Groomsport Primary School
1844 - 2007
Information and pictures
compiled by Linda Mehaffey
the person who compiled this booklet has requested that his name be removed
Pupils and Teachers 2007
Schools play an important role in the life of a community as can be seen in this short history of Groomsport Primary School.
This booklet tracks the changes over the years from the school's origins at Main Street and the Walter Nelson Hall to the present building on Springwell Drive.
We hope that you will treasure the memories that it evokes.
We express our thanks to Linda and Maurice Mehaffey for their research and
**** ****** for his advice and expertise in putting the final booklet
Cover Picture (see image 1) some former pupils visit the Ulster Folk Museum and experience a taste of what education might have been like in bygone times
First School in Groomsport
The following extract from the Presbyterian Church Kirk Session Minute Book details the thoughts of the village residents regarding education.
"At a public meeting held in Groomsport Presbyterian Church on 28th
August 1844, the state of education and the facilities through which it may
be obtained in this neighbourhood being taken into consideration, it was
unanimously resolved that efforts be made to provide better accommodation for
the members of the congregation and others who wish to avail themselves of
the advantages of a better education than can at present be obtained in this
As a result, a sub-committee was formed with the Rev. Isaac Mack as Convenor, to oversee the building of a school. Within three or four months a school was built at the rear of the church and parallel to the Hill.
The school committee met to consider the appointment of a teacher on 1st
January 1845. Alexander Lindsay was chosen. He proved to be very
popular with pupils and parents. On 12th September 1845 it was agreed that a
second teacher be appointed as the school enrolment was too numerous for one
master. On 18th November, Mr. Hamilton was appointed at a Salary of £10 per
year, which had to come out of the pocket of Mr. Lindsay. By the end of that
first year it was decided that an extension to the school was needed. The
church minutes record, "Mr. Mack applied for aid towards the payment of
teachers' salary and for the supply of books from the Board." He
received a grant of £4 9s 1d. for the make school and £1
1s 5d. for the female school.
The extension, known as the female school, was completed on 16th March 1846. It was added to the Donaghadee side of the original building and ran at right angles to The Hill. This extension was completed at a cost of £46 12s 7d. At that time the entire financial turnover of the church in 1849 was £45 16s 6d. so that puts the actual cost in perspective, a significant investment in education.
That school served the community for exactly 50 years until 1895, although it
would have been considered as small, poorly lit and ill-equipped by modern
standards. This old building was finally demolished in 1962, and the
old keystone was lost in the rubble at the rear of the church. However,
it was rediscovered in 1970 during excavations for the first extension to the
church. It is still in existence and at present located in the church
grounds, a little battered, and inscribed as follows: "Erected by the
Minister and Congregation, 1844"
Second Groomsport Primary School
A report in the Newtownards Chronicle for 27th July 1895 (p3) headlined:
By 1895 the Schoolhouse behind the church had become old fashioned and
unsuitable, so attention was drawn towards building a new school on Main
Street. A Mr. McWhinney of Newtownards undertook the work for £485
plus a further £85 13s 11d. was added for inside
furnishings. The amount was raised very quickly in order that it did
not become a burdensome debt. The building was used both as a school
and a hall for the Presbyterian Church. This building served for 67
years, until 1962 when a new and larger school was built on Springwell
Drive. It was then handed back to the congregation and in a short time
was transformed into a fine hall.
Third Groomsport Primary School
The new school was opened by the Down Education Committee on 19th March 1962 at a cost of £17,000.
The Co. Down Spectator of 23rd March 1962 provided a fairly lengthy report of that event. The following is a shirt synopsis of the proceedings.
"Sixty pupils marched from the old school house, to the modern
School General Registers
Statistical Information from School Records held in Public Record Office Northern Ireland.
It is difficult to compile the total enrolment of the school from 1863 to 2007 as the registers repeat numbering, but it is estimated that approximately 3870 children have attended Groomsport Primary School.
SCH 704/1/1 Females Register 1861
Origins, names and occupations.
In 1941/1942 the names of children registered were entered in the back of the book, in red. This was a very transient time during World War 2. Parents occupations are listed as R.A.F., Army, Navy, Soldier, Sailor, etc.
