School History

school history page 2  school history page

                                                    St Catharine’s, Lower High Street, today.

St Catharine’s School has a rich history as a vibrant and successful school dating back over 150 years. There is reference to a Roman Catholic school in Chipping Campden ‘after 1854’ and it is thought that a house in West End Terrace was used for a convent.


In 1869, with the Catholic population of Chipping Campden growing, Charles, Earl of Gainsborough, commissioned a Catholic School and chapel in Lower High Street staffed by the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul the Apostle. This school* and chapel was a dual-purpose dwelling until 1891 when the new St Catharine’s Church was built. This original building is still at the heart of St Catharine’s School today and is the classroom where our Reception children start their learning journey.

Children attended the school until the age of 14 and all children were schooled in the same space. The average attendance in the school in 1885 was sixty, rising to seventy-eight in 1889. The site was held on a peppercorn lease granted in 1903 by the third Earl of Gainsborough. Pupil numbers had increased to one hundred and fourteen in 1910 and by 1954 St Catharine’s, a mixed age aided school until 1960, had a total of one hundred and fifty five pupils that included many Polish children from both Springhill and Northwick Park camps.

When pupil numbers reached one hundred and seventy, more accommodation was provided by using both the Parish room in the Presbytery, the canteen and the convent as classrooms, while the nuns evacuated to a new convent in Leysbourne. Sadly this closed in 2005 and the remaining Sisters retired to the Mother Convent in Selly Oak.

*The Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul, the Apostle was established in England at Banbury in 1847 by Genevieve Dupuis, a Chartres nun sent to England for the purpose of setting up an independent Order devoted to the conversion of England. The new Congregation grew rapidly and Sisters were sent to conduct schools in many parts of the country. The Congregation was approved by Rome in 1864 in which the Mother House was moved to Selly Park, Birmingham, and in 1931 its Rule and Constitutions were finally confirmed.  Spreading the faith was their prime interest and as a consequence the Sisters taught in both primary and secondary schools wherever they had convents.

(This article in part is reproduced from work by the late J. N. Langston, with thanks to the County Library, for permission to copy his work.)


In April 1939 fire had swept through the school – caused by either the woodwork beneath the stove in the middle classroom, or woodwork in the roof heated by the stove pipe. The damage was estimated at £200 and costs for repair were covered by insurance. Father Bilsborrow and the school managers thanked the Campden Fire Brigade, the Police and other inhabitants for their prompt attendance and effective and efficient manner in their dealing with the fire.

In 1957 the Dowager Countess of Gainsborough opened a significant new extension to the school that cost £8,000, half of which was born by the Church. The extension included a spacious corridor, forming an entrance hall and giving access to all parts of the school including a large main hall used in part as a canteen, so that the old green canteen that had stood for years in the bottom of the field was demolished.

Notable Head Teachers were Mother Mary-Mechtildis who celebrated her Golden Jubilee in Campden, Sister Ignatius, Mother Theophane and Sister Jarlath who was the last ordained Head Mistress. In more recent years Mr Doran (1979-1989), Mr Sessarego (1989-2010), Miss Cannon (2010-2012) and Mrs Welch (2012- present) have led the School.

Bishop Declan opened up 2 new classrooms in 2003 and the School acquired a dedicated Computer suite, Library and a room to support children with additional learning needs along the way. Today, approximately one hundred and forty pupils attend  the School, 29% who are baptised Catholics.

Fund raising through the ages for both the school and church have included whist drives, rabbit pie suppers, concerts, organ recitals, rummage sales, fancy dress balls, Bingo, square dancing, garden parties, coffee mornings and fêtes.

From the Evesham Journal, November 1893

St Catharine’s School – Entertainments were given at the above school on Monday and Tuesday evening, when the programme consisted of a comedy entitled ‘The General’s Will,’ and a laughable farce, ‘A Household’s Reveries’. The performers were Mrs. Charles Blakeman, the Misses Curtis, Pleadon, E Wilkes, A. Burrowes, M. Haines, M P New, K. Blakeman, L. Skey, A. Wilkes, Maggie Haines, Master John Williams, Master Charles Bruce, and Master Frank Merriman. At the close of the performance the Rev. Father Lloyd in a few words thanked the actors for the admirable way in which they acquitted themselves in their respective parts, Sergeant New for his kindness in fitting up the stage and acting as stage manager, and also Mrs P Haines, who assisted him. There was a large and appreciative audience each evening.

St Catharines Schoolchildren

Nativity circa 1950

Please click here for memories of St Catharine’s School on Chipping Campden’s History Society website.