An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St. Helens, Lancashire

Part 19 (of 92 parts) - History of St Anne's RC School

An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St.Helens
Part 19 (of 92 parts) - History of St Anne's R.C. School
An Illustrated History of
Old Sutton in St.Helens
St Anne's School
Researched and Written by Stephen Wainwright ©MMXVII
In 1856 when Rev. Henry Vallancey was seeking funds for his new Church of England schools, he referred in his correspondence to a day school attached to St. Anne's Church. This was then the only public school situated near the main working Sutton population. It had opened three years earlier as a single schoolroom attached to the monastery. When the nuns of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion led by Elizabeth Prout began teaching at St. Anne's school in July 1855, there were only 40 girls. However the Passionist church congregation grew quickly and by 1861 there were 2000 parishioners whose children needed educating.

Some of these St.Anne's boys' clothes pictured in 1909 have seen better days - Contributed by John Barton

Some of these St.Anne's boys' clothes from 1909 have seen better days

Class photo of St.Anne's boys in 1909

As Sutton Parish had Rev. Vallancey to fight for education for their poor C. of E. children, so the Passionist Catholics had Father Bernadine Carosi. The St.Helens Weekly News of May 25th 1861 reported on a 'tea party and soiree' held in St. Anne's Schoolroom, which celebrated the feast of St. Bernadine, whose name their Father Superior had adopted. Two hundred parishioners and clergy heard a stirring tribute from Rev. Albin, who said Fr. Bernadine had for 'so long been our beloved pastor'. He praised him for erecting schools at Sutton and at Peasley Cross (St. Joseph's), 'certainly not without much opposition, trouble and anxiety'.

The old St.Anne's Roman Catholic boys school - contributed by Ian H. Campbell

The old St.Anne's Roman Catholic boys school in Sutton, St.Helens

The old St.Anne's boys school

By this time 300 children were attending the schools and a new Burtonwood school attended by 40 pupils had recently opened. As the Catholic population expanded, so improved school buildings were needed in Sutton to accommodate an increasing number of youngsters. The difficulty was in finding the funding. St. Anne's Church, Monastery and Schools had a number of benefactors during the nineteenth century, with John Smith and the Borrows family of locomotive manufacturers especially generous. However Smith, who was a director of the St.Helens Canal & Railway Company, died in 1863 and the Borrows' Providence foundry in Peckers Hill Road, that was named after their Roman Catholic faith, only began operating in 1868. It took some years before they became successful and able to provide financial support to their church. So raising sufficient funds for a new school was a slow process and it took until 1869 before its foundation stone was laid. This took place on April 11th before what the Liverpool Mercury described as a 'vast concourse' of people.

After a church service, a procession was formed which included members of the Sutton Catholic Philanthropic Society and Peasley Cross Guild, plus a number of little girls dressed in white and wearing long flowing veils and coronets of flowers. Within the stone that was ceremoniously laid, a time capsule was inserted which contained coins, documents and a local newspaper. The new school building was completed in 1870 and built on the opposite side of the road to the monastery. It accommodated 500 pupils and provided living accommodation for the master and mistress, who around 1880 were
Thomas Bate George and his Irish wife Mary. In the later years of the 1880s, a Mr. Bate was the headmaster.

A new wing was added to the school not long after its construction, however the building soon proved inadequate. So on September 16th 1883, the foundation stone for a new girls' school was laid. It was opened on April 22nd 1884 at a cost of £1500 and was designed by architect
Albert Vicars and built by Fisher's builders of Sutton. It was constructed in a Gothic style out of bricks with stone dressings and measured sixty feet by twenty-seven feet. For many years the nuns of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion ran the girls’ school at St. Anne’s.

