Institution, in the Catacombs. Yes! in the basement of Monkton Road, but two years later a new school was built for them in St John's Terrace (now the large room between the Church and the Junior School) Thus, what is now Monkton Road School was then actually three independent schools, each with its own Head and Staff.
By 1875 the Low Jarrow School had become a Boys' School, and the Juniors had concentrated at Monkton Road. In 1878 the Marist Brothers came from Ireland and took up residence in the Men's Institute - soon called St Bede's Monastery - and began thirty years of wonderful work at Low Jarrow. Under them it grew and maintained a tradition of scholarship, vigour and Spartan living, of which many interesting anecdotes - some grim, some light-hearted - are still recalled. No doubt distance lends enchantment. The Brothers parted company with Jarrow under peculiar circumstances, being unable to satisfy the Board of Education as to their qualifications which, though outstanding, did not carry University degrees and looking back over the years we must conclude that the real reason was prejudice against Teaching Religious. In spite of strenuous opposition from Priests and People, they left Jarrow in 1907 and Mr. Joseph Parkinson was appointed Head Teacher.
In the meantime, the Monkton Road group had been organised as one school and by 1880 it was bursting at the seams. Hearsay, which we cannot confirm, has it that there was a small school for Older Girls in Grant Street (probably in a house) but the first official notice we have records that on 23rd November 1885 the Older Girls were transferred to a new School at Grant Street (Miss Mary Stevens). On the site, Acca House was built, intended as the Convent for a Religious Community as the counterpart of the Brothers at Low Jarrow, but the heavy call upon Nuns in other parts of the country prevented the fulfilment of this wise plan.
Thus it was that from 1885 to 1902 the Faithful had the comfort of a full Catholic education for their children. But 1902 brought a new Education Act making sterner
demands upon space, accommodation and amenities and our schools fell far short of these. Although the Government was ready to pay more towards the running of the schools it refused any help towards building. Low Jarrow and Monkton Road Schools had desperate overcrowding and only the Grant Street School was within sight of what was now required. Fortunately, these demands were also beyond the means of most Local Authorities and that gave us a breathing space. Between 1909 and 1914 it became clear that some of the Junior Girls in Monkton Road must find a new school or go home, and accommodation was devised for them in the Men's Institute from which the Brothers had now departed.
In 1912 land was purchased in Harold Street, a former clay pit and refuse dump and on that site rose, and was opened on 2nd February 1914 (Mr. Septimus McLarney) that fortress of a School which today celebrates its Fiftieth Anniversary. Strong and soundly built, with twenty-four classrooms (four of them added in 1916) and places for practically 1,000 pupils, today it shows no signs of fifty years wear and tear. The cost for the whole building, £12,000, was a fortune in those days. Yet £12 a place is the sweetest music compared with the present cost - over £340 a place; in fact the costs for remodelling this school, which is to begin within months, is £35,000 for 400 pupils. Mr McLarney was promoted in 1922 to the Headship of the Senior Boys Schools and Mr Edmund McPeake fathered the school through the next twenty-nine years, retiring on 27th July 1951* when Mr Ambrose Joyce, the present Headmaster replaced him. In the Girls School Miss M. E. McFeeley was the first Head Mistress followed in 1932 by Miss C. Brennan, in turn followed by Miss Mary Mulholland in 1951 and Miss Mary McGarry in 1961.
Once again we must commend the wisdom of the Parish Priest - Canon Mackin. He had planned the school on revolutionary lines, grouping the children, contrary to accepted practice, 5 to 6 years, 7 to 10 and 11 to 14 as Infants, Juniors and Seniors respectively, but twelve years later the Board of Education vindicated this enlightened view and in the Haddow Report declared that in future all schools must use this method of grouping. We led the way!