It was recorded that children came to Groomsport from Liverpool, Glasgow, Cork, London, Cornwall and other places in the UK as well as from Belfast, Lisburn, Antrim, etc.
In 1937 four children arrived from Windsor, Ontario, Canada. It would seem that people travelled around, possibly for work, as much, if not more than at present. Of course, the accessibility of private and public transport now means that families can live a distance from work and school.
It may be noted that there were quite a few orphans registered over the years, some being looked after by families and some, apparently, from an orphanage which eventually closed. It was noted in an inspector's report that this resulted in a fall in enrolment.
It would appear that the big houses in the area, Portavo and Glenganagh, provided much employment, and thus contributed to the school enrolment.
Popular names for girls in the mid-late 1800's were Lizzie, Ellen, Nellie, Maggie, Bella, Lucy, Sarah, Jane and Agnes among others. There are the occasional more exotic names, Oliviette being one example.
Popular boys names were, as might be expected, William, George, John, Edward, James and Albert.
In the mid 1900's, a few children did go on to further education: a Victor Bradley left to go to Grammar School in 1942, and others went to Bangor Technical School.
The occupations of the parent/guardian are listed, making interesting reading: plumber, brick layer, chauffeur, coalman, groom, fisherman, soldier, gardener, riveter, labourer, carpenter, crane driver, farmer, tobacconist/confectioner (Wilkinson), car driver (trap or jaunting car) etc.
Some familiar surnames are Nelson, Watterson, Patton.
Fred and Shaun Magee emigrated to Canada after leaving on 28th June 1924. Charles Halliday emigrated to New Zealand, leaving school on 22nd August 1925.
It is recorded that some boys went into business after leaving school, a few to secondary schools, and some to work. It was not common to record if the girls went to work.
There were a few deaths recorded, John Patton 30th June 1930, and a James McIlroy who came to school on 14th May 1917, died around 3rd June 1922.
Enrolment has fluctuated considerably over the years due to several external
The following are extracts from the School Management Board book of Minutes dated 1938 to 1974. It may be noted that generally there was only 1 meeting a year, although the Autumn Term of 1938 seems to be an exception.
26th August 1938
26th September 1938
23rd November 1938
22nd November 1939
20th October 1940
7th May 1941
8th December 1943
24th October 1945
23rd January 1953
5th March 1953
20th November 1953
11th November 1954
29th September 1955
10th December 1959
29th November 1961
25th March 1968
Extracts from inspector's reports currently held in School - which will be made available to the Public Record Office NI.
1st October 1926
30th June 1941
31st July 1953
31st July 1957
20th February 1962
20th March 1964
29th April 1966
10th April 1968
9th May 1969
The School Today
In 1983 Mr. Halliday retired, and Mr. Robert Watson was appointed as Principal. The school enrolment at the time was between 65 and 70. As enrolment fell, the number of assistant teachers was reduced from two to one, but this was alleviated by the appointment of classroom assistants.
In the summer of 1996 a disastrous event occurred. During the night of 20th/21st July 1996 a fire was reported at the school, and the main assembly hall and a classroom had been destroyed, with a second classroom being badly damaged. After investigation it was confirmed that all was secure in the building, and that the fire probably started in the roof, but the cause of the fire could not be determined.
However, after boarding up the damaged area, it was declared safe enough for school to re-open as planned in September due to the hard work of Mr. Watson and staff. As a result of the extensive damage, the remainder of the top end of the school has to be demolished which left three classrooms in what was originally the extension, cloakroom, toilets and kitchen. A temporary office was located in the grounds adjacent to the P7 classroom and eventually a mobile classroom was put into the playground area behind the kitchen which serves as a staff room, audio visual room, classroom, library, computer room and subsequently used for most of the administrative work.
Records, however, show that after the fire enrolment began to gradually decrease. The school took on Integrated status in 2004, but this was not as successful as hoped.
