My contribution is benefiting from the whole range of previous entries, for which many thanks, and my memory banks have been stirred to awaken neurones dormant for 45 years. I’ll begin at the beginning, aged 8 years and 1 month.

How did I come to attend this memorable seaside home from home?

Although I’d been born in Ilford (and I am still a bit of an ‘Essex boy’) my dad, and his brother both returned from London to their home town of Blackburn in 1948, at the inception of the NHS. They’d both doctored their way through North Africa and Italy in the RAMC and my father, High Anglican by birth, had converted to Catholicism in 1938 aged 21y. Back in Blackburn QEGS, his ‘Proddie’ alma mater, was not a school he or my Irish mum could consider so the search for a ‘good’ RC grammar school began. I’m sure Stonyhurst fees were beyond their means and Prior Park was too far away in the pre-motorway era so having an older cousin, Brian Cronin, who was at SJC (see prefects pic.1951/2) the decisive die was cast.
In the early days of the National Health Service toiling in General Practice was single handed and the doctor’s wife was nurse / receptionist / mother and guardian of the gate rolled into one ….so my brother Peter followed me to board at St Joe’s in 1958 and my sister Marian subsequently started at Layton Hill in 1965 (but she was 11y by then).

First impressions of boarding

My first inkling of the change in my life was of meeting Brother Dolan (Gandy) the headmaster and sitting an entrance exam in the main house at school. I only discovered this letter of acceptance very recently.

Subsequently reality set in when a day trip to Blackpool included being taken into Walmsley’s outfitters on Whitegate Drive and choosing more clothes than I’d ever seen before, (including something called ‘house shoes’).

Saturday morning school was traditional in 1955 and continued until about 1959. I learned very quickly that homesickness was a part of the boarding process and that, aged 8, it was possible to ‘phone home reverse charge’ two or three evenings per week from the out of bounds phone box ‘over the wall’ / down the side of the bus stop, opposite what is now the No4 pub on Newton Drive. (We’ll be the last generation to remember using buttons A and B in phone boxes and using shillings and pence, let alone maths with 240 pence per £ pound). Making friends quickly did a great deal to assuage the loss of home comforts and, provided you enjoyed sports, going out at the weekend with 5/- pocket money was real freedom with responsibility (mustn’t cross the tram lines which then came up to Devonshire Square). Punishment such as 100 lines I must not yawn like a hippopotamus from Bro Liddane caused my dad great hilarity when he found them, at half term.

I was fortunate that with parents who had a motor car and lived only 28 miles away the opportunity for Sunday afternoon trips out were frequent; usually to have ‘tea’ at The Lobster Pot on the Promenade, or at a café above the Arcade in St. Annes. Some of the boys whose parents were overseas spent whole terms without family visits.

The 1955 school magazine had its own ‘Boarder’s Corner’.

Feelings were not indulged in those days. I was fortunate and only remember one term of being truly homesick. If you were ill, the sick room provided care by matron, including buttered toast and Ovaltine. Once there was an outbreak of measles which led to the dormitories being sprayed with disinfectant, to which my brother Peter reacted with a rash, and was sent home for 2 weeks otherwise perfectly well! Bullying occurred but the bully I recall who was a ‘prep school’ gang leader failed to grow as tall as I did at puberty and the little squirt got his comeuppance (He eventually left school with a single O Level to work on his father’s market stall).

Until about 1959, we were expected to be up at 6.45 and to attend Mass in the school chapel at 7AM (Monday, Tuesday Wednesday, Friday) with Benediction at 5.30PM on Sunday, followed by a film. Thursday and Saturday mornings were ‘lie ins’ until 8AM. Serving Mass as an altar boy was an eagerly competed for privilege – if only to save dropping off to sleep in the pews. The twice daily routine of reciting The Angelus, along with rote learning of the Catechism was simply part of the Ritual and Theatre which is now the only real justification I can retain for our (or any other) religion. There was a TV documentary on famous RC girls (think media, fashion and Mars Bars) which opened with each of the 10 or so featured middle aged women declaring, in order, the first half dozen tenets of the Catechism ….we were all deeply brainwashed….but was it harmful? I think in retrospect it was amusing and insightful. (I still have, tucked in a Missal bought for me dated 1955, an ICB recruitment Mass card asking “Shall I become a Christian Brother” on which, in 8 year old Royal Blue fountain pen writing, is the word

Oh happy days, ….when Jesus was….oh when he wassszz

Attending confession on Saturday evening at St Kentigern’s church, only about a quarter mile from school, provided weekly opportunities to share the Gazette sports extra with the footie results, buy chips with gravy from Devonshire Square, purge one’s soul, or if as usual you were broke, get unsold currant teacakes (reduced to a halfpenny each from 3d.) from the bakery next to the sweet shop on Beech Avenue.

