The history of St Joseph’s College.  Chapter 4. The Life of Riley.

‘Faith and my name is Kelly, Michael Kelly, but I'm living the life of Reiley just the same.‘
Harry Pease

This is the life story of Dr Reuben Dease Riley. He was a man of humble origins, born in Baxenden in east Lancashire, the son of a poor but honest mill worker. He had been christened at the parish church (Protestant, he had to admit) and grown up in the wilds of the mill towns of the cobbled end of this fair county. Master Riley, it has to be said, did only fairly well at school. He was assiduous in his studies, he learnt the basis of arithmetic and he could read well enough and he liked languages but he was not the brightest of pupils. He did however have a prodigious talent for music. He learnt to play the piano, the violin, the flute and indeed all the instruments which were available in the underprivileged school house of his youth and he so impressed the schoolmaster and the school governors that they recommended him for a bursary to enable him to study music.

Young Riley was duly entered for an examination, in which he obviously did well because he was awarded an ‘exhibition’ to read music at The Leipsic Royal Conservatorium. For those readers who are unfamiliar with this august institution, perhaps I should mention that it was than and still is a University dedicated mainly but not exclusively to the study of music, founded in 1843 by the great composer, Felix Mendelssohn, with a grant from the King of Saxony. Young Reuben Riley was a lucky man indeed for he had an opportunity denial to most of his social class, the chance to attend university.

The young man matriculated at the Conservatorium in 1892 and the name Reuben Dease Riley was entered in the roll of undergraduates. At Leipzig, Riley learnt the basics of the violin, the double bass, oboes, flutes, bassoons, clarinets, tubas, the humble triangle and Heaven knows what else. More importantly, he learnt how to conduct an orchestra and more important still, he learnt the Classical languages and learnt to speak German and French and most important yet, he came under the influence of the Viennese school of culture and ethics, and he learnt their ways, their customs, their traditions, and most important of all, he learnt their religion, and by the time he had graduated from the Leipsic Royal Conservatorium, he had been received into the Catholic Church.

Dr Riley: graduate of music.

Riley returned to his native land in 1896 with a battered old suitcase, a degree in Music, but no money, no job and no prospects. He took up jobs in orchestras, playing the violin, being paid by the performance and even conducted a few orchestras but just small amateur ensembles and indeed he would have liked to conduct orchestras for a living but alas, there were there few openings to this career and also the pay was bad. So in 1901, young Riley looked to take a job as a teacher where, as now, there were abundant opportunities.

Riley’s looked through the job adverts and found the ideal position. He applied for the post and made such an impression on the head that he was taken on immediately. His first job was at Parkhust School, Blackpool as assistant teacher. Parkhurst is the name of a jailhouse but that is just a coincidence as it was three miles away from the budding Joe’s. Riley was second in command at Parkhust which is not as impressive as it sounds as the staff consisted only of the headmaster and the assistant.

Riley took up his position in 1902. He prospered in the job and in 1903, he married a local girl, Margaret Mallalieu and everything was going well until the school ran into difficulties. The headmaster was failing in health and also he liked a little drink now and then and consequently he was not as assiduous in his duties as he might have been. He left most of the teaching to Riley but his most important duties, the collection of school fees and recruitment of new pupils, he neglected completely. By 1904, the school was in financial difficulties.

Now Riley proposed a solution to the problem. He offered to buy the school. He would purchase the school furnishings in instalments, which he would finance with a loan, and the headmaster could retire and leave the running of the school to Dr Riley. The headmaster had no alternative and so he gave up the school. Riley borrowed the first instalment from a moneylender and also borrowed money for domestic furniture and took over as head of the new invigorated school.

Dr Riley enjoyed his life as proprietor and headmaster of a school and he lived in a manner befitting his station in life. His food was substantial and wholesome without being ambrosial. His furnishings were elegant and refined without being elaborate. He employed servants at the school and at home to assist with academic and domestic chores, and lived quite well for a man of humble origins. The school was not what one would call profitable but, if money was short, there were moneylenders at hand who would willingly advance payment for necessaries.

Had Dr Riley read David Copperfield, he would have been familiar with Mr Micawber's famous, and oft-quoted aphorism ‘Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.’ Dr Riley found that his debt was rising, he income diminishing and he was now being pressed by creditors. And so in 1906, he applied for and obtained a position at The Royal Grammar School at Whalley, packed up all his furniture, and abandoned Parkhurst School for ever.

