St Margaret Mary School: The Beginnings
The building of St Margaret Mary School has to be set against the social, political and educational climate of the time. In 1932, the development of the new housing in Currock was almost complete. Education was in a period of change and reform. The main findings of the Hadow Reports had been published and Local Authorities were being asked to respond to changes implied in these various reports. It was a time of financial stringency for local councils.
The Catholic children living in Currock were either going to local schools, which were already overcrowded, or to St Cuthbert’s school. The older children were going to St Patrick’s School. There were also other schools in the area, St Stephen’s School on James Street and St John’s school, which eventually became Greystone Road.
The original proposal to build a new Catholic School in Currock was first put forward in February of 1932. The proposal was made by the managers of St Cuthbert’s and St Patrick’s schools. The main proposer was The Reverend Thomas Harker who was the parish priest at our Lady and St Joseph. Proposals were published in The Carlisle Journal on Friday April 22nd 1932. The co signatories were; R Craven of 9, Portland Square, F.A. Jacobs of 62 Warwick Square and R.W. Wright of 56 Petteril Street.
Land for the proposed new school on Blackwell road had been purchased in 1927. The plan was to build a school and a church on this site.
The School Management Committee meeting in May of 1932 resolved that, “in view of the present financial position” they were unable to approve the building of a new Catholic School in Currock. They had considered representation from The Director of Education, Frank Ashton and from Dr Gerald Sheehan.
At a full council meeting on 12th July 1932 it was proposed that the resolution of the Schools Management Committee be adopted. Councillor Sheehan proposed by way of amendment that the resolution not be adopted. The amendment was lost by 19 votes to 13
The case for a new school was presented in Council by Dr Sheehan, this having been seconded by Mrs Hallaway. He argued that with overcrowding in local schools, the distance from St Cuthbert’s and the dangers inherent in crossing Botchergate, a new school in Currock was both feasible and justifiable. In addition to this, the managers of St Cuthbert’s had suggested that they would be willing to amalgamate their two schools, thus freeing a headmistress to take charge of the new school in Currock at no extra cost to the Authority.
Dr Sheehan paid tribute to the Catholic community who had raised the capital cost of the school….”And may I help you to realise the keenness and earnestness of the Catholics by telling you that for ten years they have been scraping together bit by bit this money to build the school…” He also reminded Council of how the Catholic Schools had responded so well to school reorganisation in 1925.
Frank Ashton, Director of Education argued that building small schools was both financially and educationally unsound and was against their own policy. The Catholic Authorities should look at provision as a whole in the city. It may be possible to extend existing provision. There were other Catholic Schools within 2 miles of Currock. There were other schools with surplus places even closer.
The Board of Education after an enquiry, upheld the Council’s decision and the proposer, Father Harkin was formally informed of this decision on 26th October 1932.
A further attempt to exert some pressure on the authorities was made by Sir John Gilbert of the Catholic Education Council. Sir John argued that the wishes of Catholic parents were being ignored and that this was in contravention of section 19(1) of the 1921 Education Act. These arguments did not persuade and there the matter ended.
Letters of the day reveal Father Harker to be a courteous and somewhat undemanding man. The same could not be said of the Rev Patrick Begley. He was a resolute and determined champion in the cause of St Margaret Mary. Patrick Begley was appointed to St Margaret Mary Parish in 1935 and it was through his efforts that the school and church were built.
Typical of the man was the opening sentence of his letter to The Board of Education on April 5th 1936: ….”it is our intention to build a school…” The site on Blackwell road was deemed not suitable for the building of a new school and he set about finding another one. In this he was successful and in a letter to a Mr Woodward at the Board of Education he says: “ you did set me a difficult task. However, fortune favours the brave.”
He had employed an architect, one Mr Badger from the Cunard Building in Liverpool, to come up with a design for the project. Badger was obviously somewhat concerned about the fact that Father Begley was insisting on plans for an all age school (contrary to Hadow proposals), so much so that he contacted the Board of Education for advice. There is no record of what happened but in the end plans were produced for an Infants and Junior School of 300 pupils.
