Memory Bank

News From The Archives

Hello from the new Foundation Archivist!

It has been a busy few weeks in the archives since I started in post at the beginning of this term, and I have very much enjoyed learning more about the fascinating heritage of the Foundation’s schools, exploring some of the collections we hold, and most of all helping members of the Foundation community with their enquiries. I also spent a fair proportion of my first week getting lost - an experience which I’m sure many of you will remember from your first few days at Princethorpe!

A particular highlight from the past couple of weeks has been receiving these wonderful class photographs kindly sent in by Old Princethorpian Andrew Went, from his time at St Bede’s during the early/mid-1960s. Although we hold a small collection of photographs from St Bede’s here in the archives, these images were not among them and we are very grateful to Andrew for sharing them with us.

As many of you will know, St Bede’s was run by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, who purchased St Mary’s Priory in 1966 in order to set up Princethorpe College. From September 1966 the majority of St Bede’s pupils moved up to Princethorpe College once they reached senior school age, so some of the faces in these photographs may well be familiar to those of you who attended Princethorpe in the late 1960s/early 1970s.

Do you spot anyone you recognise (or perhaps even yourself) in the photos? Do you remember the name of the class teacher? We, and Andrew, would love to hear from you if you do, or if you have memories about St Bede’s or Princethorpe from that time which you would like to share. Please do get in touch at with any details.

It is always a pleasure to be contacted by alumni who have any stories or records of their time at the Foundation schools that they would be happy to pass on to us. Or perhaps you have a question about your school days that we can help with; in either case, we would be delighted to hear from you at

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1974 Rooftop Antics Leave Long Lasting Mark On Princethorpe

Members of the Princethorpe Estates Team had a bit of a surprise when recently checking the College rooves on the main school building.

10 metres or so above the ground they came across what can only be described as 50 year-old graffiti daubed in bold white paint! It was very well hidden behind a chimney above the former Shower Block, which is now Art. 

The culprits, possibly not expecting their work ever to be discovered, had audaciously left all their names and the date of the transgression (1974).

The guilty gang of five, comprised Chris Marot, Ian Costello, Jim Burke, Jean Pierre Parsons and Anthony Cowland.

According to Jean Pierre, the act took place on a balmy evening at the end of June after A-levels when the bored Sixth Form boarders were waiting to be collected and a trip up to the roof with a paintbrush seemed like a good idea! 

The paint, was borrowed from the then caretaker's store, and was clearly very good quality as it has lasted so long.

Very sadly some of the group of former Sixth Formers are no longer with us, but the two rooftop artists we did manage to track down, Jean-Pierre and Tony, recognised the stupidity of their actions and were most contrite and apologetic.

Their and our advice is clearly never to go up on the rooves, as it is very dangerous!




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Princethorpe Binns Organ

The renowned Princethorpe Binns’ organ located in Our Lady of the Angels Chapel was purchased and installed in 1901. It was procured from and built by James J Binns, of the Bramley Organ Works, Leeds, and the original receipt shows it was purchased for £1,199-1s-3d. 

In the Foundation Archives we have a fascinating insight into the numerous letters that were written between Peter Paul Pugin and Sister Procurator of the Priory regarding the organ construction and the delay in placing the organ. An extract from one of the letters says:

30 March 1901

...."it is all nonsense Binns saying the organ would be finished long ago if he had had a design for case. I sent him the design for case with full working drawings which he never acknowledged. He could have worked on it at once. The console is quite a separate affair. When I see Binns I will give him a bit of my mind. I was not at all extravagant in the design for the case and a tracing of it is now enclosed which you will kindly return after M Prioress has seen it. I will send on details of console as soon as I can!"

When originally constructed the organ was powered by water. A large water tank was situated in a room in the Tower, and this provided hydraulic pressure (by gravity) to bellows which pumped the organ. The water settled in a tank under the engine house (now a garage) and was pumped up to the top of the tower by a Lister-Petter donkey engine which ran on petrol or paraffin. The hydraulically powered bellows and the colossal water pipes and valves are still in place.

The console was moved from adjacent to the south transept to the gallery around 1908 to make way for a statue of St Peter which was gifted that year. The photo attached is dated 1905. You can also see the acetylene gas mantles in this picture. This statue was subsequently taken by the nuns to Fernham when they left St Mary's Priory in 1965.

A 3-phase electric blower was fitted by the British Organ Blowing Company from Derby in 1953, shortly after electricity was installed at the priory by Lee-Beesley of Coventry. Prior to this, the chapel and school building had been lit by acetylene gas which was made on site.

In a letter to the College dated 1975 from a partner at an organ builder who had been in to survey the organ, it was described as “A very fine example of its type. It is well voiced, generously planned and of excellent workmanship throughout.”

By 1983, when Hugh Page first encountered it, the organ was virtually unplayable as much of the action and leatherwork had perished and six stop slides were completely jammed. Between January and June 1984 Hugh re-leathered some five hundred pneumatic motors and re-set the jammed slides, necessitating the removal of some four hundred pipes. He cleaned all of the pipes and carried out considerable work to reduce wind leaks. Hugh always loved coming to Princethorpe and the organ truly became his pride and joy. For the remainder of his life, he visited at least once a week to keep it all in working order.

