St Vincent’s Catholic Approved School, Dartford

St Vincent’s Catholic Approved School, Dartford

Man reveals his story of abuse at Catholic-approved school

A Norwich man has written a book about his life-long struggle to overcome sexual and physical abuse he says he suffered at a Catholic-approved boarding school.

David Armstrong, 67, wrote the book ‘Out of the Shadows’ as closure for his own ordeal and to help other victims of abuse to speak out and reclaim their lives.

In the book he describes the beatings and sexual abuse he claims he suffered as a 13-year-old boy at the hands of Irish-born Catholic ‘Presentation Brothers’ at St Vincent’s school in Dartford, Kent – one of six such Irish-run institutions then in existence in the UK.

After he left the school, he ended up in borstal and eventually served a term in Broadmoor, where he met disgraced TV presenter Jimmy Savile.

Following release from Broadmoor, he began the long process of rehabilitation. And apart from a well-publicised blip when, as a gambling addict, he banned himself from every betting shop in East Anglia, he has triumphed over adversity and forgiven his abusers.

He said: “It took me 10 years to begin talking about my experiences at St Vincent’s. Writing this book has taken me over two years and is a final part of the long rehabilitation process.

“Edmund Burke said that, if good men stay silent, evil will prevail, which encapsulates the primary reason I am sharing my story publicly for the first time. In these pages I bare my soul.”

Some of the most talked about passages in ‘Out Of The Shadows’ will surely be those featuring Savile.

Mr Armstrong, who lives in Norwich’s Golden Triangle, said Savile told him he had been abused as a child.

He said: “,,, he said to me very quietly: ‘I will tell you something now – and I will say it once and never mention it again.’ He paused, and with a look of sadness coming over his face, he added: I was abused as a child… by someone I trusted.’.”

The retired car salesman, who has never married, also talks about the part played by Savile in helping bring about his release from Broadmoor.

He says: “Jimmy Savile was a dependable figure whom we respected, a sane and trusted friend.”

He said when he found out about Savile’s crimes, he could hardly believe it, but he added: “He fooled everyone including Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles. But looking back on it, I remember one time he said that “killers and paedophiles have uncontrollable demons”, and he might have been describing himself. His crimes were terrible and I sympathise with his victims. I’m just saying what happened to me.”

Mr Armstrong, who has lived in Norwich all his life, was born into a Catholic family on the Larkman council estate. He was arrested, aged 13, while helping a farmer shoot vermin, and Norwich Juvenile Court sent him to St Vincent’s.

Norwich Evening News 14/06/14

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30 responses to “St Vincent’s Catholic Approved School, Dartford

  1. Carl-Michal Krawczyk

    Please read “A Soccer Hooligan in America,” which is also about a lad who was sent to St. Vincent’s Approved School in the early sixties, although his memories of the lay brothers are a little different to David’s. The book can be purchased on amazon.co.uk

  2. marva

    i can not find the book a soccer in hooligan

  3. Carl-Michal Krawczyk

    Marva: Go to amazon.co.uk and type in A SOCCER HOOLIGAN IN AMERICA. They even have free shipping at the moment. I would like to hear back from you. Were you St. Vincent’s Approved School yourself?

    • marva

      NO i was NOTat the school but i live where the school was and i just want to find things out about the school i would to see it in the 1960 or1970 before they built the houses on it i have read 2 book so far

  4. Carl-Michal Krawczyk

    I was at St. Vincent’s Approved School (as it was called then) from 1961-1964 and the story of “A Soccer Hooligan in America” is loosely based on my experiences there. The school house and adjacent buildings, along with the Chapel Center, stood atop Temple Hill on 25 acres of land, and it was run by the Presentation Brothers from Ireland. I actually have very fond memories of my time there.

  5. marva

    Did you know daivd armstrong and JOHN fenton they both wrote about
    st vincent

  6. Carl-Michal Krawczyk

    No, I don’t believe so. I did read David Armstrong’s book, although I did not share his experiences. He talks about corporal punishment at St. Vincent’s, but corporal punishment existed (at the time) even in the hallowed halls of Eton, and I am not altogether sure that his experiences at the school could be the blame for his later troubles in life. St. Vincent’s Approved School was, after all, a reformatory — there was a reason we were sent there.

  7. marva

    i just order your book thank you for answer all my questions and i will let you know what i think about our book

  8. Carl-Michal Krawczyk

    Thank you! I hope you enjoy the book and that you will get back to me.

    • Ella mamo

      What is the name of your book?
      My brother was there in the late 50s early 60s I was a young girl at the time and remember the leather strap marks on his back.
      We used to visit him once a month on a Sunday

  9. marva

    hi carl micheal have you got any phots of st vincents i would love to see them i am still waiting for the book

  10. marva

    I got the book read some of it but it not a book i like so i wont be reading it sorry

  11. I have read both books by John Fenton and David Armstrong, and I find their accounts of the corporal punishment used difficult to believe. Could anyone please give me a truthful account?

