Chapter 13 – St Luke’s Halsall Primary School

Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’
Matthew, chapter 19, verse 14

Catharine Halsall was born about 1690 and her brother Anthony three years later at Castletown in the Isle of Man, where their father had property of considerable value.  Ordained in 1717, Anthony became a trusted friend and negotiator of the bishop there and was sent by him to petition the Earl of Derby in Knowsley.  Catharine on her part helped him to defend his parishioners against false charges.  Connections that Anthony made during this period resulted in his appointment as headmaster of Merchant Taylors’ School in 1730.  Catharine came to live with him and, frequently visited by bishops, they built up a circle of many friends in the area.  In addition, their personal means enabled them between 1744 and 1752 to buy property in Crosby to the value of over £1000 (a very large amount, as £50 was enough for the salary of headmaster and usher for one year).  Their tombstones are in Sefton church, Anthony dying in December 1755 and Catharine in 1758 aged 68.  Anthony died without making a will and his property passed to his sister.  As Catharine also did not marry, there was a lot of money available for friends and good causes.

In her will Catharine left proceeds of some property to meet the costs of a rented house and a modest salary for a mistress to teach the girls of the parish of Sefton.  In 1778 the Revd Wilfred Troutbeck, headmaster of Merchant Taylors’ School, writes of a Mrs Catharine Halsall (nb at that time Mrs was used for any mature woman, not necessarily married); she had founded a school for girls (no date given) and endowed it with a small estate of about £8 per annum.  In addition ‘All the girls whose parents do not rent above £10 per annum have a right to go Gratis’ (ie there was a means test).  The school was one of the first of its kind in England and the girls were taught reading, knitting and sewing.  Known first as the Girls’ School, then as the Mistress’s School, and finally as the Halsall School, and attached to St Luke’s parish, it still receives grants from the Halsall estate.  Fourteen girls attended the school in about 1789.

By 1874 the school had 33 children but there were difficulties.  In 1876, for example, the average February attendance was 44, but there was only one room and the heat and ventilation were poor.  However the children enjoyed an annual school feast and an annual magic lantern show, while the school year ended in May so that the children could leave for the hay harvest in June.  Attendance could also be affected by such diverse factors as measles, wet weather, storms and harvesting, and on one occasion snow reduced numbers to ten.  It was reported that the children were backward in writing, spelling and arithmetic, using their fingers for calculating in the first class.  In 1877 the schoolroom, which was built of handmade bricks, was enlarged.  By 1879 the school floor was giving way and suggestions were made for the infants to be transferred to the ‘splendid accommodation at the boys’ school’.  However, new buildings were opened in 1885 and solved the problem.  This enabled the infants to move into the rooms vacated by the older girls, so that there were separate rooms for girls and infants, a good yard and suitable offices.

The opening words of Catherine Halsall’s will

The opening words of Catherine Halsall’s will, in which she made provision for a house and the salary for a mistress to teach there.

There were now 80 children in the school under the headmistress Miss Ward.  However an HMI report warned that standards should be improved; there was therefore no merit grant, but a fine was not imposed because of epidemic sickness during the year.  It was stated that the school was ‘doing but little work in the cause of education’.  However, strict discipline was shown the following year when a girl was detected pilfering from the infant mistress’s desk and was taken away from the school with her sister by their parents.  The school saved its grant although there were poor reports during the following years, with the standard still only fair and arithmetic was a particular problem.  One of the infants’ rooms was declared unfit, which led to overcrowding and threats from the Board of Education to withhold the grant.  The standard of the girls’ school improved with the appointment of Miss Collis as headmistress in 1888 and, when she resigned owing to ill health in 1900, she was given a parting gift ‘in acknowledgement of her valuable services’ of £5 – equivalent to one month’s pay!  Miss Ada Robinson was appointed in her place, causing some confusion as another Miss Robinson was her assistant until both resigned in 1903.  Miss Margaret Alice Bailey then took over with Miss Reid as head of the infants.

An 1870 classroom scene.

An 1870 classroom scene.