‘Give us this day our daily bread’ has been commented on in several of the contributions recalled in such wonderful detail (especially cf: Joe Wright). My specific food memories are that ‘CONCRETE’ was a weekday lunchtime jam crumble (not a suet), served with custard, of buying cheese and onion sandwiches for 6d. from a day boy (delicious Lancashire CRUMBLY which I still buy from Blackburn Market (and find occasionally on Missionary visits in the South) and Sunday tea SPAM and cakes; year round, (presumably cook and maids were allowed a half day off) we sat 8 around a table and each in turn, moving to one end, was allowed to flick 4 quarter slices of spam from the handle of a fork, towards a target plate at the opposite end of the table; the winner, being the nearest, had first choice of the cake selection (inevitably the single chocolate éclair) and the last ended up with the stale cupcake!

Trips Age 10 or so I remember going to the dentist, near Talbot Square. I recall having ‘gas’ for a tooth extraction and then returning to school, unaccompanied, on the bus. We often went swimming at Derby Baths and once swam in the pounding sea off Cleveleys, in October. Organised outings included the Lakes, Shotton Steel Works and York which is still my favourite English city (sad admission for a Lancashire lad) but best of all were our unofficial Bank Holiday and ‘holy day’ escapades, hitch hiking to Morecambe, Southport and once to Manchester to see James Bond in the newly released Dr No. (imagine the uproar if 14-15 year boarders were found doing what we did.)

York 1960

One memorable weekend just after mock O Levels was spent at the Hall’s Arms, Knowle Green ( Harry Nicholls' dad’s pub), where 5 of us boarders slept for a chilly night in a (cleaned out) disused pigsty (Pete MacDonald only had a summer sheeted sleeping bag and would have frozen but for the alcohol). We were feted by the locals in return for singing rugby songs, and ate singed (i.e., almost raw ) fried liver for breakfast.

The school trip to Lourdes in 1961 was my first experience of travelling abroad. Hazy memories of a vomit swilling choppy channel crossing, short, scented French girls, tall, smelly French trains with iron luggage racks big enough to sleep on, a shared hotel room (with our first ever red wine 'plonk' experience), bowls of milky breakfast coffee, croissants, minestrone soup and, oh yes, I knew there was a reason, candlelit processions and being ‘dipped’ in the holy water.

Lourdes 1961

Sport Rugby was the school sport of choice for boarders especially because it led to the opportunity to get out, but cross country was enforced (though those of us who smoked bunked off in a pill box near the hospital and awaited the returning runners before joining back in at a ‘realistic’ position). Football was permitted on lighter evenings, crab football in the gym on wet nights was fun but best of all was ‘Chinese Wall’ in the dark school yard an cold winter nights after the juniors had gone to bed.

1960 U14 XV rugby

Indoors we explored Chad Valley, the tunnels under the dayroom floor, played billiards and snooker, and, in the TV room kept up with the Sixties’ world outside, (most memorably, on a Friday night in November 1963, the assassination of President John F Kennedy).


With Eoin O’Sullivan and Brian Keenan in the library.

the TV Room

Mick, Ben, me ,Willy, Golly, Mac, Michael F Carter and Harry.

Pranks. Smoking behind the bike shed or at weekends behind the garden shed was a bonding ritual. After one such occasion, showing off my new catapult, I broke a window in the Science Block leading to ‘six of the best’ from Bro. Sreenan. Going into town on Sunday after lunch often meant spending whole afternoons sitting upstairs in the ‘TROC’ (Trocadero coffee bar) which mutated for a few of us into late night jaunts at the Tower Ballroom, dancing to bands such as The Dave Clark Five and Freddy and the Dreamers and finally culminating in my (our) ‘suspension’ from school as enthusiastically divulged by ‘Ernie’ (Eoin) O’Sullivan in his contribution (where are super injunctions when you need them?).

There was a ‘corner bog’ on the dormitory floor into which one would furtively sneak with a copy of Parade, 1/6d. at all good newsagents. It was a girly magazine of the time with all ‘detail’ airbrushed out. The other advantage of that toilet was that we could climb out of the window, up a short drainpipe and onto a flat roof with a big water cistern, perfect for sunbathing and water to cool off.

The water cistern can just be made out.

