The history of St Joseph’s College.  Chapter 7. Building the Extension.

The higher the buildings, the lower the morals. Noel Coward

And so the Brothers decided to stay but by 1924, there were doubts as to whether the school could continue. Br Forde wrote to the Superior General to say that there just wasn’t enough room and the school needed a new building or it would be obliged to close its doors. Br Forde had a plan for an extension which he hoped the Superior General would approve.

The Superior General, it would seem, replied that funds were not available for a new building or an extension and if the school wanted to expand, the cash should come from the parents or the diocese. In June 1924, Br Forde wrote
'The Superior General thinks that unless there is some assurance that the clergy and people of the Fylde will help the project substantially year by year until the school is self-supporting, and the capital expenditure reduced to a working limit, there is not sufficient justification to proceed with the scheme proposed.'

And Br Forde went to the Committee and asked them for money but the Committee replied that they had none, but they would find it if they had to. At this time, the Committee was headed by Robert B Mather, former Mayor of Blackpool, a distinguished architect, businessman and prominent Catholic. He was an elderly gentleman but he knew what was what. He took the case to The Bishop of Lancaster, the Rt. Rev. T. W. Pearson, O.S.B. and told him that the Brothers wanted more room otherwise they were leaving and if they went, the school closed and so unless they got the cash, the school was doomed. The Bishop told Mather to send in an application for a loan from the diocese.

So the Committee asked the diocese for a loan and the reply was fast. They responded with an offer of £10,000 free of interest for two years and at 4% thereafter. And so an architect was hired to draw the plans for a massive extension and builders were contracted. The company selected for the job was Thomas Blackburn and Sons Ltd of Preston who were also currently building The Miners’ Home and The Layton Institute. The contract was signed and the foundation stone was laid on 15th June 1925. Bishop Pearson was invited to perform the ceremony and he declared "I am delighted, on my first official visit to Blackpool, to meet with such enthusiasm, Sixteen thousand pounds worth of it!"

Somebody seems to have tipped off the bishop that the budget was sixteen thousand but the official estimate was ten thousand, just the amount of the loan. The extension was completed within a year but came in over budget at £11,541. The new buildings were to be blessed and formally opened by Archbishop of Westminster, His Eminence Cardinal F. A. Bourne.

On the morning of 3rd November 1926, the Cardinal arrived for a civic reception at Blackpool Town Hall, accompanied by Bishop Pearson, where he was greeted by The Mayor, Alderman Thomas Bickerstaffe, who said that he regarded the Cardinal's visit "not as a personal honour but as an honour to the borough as a whole." "He was sure, "he said, "that he was expressing the sentiments of the whole town when he referred to His Eminence as a great pillar of the national life." The Cardinal replied that he was gratified at finding himself, for the first time, in Blackpool. He was invited to sign the town roll after which he was taken for a tour of the borough.

That afternoon, His Eminence arrived at the school to meet a sizable gathering and, at the invitation of Bishop Pearson, blessed the building, sprinkled it with holy water, declared it open and started on his speech. A secondary school was an important factor in the Catholic life of any community. Alas they had too few Catholic secondary schools. They were extremely expensive things to erect, and entailed a great deal of responsibility and financial anxiety. In his congratulations the Cardinal specially mentioned the Committee, and referred to the great part the Archbishop of Liverpool had played in bringing in the Christian Brothers and he appealed to everyone to support the Brothers.

The opening of the new extension   3rd November 1926

He expressed a hope that the number of students would grow rapidly, so that it would make the school economically viable, and he also hoped that the local education authority would always treat them as well as the London County Council treated Catholic schools.

Bishop Pearson, proposing a vote of thanks to the Cardinal, said he feared that Catholics in the Fylde did not value secondary education as they ought. There were about 50,000 or so Catholics and they had only two boys' secondary schools, with about 500 pupils. And so there was now no reason why the school should not take in more scholars.

Later that evening, a reception was held for The Cardinal at The Tower Ballroom and immediately upon his appearance, the audience broke into tumultuous cheering following with the singing of God Bless Our Pope. The Cardinal was reported as saying "that for the first time I am treading the really sacred ground of the Fylde. To all Catholics throughout England, the Fylde means a very great deal indeed. I know what it must mean to you, bringing back as it does memories of those days—now, thank God, long past—in which we had to uphold and cling to our faith at the cost of everything that man holds dear. I feel, therefore, that there is no place in England, no place in Lancashire, to which an Archbishop of Westminster should turn more readily than to the Fylde for the inspiration of his thoughts and actions."

His Eminence spoke of the need for a state subsidy for Catholic secondary schools and bemoaned the fact that none existed. He laid the blame for this on an erstwhile President of the Board of Education, Reginald McKenna, who back in 1908 had scuppered any hope of state funding. He went on to say "The need of the secondary school to build up the Catholic Church in England is of supreme importance. In every class of society there are clever boys and girls—perhaps amongst Catholics there is a larger proportion. (laughter) I want those boys and girls, whether the proportion be large or small, to have every opportunity of educational advantage in the future. But we may have to wait a long time before my scheme, or any other scheme, will be eventually accepted to settle this question." Cardinal Bourne had long campaigned to institute a 'voucher system' whereby the state paid for education and parents made their choice of school. At that time, some independent schools could claim 'grant aid' but no more.

At the conclusion of the Cardinal's speech, the VIP's on the stage, Provost John O'Reilly, Thomas H. McGlynn, Canon Edward Lupton, Canon John Blundell, Father Robert Moss, S.J. and Alderman John Potter proposed, seconded and passed successive rounds of votes of thanks to one another and thus ended the meeting.

After the extension was in use, the school took on more staff and admitted more boys and in 1927 there were eight boarders in residence. Br Forde asked The Board of Education to put the school on the list of grant-aided schools and The Board promptly agreed. So now Joe's was economically viable and paying its way but burdened with the debt of the extension. Although the school could quite easily meet the interest payments, The Brothers felt that a part of the debt needed to be defrayed at once and so Br Forde turned once again to The Committee.

To be continued………….coming soon!

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