A History of St. Joseph’s College This history is provided by Mr Dominic Hyland who was a Brother at St. Joseph’s from 1958 to 1960 and taught English Literature. In 1911, George Bernard Shaw, himself a famous Irishman had said on fist visiting the Potteries: “If chimneys smoke like that you'll have a large graveyard.” The year 1932 saw the beginnings of the Christian Brothers' lengthy association with the smoky Potteries. On September 12th , 1932 they opened their doors in Trent Vale to 46 pupils. What is quite impressive about that date is that it followed so quickly upon the initial approach for such a school emanating from the office of the Archbishop of Birmingham less than a year before. In 1931, the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Reverend Thomas Williams, had made a formal approach to the Brothers inviting them to consider the possibility of opening a school in the Potteries. It is interesting to note that, although the Archbishop was obviously familiar with the Brothers, he was not sure as to the direction in which to send that initial request. Perhaps he was unaware of due protocol relating to this relatively new Congregation. He addressed this letter to Carlett Park, which at that time was the English Novitiate, the letter was duly sent on to the Brothers' Mother House at St. Mary's, Marino, Dublin for the attention of the Superior General. He was out of the country on visitation in America! However, his acting substitute agreed to meet the Archbishop in Birmingham and at that meeting there was a suggestion that there was no immediate hurry. The Archbishop, indeed, anticipated that it would be two or three years before any school would be established. That was in November 1931. However, by March 1932, there was a real sense of haste. In a letter to the Superior-General Br. Pius Noonan, the Archbishop reacted that he had the opportunity of buying a house in Stoke- on-Trent. It had ten or eleven acres of land. His suggestion now was that if he bought the house and land, the Brothers might begin a new school in September 1932. The pressure was increased by his claim that he had to make his decision within a fortnight. The letter was dated 4th March. It is a measure of not only the speed and efficiency of the postal service but also of the decisiveness of Br. Noonan that the Archbishop's letter was replied to just two days later! In it, Br. Noonan agreed to provide Brothers to begin a school in Stoke in the September. On the strength of that provisional agreement, the Archbishop went ahead and purchased the property. On Tuesday, April 19th, the Superior-General and the Archbishop made their way to the house, High Grove, in Trent Vale. There, Br. Pius Noonan provided a list of conditions relating to the opening of the house and these seemed to be mutually welcomed. However, there were subsequent written exchanges, which seemed a little less amicable. The major sticking point related to the ownership of the property. The Archbishop, perhaps understandably, laid claim to ownership. Pius Noonan his part, deemed it necessary for the Brothers to have ownership. In the end a compromise was reached whereby the Trustees of the Birmingham Diocese would “stand possessed of the property known as High Grove so that the Christian Brothers may maintain thereon a school maintained and managed by them.” And so it was that Br. Dorotheus O'Donoghue and Br. J. Norbert Allen set off on a May Day in 1932 from Carrlet Park to begin work at High Grove. Br. O'Donoghue writes that he could not live at High Grove at the time because it was in such a state of disrepair. He wrote: “Exteriorly, the hour was in a very bad state. Slates missing here and there, valleys filled with leaves and dirt and most pipes choked. Some gutters were broken or out of position and many downpipes had to a replaced. The outside walls and woodwork had not been painted for a generation. In some cases the woodwork was rotten and had to be replaced. The grounds were in a most neglected state, everything was overgrown trees, hedges, shrubs. The Drive and Entrances were in a shocking state. The Garden was overgrown with weeds. It had not been tilled for a long time. The iron railings and gates of the Drive were so eaten with rust, so twisted and so broken, that they seemed almost beyond repair.” It is ironic that this is the same house described by the Archbishop in glowing terms, quoting the Director of Education for Stoke-on-Trent, in this way: “this house and site are the best site we shall get in the Potteries.'' After prodigious work on the house and site, however, Br. Dorotheus was able to move into the house on the 18th August, 1932. Initially, he says: “I had not a chair to sit on nor a table to write on”. Yet this resourceful and obviously patient man, soon addressed that problem and, no doubt, new arrivals would not have realised the privations he had endured in those previous two or three months. The first of these arrivals was Br. Carthage Wall. He had most recently been Superior in Bristol and was now to be responsible for owning and running the school in Trent Vale. He arrived on August 24th and was quickly joined by Br. Finbar O’Leary , from St. Mary’s Crosby and Br. Sebastian Monk out of Carlett Park. All of this would seem to be dangerously close to the school's scheduled opening day on September 4th. But open it did to 46 boys. The formal opening of the school was on October 4th of