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Old Princethorpians

Keeping our community in touch

Old Princethorpians is our thriving and popular association for past pupils, staff and parents. We are interested in hearing from all those connected with the College and all the schools associated with the Princethorpe Foundation, St Mary’s Priory, St Bede’s, St Joseph’s Convent School, Crackley Hall, Abbotsford School and Crescent School.

Old Princethorpians is our thriving and popular past pupils' association. We aim to keep past pupils, parents and staff in touch and to foster links with the school, particularly in terms of networking, university support and careers guidance.

We have an established annual programme of social events including the popular pub meets, locally and in London, the annual OPs Summer Supper Reunion, and the OPs vs College Sports Day just before term begins in September.

Alumni of all the schools and heritage schools associated with the Princethorpe Foundation, St Mary’s Priory, St Bede’s, St Joseph’s Convent School, Crackley Hall, Abbotsford School and Crescent School are welcome to get involved with our programme of activity and have their own dedicated events from time to time.

To keep up to date with the latest news and events and to network and reconnect with old friends and teachers visit Princethorpe Connect our online alumni community. Here you can sign up for events, access careers advice, order merchandise through our online shop and if you create an online profile you are able to access exclusive content including photographs and archive material. You’ll also receive our termly e-newsletter, The Old Princethorpian, which features alumni news and updates from across the generations.

We love hearing your latest news and would encourage everyone to get involved and stay connected!


News & Stories

Princethorpe Timeline

  • Arrival in England

    France in 1792 was not a safe place for religious communities. In an attempt to reduce poverty and quell discontent, legislation was passed by the National Assembly which enabled church property to be seized for the good of the nation. Further legislation mandated the abolition of religious life and it was against this increasingly hostile backdrop that the order of Benedictine nuns was forced to leave their convent in Montargis. Aiming to travel to Flanders, the route overland was deemed too dangerous and so a plan to travel by boat to England and then continue onwards from there was formed. On October 17th, the nuns boarded the ‘Prince of Wales’ boat to head to England. Due to terrible storms, a journey which should have taken only ten hours ended up taking twenty-six and the captain was forced to land at Shoreham, Sussex.

    Landing in England with only four pennies to their name, the nuns had their first bit of good luck. Staying nearby, the Prince of Wales (the future King George IV) and Mrs Maria Fitzherbert had heard of their plight and were determined to help them. After sending coaches to transport them and arranging for accommodation in Brighton, the Prince of Wales asked the community to remain in England as mainland Europe was still a dangerous place for them. The Prioress agreed and arrangements were made for the community to settle in London.

    The next 40 years involved multiple moves around the country for the Benedictine nuns whilst they tried to find a suitable space for their community and successful girls school. After moving first to Bodney Hall in Norfolk and then to Heath Hall in Yorkshire, in 1821 the community bought Orrell Mount, near Wigan in Lancashire, which they hoped would be their permanent home. Unfortunately for the nuns the area was mining country and the large number of mineshafts meant that the sinking of foundations for any future extensions was impossible. The nuns needed to look elsewhere.

  • The Purchase of Princethorpe

    It is not known for sure why the nuns ended up settling at Princethorpe. It may well have been down to luck that the right site was available at the right time. As well as affording the level of seclusion that was desirable to the enclosed community, the natural springs and good farmland allowed the Priory to be self-sufficient. Laws preventing the building of religious houses had also been recently repealed making Princethorpe Priory one of the first new Catholic buildings in England in 300 years. Princethorpe may also have been chosen because Warwickshire had a history of wealthy landed families remaining loyal to their Catholic beliefs even after the Reformation so there may also have been plenty of support available, both spiritually and financially.

    Using a paste model of the layout of the original priory in Montargis as the basis for the design, building of the priory began under the supervision of John Craven with the foundation stone being laid by Thomas Walsh, Titular Bishop of Cambysopolis, in 1832. The first party from Orrell Mount moved to St Mary’s Priory, Princethorpe, in 1835; the same year that the first pupils joined the school. John Russell joined the project in 1836 and, along with Craven, focused on the north and west wing and the original church. The church was later adapted by Joseph Aloysius Hansom who appears to have replaced John Russell in 1837, when Russell became ill.

    Hansom was to have a significant impact on the design of the priory. Alongside finishing the chapel, he also built ‘Le Tour’ as a guest house for visitors to the priory, named for the small crenelated towers that form part of the design. He also built the Round House as a nuns’ cemetery after razing an existing structure on the site. The final resting place of ninety sisters and a small number of lay people, the circular brick design with an open roof is unknown anywhere else in Britain. In 1891, Joseph Pippet created the ornate ‘Death of St Benedict’ mural that is still visible in the Library today.

