With the expansion of the school system following the 1944 Education Act, the church in Leicester set about with vigour to raise the required funds to open additional schools. English Martyrs’ was designed as a school for 300 and admitted its first pupils on 14th April 1964.
The land for English Martyrs cost £4,250 for 3.5 acres and the building £215,608, work commencing on 13th May 1963. To twenty-first century ears, this does not sound such a large sum for a new school, but it was a very considerable amount in the 1960s. Originally a plot of land further down Anstey Lane was identified but it was decided to sell this land for housing and the school was located instead on hillside farmland, giving it a prominent position at the top of the western ridge overlooking the city. The architectural design was considered controversial and modernist. Emphasis was put on creating classrooms which were airy and light, with a feeling of “open plan”. Thus the corridors had glazed panels into all the classrooms and there was a sky bridge linking the school reception and library to the school hall which was above the gymnasium.
The official opening of the school was performed by Bishop Edward Ellis on Tuesday 4th May 1965 followed by a reception by the Lord Mayor of Leicester, Alderman Kimberlin, OBE, one of the founding school governors. The school’s first Headteacher was Mr John Mulvey with Deputy Mr P Connolly. Mr Edward Brennan succeeded as Headmaster in 1966 and subsequent Heads have been Mr David McLean in 1983, Mrs Catherine Fields (Principal) 2002, Mr Marius Carney 2007 and Mr Mathew Calen 2022.
The Chapel of the Holy Family, a fine basilica-like structure, was built in 1996 in memory of Sister Anna Sheils. The Chapel is very much the heart of the school and is dedicated to the Holy Family. Mass is celebrated weekly and Morning Prayer held each morning in the Chapel. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved. The Chapel contains two stained glass windows one of the St John the Evangelist and the other The Annunciation. Both originally belonged to the congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace in Nottingham and were given by the sisters to Fr John Joe Maloney for the school. The Annunciation window is a memorial to Bishop Edward Bagshawe, the third Bishop of Nottingham (1874-1902). The Chapel also contains a pipe organ by Wells Kennedy organ builders of Lisburn.
In 2013 the school began a major rebuilding programme which involved the construction of new classrooms and a Library; a Sports Centre (including a professional astro turf Hockey pitch); a Sixth Form block and St Cecilia Performing Arts Centre. The buildings – costing £15m – were blessed by Bishop Alan Williams (Bishop of Brentwood) on the feast of the English Martyrs’ 2015, the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the school. Each building is dedicated to a particular saint:
St Jean Baptiste (Patron of teachers of youth)
St Thomas Aquinas (Patron of students)
St Cecilia (Patron of Music and Arts)
St Sebastian (Patron of Sport)
St Mary of the Meadows. This dedication to Our Lady reminds us of the dedication of Leicester Abbey (dissolved in the reformation) which is a couple of miles from the school. The abbey was called Sancta Maria de Pratis (Our Lady of the Meadows). Tiles excavated by archaeologists from the floor of the abbey church were given to the school by Leicester University in 2015 and are displayed in the Library. This room also contains a crucifix blessed by Bishop McGuiness when he opened the Sixth form in 1978 and a Christus given by Blessed Sacrament Church from the former home of the Blessed Sacrament fathers.
To mark the School’s Golden Jubilee and the opening of the new buildings the school commissioned a series of art works. These are, a bronze Crucifix erected at the entrance to the school by the welsh artist, Helen Sinclair; an Icon of the Virgin Hodegetria by Aidan Hart; (card included) a cut slate plaque of the school motto “Ut omnes unum sint” by Lida Cordoza (Kindersley Cordoza Workshop, Cambridge); a choral setting of the school Prayer “Lord Jesus Christ make me a better person” by composer Simon Lole for the school’s Schola Cantorum and a new two manual and pedal 16 rank pipe organ, built for the auditorium by Leicestershire Organ builder, Peter Collins.
The school is now a thriving, highly successful school of 1200 students aged 11-19. The student body is drawn from the west side of Leicester serving nine parishes. Currently 85% of the school are Roman Catholic students. The school has a specialism in the Performing Arts with a strong focus on Music, especially Music for the liturgy.
Academically the school is highly successful with English Martyrs’ past pupils playing a leading role in society within Leicester and around the world.