During the Illuminations the Sixth Form boarders were allowed a night out to ‘walk’ the lights…yeah, yeah, (hic) yeah. A Liverpool boarder, John Nicolson I think, told us probably around 1961 about a group called The Beatles who he said were all the rage – we laughed that anybody could take a group of that name seriously and thereby missed the chance to see them when they appeared in Blackpool during their early career (10 years later I was at the London Hospital Dental School with a chap called Roger Taylor who ‘dropped out’ of the course after one year because he thought he’d like to play in a band called Queen).

Dorms. I remember the Tower searchlight traversing the dormitories, listening to Radio Luxemburg on a transistor radio under my pillow, and delighting at the request for Elvis, singing Jailhouse Rock for the boys in ‘Joe’s Jail’ ( April 1961) when I was 13, feet tucked into my dressing gown sleeves, (without appreciating that 2 boys would be expelled). Joe Wright’s recall of the dormitory arrangements is exactly as I recall. We were awakened in the mornings for several years by the hideous racket of a school hand bell (until one of the boys stole it?), to be replaced by the brother (usually ‘Ossul’ O’Sullivan) walking around both big dormitories clapping a loud rhythm.

Pete MacDonald & Ben Nolan kneeling with Gollie, Harry, Carts (me) and Ernie in our beds.

In the VIth form there were 2 smaller rooms with about 6 beds in each which permitted much greater licence for talking, smoking and ‘nicking out’ at night.

What different memories we have! Terry Taylor describes ‘Paddy’ O’Brien’s advances to a tee but even ‘OB’, from my perspective, had redeeming features. I don’t know why this Irishman taught us songs such as Hearts of Oak, D’ ya ken John Peel and The British Grenadiers or how he persuaded coarse youths to take to the stage in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado and Pirates of Penzance but he did and broadened my outlook on life in the process.
Bro. McGovern though, who he remembers fondly, I recall as a vicious sadist, a man who humiliated the junior dormitory boys (to the extent that as a sixth former I once told a second year who he was bullying to go elsewhere and warned McGovern to desist). He seemed to me the imperfect example of the most scandalous, nasty behaviour of ‘the religious’ which has subsequently been revealed to be commonplace and world-wide. Bro. Dowling (Joe Snow) already seemed old when he first taught me. Terry Taylor also recalls the hopelessness of his incompetent method of teaching A Level Physics - rote reading in class - and I also recall that each week’s homework would be to write out TEN A Level answers from the question section at back of the book (these were repeated, helpfully to indicate the popularity of certain themes over the years), but it often meant answering the same question, 2 or 3 times in the same homework week, in long hand with a fountain pen (no COPY facility then). It was as pointless an exercise as man has ever devised. I left St Joseph’s with an E in Physics A Level, B in Biology (thank you ‘Taffy’ Johns) and B in Chemistry (thank you Bro. Sreenan). Despite the consequent delay in getting into Dentistry and Medicine that resulted from having to resit Physics (as a direct result I used the ‘gap’ year to discover Manchester and London, court my wife to be, and grow up). When I later met Joe Snow around 1982, he must have been 80, strolling around the boarding house gardens, in Plymouth and he seemed to me unchanged.

1959 Bro Dowling with my brother, Peter Carter, (late) sister Marian, friend and me. November 1960 aet 13

Risk enjoyment was the single most significant outcome for me after 11 years as a boarder at St Joseph’s along with self-reliance, astute guilt management, and a stubborn independent philosophy, reflecting on the frailty of human nature, and concern for those less fortunate. The real revelation since is that people of other or no religious outlook are often the kindest, most charitable and caring people one meets. Not all boarders adapted to school at age 8 and I certainly know of youngsters who were damaged by the experience. When it came to my eldest son’s turn, when he was 13, a free spirit who chose to board at St Boniface’s in Plymouth, albeit only for 2 years, he has appreciated the experience without regret. Since leaving school I read Dentistry then Medicine in London, married in 1968, and we have 2 sons, a daughter and 2 grandchildren. I worked as an NHS consultant surgeon at The London Hospital until 2007 when I ‘retired’ to Devon.

St Joseph’s College Blackpool Sixth formers circa 1964
Back Row. Andy McNally, Peter Winstanley, Eoin O’Sullivan, Fred Garner, John Carter, William Lawton, Bernard Smith, McHugh, John Ward, Julian Ward, ?
Front Row. Michael Carter, Stephen Pownall, David Rose, Philip Hilton, Brian Flynn, Joe Snow, Michael Page, John Matthew (RIP), Tom Irvine, Milan Hrabec.
Tony Pownall being throttled by Bro. Dowling (‘Snow’).

