History of St Mary's School
Little is known about the origins of the first Catholic school in Edward Street, but according to an entry in Kelly's Directory of Derby the school was erected in 1853 for 600 children. It was completed under the direction of Canon Joseph Daniel, the parish priest who succeeded Rev. Thomas Sing, by using the proceeds of the sale of the Nottingham Road convent in 1864.
It was a two-storey brick building with a frontage on Edward Street, and playgrounds went back to the six foot high brick wall at the end of the Canon's garden. Stephen Glover in his 'History of Derby' records:
"It is a good brick building erected at a cost of £2000. The ground floor is occupied by the boys' schoolroom and the upper floor is used by the girls. Attached is an extensive library of ancient and modern authors. There are two classifications of scholars - the first pay 2 pence per week and the second pay 1 penny per week. The average attendance of both is about 150."
In 1930 the old school became too small for the growing number of pupils, so it was decided to build a new school, adjacent to the present one. This school was opened in October 1931 by the Rt. Hon. J H Thomas, M.P. for Derby. It is reputed to have cost £12,000 and on completion it was considered to be 'state of the art' for an educational building. The enlargements to the school buildings included a kindergarten and an entirely new Senior Department with a hall, stage, domestic, craft and science rooms.
The early history of the school is closely bound up with that of the Sisters of Mercy, who had established a convent in Derby in 1849. As well as being involved in setting up St Mary's School, the sisters also made educational provision for middle class girls by starting the future St Philomena's Convent School in 1874 in the convent parlour at Bridge Gate. The senior department of this school eventually moved to Highfields House in 1947, a property at the corner of Duffield Road and Broadway, bought by the Sisters as part of the Highfields Estate.
Pressure of numbers in St Mary's School led, twenty years after the move of the Convent Senior School, to the senior department of St Mary's School in Edward Street moving into a newly built Secondary Modern School on the Highfields Estate on Duffield Road. Then, four years later, in 1971, St Mary's merged with St Philomena's Convent School to become St Ralph Sherwin Comprehensive School. In 1986 St Thomas More, the Catholic Secondary School on the south side of the city, was closed and merged with St Ralph Sherwin School to form the present St Benedict Catholic School and Performing Arts College with Mr Christopher Reynolds as Head Teacher and a pupil roll of 1450: a long and fascinating journey from the humble beginnings in Edward Street.
By the 1990s the previously 'state of the art' St Mary's Junior School building in Edward Street was requiring too much money to justify its continued maintenance. With assistance from the Sisters of Mercy, a new school site was acquired next to the Highfields Convent. On 9th September 2002 the children and teachers from St Mary's Primary School formally processed from the old Edward Street site up Duffield Road to their brand new 'state of the art' school building at Broadway. The primary school is therefore now adjacent to St Benedict Secondary School on Duffield Road. The education facilities for both junior and secondary school age Catholic children from St Mary's and other local parishes are now back on a single site - as they were 150 years ago. The wheel has come full circle!