Award-winning writer, speaker and broadcaster, and folklore correspondent with BBC Radio Cumbria, BARRY MCCANN looks at the history of his old school.
On the front lawn of a house on St Clement’s Avenue lies a stone crest bearing the words “In Vita Cruce” – all that remains of a school that stood there for nearly a century.
One of the forerunners of St Mary’s Academy at Layton Hill, it was known to generations of catholic boys as St Joseph’s College.
The roots of St Joseph’s actually lay in a girls school, housed in Raikes Hall called St Mary’s, which first opened its doors in 1860. It was run by the Society of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ), a Catholic religious order for women founded in 1846 and based on the male Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits.
By 1870, St Mary’s had outgrown its original premises and moved to St Walburga’s Road, on Layton Hill. It also began to admit boys until 1900, when it was decided they should be segregated to separate premises.
St Joseph’s College originally opened on Park Road and was staffed by lay teachers. After several changes of location, St Joseph’s finally settled on Newton Drive in 1918, occupying Layton Mount, which had previously been the residence of Yorkshire mill owner William Lumb and built in 1895.
It was in 1923 the Irish Christian Brothers in Liverpool were invited by Archbishop Frederick Keating to take over the running of the school. They were a teaching order founded by Edmund Rice in the early 1800s for the evangelisation and education of boys, especially in poorer communities.
The brothers remained in charge for more than 50 years and like the former St Mary’s, which became known as Layton Hill Convent, it became a direct grant grammar school. The original house was expanded and later complimented by a second building containing the science labs, art studio and other subject dedicated class rooms.
Building up a reputation for reading, writing and rugby, St Joseph’s also became known as Holy Joes, and Joe’s Jailhouse on account of the bars across ground floor windows around the playground. These were actually to protect them from the impact of footballs, but popularly believed to prevent pupils from escaping. There were rumours of one or two teachers trying to make a break for it as well.
In 1975, the Lancaster Diocese issued a directive requiring all Catholic schools to become co-educational. The Christian Brothers were constitutionally forbidden to teach girls and the Jesuits took over as custodians while the school was prepared for merger with Layton Hill Convent.
During that time, there was debate as to what the reformed college should be called and Layton Hill High School was considered. Perhaps to mark the re-unification of what had started as a single institution, its original name of St Mary’s was chosen.
St Joseph’s continued in all but name from 1977 to 1984, the site becoming the sixth form centre for St Mary’s – while the rest of the school operated at Layton Hill. Its administration was placed in the hands of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lancaster – with Sister Maureen Grimley taking over as head of the re-combined institution, supported by the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus.
Thus its history was brought full circle.
The Newton Drive site finally shut up shop in 1984 and was demolished to make way for the housing estate that now occupies it.
Some parts of the older building were salvaged and re-installed elsewhere, the stained glass chapel windows housed in the English Martyrs Church on High Cross Road.
And what exactly does the motto “In Vita Cruce” mean? My guess is In Cross there is Life, but Latin was not my strongest subject!