School History - Part 2 - Into the 20th Century
Into the 20th Century
The building at the back of the old Convent in Edwin Street was a Builder’s yard. To relieve the overcrowding in the early 20th Century, Father Joseph Wyatt, the Parish Priest, bought the yard and in 1909 two classrooms were erected on the site. There was now a second entrance to the school, the first being through the Church. A playground was created and an iron outside staircase gave exterior access to the top classroom from the playground. The classrooms remained in use for 60 years. Two more classrooms were added to the Parish School. The Convent High School was transferred to 3 Edwin Street. The number of pupils increased so much that the school had to move to 106 Windmill Street and subsequently Rose Villa, Old Road East.
Little progress ensued between the wars. The Arnold family gave the land, Denton Paddock, adjoining their estate, Milton Hall, to St John’s Parish and it was used by a Maclean’s dairy as pasture. In 1938 a site had been acquired opposite St Mary’s Chapel and Father O’Donaghue, Parish Priest, had plans drawn up for a new school. But war ensured the plans were abandoned and the children were evacuated to Southam, Warwickshire. Further children were sent to the Benedictine Abbey at Buckfast, Devon. On March 3rd, 1939 the Council refused a grant to St John’s School as in their view, the school will soon be redundant. The irony that the greater part of Arnold’s old estate remains dedicated to education – the Grammar School and St John’s Junior and Comprehensive Schools on site.
With the cessation of hostilities the children returned to Gravesend. The Butler Education Act, 1944 raised the school leaving age to 15; there were now 95 infants on roll with 3 sisters and 160 children with a staff of 4 sisters under one Head in Edwin Street. The infants were housed in Parrock Street whilst the older students were accommodated near St John’s. A hall was acquired in 1935 Windmill Street to alleviate the overcrowding and at Easter, 1948 two classes of the senior pupils, 11 plus, moved there. This hall was an 1870 extension to Tivoli House and built as a synagogue. It closed in 1915. In September, 1948 this was increased to 3 classes with 3 secular staff employed – the first such.
Negotiations on the erection of buildings at the Denton site were now concluding. By 1950 temporary buildings were erected on the five acre site. St John’s RC Voluntary Aided Secondary Modern opened in September, the opening roll was 97 boys and girls.
There were three blocks of huts. Each block consisted of two classrooms, two cloakrooms and two sets of toilets. Two of the blocks were used as classrooms, the third for practical rooms – a Domestic Science room and a Woodwork room. A portion of this block was used for Administration to include the Headmaster’s Office, a Secretary’s Office and a Staff Room.
The move to Denton coincided with the centenary, 1851-1951, of St John’s Church and the millennium of St Mary’s Church. The anniversaries were celebrated at Whitsun and included a Pontifical Benediction in the open at Denton Paddock.
A canteen was opened soon after and this afforded indoor P.E. lessons and Music lessons.