St.Anne's girls’ school photographed by Frank Sheen in 1960 from the Pudding Bag end of a flint walled Monastery Lane

St.Anne's girls’ school taken by Frank Sheen in Monastery Lane in 1960

St.Anne's girls’ school in 1960

A total of 700 children were now attending the schools but the new building plunged the Passionist Fathers into debt. Fundraising activities to pay it off included a Fancy Fair and an annual prize draw that boasted some unusual prizes. A Dublin newspaper of 1885 revealed that the 'Great Drawing of Magnificent Prizes' at St. Anne's Schools included a pearl ring valued at £100, a chest of carpenter's tools, an 'extraordinary (missing link) Smoking Monkey (a prize of great novelty)' and a revolver. Although it seems strange for a church to offer a gun in a prize drawer, it was quite common in Victorian times for fairly well-off individuals to own a pistol. Even some members of the clergy possessed one.

On March 2nd 1889 the St.Helens Reporter described how four days earlier the school had been packed with a delighted audience watching children performing the operetta ‘Prairie Life, or Scenes from the Wild West’. St. Anne’s pupils depicted life out west, with their show featuring Annie Oakley, European emigrants and Buffalo Bill’s cowboys taking on the Indians. Songs and dances were performed with 100 children taking part in the chorus. In fact the school productions were feted for their quality. In 1922 the St.Helens Newspaper wrote that: ‘The children’s concerts in St. Anne’s, Sutton have always maintained a standard of excellence rarely equalled elsewhere and in pre-war days were one of the events of the winter time in that quarter of the town’.

Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser of Dublin - December 5th 1885 and January 4th 1886

Freeman's Journal of Dublin - December 5th 1885 and January 4th 1886

Freeman's Journal 1885 and 1886

The Passionists became victims of their own success. As soon as they'd paid off the debt on the last school that they'd built, a new one needed constructing. So in 1895 a new infants school was built. The increase in school attendees is indicated by a report in the St.Helens Reporter of August 2nd 1895 which describes the annual demonstration (i.e. procession) of the Catholics of Sutton and Burtonwood. Over 1000 boys and girls processed to Mr. Willis's field in Sutton Junction where a fête was held. Roughdale's Brass Band led the procession followed by masters W. Murphy, J. Taylor, Ged Taylor, H. Leadbetter, W. Clare, Geo Jones, Jas Parr, Joe Case, Peter Almond, W. Nolan, P. Holland, and John Ashton. These were the Morris Dancers who performed as the procession journeyed along Church Street and Robins Lane as the newspaper commented:
 Much delight was shown by the populace at the artistic evolutions portrayed by these boys...Along the route through the various streets bunting and other decorations enlivened the scene beyond description...When the processionists arrived at the field, the sun shone out magnificently. After about 1000 children had been substantially fed, various sports and entertainments were indulged in. A stage had been erected where the children of Sutton Infants School delighted their hearers with a commendable performance. Miss Bickerstaffe played the harmonium for them most satisfactorily. 
The proceeds of the event went towards lessening the debt on the new school build. There were also four fundraising performances by the schoolchildren of Balfe’s opera ‘The Bohemian Girl’ and from June 17th 1896 a four-day bazaar was held in the Catholic Club Room. Both of these events made considerable contributions to clearing off the debt. Not only was there a constant battle to provide funding for a school provision that was regularly expanding but during the twentieth century a war was also waged on subsidence. Serious signs emerged in 1937 but the cracks were only plastered and painted over and in 1948 the infants school was closed.

Two photographs of John Duffy who served as headmaster of St.Anne's Boys School from 1913 to 1950

Photos of John Duffy who served as boys’ headmaster from 1913 to 1950

St.Anne’s boys’ head John Duffy

John Duffy served as headmaster of the boys' school for 37 years after being first appointed in 1913 at the age of 24. He replaced the late William Doyle as head, who himself had run the school for many years. The new incumbent was the son of pit sinker John Duffy Snr. and mother Teresa and the family lived in Prescott Street (in East Sutton near Station Road) before moving to Peckers Hill Road. Duffy attended St.Anne's school from the age of three and joined the staff in 1909. In teacher training in London he had gained first place in college exams and received a silver watch from Lord Howard of Glossop for his general proficiency. In 1917 Duffy was conscripted into the army, resulting in the boys’ school being badly under-staffed for some time.

