Memory Bank

Update From The Archives - Trinity 2021

Meeting Old Princethorpians

It has been another wonderful term for meeting Old Princethorpians that now live around the world due to the North American and Spanish reunions. Having time to share memories of their time at Princethorpe really helped get the conversation flowing and it also led to some brilliant stories that helped to bring the College to life for me. Some of the attendees also generously spent their time after the event completing the Boarding Questionnaire (link here), and altogether I now have 17 responses, plus donations offered by at least four Old Princethorpians. I can’t thank you all enough for your help and support in building up the archive so that it gives a fuller picture of life at Princethorpe!

Two of the donations included an image of students celebrating Chinese New Year in the 1970s, donated by Albert Yuen and a view of Princethorpe College in the 1970s, donated by Nelson Tam, both in the gallery.

It is probably no surprise that common themes included how much there was to do within the grounds at Princethorpe, the various ways that the boarders tried to supplement the food they had here and what a great sense of community and family coming to Princethorpe helped form. This response from Colin Downes, who was here in the 1970s, manages to capture the essence of the range of responses brilliantly:

‘The Tower and the large scale of the old buildings was a bit intimidating at first but in a few days in the environment, being surrounded by countryside, acres of land to roam in, the playing fields, the sports hall and the endless opportunities to do sport or other stuff, and encouraged to be myself, I knew I was in a special place… For me going to Princethorpe was like going to my second family. Princethorpe has an atmosphere of peace and calm, somehow removed from the madness of the world like a retreat, I felt like I was on holiday outside of lesson time…’

Discovering Princethorpe’s History

Although I have been here for nearly four years now, I am still learning new things all the time and last term was no exception. In March, we were contacted about the provenance of the beautiful stained-glass panel above the entrance to Main Reception by a researcher who is updating a book by Thomas Willement, FSA (1786-1871) titled ‘A concise account of the principal works in stained glass that have been executed’. Within the book, he included an entry you can see in the gallery and that you can also find online: 

This was the first I had heard of Thomas Willement or his connection to the Priory so it inspired me to do some further research into him. It appears that he was a very notable and prolific stained-glass artist, sometimes referred to as ‘the father of Victorian stained-glass windows’. Having started in the early 1800s as a plumber and glazier (both trades that involved working with lead), he is credited with leading the return back to the ancient method of stained-glass design by joining pieces of coloured glass using lead, which had fallen out of favour after the reformation. He must have quickly established an excellent reputation as he was appointed the ‘heraldic artist to George IV’, and ‘artist in stained glass’ by Royal Patent of Queen Victoria. He was also one of only 25 stained-glass artists to exhibit at the Great Exhibition in 1851.

Thomas Willement may have come to be involved in the project to design the new Priory through a number of connections. He briefly formed a partnership with Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, who is believed to have designed the window for the original chapel (now the theatre and library) here at Princethorpe. In his 1840 book, Willement also includes details of a project related to the sepulchral chapel for the Trafford family in 1828; it was the dowry of Hilda de Trafford that helped to fund the new chapel in the 1890s – were they the same Traffords? He worked extensively in the local area with repeated projects at Charlecote Park between 1831 and 1839, as well as projects at Stoneleigh Abbey, Hampton Lucy and Leamington Priors, so the Benedictine nuns may have become aware of his work through those links. Having such a notable individual involved in St Mary’s Priory was entirely in keeping with the grandeur of the building project as whole.

Whilst many of the stained-glass windows around the College were paid for by donations from family members of the nuns or students who attended the Priory, it is not entirely clear who Miss Lamouroux is and why she paid for the panel. She was a neighbour to Willement in London but her French name also hints at connections to the Benedictine community, who had been forced to leave Montargis in 1792. It certainly leaves some interesting mysteries that it may be possible to solve with further visits to the Douai Abbey archives in the future.

Included in the gallery is a photograph of the stained-glass panel above the main door at Front of House, taken by Helen Stephenson (March 2021).

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Inspirational Women At St. Mary's Priory

For her March's #ThrowBackThursday, Foundation Archivist, Janette Ratcliffe, looked more closely at three determined women from St. Mary's Priory's history to mark International Women History Month. Her post said:

Alongside the academic education that was offered at St. Mary's Priory, Princethorpe, building a girl’s character was key and this is clearly evidenced in the stories highlighted below.

