The history of St Joseph’s College.  Chapter 1. A synopsis.

But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand an end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine. Hamlet 1.5 

If you had have asked one of the masters at Joe’s about the history of the school, he would have said that he knew nothing about it. You would have got fobbed off with some story of it having once been a private house, owned by a rich man who left the house to the brothers to start a school, and that later generations added to the old house and kept building extensions. At least this was the general idea of how the school began. I heard stories at school that this man was a self made mill owner, that he had no education himself, that he was a convert to Catholicism, and that he bequeathed the house and all his wealth to the Christian Brothers, so that future generations of boys would get the education that he never received.

You would have thought that a school of some age would have its history publicised and the benefactor, no doubt Mr Joseph somebody, would have been revered as the founder. You would have expected that his statue would be placed in some convenient location, and that boys would raise their caps to his image as they passed, in the manner of the boys of Eton, or is it Harrow, who nonchalantly doff their top hats, when sauntering past the effigy of their originator. You would expect that his name would be recounted in the daily prayers, and that his soul, although undoubtedly within the secure bounds of heaven’s gates, would have been earnestly and devoutly prayed for at an annual Mass. You would have expected at least that the school letterheads and the report cards, the speech day programme and the sports day scorecards, to bear the school’s name and crest, emblazoned with the words ‘founded by Joseph Bubblychook Esq., 1920.’ You would have expected, and indeed demanded, at the very minimum, that some account of the origins of the school should be mentioned in passing, at Speech Day. But there was no school history published and no account given of the College’s genesis. In fact the history of the school was suppressed.

History records that the original school building, the yellow sandstone edifice, was indeed built as a private residence, by a person of some substance, but he was not a Catholic and left nothing to the Brothers and presumably was not aware of their existence. Furthermore the school was flourishing long before Mr William Lumb, for that was his name and not Joseph Somebody, had laid the first yellow sandstone brick and cemented it with a ceremonial silver trowel in or about 1895. The school was in existence before the Irish Christian Brothers had ventured outside Erin’s Isle in the 1880’s, to wreak havoc upon Britain and her mighty empire. The school was alive before Blackpool Grammar was founded, before Arnold School was invented and before any of those posh places in Blackpool were even thought of. This is one in the eye for the snobby schools of Blackpool and district. Their uniforms might have been smarter, their shoes more highly polished, their vowels more precisely enunciated, but their ancestry was shorter.

But we were not permitted to know of our illustrious history. We were forbidden to realise that our lineage stretched back to the mid nineteenth century. We were denied the knowledge of our precious heritage. We were not told that our beloved Alma Mater was founded in 1866 as a girls’ school!

The shocking truth is that St Mary’s School, for ironically that was its original name, started out as a place where young Catholic ladies, gels of refinement would, as their advertisement discloses, receive ‘a proper religious education and instruction in the liberal arts’. These classes in religion and in those arts which in the Victorian Age were considered liberal, were presented by the Presentation Sisters, although the devout ladies did not get their name from liberally presenting lessons in religion and religiously presenting lessons in the liberal arts. The aforesaid classes took place in Raikes Hall, now a public house, and still standing in Raikes Parade. As a diversion from the interminable lessons in religion and liberal arts, daily walks were taken, with the gels in a crocodile. Attire for this promenade consisted of full length frock covered by pinafore, and overcoat should there be inclement weather. Walkers would of course require boots laced over lyle stockings, and the whole effect was surmounted by a bonnet, neatly pinned into the hair with a five inch hat pin. How different, how very different, from the latter day raiment of crooked tie, cap at jaunty angle or missing, long socks falling down to ankles and shirt coming apart at the midriff which was the mandatory vogue that we all remember.

By 1880, the school was accepting boys. By 1890, it had moved to Layton Hill Convent and by 1900, numbers had increased to an extent where additional accommodation was required. At this point, it was determined that the school should be divided into two ‘houses’. The girls and the younger boys would remain at Layton Hill, while the second house of the school, consisting solely of boys, would vacate to Park Rd, where they would receive instruction from some gentleman, presumably still based on the guiding principles of religion and liberal arts.

History does not record why the division was made on grounds of gender, but it should be noted that at this time, the feminine fashion was for the skirt to be raised a full three inches from the ground. It was therefore possible for a young lady of careless bearing, or coquettish mien, to allow the view of an ankle, clad only lightly in the uniform cotton stocking. It could have been the case that the sisters, fearing that such a sight would incite the lust of male students, determined that the school should be divided until such time as ladies’ fashion was restored to normality. I have no evidence to support this proposition, but merely offer it as a matter of conjecture. I add that I am not one of those who equate declining morals with the concomitant raising of the hemline, or that a mathematical formula can be devised which will demonstrate that falling standards are inversely proportional to the amount of clothing worn.

But to return to the school, it is important to note that the school was not divided into two schools, but two houses of the same school.  The second house of St Mary’s had to have a new name and the good sisters, being persons of wisdom and judgement, thought to find a masculine saint with a close affinity with their eponymous St Mary.  They wisely selected her spouse, St Joseph. The two houses of the school grew apart, but nevertheless the original school’s existence continued, and continues to this day, for in 1977, the two wings merged into one. The St Mary’s we know now, the original school in the Raikes Hall, Layton Hill School and St Joseph’s College are all one and the same. The original school’s corporate state has never been challenged or disputed, but its history has been obscured.

This present account deals only with that portion of the school known as St Joseph’s or Joe’s or Holy Joe’s or Joe’s Jailhouse or whatever you want to call it. And so by 1917, a Mr Riley, of whom we know very little, was in charge at Park Road, and in 1918 the school moved to Layton Mount, to the yellow sandstone house purchased from the executors of the late William Lumb. In 1923, it was evident that Mr Riley was unable or unwilling to carry on his duties and no replacement could be found. At this point, the bishop beseeched the Christian Brothers to come and take over the running of the school. Ironically in 1975, a latter day bishop implored them with equal fervour to depart.

In 1926, the first extension was completed. In 1934, the chapel, the gymnasium, the old library, the bogs and the changing rooms were put in place. In 1948, the dining room and kitchen were completed and in 1953, the new science block was established. This story of continuous expansion in building and deterioration in moral values will be covered in detail in later chapters.

1958 marked the turning point of the school’s fortunes, with the appointment of William Ignatius O’Carroll as headmaster. O’Carroll, known as the Bung, was determined to build a new block, which would stand as a testament to his headmastership and his eternal glory. In overspending on the new building, he neglected necessary repairs to the old blocks. In addition the new block was built on the soggy part of the ground and started sinking, the moment it was put up. Consequently the repair bills grew larger every year, and essential maintenance could not be performed out of the school’s meagre budget. Eventually builders warned that parts of the buildings were liable to a ‘brick cascade’ and, like the walls of Jericho, would come tumbling down. It was at this point that the bishop ordered the Christian Brothers out, and merged the school with its affluent neighbour, in order to prop up the sinking edifices. After a few years, it was decided that it was uneconomic to keep throwing repair money at the building, and the land was sold, very profitably, to a building company. The school was already morally bankrupt when O’Carroll took over and his ineptitude made it financially bankrupt and brought about its downfall. It was not for nothing that O’Carroll was called the Bung, or bungalow, because he had nothing upstairs.

This first chapter has been but a hazy and sketchy summary of the school’s history. Those who have had the stamina to read so far, will no doubt have the patience to await the coming of subsequent chapters, which will deal with the various periods of the school history in copious detail.

Can you face chapter 2?
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