A 1920 class at St.Anne's Roman Catholic Boys School with teacher John Duffy - Contributed by John Barton

1920 class at St.Anne's Boys School with young teacher John Duffy

1920 class with teacher John Duffy

In 1927 John Duffy was appointed secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers and in 1931 was elected president, an honour repeated in 1949. For over 20 years he represented St.Helens at the annual conferences of the National Association and his comments were often quoted in national newspapers. Speaking in a discussion on criticism of teachers at the 1931 conference in Portsmouth, Duffy said "I am looked up to in my district as a little tin god". In May 1942 he protested against the excessive admin that heads were now expected to undertake, being responsible for registration statistics, medical cards, milk cards, filing, docketing, requisitions and triplicate stock books. Addressing the NAHT conference in London in June 1943 in a debate on school absenteeism, the St. Anne's head said on one afternoon he'd counted a total of 40 children leaving a St.Helens cinema (probably Sutton 'Bug').

Joseph Kelly pictured about 1930 with a silver cup awarded for seven years unbroken attendance at St.Anne's

Joseph Kelly pictured about 1930 with a silver cup awarded for seven years unbroken attendance at St.Annes RC School in Sutton

Joseph Kelly c.1930 with a silver cup awarded for seven years unbroken attendance at St.Anne's school

In May of 1948, Duffy moved a resolution calling for head teachers not to be put in charge of classes, saying the dual role was a "heartbreaking, nerve-wracking, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde business". The 59-year-old had by then been a headmaster for 35 years and he said that most of his clerical work was conducted on his kitchen table at home. The following year's NAHT conference also had a discussion on the issue of heads having to teach. It was stated that this could have a detrimental effect on schoolchildren, as head teachers were regularly called away from class. John Duffy criticised the suggestion that pupils could pursue private study during the enforced absences of headmaster / teachers. Comparing his students to animals, Duffy said a lion tamer never takes his attention off lions, adding that a class of 30 to 40 schoolboys could be "as lively as a cage of monkeys".

Some St.Anne's boys with John Duffy - the sashes suggest membership of the Catholic Boys' Brigade - Contributed by John Barton

St.Anne's boys with John Duffy - the sashes suggest the Catholic Boys Brigade

Some St.Anne's boys with John Duffy

During his time as headmaster Duffy oversaw the education of 2000 boys and was particularly proud of those who went on to enjoy successful careers. Of these eight became priests, others became teachers and one became a barrister and then judge. Two boys had also been recognised by the RSPCA for 'gallant deeds', including William Noonan who rescued poultry from a blazing shed.

St.Annes School football league champions 1909-10 and 1910-11 with youthful team manager John Duffy

Football league champions 1909-10 & 1910-11 with team manager John Duffy

League champions 1909-10 & 1910-11

The longstanding headmaster was also proud of the school's sporting successes, especially in football. During Duffy's first two years as master, the school soccer side were the local league champions. In fact the great team of 1911 didn't lose a game and also won the football shield as well as the league championship. Another highlight was in 1939 when pupil James Kenwright played outside left for England in a schoolboy international against Scotland in Edinburgh. To commemorate this success, James - who also played football for Lancashire - was presented with an inscribed silver cup by his head teacher. Pupil Hermann Fairclough also made a presentation of a framed photograph that was to hang in the school. Kenwright signed for Manchester United but the war probably prevented a footballing career.

Left: Athlete James Doyle; Middle: footballer James Kenwright; Right: James Smith shows how batsmen used to dress

Athlete James Doyle, footballer James Kenwright and cricketer James Smith

Athlete James Doyle, footballer James Kenwright and cricketer James Smith

In 1950 the St. Anne's junior football team won the St.Helens Combination Cup without losing any of their games. The president and council of the church C.Y.M.S. held a special supper in the parish hall to celebrate their achievement, which was also attended by parents and staff. The boys, who each received medals, were B. Carmody, F. Maloney, D. Cowley, C. Jones, J. McCooey, J. Knapper, P. Molyneux, W. Ellison, J. Pendlebury, W. Noonan, T. Marren and A. Keenan. It was also a great year for athletics at St.Anne's, with the school relay team the 1950 champions of St.Helens, as well as winners of the Challenge Shield at the Police Sports. In July of that year pupil James Doyle became the all-England schoolboy champion when he won the under 15s 440 yards race at Port Sunlight. In competing James wore the running pumps that had recently been presented to him by St.Anne's C.Y.M.S. in appreciation of his previous successes.

