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History of St Joseph's (1) 1857-1957

St Joseph’s School 1857- 1957 by Margaret Hodgson


2007 is a year of Jubilee for St. Joseph’s R.C. School in Hartlepool. The school was founded in 1857 (in a loft over a warehouse) and then in 1873 a purpose built school was opened. It was this building, on the corner of Musgrave Street and Whitby Street, which was bombed in 1940. St. Joseph’s was rebuilt in 1957 on the present site of Musgrave Street and Tower Street. So we are celebrating 150 years as well as our Golden Jubilee.

Nowadays, St. Joseph’s is something of a ‘hidden gem’. The school’s postal address is Musgrave Street but as Musgrave Street no longer exists many a visitor or delivery van has had to search to find us! They assure us it is well worth the effort! During our Jubilee year we hope to offer a warm welcome to friends old and new as we share our celebrations.

St. Joseph’s has a rich and interesting history of service to the children of Hartlepool, the local community and the Church. I hope that this history of the school gives some flavour of the joys and sorrows of the school through the years. It is impossible not to reflect that whilst so much has changed so much has stayed the same. This history is drawn mainly from the school log books and Annals of the Order of the Faithful Companions of Jesus (F.C.J.) as well as books on the history of the Church in Hartlepool. Our Jubilee celebrations will be an opportunity for past pupils and staff to share their memories with the current generation.  Our next project will be to compile a history of the school since 1957 as well as to record the precious eye-witness accounts of our ‘old boys and girls’. I hope anyone who recognises a friend in a photograph or who has a story to tell will contact the school.

This booklet is dedicated to Sr. Bernadette Cassidy F.C.J. whose long years of service to the school, love of its children and passionate interest in its history are an inspiration.


                                                      Margaret M. Hodgson (Head Teacher)

St. Joseph’s R.C. Primary School

Musgrave Street,





Growing and Building

It is not easy to track down the beginnings of our school; there are conflicting reports. According to the  Northern Daily Mail of 14th May 1927  ‘St. Joseph’s Elementary School commenced in 1857 in a loft in Stockton Street where the Crown Inn now stands’[1]. It appears that it later moved to a loft over a warehouse in Princess Street. This was a Day school run by Miss Margaret Hedley and assisted by Miss Fanny Taylor and Miss Susanna Loam. This was in the days before the Parish of St. Joseph’s was founded so the loft was also used by Fr Knight and Fr. Harivel to ‘instruct the people in the Faith and offer a service on Sunday evening’[2]. St. Joseph’s has often been a school on the move. The room above the warehouse in Princess St. was not considered very satisfactory as a school. Fr. Dwyer sold land at Belle Vue which had been bought as a site for St Joseph’s church. With the money he bought a site for a new school in South Whitby Street in 1870. In 1871 the foundation stone was laid by Canon Knight of Hartlepool. The school was opened after Easter in 1873 at a cost of £1,500 and Miss Susanna Loam was the first headmistress. At first the school was a mixed school for 330 children and in 1873 was considered to be one of the finest in the town. People involved in school building travelled for miles to see this up to date school. There is some confusion as to when the school moved from the loft as the F.C.J. Annals of 1934 state that ‘When Mother Clare Carroll opened the school, she began with 50 girls and infants in a room rented over a shop’. The F.C.J. order did not arrive in Hartlepool until 1885.

The Church of the time always made the education of the young its priority. Although the Catholics of West Hartlepool longed for a new Church (mass was said in the skating rink or in halls around the area) every time the parish saved enough to begin building the money was diverted to the school in order to accommodate the increase in pupil numbers. The Church of St. Joseph’s was not built until 1895 although the parish had been established in 1867.

The explosion in the Catholic population at this time mirrored the increase in the general population as workers from all over the British Isles streamed to Hartlepool to work in the docks, the railways and other trades.  In 1832, a railway was built from the nearby Durham coalfields to Hartlepool where the port was extended. However the small port could not handle all this trade and Ralph Ward Jackson, in 1847, opened new docks very near Stranton to the south west of Hartlepool[3].

The area around the docks became inundated with newcomers to the area and the new town was called "West Hartlepool". It quickly engulfed the ancient village of Stranton and by 1861 had a population of 14,515. The new town became a centre not only for coal export, but for iron works, shipbuilding and all the associated trades. The population continued to rise dramatically:

1851 – 4,769, 1861 – 14,515, 1871 – 23,246, 1881 – 30,914, 1891 – 44,252, 1901 – 63,756

In the 1880s the School once again became very overcrowded and as a temporary measure Fr. Crolly rented Halladown Hall in Park Road to ease the situation.  A new school built in 1890 for girls and infants (£2,000), adjoining the old school and was placed under the care of the nuns while the old original building became the Boys’ school only under the care of Mr. Christopher Lynch (head for 46 years 1874-1920). At that time it cost between £8-9 per place to build a new school. In 1965 it was £175. Paul Briggs (Assistant Director of Children’s Services) estimates that, in 2007, it would cost around £3milllion to rebuild a school the size of St. Joseph’s; this works out to around £18,000 per place!