  • The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart is founded

    The community of the Missionaries of the Sacred heart (MSCs) was founded in Issoudun, France, on the 8th December 1854. Their founder, Jules Chevalier, had a vision of bringing Jesus’s love, compassion and understanding to all, which is encapsulated in the MSC’s motto “May the sacred heart of Jesus be loved everywhere”. It was the aim of his missionary society to meet the needs of all, especially those that were poor and needy or marginalised in society.

    After founding their first school in Chezal-Benoît in 1867, the community was officially recognised by Pope Pius IX in 1869 and encouraged to undertake missionary work abroad. They founded their first overseas mission in Papa New Guinea in 1882. From that initial base in rural France, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart now spread Jules Chevalier’s original vision through their ministries in more than fifty countries around the world.

  • Our Lady of the Angels Church is consecrated

    Elected as prioress in 1895, Mother Mary Evangelista was responsible for the construction of the new church at Princethorpe. Wishing to build a church that was more befitting for the worship of the Divine Office, Mother Mary Evangelista seized the opportunity to do so when Hilda de Trafford joined the order, bringing with her a substantial dowry. Our Lady of the Angels church was designed by Peter Paul Pugin, the third son of the notable Augustus Welby Pugin, and initial quotes suggested a cost of £6,500, or more than £2 million pounds in modern equivalence. Work began with the laying of the foundation stone in 1897 by Bishop Ilsley, who returned to consecrate the completed church on the 8th May 1901. The frescoes on the side altars and the baldachin within the church were designed by Joseph Pippet and the stained glass windows were the work of Hardman and Company, Birmingham, who had also installed the windows in the original chapel at the priory.

    After the ‘new’ church was finished in 1901, the old church was given to the local parishioners for their services. This allowed the nuns to maintain their enclosed status more easily. It continued to be used as the local Catholic church until it was deconsecrated in 1967 when the local parishioners were able to attend services in the chapel.

  • St Bede's College opens in Leamington Spa

    Keen to get involved in a new educational venture in England, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSCs) purchased Oakfield on Binswood Avenue in Leamington Spa in 1957 and opened it as St Bede’s College. Due to covenants being placed on the site in relation to Roman Catholic worship, the adjacent property of Norwood House on Arlington Avenue was also purchased and became the residence and oratory for the community.

    Starting with only twenty pupils aged between five and eighteen years, the number of pupils at the boys’ school quickly grew and so further property at 60 Binswood Avenue was purchased in 1964 to allow for expansion. As the school continued to grow with 325 pupils on roll, the MSCs realised they would soon run out of space and began to look for suitable premises. This led to the purchase of St Mary’s Priory, Princethorpe as the site for the senior school. St Bede’s continued as the preparatory school with Father James (known as Seamus) McManus taking on the post of headteacher.

  • Princethorpe College opens

    With falling numbers of pupils and only thirty-three nuns living at St Mary’s Priory, the priory became too expensive for the Benedictine order to continue maintaining and the decision was made to sell in 1965. Fortuitously, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSCs) were also looking for more space for their boys’ school and so purchased the site for £160,000. The school was opened as Princethorpe College in September 1966. The college became the senior school for boys aged eleven to eighteen with Father John Kevin Fleming transferring from St Bede’s as the first headteacher.

    As the MSCs were not an enclosed order, there was no longer a need to keep parts of the building separate from the pupils and villagers and so parts of the building underwent a massive transformation. One such example is the old chapel, which was deconsecrated and a false floor put in forming the sports hall on the ground floor and a study hall upstairs.

  • St Bede's College closes

    After a study into the education being provided by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSCs) in Leamington Spa was carried out by the Provincial Superior, the decision was made to close St Bede’s College from the 1st September 1975. In the letter to parents, Father Jim Mannix noted that due to falling numbers of new candidates joining their order, the MSCs were not able to sustain the number of teaching staff to meet the commitments of their missions elsewhere and also maintain the low costs that the school currently offered. For that year only, the pupils in Junior 6 were able to transfer to Princethorpe to complete their final year of Junior School.

  • First girl admitted into the Sixth Form

    At the age of sixteen, Celia Morse was the first girl admitted to Princethorpe College. She joined the Sixth Form to study A-Levels in Art, History and Geography. More girls were to join the Sixth Form the following year when it became co-educational. 

