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From Log Book of St Joseph's

Early Days at St Joseph's by Margaret Hodgson

The world of education was very different in those early days. Before 1870 education was not compulsory. There were only voluntary, private or charitable school or industrial schools. Children were expected to take school pence to school on Monday (4d per week).  Most schools relied on ‘pupil teachers’ who received their training ‘on the job’ gradually working their way up from pupil teacher to Article 51 to Certified Teacher.

In 1856 the Department of Education was formed and in 1858 a Royal Commission recommended the principle of ‘payment by results’. From that date the amount paid to a school depended on the attendance of the children and their results in annual examinations in the 3 R’s conducted by the Inspectors. The log books are full of references to the stress caused by these inspections.

In 1870, William Forster’s Education Act provided for the election of School Boards which could build and maintain schools out of the rates and if they chose provide free education.  It was not for another 21 years, not until 1891, that elementary education was made free for all children between the ages of 3-14

In 1874 the grant for St. Joseph’s School was £32 18s and 0d. The teachers received miserable salaries about £2 per month and only with the greatest difficulty could the priest find the money.


In 1900 a block grant per head replaced the ‘payment by results’ system. Annual Inspection and examination were abolished. HMI were now more likely to pay visits without preliminary notice.


The school log books and the F.C. J. Annals frequently refer to the dreadful poverty suffered by the children and their families.

1892 - ‘Cold, poverty and misery of very kind was experienced by nearly all our little ones, the distress was greater this year than ever it has been before. People, at other times well to do, were glad to receive a cup of soup and a little loaf of bread at one of the Charity Centres’.

February 1895 - The school log book tells of ‘Great poverty and distress among children owing to severe frost and consequent stoppage of works. Several soup kitchens opened in town and children daily supplied with coupons for food’. The FCJ Annals also record, ‘During the spring of this year, our children suffered very much from the pangs of poverty. Hundreds of men who work in the ship yards and timber yards were thrown out of employment owing to the severe winter, and it was impossible for such a large number to find work elsewhere. Had it not been for the charity dinners supplied by the authorities of the town, many of our little ones would have starved’.

In those days there was no ‘safety net’ for the poor except for charity or the dreaded work house where children were separated from their parents and conditions were harsh. Children from the work house attended St. Joseph’s. In 1898 ‘Boys from workhouse absent from school owing to the presence of typhoid fever at the house.  Absent for 5 weeks.’ The school tried to brighten their days. ‘Children from the work house had a tea party in the schoolroom’. (November, 1887)

The poverty and illnesses like measles, diphtheria and scarlatina often took a fatal toll and the log books mention the fairly regular deaths of pupils e.g. 1911 Sept. 17th – ‘one of the school children died and on Wednesday Sept 20th, the children of Standard V were arranged in line outside the school for a few minutes to watch the funeral pass by.’ This funeral was followed a few days later by the death of another child.

But these hard times called forth many examples of generosity.

1905  the log book of the Boys School paints a positive picture of what can be done when describing the free breakfasts given to the poorest children, ‘the caretaker boils the water, makes the tea and assists generally while two members of the teaching staff prepare and distribute the food and maintain order. The local Charity Organisation support the Education Committee. By the sympathetic cooperation of all a good and necessary work is well done’.

1908 ‘The year has been one of great hardship and poverty. A great strike threw nearly all the men out of work and many of the children were almost starving. The town provided free breakfasts for the children of the different schools. These were continued until Easter and began again in October. There were many touching incidents in these sad times. One little girl regularly shared her dinner with those who had none and often the very poor brought in articles of clothing for some child worse off than themselves’.

From the 1917 F.C.J. Annals  ‘Usually the  School Manager (the Parish Priest) provided breakfast for the FHC children but this year funds were low so an appeal was made to the other children who brought in cakes, loaves, packets of tea et. ‘One weeping child said to the teacher of standard one ‘I’ve no clothes to go in and my mother can’t give me nothing to eat’. The whole class were sympathetic and she was ‘soon arrayed in borrowed plumes’ with her ‘purse well filled with 6d’. She was given more cakes than any of the others so she could take them home to her family. ‘Such is the kindness of the poor to one another’.

Inventory at the opening of St. Joseph’s R.C. Girls’ School

March 23rd 1885

12 desks

1 slate board

1 reading stand

1 attendance board

1 Philip’s multiplication chart

1 Heywood’s weights and measures

1 set script. hist. prints

13 doz. Slates

14 doz. Royal readers

12 table books

12 exercise books

5 copy books

10 arithmetics (Wykes)

1 ream foolscap

6 boxes pens

6 slate pencils

1 gross pen holders

1 gross pencil holders

1 dozen geography readers (Blackie)

1 dozen history readers (Sanderson)

3 chairs


Nowadays our inventory runs to at least 57 pages and we no longer count small items like pencils and pens!


Boys, Girls and Mixed Infants

Children started school at four or five years old and joined the Infant Department. After seven boys and girls were taught separately until they left at the age of fourteen.


Although the new building was a showcase school in 1873 it wasn’t long before overcrowding and lack of facilities were hampering the work of the school. By 1895 in the Girls’ Department they were teaching four classes in one room and it appears that not all children had a desk to sit at.

 In January 1900, the head teacher of the boys’ school rearranges the timetable to solve the problem of a dingy building – ‘we take drawing immediately after register to get better light’ and in December 1905 ‘2 teachers complain about poor ventilation. The number in the room should be 62 but average number is 80’.

