Looking back at Sunderland’s Corby Hall School

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A NEW addition to the archives of a Wearside history group is first class.

Scores of vintage photos and documents relating to Corby Hall School – the forerunner to St Aidan’s – have just been donated to Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

Corby Hall School 1941

Corby Hall School 1941

Shots of the buildings, classrooms, sports teams and students are all included in the historical treasure trove, as well as images of daily life at the Jesuit-run school.

“The photos and documents provide us with a real insight into what life was like at Corby Hall in the 1930s and 40s,” said Douglas Smith, president of the society.

“The collection was donated by a former St Aidan’s pupil and we will now preserve all the items for the future. I’m sure many, many people will find them fascinating.”

The roots of Corby Hall date to the Roaring Twenties when Canon Smith, then parish priest of St Mary’s, founded St Mary’s Grammar School at Bede Towers in 1928/29.

The first schoolmaster, Mr J Goundry, was a layman. But, in 1935, the Jesuits took over – two years after opening up Ashbrooke Hall as a retreat for local Catholic men.

“Ashbrooke Hall was originally built for glassmaker James Hartley in 1864 by Thomas Moore – who was best known for Monkwearmouth Station,” said Douglas. “It later became home to the Short shipbuilding family, before the Jesuits took it on and renamed it Corby Hall. The original teaching Superior was Father SJ Whittaker.”

The school was transferred from Bede Towers to The Briery in Ashbrooke Road – previously the home of Hiram Craven of Craven and Speeding Ropery – in 1936.

The name was then changed to Corby Hall, to avoid confusion with another school – but this only led to yet more, and widespread, confusion.

Indeed, according to Jesuit records, an ‘interchange of letters was necessary after each postman’s round’, because of confusion between Corby Hall and Corby Hall School.

“Just a year later, in 1937, the name of the school was changed again, to Sunderland Catholic College, and in 1939 it became Corby School,” said Douglas.

“The name was chosen, according to Jesuit archives, due to the historical association of Sunderland with Father Ralph Corby – captured by Puritans in 1644 and hanged.”

The name Corby School lasted until 1948, when the Jesuits left and handed it over to the Christian Brothers of Ireland.

It became, and has remained ever since, St Aidan’s.

But Ashbrooke House operated as a reminder of the old school for many years, being used as a retreat by the Brothers – until sold off in the 1970s and demolished for flats.

“Corby Hall is part of Sunderland’s educational and social history, which is why we were delighted to receive this wonderful donation,” said Douglas.

“We’ve been welcoming archive donations since 1899; this is our way of preserving the past for the future. Old photos, ledgers and documents are always welcome.”

l The archives of Sunderland Antiquarian Society, at 6 Douro Terrace, are open each Wednesday and Saturday mornings. All welcome.