Quick Links

Quick Links

navigation navigation

St Bede's and St Joseph's Catholic College

How it felt to be back at my old school - St Joseph's College

Do our schooldays ever really leave us? Mine came flooding back last Saturday, when I returned to my old school - St Joseph’s College in Manningham.

Former pupils, spanning several generations, returned for an ‘old girls’ day, which began with a Mass. Unlike everyone else who attended, my sister and I, and two friends, arrived late, so we skulked around for a bit until Mass finished. Some might call it skiving...

That’s the thing about being back at your old school - it doesn’t take long to feel like a furtive teenager again.

Wandering along the old parquet floor corridor, peeking into familiar classrooms, we suddenly heard footsteps. We shot each other a look of horror. Two of us sprinted back down the corridor. When you’ve spent your schooldays trying to dodge the occasional angry nun, scolding you for being in the wrong part of school at the wrong time, you can be forgiven for expecting one to turn up over 30 years later, still shouting “Girls!”

But instead of an angry nun, a friendly young woman appeared - pupil or teacher? We weren’t sure - and invited us into the main hall, where Mass was finishing. “Top shame,” I muttered (words I haven’t said since about 1984), as we trundled in, sheepishly. The headteacher was addressing the guests. “Stand up if you were here in the 1980s,” he said. We stood up, with a few others. The decades fell back...70s, 60s, 50s, and one former pupil from the 1940s.

I hadn’t been in that hall for over 10 years - when I was invited to give a careers talk and present end-of-term prizes, which initially terrified me but was actually lovely - and it was just as I’d remembered it. We took some photos and filed out to the old refectory, where a group of pupils served us a tasty lunch. It felt very decadent to have a glass of wine with our sponge and custard. Then it was on to the library, where archive school photos were displayed, with items such as speech day programmes, school magazines and blazers from our era, hung up like museum pieces. The school is co-ed now and the uniform no longer the distinctive red jumper and royal blue blazer that we wore. You could spot a St Joseph’s girl a mile off back then.

The archive photos, from girls doing needlework in the 1920s to international fundraising ventures of the Noughties, were a potted history of the school. We found old class photos and, poignantly, tributes to teachers no longer with us. I was moved to see an obituary I wrote for Marie Fair, who was the headteacher when I was there.

“Would you like us to show you round?” asked two delightful pupils, who seemed genuinely keen to show off their school to four ‘old girls’ giddy on nostalgia. Some of it, such as the old science block and the theatre, looked the same, though way more high-tech than in our day, and some of it was unrecognisable. There’s a fancy music room and an impressive dance studio, with mirrored walls. “Wow, this is very Flashdance,” I said, to blank looks from our young guides.

There’s a cool common room too, with computer games, table football and sofas. A far cry from the draughty old attic where we whiled away study periods listening to Simon Bates' Our Tune.

Founded in 1908, the school has educated generations of Bradford families, with the ethos on finding and working on pupils’ strengths. Some alumni are now well-known actors, in TV shows such as Happy Valley and Downton Abbey. Others returned to the school as teachers, including former deputy head Joanna Jackson (still Miss Jackson to us), who greeted us with a big smile on Saturday. She says there are plans to set up a museum - for St Joseph’s and St Bede’s, now merged - and past pupils are asked to donate memorabilia. As I re-visited those classrooms and corridors, still eerily familiar, I thought of 15-year-old me, up in the attic, skiving off the fire drill (I should point out, if Miss Jackson is reading this, that the one and only time I skived off the fire drill I got caught), and finding everything hilarious, the way girls that age do. What happy days they were.

How it felt to be back at my old school - St Joseph's College | Bradford Telegraph and Argus (thetelegraphandargus.co.uk)