Electricity was installed in the boys’ school in 1901 but when the school moved to the Exchange Building in 1941 they were once again without electricity and when some visiting sisters come to show a film on the missions the children have to use the Boys’ Club across the road!

1919 Jan 8th ‘temp 27 degrees. Ink frozen. Efforts made to keep warm, extra Physical exercises’.

‘Weather in January extremely cold, 26 degrees indoors on many days’. ‘With fingers stiff with cold and with frozen ink, it was almost impossible to do much work. Before the registers could be marked, the ink had to be thawed.

Occasionally, all the children are sent home because they ‘are too wet to continue’.


In 1934, the F.C.J. Annals were determined to look on the bright side, ‘January came in, cold, crisp, frosty and sparkling in the noonday sun. The climate may be severe but the atmosphere is invigorating and conducive to longevity’.

After the bombing the school eventually moved into the Exchange building which had been declared unfit for use as a school in 1934 (or perhaps even earlier, Sr. Agnes Morgan thought it was 1911).

By 1952, conditions in the Exchange Building in George Street were fast approaching a scandal. There was one toilet for 110 boys, no central heating and no electric lighting.

‘For the past few months our school has been the talk of the town, for our inadequate lighting, heating, sanitary and fire prevention arrangements have been broadcast to the public by several newspapers ‘  (F.C.J. Annals).  Sr. Bernadette remembers that one of the headlines in the local newspaper screamed ‘Children at St. Joseph’s cannot read’. This referred to the fact that in the afternoon, during the winter months, as housewives began to prepare the evening meal the gas pressure dropped and the light in the school dimmed to such an extent that it was too dark to read or write. Sr. Bernadette remembers that teachers could not see children sitting in the back benches. Teachers had to use their ingenuity to come up with activities which did not require much light! Communal singing quickly became a favourite.



The Feasts and Holy Days of the Church’s year were bright spots in the life of the school. First Holy Communion days were celebrated with all the style the staff and families could provide. 1893- ‘Reverend Manager (the parish priest) provided veils for nearly 40 who could not afford veils as well as ‘a handsome card as a souvenir of that happy day’, substantial breakfast served ‘

Life was hard but throughout the year the School arranged trips and treats for the children. There were Christmas parties and trips to Seaton Snooks, Blackhall Rocks, Crimdon and down onto the beach.  I wonder what risk assessments were carried out before this trip to Blackhall…a special prize given for the best bunch of wild flowers gathered on the cliffs’.

There are frequent references to kindly visitors who bring crates of oranges and Christmas cards or who dressed as Santa Claus and gave out gifts (1908).

The teachers often bought little presents or cards for the children or paid for school trips. ‘The teachers showed themselves very generous in the case of some poor little ones who could not afford the tram fare. (1906)

1925 ‘Over 1,500 Catholic children of the town were entertained at the New Picture Hall and given a bag of sweets and cakes as they left. – all courtesy of a Catholic gentlemen recently returned to the town’.

The girls from the convent school regularly brought warm clothing that they had made and donated it to the children of St. Joseph’s.


Inspection Reports were certainly a great deal shorter in the early days. The 1886 report was only 7 lines long. Although the ‘school is doing good and useful work English is not sufficiently good to earn the recommendation of a grant’. Inspectors certainly pulled no punches; the 1887 report begins ‘The school is doing a very useful work amongst a somewhat low class of children’ and in 1897 states ‘I am most disappointed with the want of intelligence in this school’.

More often than not the inspectors were very complimentary e.g. (1901) ‘The tone and discipline of this school are excellent and the teaching is very thorough’ but the prospect of an inspection was feared, ‘This year we dreaded the examination to come round as a great number of our children had been forced to remain away from school for a long time for one cause or another. The government Inspector usually so harsh and exacting was more than paternal, we scarcely knew him to be the same man; as a mark of his confidence and trust in our work, he exempted all our schools from examination and gave us the highest merit grant’.


When there was a startling announcement of an inspection at the convent school in April  1904: ‘each one braced herself to undergo the dreadful ordeal!’


The report of June 1904 is one that any school would be delighted to receive. ‘The discipline is of the best kind – the order in the classes is perfect. It appears to spring from the happy state of feeling existent between the teacher and the child and not from any fear of punishment’. (F.C.J. Annals)

One of the nuns tempted fate in 1912 when she wrote, ‘we rarely have an inspection of any kind’. The next year they were inspected twice! ‘One day in July when almost every other department was enjoying the  half holiday, in walked 2 of HM Inspectors, followed a few minutes later by their chief. They had not troubled us for three years, so they entered very thoroughly into everything and returned the following week to finish their work. After the summer holidays and when we had received an excellent report on the work of the school we were again ‘surprised’.

As a Catholic School, St. Joseph’s regularly underwent ‘Religious Examinations’ which usually resulted in a highly complimentary report.


Not all Victorian Schools took a casual approach to corporal punishment and parents weren’t always seen and not heard!

On February 26th 1890 the Boys’ Log Book records the ‘Case of punishment by Mr. Arnold. John Booth St. IX did not do his grammar well and was punished by his teacher. On coming down to school in the afternoon Mrs. Booth brought her boy and showed the mark on boy’s face and brow. Complained of Mr. Arnold’s conduct. The latter explained and expressed regret.

I afterwards spoke to Mr. Arnold about it and pointed out once more that the managers strictly enjoin that all corporal punishment shall be given by the principal teacher. Assistant teachers are strictly prohibited from using corporal punishment.’

In 1908 there were complaints by neighbours about the boys’ behaviour to Japanese visitors. I wish the Head had filled in the details...who were these visitors and why were they in Hartlepool?

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