The blessing of the school was unfortunately accompanied by the spectre of the First World War and soon after by the blackest days in Jarrow's history. As so often happens, the end of a war is followed by an educational advance, and in this case it was the birth of the idea of Central Schools - heralded as the working class entry into
* The booklet incorrectly gives this date as 1961.
the professions - and this became the Canon's target. By 1920 he had purchased 6½ acres of land at Butchers Bridge, with a large and commodious house, to this he added a large Hall, (for thirty years to serve as St Matthew's Church) and on 22nd May 1920, the year of his Silver Jubilee, he opened Belsfield Central School. (Typical of the man, amongst the contributions towards the cost was £830, his Silver Jubilee Presentation)
This ambitious venture was entrusted to the "Daughters of the Cross" who occupied the Convent adjacent to the school and to this Religious Order many Jarrow Girls dedicated the rest of their lives. During 1925 the Sisters had to relinquish the work, and after a short interval Miss A.M. Hetherington took charge with a lay staff from which Miss M. Hallas was chosen to follow Miss Hetherington on her retirement in April 1956. This school marked the high-water of Catholic education in Jarrow and attained both prestige and results. In 1959 the Catholics of Jarrow Hebburn, Pelaw and Felling were called upon to provide a Grammar Technical School at Hebburn and in this connection the Ministry of education, accepting the plea that the "Belsfield School" was "equal in status in esteem" to a standard English Grammar School, gave a grant of £25,000 towards the building of the new St. Joseph's Grammar School at Hebburn, to which the pupils and staff were transferred on 4th September 1959, and the Belsfield School ceased to exist. No school could ask for a finer tribute after nearly forty years of sustained efforts.
The drain of paying for Belsfield in 1920 kept Catholic development quiet until in 1928, two large dwelling houses in Pine Street were purchased and remodelled to make the new Mayfield School for Senior Girls (Miss Jackson and later Miss Mary Baker, 22 years; 1st September 1961, Miss Mary Mulholland). Grant Street then became a new Infant School for the West of the Town (Miss C. Brennan, followed by Miss M. Husband), 1932-1950 and in 1950 Miss A. Mulholland, the present Head.
The years from 1920 to 1939 were the days of unemployment and social distress in which Jarrow earned the name of "The Town that was Murdered" and from the standpoint of Catholic education after the establishment of the "Mayfield School" there was no advance, for the Second World war broke out in 1939. From that time onwards it would be quite impossible to chart the comings and goings of schools and children but the following are probably the outstanding features:-
1964 - The Harold Street School will be remodelled - work should begin by Easter
1966-67 Programme -
Building of New Boys' Modern and Girls' Modern - Butcher's Bridge.
Monkton Road Infants - New school at Princess Street.
Grant Street Infants - will take over Mayfield (remodelled)
Since the war, St Matthews parish built, and opened in 1956, a fine modern school for Juniors and Infants (Present roll 336).
In 1962 St Mary's of the Assumption opened a similar school (360).
All three parishes contributed to the building of St. Joseph's Grammar School at Hebburn, in virtue of which we are entitled to close with the record that, at least in part, this fine Catholic Grammar School crowns our story.
There our story must pause and await the unfolding of history. It is a story of which we must be very proud. Another pen might have painted a gayer picture but time and space have been short. It will prove a happy and fruitful hunting ground for the searcher after errors, to whom I commend the verdict "Well, they did their best".
We close by offering our hearty congratulations to Mr. Joyce and Miss McGarry, to their staffs and children on the event we celebrate.
We thank Almighty God for His goodness and blessing over the years, Our Lady and St. Bede for their prayers.
And with a glimpse over our shoulders, we look back with admiration and gratitude to those who went before.
|SISTERS OF MERCY
|LITTLE SISTER OF THE POOR
|SISTERS OF MARIE REPARATRICE
|FRANCISCAN MISSIONARIES OF MARY
|HELPERS OF THE HOLY SOULS
|DAUGHTERS OF THE CROSS
|WINIFRED JOYCE (nee Lamb)
|SISTERS OF CHARITY OF JESUS AND MARY
|SISTERS OF CHARITY OF ST. PAUL
|SISTERS OF LA SAGESSE
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