Jarrow St Bede's Boys School 1872-1972

(This is a transcript of the booklet produced in 1972 to mark the centenary of the school)

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It was pleasant that the Editor of the commemoration of the 100th year of the birth of St Bede's Boys' School at Jarrow, should select as writer of this memorial, some one who had the heart and mind to stress those many important topics, things and persons encountered during this period of time.

So many subjects are dealt with as matters of education, yet the event we celebrate gathers in 50,000 living souls, each had an hour, a day, a year that for him was success or failure, grief or sorrow The headmaster, we remember, who wisely cooled the ardour of a Ministry Inspector by remarking that for him Education was entirely secondary.

I welcome this pleasant attempt to fill in the many gaps of 100 years with new thoughts of joy, surprise and knowledge enough to awaken a memory of other days and in some ways perhaps better days from which new thoughts may spring.

Wilfred Blenkin.

It is with pleasure that we record the help and courtesy we have received over the years from the Jarrow Borough Council, Durham County Education Authority and Her Majesty's Inspectors.

In the production of this booklet we wish to thank Mr. Felix Sullivan for his major contribution, and Mr. Frank Sutherland. We wish to thank also Mr. Michael Mackin for providing some of the old photographs and Mr. F. Walke for the new.



Before 1870 very few children in the country received any kind of education at all, although there were grammar schools and private schools, but these were only for those whose parents were able and willing to pay the necessary fees. The number of schools in the North-East was well below the national level, although the churches made great efforts to provide some education. With the growth of population it became impossible for voluntary societies to keep pace.

In 1870 the State decided that local School Boards should be set up all over the country to provide municipal schools, but it was not until 1876 that attendance was made compulsory for children between the ages of five and ten. Schools were started by the churches, Catholic, Church of England and Nonconformist, very often in buildings most unsuitable for the purpose.

poster announcing opening of a Board School in Drury Lane, Jarrow in March 1872

A copy of a poster announcing the opening of a Board School in March, 1872 is here produced. This was in a disused theatre, Drury Lane, Jarrow, under the control of Hedworth, Monkton and Jarrow School Board. It seemed that any building, large enough with four walls and a roof, was considered to be satisfactory for the education of young children.

On the 8th January, 1872, the East Jarrow School was opened for boys and girls. It has often been thought that it was a mistake to provide a school at such a distance from the residential part of the town, but, the answer to that is, the school was situated, as near as possible, in the centre of the built-up area in 1872. There were people on the South Shields' side of the Don Bridge to be provided for as well as those in "West Jarrow". Again, could a more appropriate site be found for a school, whose patron was the great St. Bede, than the very spot where that reknowned scholar and teacher spent all his life, and who brought to Jarrow the title "Cradle of English Learning"

picture of St. Bede's school, East Jarrow


The first head teacher in 1872 was Miss Heffernan, and her staff consisted of one pupil teacher and three monitresses or candidates - these were girls of thirteen or fourteen years old who assisted in the school and received instruction from the head teacher. There were 112 pupils in the school, which apparently, at that time, consisted of one large room and two smaller rooms and it was not until 1889 that partitions were built to separate the classes. From the records of the school in its early days one can obtain an idea of the difficulties experienced by children and teachers, and wonder how they managed to learn anything at all. Books, stationery, slates, pencils etc. always seemed to be in short supply, as these had to be provided by the Manager, the Parish Priest, from his allowance paid by the local School Board, and the amount depended upon the annual report of the Inspectors. The working conditions were most unsatisfactory, the classes being overcrowded and underheated, while the children's desks were long benches, seating up to ten children, the seats being without back rests. Some of those desks were still being used in 1939, when the school closed at the outbreak of the Second World War. The head teachers found the conditions so unbearable they departed in quick succession

as there were three of them in two years, when in November 1873 the first headmaster was appointed Mr. Bertram Edwards. He resigned through ill health at the beginning of January 1876 when Miss Alice Quinlan took charge. Later that year the school was completely re-organised and became a school for boys only, the infants and girls being transferred to Monkton Road School where additional accommodation had been provided.

11th August 1876 was a notable date as it marked the beginning of a wider outlook in education under the direction of the Marist Brothers, who served the parish for thirty years. The Brothers had a difficult task ahead as the educational standard of the school was understandably very low, owing to the many changes in the Staff during the previous four years, not to mention the difficult conditions under which they had to work. Over and over again the records mention the serious shortage of equipment and the poverty of the children, many of whom were hungry, ill-clothed and without footwear. The children were supposed to pay school money, only a few coppers a week, but many were unable to afford even this small amount, and could not be provided with books, slates or writing materials. In spite of all this, the school gradually improved educationally, and the Inspectors were able to report favourably on the progress made.

