CONTRIBUTION BY JOHN KIRKHAM 1953/1959
Memories of my years at St Joseph's College, Blackpool.
Better known as Holy Joe’s Jailhouse. I started there on 16th September 1953 and left on 29th June 1959. I think these dates are accurate.
My primary school was St Cuthbert’s on Lytham Rd, Blackpool. As expected I passed my eleven-plus, or scholarship as it seemed to be referred to in those days. My parents duly received a list of grammar schools, which I could attend, but even though there was a list of five or six to choose from, there was really no choice. As a Catholic I had to go to a Catholic school to receive a Catholic education. Blackpool Grammar, Arnold, Palatine, and Baines Grammar were not Catholic schools.
On passing the eleven-plus, I was delighted to know that the school bully had failed and therefore could not go to St Joseph's. Alas it transpired that we had to sit an entrance exam, on a Saturday morning, which he passed. So, from St Cuthbert’s to St Joseph’s along with Leslie Downes, Michael Howarth, Michael Hickey, Bernard Glenholme, Alexander Thomas, Michael Jones, Patrick Sheen and one other, whose name escapes me for a moment, I joined form 2A at the college. Leslie Downs and Michael Howarth both had brothers already there, about 4 years older I think, Brian and Peter respectively. What a culture shock. It was so different.
There was no talking hat to allocate the boys to a house, though if one had an elder brother then it was automatic that one would be in the same house. Boarders of course were in School House (yellow) whilst the rest of us were spread between Clifton (green), Newton (blue) and Layton (red) houses. I was in Layton.
The pre-intake interview with my parents was conducted by Pecker Woodhouse, but he had moved on by the September when I actually started at St Jo’s. I believe I might have been responsible for Bro. Dolan’s nickname as I had called him Ghandi, within my peer group, long before I knew his real name. On the other hand it was so obvious that others might have had similar thoughts.
Bro. Baylor was our form master, and also took us for history, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans Carthage and all that, which I found interesting. Bro. Clay, form 3 form master?, took us for English, Jim Mc Grahan, General Science, Jock Fyffe for maths, Panker le Brun for French, (Panker of dirty green once black gown and earwax problems), Robert Atherton for music, and in my case Kay Perry for orchestra. I am at a loss to remember who took us for geography. At that age, with the exception of Panker and Perry, all was quite well. Panker often wrote ‘Show your parents’ on my homework exercise book, of course I never did, whilst Kay Perry got a warning for punching me clean off my feet and into the music stands.
I don't remember much about form 3, but I know that by the time I was in form 4, our class had a reputation for being unruly! The lower 5th was a crucial year, and it is at this point that I believe the school really let me down. There was no pastoral care, no real effort to make sure that each boy was in the correct channel, mods or sciences etc. I went from lower 5th science to upper 5th mods and then back to lower 6th science all just to avoid Jo Snow, who had ridiculed me when I asked a question in class. To that point I had really believed my future was in Chemistry and Physics. It was not to be.
I did not cover myself in glory, and in fact felt quite ashamed when the GCE results were announced. Only four passes which included French, eat your heart out Panker, but sadly I blew it big time on Chemistry and of course had dropped Physics to avoid Jo Snow (Bro. Dowling). Not a clever choice especially as he was then our form master in lower sixth. Snow was key mad, always locking the classroom. Did he ever find out we had a duplicate key I wonder?
So what to do with my life? Now in the lower sixth taking Maths, Geography and Chemistry, with O level retakes in Chemistry and English Lang. No real guidance from the school, no advice on how to study, how to revise and most importantly how to pass exams. The sixth form windows overlooked Collegiate playing field, and the view proved to be a far more interesting way of spending a free period.
By the end of the first term I was really struggling but no one seemed to notice or care. My parents bless them did not know, as I had doctored some of the marks on my report. Notwithstanding this, one would have hoped for some reaction from the school.