that year. The event, which was fortunately blessed with fine weather, was held in a marquee in the grounds. The ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of Birmingham and his Opening speech was not without the whiff of controversy. He suggested, for example, that there had been opposition in some Catholic quarters to the opening of a school. The opposition may have in prompted by the significant cost of such a venture. He defended his decision to sponsor its opening by pointing out that the Archdiocese had a Catholic population of 100,000, and that 20,000 of these were children of school age. The school provision within the Diocese was unacceptably thin. In a less-guarded manner he criticised the lack of support offered by Staffordshire County Authority to Catholic education. He said they: “would not give a single penny to help Catholics to give a secondary education of a religious type to any of their children.” This was in sharp contrast according to the Archbishop, to the generous support offered, for example, by the City of Birmingham and the City of Stoke-on-Trent. The school began to experience a healthy growth in numbers from its inception. By the second term there were fifty-seven pupils and this was increased in the third term to seventy-four. By the beginning of the new academic year in September 1933, it had grown to ninety-eight. This level of regular increase was to be characteristic of the early years of the school. It quickly prompted the building of a new school premises since the capacity of the present school had been set at one hundred and twenty. The Superior-General, in a letter to the Archbishop of Birmingham. indicated that he had commissioned an architect, Mr. William Ellis from St Helens, to devise a plan for a building to house 350 pupils. It is fascinating to note the part played by Br. O'Donogue in devising such plans. He it was, for example, who was instrumental in challenging the professional architect's design for the new building. Amongst other details, he introduced the idea that the school would be likely to benefit by use of space to include a basement under one half of the building. One's estimate of the man increases all the time! It is interesting to note that such people as he show such devotion to their calling in life that they can be called upon to interrupt a well-earned holiday to deal with thorny and continuing problems. Thus, Br. Dorotheus records in the House Annals for August 1934 that when the Community was on holiday in Howth, Co. Dublin, the Superior, Br. M.C.Wall was “sent a roll of drawings..... with the request to get opinions from Superiors and Seniors on the Hill.” He was asked to come to Marino the following Thursday, “bringing the plans and the ascertained views.” The directive came from Br. Pius Noonan. The general view was to reject the plan devised by the official architect and accept that drawn up by Br. Dorotheus O'Donoghue. The architect was advised to revise his plans in a strict accordance with Br.Dorotheus. The plans were finally agreed after a variety of minor adjustments and the work was put out to tender. Br. M.C.Wall received estimates from no less than eleven firms. However, one of these especially recommended themselves for they were Catholics! The fact is that the initial estimate received from the firms J.J. Cummings, was about £ 500 to £ 600 in excess of the lowest tender. This was pointed out to the firm and they were encouraged to lower it. This they promptly did and the initial figure of £24,010 was brought down to £23,485. In a letter of January 18th, 1935, Br. Noonan writes to Mr Ellis, the architect: “Br. Wall is strongly in favour of Cummings and as are the Clergy. We are naturally guided by their opinions and we are disposed to give him the work.” Mr. Ellis pursued the Cummings' estimate with this encouragement in mind and his services were eventually secured for the now reduced figure of £22,887.10.0. Work began on February 11th, 1935 the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, when the first sod was turned. Financing the project was effected in the first instance by the Brothers' exploiting of the original agreement of 1932 : “whereby the Archdiocese would lend the Christian Brothers a sum equal to one half of the amount of the cost of the extension for a period of ten years from the date of the loan and thereafter subject to interest at four percent.” That loan, according to a further clause in the agreement, was not to exceed £7500. It was that sum which the Brothers requested and received in a series of installments. Further funds were raised through the Congregation of Religious in Rome. That loan amounted to £15,000. Wednesday, September 23rd, 1936 saw the rather splendid opening of the new premises. The presiding dignitary was the Rt. Hon. Earl of Harrowby , Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire. In his tribute to the school he congratulated others on the rapid expansion of the school. He recognized the tremendous costs involved and confessed that he did not know what money would be forthcoming in Government grants. The answer to that question was provided by another guest-speaker on that auspicious occasion, the Archbishop of Liverpool, Dr. Richard Downey. He made it clear that Catholic schools received £8.13.0d per head in Government grant. The Education Act, he said, empowered the local education authorities to assist non-provided