ST JOSEPH’S COLLEGE memories 1970s – 1980s

I just received this comprehensive memoir about school life at St Jo’s. It was typewritten, with no origins address, unsigned and was posted to my old address where I haven’t lived for many years. The current owner photographed the pages and emailed them to me, so the only way I can show them is as photographs, I’m afraid.

PAGE ONE OF LETTER FROM ST J’S OLD BOY
PAGE TWO OF LETTER FROM ST J’S OLD BOY
PAGE THREE OF LETTER FROM ST J’S OLD BOY

There’s nothing controversial or confidential in the contents and so I feel it is safe and appropriate to share.

My thanks to ‘Anonymous’ for his observations. Do send me an e-mail another time and I assure you your name and address will remain confidential.

I found Anon’s recollections of Kearney interesting. I didn’t know about his early retirement to Greece and his subsequent death in his 50s. I believe Anon is the second Old Boy to say Kearney wasn’t a good chemistry teacher; he also says Kearney wasn’t actually interested in the subject. This makes it all the more remarkable that he has a current chemistry memorial prize named after him by today’s St Joseph’s College.

I recall Kearney getting us to drink heavily diluted acid, which was, of course, perfectly safe. I’d forgotten that he also got pupils to dip their hands in similarly diluted acid. Anon says he put ‘the fear into you without actually doing anything.’

At the time, I regarded such behaviour as clearly ‘sadistic’. Today his actions would also be recognised as abusive.

It’s the limits of his sadism that interest me. Was his classroom sadism, as confirmed by various Old Boys as well as myself, the full extent of his disorder? Was he a normal person outside the classroom?  Not in my experience. I believe sadists can’t actually ‘switch off’ from their disorder, although they can control it in most – but not all – circumstances.  But I wait for other accounts before elaborating. This makes a unique Kearney defender very angry and impatient with me. She remembers Kearney as a kind and good teacher and he seems to have made a strong and positive impression on her. She regards complaints about him as ‘hearsay’ and unfair as he’s no longer here to defend himself.  In response, I’ve told her the same was said about Jimmy Savile directly after his death. I’ve also told her repeatedly, it’s for me as a survivor to evaluate and decide my best strategy on my PTSD recollections of Kearney, not for her to dictate it or tell me to ‘forget it and get on with my life’.

Anon also doesn’t believe Kearney engaged in systematic physical abuse. He certainly did in the 1960s, using a Bunsen burner tube to whack kids with. It was not so much the actually whacking, but his sadistic glee that I remember thinking at the time was entirely inappropriate.  I shall never forget that leering grin on his face as he would excitedly yank the rubber tube off a burner – although he never whacked me with it. And also his smiling with delight at a boy’s fear as he applied a blackboard duster to his knuckles. And there is, in the 1970s or 80s, the testimonial of the Old Boy who was punched in the face by Kearney, resulting in him having to apologise to his parents and –  hopefully – the boy himself. I can’t believe this was a ‘one off’ and – in any event – that is a serious criminal assault for which he should have been prosecuted, even in those times.

Anon believes the aberrant behaviour he describes at St Jo’s was typical of private schools in the late 20th century  and St Jo’s shouldn’t be singled out.  It’s true that there were others – other De La Salle schools, Benedictine schools, and Sherborne prep school.  And doubtless many more.  The fact that it was ‘normal’ doesn’t make it acceptable and I believe abusive teachers should be fully exposed. Thus there’s a testimony on this site – concerning an incident in the 1980s, I think – where another lay teacher from St Jo’s had a cat o’nine whip he used on a boy. That’s a specialist sadistic device.

Please do share your recollections of St Jo’s on my site. They can be positive or negative – it all helps to produce a rounded picture of the times and the school before its ‘new management’.

For instance, no one ever mentions Mr George, my history teacher from my 60s era.(Not to be confused with the later rugby teacher) I’m curious to know if he moved onto another school.

I’m planning to write a chapter about the De La Salles for the forthcoming  ‘The Unturned Stones of IICSA’ book which looks at the shortfalls of the inquiry. The book is introduced by Richard Scorer who wrote ‘Betrayed’ about RC CSA in the UK.  So any relevant thoughts, positive or negative, would be invaluable, especially if I can quote them, anonymously if necessary.

