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End of school life for Wellington Street site

WHEN the Wellington Square State School site on the corner of Wellington and Paterson streets was sold last year it ended 120 years of service for an important Launceston educational facility.

It was one of Launceston's biggest state schools from 1901 to 1939 and over the next 80 years was used for technical education.

Apart from the thousands of students who passed through its doors, the Wellington Square State School was used as a polling station and for a short time in 1919 as an emergency hospital during the Spanish Flu epidemic.

The decision in March 1899 to use Wellington Square for a new state school was not welcomed by everyone.

Launceston City Council decided by a majority of just one vote to agree to a state government request to exchange Wellington Square for Market Square (later Cornwall Square) so the Education Department could build a new state school.

Market Square, also known as Market Green, had been a government reserve from the earliest days of Launceston and Wellington Square, also known as Court House Square until 1880, was a council reserve where sports were played and public gatherings held.

Plans for the new school were prepared by the Public Works Department and on January 20, 1900, The Examiner reported that builders J & T Gunn had won the contract to construct the new school:

"The building, which resembles the Gothic in design, will be erected in the centre of Wellington Square, with a playground at either side."

The plans provided for two large schoolrooms, a master's room and separate entrances for boys and girls, with the boys' lobby facing Paterson Street and the girls' lobby in Wellington Street.

The building was brick on stone foundations and roofed with slate.

A bell tower was a feature of the Wellington Street frontage.

The contract price was £3034.

Opening day on April 15, 1901, was wet and windy and the enrolment of 130 students was considered a good start even though the school was built to accommodate 300 students.

Within a short time buildings nearby were needed to accommodate the growing school population.

When extensions were opened in 1916 the Director of the Education, William McCoy, referred to the rapid increase in student numbers in Launceston.

"Five years ago there were 2000 attending the state schools in Launceston but now there were 3000 and all the schools had had to be enlarged."

When the Wellington Square State School was closed in 1939 there were 640 students enrolled. The Examiner of Saturday December 9, 1939 reported that only the infant school would remain on the site:

"In the New Year the building will be used as part of the Launceston Technical School, and part of the building will be utilised for the Domestic Arts School." Pupils who attended Wellington Square school were dispersed to the Charles Street State School and the growing number of suburban state schools in Launceston.

Girls, above, and boys, below, with their teachers at the Wellington Square State School in July 1906.

Top image: The Wellington Square State School in 1916, from the Weekly Courier of 3 August 1916. Bottom images: Pupils at the Wellington Square State School, from the Weekly Courier of 28 July 1906.

(Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in the Sunday Examiner on 9 May 2021)


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