His dedication to Princethorpe’s Organ is recognised in the College’s annual Hugh Page Memorial Organ Recital which takes place each year in June.

The rank of tuba pipes added to the choir organ, with electric action, were installed in August 2017 by Peter Spencer, as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations.

The College repaired the Driving Motor and Fan Bearings at the cost of £3,200 in August 2023. This work was completed by Organ Blower and Humidifier Engineer, Stephen Lemmings of Derby.

The organ is registered on the National Pipe Organ Register here: and the listing contains full details of the organ.

For the last twelve years the organ has been maintained by Bubbenhall organ builder Peter D Spencer.

Sadly, the organ bellows now need removing and releathering, having already been patched 20 years ago when wear and tear was evident through splits and leaks, and this will be a costly exercise.

Princethorpe’s historic organ constitutes an irreplaceable part of the College’s and the country’s national heritage, and we are keen for it to be preserved and restored. It has played its part in many services held in the Chapel and its sound will be immediately familiar to all Old Princethorpians.

We would be grateful for the support of the OP community with this important restoration project. If you would like to donate please visit here.

In the images:

The original position of the organ console is shown.

One of the original receipt for the purchase of the organ.


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Kenilworth's Least Known Landmark - Crackley Hall's Windmill

There was a Windmill located in what we now call Windmill Wood at the rear of Crackley Hall School. Footage of the site of the windmill was shared recently on the In Remembrance of St Joseph’s Convent School Facebook page by John Insley and we were fascinated to see how the wood had changed over the years.

John posted:“In 1935 a half full-size model of the smock-mill at Dyke, Lincolnshire, was built on the site of the old Crackley post-mill on the Common for the late Lord Kenilworth by Messrs. Hunts of Soham, Cambs. The director of operations was the late Mr. Rex Wailes, a pioneer of industrial archaeology and president of the Newcomen Society from 1953 to 1955. This large model remained there until it was demolished in 1964."

His post generated comments that provided further information including:

  • Sister Margaret Mary used to take Transition class on nature walks to visit the windmill in 1955.
  • It was demolished in 1964 when it became derelict and dangerous as John’s father used to find youngsters playing there.
  • The windmill was intact when pupils arrived at Crackley from Stoneleigh Abbey but the sails blew off shortly afterwards.
  • The building was then used variously as a tool shed and also to anchor the clothesline for the nuns washing!

There is information on the windmill and its site in a booklet called A History Of Kenilworth, it mentions that part of the carriageway running to the cottages had survived development work stating ‘a shallow cutting lined with trees which is buried deep in the undergrowth’ and it is this that can be seen in John’s video.

The booklet contains other information, it references Kenilworth’s least known landmark as Sir John Siddeley’s windmill. Sir John had discovered that the rising ground that forms one side of the common was known as Windmill Hill. Knowing this he decided to erect a windmill as near as possible to where the originally probably stood but having of course to build it in his grounds and not on the common. The windmill was constructed by a firm of Norfolk windmill builders one of the few left in the country in the early 1930s. The windmill was octagonal, made of oak and sat on a brick base. It was fully operational although there was no record or evidence that it had ever been put to use but the views from the top were outstanding.

All that remains now are slabs that the windmill once must have stood on.

The trees have matured over the years and the wooded area is now used for Forest School activities by pupils attending Crackley Hall School and is much enjoyed by them all.

Members of the In Remembrance of St Joseph’s Facebook Group can view John’s video here.

The Brick Relief At Crescent School

The recently updated A History Of Crescent School second edition makes mention of the brick relief on the wall of the school. Often reputed to be a depiction of youth and possibly even Pan with his pipes, it has long been a mystery for those who now work at the school, particularly as the school was originally constructed for a Christian institution namely St Mark’s School.

The new history booklet asked for anyone with any knowledge to get in touch and we were delighted to receive information on the sculpture just last week. Many thanks to John Reeve, who amongst other roles was once a teacher with responsibility for Art, Craft and Design Education at St Mark’s School.

John told us that the relief sculpture was by Walter Ritchie and that he had, in a very short period of time and thanks to many contributors, also discovered that Walter Ritchie created pieces for two other Rugby schools, namely Abbots Farm Infants and Rokeby Infants.

Walter Ritchie was born in Coventry in 1919. He was a competent sculptor by the age of 18 having been trained by local stone masons and he was then lucky enough to become an apprentice of Eric Gill, a famous English sculptor who was associated with the Arts and Crafts movement.

Ritchie worked in wood, marble, steel, stone, in fact anything except fibre-glass but his particularly love was the 1,500 varieties of brick made in Britain at that time that allowed him to explore the world of texture and colour.

The work on the wall at Crescent School is referenced as a relief sculpture in brick, constructed in 1952 and titled Boy With Horses.

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