    • marva

      hi john which book did you like best i like john fenton book best

      • JOHN MILLER

        Although I found both books equally interesting, I have been given to understand from what I thought was a reliable source that the book written by John Fenton was very largely a work of fiction, and that the accounts of the corporal punishment meted out was grossly exaggerated. If this is so, the accounts of the beatings meted out to David Armstrong were even more exaggerated, unless I have been wrongly informed. Could anyone please enlighten me?

  12. JOHN MILLER

    I found both books equally interesting, but I really would like to find out how much truth there is in both these books! Is there anyone who would be able to corroborate their stories?

  13. Carl-Michal Krawczyk

    Hi John: I was at St. Vincent’s Approved School (as it was called then) from 1961-1964 and my experience there was very different to that of both writers. Corporal punishment existed at all schools during this time period, including exclusively public schools like Eton, so to blame one’s whole life experiences on the school is unfair.

    Remember, this was a reformatory!

    I live in America now, but I was saddened during a recent visit back to the UK to see that the school and grounds are no more. The school house and adjacent buildings, along with the Chapel Center, stood atop Temple Hill in Dartford, Kent on 25 acres of land, and it was run by the Presentation Brothers from Ireland. I actually have very fond memories of my time there.

  14. Carl-Michal Krawczyk

    Hi Ella: I was at St. Vincent’s Approved School from 1961-1964 and there is much about our lives at St. Vincent’s throughout my book, but particularly in Chapter Three. The book is “A Soccer Hooligan in America” and you can check it out on https://www.amazon.co.uk/Carl-Michal-Krawczyk.
    Was your brother there during these years? Best wishes, Carl

  15. Hi I was there from 1963-1965 my abuse was real both physical and sexual this has taken me 54 dammed years to live with, this was not a nice place but what really hurts to this day I should not have been in this place, can any of you people remember a Mr Bennett, abuse by this chap and beaten senseless by Mr Ellis.

  16. Carl-Michal Krawczyk

    HI Gene: I was there from 1961-1964. I do not remember Mr. Bennett, but I do remember Mr. Ellis and Mr. Stinson and, of course, Brother DeMontfort (our headmaster), Brother Ambrose, Brother Cuthbert and Brother Francis, who was in semi-retirement and managed the tuck shop. I have a picture of the school, but I am not sure I can upload it in this site. I will continue to try. Carl Krawczyk

    • Hi CarlHope your good. Mr Bennet was at Winchester Remand center he took me. At 13 and a half to Dartford. Carl i was in the big dorm the three lads who i eventually Made friends with were Joe Doyle. Martin Malone. Chris Meadows. We were all in the. Sea cadets. The main question Was Bennet there but never mind. And you weren’t There when Ellis beat me up. Bennett had probably left have filed a complaint aagainst them at Dartford. Take care Carl.Kind regardsGene.

  17. Jan

    Please could somebody help me. My father who died 6 years ago was sent to st Vincent’s dartford . He was age 13/14 . He never spoke about it much as he said a brother Dustan curtain broke his nose and he was birches for taking a piece of butter , he was a angry man my dad and could be spiteful . But I tried to look into this place run by the presentation brothers and I couldn’t get any help other than a brochure of st Vincent’s and a few photos of the brass band. I wanted a apology for what he went through. But didn’t get it. Apparently he played truant and his home life was chaotic and he had Irish parents so was sent there. Any advice would be appreciated thanks he was sent there 1935 .

    • Jan

      I am very proud of my Irish roots I think they took them there I 1935 as it was catholic thankyou

    • Carl-Michal Krawczyk

      HI Jan: I am sorry but I can’t help you with your enquiry as I was at St. Vincent’s in the 1960s. Brother Dunstan was long gone by then.

      You said that your father didn’t talk about much his experiences there, and I think that is because (I would guess) that the discipline was very harsh in the 1930s, a lot harsher than the treatment meted out in the 1960s.

      Did he share anything else with you — e.g., which house he was in? There were four houses named after the patron saints of England — St. George (England); St. Andrew (Scotland); St. David (Wales) and the one I was in: St. Patrick’s.

      I am sorry I can’t help anymore.
      Carl

  18. Larry Beamish

    The accounts of life at St Vincents by Gene Lavocah and Carl-Michael krawczyk brought back memories for me. I left a year before Carl but I recall all the names, although I’m not sure if Mr Bennett was the one who supervised the army cadets ( which I joined because we were taken different places away from Dartford) or the big burly guy who used to delight in lifting the boys off their feet by their hair if they annoyed him in any way. Brother de Montford (aka brother superior) was too good looking to be wasted in the brotherhood according to my mother, Mr Ellis, I’ll agree, was ruthless as Gene described, but on my arrival at St Vincents my baptism papers could not be located, so, I was re-baptised and Mr Ellis was my ” godfather”. I absconded with a friend, whose name I can’t recall, but was caught and returned to school where I was given 12 (yes 12) lashes of the birch by Brother Ambrose with Bro’s Cuthbert and Francis ensuring I remained in a bowed position throughout the ordeal. I made some good friends there, among them, Duffy, Swift, Tate and my best pal Micky Kinane. My best and most memorable time was when I was enrolled by St Vincents as a student at Sidcup Art College where I became friends with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. We would travel back to Dartford by train and part company at the top of Temple Hill where I would enter the school by the rear entrance to avoid questions, but I’m sure he sussed me. So, some good and some bad times just like in the song by the Stones. I would love to see some photos of them days if anyone has any.