schools. Even then, he said, there was a real discrepancy between aid offered to municipal schools and those made to Catholic schools. Due recognition for the school by the Board of Education was requested. The local authority had no objection to this and in a letter to the Headmaster on 19th October, 1937, the director of Education for Stoke, J.C. Carr, confirmed that the Board of Education had duly recognised the school as entitled to Government grants. At that stage, St. Joseph's had two hundred and eighteen pupils, a significant increase on the fifty or so pupils enrolled just five years earlier. The school’s future was seemed assured, and was threatened only by the onset of World War II. Air-raid shelters were built, blackout provision made, sandbags were everywhere in place. There were a few alarms, most notably when incendiary and high explosive bombs, intended for the nearby Michelin tyre factory, fell dangerously close to the school. But on the whole, the war did not affect progress in the school. There was a Community of eleven there in 1941, each of whom was allocated fire-watching duties. The only recorded inconvenience was that their summer holidays were affected. They were normally spent in Ireland but for the moment they were transferred to Wales and Devon. Once the war was over, the school continued to flourish. It was by now well and truly on the educational map. That had been marked in June 1937, by the visit of the Prime Minister of Australia the Rt. Hon J. A. Lyons and his wife Dame Enid Lyons. He visited St. Joseph's whilst on an official visit to the Potteries and did a because of the great esteem in which he held the Brothers. His four sons were educated by the Brothers in Australia. Another noted visitor was Father Patrick Peyton the Rosary priest. He used the school as a centre for spreading his mission of dedication to the Rosary. Father Peyton's cause for canonisation has recently Ben aired. In 1951 Cardinal Bernard Griffin, Archbishop of Westminster, visited the school for the annual Presentation of Prizes. He himself presented a prize which would be awarded annually to the boy who “makes the most outstanding contribution to the Catholic life of the school by example and action”. If that prize had been made available to members of it might well have gone to Mr. Anthony O'Toole who was then senior English master. For in July that year he joined the Brothers and began his novitiate at St. Mary's , Toddington. There he took the religious name of Leonard and it was he who in later years was the author of the beautiful biography of the Founder : "A Spiritual Profile of Edmund Ignatius Rice" . When Brother Leonard left Stoke there were 562 pupils on roll, the school was about to become three-form entry, there was an increase in staff and new buildings were envisaged. These began to take real shape in 1957 when the school was promised £10,000 towards a new science block from the Industrial Fund for the Advancement of Scientific Education. They also received £1500 for scientific equipment. It was a real vote of confidence in St. Joseph's. It was a sad quirk of fate that, when the Archbishop of Birmingham came to open the impressive extension, technology failed the school - the loud speaker system let them down! It was appropriate that such a new venture was initiated on the occasion of the school's silver jubilee. The future looked promisingly bright for the next twenty-five years. Within just two years, though, clouds were well and truly gathering. In an edition of the local paper the Evening Sentinel for Wednesday, January 28th 1959 the banner headline read: “City Schemes to Abolish 11-plus." The days of the Direct Grant were numbered and the word "reorganisation " would dog the steps of St Joseph's succession of Headmasters from the 60's to the 90's. The impact of change did not strike St Joseph’s immediately for Church schools within the Authority were not included in Stoke's initial schemes. School activities proceeded, at least on the surface, as usual. The Annual Prize-givings continued as ever, for example, though even there we had a hint of a hitch. In 1960, the date chosen coincided with the date of the marriage of Princess Margaret to Anthony Armstrong-Jones. The Headmaster, Br. Cyril Wilkinson, felt obliged to apologise for this apparent lack of loyalty to the throne! It was, perhaps, significant that, in his address to the people at that Prizegiving the guest of honour, Br. P. C. Curran (Provincial) "referring to plans to extend the school, expressed the hope that it would not be extended too much'' ( Evening Sentinel, May 7th 1960). Spending did, however, continue apace. £ 25,290, for example was spent on a new kitchen extension in the school. New playing fields were acquired and in April 1964, amongst other expenditure, about £ 9000 was spent on drainage and levelling alone. Optimism about the future would seem to have been high. Yet, in the House Annals for December 14th, 1964, we might hear alarm bells ringing. There was a "meeting at St. Dominic's High School on reorganisation and how Direct Grant Schools would fit into a proposed Junior High School system". Such meetings began to proliferate. Initially, they were kept strictly internal. Eventually, of course, there was a need to go public and in late 1967 we have reports of a series of such public meetings. There was a real demand that the school should remain single-sex and that it should