Memory Bank

Update From The Archives

Hello from the archives here at Princethorpe. After the disruption of the last 18 months and the long summer break, it is such a pleasure to be able to give this update in which I look at some of the ways we are sharing the Foundation’s history.

At the start of September, there was a sense of some return to normality with the first in-person archive event since Covid-19 restrictions were imposed last March. On Sunday 12 September, we held tours as part of the annual Heritage Open Day event. Alex Darkes, Reverend Dr. Nick Baker and I led five tours throughout the afternoon, whilst visitors were welcomed to the College and provided with delicious refreshments thanks to Loretta Curtis and Andrew Williams’ support. Altogether 139 people joined tours during the 2½ hour event and it was so wonderful to meet a wide range of people including interested locals, past pupils, parents of current Princethorpe pupils, and their families. We all finished the afternoon with croaky voices and sore feet but a real sense of satisfaction that everyone had enjoyed the event so much. It was also wonderful to see Nick back here and show him how the archive has continued to progress after he handed the role over to me in 2017.

Keen not to dismiss some of the opportunities that the pandemic highlighted, I also created a new virtual tour so that those who couldn’t (or would rather not) visit Princethorpe in person still had the opportunity to learn about the College’s amazing history. The tour was publicised on the Heritage Open Day website and is still available to view at So far, we have had 784 viewings, beating last year’s viewings at this point by a sizeable amount.

Trying to increase access to the archives remotely also tallies with our archive digitisation strategy and we have managed to have two significant collections relating to St Joseph’s and Crackley Hall digitised in the past 12 months. The first was our collection of Peeper’s Pie magazines, which are some of my favourite items in the archive. They have now been added to the ‘Digital Materials’ section of the archive catalogue ( so please go and have a read through them yourself – I hope that they bring back some happy memories of your time at St Joseph’s. School magazines are a vital source of news and information about life at the school but there are significant gaps in our collection pre-1965 and after 1982. If you have copies of the Peeper’s Pie at home that you would be willing to donate to the archive (or even just to lend me so that I can scan), please do get in touch by emailing me at

I have also had the St Joseph’s and Crackley Hall whole school photographs professionally digitised. Displayed proudly within Crackley Hall today, the photographs date back to 1946, shortly after the Sisters of Mercy moved to Kenilworth. The whole school photographs are a great way to chart the changes in staff, pupil numbers, and even the name of the school over the years. I am delighted that we will be able to share them with members of Princethorpe Connect through our alumni portal thanks to our partnership with SDS, the company that digitised them. To view the images, visit here, or click through using the new ‘Archives’ tab on the Princethorpe Connect homepage and following the link to the digitised material. It is also worth highlighting that digitisation is a good preservation strategy; some of the early photography companies no longer exist so it would be extremely unlikely we could get another copy should disaster ever strike.

Finally, I was very excited to receive a collection of scrapbooks from Crescent School’s annual residential in Derbyshire recently. Whenever I talk to Old Crescentians, their time hiking across the Derbyshire dales stands out vividly in their memories (even if it is not always fondly due to freezing cold weather and torrential rain). These wonderful scrapbooks contain photographs and leaflets from each of the places visited but perhaps my favourite thing about them is the handwritten captions and quotes that the teachers recorded. We now have a complete collection from 1978-1993 and I am looking forward to sharing more from them in a future #throwbackthursday post for Princethorpe Connect.

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Jon Inns Helps Identify Archive Photo

In the last edition of the OP newsletter we challenged our OP community to help us date a photograph of the College site. We had a number of helpful suggestions from our eagle-eyed readers. 

Jon Inns suggested the photo may be from the early to mid 1990s and that the sponsorship on the minibus might help identify a more exact date. Sadly closer examination of the original photo in the magazine didn't elicit any more information, but it did prompt a series of emails between our archivist, Janette Ratcliffe, and Jon Inns that we thought you might be interested to read.

In her email to Jon, Janette said:

Initially, I thought that the minibus might be the new LDV minibus that was purchased in 1994 with a contribution from the PTA, which was bought via Quicks Parkside Garage of Coventry. After showing the image to Alex Darkes, he confirmed your (John Inns) thoughts that it is an image of a Transit mini-bus. The mini-bus belonged to Gwilym Price but was regularly used by the College, and Alex remembers it being sponsored by Corner Coventry, which was a large Ford dealership in the area, and was owned by a parent of a Princethorpe pupil at the time.

