ST. JOHN’S CENTRAL COLLEGE – A BRIEF HISTORY
Our Story to date
The buildings on the St. John’s Central College Campus have a long and varied history. The first building to be constructed on the site was St. John’s Episcopalian church, which was built in the neo-classical style and was opened on 8th July 1840. Its first minister was Reverend Thomas Finney and its last minister before closure was Reverend Coslett O’ Cuinn. As well as providing for the spiritual needs of the local community the church also served the young women from the Governesses Seminary in Warren Place and the women from the nearby refuge. The latter group were not visible to the rest of the congregation, the section reserved for them being hidden behind a screen and an organ in the corner of the building. The church was sold to the City of Cork Vocational Education Committee at a public auction on 11th June 1963 for the sum of £19,885.
The L shaped building on Sawmill Street, now known as Buckingham House, was built in the mid 19th Century as a female refuge and penitentiary. The trustees of St. John’s Episcopalian church financed the building work in order to provide a home for ?destitute females and principally for the protection of liberated female prisoners who wished to return to the path of law and order?. (The Munster Directory 1867) In 1901 the refuge had twelve inmates supervised by a matron, Mina Erskine, and two assistant matrons. The women ranged in age from seventeen to sixty seven and were mainly employed in the nearby laundry on Sawmill Street. Of the twelve inmates, four were married, three widowed and five were single. The refuge did not cater exclusively for members of the Church of Ireland, as in 1901 seven of the women were Roman Catholic. Following the closure of the refuge the building was occupied by Buckingham House Free School. This orphanage had operated in Morrison’s House on Buckingham Place since 1875 and was charged with the task of supporting and educating destitute protestant children up to the age of sixteen years. The orphans in their green uniforms became a familiar sight in the area. At the height of its operation on Sawmill Street there were forty orphans resident. However by 1958 the number had dropped to eight and so the children were transferred to a smaller building in Sundays Well. The building was then sold to the City of Cork Vocational Education Committee for £13,100.
The School of Building and Junior Technical Institute commenced classes on the site in 1961 and the school of Furniture was established in St. John’s Rectory in 1963. Additional rooms were added to the Sawmill Street building at this time. The official opening of these schools did not take place until 26th February 1965. The second level school, Scoil Eoin Naofa, was established on 21st October 1967 and under the guidance of its first principal Mr. Tadhg Connolly, it was by the mid 1970’s to become the largest boys school in the country. It was also one of the first schools to develop a Vocational Training and Preparation Programme. However due to changing demographic trends the student numbers began to decline from the 1980’s onwards and in June 1995 the final group of post primary students passed out through the gates of Scoil Eoin Naofa. In response to the declining pupil numbers and the increased demand for Post Leaving Certificate courses the college staff had already begun to develop a range of new courses. These courses were to provide the foundation on which St. John’s Central College could be built.
By 2003 the college was catering to the needs of over 1100 full time adult students. During 2003 and 2004 the original wall in front of the female refuge and penitentiary on Sawmill Street were demolished to make way for the new building, as were the additional classrooms constructed during the mid 1960’s. The new building also covers the site of the laundry in which the inmates of the female refuge and penitentiary once worked, this site having been used at a later date by Brooks-Haughton as a timber yard. The new college building, with its state of the art facilities, was designed by Reddy O’Riordan Staehli Architects and built by Wexford based contractors Cleary Doyle Ltd. Ewbank Preece O hEocha structural engineers and Arup mechanical and electrical consultants complete the team. The four-storey building has a floor area of approximately 5200 square metres. An unusual feature is the copper cladding on the walls and roof of the common areas such as the canteen and library. This new building will allow for the continued development of further education courses at St. John’s Central College and will add a new and exciting chapter to the history of this site.