keep up its traditions in every respect. That meant that priority ought to be given, according to the Governors, to those with "parental and fraternal associations with the College." It stressed , too, that " the Governors would pay close attention to the suitability of the pupils .'' This, in particular, was in reference to academic abilities. For that year saw the abolition of the 11+ in Stoke and the end of the selective system there. The Governors envisaged , no doubt, a selective system of their own. The all-ability school did not seem an option. On November 5th 1969 we, had fireworks forecast once the Stoke Catholic plan for reorganisation was announced. There is a note in the House Annals for Sept 1970 that there was a "mixed bag'' of entrants to the school. In July of that year an outbuilding at the school had been struck by lightning and set on fire. It all of that year seemed very ominous. The announcement that October by the Staffordshire authority that they would be sponsoring no pupils at all by 1984 seemed to reinforce that effect of looming disaster. Indeed, in November of that year Br. Feargal O'Brien (Provincial), suggested that "the Brothers would withdraw from Stoke if we were seen as a hindrance to a scheme which the Diocese wished to implement". It is worth noting that the problems faced by the Brothers in their negotiations with the various L.E.A's who provided pupils to the school were aggravated somewhat by their having to deal with the Diocesan School's Commission. Indeed, a note in the House Annals for 1974 more than hints at this level of difficulty. “Repeated requests,” says the writer “to the DSC have failed to bring to light any proposals or discussions. More striking though is the entry for September 1975: "Arrived back from holidays to find that Bishop Emery had issued his Position paper during August without any prior consultation with the school. The main phrase ' St Joseph's is to be phased out'. Even the dogs in Stoke were talking about it before any member of the school community saw the document." Pyrotechnics ensued. There were three parents' meetings in quick succession and about 1500 parents attended. Media coverage of such protests intensified. As the writer of the Annals puts it: “Life, day and night, is bedevilled by the reorganisation problem." Faced with these problems the Provincial and his advisers decided in December 1978 that the Brothers would finally cut their ties with St. Joseph's. That, in turn, prompted pleas by anxious parents both in writing and in face-to-face deputations to the Provincial Br. P.T. Coffey. So persuasive were they that the decision was revoked and it was agreed that the Brothers would stay on and supervise the setting up of an Independent school. The history of St Joseph's seems to have been marked by various symbolic events. It would appear significant in this context that the end of St . Joseph's at that date was marked by the death of its first Headmaster , Br. M. C. Wall, in September 1979 at the age of 92. St Joseph's opened as a fully independent school in September 1980 with seven members in the Community and three hundred and thirty three pupils on roll. It was obviously set on firm foundations for the school continued to flourish with significant annual rises in numbers. Amongst the new intake in 1982, was their first female student. That caused such a stir locally that it merited a lot of media coverage. Yet it did not , at the same time, open the floodgates for a co-ed school. In 1984, despite an increase in numbers to four hundred and seventy-eight, there were still only two girls on the register. Demand for places and for increased accommodation was such though, that in 1985 a new sixth-form extension was undertaken at a cost of £ 50,000. That does not sound like a school in its death throes. On the contrary, the school continues to prosper though sadly, the Brothers finally left in 2000. St Joseph's will stand as a lasting monument to those many Brothers and lay staff who dedicated so much of their lives to its success. Some of the Brothers who served the school will be remembered by the manner of their going. Brother Baptist Doyle who was Head from 1946 to 1948 died in a fire in the Brothers' community house at St. Ambrose College, Hale Barns, Altrincham in 1983. In February 1987 Br. Michael Borgia Mullowney who taught at St Joseph's for seventeen years died suddenly in his room in the Brothers' house there just two days after his seventieth birthday. In a place far from Stoke Br. John Valerian O'Shea who taught geography at the school died by drowning whilst on holiday in Santander, Spain. In similar tragic vein Br. Senan Kerrigan Head of the school between 1984 and 1990 died at the hands of rebels whilst on the mission in Sierra Leone. Another ex-Headmaster who died away from home was Br. Cyril Wilkinson who passed away whilst on pilgrimage in Lourdes. Brother Leonard O'Toole, mentioned already in this brief history as having taught English at St Joseph's before joining the Congregation died suddenly whilst attending the baptism of a friend's child. The oil intended for the baptism was used in the administering of the last rites. The school motto had been and still is: "Fideliter et Fortiter'' - Faithfully and Bravely- and these two words certainly marked the lives of these Brothers and so many more who worked for the good of St Joseph's and its pupils during the twentieth century.