Foundation of Forest Gate
In May 1862 four Ursuline Sisters sailed from Saventham in Belgium and on the 8th May they arrived at Victoria Dock Canning Town. They made the next stage of their journey by pony and trap to Upton a small hamlet near Forest Gate and thus began the 150 year long and varied history of St Angela's.
At that time there was no St George's Road and Upton Lane was just a lane "very narrow, full of wild flowers, and lined with trees on both sides”. The sisters first home was two semi-detached houses with a stable. Both houses had large gardens with many trees. The rare tulip tree, which survives to this day, was by then already mature. Three courses of bricks from the original wall dividing the two gardens still survive and now provide seating along Merici court. The old houses have gone now but are Merici stands on their cellars.
The Ursulines were one group of many sisters who came to England from 1850 onwards, at the request of the bishops. The Catholic Church in England was re-settling after a long period of persecution and was making many high ranking converts. The bishops wished to provide for English Catholic girls the high quality education they saw offered by sisters on the continent and in Ireland. At the same time they were aware of the need to set up schools for the many poor children who were flooding in, especially from Ireland to the industrial cities of England where work was plentiful.
The sisters, against all the odds, set to work immediately on this twofold mission. By May 28th 1862 two of them had begun teaching In a couple of cottages in Sun row, now Green Street and a year later they opened St Ursula's elementary school in the stable attached to the convent in Upton Lane. This was the first stage of what today we know as St Antony's Catholic Primary School in Upton Lane. At the same time the sisters turned their attention to a girls' boarding school. The register still exists recording the first Boarder Nellie Bernard who arrived on the 19th August 1862 -we even have her photo - By the Feast of St Ursula in October there were 6 students and by 1877 there were 50. One of these 50 was Mollie Hynes, who became Sister Xavier Hynes.
Sister Xavier was well aware that the locality was changing. More people were coming to live in the area, the docks in particular were growing and several of the executives were settling in the larger houses around Forest Gate station, the conservation area now known as Woodgrange Estate. Sister saw the need for a day school with a Grammar school curriculum. In l869 she began St Angela's High School. In 1904 it became one of the first secondary schools to obtain recognition by the board of Education and by 1921, when she retired as its head teacher, there were 700 on roll, and the school had an enviable reputation for the quality of education it provided.
In the years that followed St Angela's continued to thrive and to lead the field in many new ventures. It developed Science education for girls combining with St Bonaventure's for Sixth form coursesr a popular development with pupils on both sides! When West Ham and East Ham became county boroughs St Angela's successfully claimed its right for Catholic girls to hold free Scholarship places at the school. When the 1944 Education act making secondary schooling compulsory for all became law St Angela's, together with St Bonaventure's became the first school in the country to offer diversified secondary on the some site becoming a precursor of Comprehensive schools. A courageous move that meant all catholic pupils in East Ham and West Ham who were 11 in 1945 could come to St Angela's. The prep school was phased out and the sisters embarked on the massive and expensive building programme, of Merici, the science and Gym blocks. Within 5 years the school doubled its numbers and became the natural educational home for catholic girls in West and East Ham.
And the developments continued, through the, raising of the school leaving age and the building of the Art, Music and Home Economics blocks, to St Angela's and St Bonaventure's joint V1th form finding a home in the former convent and both schools becoming one of the first technology colleges in the country. In 1993 the diocese of Brentwood became joint trustees of the school and in the same year the first lay head teacher was appointed.
Today St Angela's reputation as an outstanding school providing High Quality Catholic education for Catholic girls in the neighbourhood remains as solidly intact, as the still functional school buildings the nuns erected ten years after their arrival. A pupil of 1921 remembers her schooling as time of "Innovations in studies, school societies, the opening of the library, Sixth form discussions, social occasions and new responsibilities and with them all a great deal of fun."
A verdict that still holds good for many pupils today!
St Angela's Ursuline School: www.stangelas-ursuline.co.uk