The 1950 cup-winning St.Anne's relay and football teams, plus William Noonan with his RSPCA certificate

The cup-winning St.Anne's relay and football teams, plus William Noonan displaying the RSPCA certificate that he’d been awarded

The 1950 cup-winning relay and football teams, plus William Noonan

John Duffy finally retired in July 1950 and the boys in his charge presented him with a fountain pen and the teachers gave him an engraved cigarette case and lighter. Then on December 29th of that year he was honoured with the gift of a Papal blessing in the form of a glass-fronted scroll inscribed with the words 'Presented with the grateful appreciation of the Parishioners of St. Anne's'. The scroll was handed to the retired head by St.Anne's Rector Fr. Colman during a special evening held at the Parish Hall. The retirement gifts from the people of Sutton also included a clock, easy chair and writing bureau. A grateful Mr. Duffy said "To me these gifts are more valuable than the Crown Jewels". After the ceremony and tributes, there was a concert with performances by renowned tenor Richard Knight (of St. Anne's who had recently performed on Radio Eire), contralto Marjorie Meara and baritone J. Caulfield.

Left: An article published in 1913 on John Duffy's appointment; Right: St.Helens Newspaper January 2nd 1951

Left: Article published in 1913 on John Duffy's appointment as headmaster of St.Anne’s boys school; Right: St.Helens Newspaper January 2nd 1951

Left: 1913 article on John Duffy's appointment as headmaster; Right: St.Helens Newspaper 1951 article

John Duffy died on February 9th 1953 at the age of 64, just three years after retiring. A few weeks after leaving St. Anne's he had a letter published in the News Chronicle in which he claimed to have learnt more than his charges:
 The most worthwhile person I have ever met? I am very fortunate because, of the world's 2,000 millions, I have met 2,000 of them. They are the 2,000 boys for whose education I was responsible during 40 years as a headmaster, a position I gave up with deep regret only a few weeks ago when I retired. When I bade good-bye to the last 200 of that gallant brigade, my heart was filled with pride, gratitude and the deepest emotion. As the years rolled on, I had learned far more from them than they could possibly learn from my carefully devised syllabuses. As a young man of 20, I left training college primed with an extensive knowledge of educational theory and practise. But in daily contact with my young charges, I soon found that the old concept of master and pupil needed revising or reversing if the daily task of advancing education was to be of advantage to my pupils with an assurance of my peace of mind. I soon realised that my-pupils were not a mass but a number of individuals with no two alike; that my job was not just to impose mathematics or geography upon John Jones but to teach him with sympathy and a clear understanding of his individual difficulties and his emotional background. In short, that my job was not simply to instruct but to educate spiritually and socially. This might demand of me greater effort and the burning of midnight oil, but the satisfaction of greater reward amply repaid the time and effort. In the classroom and on the playing field, the spirit of co-operation permeated all activities to the mutual advantage of teacher and pupil. In both spheres of operation, master and pupils learned some of life’s most valuable lessons - perseverance, patience and fairplay. The teacher, like Peter Pan, refused to note the passing years: the white haired schoolmaster was still a boy at heart who could safely allow his sense of humour full play without any loss of prestige. To those 2,000 boys, now widely dispersed, many of them fathers or even grandfathers, I am deeply indebted for the valuable lessons I learned from them and for the happy memories which will brighten my declining years. Those of the number who died in their country's cause always have a remembrance in my prayers. 

