School history and archives

"Open our minds to discover new things about you and the world." - Sacred Heart Mission Prayer

At Sacred Heart we are very proud of the school's long history and connections with the Sisters of the RSCJ. The first Sacred Heart Elementary School was established on Roehampton Lane in July 1872. The school was initially located across the road as part of the Convent of the Sacred Heart. We moved to our present site in 1912.

We have been a local school for 150 years!

Our school history and archive documents

We are lucky to still have a rich archive of documents in the school. These cover admissions and roll numbers, head teacher school diaries and the minutes of governor meetings. From the second half of the 20th Century we also have a large number of images. We have digitised the content of all our original key documents and they can be found here. What follows is a brief history of the school with reference to certain items in these documents.

By looking across these documents you are able to get a picture of how the school has developed over the last 150 years. Schools run on routine. Certain things recur every day, week, term and year, and whilst there is change, some things have become fixtures in our school story - Feast Days, 1st Communions, local sports events, school visits and journeys, Mass, secondary transfers, Government and Diocesan inspections, the Catholic nature of the school and our links to the Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ).

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Locating our school - Time and place

If you look at a map of the area around our school from the end of the 19th Century and compare it with a current Google Earth view, it looks very different from today.

You can easily identify the layout of what is still known as “the village” at the bottom of the map and you can trace Roehampton Lane as it runs north from the village towards the Upper Richmond Road. To try to relate one period to the other, we have overlaid the old on the new.

If you look closely at the Victorian map, our school would be located just above where it says, in bold letters, Convent of the Sacred Heart and this is where our story begins.

The Sisters of the Order of the Sacred Heart arrived in Roehampton in 1850, purchasing the large Elm Grove Estate which straddled Roehampton Lane. The estate covered many acres and had its own farm.

To provide some context, here are two images showing the location and size of the Elm Grove Estate. The diagram on the left is a stylised map of the property showing its original extent and indicating when parts of it were sold. The accompanying modern day Google Earth view attempts to locate the edges of the Elm Grove Estate as it was in 1850 (yellow line) and shows the boundaries of Sacred Heart school as they are today (red line).

As was traditional, a girls boarding school was established at the Convent. This school relocated after World War 2 and it is now Sacred Heart Woldingham. Elm Grove was destroyed by bombing in WW2.

To cater for the poor Catholic children of the area, an elementary school was opened in 1872. Initially it was girls only and it was housed in a building which faced onto Roehampton Lane, just past the Chapel. This picture shows the old building that housed the original primary school and a view of Roehampton Lane in the early years of the 20th Century. Apart from the horse and cart it is worth noting how narrow Roehampton Lane was!

Mable Digby - The early years

If you look closely at the National Census records from 1881 you can see Mabel Digby listed as Convent Superior. Mother Digby is considered to be the foundress not only of our school but also of what is now known as Digby Stuart College, Roehampton University. The original elementary school for the poor opened its admissions register in 1872 when Mabel Digby was Mother Superior.

Education in Britain was going through a great change at this time following the Elementary Education Act of 1870 (Forster’s Education Act). The Sisters of the Sacred Heart were to contribute to that change by establishing their own training college, first at the Roehampton Convent and then relocating to a separate site on West Hill, Wandsworth. The futures of the staff and pupils of the college and the elementary school were to be intertwined.

The first two children to be registered at Sacred Heart Elementary school were Lizzie and Jane Bowden and we can see that their father John was a labourer. By the time their sibling Theresa joined in 1877, there were 11 children on the register and their fathers were mainly labourers, gardeners and journeymen. Occasionally you can see a compositor listed as the father’s occupation. These men would undoubtedly have worked at Manresa Press, the Jesuit publishing operation at the Manresa House seminary located down in the village behind St.Joseph’s church. [Note: It is perhaps worth pointing out that at this time, St.Joseph’s did not exist - it was not formally opened until 1881. Click here for a history of St.Josephs]

If you scan down that first page you will see the family name Fenwick appear a couple of times. It is a family name that recurs, like so many over the years. The first Fenwick who appears is Rose and, if you visit the RSCJ archive at Roehampton University she features in a notebook of reminiscences that was compiled by one of the RSCJ Sisters in the 1950s.

In her reminiscences, Rose Fenwick talks about what it was like during those early years. In particular she describes the subjects that were taught and how things differed for the boys and girls. It is really interesting to see that teaching was not just restricted to the 3 Rs and that there was always a rich curriculum - just like there is today!

(A photo of the tunnel under Roehampton Lane mentioned by Rose Fenwick. It still exists today)

Janet Stuart, a new school and WW1

Janet Erskin Stuart came to Roehampton in 1882 as a novice and right from her first days, she was seen by Mother Digby as a special pupil. Janet Stuart became Mabel Digby's secretary and threw herslf into teaching. Mother Stuart was above all else an educator. Once she had made her profession in 1889, she was immediately name sub-mistress of novices herself and in 1892 she took over from Reverend Mother Digby as Mistress of Novices. In August 1894, Janet Stuart became Reverend Mother of Roehampton when Mable Digby became Assistant Superior and then Superior General a year later. Janet Stuart took over the stewardship of the Order in England and Ireland. She remained close to Mother Digby and even accompanied her on her tour of the Americas in 1898.