That prompted Jon to reply:

I was speaking to Dad (Brian) today about the photo. He was on the PTA 1991-1997 (Treasurer in 1994, just after the new mini-bus purchase through to 1997). He was sharing tales of sorting out the PTA finances and then other projects the PTA was involved with included the purchase of a very advanced computer for the Arts Department that Mr Skiffington was desperate for! He seemed to have lots of gossip from the school too!

And I remember Mr Darkes very well. He was my form tutor in the first year, form AD. That was a tough year for me and I appreciated all the support he gave me. 

Mr Price I didn’t know so well. I didn’t enjoy team sports and wasn’t any good at rugby, cricket or tennis. So I found many inventive ways to 'disappear' during PE and sports! But I was good at running, which I still do now, although unfortunately the school wasn’t big on cross country running at that time. The few times I did cross country I was good at it and it was a lot of fun.

I live in Canada now and enjoy reading the Old Princethorpian when it comes out, as does Dad. It was great seeing the school photo and thanks for sharing the higher resolution photo and the memories it sparked. Dad has a fuchsia growing in his garden which came from a cutting of one growing by Chevalier Cottage. I also had cuttings that grew into bushes in my homes in Nottingham and then Sheffield. Sadly I couldn’t bring it to Vancouver! 

It was great to hear from Jon and hear of his Dad's memories too - our archivist Janette is always pleased to receive pupil memories as they really help to bring the history of the Foundation alive.


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A Spacious Gothic Church In Which The Divine Office Might Be Fitly Celebrated

In her July #throwbackthursday article on Princethorpe Connect, Foundation Archivist, Janette Ratcliffe, told us that while Our Lady of the Angels Chapel and the Tower are iconic parts of Princethorpe but they were amongst the last buildings to be built at St Mary's Priory.

Before 1901, the Nuns at St Mary’s Priory worshipped in a chapel in the heart of the Priory (now the Library and Theatre). For years prior to the election of Mere Marie Evangelista du Breuil O.S.B. in 1895, there had been discussions about how to improve the chapel. Problems included the Lay sisters having to kneel in the antechoir as there was no space for them in the body of the church and there being no way for bedridden or dying sisters to take part in Divine Office leaving them spiritually bereft. Mere Marie Evangelista realised that it would not be possible to adapt the original chapel so when a wealthy individual brought a large dowry upon joining the community, she saw a way to have her vision of a chapel that was both more practical and more awe inspiring realised. It is thanks to that vision that we now have Our Lady of the Angels Chapel here at Princethorpe.

Mere Evangelista’s choice of Peter Paul Pugin as the architect was an inspired one. Coming from a family renowned for their Roman Catholic buildings, he was heavily involved in the build from the start. When changes needed to be made, it was he that made them – most notably perhaps being the redesign of the Tower making it 16 feet shorter in order to save money and maintain the proportions. When builders or craftsmen were needed, he recommended and commissioned them. He made regular site visits to enable him to maintain close oversight on the project and there is extensive correspondence from him up until his death in 1904 in the archive at Douai Abbey.

After the site at the South West corner of the Quad had been chosen and existing buildings cleared, the foundation stone for the new chapel was laid on the 24 May 1898 by the Right Reverend Dr. Ilsley, Bishop of Birmingham. A ceremonial mallet was presented by the builders Foster and Dicksee for the occasion and it was a real delight to have this given to us on Permanent Loan by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart recently. (See gallery)

On the day, the Reverend B Vaughan S.J led a sermon and then a procession took place from the Guest House (now Front of House). Waiting at the site were local children and important guests, including Peter Paul Pugin and Lady Annette de Trafford whose daughter’s dowry helped to fund the project. After the laying of the Foundation stone, the Reverend Mother Marie Evangelista concluded the ceremony by placing objects including a glass bottle containing the Certificates, a Crucifix and other holy objects within the hole.

It appears that despite repeated changes to the initial designs, the external building works on the church and tower had largely been completed by November 1900 and shortly before leaving the site, the masons and workmen were given a feast within the vestibule to thank them for their workmanship and conduct during their time close to the Community. The details and decoration continued inside however. Many of the people who had been involved in the original chapel were also involved in the new one. The notable Victorian stained-glass company, Hardman & Co. of Birmingham, installed the windows which were not completed all at once but as donations were received by generous benefactors. Many of the stained-glass windows actually record the name of these donors within their design. Joseph Pippet, who had designed the mural depicting ‘The Death of St Benedict’ in the original chapel, also painted murals including the altar of the Sacred Heart within the new chapel and he was involved in the design of the elaborate baldacchino over the altar in collaboration with Peter Paul Pugin himself.

