CONTRIBUTION BY GERARD SLAVIN 1944/1951
St Joseph's prior to School Certificate.
1n 1944 clothes rationing with clothing coupons was in full force but the uniform had to be found and before starting the new school we were kitted out at Southworths near the Grand Theatre with blazer and cap—an exciting and worrying time as we sought to conform and were limited by what was available. The red flash on the blazer pockets, not present on utility clothing, was added by our mothers. Caps were plain blue and the red flash did not reappear until after the war. Rugby jerseys in school colours were unobtainable from shops and most bought from older boys who had outgrown them. This resulted in a number of jersey styles and this persisted through the austerity post war years: look at some of the team photos of the late 1940`s and see the variety of jerseys. Compare and contrast with later years when jerseys were uniform and team members looked alike and the team much smarter as a whole. Nevertheless, our disarray did not lessen our enthusiasms.
I still remember the tingle I felt on the first day as I passed through the sandstone pillars with “St Joseph's College” inlaid in gold paint. Form two, the post 11+ entry year, was sited in wooden huts beyond the gymnasium. We were divided into A & B forms, the former being mostly scholarship boys. There didn't appear to be any difference in the teaching until perhaps the school certificate years when only the B class did geography and ?general science rather than specific science subjects. For newcomers there were two major changes and these were intertwined: 1) there was homework every night and 2) discipline was kept by the strap. Failures to complete homework and a multitude of minor indiscretions were rewarded by four or six strokes on the hand. Others in this series have described this as brutal. On the whole we did not think it so. It was our norm. It was wartime, we lived in a violent culture; in the courts civil offences were still punished by birching. Strapping for our minor peccadilloes at school seemed not unreasonable. One or two “homework failure recidivists” had a hard time but the solution lay in their own hands and there was little sympathy from their peers.
I remember the teachers as a mixed bunch. Brother Butler our first form master rather sleepy and amiable--- memory tells me he was accompanied by a German Shepherd dog: can anyone confirm this? Brother Ring was a stimulating history teacher and a good rugby coach; Brother Moon –did he teach French? a good rugby coach though he sometimes appeared to enjoy strapping a bit too much but perhaps it was just exuberance; Brother Beattie an entertaining and jocular Latin master; just and fair with the strap but my talents were not for dead languages and I paid a modest price. My bęte noir was Brother O'Carroll who taught us history after Brother Ring and almost destroyed the subject for me, but my objection to him springs from another source. Most of the Brothers were Irish and their feelings about partition must have run deeply but none showed it save O'Carroll (aka Joe Bung) who lectured us about the sins of the British and the non-reality of 'Ulster and Northern Ireland', whilst some of our fathers were still in the forces. He was surprised at some of our reactions though others in the class spoke up in his support, one even claiming that his relatives had been in the Dublin post office in1916! He was an unsympathetic person and when in form 6 he tried to persuade me to study history, I was pleased to tell him I was going into medicine and turned him down. We never spoke again. In fairness, Tom Walsh, who was a close climbing friend, thought O'Carroll a brilliant teacher of history. There you are, you pay your money and take your choice......
The lay teachers were on the whole minor figures and the boys took advantage: Mr Priestley tried to refine our Lancashire accents: “Push the plum pudding up the plush cushion” and made us give public performances of The Bells and Reynard the Fox. Poor Mr Pickles a nice gentle music teacher from Little Bispham had a rough time, but we were cruellest to Mr Biggins newly arrived from Ireland, excessively shy and introspective who tried to teach us Latin. I had no direct experience of Mr Le Brun and Mr McKenna, but they seemed much more substantial figures as they went round the school in their graduate gowns. Mr McKenna had been captain of the school in ?1932, had represented Lancashire at rugby and had a 'good war' with the partisans in Yugoslavia. I do not think any one took liberties with either Mr McKenna or Mr Le Brun.
Our sports master was Alf Pope who had figured on pre-war cigarette cards as a Hearts fullback and had played in the wartime Blackpool team that won the Northern league. We expected much, but in our first lesson he taught us how to protect our groins whilst planting a 'Glasgow kiss' on our opponent's nose. He was a very good Ribblesdale league cricketer for Blackpool but all in all as games master he was not really up to it and his own Saturday sporting activities took him away from his charges. His exploits with the bat made him popular with the boys.
Science teaching was good. Brother Coffey taught chemistry with enthusiasm, Mr Slater taught physics well but he had a throwaway style which didn't go down with everybody and if you didn't bother your backside, neither did he. (He was known as 'Oscar' after the poisoner who went to the gallows and was well regarded by the boys because he had a double life, and simultaneously with teaching was mine host at a public house in Ribchester. Sadly he died young. The best science teacher for me was Brother O'Leary who taught maths and who made us enjoy it, but who also played a major pastoral role as well (more of that later).
The boys were a mixture of working class (mostly) and middle class boys, but the differences at school evened out by wartime exigencies, were not apparent. Mixing was good but friendships often developed on a regional basis: those who travelled by tram to and from Fleetwood formed a distinct clique and individual parish activities, bound others together. One very distinct group which ran through the whole school was membership of the Catholic Boys Association. Although based at St Cuthbert's, South Shore, its members ranged from as far away as Thornton Gate. Attracted by the charismatic Father (later Bishop) Pearson, many of us belonged and through the club, very junior second formers were placed in juxtaposition with their seniors in the sixth form, either in the Bagot Street rooms or at the annual camp in Ambleside. The antics of Tod Crossland (later a teacher at St Joseph's) on VJ day in Ambleside remain in the memory. A further attraction was that Bishop Pearson was a school governor and several of us benefited as he frequently bent the rules and took us away during term time to the Achilli Ratti huts for our first steps in rock climbing.