In 1904 a headline in the Crosby Herald proclaimed ‘A Church Victory’.  As a result of the Education Act of 1902, schools had to review their managing bodies.  The church claimed that Halsall Girls School had been run as a church school for over fifty years and therefore the foundation managers should consist of four churchmen, one of them the vicar.  However ‘a militant member of the Passive Resistance movement started an agitation’ opposing this, but the matter was settled in St Luke’s favour.  This was a good year for the school as the staff were commended for making special efforts and improving the tone, although intelligence was not yet satisfactory in some respects.

During these years relations with the church were good.  Robert Love and, later, his curates visited the school regularly: one of them was given silver backed brushes in recognition of his work during the previous 3½ years.  The Revd F A Bartlett continued the tradition.  On 13 January 1909 the Bishop of Liverpool visited the School and came again in 1911 for the dedication service and the opening of the new extension.

At the start of the 20th century the school was still very rural.  From the school you could see the old mill with sails and poplar trees in Moor Lane.  Rigby’s Farm was near the school gates and fishermen gathered at the corner of Heslop’s Garage.  ‘Cockle Molly’ used to sit on a stone by the school gates and was taunted by the children.  Old Lane (now Cooks Road and Manor Road) ran through fields to Hall Road.  The children wore white pinafores, navy blue jerseys and gym slips, with pink and blue gingham in summer.  Peggy Burns’ mother had memories of the school from 1902-4.  There was a large room divided by a curtain to separate the older children from the younger, with two lady teachers.  Handwriting was very important and she was taught to darn and sew button holes.  Arithmetic tables were sung.  At this time there was a small cottage in the school grounds occupied by John Meadows, a fireman who looked after the heating and the general maintenance.  He also made the school maypole (dancing continued until 1971) and his wife acted as school caretaker.  A garden door led to the infants’ school and the Meadows had a dog which sometimes got out of the garden and into the playground when the children were doing ‘drill’ (ie PE), much to Miss Bailey’s annoyance.  Mrs Emma Boakes (John Meadows’ granddaughter and Carol Roocroft’s grandmother), born on 16 October 1901, was brought up in the school cottage and has vivid recollections of the period.  She used slates to write on (these were still being used well into the 1930s) and it seems as if there were trays of sand in which they traced letters.  Some children had to come from Sefton, and walked all the way.  They brought jam sandwiches for lunch, and had cold water to drink.  Mrs Meadows would sometimes make a cup of tea for some of them when it was very cold but could not afford it very often.  The local children went home for lunch.  The classrooms were sealed and fumigated each year.  The front playground was grass which could not be played on.  In 1907 two sets of scripture pictures in stained oak were bought by the foundation managers and in the following year the trustees presented bibles, prayer books and hymn books.  However, there are signs that the work of the school was not confined to the three Rs and religious education.  Clay modelling and raffia work were introduced.  Laundry and cookery were taught in a room adjoining the hall and a parochial soirée was held at Christmas time.  In 1910 there was an inspection of drill and marching by the Lancashire instructor of physical exercises.

A infants’ class at Halsall School photographed in 1914.

An infants’ class at Halsall School photographed in 1914.

About 1909 the cottage was pulled down to make room for new classrooms and a boiler-house.  The laundry was completed before this date and later converted into a gym.  The hall had boards on the wall with the names of girls who had passed the Merchant Taylors’ examination, or had gone on to Waterloo Park Grammar School and other Liverpool schools.  In one year in the 1960s 50% of the top class won this distinction.

During this period and extending into the 1920s the school routine was often interrupted by disease and bad weather, with snow for example reducing attendance to eight out of 116.  The under-fives were excluded because of diphtheria and there were outbreaks of scarlet fever.  The school was closed altogether on several occasions for periods of two to five weeks because of mumps, chickenpox, measles and influenza, both separately and in combination, and on another occasion reduced attendance to only seven pupils.  In 1912 a girl crossing the road was knocked down by a tram car; only her leg was bruised and she was taken home in a mail-cart.

A photograph of an infants class at Halsall taken in about 1924.

A photograph of an infants class at Halsall taken in about 1924.