9 thoughts on “ST JOSEPH’S COLLEGE memories 1970s – 1980s

  1. You’ll make your mind up whether he was a sadist or a good Chemistry teacher!!!. Seems to me you agree with whoever writes on here. Not too many bad reviews on Mr K !!!! unlucky. what you have to remember is discipline in schools these days was totally different to the time of the 50’s and 60’s. Oh and by the way he didn’t live in Greece, he was on holiday and fell and got a DVT and died. No doubt you will block me as you don’t like people coming back and challenging you.

    • Thanks, Laura ,for putting Anonymous right about Greece. He shares your views on corporal punishment and I refer to that in my latest blog yesterday. I can’t agree with either of you – I quote an academic relating how Christian Brothers violence (not the DLS i know) led to a pupil eventually committing suicide. One survivor told me how he was very emotional and relieved when something was done about another physical abuser. So that makes it worth while running this blog. i don’t think a teacher punching a boy in the face in the 60s was acceptable, never mind later when it happened. But you’re welcome to challenge me as long as you keep it civilised and on topic. I seem to recall last time you were quite provocative and off topic and that’s why I blocked you.

  2. I was there early 80s. The anon letter is consistent with my recollections. I didn’t see or hear of any abuse as such, but agree that the teaching standards were generally very poor and there was an undercurrent of unnecessarily harsh discipline from certain staff members.

    BLH was my form tutor for one year. He was a harsh disciplinarian, kids were generally fearful of crossing him. None of what has been reported surprises me.

    McLaughlin: the worst maths teacher I ever had. Basically he had checked out.

    Mr George: a terrifying individual, like the staff in the film Scum. Hunter was a watered down version who definitely mellowed in time, and was basically ok.

    Mr Chandler: seemed like a nice guy

    Mr Sparrow: fine. Balanced and reasonable.

    Mr Rutherford: joined Hunter in PE. Slightly camp in the literal sense of the word. Loved rugby.

    Mr Wilcox: old school, but fine. His wife much more pleasant but quite timid.

    Mercado: I boarded in the 5th form. He was housemaster. Didn’t know his history or alter-ego. Slightly weird, but saw nothing untoward. Given what has emerged, don’t understand why he was allowed back in a lay capacity.

    Br Cuthbert: seemed ok, but was pretty senile even then.

    Br Richard: was 6th form HM for a year when I was there. Bit pompous but seemed to mean well.

    Br Peter: scary, with an air of impending loss of temper.

    Hockey: 2nd most useless teacher after Lennon.

    Bates: great maths teacher, nice guy. Rescued me after 2 years of ‘Moggs Maths’

    Newman: left wing economics teacher. Too cool for school, but ok.

    Overall, a weird experience. Enjoyed boarding in the 6th form with a bit more freedom, but would have hated it in the earlier more institutionalised year groups when luckily I was a day pupil.

    Dreadful to hear of the awful experiences of others. I guess I was lucky, or not seen as vulnerable, or the culture was starting to moderate by then. Perhaps all three.

  3. I spent three months in Iran just after the millennium so I gained some understanding of the beauty of your Persian culture and how important it was to the family I was staying with.

  4. My recollections of Mr Kearney are already on record and have been referenced a couple of times. For this post I’ll focus more on the positives so I’ll skip him.

    What I do find interesting is the positive experiences he recalls from various teachers. For example Mr Twist – I remember him as someone who was intensely dull, he constantly transcribed from textbooks on to the blackboard and we were supposed to copy into out books with the assumption his body was transparent. No subject engagement at all!

    Personally I got on well with Mrs Warren, although I’m aware there were some she clashed with, and some where she crossed a line. I was fortunate to be in her good books (also helps I was in top set).

    Mr Hunter came in as a PE teacher in the 80s, he was overly critical and somewhat aggressive in his first year, but mellowed and became quite approachable after that. He has a military background and it seemingly took him a little time to adapt.

    For IT/computing there was Mr Hockley and and Mr Langley. Mr Hockley was clearly bluffing it, I was (and am) tech savvy and the few times Mr Hockley took the class I just got on with my own things. Mr Langley was from a more technical background, he was at the school for about 5-6 years in the late 80s. He allowed me to do my own things in class but offered some structure. I could already code so the requirements for the GCSE were far too simple. Still, would have helped if both had followed the curriculum closer.

