Priory High School, left, was opened in 1952, as a secondary modern school, for 450 girls from Bradley Rowe School in Burnthouse Lane. A site of 20 acres between the Topsham Road and River Exe was chosen. The priory of St James de Marisco, was founded by Baldwin de Redvers, Earl of Devon in 1141 and 'one Stephen of St Leonard granted six acres of land to the Cluniac monks of the newly-founded Priory of St James, opposite Salmon pool, for the repose of his own soul and those of his parents'. It was a cell (attached) of the abbey of St Martin des Champs at Tours.
The priory housed only four monks and a prior and consisted of a quadrangle of buildings with a stone-built cloister. The priory was located on a leat, north of the school, that was tapped off the Exe at St James Weir, just up river. The priory was devastated about 1350 by flooding, and suppressed by Henry VI and given to King's College, Cambridge. The barn and part of the manor house were still standing in 1735. It was finally demolished by Richard Duke in 1760. The site is now covered by Old Abbey Close and lends its name to Priory School.
The school was designed in May 1948 by H B Rowe FRIBA, the City Architect of Exeter City Council. The original buildings consisted of a two story building composed of an assembly hall, gymnasium, kitchen and dining rooms, and of course, classrooms. It was designed as an elongated block with a corridor that led to the classroom wings. The corridor became known as the silence corridor with pupils walking on the left, in each direction, leaving the centre for teachers.
The staff and pupils probably don't realise it, but the buildings were orientated to make the best of natural daylight. Brick was used for the construction with a copper roof.
The curriculum of the school was very practical with the pupils divided into three streams according to ability. The A stream were able to study French, while all three streams studied such subjects as domestic science and dressmaking. There was 'the flat', a recreation of a domestic kitchen, in which final year pupils took turns to practise their cooking skills. They also offered Geography, History, Religious Studies, Games, and Music. During Needlework, the girls even had to make their own knickers for PE.
During 1971 to 1972, six new classrooms were added to allow for the raising of the school leaving age. Maths, Modern Languages and Guidance are currently taught in the new classrooms. In 1973, it became a mixed comprehensive for 12 to 16 year olds and was incorporated into the new city wide comprehensive system which unusually, was based on a middle school system.
During 1974 and 1975 a new sports hall and two new labs were added to the existing buildings. In September 2005 the school will change once again when it will open as the ISCA College of Media Arts, an 11-16 school of approximately 700 pupils, in an exciting and innovative new building that is currently being built behind the old school. Exeter middle schools are also reverting to a more conventional 5-11 primary system.
On 15 August 2005, the new sports hall was badly damaged in a fire. Crews from eight fire stations were called to the blaze which may have been caused by welding equipment. This delayed the opening of the new school in October 2005.
The new Isca College.> The office 'hatch' in the old Priory High School – 2005. 'Old' girls at the Priory School Swansong in 2005.
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