The build itself was not without problems and delays. Spiralling costs meant that the design was changed multiple times to try to bring the costs down and every tender was carefully scrutinised for savings. Measures such as moving the marble altar from the original chapel and adapting the old chapel’s wooden stalls to fit in the new space were taken in order to get the chapel finished. The boiler also exploded in November 1900 in which fortunately no one was seriously hurt and repeated issues with the septic tanks failing to work properly continued until the end of 1901; all of which added to the time and expense taken in the build.

Perhaps the biggest issue came after the build had finished and the church had been consecrated. As mentioned early, at least a third of the build’s costs were met through the dowry that Hilda de Trafford brought when she joined the order in 1896. Unfortunately, at some point in the early 1900s, she decided that she did not want to remain a member of the Benedictine order and requested her dowry back when she left. When she was told this was not possible, she took the Priory to court and (as the expectation was that dowries were invested and the interest used to cover any costs associated with living at the Priory), she won and the Priory was ordered to pay her back. This took them until at least the late 1940s to do and this may ultimately have contributed to the order not being able to afford to stay at Princethorpe.

Our Lady of the Angels Chapel was finally consecrated on the 8 May 1901. Bishop Ilsley returned to the Priory and between 8am-9am in the morning, he led a procession to the New Church and the High Altar was dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels and St. John the Evangelist, with the relics of St Fructousa V.M. placed beneath. The occasion was clearly a moving one, with Sister Frideswide’s recounting in her book ‘The History of Princethorpe Priory’:

“No one who was present on that day will ever forget the deep hush and unutterable gladness of the moment when the Blessed Sacrament was brought in and Our Divine Lord came to take possession of the temple raised to His honour with so much love.” (1)

Whilst not permitted entrance into the main body of the church, notable guests and the girls who attended the school at the time were able to witness the service from the galleries.

With the consecration of Our Lady of the Angels, the old chapel became a place where local Catholic parishioners and school girls could worship regularly without encroaching on the Benedictine’s enclosed community. The new chapel continued to be a central part of daily life for the Benedictine order until their departure in 1966. It continues to be a place of worship today with regular services, baptisms, marriages and funerals conducted here. Mere Maria Evangelista also ensured that her name lives on as a key figure in the Princethorpe history.


Included in the gallery are:

Image of St Mary's Priory, showing the Chapel and the Tower

Inscription on the bottom of the ceremonial mallet which was used to lay the chapel's foundation stone. Reference SMP.34.30

Image of the Altar in Our Lady of the Angels Chapel. Reference SMP.24.2.06 



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

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A Local Princethorpe Pioneer

In one of her #throwbackthursday posts, Foundation Archivist, Janette Ratcliffe, explored the impact local farmer Joseph Elkington had on the Warwickshire landscape and on farming in the UK. Her research was prompted by a donation to the archives of An Account of this Most Approved Mode of Draining Land; According to the System Practised by Mr Joseph Elkington and has uncovered a local Princethorpe pioneer!

If you would like to read more on a system that helped make the Princethorpe we all know the countryside it is today, then do check out her post on

Then And Now Natural Places

Within the school archives there is a huge collection of photos and Foundation Archivist, Janette Ratcliffe, never misses an opportunity to share the treasures within her care. Back in the summer Janette shared a series of Twitter posts on the theme of nature for Mental Health Awareness Week and we enjoyed comparing the then and now images of some of the College’s most iconic natural settings.

Some of the old photos were from a St Mary’s Priory’s prospectus from the 1920s and they included a picture of pupils amongst the trees on the Lime Walk, originally planted in the 1840s, a photo of Switzerland, the lake that was formed when clay was dug out to build St Mary's Priory, and an old image of The Plantation, what we now know as the Mile Walk. There was also an old photo of the Quad from when it was part of St Mary’s Priory’s enclosure. Scroll trhough the gallery to see then then and now photos.

The then and now photos show just how little the campus grounds have changed over the years and are sure to be fascinating to all Old Princethorpians.

If you are interested you are welcome to explore the 11,000 items in archive collection further here:, or receive regular updates, including lots of old photos, by following Janette’s Twitter feed @PFdn_Archives

The archive reference for the prospectus is SMP.26.6a.