Despite her senior role in the Society and the travels that would take her away regularly from Roehampton, Mother Stuart continued to take a keen interest in the life of the elementary school and she was Chair of Managers until 1911, when she succeeded Mother Digby as the Order's Superior General.

The years around the turn of the 20th Century were very important for British education because in 1902 there was a key piece of Government legislation, the Balfour Education Act, which set the pattern of elementary education in England and Wales until after the Second World War. It did away with elected school boards and introduced Local Education Authorities. It standardised and upgraded the educational systems of England and Wales and led to a rapid growth of secondary schools. Church schools like Sacred Heart began to receive local authority funding and, hand in hand, had to meet uniform government standards. This would mean changes for the elementary school and these are reflected in the pages of the Managers Log Book and the School Diary.

Local Authority funding was dependent on regular inspections and standards being met. By the time of the L.C.C. inspection of 1910 it was obvious to all concerned that the school had outgrown its existing facilities on the Convent site and that a new school was needed. Janet Stuart commissioned a new school to be built on ground across Roehampton Lane. Despite a slight delay the school opened in 1912. That same year, Janet Stuart took over as Superior General of the Order, following Mother Mabel Digby's death.

The new school is what we now call the old building. If you look carefully at the original plans you can see there were originally five classrooms around the central hall with rooms for a caretaker and the teachers (Staff room). The Sisters had their own entrance!

Mother Stuart would spend the last two years of her life visiting most of the Society's Convents around the world, returning to Roehampton just after the outbreak of the Great War. She died in October 1914 and is buried in the Sacred Heart chapel close to Mabel Digby.

Whilst the school continued run throughout the war, big changes were starting to take place in the local area. A number of the large houses in Roehampton were taken over for military purposes and one in particular, Roehampton House, was never to be the same again. The house was taken over in 1915 as a special hospital. It became Queen Mary's hospital for limbless servicemen, fitting thousands of prosthetic limbs for soldiers who had lost arms and legs in the dreadful fighting of the First World War. The whole house and surrounding parkland were turned over to the new work. Dover House and Ashburton House were also used as recovery centers for injured soldiers.

The pages from the managers book for this period make fascinating reading with references to fuel shortages, air raid precautions and concerts for disabled servicemen! At the end of the war there is reference to the Peace Celebrations and the Spanish influenza epidemic that killed so many. Teachers and pupils appeared to get ill from the flu and the school had to close for a period, but no one seems to have died.

A final note from the Manager's Log of 1919 is the fact that there was a motor traffic accident on Roehampton Lane (probably the first) and it involved a child from the school being killed!

Miss Croucher, the interwar years and WW2

WW1 brought a number for major changes to Roehampton. Firstly, a number of the big mansions in the area were vacated and taken over for military purposes and many were never reoccupied by their previous, wealthy, owners. The most important of these was Roehampton House which became Queen Mary's hospital for servicemen who had lost limbs in the war. The second big change came just after the war when Dover House (former residence of the banker JP Morgan) was purchased and knocked down by the London County Council and the land turned over for the construction of "Homes Fit for Heroes". When the LCC built the Garden City inspired "Roehampton Estate" the face of the area was changed forever. It came to be known as the Dover House Estate (as it still is today) and in a few short years the size of the local population increased considerably and the demographic of the families with children at the school altered. Also in this period there was the development of light industry in the area - the KLG Sparking Plug factory in Roehampton Vale (where ASDA is now located). By the end of the 1930s these spark plugs had become a critical part of the production of all military and aeronautical transport and the factory employed about 1,500 people.

The Sacred Heart Chapel is made safe

The head teacher of the school from 1904 to 1947 was Jeannie Croucher and for many years her sister, Eleanor, was the deputy (Eleanor was also head for two years after her sister retired). Other names that feature throughout these years are Miss Filmer, Miss Nugent, Miss Pleschette and Mr Griffin, the school caretaker. Miss Edith Nugent - experienced teacher when she joins in 1919.

Miss Pleschette actually came as a pupil to the school just before the 1st World War and then went on to become a teacher and then deputy head at Sacred Heart. She was on the staff from 1928 until July 1967 - 39 years!

The school continued to grow throughout the inter-war years and there were many governor discussions about classroom space, access from the new estate, the Catholic make-up of the school and the planned changes to secondary education.

In September 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, 78 children were evacuated to Reading under the care of four teachers - the Misses Croucher, Miss Pletschette and Miss Nugent.

On 26th September 1940, the Convent was burnt out after it was hit by an incendiary bomb. It was hit again a couple of nights later.

A suprisingly large number of bombs fell on Roehampton during WW2 - 54 bombs fell on the area in one night alone in September 1940! The main cause of this aerial bombardment was possibly the presence of the KLG spark plug factory! In the autumn of 1940 there seems to have been a deliberate policy of attacking the factory.

Miss Murphy and post-war redevelopment

Miss Murphy was appointed as head in 1948 after Eleanor Croucher's brief headship (she had been ill for some time, retired and then died in 1949). Like the Crouchers before, she was not a Sacred Heart sister. Interestingly, there was also a change of caretaker when the younger Mr Griffin too over. There were 212 children on roll with 25 non-Catholics.