    • Carl-Michal Krawczyk

      Hi Gene and Larry: Mr. Bonzer was in charge of the army cadets when I was at St. Vincent’s School (1961-64). I can still see him in his full army uniform. I joined the sea cadets under Brother Cuthbert, maybe because my father was in the navy. I agree with you both that Mr. Ellis was harsh — I remember his voice would just tear right into me at the slightest infraction of the rules. (Incidentally, I returned to the grounds some year ago and I met up with him He still lives down below on Temple Hill. The school of course is no more.)
      Gene: the big dormitory was called SMALLS, which I always thought was bit ironic. The other dormitories were Fatima and Walsingham. I was in Walsingham until they moved me into one of the smaller ten-bed dorms – I must have become less rebellious by then!!
      That’s a great story about Larry meeting Keith Richards. I just read his autobiography LIFE and he talks about sledding or skating down Temple Hill, and I often wondered about when it was exactly that he and Mick Jagger met at the Dartford Train Station. Many of the streets in Keith Richards neighborhood are named after famous Stones songs like Ruby Tuesday.
      Hey, lets keep this going. I live in Arizona, USA now, but I think a lot about my time at St. Vincent’s Approved School.

  19. Larry Beamish

    Hi Carl, you’ve jogged my memory yet again. I remember Fatima dorm and like you I later transfered to a smaller dorm. It was in the opposite corner from the chapel and Brother Francis’ room was at one end with a small window looking into the dormitory. I remember matron and young Mary who assisted her. I was knocked out playing cricket (hit by the ball on the back of my neck) and matron sat up most of the night with me in case I had concussion. I remember meatballs being on the menu quite a lot and blackcurrant pie, blackcurrant jam and blackcurrants and rice regularly served during the season which we spent hours picking in the hot summer sun. I don’t know if anyone remembers the school sign at the front gate, all done in gold leaf, I did that and also the gravestone for Brother John who died while I was there. That may have been what prompted them to send me to art college. I wonder if the graveyard is still there beyond the playing fields? I didn’t think to look when I went around the new estate built there. Ella Mamo was saying her brother was there late 50s early 60s. I was there then and possibly knew him. I went back a couple of times while the school was still running, took some cigarettes for Brother De Montford (my mum’s idea) he smoked senior service, which reminds me, snout as we used to call them were smuggled in by the “townie” who used to be a trusty that run errands down in Dartford. I also did a bit of smuggling myself and it kept me in snout as I smoked in them days (not any more). But, no wacky baccy not even Keith did then I don’t think. Well it’s been great reminiscing and if anyone has any photos i’d love to see them. I will also be reading the Soccer hooligan in America book and the other two books when I get the chance. By the way I still live half a mile from the art college site which has now been replaced by Morrisons and approx eight miles from St Vincents site now a private housing estate.

  20. Carl-Michal Krawczyk

    Hi Larry: I read that the graveyard is now gone. You say Brother John was buried there — along with many of the boys who died in the influenza epidemic following World War One. The bones were disinterred and reburied elsewhere. The gate at the main entrance to the school is still there!
    Which House were you in? I was in St. Patrick’s House. I was in the Painting & Decorating Department run by Mr. Stinson, and I also helped out Mrs. Homer for a few extra bob. I used to run across the road to purchase Hearts of Oak tobacco and Rizla papers, and then towards the end of my stay I was allowed free walks to Dartford.
    Did you end up doing anything with your art training? The only pictures I have are from the Centenary Catalogue of 1976. Cheers mate.

  21. Larry Beamish

    Hi Carl, I recall wearing a green sash when in competition with other houses so I assume I must have been in St Patrick’s. I don’t recall Mr Stinson but I do remember the painting & decorating department, that’s where I first prepared the board for the front entrance and did the signwriting on it. I remember the roll-ups that we used to roll really thin and conceal in our trouser turn-ups. I carried on at art college after leaving St Vincents but eventually got a job at £10 a week (a fortune in 1961) and worked for a while in the building trade. Eventually I got back into signs and graphics until my semi-retirement. I now do a couple of days a week just to keep active. I read a couple of extracts from David Armstrong’s book and although I agree with some of his accounts of abuse, in my experience , it wasn’t quite that bad. Maybe I was lucky. OK so I got 12 lashes, but if they had lost count , I may have ended up with 13, now that would have been UNLUCKY. Anyway Carl, how are things on your side of the pond? What would your friends in the USA think of St Vincents. If the movies are anything to go by, we”re pretty tame in comparison but in real life well…… Hope all goes well with your book. I’ll look forward to reading it Take care

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