The reports of this period improved steadily.  In 1911 the teaching was ‘cheerful and pleasant’ and that of the ‘babies’ was ‘particularly simple, natural and successful’, but the reading needed reconsideration: ‘only a little more life in the teaching and the School would reach a very good standard of merit’.  In 1919 there was ‘weakness of control in the top class and individual instruction needed for the brighter ones to progress’.  This was corrected the following year with a very good report and an excellent diocesan report in 1924.

At the start of the First World War the summer holidays were extended and soldiers billeted in the school, which was thoroughly cleaned after occupation.  The children helped the war effort by unravelling wool into balls for knitting for the troops, and bringing harvest gifts of fruit and vegetables which were taken to St Luke’s to be given to hospitals for wounded soldiers.  They were encouraged to make special efforts for ‘Great Crosby Aeroplane Week’ and the War Savings Association collection for one week amounted to £116 6s 6d (about £3500 in today’s money).  In 1915, in order to economise on fuel, the school hours were modified during winter months to start at 1.15 and finish at 3.30.  In 1918 the school was closed for a week so that teachers might be employed on food rations.  At the end of the war, on 14 February 1919, the children were permitted to view German guns which had been captured by the 1st King’s Regiment Liverpool and brought through Waterloo and Crosby; the boys held up the flags of the Allies and the children sang the national anthem.  Later on that year, on 11 November, they observed the two-minute silence for the first time.

The ethos of monarchy and empire was still strong.  An important event in the school year was the celebration of Empire Day, on the most convenient day nearest to 24 May.  Children were instructed in ‘the privileges of being Britons and in the flags of the Empire’.  The school was decorated with ribbons and special songs were sung.  On one occasion the children were ‘greatly impressed’ by Thomson’s Royal Negro Choir, who gave a musical display and demonstrated the manner and customs of the people of British Africa.  Royal events were recognized.  On 20 May 1910 the school was closed for the King’s funeral and in 1921 there was a holiday for the Prince of Wales’ visit to Crosby; children and teachers assembled in the village where they could obtain a good view of the prince, and they cheered and waved flags.  In 1923 there was a day’s holiday for the wedding of the Duke of York to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who later became the Queen Mother and whose funeral has recently been held.

Miss Bailey

Miss Bailey, head­mistress of Halsall School, in a photograph thought to have been taken on the day of her retirement in 1924

A maypole outfit was obtained with suitable accoutrements.  Numbers on the roll gradually rose from 98 girls and 65 infants in 1885 to 155 and 140 respectively in 1909, and the governors had to justify that the school was not overcrowded.  However, the problem was solved by losing 25 girls and 29 infants to the new council school in Coronation Road which opened in 1910, and new plans and alterations were approved, using the transfer of charitable funds, to make improvements.  The additions were opened by Bishop Chavasse on 12 December 1912.

In 1928, the roll of the infant school rose from a low of 38 earlier in the year to 45 but there was concern that the head teacher was working single-handed.  It was difficult for her to teach a four-year age-range in one class, and one child narrowly escaped an accident when he ran out into the road while stock was being delivered and the head teacher was not at the gate to see the incident.  Street safety was indeed a concern and the children were taken to the Regent Cinema (now St Mary’s School gym) in Liverpool Road for an illustrated talk on the dangers of road traffic with the slogan ‘On Guard and Safety First’.  Intermittently the school was still being afflicted with chickenpox, whooping cough, influenza, scarlet fever, diphtheria and measles, but the children might go to the West Kirby Convalescent House to recover, and when the weather was ‘intensely warm’ (74ºF!) they were given longer playtimes to benefit from the sunshine.  As late as 1933 the headmistress was inoculated against diphtheria but was then absent for five days because of a severe reaction.  Arrangements were eventually made (in 1934) to supply children with fresh bottled milk each day, supplied by Mr Ingham of Coronation Road.

