If you are a visitor to the Ribble Valley then the world renowned Stonyhurst College must be at the top of your summer sightseeing list

The beautiful historic building that is Stonyhurst College is home to hundreds of pupils during term time and, while the setting is steeped in history, the day pupils and boarders receive an education which equips them for the 21st century.

The college, which houses some rare and stunning artefacts, has recently added new boarding and catering facilities, and its reputation as an outstanding independent school has flourished in recent years. Students from all over the world attend Stonyhurst which also has a reputation for outstanding pastoral care and academic excellence.

At the end of the summer term, when all the students have returned home for the holidays, Stonyhurst throws open its doors to enable members of the public to take tours of the historic college and gardens.

Not only are visitors able to see how present day pupils live, work and play, they also have the opportunity to see the chapels and the historic rooms including the Great Hall with portraits of seven former pupils awarded the Victoria Cross and the table on which Oliver Cromwell is reputed to have slept the night before the Battle of Preston in 1648.

However the Stonyhurst site dates back many years before that – the earliest deeds are dated 1200 and can be found in the college’s Arundell Library and there is evidence of a building on the site from 1372, when John de Bayley was licensed to have an oratory there.

The archway in the Bayley Room, within the Blind Tower, is believed to date from the 14th C, while Stonyhurst Hall was founded by the Roman Catholic Richard Shireburn, a descendant of the Bayley family, whose son attended the college at St Omers.

To this day the legacy of the Bayley and Shireburn families lives on in Stonyhurst and the village of Hurst Green, with the local country inns The Shireburn and The Bayley Arms, and there is evidence throughout the area of their historic influence.

The actual school has its origins in St Omer France in 1593 when it was founded under the patronage of Philip II of Spain. The purpose of the college was to provide a Catholic education for English boys at a time when such an education was prohibited in England.

But in 1762 the Jesuits running the college were forced to move to Bruges, then again to Liege, where it was besieged by the French Revolutionary Army. In 1794 it moved to Stonyhurst which was in a bad state of repair.

A number of other buildings were added in the early 19th century, including the church of St Peter’s, which was built in the style of the chapel at King’s College, Cambridge.

By the 1880s new building work began on the school including the Observatory which was built in 1838 and can be seen to this day in the beautiful grounds.

Visitors will discover that the college’s continental, Jesuit origins are reflected in the distinctive names of the academic year groups, which are known as Playrooms – from the early Jesuits’ emphasis on staging dramatic performances and each year is named after an aspect of language – Lower Grammar, Grammar, Syntax, Poetry and finally Rhetoric.

The collections housed at Stonyhurst are unique – the Arundell Library alone has some 4,000 books, some of considerable importance such as Shakespeare’s First Folio, and around 400 Old Master prints, including works by Rembrandt and Durer.

Among the artefacts at Stonyhurst is a thorn from the Crown of Thorns belonging to Mary Queen of Scots, vestments dating back hundreds of years, relics of saints and a rare collection of early photographs.

Among notable past pupils are England rugby players Will Greenwood and Kyran Bracken, Mark Thompson the former director general of the BBC and writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who was inspired to write the Hound of the Baskervilles which is said to be based on Stonyhurst. The college also featured in the film Three Men and a Little Lady.

To learn more about this stunning Grade I listed building and its Grade II listed gardens, visit Stonyhurst this summer – it is sure to be one of the most memorable experiences during your stay in the Ribble Valley.


Opening times

House & Gardens:
Saturdays and Sundays from
25 July – 23 August
Open 1pm to 4.30pm

Tea and gift shop
Group tours (min 15):
Day and evening visits can be
pre-booked throughout the summer
from mid July to 23 August
excluding Fridays

Stonyhurst College
Stonyhurst, Clitheroe BB7 9PZ
01254 827084



Tedd Walmsley

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