St. Augustine of Canterbury Church, Leeds Centenary Book.1905-2005

The New School at St Wilfred’s Circus

In the 1970s Canon Murray planned to build a new school but it couldn’t be built on the existing site because Leeds Department of Town and Country planning wanted the area to be used for residential properties. The Canon became aware of plans to demolish houses in the Bansteads and Harehills Terrace. He told parishioners that he applied to the council for the site for the new school but was refused because they already had plans for the area, which subsequently became Banstead Park. The nearest site that was available was St Wilfred’s Circus, far from ideal as it was a ten to fifteen minute walk from the church and situated on the edge of the parish boundary with St Nicholas’.

The school moved into the new building at St Wilfred’s Circus under the headship of Mrs Fleming in 1975 as a primary school only. The senior pupils over eleven years remained in the old building until it was sold in 1978. (Leeds City Council built St Augustine’s sheltered housing complex on the old school site.)

The new school was designed as open plan with low walls separating the different areas. Everything about it was different from the old school building. The children sat at tables, there were no big stone staircases and generally everything was new, bright and shiny. It had a hall and all its own dinner facilities on the premises, and of course indoor toilets, definitely an advantage especially in the winter months!

1978 brought more change with the abolition of the eleven-plus and the introduction of a comprehensive three-tier system of education in Leeds. First schools catering for the five to nine year olds, Middle schools nine to thirteen and High schools for the over thirteens. St Augustine’s became a First School and children had to leave at the age of nine to move on to middle school which would have been either St Andrew’s or St Dominic’s, depending on which part of the parish the child lived in.

In 1980 the purpose-built extension was completed and opened as a nursery. For the first few years the head of the nursery was Sharon Roberts. In 1982 she was succeeded by Margaret Halloran.

“The School building was spacious and had spare rooms that were used for music, resources such as languages and other things and a separate school library. There were two staircases leading to the two classrooms on the first floor and one of the stairways led into the library. There was also a second library which was a lending library for the pupils.” Margaret Halloran.

“Under the headship of Mrs Bernice Fleming the school continued to prosper and boasted of having one of the best (if not the best) Primary School libraries in the city.” John Roberts

The 1989 reorganisation of schools in Leeds, reverting back to the two-tier system, brought a change of headship when Mr John Leach was appointed. Disaster struck soon afterwards on the 23 April 1990. Fr. Durcan made the announcement to a packed congregation awaiting the arrival of the body of Monsignor Spelman for a Requiem Mass, that the school had been completely destroyed by fire. It had accidentally occurred that morning when the tar being used to repair the roof had caught fire. The nursery staff who had arrived early that morning had been allowed to go in with the firemen and managed to rescue all the books and a large amount of toys and equipment from the nursery. Miraculously the nursery piano was rescued and now takes pride of place in the hall of the now rebuilt school.

Left: The School on Fire

Right: The School after the fire

St Benedict’s middle school at Bramley was due to close the following July when the last of their pupils left. The building provided St Augustine’s Primary school with a temporary home on the opposite side of the city. The devastated staff with sheer grit, determination and hard work, amazingly had the school up and running in their alternative temporary accommodation within one week. The St Benedict’s children who did not leave until July found the idea of sharing a school quite amusing, and in child-like fashion nicknamed the school ‘St Benediscustine’s’ For the next three and a half years, the school was taken by bus daily across the city. The staff, pupils and parents worked as a team and despite all the trials and tribulations, the St Augustine’s school family survived.

The nursery, however, proved more difficult to accommodate and to keep continuity the lower church hall was used on a Wednesday. This was far from satisfactory as parents had to stay with their children, (since the premises were not insured for a nursery) and equipment, which was stored in the church cellar, had to be carried to the hall in the morning and returned at the end of the day. The parents have been described as superb, giving a boost to morale by turning up each week until more suitable premises became available. In January 1991 Thorn school provided accommodation, but after eighteen months, they wanted the space back again. The old Dorset school building opposite Thorn had become vacant so St Augustine’s nursery was moved there. “It was unsuitable, pretty grotty and scary, there were gangs of lads and we could hear them breaking windows on the other side of the school where it was empty.” Being aware of their plight, Anne Matthias, head of Dorset Primary, offered to make space in her school. She was very good and supportive clearing a classroom and arranging for a little quadrangle to be created outside where the children could play. She even provided a small room for the Nursery staff: Margaret Halloran, Beryl Deighton, Jane Horner and Barbara Hudson who had replaced Jayne Brown when they were at Thorn.

By 23rd March 1993 the building work on the new replacement school at St Wilfred’s Circus was well underway, so hard hats were worn for safety reasons when Fr. Durcan blessed the foundation stone. The estimated cost of the building was £3million.

September 1993 brought great joy when the school returned home to its present site at St Wilfred’s Circus and the Nursery staff felt very privileged when the first Mass in the school was celebrated in their new Nursery. Apparently, when planning the liturgy for the Mass, Fr. Durcan suggested ‘Colours of Day’ for one of the hymns until it was drawn to his attention that it was not the most suitable considering the words of the chorus: ‘Light up the fire and let the flame burn!’

The official opening by Bishop Konstant took place in 1994. The new school building was designed to be far more open plan than its predecessor, built in a quadrangle with no separation between the main thoroughfare and the classrooms. It was described by many of the staff as being a very beautiful building, but not very practical for use as a primary school. Space was minimal, the main office was so small it was more like a large walk-in cupboard with a window than a working administration area. The ‘pond’ in the centre of the quadrangle (not good for health and safety) was filled with soil and became part of the garden area where children could grow and learn about plants and vegetables.

Left: The School re-0pens in September 1993

Right: The official opening by Bishop Konstant

Far right: Altar servers at the official opening

 

One of the parents, Kate Wonnacott, has in recent years, on a voluntary basis taken responsibility for the upkeep of the garden and has with the help of the children, created a small Grotto and quiet area in the quadrangle for use by the children.

The cramped conditions have led to many alterations being made to the internal layout of the building to make it a more practical working and learning environment for both staff and pupils.

John R. Roberts, who in this school year is a class teacher for year three, has been teaching at the school since 1971 when Sr. St Bride was the headteacher. He has had first hand experience of all the changes that have taken place over the last thirty-four years and has this to say about the school:

“The Catholic ethos has always been a priority and this continues to the present day under the headship of Mr Michael Teggart, who was appointed in 1995. Through his dedicated commitment and hard work, the pupils and staff can look forward to a bright future in a successful and happy school.”