At first the school staff consisted of two Brothers who were qualified teachers, and were assisted by Pupil Teachers, some of whom stayed long enough to pass the necessary examinations to enable them to proceed to the Teachers' Training College at Hammersmith, London, the only College at that time for men. As the number of boys increased, more Brothers joined the Staff, until by 1892 with 490 boys on the roll there were four Brothers, three monitors and a pupil teacher.

An important person in those days was the School Board man, whose duty it was to enquire into the reasons for absence. Attendance Registers were very important and had to be carefully kept, and they were open to inspection by the School managers, representatives of the School Board and the Government Inspectors. Any of these could come into the school at any time to examine the registers and check the number present. The salary of the head teacher depended upon the average attendance, not on the number of scholars on the roll. In 1896 Mr. Young was appointed School Board man and he became a well known character in the town, a striking figure with a thick black beard, long black coat and a heavy blackthorn stick, he had a voice that could be heard 200 yards away. He was affectionately known as "Pudden" Young and he had only to enter a street to clear it of all life in ten seconds. Gossiping mothers and playing children disappeared indoors and there would have been complete silence but for his bellowing voice calling out the names of the children and the banging of his stick on the doors, However, he managed to do his job satisfactorily and he had the position for about twenty years. Others followed him in the thankless task of driving unwilling pupils to their lessons. We still have them today, but they have the more dignified title of Children's Welfare Officers.

Entries made by the head teachers in the school records give a distressing picture of the poverty, sickness and general hardship of the people of Jarrow towards the end of the nineteenth century -

April 1886.It seems that the parents of many children are out of work and are unable to buy books for them.
April 1887.I find there are 209 children in the school who have not yet got their books.
June 1889.School closed for four weeks on account of epidemic of measles.
May 1890.Attendance very irregular, caused chiefly by children being sent home for their school fees.
Nov. 1891.Very poor attendance for the past few weeks owing to measles and bad weather.
Dec. 1891.Received 40 pairs of shoes from Rev Father Hynes, a great number of children being barefooted.
Jan 1892.Very low attendance owing to the great snowstorm.
April 26th.The manager provided the top classes with oranges on account of good attendance.
Jan 1893.Children get free dinners in the school. This will continue until times become better in Jarrow.
Feb. 1893.Received 50 pairs of clogs for the children.
April 1893.The free dinners ceased today.
Dec. 1893.Free dinners supplied to 61 children today.
Jan 1894.There is still a great deal of sickness and privation in the district.
Sept. 1896.There are still a great number of children absent through sickness, chiefly measles.
Dec 1896.The children of the poorer classes are suffering greatly during this severe weather. Many of them have no boots and are badly clothed.
April 1897.Allowed 20 boys out of school to attend the funeral of a classmate who died of consumption.

In 1902 the Local School Boards were abolished and the control of all schools was vested in Education Committees set up by the Local Government Authority - the Jarrow Borough Council. The Managers had to provide and keep in good repair the buildings and were responsible for the appointment, who were now paid by the Local Authority. Some improvements had been made in the structure of the school by the provision of three extra windows, six washbasins fitted in the yard, later covered by a wooden shed, two classes obtained dual desks, and five stools were received for the use of the teachers.

There was no playground available, the yard being little bigger than that of an ordinary house. All outside activities had to take place in the adjoining street and road, which was then the main road to South Shields. "Drill" had to be taken, and this consisted of some arm and trunk exercises, knees-bending and stretching and marching up and down the road forming fours - two deep - single file, with a break every now and then to allow the traffic to pass. A big improvement took place in 1914 when the East End Park was opened having been given to the Council by the local landowner, Mr Alfred Chaytor, who suggested that it be named the Drewett Playing Field in memory of his uncle Mr. D. Drewett, from whom he had inherited the estate. It was known more commonly as "Charlie's Park" as the first park-keeper appointed was Charlie Harrison. It was quite a boon to the school as it became the school playing field.

