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The History of St Anne's School

St Anne’s School Celebrates 120 Years! Learning to live by faith and to be known by love.

 

St Anne’s Roman Catholic School on Washington Road lies in the heart of Caversham, both geographically and metaphorically.  In fact, for 120 years, the school has been serving the local community providing a holistic education for its students that recognises the uniqueness of every individual and focuses always on the truth that we are all one in Christ.

 

From its inception in 1899, the school was built on faith.  On January 28, 1899, the Berkshire Chronicle reported ‘an interesting ceremony’ that involved the laying of the dedication and donation stones of a Roman Catholic School to be erected in South View Avenue.  The proceedings included the placing within the foundations of ‘a miraculous medal, a pair of rosary beads, an engraving of St Anne, a badge of the Sacred Heart’ and an inscription which stated that the school was being built in honour of Our Lady and St Anne at Caversham.  In his homily, Rev Raymond Haskew asserted that St Anne’s would be ‘an edifice in which our children may be taught to know God and to serve Him, in which they may learn to love God above all things and their neighbour for the love of God.’  Students would be educated to become ‘loyal citizens of heaven, loyal subjects of the State and useful members of society’ such that the school might be ‘the workshop of the Divine Master’.

 

Subsequently – on September 11, 1899 - St Anne’s opened its doors for the first time.  Headmistress Norah Bowie was the only teacher at the school which was initially attended by 32 children – 7 infants and 25 older students.  Some challenges were encountered and in 1900 it was said that the children attending constituted ‘the illiterate refuse of the other Caversham schools.’  Despite this criticism, exam results were reported to have been good!

 

It was in 1902 that the Sisters of the Visitation – an order of Belgian nuns – took over the running of the school.  From here, St Anne’s developed increasingly into a parish institution.  A new headmistress – Sister Margaret Mary - was appointed and, in 1904, the HMO Inspector reported that, ‘The School is effectively controlled and some praiseworthy work is accomplished’.  The popularity of St Anne’s grew and pressure on places increased.  By 1909, the inspector’s recommendations were subject-specific and included avoidance of eye strain in needlework exercises, teaching of drawing to girls and the suggestion that boys commence woodwork lessons.  During the first 10 years, registers show that often many children were absent at a time due to diseases such as measles, mumps, chicken-pox, diphtheria and influenza.  Such outbreaks also resulted in several prolonged periods of closure by the Sanitary Authority.  Floods and severe winter weather were also reported to have made a notable impact on attendance.

 

In 1914, refugees from Belgium joined the school, bringing the number of pupils to 150.  As a result of this influx, the majority of the congregation of Our Lady and St Anne’s during the Christmas services in this year were Belgian refugees.  In fact, the 10.30am Mass on Christmas Day was consequently given by a Belgian Priest in Flemish!  At the very end of the year, St Anne’s Hall – funded by Mrs Crawshay – was opened by the Mayor.  In 1915, the hall was used by a Red Cross Medical detachment and by May 1915 it was designated a convalescent hospital connected to the Reading Military.  During the war, the children worked in the garden behind the school and for a short time in 1918 classes were shut while the staff helped with food rationing.  At the end of the war - in 1919 - all the children were taken by tram car to Palmer Park for the Peace Celebrations.  In fact, trips were surprisingly frequent and lessons were regularly delivered at sites across Reading. Among the excursions mentioned in the school log books were visits to the Gas Works, to the Abbey grounds and ruins, to the Museum in order to see the Silchester Collection and to Broad Street to see the King and Queen pass by on their way to the War Hospital in 1917.

 

By 1922, 164 children were enrolled, divided into two classes of ‘Babies’ and seven classes of ‘Standards’.  Four years later, a visit by the HMI was followed by comments on the good work throughout the school, both with regards to study and to discipline and mentioned in particular the ‘eager and industrious children’.  Opportunities offered were wide-ranging and included football matches for boys with children from other schools and netball matches for girls.

 

The Second World War years commenced with blackouts in November 1939 that caused the daily timetable to be altered and a severe winter that saw attendance slip down to a third on February 2, 1940.  In May 1940, all schools which had closed for the Whitsun holiday were ordered to reopen after only 3 days due to the seriousness of the military situation.  Part-time education had to be introduced in June when an evacuated London school of 220 children and their teachers arrived.  The latter used the premises from 8.50am-1.00pm whilst St Anne’s children attended from 1.30pm-5.00pm.   Furthermore, school premises were kept open during the summer to cater for children of mothers doing war work and reports of air raids and bombs dropping nearby all formed part of life at St Anne’s during this time.  Nevertheless, progress was still made; swimming certificates were earned, school dinners began to be served and the Juvenile Employment Officer visited the school to advise school leavers.

 

After the war, attendance rose to 282 and, with the raising of compulsory school age to 15 in 1947, pressure upon accommodation increased.  The first male teacher was appointed to the staff in 1949, taking games and PT with the boys.  Under his influence, rugby was taught.  The school also participated in the Musical Festival – an annual event in Reading Town Hall.

 

It was in 1958 – with the enforcement of the 1944 Education Act - that St Anne’s became a primary school, constituted of a Reception class, Infant Class and Classes I-VI.  It was at this time also that the infants were given toilets, a kitchen was built on site and a new playground was laid out for the older children at the back of the school hall.  The students enjoyed a wide curriculum including French for the top 3 classes, PE, dance and relationships.  Interestingly, the Punishment Book from this time records a number of names familiar to the current parish!  The range of misdemeanours was wide and included whistling and singing in school, spilling ink on the desk and floor, talking during Maths, persistent laziness and being nuisances in private alleyways as well as writing a teacher’s name on the pavement outside school and throwing insects around the room thereby upsetting the girls.  No names will be disclosed!

 

More recent memories have been collected by means of the school logs and also from our own alumni.  Memories of First Holy Communion, Corpus Christi celebrations at Mapledurham and Confirmation Mass with the Archbishop are included among these. At a recent gathering, many alumni communicated clear recollections of Sister Christine (the last nun to be Head Teacher) who was replaced by Mr Welch c.1979.  Sister Anne and Sister Sheila remained at the school, with Sister Anne being the last member of the Order to leave. 

 

The log books and journals meticulously maintained throughout the years since 1899, bring to life the history of this wonderful school.  One thing that is striking throughout is the long service of many members of staff.  It is clear that the St Anne’s community has always engendered a deep sense of service and dedication.  In 1954, the Chief Education Officer summed up the atmosphere of the school in one word: love.  He highlighted in particular the devotion of the nuns to the school and to the children, mentioning especially Sister Mary Aidan who left in 1967 after 33 years of service and Sister Joseph who taught in Reception for 42 years.  Times may have changed; the buildings and recreation areas have been extended; the curriculum has been developed and all children now have indoor toilets!  However, love and service remain at the heart of St Anne’s.  It is a huge privilege to be a part of this faith-filled, vibrant community in which every child is celebrated as a gift from God and I have no doubt that, although the next 120 years will see great changes, the love of Jesus will always remain at its centre.

Mrs Bernto

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