The old St.Anne's Roman Catholic girls school in Sutton - contributed by Ian H. Campbell

The old St.Anne's Roman Catholic girls school in Sutton, long demolished

The old St.Anne's girls school in Sutton

St.Annes RC School sign Sutton St.Helens
Like John Duffy, Mother Malachy Joseph also deserves recognition for her longstanding contribution to St. Anne’s School. On July 24th 1964 she retired from teaching after 47 years at the school, including 13 years as head of the Junior School. It was said that a daily ritual for Mother Malachy was to pray daily at the grave of Elizabeth Prout, foundress of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion.

These days Saint Anne's Catholic Primary school has modern premises in Monastery Lane, near to the new church and social centre. It was originally built in 1950 on the site of St. Anne’s Villa, the former home of John Smith. He was the railway man who was a great benefactor to St.Anne’s Church before his death in 1863. The photograph above shows the old girls school built in 1895 and sent into this website by former 'Pudding Bagger'
Ian H. Campbell now resident in Atlanta, Georgia. Ian writes:
 The portion on the left corner was a class room and a stage and is where the church boys choir used to practice during the winter months. The choir master was Fr. Peter Paul, if I remember correctly. Next to the playground was the infant school, and then further left was the canteen. 
Ian has also supplied the photograph of the former St. Anne's boys school at the beginning of this article. He remembers that just inside the front door was the school bell, with its rope hanging down ready to be rung to signal the start and end of classes. The boys school became St. Anne's social club for a while after the club had relocated from its Robins Lane premises and the building was finally demolished around 2002.

Ticket for the inaugural annual bowling handicap at the Bull & Dog in aid of St.Anne's - contributed by Jim Lamb

Ticket for the bowling handicap at the Bull & Dog in aid of St.Anne's

Bowling match ticket in aid of St.Anne's

Although the church has changed its name to St. Anne's & Blessed Dominic, the school has retained its original name. In fact St. Anne's is the only nineteenth century Sutton school to have continued into the twenty-first century.

Class photo from St. Annes school c.1957-60 - contributed by Julia Barker (nee Pigott) - View Version With Names

Class photo from St. Annes school  c.1957-60

Class photo from St. Annes school c.1957-60 - contributed by Julia Barker (nee Pigott) - View Version With Names


St. Annes class photo c.1957-60

Other Relevant Pages and Articles on St. Anne’s School:
St. Anne's Schooldays & the Clock Face Plaque by Herbert Eden in Memories of Sutton Part 8; St. Anne's, Neil's & Blood Curdling Monsters at Sutton Bug! by Alan McDermott in Memories of Sutton Part 8; St. Anne’s Under Eleven Inter-Schools Cup Winners 1952 by Stan Bate in Memories of Sutton Part 13. If you can provide more details of St.Anne's or have any photos, please do get in touch.
Other Relevant Pages & Articles on St.Anne’s School:
St. Anne's Schooldays & Clock Face Plaque by Herbert Eden in Memories of Sutton 8; St. Anne's, Neil's & Blood Curdling Monsters at Sutton Bug! by Alan McDermott in Memories of Sutton 8; St. Anne’s U11 Inter-Schools Cup Winners 1952 by Stan Bate in Memories of Sutton 13
Next:  Part 20)  Industry in Sutton Part 1   |   Research Sources
Stephen Wainwright
This website has been written and researched and many images photographed by myself, Stephen Wainwright, the Sutton Beauty & Heritage site owner. Individuals from all over the world have also kindly contributed their own photographs. If you wish to reuse any image, please contact me first as permission may be needed from the copyright owner. High resolution versions of many pictures can also be supplied at no charge. Please also contact me if you can provide any further information or photographs concerning Sutton, St.Helens. You might also consider contributing your recollections of Sutton for the series of Memories pages. Sutton Beauty & Heritage strives for factual accuracy at all times. Do also get in touch if you believe that there are any errors. I respond quickly to emails and if you haven't had a response within twelve hours, check your junk mail folder or resend your message. Thank you! SRW
This website is written and researched by Stephen R. Wainwright ©MMXVII  Contact Me
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