History of the school
The History of St Augustine’s Catholic Primary School
The Old School
Canon Austin J. Collingwood of St Patrick’s Church, felt there was a need for a school and a church at Harehills and fulfilled a long cherished ambition when land on Earl Cowper’s estate was bought in 1897. Dedicated to the Apostle of England, his patron saint, St Augustine’s School in Harehills Place was completed 18 months later and was solemnly opened on 10 April 1899 with 53 children attending the school. The first Headteacher was Mother Bonaventure 1899-1926 who was reported to be a very good head and full of character.
Due to the rapid growth of families settling in the area, the school became too small to accommodate the number of children in need of a Catholic education. Fr. Coffey, the Parish priest, applied to Leeds City Council to extend the school but was refused because they wanted to fill the vacant places in the local council school. As this was a denial of the rights of parents, the challenge was taken up and a Parents’ deputation waited upon the Committee and later on the City Council. Eventually, after a heated debate and one of the longest sittings in its history, the Council approved of the extension by the casting vote of the Lord Mayor. In 1910 further building work was carried out at the school.
The new School at St Wilfrid’s Circus
By the late 1960s, the school building had become old and ‘out of date’. It was a very old school with a large number of pupils, approximately 650 five to eleven year olds. It was so full that Mr Paddy Crotty, a Leeds councillor, on visiting St Augustine’s remarked, ‘If you open a store cupboard, children come tumbling out.’
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 following was printed in the Yorkshire Evening Post in July 1974:
Pupils rallied round to give a good send off to two Leeds Headmistresses who are retiring this week. When Sr. St Bride (pictured right) leaves Harehills St Augustine’s Primary School, she will end a 75 year tradition of a nun being in charge of the school. Mrs B. Fleming, formerly at St Charles R.C. school is to be the new headmistress. Sr. St Bride has been headmistress for the past 19 years. The pupils bought her a portable typewriter and cassette recorder.
The school moved into the new building at St Wilfrid’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 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 23rd 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 children were 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 new school building
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
Centre: The official opening by Bishop Konstant
Right: Altar servers at the official opening
Under the previous headship of Mr Teggert and the current Headteacher, Mrs O’Brien, and the support of the Diocese of Leeds, there have been many significant alterations made to the layout of the building over the years, thereby ensuring that school provides an effective and inviting working and learning environment for both staff and pupils.
The school population has itself also changed over the years. We are proud to have welcomed children and their families from all around the world and they have unquestionably enhanced the ethos of the school and parish. It is a constant reminder to us that we are all God’s children, regardless of our nationality and background.
St Augustine’s Catholic Primary School is a very special place at the heart of the community. It has provided a high quality education for thousands of children and their families for over a hundred years and has a great deal to be proud of. St Augustine’s is a “happy and Holy school” that our families and staff, past and present, are equally proud to be a part of.