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06 September 2018

St Mary's R.C. School, Portslade

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2018)

 copyright © J.Middleton
St Mary's Catholic Primary School, Church Road, Portslade in August 2018

Proposals for a New School
copyright © G.Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting
 permission for the reproduction of the
 above photograph. 
The double gabled roof of the 'new school'
next to the Church in 1914.

In April 1913 proposals for the new school were made and it was stated it was to be for the benefit of 120 Roman Catholic children from the whole of Portslade, Fishersgate, and as far as Southwick Street, plus the west part of Aldrington too. But Hove Borough Council Education Committee decided to appeal to the Board of Education against the plans on the grounds that the Portland Road Schools were 'better suited to meet the wants of Aldrington children than the proposed new school’.

The original notice was thus withdrawn because of Hove’s opposition and Father J. Kerwin and the promoters issued a new notice in which mention of Aldrington as part of the catchment area was omitted.

Benefactor Mrs Catherine Broderick provided the money to build the new Roman Catholic School in Church Road, and she had also been responsible for the construction of the church next door to the school – Our Lady, Star of the Sea, and St Denis – the saint being chosen in honour of her late husband Denis Broderick. It is sad to note that while the school (with modern extensions) continues to thrive, the church has been demolished and replaced by housing.

The new school in Church Road was already open for the children by late 1913.

Belgian Refugees

  copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
One of the groups of Belgian refugees that stayed at St Mary’s School,  which included the Very Revd Canon Henry Otto of Malines (Mechelen) Cathedral (seated) and Baroness Beyens (standing in centre) wife of Baron Beyens, the former  Belgian Ambassador to Germany.
 (In 1921 Baron Beyens was appointed Ambassador to Pope Benedict XV and in 1922 to Pope Pius XI)
 The Very Revd Canon Otto was later found accommodation at the Convent of Our Lady of Sion in Worthing 
and Baroness Beyens moved to Hove and served on the Belgian Local Relief & Refugee Committee

The school children did not have long to enjoy their new home, and indeed 1913 can be seen an inauspicious year with war clouds looming over Europe. In August 1914 Father Kerwin decided to offer the new building as a place where Belgian refugees would be welcome, and the first of them arrived on 3 September 1914. During the first six weeks some 69 Belgian families (comprising 230 individuals) passed through the centre

On 17 October 1914 the government decided that Sussex was a protected area and thus no more refugees come to the area. But the building did not actually re-open as a school until 1918, so presumably the premises were still being utilised for the war effort.
(see also Belgian Refugees in Portslade)

A Belated Public Inquiry

copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
This photograph of the children at St Mary’s dates from the 1930s. The striped tie seems to have been a prominent part of the uniform

It does seem odd that a Public Inquiry into proposals to provide a new school for Roman Catholic children in Portslade should have been held when the school had already been built. It took place at Portslade Town Hall on 13 November 1913, and Mr D. Vesey of the Board of Education presided over it.

Father Kerwin explained that the school had been built to gratify the dying wish of benefactress Mrs Catherine Broderick who died on 20 February 1914 in her 84th year.

It was stated that the Roman Catholic population was centred in the Southern Cross area and there were 139 souls of which 89 were under fourteen years of age. There were 25 Catholic children in Fishersgate.

At that time Catholic children attended the Anglican schools of St Nicolas, Portslade, and St Andrew, Portslade. A few children went to the nearest Roman Catholic School in Coleridge Street, Hove, which was two miles away as the crow flies. The Roman Catholic school at Shoreham was three miles away and no child from Portslade went there.

Portslade ratepayers were against the Catholic school at Portslade simply because if it proved to be a liability, there would be an extra burden on the rates. Another bone of contention was because Father Kerwin intended to admit Catholic children from Fishersgate. However, since Fishersgate was situated over the border in West Sussex, this was likely to prove a headache for the authorities.

Father Kerwin was adamant and stated that the school would be established whether or not it received official sanction.


When the school re-opened in 1918, there were just 30 pupils aged between five and fourteen years of age. In the early days parents were obliged to pay a fee of one shilling a week for each child. Although it was a mixed school, boys had to leave when they reached eleven years of age.

copyright © J.Middleton
Portslade Manor / St Marye’s Convent was photographed on 20 March 2014. The exterior is covered with what was
 called Roman cement, which was popular at the time the manor was built.  But it does make the building look austere. The cross on top of the chapel can be seen on the right.

The school was under the direction of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God located at St Marye's Convent in Portslade Old Village. For many years it was a customary sight in Portslade to see the nuns dressed in full habits walking down Locks Hill to the school.

As a Catholic school there were a number of important religious festivals that required the school to be closed and amongst them were:

Ascension Day
Corpus Christi
Feast of St Peter and St Paul

Portslade inhabitants knew all about the celebration for Corpus Christi because a long procession of people, including young girls in white dresses, choir members, priests and servers, used to walk from the church of St Mary, Star of the Sea,and St Denis, up to St Marye's Convent, and a single policeman was quite enough to make sure they navigated the treacherous road at Southern Cross in safety.

 copyright © D.Sharp
In this unique photograph taken from 81 Trafalgar Road in the early 1950s, the Corpus Christi procession can be seen passing the Battle of Trafalgar on its way to St Marye’s Convent. At the front of procession are altar servers with a processional cross and candles, followed by young children, a group of nuns, a large group of girls in white dresses supervised by a nun and the monstrance and canopy is just coming into view.
 A policeman is standing in the middle of the road with his bicycle to stop any cars coming out from Victoria Road and the shops in Trafalgar Road are hanging out bunting and flags to mark this special day.


