A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

St Gregory’s School, Cheltenham

St Gregory’s School, Cheltenham 1903-1916

From the Pages of the Managers’ Minutes Book by Brian Torode (1989)

Although founded in 1827 the first official managers’ meeting was held in St Gregory’s Priory on 11th November 1903. The Foundation (Church nominated) Managers of St Gregory’s R.C. School, Cheltenham No.12 were the Very Reverend R.A. Wilkinson (Rector), Chairman; Rev D.P. O’Hear (Assistant Curate), Secretary; Mr William Welstead and Mr Denis Daley. To those are added two non-Foundation Managers, i.e. Local Education Authority appointed members – namely Alderman George Norman and Mr Hubert Waddy.

The Managers’ Meetings were held in the Priory until 1912, after which they were sometimes held in the School or in the ‘Teachers’ House’ – presumably St Gregory’s Convent, opposite the School premises in St Paul’s Street North. The Minutes of these meetings record in some detail the social as well as the academic background to the way of life experienced by the children.

One of the things immediately apparent is the constant change of staffing in days when pupil teachers were still acceptable and un-certificated teachers the norm. In fact during the period concerned there was only one certificated member on the staff until 1908. Teachers’ salaries were negotiated with the Education Committee through than Managers and any increase requested by a teacher had to have the support of the Head Teacher. Increases recorded amount to £5 per annum for a certificated teacher and £2-10-0d for an unqualified assistant. In 1912 the Headmistress of the Senior School received £100. The Education Committee paid salaries for SECULAR teaching only. The proportion of time spent in teaching ‘religion’ had to be funded by the Managers. The Headmistress of the Senior School, Mother Gertrude, was also a ‘serving’ teacher – that is a class teacher. She made several requests for ‘an assistant’, as the running of the school and full time teaching was proving unsatisfactory and almost impossible. In fact it was not until 1908 that such a request was granted and an ‘all round improvement in the school’ was reported at a subsequent Managers’ meeting.

Father Boniface MacKinlay was Secretary/Correspondent to the Managers in 1907 and he, and later his successors, made repeated and strong references to the untidiness and uncleanliness of both the school and the children, although the discipline was good. One of the difficulties that had to be faced was that parents, as now, had a free choice as to which school they wished their child to be educated at. As some parents resented correction they moved their children to non-Catholic schools and so it became difficult to improve the image of St Gregory’s. Plus ca Change ……. However, State schools were experiencing the same problem. Gloucester Road Council Schools’ Headmistress voiced her feelings on the subject in 1909, even though in 1906, all head teachers had been instructed by the Education Committee not to admit children from other schools without reasonable excuse.

At St Gregory’s repeated attention was drawn to the poor condition of the children and in 1908 an anonymous benefactor supplied shoes and stockings to all needy children. The poorer children received a ticket to the Christmas treats during the holidays as well. Eighty seven pairs of boots were also given to those in need and those who did not receive them were supplied with ‘Robin Tea’. In spite of obvious need, the Managers in 1908 refused to implement the Provision of Meals Act, considering that the children were adequately fed and that the adoption of the Act would tend to ‘pauperize and demoralize both parents and children, and ENCOURAGE IMPROVIDENT HABITS!’ By late 1908 at the annual medical inspection, the Doctor reported that the condition of the boys was satisfactory – a tidy respectable set of children; but of the girls – satisfactory with a few exceptions. Requests were made for a clothing grant from the Education Committee but it was stressed that all garments would have to be stamped so that they would not be pawned.

The numbers of children attending the two departments of the school remained fairly static during the period under consideration – about 146 in the senior department and 86 in the infant department, although at one period the former’s numbers peaked at 186. During the summer term attendance often dropped with as many as forty children being absent ‘hop-picking’. Regular inspections were undertaken by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Schools and on most occasions good reports were received. Only in 1913 were they ‘dissatisfied with the report’. Two years previously a very practical suggestion had been made, that girls should be taught to REPAIR as well as to MAKE garments! Each month the children received a half day’s holiday as up to 1910 there were no half term breaks, but even when half term holidays were officially introduced the Catholic schools could not claim them as they took Holidays (Holy Days) of Obligation instead.

The condition of the buildings and the furniture within them were often criticised. The Local Authority was responsible for ‘wear and tear replacements’. Repeated requests for new desks with backs and footrests were finally granted in 1909. After a cleaning, painting and reair blitz in 1907 ‘the building is now both internally and externally in an excellent state of repair and although the schools are not new, they are now as cheerful, clean and well ventilated as any in the town’. Two years later, the latest ‘incandescent’ gas lighting was installed. The caretaker’s wages were a constant source of dispute between the Education Committee and the Managers. The rate was £24 per annum but St Gregory’s claimed that its caretaker could not do the job for less than £30. It took two years of constant arguing before the Local Education Authority agreed to St Gregory’s claim.

The children were encouraged to take part in all local celebrations such as Empire Day and Victoria League Pageants and Competitions. One boy who won a prize – a copy of Westward Ho! – had it sent back with a protest, by the Managers’ Correspondent, Father MacKinlay, as being unsuitable. A substitute replacement was received! The attitude of the Managers over some issues seems rather puzzling and at times unsympathetic – as with the school meals plans mentioned earlier. In 1908, when an attempt to introduce Fire Drill into all schools was made, the Managers felt ‘instruction is inapplicable to our school premises’. Later, when there was a possibility of buying land in Monson Avenue for a boys’ school Father B.E.R. Thomas (then Rector) was openly relieved when the plans came to nought as he could ‘see no need’, despite the fact that the other Managers were most enthusiastic. However, in 1914, as the boys had to learn gardening, land was rented in Brunswick Street for a school garden. A local gardener, Mr J. Barratt, was employed to do the teaching at a wage of 2-6d per week – holidays excepted.

Most of the teachers at the school were from St Gregory’s Convent but in the Minutes they are frequently referred to by their secular names. There was a succession of Infant School Headmistresses which included Teresa Lyons (c1904), Miss Gerrard (-1906), Margaret Sheridan (1906-1916) and Miss Fenton (1916-1921). Mother Gertrude (Sarah Malone) was Headmistress of the Senior Mixed School from November 1902 until June 1925 when she died suddenly in Paris returning from a pilgrimage to Lourdes. She was best remembered for the ‘spectacular plays for the children’ and was well known and much loved. The Managers expressed their profound regret at her death and ‘their high appreciation of the excellent work done by her during her long term of Headmistress-ship’.

This paper was produced in 1986 and the author wishes to record his thanks to Father Timothy Kelly (Rector) and Mr Brian Woodhouse (Head Teacher) for allowing him access to the archives.

(Published in Journal 9 of the Gloucestershire and North Avon Catholic History Society, Spring 1989)

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