BUILDINGS from the former Layton Hill Convent School, now St Mary’s College, on St Walburgas Road, are designated for demolition as part of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) £22.5m redevelopment plan.
Some of them have graced the skyline since 1870 – almost a quarter of a century longer than Blackpool Tower.
They take in the North and South wings of the original building, some rooms in the central building, the 1888 former laundry and boiler house, the 1898 former refectory and dormitory block, the 1939 building constructed as a result of a legacy from Ethel Enid Power, and the 1950 former junior school.
Planning consent was granted in September 2010, and deputy headteacher David Slack has since described the BSF project as “so exciting as it has provided us with the chance of a lifetime”.
He told The Gazette: “The new facilities will allow us to bring together our vision for a vibrant, engaging and caring education for those who attend St Mary’s.”
But not everybody is happy about the changes, and the proposals were opposed by some former pupils, residents and parishioners.
Former pupil Christina Leigh-Baker, who feels passionate about preserving historical parts of the establishment, says: “We welcome the Building Schools for the Future initiative, but decided to make our objections in order to try to preserve these historic buildings, since they are part of Blackpool’s Victorian and educational heritage.
“These iconic buildings could be classed as Buildings of Townscape Merit, since they contribute to the history and environment of the town.
“The importance of these buildings is in their relationship to the townscape, commanding views towards the sea and the Pennines.
“The observer’s eyes are drawn upwards towards this Layton hill, where some of the buildings have graced the skyline since 1870.”
Christina insists: “They are of local interest and their loss would be most regrettable in terms of heritage and educational history.”
In contrast, when plans were first mooted by The Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, who had conducted a boarding school at Raikes Hall since November 1859, the Layton Hill area was considered by the locals to be rather bleak, wild, isolated and unsuitable for a school.
But on July 1870, 12 members of the SHCJ community, and about 40 pupils of the boarding school, moved in from Raikes Hall.
Christina says: “The 1870 building was built around three sides of a quadrangle with a well, which is still present, and one wonders what will become of it.
“One of the rooms, originally an 1870 classroom, which today still shows some original features, including a fireplace with Minton tiles, is destined to be demolished.
She stresses: “This must be the only Victorian room in Blackpool which shows evidence of teaching heritage.
“The building’s façade is also designated to be altered, the original doorway infilled and two others constructed.
“This is the town’s oldest secondary school, built before the town had its first Mayor and before it received Corporation status in 1876.”
Christina also feels Ethel Enid Power, a Catholic lady with private means who lived independently at the Convent until her death in 1939, deserves more recognition.
“The Power Building stands as a reminder of her generous spirit and it is of great concern this is also designated for demolition.”
n Contact Christina by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.