I floundered, though I am no dullard as proven later when I qualified as a Chartered Accountant in the top 25% in the country. By the end of the Easter term, I realised there was no hope of me getting A levels of enough value to get to University, and anyway what would I study? I made my plans and found myself a position as an articled clerk with a local Chartered Accountant. Brother Dolan’s face was an absolute picture when, as he was walking through the yard, I told him I was leaving immediately after the English exam on 29th June. “You can’t do that” he said. But I did, and neither I nor my parents heard from the school on the matter. Or was it Bro. Carroll by then, I’m not sure, but it was whoever was the head and he was narked!
Peter Raleigh. That was the name of the other boy from St Cuthbert’s. He had two older brothers at the school. I believe Brian was something of a rebel who was expelled.
As regards the teachers, I have tried really hard to remember those to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. I suspect most if not all are now long gone.
To Jock Fyffe, thank you for treating me as an intelligent human being. He had just become a proud father for the first time, and my younger sister was born about the same time. I was aged eleven as we discussed breast-feeding.
To Bing Crosby, one of the most unflappable and boring teachers ever, but he did get me through English Lang. eventually. But I still cannot spell.
To Albert Priestly for teaching me to talk proper.
To Bro. Baylor, for improving my stamp collection after he had transferred to Gibraltar.
To Bernard Howe who never taught me, but was great on the two school trips, to Kufstein in the Tyrol 1957 and Tulln(?) near Vienna in 1958, and to Mr Singleton who absolutely ruined History as a subject, but did let his daughter go on one of those trips.
To another of the Brothers, I think his name might have been LeDann? Irish and teaching us geometry. A constant source of amusement to our puerile minds. It would seem that nearly all our triangles were full of Tirty Tree Turds.
To Jim MacEvoy for being a proper P E teacher and for replacing Alf Pope.
To Mr Hasset for teaching us geography in the fourth form. Again to Mr Hasset for having a fight with one of the other teachers over the school secretary or her sister, so the story went.
To Madame Sompierre for awakening my hormones.
To Oscar Slater, who in my book was a good maths teacher. A colon followed by a dash will always be ‘two dots plonk’ thanks to ‘O’.
Bro. Burns, with whom I had no contact, for being a man of mystery. Rumour had it that his ears had been clipped by the Japs during the war.
Bro. O Sullivan, O’Sull to many, but to my year Bloke and Bro. O’Brien, no comment. Can this be the same O’Brien whose extreme violence is remembered so strongly by the later contributors?
Little Bro. Antony? I just know he existed but no other memory lingers.
As you know if you attended Holy Joe’s, the teachers did not have favourites. It was just that if you weren’t in the rugby or cricket teams, or did not excel at athletics, you were much less important than those turds The Phantom left around. That was unless you were a boarder.
There weren’t many of those:-
1 As mentioned above, the moment I told the headmaster I was leaving.
2 It was not the Mexicans at the World Cup who invented the wave. We used to really rile Mr Atherton as we stood up and sat down two by two along each row throughout our music classes, which as most will remember, were held in the dungeons.
3 Those who had the pleasure of being taught by Bro. Shreenan, Corny to his mates, will remember that he ranked in the top two or three as being strap happy. Not only that, but as he walked up and down the class room aisles he would occasionally, whilst smiling sweetly, through a punch at some poor boy’s shoulder. One day he did it to Kevin Hickey, all England junior heavy weight boxing champion. Kevin gave it back to Corny with interest and a similar sweet smile! Funnily enough I liked Corny and thought him to be a good Chemistry teacher. Speaking of Kevin, thought I saw him on T V several times, as the England Olympic Boxing Coach.
4 I can’t think of another one!
John Sheard in his memoires mentioned ‘pranks’. I seem to remember co-ordinated dropping of geometry sets to the floor at fixed times, and also ruler twanging, and speaking of times, why on earth did we have to stand and recite a Hail Mary as the clock struck the hour.
School Dinners were mainly quite dreadful but this taught me how to budget. It was the rule that school dinners had to be paid for in advance at the beginning of the term. I, again unbeknown to my parents, used to keep the money and eke it out over the following weeks, visiting either Fells chippy, or the one near St Kents, or I would buy a cob and go to the park, anything to avoid the semolina, the fly pie and the awful fish on Fridays. Irish Stew on Tuesdays was just about tolerable.