Marie Granger

Whilst Marie Granger never stepped foot in Princethorpe, it is fair to say that without her there would have been no St. Mary’s Priory. Born in Paris in 1598, Marie Granger was of Scottish and French descent. After attending her older sister Genevieve’s Clothing Ceremony, Marie realised that it was also her calling to join a religious order. Despite initial opposition from her parents, she joined the Abbey at Montmartre and was accepted to the habit in 1619, adopting the religious name Sister Mary of the Assumption. In 1630, Marie Granger was persuaded by her brother Pere Granger to establish a priory at Montargis comprising of young, fervent nuns and she asked her sister, Genevieve, to join her to help.

In the gallery you can see a postcard of Our Lady Abbess, (ref: SMP.24.2.55).

Marie Granger initially intended the coat of arms for the new Community to be a figure of the Blessed Mary as Montargis was to be dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels (as is our Chapel at Princethorpe). However, shortly before she left Montmartre, she received a vision of the Lord bearing a cross on which a bleeding heart transfixed by three nails and surrounded by a crown of thorns was placed and realised that this should be the symbol for the Priory instead. This symbol can still be seen within Princethorpe College today. Marie Granger also insisted that Montargis was founded as a Priory rather than an Abbey. Her experiences at Montmartre had reinforced the amount of influence outsiders were able to have in the political and daily life of the Abbey, including the distribution of the wealth. To ensure that her clear vision of a devout priory was not interfered with, she named the Virgin Mary as the Lady Abbess, knowing that no one could interfere or displace such a holy figure.

Despite having multiple spells of ill health, Marie Granger was successful in founding a devout and successful priory that continued to flourish after her death. It was that Community at Montargis that were the Benedictine nuns who were forced to leave France in 1792, and eventually founded Princethorpe Priory in 1832.

Sicele O’Brien

Attending St. Mary’s Priory was a bit of a family tradition for the O’Brien girls. Sicele’s mother, aunts and sisters were all pupils too. Sicele’s aunt, Hilda de Trafford, also helped to fund the building of the new chapel through the dowry she brought when she joined the order.

In 1902, Sicele appears in the first Peeps magazine when she was a member of the Lower IV Form, and it was a very busy year for her. She managed to win prizes for Mathematics, English and Languages, Croquet in the Tournament of Games, alongside passing the senior Division of the Local School Examination for Music (which was held for the first time at the convent). She was also chosen as the ‘Angel’ for Sister Mary Gabriel’s Clothing Ceremony which was a very great honour for a pupil.

It was after Sicele left the convent that her life becomes even more fascinating when she becomes one of the first female aviatrix. After receiving medals for being a driver for the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry Corps during the World War One, Sicele took that determination and bravery one step further. In the 1920s, Sicele was awarded a commercial pilots licence – only the second woman in the UK and Ireland to achieve this – and ran an air taxi service. This was not enough for her though; she also took part in multiple races winning the Aerial Oaks in 1926 and setting a British Altitude record in 1928 with Lady Heath.

Sicele’s luck was not to hold though as she was involved in a serious accident in 1928. News of the accident even made it into the Peeps with the following extract being published in the Peeps magazine, who were rightly proud of Sicele’s connection to St. Mary’s.

In the gallery you can see an extract from 1929 Peeps Magazine on Sicele O'Brien's accident (ref: SMP.27.3.17)

Sicele was forced to have her leg amputated as a result of the injuries but she remained passionate about flying and continued to write articles, organise air rallies and fly with her artificial leg. She even made time to become one of the founders of the Aviation Ambulance Association of England.

The 1931 Peeps alerts us the tragic end to this heroine’s life. Sadly, at the age of only 44, Sicele was not to escape from another aircraft crash. Shortly after take-off from the airfield at Hatfield, the plane crashed killing both her and Enid Gordon-Gallien. As you would expect, the Peeps committee offered their condolences to Sicele’s mother and family. They also took the opportunity to thank Lady O’Brien as she had donated Sicele’s Court train, which they promised would be made into vestments at the Priory and hoped it brought her some consolation.