In 1955 plans were passed to build an extension to the school. By September 1957 the school had five classes with two for infants, and three for juniors. There were 176 children on the books but the new canteen was still not ready. Teachers at the time were as follows:

Miss M. Birmingham
Miss B. P. Flynn
Miss J. Goatcher
Mrs J. Eaton
Miss F. Fitzsimmons
Miss G Cavanagh

In 1958 Sister Greta was headmistress.

In the 1960s Father Henry Lewis was responsible for the further enlargement of the school.


In September 1962 the head asked permission from Portslade Council to use Vale Park for games because it was considered too dangerous to cross two busy roads to reach Victoria Recreation Ground.

In 1974 the annual Sports Day was still being held in Vale Park.

On the question of road safety, there was an attempt to enrol the services of a traffic warden to assist the children in crossing the road to and from school. But three months later he left, saying the job was far too dangerous. Later on, ‘lollipop ladies' took on the duties.

In June 1963 Coco the Clown came to talk to the children about road safety.

Change of Administration

The 1 April 1964 was a watershed in the provision of education in Portslade. From that date St Mary’s, together with the six other schools in Portslade, came under the jurisdiction of East Sussex Education Authority based at Lewes.

One can only presume that the head of St Mary’s was not happy about the changeover because there was a resignation at the end of the summer term 1964.

In September 1965 Sister Thérise A. E. Flynn became the new head of St Mary's, she had formerly been head of St Peter's Roman Catholic Infants' School in Gloucester.

copyright © D.Sharp
  The new extension on the east side of the school next to Our Lady's Mass Centre on the left in the low building


Father Lewis died on 19 September 1965 – he was parish priest as well as being chairman of the school governors.

Father Edward Holloway arrived in Portslade as the new parish priest and naturally became the new chairman of the governors too.

Controversial Reading Scheme

In the autumn and winter of 1968 there was a great deal of discussion about a proposed new reading scheme. Parents were anxious about how it worked, and how it would affect their children, and special meetings were arranged to discuss the matter.

The new scheme was called the Initial Teaching Alphabet (ITA) and St Mary's was one of the schools to adopt it. Children were taught to read phonetically, rather then using traditional methods and actual words. This might have made it easier for children to read at first, but then they faced confusion when later on they had to re-learn how to spell words correctly. This scheme has now been discredited.

Number of Pupils

By April 1969 there were 281 children registered at St Mary’s.

On 28 November 1969 the school was obliged to close for a half-day because five teachers were on strike, and two sisters were ill.

By 1970 school numbers had risen to 290 children.

The 1970s

It appears that in 1971 there were hopes of a new Roman Catholic School being built in Portslade. Unhappily for such hopes, there was no mention of it in the 1971/72 Design List. It was stated that St Mary's was to become a First School under the re-organisation plan. It was also hoped that a new Middle School to serve Portslade, Southwick and Shoreham might be built in the Holmbush area. This never happened.

Mr M. J. Marrin became the new head in September 1974.

In 1975 there were 230 children at the school and the teaching staff were as follows:

Miss C. Fenton
Mr S. T. Pearson
Mr A. Doo
Miss A. Horsfield
Miss S. Brien
Miss L. Moss
Mrs A. Moore
Miss D. Wattling
Mrs H. Kendal

Peter Gladwin School opened on 15 September 1975, which relieved pressure on St Mary’s.

The 1980s
copyright © D.Sharp

In 1981 Mr Ralph P. Jones was appointed as the new headmaster. He went to the school in August with the hopes of sorting things out before the new school year started. Instead, he found a pile of correspondence, but was unable to locate the keys to the filing cabinets.

In 1983 class 7 was moved from the north west corner of the main building to the south west corner. This was to allow the construction of a staff room by erecting a partition in the old classroom.

In October 1983 there was a staff meeting about a new language scheme, and the provision of computers in classrooms.

In 1984 Mr S.T Pearson, deputy head, celebrated his 60th birthday – he had been a teacher at St Mary’s for 21 years.

Also in 1984 Father Ruane left after serving eight years as parish priest, and Father Ralph Message was the new priest.

In September 1984 Ralph Jones was still the head and there were 202 children at St Mary’s.

In July 1988 Terry Pearson retired after 25 years at the school.

Ralph Jones left in 1989 after being head for eight years. His new position was head of St Wilfrid’s Roman Catholic Primary School at Burgess Hill.

In January 1990 Theresa Russell became the next head of St Mary’s, having been acting head of a primary school in Egham, Surrey, previously.

Recent Times

copyright © D.Sharp
  The new extension as viewed from Vale Road

In January 2000 Mrs Joyce Jones was appointed the new head, she had been acting head for the previous fourteen months.

Two small extensions had been made to the school in the 1990s but in January 2002 a major development got under way with the completion date set for September 2003.

The new building would house four classrooms, hall, kitchen, library, toilets, stock cupboards and storage space. Morgan & Carne were the architects, and Penfold were the contractors.

This new development represented a major achievement for the fundraising campaign. Since St Mary’s is a church-aided school, it was obliged to raise 10% of the total cost. The work was projected to cost £560,000 and therefore St Mary’s had to raise £56,000.

This was a daunting task for a small school where high-earning parents are somewhat thin on the ground. The school took up the challenge in various ingenious ways, one was for pupils to buy a paper brick for £1 and fix it to the wall at school; another was to sing Christmas carols in Churchill Square. The children singing carols was also recorded and produced on CDs for sale to parents and grandparent, which raised £900.

The Department of Education & Skills provided most of the money, while the Local Education Authority provided money for the kitchen.

The School's website:- St Mary's Catholic Primary School 


Middleton J, Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Information collected on site from St Mary’s School
Portslade Council Minute Books at The Keep 

Copyright © J.Middleton 2018
page layout by D. Sharp