Stonyhurst College is an internationally famous Roman Catholic independent school. It is situated on the Stonyhurst Estate, near Hurst Green in the Ribble Valley.
It was originally founded in 1593 in Saint-Omer in French to provide education for English Catholics at a time when they were suffering abuse and suppression at home. French oppression led to a move to Bruges in 1762 and to Liege in 1773.
In 1794, when Liege was under threat from the advancing French Revolutionary Army, the school was again forced to move. Its new home was the Stonyhurst estate in Lancashire. The land and buildings were donated by Thomas Weld of Lulworth, a former pupil of the school.
Stonyhurst Hall was in a bad state of repair when its new occupants arrived. Repairs were carried out and improvements made. Notable additions included St Peter’s Church, completed in 1835 and similar to King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.
In the 19th century the school developed a great reputation for scientific studies. An observatory built in 1838 was managed and operated by the priests at the school. It produced meteorological and astronomical data of such a high standard that it became one the Meteorological Office’s seven key stations when it was established in 1854.
Former pupils are referred to as OS (Old Stonyhurst). Famous and notable alumni of Stonyhurst College include:
- Alfred Austin – Poet Laureate 1896
- Arthur Conan Doyle – Author and creator of Sherlock Holmes
- Bill Cash – Conservative politician
- Bruce Kent – Peace activist (CND)
- Charles Clifford – New Zealand politician and first Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives
- Chris Morris – Comedian, actor, writer, and director (Four Lions, Brass Eye, The IT Crowd)
- Eduardo Lopez de Romana – President of Peru 1899 – 1903
- Frank Foley – British spy known for his role in helping Jewish families escape from Nazi Germany (the ‘British Schindler’)
- Frederick Weld – Premier of New Zealand 1864 – 1865
- Henry McGee – Actor famous for his role in The Benny Hill Show
- Iain Balshaw – English professional rugby player
- Joe Ansbro –Scottish professional rugby player
- Joseph Cyril Bamford – Founder of JCB
- Mark Thompson – Chief Executive of Channel 4, Director-General of the BBC, CEO of the New York Times
- Patrick Baladi – Actor best know for playing Neil Godwin in The Office
In 1939 Tolkien’s son, John Tolkien, went to the English College in Rome to study to be a priest. In 1940, Italy’s entry into World War II led to the college temporarily relocating to Stonyhurst College.
JRR Tolkien regularly visited his son during his time at Stonyhurst. Large parts of The Lord of the Rings were written here. A popular local walk is named after him.
Museum and Open Days
Stonyhurst College claims to be home to the oldest museum in the English-speaking world. Items in its collection date back to 1609.
The museum is open to the public at weekends in the summer holidays. Check the official website for dates and opening times (link in the information box at the end of this page).
Items in the museum’s impressive collection include:
- The school desk used by Arthur Conan Doyle
- The table on which Oliver Cromwell slept before the Battle of Preston
- Painting and drawings by notable artists including Rembrandt and Turner
- Photographs by photography pioneer Roger Fenton
- An Egyptian mummy
- A rare first edition of the works of William Shakespeare
Not all items are always on display.
Guided tours are also available.
Visitors can see Stonyhurst College without entering the museum. A public road runs through its grounds. Many of the buildings can be seen from the road.
The Tolkien Trail walk also passes through the grounds. Sights on the walk include Stonyhurst College, the school’s playing fields and cricket pavilion, the Stonyhurst Observatory, Woodfields (houses used for staff accommodation), and Hodder Place (formerly the preparatory school).
The official postcode of Stonyhurst College is BB7 9PZ. However, the school recommends drivers with satellite navigation systems use the postcode BB7 9PX to find it.
The nearest railway station is Clitheroe.
The closest major train station is Preston. This is on the West Coast Main Line.
Services from this station include trains to Barrow-in-Furness, Colne, Manchester Airport, London Euston, Glasgow Central, York, Blackpool North, and Ormskirk.