Just a small selection.
1 The blind panic resulting in the inability to even speak when Joss O’Leary pulled my number from his pack of cards, even if I knew the answer. I feared and hated that man. He showed no understanding or compassion.
2 Getting my homework back from Joss, with a minus out of ten because my handwriting was so bad.
3 The days The Yank stormed in to the classroom with a list of boys who had bunked off games. I was always one. Another of the top three strap happies.
4 The interminable brainwashing that our bodies were a source of sin, getting aroused was a sin, don’t sleep on your back, front or right side as you will probably get aroused and that’s a sin. The Masons were the devil incarnate. Association with any religious event of any kind other than Catholic was a sin.
5 The bullying. There was a lot of it, much from the Brothers themselves so how or why would they notice bullying amongst the boys?
6 The use of the strap for the most innocuous of reasons. With Latin at least 4 times a week (Joss), and my various other misdemeanours I reckon I must have had a dose of the strap at least twice a week.
7 Taking part in a Gymnastic display, one sports day, doing arms stretch, star stretch, knees bends, toe touches etc. to the tune of The Cuckoo Waltz, wearing one size fits all short baggy shorts, underpants being banned and privates apparently not so private. Other contributors have touched on impropriety. For me this was the only such experience. Maybe the masters who patrolled the changing rooms were not just there to prevent horseplay.
8 Alf Pope and his damnable cricket bat, especially if it was anyone’s birthday.
Circa 1957 there was bit of rowdiness on one of the public transport busses or trams. It was probably some convent girls, but a complaint was made to our school. Of course no one came forward to admit to the crime. Soon afterwards every boy in the school was photographed and mug shot books were kept in the headmaster’s office. I still have my mug shot picture.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for setting up this web site. I didn’t actually believe that I was the only ex pupil who thought that the Christian Brothers were a bunch of sadistic louts, who should never have been anywhere near a school, except perhaps a borstal. However it has been so gratifying to read of other people’s experiences and memories. Most of them seem to mention the strap and the beatings within the first few lines. I thought I would at least try to get through a page before mentioning it.
Thank heavens for the humour. Yes we took the piss out of Solly, Major Bloodnock, Peewee McPhee, Robert Atherton and others. Thank you to Joe Ennis and Terry Mc Greevey for your Memories. You made me laugh. Thank you Stuart McKenna for your PS diatribe. You made me think.
Since writing most of the above, I have now read a few more of other peoples’ contributions. At first I just read those of the people who had been there at roughly the same time as me, and found that their experiences and scars rather matched my own. I have since read some of the contributions of those who attended in earlier years, during the war years and the forties, followed by those of the late fifties into the sixties.
There seems to have been a progressive change in the views taken. The older students (1941-50) seem more contented with their schooling, taking their punishments like men and managing to achieve. Someone wrote words to the effect ‘What’s a few red hands in exchange for an education?’ A good preparation for conscripted national service perhaps.
Then the Fifties. Here we have a ground swell of discontent. Were the beatings worse or are we a bit soft? Certainly less people seem to praise the quality of teaching. Perhaps it was post war depression setting in. Too much money going to rebuild Germany and to the setting up of the National Health Service and not enough to Education? I have always had the impression that Direct Grant schools were under funded. Was St Joseph’s College typical of the time or was it just bad and getting worse.
The students of the late Fifties and Sixties are quite vitriolic in their condemnation of the school. The teachers and the brothers are subject to severe criticism especially their violence and their poor teaching abilities.
At the end of the day though, I believe our generation has created far less social problems than the youth of today. Shootings, murders, drugs and associated events were not reported daily in the news, as they are now. Was the discipline as meted out at our school much worse than at others? Yes I suspect it was! I do not think it was a good school and I have said so many times to my current friends. My memories are mainly bad, though I have tried not to emphasise the negative.
My report on the school? ‘Could have done better’.
What the hell. Why should I care now? I’ve made my million and I have four wonderful and successful children.
The time for anger and bitterness is long gone, yet the scars remain.
|Back to memories page.|