    Was the music teacher he refers to Mr Parry? I remember him leaving rather abruptly. An old teacher was brought in for a short time as cover – a scary bald headed guy with a dated sense of music. He didn’t stay long but I knew for sure I wouldn’t want to study music as an option, I also deliberately auditioned out of tune with the compulsory choir auditions as he gave me the creeps.

    Mr Worsley was competent, personal memories weren’t of him being that bad, more that he was in a dated mobile classroom with no working heating and that made it difficult to maintain concentration (I was from a poorer family and had no heating at home – was funded by a scholarship, was also almost the only pupil to be on free school meals, which I kept as secret as I could with the ‘my parents paid at the office’ after being chastised in class in the first year by Bro. Francis that ;nobody gets a free meal!’).

    Other than than Bro. Francis Tyson was someone I remember as a kind teacher, similarly with Mrs Warren I’ve heard others had a negative experience with him. We connected a bit as he kept a small library of books (mostly pupil donations) that I was constantly working through, giving feedback and acted as the librarian. My main complaint was the lack of quality and depth in the books, something he didn’t react badly to at all, he allowed me to spend some lessons on the school library to get to know it better.

    For English the two teachers I remember most fondly were Mrs Kearney and Mr Davies. Mrs Kearney was strict but kind, she had a strange obsession with Calligraphy, a few of us tried it but I don’t think any of us had any talent! Mr Davies was one of the first modern style teachers who used a more interactive approach to learning. He was also friendly and approachable while maintaining discipline – a rare combination of qualities. He was also one of Bro. David’s hires that turned the school around in the late 80s.

    Mr Chandler was a younger history and politics (when that was a subject!) teacher, he was also quite balanced in his approach and one of the few I met as an Old Boy socially with no ill feelings. The others being PE teacher Mr Bevan (a chance beer together), physics teacher Mr Franklin (who was probably the most talented science teacher at the school [technically he still owes me a tenner from when he said ‘there’s no chance Ipswich will be promoted next season, I’ll give you £10 if I’m wrong!’ [Ipswich Town won the old Div 2 the next season]) and Mrs Warren (both when I visited during the rugby festival).

    There are many others I remember being very mediocre, numerous names slip my mind, some were rather poor. One line from the letter is exactly what I said to a friend recently: you’re better off sending your children to a good comprehensive school and having a regular tutor. Almost identical to what Anon said.

    I did have plans to draft stories from the school, initially as a series of short stories that I would compile into a novel. I got about halfway and realised what I’ve written is both too bleak and weren’t my own experiences. I do have plans to return to this once my current health emergency has stabilised.

    • Thanks, Marcus. I hope you stabilise soon. I know what you mean about the school’s storytelling potential. I thought about writing my recollections up as a memoir and then realised it was maybe too bleak – although there is a market for Angela’s Ashes-style stories. But I think my writing it up for Unturned Stones of IICSA is probably more useful. I sympathise on the free school meals. They used to have a public register at my primary school and I always felt embarrassed being on the free list. Good to hear some positive memories of St Js. I had some, too. But in retrospect I’d have been better off at a comprehensive. Unfortunately, tho, they didn’t exist in the 60s – just secondary mods which didn’t have a good educational rep. But at least I’d have been safe.

      • Just to add, as the first Persian attending St Jo’s, Mr Moss opened many a window to my appreciating the beauty & intricacies of the English language. I recall during a particular class he went over the origins, historical or otherwise, of each student’s surname – naturally, when it was my turn, he just flashed a smile and was onto the next student.

  5. I had Kearny as my chemistry teacher in 5th form in 1973-74 where we’d also be joined by a contingent of students from the convent. Though he did come across as a rough character at times (as did some of the brothers, one of whom took a swing at me and missed thanks to my reflexes) – what would certainly be unexceptable in today’s world, Kearny would respond positively to those who showed genuine interest in the subject. In fact, his approach to teaching chemistry, including frequent historical references to various discoveries that piqued my interest enough to pursue an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering when I moved to the U.S., something that to this day has served me in my current work in China. Yes, his classes were not always an easy ride. And one can certainly argue he was a product of the environment he grew up or operated in, yet, in 2021 I’d be inclined to forgive and forget those moments where a lack of proper upbringing may have influenced his behaviour.

    • Yes, I can remember being really interested when he talked about the historical background to chemistry. Off hand – phlogiston, Lavoisier and others. I just never related to chemical equations, but I think that was down to me. Not his fault. Others in my class seemed to do well under his tutelage

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