Reunited at St Francesca Cabrini primary school gates 50 years on

A group of school friends reunited for the first time in 50 years – exactly where they left off, writes Claudia Lee.

Michael Murray, 63, from Cork, met with five old friends at the gate of their old school, St Francesca Cabrini Primary School in Forest Hill Road, Honor Oak on October 13.

The school – which had been part of the community for more than 100 years – closed down on September 1, due to a funding gap caused by falling pupil admissions.

Mr Murray met his old classmates, Naomi Leatham, from Dulwich, Stephen Sharkey from Sidcup, Maria Carey-O’ Keeffe from Cork Ireland, and Karen McCann-Allen from Eastleigh, Hampshire, all now 63 years-old, at the school gates.

Meeting up at the pub for lunch, from left, Karen McCann-Allen, Maria Carey-O’ Keeffe,  Michael Murray, John Quinn, Naomi Leatham, Jane Palmer and Stephen Sharkey

He said: “It had been 51 years since the last school bell rang for us in July 1972.

“But at the front gates we immediately became 11 year olds again and the best of buddies we had always been. It quickly became a very emotional and beautiful day.”

Starting at the convent lawns the group moved along to the classic grotto and down the hill to where the canteen – now sports areas – and Baltic swimming pool – now an open area once stood.

Mr Murray said: “Memories jolted back of cuisine delights and water shock.

“Looking at the three playgrounds we could hear the school bells, games played, songs sung, laughter, the boys shouting down as the girls skipped in their playground.”

The group then ventured towards the main school building and the infants site to its right.

The school football team in 1969

Mr Murray said: “That was the spot we used to have our daily morning milk round.

“Stephen reminded us of how the milk spoilt or curdled in summer and froze in winter – very often spilt and skated on.”

Into the main building the group wandered through their old corridors’ Mr Murray said: “We heard ‘No running in the corridor’ from Sister Martina and shrieks of delight as 51 years melted into what we had always known.

“There was the gym hall to the other side with no material change to the climbing frame, the floors, the wall adornments and the stage.

“We laughed as we remembered what the result of forgetting your gym kit was – different days.”

For one last time the group filed out of the school as they had in 1972.

School friends Alex Chambers, Michael Murray, Steven Sharkey and Joseph Cooney taking part in a gym session

Around the corner at the Watson’s General Telegraph in Forest Hill Road, Honor Oak, the group were met by more ex-pupils, Jane Palmer from the Isle of Sheppey and John Quinn from Dulwich.

Mr Murray said: “Milk was replaced with adult refreshments, 11 year-olds pretended to become 62-63 again.”

In a statement posted on the school’s website about the closure, Anna Strappelli, chairwoman of governors and the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, said: “It has been a difficult and a sad time as the school has served the local Catholic community for over 100 years.

“The children are uppermost in our considerations and the change in demographics and the reduced demand for places will mean less funding and so the school will not be able to provide the high standard of education the children should be offered and they could receive at other schools.”


Pictures: From left, Naomi Leatham, Michael Murray, Maria Carey-O’ Keeffe, Karen McCann-Allen and Stephen Sharkey at the grotto Pictures: Michael Murray

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