The 1930s saw some important changes in organisation.  In 1930 Edith Francis resigned the headship of the infants department which was then amalgamated with the girls.  In 1932 the laundry was dismantled and later converted into a gym.  Next year, the school, after receiving a very satisfactory overall report, was reorganized.  The senior girls (aged 11+) were transferred to the council school (senior school) and the junior girls from the council school transferred to Halsall.  86 junior girls were admitted, resulting in a roll rising to 283 the following year.  In 1934 Miss Bibby, who had been headmistress since 1929, was presented with a case of cutlery as she left for another position, and Miss Welch was appointed in her stead.  In 1937 Forefield Lane School was opened for 600 pupils.  To avoid buy generic nolvadex affecting the numbers of pupils coming to Halsall, it was agreed that the intake should be limited, but in spite of this the new school took pupils away from Halsall.  However in 1939 the school received an excellent report and was awarded 12 Lancashire junior scholarships, the highest number ever won by the school.

Miss Welch

Miss Welch, headmistress from 1935 to 1949, with Mr Jeffries on the left and Mr Carmichael on the right, in a photograph thought to have been taken on the occasion of her retirement presentation.

More than sixty years afterwards Joyce Winters still remembers the very strict discipline.  In the first year juniors, the class was taught the three Rs by a very strict Miss Ashton, who also instilled the catechism and commandments into the pupils.  She used a ruler on anyone who misbehaved and was an exceptionally keen disciplinarian.  They had fingernail inspection and were encouraged to be clean and tidy as Miss Ashton believed that cleanliness was next to godliness.  Betty Shepherd remembers getting into trouble as she did not have ‘half moons’ at the base of her fingernails.  On her very first day in the infants, one little boy kept crying and was allowed to play with a dolls’ house for comfort.  She would love to have played with it herself but she never did because her mother had told her she was never to cry in school.  The pupils were taught to knit, sew and weave as well as learning maypole and morris dancing.  There were four houses called Nightingale, Shakespeare, Livingstone and Browning.

Some special events in the 1930s give some idea of the importance of different institutions at the time.  In 1931 Vice-Admiral Allen gave an address to the senior girls and boys from St Luke’s School on the League of Nations.  Children were given talks on Empire Day and collections taken (£7 16s 0d) for the Soldiers and Sailors Help Society.  In 1934 a party of 42 girls and three mistresses, including the headmistress, visited London and toured the Houses of Parliament, conducted by local MP Captain Bullock, and similar parties went in succeeding years to Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Castle, and then to Conwy and Caernarfon.  In 1934-5 the school was closed all day on two occasions for the weddings of the Duke of Kent to Princess Marina and the Duke of Gloucester to Lady Alice Scott, and for two days for the Jubilee celebrations, the children being presented with a book entitled ‘The King’s Services’.  Next year, the school was closed for the funeral of George V, and a wireless set was installed for pupils to hear the royal proclamation of the new king Edward VIII.  In 1938 there were three days of celebrations for the coronation of King George VI and another one later in the year for the new Borough of Crosby, formed from the amalgamation of Crosby and Waterloo.

But the clouds of war were looming.  The headmistress attended a meeting at Alexandra Hall on air-raid precautions and another on the evacuation of schools in time of war.  When war did come in September 1939 the school remained closed until November while evacuation of mothers and children was carried out and air raid shelters were built underground in the field at the back of the school.  There was then a period of air-raids causing late starts to the school depending on how late the final all-clear was sounded the night before.  If the alarm was raised during school hours, the children could not wait to get to the shelter quickly enough to receive their ‘sweets’ (Ovaltine and Horlicks tablets!).  If there was not time to get to the shelter, they might lie down packed alongside one another in the corridor.  Fire watching was organised with staff volunteering one night per week, 8 pm to 6 am.  The school had a narrow escape; an incendiary bomb fell in the school yard during a daylight air-raid but the teachers dealt with it well.  Soon afterwards the local ARP wardens made a routine call to make sure all was well and found the female fire watchers standing on a table because there was a mouse in the room.  They could not understand how it could be the same people who had put out the fire.  The hole that the bomb left was filled in but could be seen long afterwards.  Pat Thompson, a teacher at the school during the Second World War, relates that when the siren sounded the staff had to help the children on with their gas masks, some of whom were afraid and difficult.  Fund-raising weeks for the war effort targeted Spitfires, weapons and warships, followed by a campaign ‘Wings for Victory’ (this last raising £1228 6s 4d, equivalent to £37,000 in today’s money).  A similar amount was raised for ‘Thanksgiving Week’ at the end of the war and a two-day holiday granted for victory celebrations.