Oonah Keogh

A trailblazer in the financial world was Oonah Keogh (also spelt as Una and Oonagh at various times). The first mention of Oonah in our St. Mary’s records is when she took the part of Clara in the Little School’s production of Uncle Jack in 1913 Peeps magazine. She was following in the footsteps of her sisters, at least four of her sisters were educated at St. Mary's. The only other mention of Oonah as a pupil in Peeps is when she was appointed as a prefect in October 1922 in what must have been her final year here.

Oonah wasted no time after leaving St. Mary’s in carving out her own path in life. After travelling in Africa and Europe, she joined her father’s successful company ‘Joseph Keogh and Company Stockbrokers’. In May 1925, she applied to join the Dublin Stock Exchange and was admitted after a short deliberation by the committee. In what was a case of perfect timing, she benefitted from the ‘Irish Free State Constitution Act’ which prohibited discrimination against women. There would not be a female member of the other major stock exchanges in New York and London until 1967 and 1973. That is not to say she had full access, in those days much trading happened in social situations from which she was still excluded. Old Princethorpians were proud of her achievements and an article appears in the 1926 Peeps magazine chronicling her success, including this photograph of her.

In the gallery is a photograph published in Peeps 1926 showing Oonah Keogh (ref: SMP.27.3.12)

She continued to work with her father’s company until 1933 when it appears that there was a disagreement of some sort after he returned from a bout of illness. Oonah’ s life then takes a new turn when she meets her future husband, Bayan Giltsoff, whilst staying with her sisters Eta and Genevieve. After marriage, Oonah moved to Somerset with Bayan and they began renovating Tudor houses alongside her new role as a mother. Unfortunately, despite ending her business relationship with her father, Oonah’s name was not removed from key paperwork and this would lead to financial difficulties for her in 1939 when her father was declared bankrupt. She was liable for the company’s debts and Hibernian Bank attempted to recover them from her personally. After losing a court case and appeals in 1944, she was liable for the £30,000 debt and all costs. During this period, the Peeps magazine make repeated references to Oonah’s ill health and the worries about the court case could not have helped!

Oonah and Bayan moved to Ireland in 1947 and Bayan’s talent for house renovation continued when he made the newspaper after making the family home out of a derelict roadside farmhouse. After seeing the renovations, the couple are asked to build houses for other people and the exclusive development is still known as 'The Russian Village' due to Bayan's heritage. Sadly, their marriage was not to last and in what must have been quite a shock given the time and their religion, the couple separated and Oonah spent the rest of her life living with her daughter, Tatiana until their death 8 days apart in 1989.

What the Peep’s magazine clearly shows is that St. Mary’s Priory remained a special place to Oonah. She made regular donations of flowers for the December 8th altars and returned for multiple visits over the years. Oonah’s daughter Tatiana also attended St. Mary’s Priory briefly, joining in the Summer Term of 1945. When Oonah moved to Ireland, Tatiana went too with a cryptic reference that ‘her health was stronger but not fit for boarding school yet…’ in the 1947 Peeps and it appears that she did not return as a pupil.

I hope that you enjoyed these short insights into the lives of three strong women who helped shape or were shaped by their time at St. Mary’s Priory. I know that there are many more untold stories and look forward to finding more as I continue my research, but I would love to hear from you too. Please do contact me with any stories you have to share at


Marie Granger

Anonymous, 1930. Peeps Magazine. St. Mary’s Priory, Princethorpe. (Reference SMP.27.3.19)

Stapleton, F., 1930. The history of the Benedictines of St. Mary's Priory, Princethorpe. St. Mary's Priory, Princethorpe. (Reference SMP.27.1.06)

Sicele O’Brien

Anonymous, 1902, 1929, 1931. Peeps Magazine. St. Mary’s Priory, Princethorpe. (Reference SMP.27.3.02, 17, 20) 2021. Sicele O'Brien - Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 1 April 2021]. 2021. Life story: Sicele Julia Mary O’Brien | Lives of the First World War. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 1 April 2021].

Oonah Keogh

Anonymous, 1913, 1924, 1926. Peeps Magazine. St. Mary’s Priory, Princethorpe. (Reference SMP.27.3.06, 08, 12) 2021. Oonah Keogh - Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 1 April 2021].