In 1986 enrolment was around 65 but in 20 tears had decreased to the 25 enrolled in 2006, when the school was declared unviable and the Department of Education announced that the school may close in the near future. A series of meetings, petitions and other support was implemented but to no avail. On Wednesday 20th December 2006, the day of our Christmas Carol Service, the Department of Education confirmed that the school would close on 31st August 2007.
Consequently, plans were put in place to celebrate the 162 years of the existence of the school with a Fun Day for the pupils, a display of memorabilia and service of thanksgiving to be held in the Walter Nelson Hall and Groomsport Presbyterian Church over the weekend 9th and 10th June 2007 and a dinner for staff, board of governors, former staff and members of the local community in 23rd June in the Marine Court Hotel, Bangor.
Groomsport Primary School has been known by several different names, but it has always been the village school. The closing of the school ends an era of education within Groomsport, begun with a public meeting on the 28th August 1844 and the building of a school by the end of that year.
Looking towards the future, with the possibility of increasing house building and more young families moving into the area, could there be another Groomsport Primary School?
Letter from Public Record
Recently you transferred school records to the Public Record Office
1863 - 1927 Register (Male)
1956 - 1956 Register (Female)
1956 - 1956 Register (Male)
These are available for viewing by interested parties and, it may be noted, current school records are being made available to the Public Record Office, which will be available in the future
Groomsport Primary School
1901 - National School - Manager Rev. Joseph Moorhead B.C.
1904 - National School - Principal Mr. Burns and two assistants
1911 - National School - Principal Mr. Burns and one monitor
1912 - National School - Principal J. E. Tate, one assistant
1917 - National School - Principal J. E. Tate, one assistant
(from the Roll Book 1st April 1919 Esther Patton and pupil Alice J. Nixon. Sarah Clarke was employed from 1st July 1919 to replace Esther. Mr. D. R. Brownlee became Principal 1st April 1920. Doris McIlroy became pupil monitor 1st October 1920 to replace Alice. Mrs. Bradley became assistant teacher on the 20th August 1921 to replace Sarah.)
1924 - National School - Principal Edward Brownlee, one assistant
1925 - Public
Elementary School - Principal Edward Brownlee
1937 - Public
Elementary School - Principal Robert Brownlee
1955 - Groomsport Primary School - Principal D. R. Brownlee
1960 - Groomsport Primary School - Principal Capt. D. R. Brownlee J.P.
1961 - Groomsport Primary School - Principal J. N. Halliday
1986 - Groomsport Primary School - Principal R. H. Watson
2004 - Groomsport Integrated Primary School - Principal R. H. Watson
Current Staff - at 30th June 2007
Rev. Dr. Roger Purce, Mr. and Mrs. Billy McCreedy and congregation of Groomsport Presbyterian Church
Rev. Dr. David Irwin (Time and Tides in the 'Port)
Mr. Ian Wilson, North Down Heritage Centre
Staff of Bangor Public Library
Linenhall Library Town Directories
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
Staff and former staff of the School
Pupils and former pupils of the School and their families
Friends of the school and the community of Groomsport
This photo dates from between 1919 and 1921
Photo taken in the 1920s outside what is now the Walter Nelson Hall, the teachers are Mr. Brownlee and Mrs. Bradley
Two views of the second school: on the extreme left of Main Street (top) and on the right behind the tip of the mast (bottom), now the Walter Nelson Hall
Looking out over what is now Cockle Row with the harbour beyond
The pupils and teachers of Groomsport Primary School in June 1963
The aftermath of the 1996 fire, possibly the beginning of the end for the School
Then youngest pupil, Laura Patton, opens the School's library and resource centre in 1999
Notice the "Groomsport Public Elementary School" sign above the door in this photograph
Pupils and staff from Groomsport Primary School were regularly involved in many community activities such as the switching on of the village's Christmas tree lights, Nativity play, Carol singing, beach cleaning and other charity work, entertaining local groups like the Evergreens and taking part in the Annual Eagle Wing Festival
National School (top) (pre-1925) and Public Elementary School (above) (1925-1954)
2007 is a far cry from the 1920's, when this photograph was taken - notice the boy (front left) who is not wearing shoes
The last School in Groomsport, ending an era of education in the village whose recorded history dates back to 1844 but which may date back as far as 1620