In 1906 there came a bolt from the blue in the form of a resolution of the Education Committee, who stated that they had considered a report on St. Bede's Boys' School by H.M. Inspector. This stated that under the present Head Teacher pupil teachers could not be continued there. Subsequently the Committee decided that the Head Teacher should be replaced by a trained certificated teacher. It was realised by the Catholics of Jarrow that this was an attempt to remove the Marist Brothers from the school as it transpired the Committee required a Head Teacher with two years' college training whereas the Brothers had only one years' training. The Committee had power, under the law, to refuse to recognise a Head Teacher on educational grounds. A deputation from the congregation met the Authority to present their views, and the assistance of the Bishop was sought and the result was that Father Henry Mackin from Washington was appointed Parish Priest in the hope that a younger parish priest, who was not in conflict with the local authority, would be able to bring about a more considerate attitude by the Committee. Father Hayes, whose health was not good at the time, agreed to the arrangement and succeeded Father Mackin at Washington. The new Parish Priest failed to influence the Committee although he submitted the name of Brother Francis, who had previously served the school with complete satisfaction. By a narrow majority the Committee carried their view and the Brothers' association with Jarrow came to an end. Mr. Joseph Parkinson was appointed headmaster in succession to Brother Michael. There is a record in the School Log Book of a resolution passed by the School Managers expressing "great regret at the departure of the Marist Brothers from the Boys' School" and "they put on record their high appreciation of the services they have rendered to the school and wishing them all success in their future educational work".

When Mr. Parkinson took over the school there were three male qualified teachers, three qualified female teachers, and two pupil teachers on the staff, and the classes ranged from Std. 1, seven years old to Std. 7, 13 years old. The numbers in the lower classes were very large while in the upper classes the numbers were small. The reason for this being that children were promoted on merit and had to reach a certain standard in Arithmetic, Reading and English before proceeding to a higher class.

picture of the teaching staff in 1928


There was still much unemployment in the town and many children attended without shoes or adequate clothing - the outfit of some children being only a "gansey" (woollen jersey) and a pair of trousers, often thin and ragged. The jobs of the men depended upon the work in hand at Palmer's Shipyard. When a ship was completed, hundreds of men were paid off until another order was obtained by the firm. No "dole" was paid in those days and those in need had to apply to the Poor Law Guardians for a meagre allowance. Hence there was much distress and hunger in the town. To the more needy children dinners were provided at Croft Terrace School. This was the state of the town at the outbreak of the 1914 - 1918 war when Government orders were received which provided full employment. Many of the former pupils joined the Forces and a good number made the supreme sacrifice, others served with distinction and were awarded medals for bravery. Some of the teachers also joined the Forces and one of them Mr. Leo Kelly was killed in action.

During the war years lady teachers were again on the staff of the school and did excellent work under great difficulty. An entry in the log book for 16th June, 1915, reads, "A zeppelin raid took place on Jarrow last night. Several persons were killed and many injured. The attendance at school has been affected adversely in consequence of the excitement etc., of the occurrence".

In 1914 the new Junior School in Harold Street was opened and the lower classes (237 boys) were transferred there, as were five teachers also. The school now became St Bede's Senior Boys' School but it was seldom called by that name and was usually known as "Low Jarra School".

The teachers in the above photograph are: (seated l to r) Felix Sullivan, Sep McLarney, Ned Burke
back row: ?, - Gleeson?, Joe Golden, Hughie Cunningham, Frank McKenna, Dan Gleeson, Paddy Corr

After the war things returned to normal and teachers who had been in the Forces returned to the school and gradually the staff became an all male one. In spite of the conditions under which they had to work a very high standard was reached and many boys reached Scholarship standard, but, as their parents were so poor, they could not avail themselves of the opportunity of further education. Some did get the chance, if the parents could afford to pay for books and travelling expenses, and most of these went on to college and university.

In 1920 a school football team was formed under the direction of Mr. W. Rice and in its first year won the Palmer Cup. From then on the school team had a remarkable run of success and won every trophy in almost every season until the outbreak of the second world war in 1939. In 1922 Mr. Rice left and the running of the team was put into the hands of a small committee of teachers with Mr. Ned Burke as coach. Of course the school had a great advantage over most of the other schools. It was the biggest boys' school in the area covered by the league - over 450 boys to choose from, and in addition had a football pitch at the school door. Hundreds of supporters followed the team, as in the twenties and thirties, Jarrow was again "in the doldrums" as far as work was concerned, up to eighty per cent of the men and boys unemployed. The poverty and distress in Jarrow and district has been told over and over again, and there is no need to repeat the story here, but the children suffered hardship and boys again were poorly clothed, bootless and hungry. The Mayor's Boot Fund provided footwear for those in need and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul assisted, but funds were low and only a few families could be helped.