Nolan, B., 2014. Oonah Keogh - A Celebration. [eBook] Dublin: The Irish Stock Exchange plc. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 February 2018].

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Carl Fivey Remembers Memorable Cup Win

OP Carl Fivey (Class of 1995) got in touch back in February asking if we could track down any evidence of a favourite memory of his time at Princethorpe, namely winning the County Football Cup around 1990.

He recalled scoring a hat trick during the memorable final with his 1st year team, who were managed by Mr Adams.

Sadly Janette Ratcliffe, our archivist, could not find any photographs or records of this event, but a chance reconnection with Paul Adams at the Spanish OPs Virtual Reunion bore fruit and resulted in the prized photograph being emailed to Carl just this week.

Paul has happy memories of running the football and recalls that the College teams were very dominant in the Rugby Schools’ league and the Cup.

He had virtually no photos from the time, but bizarrely, the one he did have is of Carl’s team sitting with a trophy which he thinks may well be the county squad. Carl is pictured to Mr Adams' left.

Carl was delighted to receive the photo, which brought memories flooding back

"I distinctly remember scoring a hat trick in the final and Fr. Sweeney (the then Head Master) walking up to me after the game and shaking my hand. Embarrassingly, the guys also chaired me off the pitch; I remember it like yesterday. We won the cup! Sadly, my late father (who watched every game that season), couldn’t make it for that game. Was and still is a great memory. I remember this team fondly, it was a great year at Princethorpe.

Please pass on my kind thanks and regards to Paul for coming back to you and forwarding the photo; crumbs I have changed......".

Carl now lives in Gloucestershire and works as an Engineering Manager for Rolls Royce Aerospace in Bristol, having previously been an Engineering Officer in the RAF.

If you can identify any of the rest of the winning team, do let us know at

Father Fleming - Princethorpe's First Headteacher

Many thanks to OP Adrian Charlton (Class of 1972) who contacted us after the last edition of the OP e-newsletter. 

Adrian explains: 

Frequently I read about Father W J Clarkson in your newsletters etc as being the first Headmaster at Princethorpe College. In fact he was the second. The first was Father John Fleming, who was Head from when the school opened (c1965), for around three years. Father Clarkson was during this time 'Dean of Discipline', the equivalent of Deputy Head. Father Clarkson was appointed Head when Father Fleming left for a post in Liverpool (as I seem to recall).

Father Fleming was something of an 'old school' figure, insisted that we all attended Mass each morning, and was something of a disciplinarian. But he was well liked, respected, and popular. The early years of Princethorpe College were somewhat chaotic, while the building was repaired following many years of neglect. When the school first opened, there was no central heating, very little hot water, and many missing panes of glass from the windows. That the school overcame these problems, and prospered, was due in a great part to the efforts of Father Fleming.

I well remember his words to me one evening during prep, as I produced my latest masterpiece in Latin. "My word Mr Charlton, we have got some work to do with you haven't we?"

Father Clarkson took the school on to the next level, bringing in a broader outlook on life, with a focus on developing the whole person, his character as well as the academic side. He once said to me, that he did not care what his pupils went on to do, provided they became decent, honest individuals, doing something constructive.

He kept in touch with me (and quite a few of my fellows) throughout his life until he died a few years ago. I still greatly miss getting his Christmas card with a little note about what he'd been doing during the year. He was a wonderful man, and I am privileged to have been his student.

The photos in the gallery are from the archives – the older one was from when the MSCs took over from the nuns at Princethorpe, the later appeared in the Tower 2006 magazine and we believe dates to around the 1980s.

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Just When Was This Taken?

This super shot of the College campus promoted a debate recently when our fantastic Foundation archivist Janette Ratcliffe posted it on Twitter.

Janette regularly shares items from the archive through her Twitter account @PFdn_Archives and it is a great way to find out more about the history of the Foundation's schools.

We couldn’t resist challenging our Princethorpe community to guess when this photo was taken and as it turns out, thanks to our eagle-eyed followers, we quickly established it was actually catalogued incorrectly.

If you take a close look at the campus that is so familiar to us all, you will see that in this photo there are some notable omissions. There is no Limes building and no Sixth Form building and instead there are portacabins. We now believe the photo dates to the late eighties or early nineties but if you know more then do let us know!