The original plans show a 2-storey building with Infants on the ground floor. However, this, as well as the orientation of the school, was changed. The former was probably due to the Director of Education’s response to the proposal sent to The Board in January 1937.
Formal notices were published in The Cumberland News on September 5th 1936 an signed by Patrick Begley,Henry McDermott,William Brunskill and Edward Leary.
The Board received two appeals against the proposals. On was signed by 42 ratepayers, the other by 10 ratepayers from the affected area. It turned out that only 9 were bona fide ratepayers and the appeal had been forwarded by the Secretary of The Carlisle Free Church Council, thus prompting in the press reports that opposition was actuated by religious bigotry.
The appeals argued that when the Council had made its decision to approve the proposals, both the chair and deputy chair were absent. (The former had in fact died!) This fact had put the Council at a disadvantage. The Education Committee were opposed to the proposals and they claimed that strong opposition to denominational education had been expressed in all wards. They supported the Authorities own scheme for education in Currock, Upperby and Harraby.
In the meantime Father Begley had assiduously collected all the names of the Catholic children in the area. His contention was that the school should be able to open with numbers not far short of 200 and that when house building at Harraby was completed the roll could rise to as many as 300.
The council had approved plans for the building of 10 schools in the city, including the Currock and Upperby areas, so in effect the building of a new Catholic school at no capital cost to the Authority would in fact save them money. In terms of School reorganisation in line with the Hadow Report, the Catholic schools were leading the way. Both Upperby School and Bishop Goodwin School were all age schools and new provision for Senior schools was needed. Catholic Senior children were going to St Patrick’s School.
A very detailed minute from the Board of Education dated 17th February 1937 summarised the various arguments and recommended that the proposals be accepted for a school of up to 300. It judged that the new school would help to relieve the overcrowding in existing schools, and that it would not interfere with the Authorities reorganisation proposals. It further judged that the 2 objections were made “chiefly on irrelevant grounds”.
The architect’s plans were sent backwards and forwards between the Local Authority and The Board of Education. Mr Badger in April complained to The Board that he was having “some difficulty with the local Director (Frank Ashton). However in August of 1937 Father Begley was able to write to Mr Heath at the Board of Education and assure him that all the proposed changes had been effected. He also wished him..”a good holiday and plenty of sport with the fishing.” !
The Architect’s certificate for the satisfactory completion of the building was issued on 24th June 1938
It was proposed that the new school be opened on August 2nd 1938. Father Begley again wrote to Mr Heath in July of 1938 complaining that the Director was dragging his feet over the issue of furniture. Relationships seemed to be at a low ebb when in a letter of 25th July Father Begley claimed that the Director was refusing to see him and that he would not sanction the appointment of the teachers. Father Begley had acquired sufficient furniture for the school, which he hoped, would meet with approval.
Clearly irritated by Father Begley’s persistence, Ashton the Director of Education wrote in reply from a letter to Mr Dakin H.M.I. on the matter of the supply of furniture: ”These people who deal at Burton’s and similar mass production places think you can get furniture off a peg”. In addition to this he stated: “I do not propose to send the registers and text books until we are satisfied that the school is satisfactorily furnished and ready for occupation.”
The Board of Education, intervening on behalf of the Director informed Father Begley that should he open the school without the consent of the L.E.A., the Managers would become responsible for all expenditure including salaries. The letter from Heath at the Board of Education dated 26th July gives an insight into what it must have been like to deal with Patrick Begley. The reader will need to judge for himself. Heath concludes his letter by politely refusing Father Begley’s offer to come up to London. “I am sorry I cannot say that this will advance matters”
His persistence, however, paid off.
After a final protracted argument over the responsibility of who should pay for the cost of a sandpit, St Margaret Mary School was recognised and began admitting children on 3rd October 1938.