In 1949 May Armstrong succeeded Miss Welch, who had been headmistress for 15 eventful years, and stayed there until she retired in 1971.  In her first month as head, she recollects that she had an unpleasant experience.  A woman entered the school on the pretext that she was there to register her grandson.  It was a busy time, the day before the holidays, and the teachers had just received their wages, in cash.  Two handbags went missing, and the woman was gone!  There was no phone in school then, so Miss Armstrong went to the police station, fortunately at that time just round the corner.  The woman was later caught after other offences and served a prison sentence.  Carol Roocroft was a pupil in the school at the time and remembers the strict discipline, even extending to left-handedness and sloping handwriting.  Teaching was formal with desks in rows facing the teacher and the pupils were positioned in class on the basis of their ability, and repositioned after assessments.  In mathematics, the children were stood out at the front of the class to have their mental arithmetic tested, and only allowed to sit down when they had proved themselves by correctly completing sums in their heads.  Girls had to wear hats or berets when school services were held in the church.  They were not allowed to turn round in the pews or talk to their friends.  To some, the church was a forbidding place, which could induce nervousness; for example when it was time to leave you would be unable to open the doors at the end of the pews.

The school joined with St Peter’s, Formby, to travel to Broadstairs for the annual holiday in Whit week in 1949.  Several other such holidays were spent in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight.  There was a visit to the South Bank Exhibition in 1951 and the following year the whole school listened to the proclamation of Queen Elizabeth II.  Every year on 1 May the maypole was erected and stayed in place until the end of the month while Miss Armstrong taught the girls maypole and Scottish dancing.  The children wrote a play each year for Empire Day and a school magazine was produced.  Christmas parties were always held in the parish hall.

A kitchen was added before 1955.  In 1959 an HMI report was extremely critical of the lack of space in the school, there being 298 pupils on roll, and in 1964 discussions started as to whether to rebuild or to demolish and build an entirely new school.  However, in 1966 classes had to be held in the gym and in 1967 discussions were held over a suggestion that the church might take over Coronation Road Boys School.  In 1970, Lupton’s Cottages were demolished and the derelict land made into a sunken garden.  Games equipment used to be hoisted over the wall and pupils walked down Miller Avenue to gain access to the field.  Then a gate in the wall was made to help pupils go straight through.  Later, the wall was demolished and the school had free access to the field.  By this time a tradition had been established for pupils to attend church on all major festivals, not only for services but also for the dramatisation of events in the church calendar, particularly Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Easter and Ascension Day.  The nativity service was a special occasion when the church was filled to overflowing with parents and grandparents while the children interpreted the Christmas story.  Once the Revd Paul Nichols said ‘And there was Jesus just behind Thomas’.  All the infants stood up and turned round to see Jesus!

In 1971 May Armstrong retired after 22 years as head teacher, but continued to live in the district until her death in March 2003.  She always took a great interest in the careers of her former pupils and was able to recognize and name them fifty years after they had left the school.

setting off for the Outdoor Pursuits Centre

An expedition setting off for the Outdoor Pursuits Centre, Windermere, in July 1973.  There they enjoyed a simple woodcrafts course, nature rambles, observation exercises and specimen collecting.  They were accompanied by June Barnard, the headmistress, and David Johnson, the sports master.  David was the first man appointed to the staff in connection with the merger with St Luke’s Boys’ School.  He was later joined by Mr Jones, the deputy head and a musician, who entered many pupils for the Crosby Music Festival.

June Barnard was then appointed.  Every year for ten years in the 1970s and 80s there was a residential week under canvas in the Isle of Man, with a variety of activities including archery, abseiling, orienteering, yachting and canoeing.  The vicar, who was also the chair of governors, took an assembly every week, which often included dramatisation, and he would go round the classes afterwards.  One of the most memorable incidents of the diocesan inspections was when a class of infants was asked to name Jesus’s grandmother!  The ‘leavers’ attended the cathedral for special leavers’ services to give thanks for all that they had achieved in their junior school and to look forward in faith to their future secondary education.  Now, the leavers’ service takes place in St Luke’s each July and every child is presented with a dictionary, a gift from the Parent Teacher Association.

