The Preston School
The Preston School was founded in 1686 by John Preston.
John Preston came to Dublin from Bolton in Lancashire in the 1650s to see what a loyal Puritan might gain from the Catholic dispossession which occurred in the aftermath of the Rebellion of 1641 and the Cromwellian Confiscations. Preston aquired the Nangle Estate in Navan and many others in Dublin and Leix, totalling around 10,000 acres.
Guessing that many of his defective titles might be questioned in time, he set aside 1000 acres of his gains from the Nangle estates to endow 2 Protestant schools, to be run by "an able schoolmaster of the Protestant religion, to be resident in the town of Navan." (The second school was located in Ballyroan Co. Laois), judging that any government would be reluctant to question the title to land used for such a worthy purpose.
The school was located on a site just off Trimgate St.
The first master was Rev. Lyon. For most of its first 150 years in existence the income of the Trust lands went to the schoolmaster who was a friend or relative of the Prestons. For example in 1755, Mr Preston appointed his own brother as schoolmaster, leaving the teaching to underlings. Bishop Lewis Beirne notes "To enquire of Dr. Duigenen as to the legality of giving the endowed school to a person who neither keeps a school nor lives in the house, but employs a deputy."
A report from the Royal Commission in 1784 stated "...the school at Navan,has been for many years shamefully neglected...it has appeared to us that the sum of £2348.19.8 of the rents...has been lost...the conduct of Mr Jones as receiver of the estate and as law agent, is liable to the charge of mismanagement and neglect in the execution of the duties of both these offices, and that he should no longer continue to be employed by this charity."
In the early 1800s the school had never more than 7 pupils. In 1840, the Royal Commission stated "This endowment represented one of the most remarkable instances of abused trust."
Against the spirit of the Trust, Roman Catholics were sometimes accepted as pupils, although there was a lapse between the 1798 Rebellion and 1815 when the next Catholic pupil entered.
The Preston School was rebuilt in 1829. When the rebuilding was going on, the school moved to Ardbraccan.
This rather unhappy history continued
until the early 20th century.
In 1918, the number on the roll of the Preston School had increased to 39,
due to the school having a good headmaster
and taking boarders.
In 1969, the Preston School was amalgamated
with Wilson's Hospital School
(above) The gates to Preston early 20th century.
(courtesy of the National Library of Ireland)
Sources: Rev. Gerard Rice Articles on the History of Navan, Meath Chronicle March 1981
Navan by the Boyne, Noel French 2002
Preston Endowed School Navan, Michael Quane L.L.D. Ríocht na Midhe Vol.1V no 2 1968
Below, taken from a larger photograph c.1960, is a rare image of the Preston School, visible in the centre, and located where Kennedy Rd. is today.
(Note: part of the line of the Navan's town walls is represented by the boundary between the school and the field. Source: Williams 1756 Map of Navan)
The following vivid description of the Preston School in the 1950s comes from the book Rathcormick - A Childhood Recalled, by Homan Potterton. New Island Books 2001
(Note: Homan Potterton records the names Mr & Mrs Church and Miss Rockingham in the exerpt below. We are reliably informed that these names should be Mr & Mrs Kirk and Miss Cunningham. We are, however preserving the integrity of the text, but noting the discrepancy here.)
" The school was a big old heap of a building hidden away behind formidable gates in the very heart of Navan, with a gravel avenue that approached it from the rear. Its grounds which were all to the front, were large enough for a hockey pitch and several tennis courts to be fitted onto terraces which stepped down, among flower beds here and there, from the main facade.
(Left) Mr Kirk, the Principal of Preston School
(known to the pupils as the "Boss")
walking towards the school gates on Trimgate St.
Such was the seclusion of the place, that once inside the precincts it was impossible to imagine or believe that the metropolis which Navan then was buzzed around on every side. The seclusion may have been a key element in the discipline Mr Church succeeded in imposing, as our experience of the outside world was limited to whatever we were able to observe, as we stalked two by two up Flower Hill and out into the country on the extended walks which were an essential element of the school's agenda.
Mr Church along with Mrs Church and her sister Miss Rockingham, lived in the two rooms which overlooked the grounds; the dormitories and classrooms were at the back, the dining hall in the basement. There too was the small yard, enclosed along one side by lavatories, and with the Stick House (where firewood was stored) to the other end. This was the only outside space to which access, unsupervised, was permitted, and it was there on Mondays that lines of navy blue knickers -each bearing the name tags of their owners, were exhibited in the breeze to dry. .. Exceptionally among Irish boarding schools at the time, Preston was coeducational.
(Potterton quotes 12 boys and 16 girls resident in Preston during his time there. )
...Preston's curriculum - English, French, Latin and Irish; algebra, geometry and trigonometry; history and geography were all taught from elementary level to university entrance, and as if that were not astonishing enough, instruction in all these subjects was provided by Mr Kirk himself, with the sole assistance of a kind and gentle Miss Dunbar. Neither physics nor chemistry was provided for at Preston, nor indeed was Art, but these omissions were offset by the school's reputation for Scripture, while the musical accomplishment of many of the pupils, as well as their capacity for the waltz, gave Preston a renown which far exceeded, in the minds of many of the parents, the attractions and benefits of science.
(Above) Preston students 1954-5. We have some, but not all names.
Back Row: 3rd left Jean Henry; 4th left Glennis Symmonds; far right June Hughes.
Middle Row: 2nd left Jennifer McKeever; 4th left Olwyn Onions; 2nd right Linda Tyrrell; 3rd right Mary Tyrrell. (Names thanks to Gerald Williamson)
Miss Rockingham, who had a tenderness and warmth about her personality, was both cook and matron; but beyond all that she was the mother which all of us was missing. She bathed us on Saturday nights, on occasion tucked us into bed, and tended our cuts and sores... When in the kitchen, she contrived to turn the sparce ingredients which Preston's budget permitted into meals that were sufficiently disguised as to seem like food from home. On Sunday afternoons, she would often emerge - as though a truant herself - to share with us the collapsing remains of a chocolate cake which she had managed to whisk from the trolly while Mr and Mrs Church were enjoying their tea.......
Preston School - teachers and students 1969
...Miss Strong was one of those rare teachers who was so good at teaching that she acted as an inspiration to any pupil with whom she came in contact. She brought the best out of everyone she taught, so that children like myself, who were not in any way gifted musically soon developed a proficiency that was more than reasonable, and within 2 years I had progressed to 2nd grade. On account of Miss Strong, Preston was a musical school; almost everyone learned the piano, and many people were extremely good; the grade examinations of the Royal Irish Academy of Music were part of the annual curriculum, and singing class on Thursdays was one of the highlights of the week...."
See also: Wilson's Hospital Past Pupil's Association http//whsppa.ie