A look behind the scenes at Stonyhurst College
- Credit: Archant
Stonyhurst’s old boys include Tolkien, Conan Doyle, three saints and at least one president, Writer Julie Frankland and photographer Glynn Ward went behind the scenes
They are meant to be the happiest of your life so imagine the excitement – not to mention those first day nerves - when your new school is almost six thousand miles from home and the place itself wouldn’t look amiss in a Harry Potter film.
Each year, Lancashire’s magnificent Grade I listed Stonyhurst College, the country’s leading independent Jesuit boarding and day school, welcomes students from as far afield as China, Korea, Mexico, North America, Africa and throughout mainland Europe to its boarding houses and classrooms. They join a supportive community of predominantly British youngsters, including many from in and around Stonyhurst’s home village of Hurst Green in the lush Ribble Valley.
The school was founded in 1593 by Father Robert Persons in St Omer, in what was then the Spanish Netherlands as English law prohibited Catholic education. It moved to Bruges and Liege before crossing the English Channel in 1794 and settling at Stonyhurst Hall, which had been gifted to the Jesuits by Thomas Weld, a former pupil from its years in Liege. Descendents of the Weld family still attend Stonyhurst to this day.
The building was the first in the country to have interior gas lighting. Now it has its own ecologically sustainable wood-chip powered power station. In addition, Stonyhurst was the first school anywhere in the world to have a heated indoor swimming pool and purpose-built indoor sports hall. Now its sports facilities include tennis courts, a sports leisure complex that is also open to the public, an Olympic size astro turf, a nine hole golf course and extensive playing fields.
Since 2007, governors have invested over £13 million in the fabric of the buildings and further funds have been raised through charitable giving. This has led to improvements such as a new recording studio and sound-proof music practise pods, a new refectory, a new purpose-built seniors’ boarding house with en suite facilities in every room and a new sixth form social centre complete with ICT facilities and wi-fi café.
Headmaster Andrew Johnson said: ‘Stonyhurst is a school that’s really focused on giving a high quality 21st century education. We’ve got lots of tradition and a fascinating history but actually, we’re about what’s best for the young people of this generation, and how we can develop them as individuals.’
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Ruth Hughes, Director of Admissions, adds: ‘Many of these children have experienced very different education systems in their home countries and come to join us because of the excellent quality of the fantastic British education we offer here at Stonyhurst. As a Jesuit college, our focus is on each individual child as a person – on their character and its formation.
‘By looking at their needs, gifts and talents, children very quickly settle. Many tell us we are the friendliest school they have ever attended and because our students are very involved in local community life, which often takes them out of school to help others. This also grounds our pupils and make them feel part of their surroundings.’
Children can attend Stonyhurst from the age of three right up to the age of 18, and although the majority of its full and weekly boarders are aged 13 upwards, there are also 45 juniors. Ruth adds: ‘School life is so exciting for our children. Not only are they part of a history and tradition going back more than 400 years, we have over 100 clubs and activities for them to enjoy.
When they leave us, they do so as fully rounded individuals, who will always be part of our caring, global family.’
When it comes to alumni, Stonyhurst’s includes three saints, seven archbishops, a Peruvian president, a New Zealand prime minister, a signatory of the American Declaration of Independence as well as the grandfather of former US president George Bush Snr, and several writers.
Among its literary luminaries are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, contemporary novelist Patrick McGrath and perhaps the most famous of them all, J.R. Tolkien.
Over the 16 years he took to write The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tolkien regularly stayed at a guest house belonging to Stonyhurst in the college grounds. He would sometimes teach classes although his primary reason for being there was to visit his son John.
Tolkien’s love of nature and wooded landscapes made the Hurst Green area a paradise for him. There are many who claim that there are names and descriptions in the books that match or are adaptations of local place names and scenery. To check them for yourself, you can take the Tolkien Trail, a 5.5 mile walk from Hurst Green that takes you up to Stonyhurst College. Download the walk from www.visitlancashire.co.uk
Stonyhurst also numbers seven Victoria Cross holders among its old boys – one from the Malakand Frontier War, India, in 1897, one from the Sudan Campaign, 1898, three from the First World War and two from the Second World War. History teacher Paul Garlington, a recognised battlefields expert, makes an annual trip with Sixth formers and Year 7s to The Somme.
Stonyhurst has a national reputation for sporting excellence, particularly in rugby, netball and hockey. Many students compete nationally and internationally.
Sixth former and head of line (head boy) Victor Keunen is part of the England U18s squad, set to follow in the footsteps of internationals and old boys Kyran Bracken, Will Greenwood, Iain Balshaw, Kevin Barrett and Joe Ansbro.
The national hockey squad has made Meg Murphy a member of its U15s training squad, while sixth former Olivia Laking has been invited to train with both the Manchester Thunder and England netball teams.
Stonyhurst holds in trust an impressive collection of more than 50,000 manuscripts, paintings, artefacts and books, including many significant pieces on loan from the Society of Jesus. The collection was started in 1609 with the acquisition of Henry VII’s chausable (prayer cape), which dates circa 1480-90. It is the first museum piece catalogued in the English language, which makes Stonyhurst home to the oldest museum in the English speaking world.
The extraordinary collection is used in lessons to enhance learning and includes a Shakespeare First Folio, original paintings by Rembrandt, Titian and Turner, who actually painted a picture of the college, relics from Pompei and a 50 million-year-old shark’s tooth, as well as items from naturalist and past pupil Charles Waterton.
Stonyhurst has its own archivist and its own curator to look after its collection. Some of it is put on public display in the summer, when the hall and gardens are also opened for tours. These take place on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 pm to 4-30 pm from July 25th to August 23rd. Group visits (minimum of 15) can also be arranged for weekdays except Fridays. For details, call Frances Ahearne on 01254 827084 or email email@example.com