West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
 
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Pontefract Memories and Recollections

St. JOSEPH'S - AN UNUSUAL SCHOOL


by DAVE BARRY

My school was unusual in 1963 in that you entered it at the age of five and left when you reached the age of fifteen. The 1944 Education Act, which established secondary schools for all, was very late reaching Roman Catholics in the West Riding. The school was, and still is, St. Joseph’s, on Newgate. Few children left at eleven to go to grammar school as the Catholic ones were in Leeds, but it was still a highly regarded school by local employers.

The life of the school was very much involved with the activities of the adjacent church in Crab Hill. Each week all the children would attend Mass and Benediction (a blessing service) during school time. The priests knew every child and the whole town would be witness to the processions twice a year.

These processions were led by a brass band and Catholics of the Parish would carry their banners denoting membership of the Catholic Nurses Guild and such like. Hymns were sung and roses scattered on the street by schoolgirls dressed in white as the procession wound its way along Ropergate, through the Buttercross (another Benediction!), up Beastfair and back to the church. Many non-Catholics must have cursed us for closing the Town Centre to traffic on those Sundays.

First Holy Communions were also a very memorable event for most young Catholics. Even as late as the 1950’s we first learned to write using slates, but with chalk rather than slate pencils, moving very quickly to ink, ink wells and scratchy stick pens. The top infant’s classroom of Miss McGuire, still had desks in galleries, possibly one of the last in the country.

Edward (Beaky) Harring, was the head teacher of the ‘big school’ during most of my time at the school and notable teachers included: Messers Lemon, Levy, McGuinness, the girls favourite, McDermott and Misses: Ellen, Cairns, McGuire, McHardie, McKay and the almost legendary Mrs Padgem of the reception class. ‘Beaky’ wielded the ‘stick’ with great regularity!

The school had no playing fields of its own and we would walk, or run, to the field next to the Sun and Moon houses at the top of Halfpenny Lane. I almost got into the school football team but failed the throw-in test given to any potential wing half. Mr. Pagdin, who collected the waste food after the school dinners, had his premises up there too. I remember he used to pick up the pig bin and the contents would slip down the back of his neck as he carried it to his lorry.

Sports Day was at the Park and everyone would participate in at least one event and one super sports person would seemingly win nearly everything and be awarded the title "Victor Ludorem". I would love to know who the lad was whose arm was pierced by a javelin - in flight - during one of those events in the 1960’s.

This unusual school also asked me to move ten tons of horse manure for the gardens by wheelbarrow and to shovel a similar amount of coke into the bunkers from the pile that had been left by lorry, both activities were regarded as a privilege and a treat! I was also ‘Hall boy’ for some months in my third year. I was allowed to miss every lesson – except RE.

Bullying was unusual but when it did happen, Beaky would organise a boxing ring in the playground and the bully would "put the gloves on" with one of the older boys – the bully often ending up with a bloodied nose.

My class left in 1963 to go the new St. Wilfrid’s school at North Featherstone and there we discovered that the education received at St. Joseph’s had indeed been elementary. The school has great memories for me but I wont embarrass any of my fellow pupils except Sheila, who started in Mrs Pagem’s class on the same day as me, and Norman, who was to be the first lad I sat next to.

I write these few words in the hope that other readers who attended the school will add to them over the next few months.

Dave Barry


 

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