The Early History of St Vincent's Boys Home
At the Great Catholic Meeting held at the Public Hall, Preston on 15 May 1889, the Reverend Father Splaine, SJ., Rector of St Wilfrids, said that "large numbers of destitute and orphaned children are being lost to our religion owing to the absence of suitable institutions wherein to educate and protect them". It was proposed that a Poor Law School be built.
Bishop O'Reilly supported this aim but encouraged them to go further and to build a Home, which would shelter boys from, "the contamination and pampering influences of the Workhouses, however well conducted". This was the start of a new chapter for the Poor Law Children living in the northern section of the Liverpool Diocese.
Land (17.5acres) near to the Little Sisters of the Poor, Fulwood had been purchased and funding for the project was raised by holding a Great Bazaar and sale of work in the second week of November 1891.
The Bishop laid the foundation stone but he did not live to see the completion of the work. It was decided to call the school "the Bishop O’Reilly's Memorial" in his honour.
The school was opened on 20 July 1896 and was certified by the Government for 250 boys, however due to the demands made for admittance, additional wings were added in 1901 and the certificate was extended to 300.
The following text is extracted from the Bazaar Gazette 1909
The Home is situated in spacious grounds in one of the healthiest parts of Lancashire on the East side of Garstang Road, Fulwood a little distance off the main road near to which run the Preston Corporation Tramways: Fulwood Route.
The building is of brick and the structure of a plain and simple design none of the money was expended in elaborate decoration or ornamentation.
By 1909 upwards of 1,300 boys had been sent from the various Unions to receive a full course of Elementary Education on the lines similar to the code of Public Elementary Schools.
The report written by the Royal Commisioner stated:- "It is probable that the children in some of the Poor Law Schools are better fitted for earning their own living than those educated outside".
Religious training of these boys was considered an essential part of their education.
Attention was also given to physical training which improved their health and gave qualities of "alertness, decision, concentration and perfect control of mind over body, so that the structure of the body is built up under the best conditions of school life". Dumb bells, Indian Clubs, etc were provided in their gymnastic equipment and all were encouraged to take part in Cricket, Football and other games.
The benefit of access to sporting activities was also recognised in a report on Physical Training from Colonel Fox, Inspector of Drill Training Colleges. Following his visit to the school, he wrote,"I must again tell you how highly pleased I was with the physical training I saw at St Vincent's Poor Law School on Friday the 13th April 1908. The Boys performed their exercises with the greatest precision of vigour and the interest they took in their work was very marked: in fact I can safely say I have never seen a class of boys better turned out or smarter in every detail - they were simply splendid. I also consider great credit is due to their Instructor, Sergeant Major Wright for the high standard of work shown".
It was the Sisters intention that when the boys were ready to leave the Home they would have the capacity to make their way: mentally, physically and morally well fitted for whatever lay in front of them.
The St Vincent's Boys Brass Band was a distinct success and particular pride of the Home. Boys reaching the age of 14 years were ready for work, and those taught to play a brass instrument in the band and who showed a natural capacity for music, were eligible for enlistment into Regimental Bands of the Army or Royal Navy.
The basement is utilised for general stores, heating apartment etc. On the ground floor there is a Central Main Entrance; to the right runs a wide corridor on the side of which are rooms mainly used for school purposes.
Facing the entrance - to the right, is the Refectory and to the left are rooms utilised for gymnasium, kitchens, sculleries and stores, and across a passage to another corridor off which are: Work rooms, Band room and rooms used by the sisters, etc
The recess opposite the Refectory, on the left, off the main entrance is the staircase from which you ascend and pass into the chapel which is situate on the second floor.
The second floor which is reached by the several staircases is almost all used for Dormitories, and ample provision is made from these Dormitories that no room has less than two exits, and each floor has outside, iron balconies with fire escapes, staircases and other arrangements. The Lavatories from these rooms are just outside, giving additional exits in case of fire.
The scheme also includes:- Infirmary(pictured below), wash-house and baths, Laundry and all other necessary out-buildings.
The Home was supervised by the Sisters of Charity (St Vincent de Paul). The management was totally different from that of other Public Institutions, for in the Home kindness was the prevailing feature.
Guardians more readily realised that in Workhouses there was little or no provision for training and recreation for children. In many Workhouses they often had to mix with adult paupers and it was a concern that children could "learn habits and hear conversations which demoralise them". They recognised that the Workhouse was not the right place in which to rear the children.
A few children emigrated to Canada where it was thought they would have more opportunities in life. In the St Vincent' School Annual Magazine 1927, the following account is given to one such departure.
"Life is a strange mixture of sunshine and shower. We had both in Easter week, and shower coming on the Friday, for on that day fourteen of our pals (pictured right) set off to cultivate Canada's open spaces. The six months prior to departure seemed very long to them, but the fever to be off cooled a good deal as the time for parting drew near, until on the actual day the thought of separation from all must have partly dawned on them and left them cold, for there was no great keenness to leave. They were a very sad lot when the RMS Montclare pulled away from the Liverpool Landing Stage, and their letters tell quite clearly that it is by no means an easy or pleasant matter to turn one's back on England, Preston, St Vincent's. Nevertheless they all appear to have cultivated not only Canada's virgin soil, but also an attachment for the land of their adoption".
A Working Boys Home was founded to give boys the opportunity of learning a trade. The Home was described as "excellent" having every convenience and situated in one of the choicest positions in town:- 98 Stephenson Terrace, Deepdale Road, Preston. It was said to be well adapted for the purpose having very roomy accommodation for twenty-five to thirty boys and within close proximity to the boy's various employment. The accommodation was later extended to include 96 Stephenson Terrace.
World Cup Fever - A different take on the significance of football in our lives.
Football at St Vincent's School
Football played an important role in the lives of the children at the St Vincent's Boys Home. In an extract from their 1924 school magazine one of the boys, referred to only as H.B., gave the following account,
'A football team had been formed and universal excitement prevailed. Cheers and various cries greeted the 'Vincent's' at each goal, and the team went from victory to victory. The most notable being a 19-1 defeat inflicted on the English Martyrs. Our only defeat (4-1) was against the Eldon Street team. Mick Walker, our goalkeeper and the idol of the School, playing a great game, staved off a greater defeat. Shortly after this I played my first game in football. I lined up with the rest, but every attempt to kick the 'leather' ended in my removing a piece of the grass, bringing a cry of 'please replace the grass'. The climax was reached when I had an open goal before me and the ball at my toes, to my horror, but to the amusement of the other players, I handled the sphere and, instead of looking in the least bit penitent, I broke into a fit of laughter, which resulted in my being ordered off the field - a sad affair for a future international'.