Landmark anniversary for Burnley school that produced a professional footballer and Coronation Street star

2020 may be the year of the coronavirus changing all our lives but it also marks the 150th anniversary of a Burnley primary school.

Pupils form a 150 to mark the landmark anniversary year at St Stephen's C of E Primary School in Burnley. (photo by Aerial image)
Pupils form a 150 to mark the landmark anniversary year at St Stephen's C of E Primary School in Burnley. (photo by Aerial image)

And celebrations, which were attended by by the Bishop of Burnley the Rt Rev Philip North, were held at St Stephen's C of E before lockdown restrictions began.

At a special assembly, which had the theme Follow Your Dream, headteacher Mrs Jo Roberts welcomed former pupils, teachers, governors, friends from the church and many others with a connection to the school.

Inspired Youth, the school's dance troupe and the Sing Together Choir entertained and the bishop's speech included reading extracts from the school log book which recorded many different events in it history and how the children were involved, including a Royal visit to Burnley by the king and queen in 1945.

Rachel Brown-Finnis is a former pupil of St Stephen's C of E School, Burnley which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

Year six students also got the opportunity to read out a presentation about the school called Through the Decades which they had put together themselves.

The school in Woodgrove Road was delighted to welcome former school secretary Joan Tranmer as a special guest at the anniversary celebrations.

Now aged 92, Joan held the post for 32 years. Her good friend and successor Marjorie Dunderdale, who worked at St Stephen's for 25 years, was also on the guest list and the school holds a special place in her heart.

Marjorie, who compiled a power point presentation on the history of the school, said: "I was employed there for 25 years and in that time worked alongside some fantastic teachers, non teaching staff and governors - most of whom I am still in touch with."

Actress and former Coronation Street star Julia Howarth is another former pupil of St Stephen's Primary School which is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Marjorie also paid tribute to a long serving headteacher Mr Jim Scott who died earlier this year, saying: "I worked for Mr Scott for 10 years and he never once left the building at night without saying 'thank you' for my work that day.

"He was a very special person and a tree was planted at the front of school in his memory in February. "

Also on the guest list were former students Rachel Brown-Finnis, a professional women’s footballer and actress Julia Howarth.

Rachel recalled her days at St. Stephen’s and how, with the encouragement of Mr. Philip Lombard, she

A class photo at St Stephen's taken in 1960. The picture belongs to former teacher Mrs Julie Vintin

progressed along her career path as England goalkeeper, playing 82 games in that role, allowing her the opportunity to play internationally and travel worldwide. She is now back in England appearing as a TV commentator for women’s football.

Although Julia was unable to attend on the day due to her rehearsal schedule she spoke to the gathering via video link about how a visit to Burnley Youth Theatre inspired her to become an actress, going on to appear in top TV 'soap' Coronation Street, as popular character Claire Peacock, for eight years.

Another former pupil, Sophie Layfield, told the story of her educational journey and encouragement to become a teacher which, through hard work, has been fulfilled, at a local secondary school.

Mr. Philip Walmsley, himself a former pupil and now vice chairman of governors, told a little of the history of the school including a donation by a great benefactor and celebrated Burnley philanthropist William Thompson which helped to make the building of St Stephen's possible.

This staff photo was taken in 1984 and features caretaker Harry Mason and ancillary helper, a role now referred to as teaching assistant, Edna Nuttall.

The Rev Patrick Senior, Area Dean of Burnley and Vicar of St. Stephen’s Church, read an appropriate extract from the Bible and after closing prayers guests had the opportunity to view artefacts and photographs charting the develpment of the school from humble beginnings in a terraced house on Springfield Road.

It was thanks to the foresight of Rev Arthur Townley-Parker, later Canon Parker, that the old school on Oxford Road was built in 1870 at a cost of £1,400.

Made possible by financial donations from, amongst others, Canon Parker, General Scarlett (of the Light Brigade fame) and Rev William Thursby, the school was soon bursting at the seams with the population growth due to the cotton boom and was extended twice.

With donations from parishioners the school managers raised almost enough money to build the new school on Woodgrove Road for the junior children, costing over £50,000.

A last minute benefactor, William Thompson, himself a St. Stephen’s parishioner, generously donated £10,000 covering the deficit. The new school was opened in 1952 for juniors only and when the old school, which had become infants only, developed structural problems with dry rot, the children were gradually transferred.

The old school was demolished in 1969 and, with some classes of over 40 children, the new school took over as a primary school.

Former governor Sheila Hawkes provided this superb photograph of joyful looking students. The image was taken between 1975 and 1980.