75th Anniversary Of A School At Crackley Hall
75 Years At Crackley Hall
Past and present pupils and staff are this year celebrating the 75th anniversary of a school on the Crackley Hall site. For it was back in early 1945, in the final months of the Second World War, that the town of Kenilworth witnessed the establishment of St Joseph’s convent and school, at what was once the home of John Siddeley, the 1st Baron of Kenilworth, Crackley Hall.
The Foundation of St Joseph’s Convent
The history of the St Joseph’s community goes back to the nineteenth century when the Benedictine Fathers at St Osburg’s, Coventry, called on the Sisters of Mercy to help and instruct the large number of girls who worked in the Coventry silk mills. Mother Elizabeth Watkins moved up from their Bermondsey house, together with Sisters Teresa Haverty and Aloysia Murphy, to a Victorian mansion on the Walsgrave Road, overlooking Gosford Green, and established a day and boarding school. The school flourished and the pupils were able to enjoy numerous activities, including sports and drama.
The outbreak of World War Two however, meant that the nuns and pupils had to be evacuated. Thanks to Lord and Lady Leigh, they found refuge at nearby Stoneleigh Abbey. Originally a Cistercian monastic house, that had been converted into a splendid family home following the Dissolution.
Unfortunately, a bomb fell on the Coventry convent garden in October 1940 and as the air raids increased the convent buildings were destroyed. The community sought a suitable house to replace the one at Gosford Green and purchased Offchurch House, near Leamington Spa, in October 1941. In the December of that year, five of the sisters, accompanied by the senior girls, went to Offchurch and set up a boarding school; this left the junior pupils at Stoneleigh Abbey for the remainder of the war. The schools at both Stoneleigh and Offchurch flourished and grew.
The Purchase of Crackley Hall
There was a sense in 1944 that the war was coming to end so Mother Magdalen Pennington began to look for a fit place to house the sisters and pupils. In June, Lord Kenilworth’s son, Lieutenant Colonel Cyril Davenport Siddeley, offered Crackley Hall to the Order, along with forty acres of land, for the sum of £20,000. This proposal was at first refused but Siddeley said that if the sisters found the property to be suitable, an initial payment would be accepted and the remainder could be paid off over the next twenty years. The Archbishop urged Mother Magdalen to agree and, once the legal matters had been completed, the community received the keys in September 1944. It was in January 1945, that Crackley Hall became St Joseph’s Convent and School, Kenilworth.
St Joseph’s at Kenilworth
The Hall soon received the children from Stoneleigh Abbey and by September the pupil roll numbered 140. However, the boarders remained at Offchurch for another five years before they finally joined the pupils at Kenilworth. In the early years it was clear that more accommodation would be required so ‘The Gables’, a large house and garden within the grounds, was bought in March 1946 to house the Senior School pupils. In May 1949, Offchurch was detached from Crackley Hall and a separate superior appointed.
St Joseph’s thrived. By 1956, the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Magazine reported that the school had 350 pupils from Coventry, Leamington, Warwick, Kenilworth and as far away as Southam. As the school continued to grow, further buildings were needed. The Junior School building was officially opened on 21st November 1962 by Archbishop Masterson and a new school hall was opened by Archbishop Dwyer in 1972.
It was a busy school and the extra-curricular activities were varied. There are records showing that the pupils saw Eric Porter in King Lear at Stratford (1968) and 37 students enjoyed a ski trip to Austria in (1969). Thirty girls even visited Rome in 1975 for Holy Year. Former students have many fond memories of their time at St Joseph’s and recollect the strict rules, school assemblies in the gymnasium, its four houses (St Thomas More, St John Fisher, Blessed John Wall and Blessed Edmund Campion) and the solid wood staircases leading to the classrooms.
The Princethorpe Foundation
As time passed, the Sisters of Mercy became more conscious of their raison d’être, to attend to the ‘cry of the poor’. The apostolate was reviewed and its Chapter issued a statement which committed the order to a mission focused on the penniless. The Order decided to withdraw from the Independent Schools Association and St Joseph’s School was transferred to a body of lay trustees in 1990, and shortly afterwards the remaining nuns dispersed to other religious houses.
By September 2001 the numbers in the senior school had declined and the decision was taken to merge with Princethorpe College, Rugby, which led to the creation of the Warwickshire Catholic Independent Schools Foundation. The older pupils moved to Princethorpe and the junior classes remained at Kenilworth. The school was renamed Crackley Hall School in 2004. Six years later in 2010, Abbotsford School, also situated in Kenilworth, merged with Crackley Hall to join the newly named Princethorpe Foundation. The Foundation was further strengthened by the joining of Crescent School, Rugby, in September 2016.
Crackley Hall Today
On the 17 March 2016, ‘The Gables’ extension was officially opened by Bishop Robert Byrne, Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Birmingham, providing the school with much needed extra space. It included a new hall that accommodates the whole school population, purpose-built music accommodation and two new classrooms. Acknowledging the importance of the school’s history, the extension was named in honour of the old Gables building and the stained glass and ceiling boss from the former chapel were incorporated into the new design.
Crackley Hall continues to grow and flourish with some 280 pupils including those attending its own on-site nursery, Little Crackers, which takes children from two-years old. In their 2017 inspection, the Independent Schools Inspectorate rated Crackley Hall as ‘Excellent’ in every area, reflecting the school’s commitment to make learning fun with a wide and varied curriculum designed to help all pupils get the very best of starts.
The school is renowned for its strong Christian ethos and pastoral care and prides itself upon preparing children for their secondary school of choice.
The school enjoyed celebrating its 70th anniversary five years ago and planned to celebrate the 75th Anniversary in style with a St Joseph’s Day Mass, an Open House and a sell-out Diamond Anniversary Gala Ball. Sadly the events were curtailed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The school hopes very much to reschedule them for later in the year.