Garvagh High School

The Garvagh High School site, which is owned by the North Eastern Education and Library Board, is  located  within  expansive,  mature  grounds  to  the  south  western  side  of  the  Main  Street. Bounded by walls with metal railings to the east, access is on the west side of Main Street via a screen wall with round arch and a pedestrian cast–iron gate. The drive, with mature planting on either side, leads to a large car park to the south of the main school building.  With expansive grass and paved sports grounds to the south west, the remaining perimeter is bounded by metal railings.  The  remaining  grounds  are  generally  planted  lawns  with  a caretaker’s  house  to the south  and  greenhouse  accommodation  to  the  north  east.  Two  historic  outbuildings  of black stone lie to the immediate north of the main school building. The site sits within the grounds of the former Demesne of Lord Garvagh – a descendant of the Canning Family. The Cannings were responsible  for  establishing  Garvagh  as  a private  Plantation  settlement  during  the  mid  17th century, when George Canning, an Agent of the Ironmongers  Company of London, obtained a grant for and settled in Garvagh. The town was initially developed by his son Paul Canning who erected a ‘chapel of ease’ (St Paul’s Church) on this site in 1659 for the use of his family.

Garvagh Forest, owned by Forest Service, abuts the site to the west and the south and covers an area  of over  400  acres.  Located  to the  west  and  south  west  of the  town  it comprises  both conifer and broad leafed trees. The forest is dissected by a network of well-maintained  forest roads, which provide almost 7 miles of safe and very attractive walks. The boundary of the forest is marked in the south by the Gortree Burn and Agivey River and in the north by the old deer park wall.

Adjoining the High School on its northern boundary is the Garvagh Museum site.  The collection is located in a large building within the old walled garden of Garvagh House. This is for the most part a folk museum and in this respect it houses a wide range of artifacts. The Museum recently secured accredited status.

Garvagh High School Located in the grounds of the eighteenth-century manor Garvagh House, the former home of the Canning family, Garvagh High School (formerly Garvagh Intermediate School) dates from the early 1950s and was built to designs by Noel E Campbell, the County Education Architect. A later section to the east was added in the mid-1960s. Work started on Garvagh Intermediate School in October 1951 and the building was opened on Friday 5th September 1953 by the then Minister of Education, H C Midgley before a gathering of 500 guests including parents of intending pupils and prominent local citizens. The school was built at a cost of more than £107,000. The contractors were Orlit (NI) Ltd, manufacturers of pre-cast concrete.
The Intermediate School was built as a result of the Education Act of 1947, which introduced transfer at 11+ to Intermediate, Grammar and Technical schools and set out to modernize the aging educational fabric in Northern Ireland. Garvagh School was one of 50 under construction in the early 1950s. The new building was thought to embody ‘modern ideas of construction and lay-out’ and local newspaper coverage at the time emphasised the ‘bright colour scheme’ and the fact that this was the first school in Northern Ireland to be equipped with under-floor heating. The concrete frame of the building allowed Campbell to employ large amounts of glazing throughout, adding to the sense of light and spaciousness in the interiors.

This was only the second Intermediate school to be built in Northern Ireland and the first to be built in a rural area. It could accommodate 325 pupils, mostly transported from the surrounding area by County Education Committee buses. The school incorporated the innovations of modern school design; a school meals block serving 500 hot meals per day, metal and woodwork rooms with the most up-to-date equipment and an annexe for a forge, a covered play area and art, needlework and science rooms. The classrooms were given an ‘informal character’ by the provision of chalk boards on the long wall, the omission of dividing walls between classrooms and stores and architect-designed built-in furniture constructed of wood and plastic veneer.

The tank tower next to the entrance was embellished with a county crest modelled and coloured by the architect himself. The school was to be used at night for evening classes and lighting was therefore designed to enhance its appearance after dark. Fittings were selected for their good design, and colour and lighting schemes as a ‘stimulus to the eye’. The bright colours were intended to be pleasing to children and to add interest to the shell of the building.

The school drew its pupils from a radius of 7 or 8 miles around Garvagh which meant a longer school day for children who were accustomed to walking to their local school. The intermediate school was said to be well equipped to allow children to learn from ‘doing things’ as well as from books and could therefore provide a training that was a ‘real preparation for life’. As a large proportion of boys would be going on to work on the land the school had a laboratory for rural science, a large kitchen garden and a field of 4 to 5 acres for practical agricultural education.

The school was highly praised by contemporaries for its modern and aesthetically pleasing design. The Education Minister thought the school was ‘so lovely’ that ‘bus tours should be operated to it’. Garvagh House was retained within the design of the new school and provided a domestic flat for the teaching of ‘housecraft’, two general purpose classrooms, Principal’s and Vice-Principal’s study, staffrooms, offices, library and a reading room as well as residential accommodation for the Principal and some members of the teaching staff. In 1956 girls at the school took part in an experimental scheme in ‘home-craft training’ by spending one day and one night weekly in the domestic flat at Garvagh House doing all the cooking and housework. Garvagh House was retained on the site for some years, but was demolished around 1965 to be replaced by a new primary school. However the late nineteenth-century  stable block which had been converted into the main boiler house, survives, as does the Canning crest formally situated
over the portico of the house. When the school-leaving age was raised to 16 in 1972, numbers in
secondary education increased and the primary school was closed and its buildings transferred to the Intermediate School. The school was renamed Garvagh High School but enrolment began to decline in recent years and the school closed in 2013.

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