In spite of all the difficulties faced by the staff and pupils a report of the Inspectors in 1938 showed that a very high standard of education was reached. "The headmaster and his staff are to be heartily congratulated on what they have accomplished under very poor working conditions".

picture of pupils in the early 1930s


When one sees the beautiful schools of today it seems unbelievable that only about thirty years ago boys had to be educated in such deplorable conditions as existed at "Low Jarra" School. 450 boys in a building with a floor space which would not be large enough for a gymnasium in a modern school. Three of the rooms had two classes separated by moveable partitions five feet high and each room had only one fireplace. In the winter the boys near the fire were so hot that they were half-asleep, and those away from the fire shivered and were blue with the cold. At times the ink was frozen in the inkwells.

There was no comfort in the long backless desks which had no storage space for books and materials, so that everything had to be distributed before lessons, and collected and checked afterwards, then stacked away in cupboards which were inadequate. Many a time there would be a terrific crash from the back of the room, as forty tins of "Reeves Greyhound Pastels" slipped from a shelf and hit the floor.

There was no water supply inside the building, no staffroom or inside toilet arrangements. The headmaster's desk was in a corner of the middle room which also had two classes. When visitors came to see the head they had to be interviewed at his desk, which was a distraction for the two classes and teachers, or attended to in the small entrance porch which at times was a greater distraction, and often provided some entertainment as irate parents "said their piece".

The depression of the twenties and thirties caused a large number of past pupils to leave the town. With mass unemployment, dole and means test the younger and able-bodied young men left the town to seek work - even whole families were uprooted when the breadwinners found employment and had managed to make homes in other parts of the country, chiefly in the South and Midlands. There were others who emigrated to America and Australia. Many of these in time did very well

picture of Belsfield School


in their jobs in their new places of abode and managed to hold responsible positions. The Merchant Navy also attracted many St. Bede's boys and some of these went right to the top as skippers, deck officers and engineers, a common saying often heard is "Wherever you go you'll find a Low Jarra Lad".

A a result of recommendations made in Inspectors' reports the Education Committee provided new furniture, but enough for only three classes - dual desks for the boys and new desks for the teachers, added to in 1939 by six tables and forty-eight chairs but these were not long in use before the Second World War closed the old school for good. The staff when the school closed consisted of:-

Mr. J. S. McLarney  Mr. J. Golden
Mr. E. H. Burke  Mr. A. Joyce
Mr. F. Sullivan  Mr. D. Gleeson
Mr. P. Corr  Mr. J. O'Brien
Mr. H. Cunningham  

From a recent issue of the "Daily Telegraph" :
"Alterations to a Yorkshire school costing more than £50,000 will include a bar and beer cellar. The alterations at Cleckheaton Grammar School include squash courts, bowling alley, sports halls, a cafeteria and the bar and beer cellar. The bar will not be open during school hours or used by under 18's".
School buildings have changed quite a lot in 10 years.

The War caused a major upheaval in education throughout the country. From cities and towns considered vulnerable to enemy attack from the air, millions of children were evacuated to safer areas. In September 1939 our children were evacuated to Crook and Willington, but many of them came back home in a few months. While air raid shelters were being erected in or near the schools a system of house shelters was set up. Children attended in small groups, classes arranged in houses near their homes. Teachers who had not been evacuated visited these children in various parts of the town, and gave them instruction and set them homework. Not a very satisfactory arrangement, but it was an attempt to continue the children's education and keep in touch with them.

A heavy air raid on the town in 1941 caused the second evacuation, this time to Barnard Castle. It was during this raid that Father McDonnell died and shortly afterwards Mr. McLarney also died. As shelters became available schools were reopened, and the Senior Boys were accommodated first at Mayfield, on a part-time basis and later to Harold Street shared with Junior Boys and Girls. Mr. Burke became headmaster in September 1941 and continued there until his retirement.

After the war things gradually returned to normal and teachers who had served in the Forces returned, but the Senior Boys were still "lodgers" in Harold Street. While conditions were far from satisfactory, with three schools in one building, the teaching went on very smoothly through the co-operation of the three head teachers Mr. McPeake, Miss Brennan and Mr. Burke, and their staffs. In 1947 a new classroom was built for the boys who had to stay on an extra year due to the raising of the school leaving age to fifteen years.