Life at the salubrious Royal Grammar School was a lot easier for Dr Riley. His salary was commensurate with the duties of a ‘professor of music and languages’ as he was now calling himself and he was earning a lot more than the meagre profits he made at Parkhurst School. He still had debt of course, but he resolved to pay that back in instalments. However resolving is one thing and doing is another, and Professor Riley had got used to the good life and he lived his salary to the hilt and made little progress towards paying off his debts. In 1908, his first child, Winifred Margary, was born, adding to the household expenditure. And in 1909, the inevitable happened and a creditor applied for a bankruptcy order. The trustees of the Royal Grammar School were scandalised by this turn of events and asked for his resignation. In due course a receiving order was granted and the Professor was adjudicated bankrupt.

On 5th May 1909, Reuben Dease Riley was dragged before the Blackburn Bankruptcy Court for a public examination. An accountant explained to the court that ‘the debtor’ had assets of £300 and liabilities of £1311 of which £313 was loan interest. The debtor ascribed his failure to “want of capital”. The Official Receiver examined the debtor and asked searching questions, none of which the debtor was able to answer with any degree of satisfaction. “Was the Parkhurst School profitable?” “I don’t know” was the answer. “Were you solvent when you left Blackpool?” “I wouldn’t like to say” said the debtor. Do you consider that you have lived extravagantly?” “It is not for me to say” was the reply. And the examination went on for a while until the court grew tired of it and the debtor was ordered to hand over everything to the Official receiver and that was it.

Dr Riley now had no job, no money and no prospects but at least he was clear of debt. He went back to Blackpool and rented a house in South Shore where he scraped out a living giving piano and violin lessons. In 1911, his second daughter, Phyllis Mary, was born and he was getting used to his diminished circumstances when suddenly in 1915, his wife died. It appears that the erudite Dr Riley was not too cut up by the sad event for in 1916 he was married again to a local lady, Mary Walker, who bore him a daughter, Marian, nine months after the marriage.

They do say that behind every great man there is a great woman and, although Dr Riley, was not a great man, he had a great woman behind him, for she spurred him into action and urged him to take over the boys house of St Mary’s School, known as St Joseph’s.

So in September 1917, Dr Riley took the boys, forty-two in all, to a new house in Park Road. And the following year, William Lumb the wool magnate, owner of Layton Mount, died and left property worth £70,000 to his children, his legitimate children that is, for he had already made a settlement for his love child, the daughter of a domestic servant. This gift to the illegitimate daughter was a tripe shop in Clayton-Le-Moors, which kept several generations of Mr Lumb’s hidden family in relative comfort. The legitimate inheritors, however, took the bulk of the estate and sold Layton mount to the builder, Sir Lindsay Parkinson, who advertised it for rent and found a tenant in Dr Reuben Dease Riley who took on the lease for £150 per annum.

So the school moved to Layton Mount in 1918 and then The Great War came to an end and Sir Lindsay saw that a building boom was coming and wanted to raise capital by selling Layton Mount. He offered it to Dr Riley for the reasonable sum of £6,000 and the good doctor was very interested. Although he had been bankrupt, Dr Riley has received a discharge and had started again with a clean sheet. He could legally borrow money on a mortgage but the problem was that he had what we now call ‘a low credit score’ and when he applied for a mortgage, he was refused. Bank after bank refused to lend to him and in the end, he was obliged to confess all to the school committee.

Dr Riley was hoping that the Committee might lend him the money but they were too astute to lend money to a former bankrupt. Instead, they decided to buy the building themselves and allow Dr Riley to carry on as headmaster. And so The Committee bought the premises and dealt with administration and Dr Riley just dealt with the classroom. The Committee were adept at bringing in new pupils and at the end of 1922 there were a hundred and forty on the roll! This did not entirely please Dr Riley as he was working harder for no more reward and his wife was obliged to work at the school, and although assistant teachers were employed, Dr Riley felt he was overworked and underpaid.

Dr Riley: headmaster

In 1923, there was a standoff between Dr Riley and the Committee. Dr Riley’s first son arrived and he was christened Joseph after the school. Dr Riley felt that he was entitled to what we now call ‘paternity leave’ and, as he considered himself ‘the boss’, he paid less attention to the classroom and more to his family. But the Committee were of the opinion that they were ‘the boss’ and they told their servant to attend to his duties at which Dr Riley told them that if they didn’t like his style, they could sack him. Two months later, they sacked him.

Dr Riley left for Preston where he lived on New Hall Lane and he went back to violin and piano lessons which were a lot less stressful than running a school. He threatened to sue the Committee and he was fobbed off with a few hundred pounds for his interest in the school. He lived quietly in Preston and died in 1935. He was buried in the churchyard of Our Lady and St Patrick, Walton-le-dale, and so ended an interesting and eventful life. His second wife, Mary, died the next year but his four children lived long lives in Preston. Strangely only one of them married, Marion Dease Riley got hitched to a Polish gentleman just after World War II, but as far as anyone knows, none of them did anything stressful of eventful. So, back to the mainstream story!

Can you face chapter 5?
 If so click here!
Back to home page.