Memory Bank

Princethorpe Archive Flourishes - Spring Update

Princethorpe Archivist, Nick Baker, has been keeping busy and the accessioning, cataloguing and boxing of material continues. Now that Crescent School has joined the “Princethorpe Family”, Huw Marshall has kindly passed a number of items over to the archives, and a current Lower Sixth student is helping me to sort through them. Pupils at both Princethorpe College and Crackley Hall have inspected historic documents and photographs from our collection, including the fabulous early twentieth-century manuscript purchased at auction in 2016. Seventy pre-1966 building plans and maps are to be digitised shortly, and Nick is looking at ways in which he can make these, and other archives, more accessible via the web. Watch this space!

Nick continues: ‘I have been delving into the priory’s history. We are most fortunate that two members of the priory’s community, Sisters Mary Bernard and Mary Stephen, live at Minster Abbey today. I have visited them on a couple of occasions now, once in the company of former pupil Mary Wheildon, and been warmly welcomed. These sisters were able to supply me with a great deal of information. For instance, they were able to describe what life was really like at Princethorpe, including the regular round of worship and limited communication with family members. They informed me that the ‘Upper Pugin’ corridor had a number of empty rooms used for various activities like spinning, calligraphy and teaching Hebrew. Sisters Mary Bernard and Mary Stephen were able to tell me where ‘Nazareth’ was located. Alex Darkes found a reference to it in a document from 1893 and it turned out to be a ‘watering-hole’ (monastic style!) They also revealed an unexpected link between Princethorpe and Oscar Wilde! One of the priory’s sisters was Mére Raphael, whose brother was John Gray (1866-1934). He was a friend of Oscar Wilde and thought to have been the inspiration behind the main character in The Picture of Dorian Gray, though he distanced himself from the association.

Historical research has also taken me to Douai Abbey in Berkshire, where Abbot Geoffrey cares for its magnificent library. It holds the archives of a number of religious houses including the papers of St Mary’s Priory at Princethorpe/Fernham. Although Douai stores this material, it remains the ‘private’ collection of the surviving community. We are most grateful that they have granted us permission to study this archive. Abbot Geoffrey has welcomed Alex Darkes and I on a number of occasions and we have spent most of our time consulting letters, account books and plans, all of which provide an insight into the buildings at Princethorpe. This information may help our Estates Department when it comes to restoring the historic fabric in the future. We are very grateful to the Benedictine communities at Minster and Douai for their hospitality.’

As many of you are aware, the forthcoming cycling pilgrimage will reach its climax at Montargis, often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ and home to the delicious praline. This French town was home to the Benedictine nuns who came to England in 1792 and eventually established St Mary’s Priory. What will the Archivist find at Montargis?

1968 Rome Trip Sparks Memories

Tim Grogan who left Princethorpe in 1971 recently approached the OPs to track down a picture from a memorable trip to Rome in 1968.

Tim recalls, "I went on the trip to Rome in 1968 and if I recall a photograph of the party was taken on a hillside with Rome in the background. It was displayed for a while on the corridor wall near what was then the new gymnasium."

Archivist Nick Baker found an image in the archive but we are not sure that it is the one Tim was looking for, it could be of a trip to Germany around the same time. If anyone out there has a copy they could scan or send us we and Tim would appreciate it.

Alex Darkes thinks the one we show here is from 1968/69 and he recognises Philip Harris, Chris Hannon and possibly Mark Lathwood. Let us know if you recognise anyone else.