Numbers were still a problem.  In 1972 Dorothy Williams had over forty pupils in her class, and that was before Janet Judge joined as nursery nurse.  In addition, the old buildings were causing concern.  There was a coal fire in the staff and head teacher’s room.  Pupil toilets were outside and the staff toilet was behind a partition in the staffroom.  When Raymond Lee arrived in 1970 he was very much in favour of retaining aided status, staying on the Halsall site and pushing for the building of a new school.  The cost would be met by the sale of the St Luke’s Boys School site, a diocesan contribution, use of some capital from the Halsall Trust and fund raising.  In all of this he was strongly supported by the PCC and school managers.  The school was now the oldest one in Lancashire catering for the education of girls, but this was soon to change.  There was no intake to the boys’ school in 1972 (which eventually closed altogether in 1974) and both boys and girls went to Halsall, except for one class that was housed in a demountable unit in St Luke’s hall car park.  An architect was appointed for extensions consisting of new classrooms, indoor toilets (previously pupils had had to go across the yard) and a library.  In May 1977 these were dedicated by the Right Revd Michael Henshall, Bishop of Warrington.  In the same year a ‘Jubilee’ garden was created to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.  The infants had a special party when everyone wore red, white and blue with tableware and food to match!  There was also a visit by the Right Revd David Sheppard, Bishop of Liverpool, which naturally included a cricket match.

June Barnard

The Right Revd Michael Henshall, the Bishop of Warrington, (left) with June Barnard, headmistress of Halsall School, and the Revd Raymond Lee before the service of dedication of the school’s extensions in 1977.

Once again the governors showed vision and foresight when another architect was appointed to handle the final phases of new school development.  June Barnard retired in 1987 after 16 years service and David Savage was appointed head teacher in 1988.  The buildings were completed in 1993 when six new classrooms and resource areas were built with toilets, cloakrooms and a new hall.  This was officially opened by HRH the Duchess of Gloucester in March 1994, having previously been unofficially opened in her absence four months before when freezing fog prevented her landing at the airport.  The cost was £911,000 of which the governors had raised £120,000.  Soon after, a nursery class was established and renovations were made to provide a suite with 16 networked computers.

In spite of the introduction of the national curriculum, the school was able to preserve its sense of fun.  In fact visits that used to be purely educational, for example to Martin Mere, now went to such places as Gulliver’s World in Warrington.  The Queen’s golden jubilee in 2002 was celebrated with a visit to the cinema, a gift and a bouncy castle for the day.  Charity had its fun side too.  On one memorable red-nose day the staff dressed up as ‘St Trinian’ children with Dave Savage sporting a mortar-board hat.  When he blew his whistle, the staff-children had to line up, but the teacher pianist in assembly behaved like a naughty child and refused to play!  Parents were so taken with the idea that they asked for a repeat.  Extra-curricular activities still flourish and include chess, music, art, football and netball.  Swimming galas were held, raising funds on Saturdays for various charities, until the baths were closed, and even the infants joined in.  More recently, up to 60 pupils have spent a Saturday morning each year in the Crosby and District bible reading competition where they have won more prizes than any other local school.  In addition there are annual residential holidays in Wales and Shropshire where the children enjoy abseiling, quad bikes, kayak canoeing, pony-trekking and a variety of other physical pursuits.  Celebrations of the nativity are still held in the church, but in a different form, with classes performing their own items on two different evenings.  The school still visits the church for the St Luke’s Day service, and on other occasions.  This has now been made easier by the new crossings at the traffic lights, but carries as always the risk of being drenched by a shower of rain.

The school has a high standing in the community and is regularly oversubscribed.  The importance of St Luke’s Halsall to the life of the church and vice versa cannot be overestimated.  With its strong Christian ethos and support from the ‘Church Family’ – governors, church members, parents, the parent teacher association and the general community – St Luke’s Halsall continues to look at the progress and well-being of the whole child.  Members of the church’s ministry team still go into school to take assemblies each week.  Young people are a vital part not only of the present but also of the future of the church, and the close link between the church and school of St Luke is, for both of them, a great assurance of their continuing vigour and growth.