Below are the references of the others lads extracted from their contributions which triggered special memories for me.

Eoin O’Sullivan ‘Ernie’
Our boarder predecessors from the year before bequeathed to us a master key to the new Science building. This gift opened up a whole world of new possibilities to us. We, and as I recall, it was Mike Beaumont, Peter McDonald, John Carter and myself, embarked on a series of night time activities previously not possible. These included the Friday night dance at the Tower Ballroom, followed by the Bowling Alley and a coffee bar. It all seemed very exciting at the time as we were not allowed off school premises at night.
In the early morning, using the master key, we would crash out on Brother Ryan's benches in the new Chemistry Lab. We had many successful forays, on one of these weekends, we encountered the Brothers walking to the chapel in a crocodile at 4am, chanting prayers, in some kind of medieval trance. Thankfully they did not see us. On the weekend following our ‘mock’ A’ Levels, one of the Brothers, a neurotic nicknamed Peebles, had realised we were not in our beds, and had successfully locked us out! This resulted in a 2 week suspension for John Carter and me.

Malcolm Crane
Six of the strap from Mr Charles was something to fear. He used the long strap which was 24 inches long, three inches wide and rigid from layers of leather. The pain was excruciating and clung to your hands for 15 minutes.
I read A Day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzenitzin which was about life in a Siberian Gulag. I found parallels in Ivan Denisovitch to my wasted years at Joe’s. Denisovitch was a prisoner in a gulag run by sadistic monsters. He learnt he could win small battles which got him through the day. It was the same at Joes.

Gerard Mulholland
I am not surprised at what I read about the Irish Christian Brothers but judging by some of these contributions it wasn't only them, was it? I must say at this point that never once did I experience any improper behaviour to me nor did I hear of any such behaviour to to anyone else in all the time I was there. I have heard such observations since leaving. I do not in the slightest doubt others' reports. I am just heartily glad that I was never a victim myself. I am also heartily grateful that Paddy O'Brien seemed to take a shine to me. He bawled at me but never raised a finger to me. Strapped a few times but in that madhouse that was normal. I found him to be a wonderful history teacher. Bro Liddane, I now realise, must also have been an unexpectedly good teacher. I'm surprised to find myself writing that but I can still remember all that maths he stuffed into us so he must've been good. I really liked Josh O'Leary. Brilliant teacher. I have loved Latin and all languages all my life because of him. I had no idea he was so violent to others. Strapping as a routine, of course. Shit, it hurt. But there seemed to be no malice in his actions. "We take a vow of Poverty. D'you know what that means? Through in the house, if I'm in the lounge reading the paper and the Bro Superior comes in and asks for it, I have to give it to him because I own nothing. Yet I can go down to London and visit the most expensive tailors in Saville Row and order up a dozen suits of the finest cloth and say "Charge it up to St Joseph's College". Now THAT's poverty!". He seemed such a wonderful man. And yet, I now learn from other contributions, another sadistic maniac. Not many mentions of ‘Gandy’ in these contributions. Bro. Dolan, the last Holy Joe's Headmaster who didn't thoroughly disgrace himself. Clearly named for Mahatma Gandhi to whom he bore a more than passing facial resemblance. But his height was about twice the little Mahatma's.
Terry Taylor
Abuse is something which has been hinted at by others, but usually in a ‘but nothing happened to me’ sort of context. It is admittedly also a very loose term. In an environment where you permanently deny female company to perfectly healthy males, they don’t have to be homosexual to seek alternatives. My own experience involved unwanted and unpleasant proximity – forehead to forehead, arms around shoulders, groins pressed together, his in the, how can I put this delicately, ‘enlarged’ condition – under the pretext of offering personal advice and individual encouragement. Years later when I told my wife (the only person I have told till now) her shock and indignation far exceeded anything I felt then. Of course, in today’s more socially enlightened times, I would be in therapy and he would be in Wormwood Scrubs, back then you just handled it. It was unpleasant but hardly life-threatening. I simply took pains to prevent any opportunity for recurrence, more or less successfully.
Then for physics, Joe Snow; what can you say about dear old Joe Snow (Bro. Dowling). Whatever went on under that fluffy white dusting of down had long since ceased to have any relevance to Planet Earth. It may have been fun yodelling along in harmony to his admonishment, in maidenly fluted tones, of another "errant boy" (we were eighteen for God’s sake, people our age were getting bayoneted in Viet Nam) but to discover that his idea of teaching Physics A Level involved the class reading aloud in rotation each text book, line by line, cover to cover, rather as if they were the adventures of Harry Potter, came as something of a shock.

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