On 31st December 1953, Mr Burke retired owing to ill-health and Mr. P. Corr was appointed as the new headmaster. On 11th January, 1956, Mr. Daniel Gleeson died in hospital, after being a member of the staff for some 29 years.

Early in 1960 preparations were under way for the transfer of the Senior Boys to Belsfield School, and on 2nd May, 1960, the Senior Boys took up their residence at Belsfield.

In December, 1966, Mr. P. Corr retired as headmaster, and Mr. H. Cunningham assumed the role of Acting Headmaster until Mr. G. Doran was appointed as the new headmaster in November, 1967, and Mr. Cunningham then retired from teaching. Both he and Mr. Corr had spent over 40 years each on the Senior Boys' School Staff.

During recent years two demountable classrooms have been erected which gave space to establish a woodwork room and an art room. The playing fields have been extended and the school grounds have been improved. A fifth form has been established taking the Certificate of Secondary Education and remarkably good results have been achieved. Currently there are 30 boys voluntarily staying on at school in the fifth form.

In September, 1971, a further double classroom block was erected and a mixed class of 19 boys and 18 girls were allocated places to follow a course leading to the General certificate of Education.

We began our hundred years under Miss Heffernan as a mixed school and we now begin our second century with girls in the school. At the present time our Governors and Members of the Diocesan Schools' Commission are planning and negotiating the many difficulties in the reorganisation of Catholic Secondary Education in Jarrow. We ask God's Blessing on those who plan; we thank God for the many wonderful teachers and pupils who have passed through our schools and we look forward with vigour and confidence to the future.

I pray thee, loving Lord Jesus, that as thou hast graciously granted to me to drink with delight the words of thy knowledge, so thou wouldst mercifully grant me to attain one day to thee, the fountain of all wisdom, and to appear forever before thy face. (St. Bede)

The Staff, 1972:

Mr. G. L. Doran  Mr. A. McDonald
Mr. H. J. Brennan  Mr. D. Scott
Mr. T. Bushell  Mr. M. Coyne
Mr. F. Sutherland  Mr. A. Bays
Mr. R. McNally  Mr. E Wanless
Mr. P. McNally  Mrs. T Doran
  Miss. A Hodgson

The following former pupils of St. Bede's Boys' School became priests:

Rev. Father William O'Hagan
Rev. Father Edmund Kane, M.C.
Rev. Father Anthony Bryce
Rev. Father Francis Bradley
Rev. Father Patrick McNamara, S.M.A.
Rev. Father Thomas Finnigan
Rev. Father David O'Connor
Rev. Father Oliver Conroy, C.S.S.R.
Rev. Father Gilbert Conroy, C.S.S.R.
Rev. Father Gerard Crumbley
Rev. Father Raymond Crumbley
Rev. Father Gerard Keegan, M.H.M.
Rev. Father Francis Keegan, S.J.
Rev. Father Leo Johnson, C.J.
Rev. Father Henry Woodman, C.J.
Rev. Father Patrick Connelly
Rev. Father Terence Kerr
Rev. Father Raymond McMullen
Rev. Father William Hughes

Others joined Religious Orders as Brothers:

Rev. Brother Joseph Goss
Rev. Brother William Hughes
Rev. Brother Joseph Gilligan
Rev. Brother Raymond Traynor
Rev. Brother Lawrence Fox
Rev. Brother William Crumbley
Rev. Brother Francis McCabe

Many old pupils of St. Bede's Boys' School became interested in local politics and were elected councillors and aldermen some of them becoming Mayor of the Borough, e.g.:

David Riley  Joe Connell
Paddy Scullion  Harry Duggan
Joe Symonds  Denis McCluskey

One of the above Joe Symonds O.B.E. was elected to Parliament and has recently retired after a lifetime of public service.

Two old boys of the school are holders of the George Medal:

George Richardson  Former Superintendent of the Fire Brigade, for outstanding bravery in rescue of men trapped in a fire aboard a ship in the river.
Shaun James  at the age of 21 for great gallantry while serving in Ulster in 1971.

picture of teaching staff in 1971


front row l to r: Mrs Doran, Harry Brennan, George Doran, Tommy Bushell, Miss Hodgson
back row: Ray McNally, D Scott, Mr Collins, Eddie Wanless, A Bays, Tony McDonald, Philip McNally, Martin Coyne, Frank Sutherland

picture of Class 1 in 1971


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