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John Tracey Recalls An Eclipse

We were delighted to hear from John Tracey in June. John told us:

'While waiting for the recent partial eclipse, I remembered being taken from my classroom in Saint Bede's to view a partial eclipse. I am thinking this was the one which occurred on May 20 1966. We each were given a piece of smoked glass to allow us to look at the eclipse.

This memory, in turn, had me wondering what happened after the move from Leamington. I was in the Junior Seminary for the Missionaries of Saint Francis De Sales (MSFS or Fransalians) which was at 29 Kenilworth Road and we were day attenders at Saint Bede's. The Junior Seminary moved to Charlton Kings in 1966 as a consequence of the move to Princethorpe College. On your website I saw about your pupils viewing the recent eclipse.

I see there is Old Princethorpians. Whether I would qualify I am uncertain as I was in the Transition class at Saint Bede's for one year from 1965 to 1966. If my memory is of interest, please pass on.'

John's memory was very much of interest and he definitely does qualify as the Old Princethorpians as do all who attended any of the Princethorpe Foundation's legacy schools. We were delighted to welcome him to the Old Princethorpian community.

In the gallery are two images we have in the archive of St Bede's.

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John Attridge Remembers His Time At Princethorpe

John Attridge attended St Bede's and then Princethorpe College before his family left Warwickshire in 1968 and moved to Suffolk. He followed his interest in Agriculture and after a couple of jobs, then settled into teaching in Further Education and has been happy doing so ever since.

John contacted us after reading the article on Father Fleming in the last edition of the OP newsletter with his memories of Father Fleming and the early years of Princethorpe College: 

'I was interested by the article about Father Fleming in the OP newsletter. Father Fleming was Headmaster at St Bede's before becoming the first Headmaster at Princethorpe. I vividly recall being sent to see the Headmaster at some point in my 1964 to 1966 time at St Bede's for a certain classroom misdemeanour. After what appeared to be a long torturous wait outside his office, he called me in and asked me to explain what had happened. He thought about the matter and told me to come back and see him the following morning. I had the rest of the day, all night and the following morning to dwell on what I had done and the punishment that might be metered out. I duly went to see him the following morning in fear and trepidation. In his office he simply said, don't do it again. He knew that I had received due punishment.

With a small group of other St Bede's students, we were invited to go and have a look around Princethorpe just before "Princethorpe College" started in the autumn term of 1966 with Father Fleming as Headmaster. It was such a lovely location in the countryside compared to being at St Bede's in Leamington. I have two memories of these early days of the College. The first was when term started, we were asked to pick potatoes which I believe we did for three days. These were in the walled garden referred to now as the Orchard. The second was when Switzerland was drained (sadly many fish died) and the base of it was concreted. Once filled again it was used for swimming though the water remained pond-like. The other problem was that because as only the bottom had been concreted, as you climbed out you were climbing up muddy sides which further rendered the water murky. I don't think that Switzerland was used for swimming for very long!

Father Clarkson, from memory, was Deputy Head at St Bede's and likewise at Princethorpe when the school moved there. I recall with others being allowed to camp in the grounds in 1967 I believe. The unpredictable weather forced us to take refuge one day and the next day while playing snooker in the College, Father Clarkson came in and said in his lovely Irish accent, "The Three Horeshoes is out of bounds." Happy days.'

Thank you John for sharing your memories with us - the potato picking story is well known and often recounted by the Headmaster when he speaks to prospective parents at Open Days. Fortunately it isn't on the timetable these days.

In the gallery we have two photos one of Father Fleming with some of the first pupils and then an image from the 1972 Princethorpe Magazine which accompanied an article on the farm here at Princethorpe.

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Do These Photos Bring Back Memories Of School Dinners?

In this newsletter we are sharing some old photos of a very special place at Princethorpe College – the Refectory. Just like an army, a school marches on its stomach and we are sure everyone who has passed through the College will have wonderful memories of the Refectory in some way.

These three images show the Refectory in the 1960s (black and white), 1970s (pupils eating) and we believe early 1980s (colour photo). If you know different or can identify pupils or have your own fond memories of the Refectory to share, then do get in touch with the Foundation Archivist at

Our archivist would also be interested in receiving copies of your old photos of the Refectory or of the wider school. So please consider sharing them, they can be scanned and returned to you, if you want to keep the originals.

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