School certificate examinations came for us in summer 1949 and until then I am really very satisfied with what the Brothers had done for us as teachers. But there was a deficit: I do not remember ever being given any career advice or encouraged to stay on into the 6th form to widen career opportunities (except by Bro. O'Leary when I approached him directly). Because of that there was a massive cull and most boys left to seek employment rather than go on at school. Some of this may well have been due to post war austerities and family requirements, but some blame must go to lack of stimulation from the school; perhaps the general expectation then, left over from before the war, was that working class boys were not expected to aspire to University. Many boys left who undoubtedly would have prospered at University and many no doubt prospered without University because of their intrinsic abilities. My fortune was that I was supported by my parents and stimulated by Bishop Pearson.
Sixth Form Science
We were full of hopes with our new status as 6th formers. Initially the teachers were Brother O'Leary, maths, Mr Slater, physics. Brother Coffey had left to go to St Edwards, near Liverpool, but was replaced by a young enthusiastic Brother Sreenan to teach chemistry. All seemed fair set but within the first weeks disasters: Brother O'Leary gave his maths teaching to Mr Slater who with his laissez faire throwaway style was then responsible for maths, applied maths and physics; worse still Brother Sreenan was sent to ? St Joseph's Stoke and replaced by Brother Goulding (or was it Brother Wall?), brought out of retirement to teach us chemistry. He was a tired old man and with little enthusiasm--- what a contrast to Brothers Coffey and Sreenan. Something must have gone wrong with Christian Brothers manpower planning and any historian of the school ought to seek the reasons for staffing changes at this time.
Coupled with this staffing problem and being fair to the teachers I think that as a class we were not overall committed students and there some definite non tryers who held the class back. The A-level results showed this and I think only two of us went up that year to University, Jim Bottomley, a climbing friend, went to study chemistry at Liverpool where he got a first and myself to Edinburgh to study medicine. The brightest boy in the year, James Hood, stayed a third year in form 6 and got a State Scholarship to Manchester. Brian Tehan (RIP 2009) had no thoughts of University but only eyes for regular service in the RAF where he had a distinguished career. As for the rest I do not know how they fared but if I have been unfair they can riposte.
Form 6, General
I can make no comments about form 6 arts but they got good A-levels and some went to University. Tom Walsh, a CBA climbing friend, had stayed a third year and got a State Scholarship to Cambridge (thanks largely, he said, to Brother O'Carroll!) before going to Upholland and then the English College Rome. He became Parish Priest in Penrith but died in2004. Paddy Kelly ( who claimed his relatives were in the Dublin Post Office at Easter in 1916) studied the arts course but returned to Canada in1951 where he went to University and became a teacher in Ontario. He had been a fearsome hooker for the bantams (<107 lbs) but his pubertal growth spurt came even later than mine so he never achieved his rugby potential at school. He made sure my reading went beyond science and introduced me to Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Steinbeck for which I am grateful. He also introduced me to playing tennis with Convent girls when I should have been training for the athletics team. Brother Phelan quite rightly dismissed me. I got my revenge at the St Joseph's school sports day in1951 winning the mile and half mile with my replacement left way behind. Sadly Paddy died at New Year, 2009. His memory reminds me that in 1951, the school choir sang Perosi's Pontifical mass at Hornby Castle, Kirby Lonsdale, to accompany the mass celebrating the centenary of the birth of the Catholic historian, John Lingard, and our families picnicked together before the Kellys returned to Canada. The mass and the singing was a success on the day; but a recording was made at school and always in the Gloria some one came in too early. Eventally a 'blemished' recording was accepted after many attempts and I believe the final villain with the wrong entry was Peter Fewell, then in Upper V. It would be nice to know if any copies of that recording are still kept in the school records.
Brother Woodhouse was a good headmaster who introduced us to debating, to proper
use of the library and if you went to him was ready with advice but there was no
proactive career guidance from any source. My favourite mentor was Brother
O'Leary: “Don't go to Manchester or Liverpool--- good Medical schools but go to
Edinburgh. That is where I advised Bernard Nolan to go”... and he was right for
me as well. Allegedly he had a chest operation in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary
which formed the basis of his advice. He was also responsible for our religious
education in form 6 and it broadened from the catechism of the lower school to
apologetics and some aspects of comparative religion. My favourite memory of
“Brother O'Leary, why do we stand up and say the Hail Mary when the clock
strikes the hour?”
O'Leary is perplexed and mumbles away incoherently; then a glint of light
appeared in his eyes, perhaps a message from his Guardian Angel. He replies:
“Prayers will help you in later life. There was once an old boy who joined the
Merchant Navy and lived a dissolute life. On one occasion he was in a brothel in
Buenos Aires; he had paid his money and was awaiting a girl. Then the clock
struck the hour, so he stood up said the Hail Mary and left without waiting for
the girl or getting his money back and such is the power of prayer!”
I speak not infrequently to Brother O'Leary for he is buried next door but one
to my Dad in Carleton Cemetery and I was pleased that a photo of his grave is in
I cannot be dissatisfied with what I got from St Josephs. Years after qualifying in medicine, whenever I returned to Blackpool I would drive round St Joseph's and even though it is now a rather upmarket housing estate, the sandstone pillars are there and I still feel a tingle when I see them. In my time I think the Brothers could have done more to stimulate working class boys to go further in education. Perhaps their best period was in the 30's in taking boys through to School Certificate but in Blackpool as the results of the Butler Act progressed they were just not pro-active enough in pushing them on to University and the development of mixed sex schools sadly sidelined them. But many thanks to them anyway for what they did for us.
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