The Old School was built in 1845 just after the new parish church had been erected in Holywood to replace the Old Priory. It is reported that, as its roof size matched that of the Old Priory which had been abandoned following the consecration of the new church in 1844, the timbers and other components of the Old Priory's roof were used for the school.
The Old School is on the opposite side of the road from both the parish church and the building now used as the parish office, which was originally built as a more substantial school to replace the Old School. At the time it was built, the Old School and the church opposite it, together with the former vicarage, were the only buildings on this part of Church Road and it was not until the end of the 1850s that development began to take place on the road above the church.
The building is described in the 1855-1859 School Inspector's Books as a stone, brick and lime building of one storey with two school rooms one for boys and one for girls and with a fireplace in each room. It was floored with tile and had two privies with separate doors but no separation of access. The whole was enclosed with a neat paling fence and gate.
At either end there was two storied accommodation for the school master and the school mistress.
Average enrolled 1860: Boys 70-75 Girls: 70-76
Average attendance 1860: Boys 45 Girls: 34-51
You can see that there was a high level of absenteeism. This was probably because the children often had to stay at home to help their parents. Education remained something of a luxury.
Children usually joined between the ages of 3-6 and left aged 10-11
The 1870 Register for the school still survives and beside each child's name is the occupations of their father or where he was dead or unknown then the Mother's occupation. These included:
a Farmer, a Mason, a Gardener, a Merchant, a Sailor , a Pedlar, a Tailor, aServant, a Butler, a Watchmaker, a Baker , a Blacksmiith, a Bricklayer , a Coachman and a Washerwoman
The children who attended the school lived within walking distance though the little girl who lived in the Holywood Hills may have got a lift to school in her Father's cart. The addresses given included: Church Road, Downshire Road, Church View, Shore Street, Stewart's Place, Kinnegar and the Holywood Hills.
The basic subjects taught in the school were reading, spelling, writing, arithmetic, grammar and geography. Extra subjects were also available, these included singing and Algebra or Agriculture for the boys and Drawing or Needlework for the girls.(Sources:The School Inspector's Books 1855-1859 Public Records Office Ref: ED/5/1/28.The Registers for Holywood Parochial School: Circa 1870s Public Records Office Ref Sch 928/1/1&2)
Charles Matthews was appointed in 1843 aged 18yrs and taught in the Boy's School. The Inspector's Books for 1855-1859 gives the following rather damning description: 'Fairly qualified with some natural aptitude but does not command the respect of his pupils or maintain proper order and discipline. He fails in governing and he fails in successful teaching. It is right to mention that he is so lame as to require the continual use of crutches'.
The Girl's School did not fare much better. Anne Joyce was appointed in 1831 aged 28. In 1855 she was described as having: 'Pretty fair qualifications and some aptitude but takes little interest in the work. School is taught principally by the benevolent ladies resident in Holywood who attend daily for this purpose'.
By 1860 matters had improved and the schoolmaster was an: 'Active energetic man of tolerable scholarship and a sound disciplinarian'.
Mrs Jane Mussen the schoolmistress was appointed in 1857. Aged 42 and a widow she was a: 'Well qualified and experienced teacher. Systematic, painstaking, patient and assiduous'.
Mrs. Mussen is noted as having one monitor and an assistant. Monitors were trainee teachers often past pupils of the school who had shown a talent for their studies. Teachers got a premium on their pay for looking after their Monitor's instruction and also for order neatness and cleanliness.
With the arrival of the railway in 1850 Holywood expanded rapidly and eventually it became clear that the building wasn't big enough. The vestry approached the owner of the land behind the school in the hope of being able to buy it but Mr Browne was not willing to sell. Fortunately in July 1876 the benevolent Captain Harrison offered a grant of half an acre of land below the Church once two thirds of the estimated cost was subscribed. Much the same process as is being used now to gather the funds for restoration. In 1878 the school was moved across the road to what is now the Parish Centre.
Initially the Old School continued in use as a Parish Hall. In 1916 the 2nd Holywood Scout Group were formed and they have used the building continuously until 2001 when they had to move out because of concerns about the safety of the building. This is thought to be one of the longest continuous associations between any Scout troop and a single building.
During the Second World War the building was used to store paper collected to pay for Spitfires. It is reported that a 'thermometer' on the Maypole indicated how the appeal was going. Evening church services during the winter months of the war were held in the hall because of the blackout and soup was served at the hall to the home guard.
The accommodation at the North end of the building remained in use until the 1960s. The last occupant was Miss Maud Thompson who had been the caretaker for the church and for the Parish school before its final move to Holywood Primary School in 1954.