  • St Bede's Sports Hall opens

    Sport had always been a significant part of the Princethorpe experience and as a result of generous donations from parents and friends of the school, the college was able to build a new sports hall with a large hall and two squash courts for the pupils to use. Named St Bede’s in tribute to the original college which had closed 4 years previously, it was officially opened in 1979 by Wing Commander Michael Kane OBE who had taken an active role in the fundraising campaign. According to the 1980 edition of the Princethorpe magazine it ‘…opened up the range of sports and activities… offered to the boys of the College - badminton, squash, racquetball, volleyball, handball, 5-a-side soccer and indoor tennis… now available for many boys, both in lesson time and in recreation time.’ 

  • Princethorpe College becomes co-educational

    Whilst girls had already been attending the Sixth Form College for a number of years, 1995 was the first year that girls were admitted throughout the school in response to increasing numbers of requests from parents for a place for their daughter. Having been recruited the previous year as a Deputy Headteacher, Margaret-Louise O’Keeffe was given responsibility for ensuring that the arrangements and curriculum were ready for their admission. According to an article in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, thirty-six girls joined the school in the first year. 

  • Princethorpe College's first lay headteacher is appointed

    Having been headteacher for six years, Father Alan Whelan came to the end of his term and requested a sabbatical in order to pursue study interests. As the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSCs) felt they were unable to provide a suitable replacement from within their order due to both falling numbers and other commitments, the decision was made to appoint a lay headteacher for the first time in the college’s history. John Shinkwin was appointed as headteacher from September 1998. He remained as headteacher of Princethorpe for eleven years, during which time he successfully led the college through many changes, including the merging with St Joseph’s school in Kenilworth and the end of boarding. 

  • Princethorpe College and St Joseph's Convent School merge

    With the formation of the Warwickshire Catholic Independent Schools’ Foundation, St Joseph’s school in Kenilworth merged with Princethorpe College in September 2001. As a result of the merger, the decision was made for the Kenilworth school to become a Junior School focussing on pupils from Nursery to Year 6. Many of the senior girls transferred to Princethorpe College. It also became co-educational.

  • Boarding ends at Princethorpe College

    After thirty-eight years, boarding ended at the college due to decreasing popularity of it as a choice for parents. During that time there had been fifteen Directors of Boarding and students had come from all over the world, including as far away as Hong Kong, Malawi and the USA. The end of boarding freed up some much needed space with the Geography wing becoming an IT centre and Upper and Lower Pugin, which were dormitories, changed to teaching rooms, studies and offices.

  • Sixth Form Centre opens

    Blessed by Father Pat Courtney MSC and opened by former Deputy Headteacher, Margaret-Louise O’Keeffe, the new Sixth Form Centre was officially opened in 25th September 2008. Designed by Peter Manning Design Group, it provided a Common Room and Dining Room, teaching rooms and a lecture theatre, as well as a large and welcoming atrium. It was joined to the original priory building via a glass corridor and the west door. Further work in 2014 added a library and resource base to the Centre. 

  • Abbotsford School merges with Crackley Hall

    Realising that they had much in common educationally and in their ethos, Abbotsford School in Kenilworth made the decision to merge with Crackley Hall in 2010. Whilst it was a shame to lose the historic building, the limitations of the Bridge Street site in terms of lack of school-owned playing fields and busy roadside location meant it made sense for the two schools to consolidate at the Crackley Hall location. Altogether, seven staff and forty-five pupils transferred to Crackley Hall.

    The Warwickshire Catholic Independent Schools’ Foundation was renamed The Princethorpe Foundation in the same year

  • Limes Building opens at Princethorpe College

    Officially opened by the Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, on 26th September 2014, the building of the Limes provided much needed classrooms for Princethorpe College’s expanding pupil population. Designed by local Leamington Spa architects AT Architects, the project cost £4.5 million and added 14 new state-of-the-art teaching spaces, including two state-of-the-art ICT suites and a language laboratory, to the side of the sports hall.

  • Crescent School joins The Princethorpe Foundation

    In September 2016, Crescent School made the decision to join The Princethorpe Foundation. Whilst retaining their individual, unique identities, Crescent School and the other schools within The Princethorpe Foundation recognised that by joining together there would be greater opportunities for future development of the sites and to share resources, expertise and leadership. After the merger, pupils were able to access a wider range of teaching, learning and extra-curricular opportunities.