School History - Part 1 - The 19th Century
The 19th Century
The Catholic Mission in Gravesend founding representative was father Gregory Stasiewicz, a Polish refugee from the Russian Empire. He remained in the town until 1845. His home-cum-chapel from 1843 was at number 87 Windmill Street, Gravesend. With a congregation in excess of 150, the premises proved too small – just room enough for 21 sitting and 20 standing. That same year, 1843, land was bought at Milton Road, Milton. St Gregory’s Chapel opened in 1846 with Fr Stasiewicz returning for the opening ceremony. That same year Daniel O’Connell, M.P. visited the town. The Chapel could accommodate a congregation of 250/300 but closed after the purchase of the St John the Baptist Church. Built in 1834 as a Chapel of Ease, the Church reopened after alterations as St John the Evangelist Church in October, 1851.
Fr Michael Driscoll supervised the opening of the first school at 57 Windmill Street in 1858. The first classroom was built in 1859, adjoining the Church and on the same floor. On November 26th, 1860 at the request of Bishop Grant four Sisters of Mercy came to Gravesend from Bermondsey to take charge of the Parish School. They took up residence at 158 Milton Road and taught in the school adjoining which consisted of one classroom. The Sisters acquired 157 Milton Road on a lease in 1876 and a classroom was built above the existing one.
George Matthews Arnold became deeply involved with both the Church and the school. He became the first school secretary, remaining in the post for 40 years. Arnold was Mayor of Gravesend eight times. He was one of the great benefactors of the town and area, an example of his generosity being that he donated two statues of Queen Victoria to the town as well as land near the river for the extension of the Gravesend Promenade and the Gordon Memorial Gardens.
There is no record of the number of students but five years later, in 1864, there were around one hundred. Elizabeth Jane Brabazon in her book, A Month in Gravesend, refers to St John’s as a Free School of about 100 scholars, efficient and well organised. A tower to the Church was added by Goldie and Child in 1873. In the decade after, the school was enlarged through the addition of another classroom on top of the lower which dated back to 1859. Smither’s Almanac of 1886 refers to St John’s as a large and efficient School. As numbers increased classes had to be held in what is now the Church Sacristy, in a small room in the belfry and in the Convent building itself, now a Chinese Restaurant, adjoining the Church. In 1899 the Sisters opened a High School with just two pupils on the roll.
The School Records for April 1889 note that a School-Mistress had been appointed with her salary being £7 10 shillings. The Arnold family at the time was donating £30 annually to the running of the school. In November 1893, the Return of Public Elementary School Attendance noted that there were 119 students and 76 infants on the roll. Four years later, in April 1897 the Inspectors’ Report stated that the school is now very full of children, a fact which sometimes mitigates against good teaching. In consequence of the growth of numbers, the staff was supplemented by the appointment of two pupil teachers who were mentioned as being recognised in the Inspector’s Report of May, 1896. No reference is made to salary until February, 1899 when the Balance Sheet from the Minutes of Meetings of Managers of St John’s School noted they each received seven pounds ten per quarter.
However, the accounts showed a deficit – over £74 in 1890 rising to over £117 in 1898. That said, strenuous efforts were made to keep the school open and expenditure was continually looked at with a view to cutting the deficit.