A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
St John’s RC Primary School as remembered by the Harding family
Written by Elaine Wright (nee Harding) 17th June 2009
As an old girl with a long family connection with St John’s School, I thought I would tell you of our memories of St John’s school. The school was first opened in the 1830s by the Benedictines and was next door to St John’s Church. The Monks asked the Nuns of the order of La Sainte Union convent to teach at the school. When my Grandmother and her family attended and later my father and his family the school was open to all ages up until they were due to leave school. Back then in front of the church and school were orchards. Now on that site is the police station and car park.
When my brother went to St John’s in the late 1950’s/ early 1960’s St John’s school had an annex at Belmont, at the top of Guinea Lane which housed one senior and two junior classes.
The first secular head teacher of St John’s was Mr Gilchrist, who then later became the first head teacher of Cardinal Newman School at Odd Down when the school was split in 1961. Following this Sister Ignatius became Head Mistress of St John’s.
In 1964 it was felt that an annex should be attached to the Church of Our Lady & St Alphege in Oldfield Lane. In the beginning there were two port cabins and they also used the games room about the church hall and the stage of the hall was used as a dining room. The hot meals were delivered every day from another school. Fr O’Leary was the Parish Priest at this time and asked my mother, Beryl Harding, to be the first caretaker of the school. He told her that there were plans to build a permanent school with a caretaker’s house in the future. By the time I joined the school in 1965 there were 4 portacabins and the games room became the teachers’ staff room. We used the hall for Gym and Assembly. Sr Ignatius visited the annex at least once a week. The classrooms were kept warm by Anthracite fires which had to toped up last thing at night and early morning. Many a time to help my Mum out my Father or my Brother would go up to the school before seven o’clock to bank up the fires so we had warm classrooms. We used to join the main school for our sports day at the Recreation Ground. The first teachers at the annex were two sisters called Miss Sheridan and a Miss Fallon. These were followed by Miss Burton, Mrs Ozzard, Miss Jameson who became Mrs Chilton, Mrs Holloway and Mr Trenchard who became Deputy Head. The classroom assistant at this time was a lovely lady called Mrs Mapson. I can remember as a child spending a few days at the school during the summer holidays because Sr Ignatius asked my Dad if he would paint the tables and chairs for the classrooms. Due to the annex being small every one knew most of the other children. I have often looked back with fondness of my time at the annex.
St John’s school in South Parade had a tendency to flood and many a time children were unable to attend school. When I went to the main school in 1968 because we moved house, it was a new experience, I was used to just four classes but now there were seven classes, three infant and four junior. The orchards in front of the church were gone and now were a police station and car park. At the back of the school there was a garden and in about 1969 Mgr Kelly gave the school his garden for a playground. Whilst it was being dug up and tar-maced over we were not allowed to enter it. However, a hand full of children disobeyed this order and went in. This was not a good move because they were given a telling off in front of the whole school.
I have fond memories of St John’s, like when it was really cold the small bottles of milk had ice on them! After we had gone home one day a cow escaped from the cattle market, came to school and got stuck in a cloakroom! Several of the pegs where we hung our coats were flattened and our sports day was held on the recreation ground. We also put on an old time musical for the parents; a leaving concert for Sister Eileen; where we sang our own version of She’s football crazy because Sister took the boys for football and thanks to her we had a really good team. On a sad note when I was in Junior four, one of the teachers Mrs Mills passed away and on the day of her funeral we gave a guard of honour along South Parade for her. She was sorely missed as a good but fair teacher like most of the teachers in the school. At St John’s one knew most of the pupils, even if not in your year because we were like a big family. Unfortunately, some of my old teachers have passed away. Last year, whilst at Sunday evening mass at the Church of Our Lady and St Alphege, I met Sr Ignatius who was in Bath for a few days, it was lovely seeing her again.
In 1979 St Gregory’s School was formed as a Catholic Comprehensive School for Bath. It was decided that the buildings of Cardinal Newman School would be used, leaving the Convent school empty. The main St John’s school moved to the old convent school building in Pultney Road. The old St John’s school became offices and flats for retired priests.
Now nearly 150 years after St John school first opened next to the church and many changes later, a new school is about to open in the grounds of the Church of Our Lady and St Alphege. I know I speak for all my family when I say we wish you well and we will continue to support the school.