During the next eleven years the Catholic population of Hartlepool continued to rise so in 1901 Fr. Wickwar was forced to look around for even more accommodation. St. Joseph’s took over a building near corner of Mildred Street and Hart Lane which became known as Hart Lane School for infants. (This was closed in 1934 with the opening of Sacred Heart School.)

In 1910 space was once again in short supply so a disused Church of England school at Stranton was used and several Standards or classes remained there until 1914 when St. Cuthbert’s was built. Miss G. Jones was the teacher in charge and Miss Granville went with her under the supervision of Mr. Lynch. 

The Children of the school were once more on the move in 1939. The vulnerable position of the Hartlepools led to the call for the mass evacuation of local children.  On the 4th September 1939 St. Joseph’s School was closed indefinitely after the declaration of war. Plans for evacuation were well advanced and on 8th September 1939 117 girls and 2 teachers (Miss Corcoran and Miss Anderson) left by train for Whitby. At first attendance at school was voluntary. For those who remained at home these places were used for group teaching:  Eden Villa, Tower St (Mrs. Timlin’s), 8 Archer Street (Miss Allen’s), 71a Whitby Street (Miss Massey’s,) 19 Surtees Street (Miss Eggleston’s), The Corporation Hall, South Street, Old Town. For a time, St. Joseph’s senior boys were accommodated at St. Joseph’s Men’s Club in Reed Street, where the only available playground was the back street. Sr. Veronica Garner F.C.J. (June Garner) remembers having lessons in the Billiard Hall over a cafe using the billiard table to work on.

The F.C.J. annals record ‘St. Joseph’s had to share the common fate in September.  The evacuation order did not meet with a willing response.  People could not see more safety for their children at the coast towns of Whitby and Scarborough than at home in West Hartlepool, especially as children from Newcastle and Hull were billeted at Seaton.  Of course they forgot that Hartlepool is a “fortified port” and submarine harbour.  It is also a mine-sweeping base.  At an educational meeting it was decided that the secular teachers would evacuate in turn and the nuns work at the house system of teaching at home’.

Some children returned home after a few weeks or months, others stayed away until the end of the war. In 1940 the school was bombed. Some more children were evacuated; others ‘spread round’ the local area being taught in houses and rooms above businesses; some classes were taught in Ward Jackson School. In 1941 the school moved into the Exchange building in George Street (now the Reproduction Centre). This building had been declared unfit for use as a school in the early 1930s, had been used and abandoned by the military and was now once more in use as a school.

Mother Agnes Morgan recalls in her memoirs, ‘the old St. Joseph’s School was bombed during the war but it was completely destroyed and the children were housed in an old Board School that had been empty since 1911.  In spite of many inconveniences this was a very happy school thanks mainly to Mother Margaret O’Brien whom I replaced.  There was no central heating, no electricity or running water and when there was a gas leak the children were moved from one room to another.  There was no playground so we were allowed to take the children for games etc. on the beach.’

The school moved one last time in 1957 when the new school was opened on Musgrave Street but not without a few false starts. The F.C.J. Annals of 1956 record:

 ‘At the beginning of July the teachers of St. Joseph’s were told to pack, as the new school was near completion.  The next three weeks were busy ones, the children brought in dozens of empty cartons and boxes while the bin men removed the accumulation of fifteen years.  The last Monday of the term saw bare walls, unsightly and crumbling, empty shelves and cupboards and piles of boxes and bundles in every corner.  At 10 am an inspector arrived for a General Inspection of the school.  Although there had not been an inspection in the school for about eighteen years, yet no one expected it in the last week of term.  However, if there were no tidy books to see, neither were there any untidy ones.  The ordeal lasted two and a half days and, although the inspector was very helpful and considerate, all breathed a sigh of relief when it was over.

Towards the end of the holidays news came that St. Joseph’s new school was not quite finished so we returned to the old spot.  As the term wore on, cupboards gradually filled again, so by Christmas we were back to normal.  There is no hope of going to the new school until the work is finished.’

The long awaited final move was a great day for the children and staff. Mother Agnes Morgan writes, ‘so again I had the joy of moving but this time it was only over two streets. We got two days in Holy Week to move in so when the pupils came back after Easter there was great rejoicing.  We had a lovely building, a big playing field, a hard court and a rose garden.  During the first play periods the children just ran round and round the field.  Even the teachers and the caretaker joined in this mini marathon’.

As far as we know, there are no plans for the school to move again!!

[1]   Catholic Church in Hartlepool and West Hartlepool p.27


[2] From Down Your Aisles by Michael Morris and Leo Gooch  pp. 146 - 150


[3] West Hartlepool by Robert Wood

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