By 1949 there were 220 on roll - 90 infants, 113 juniors, 17 seniors - and there were talks of plans to enlarge the school with land being provided by the Society. A 300 child junior school was proposed to help accommodate the influx of families into the area.

Early 20th Century Roehampton map with Alton Conservation area overlay.

Location of Manresa House in relation to St.Joseph's on L.C.C. plans

In the late 1940s, the London County Council acquired Mount Clare, Downshire House and Manresa House, and the smaller Victorian villas in the surrounding area. The original intent was to restore these large Georgian villas and develop their grounds. However, the development of these historic country estates became a flagship LCC housing scheme in the 1950s.

The project was divided into two phases with Manresa House in the middle. The Victorian villa neighbourhood became the Portsmouth Road Estate, later the Alton East. This was the first phase of development, constructed between 1952 and 1955. The area west of Manresa House was developed between 1955 and 1959 and became the Roehampton Lane Estate, renamed Alton West after completion. All this was done to help relieve London's massive housing crisis after the Second World War. This in turn led to another major change in Roehampton's demographics.

Area after Alton development

Voluntary Aided Status

Our school needed to expand and the Society offered land to the LCC . At the same time there is talk of enlarging Huntingfield Road school. There was a big need for school places and although the Governors wanted Sacred Heart like to be solely for local Catholics the Diocese pushed for the inclusion of children from Barnes (with Barnes parish contributing to the costs). This all coincided with the move to Voluntary Aided status which came in April 1951. By this time, space was running out and the Seniors were in an overflow class in the Hall (that's the Hall in the Old Building!).

In April 1951 the school's name formally changed to Sacred Heart R.C. Primary School and plans were put together for a four classroom junior school to be built on the land sold by the Society.

While the expansion plans were developed and discussed, a Nissan hut was constructed to accommodate the overflow class. This was located where the current Nursery building is. It was not ready for occupation until 1955 and at that time the school was reorganised as a mixed junior and infants school.

As Miss Murphy and the Governors grappled with the increased number of pupils and plans for expansion were developed, the school actually lost some of its land when Roehampton Lane was widened in 1956. Half of what is now the Reception playground was lost.

In 1958, the new building work began and in January 1959 the building that is now the core of the main school opened. Extra children could finally be enrolled and by the time the new building was blessed on 25th February there was 372 children in 10 classes.

The redoubtable Miss Pletschette finally retired in 1967 after 39 years service. Miss Murphy carried on as head until 1971 and then, the Poor Servants of the Mother of God (SMG) provided our next headteacher - Sister Frances Sugrue.

Just after Miss Murphy retired the last members of the Griffin family left the school - a connection that had lasted 64 years!

Sister Sugrue and more expansion

Parent Teacher Association formed

Children attend MSB's Bi-Centenary Mass

Sister Frances Sugrue was headteacher from 1971 until 1983. If you read the school diaries from the 1970s they are very similar to the current ones in terms of the the general activities which take place throughout the school year. There was a vibrant Parents Association (established 1976) and links between the school, St.Joseph's and the Sisters at Digby Stuart were strong. There is a real sense of a strong Catholic community and this was reflected in three big events during this period - the Bi-centenary of St.Madeleine Sophie's birth in 1979, the Parish Centenary celebrations in 1981 and the visit of Pope John Paul to Digby Stuart in 1982 which all staff and pupils attended.

Miss Hardy - further growth and a nursery

Miss Frances Hardy joined the school as headteacher in April 1983 and she was to be in post until April 2008. During her 25 years she lead the school through many changes in education, initiated many new developments, saw many changes in Roehampton and brought Sacred Heart into the 21st Century! The school was expanded to offer a nursery; the hall re-developed and doubled in size; a new, modern classroom finally replaced the old Nissan Hut; new office accommodation was built; and a multi-purpose sports pitch (The Cage) was installed. Much needed transformations to accommodate an ever increasing pupil roll. By the time Miss Hardy retired we were a 1.5 form entry school and bursting at the seams.

A carousel of images of the school during Miss Hardy's headship

Mr Gibbons - redevelopment for two form entry

Mr Anthony Gibbons took over as headteacher in September 2008, joining us from Our Lady Queen of Heaven, where he had been the deputy head. Like so many of his predecessors, Mr Gibbons brought a new vision to Sacred Heart whilst continuing to maintain our deep Catholic ethos and the traditions of a Sacred Heart education.

Key developments of his headship have been a major expansion of the school to take us to two form entry; the development of a rich and exciting curriculum which makes the most of our extensive grounds and local facilities; our transformation into a Gold Level UNICEF school and an Outstanding Catholic school; and building strong links with Roehampton University, local community organisations, other local schools and the wider network of Sacred Heart schools in the UK and overseas.

Many of our celebrations and achievements can be seen in the photo and video galleries on our main web site or on our Twitter social media feed. However, below is an image carousel and video to remind us how the school was virtually rebuilt in 2012-2013, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of our move across Roehampton Lane!