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Stonyhurst & The Hodder

Stonyhurst College under moonlight
Stonyhurst College under moonlight

An aesthetically pleasing marriage of Elizabethan and Victorian architecture, the towered structure of Stonyhurst College sits modestly beyond what was once the main road adjoining Clitheroe and Preston, within a stone’s throw of the banks of the River Hodder, and it immediately imposes itself upon the eye of those who have sought it.

Stonyhurst by Night )3)
A Catholic school since the Weld family gave the unused building to the diaspora Jesuits in 1794, Stonyhurst College is one of the most visually stunning schools in Britain. As you approach along the road facing the entrance to The Shireburn Arms, on the Preston Road, then swing into the unavoidable right turn at the statue of Our Lady, the sight of Stonyhurst’s main façade rarely fails to impress and it loses none of its power with the changing light of day nor the passing of seasons.

Walking the nearby banks of the River Hodder, it’s easy to see how English Master Gerard Manley Hopkins’ pen might have been drawn back towards the realm of the senses, or why a visiting Tolkein might dip his pen into the surrounding countryside to enlarge upon his notes for the Shire.

Although the inspiration for Terence Ratigan’s The Winslow Boy was apparently a pupil at the school, and the ‘not well-liked’ Arthur Conan Doyle’s name can still be found carved into one of the (equally wooden!) desks, the Stonyhurst literary tradition doesn’t run as deep as it might have, especially when you consider the embarrassment of riches situated within the walls and the surrounding countryside, for there is much for a rich imagination to juggle.

Stonyhurst College 005
Stonyhurst College (005)

Like much of Stonyhurst, the larger St. Peter’s Chapel has recently been renovated. And the Shireburn family’s own small place of worship hid many a Papist, at the height of Elizabeth’s persecutions, in Priest holes containing vittles and a bottle of strong beer to keep up the worldly spirits, and probably ward off the stone-cold that Stonyhurst is also notorious for harbouring.
The Boy’s Chapel, which dates from 1890’s and took twelve years to decorate, perhaps due to the locally crafted carved wood panels and beautiful fanned beams, atop which sit balconied cubicles where visiting dignitaries and priests were seated.

Stonyhurst by Moonlight
Stonyhurst College by Shimmering Moonlight

There is much poignancy in the fact that what was once a thriving religious order now has few vocations, and what was an echoing hive of Priestly activity, which began as a college for English boys in St. Omer, France, in 1593, now houses no Jesuit Priests at all. But the warmly renovated and welcoming Marian Sodality Chapel hints that Ad Majorem Dei Cloriam will still be achieved, though signs suggest it is out of the castles and once more into in the catacombs.

Seek and Ye Shall Find

Nearby Walks
There is a wealth of circular walking to be had around Stonyhurst, in both directions along the lovely River Hodder, which keeps folk coming back for many years.

If you’re serious about walking, you should get Jack Keighley’s Ribble Valley Walks from a local store (Cicerone Press). He pads out many of the walks with fields, so you might trim the field-drudgery to suit your needs (as did we). But this book is a great guide to the area nonetheless.

To test your walking boots, here’s a short exploration nearby which is great to do with the kids (put your wellies on).
Park the car across from The Bailey Arms in Hurst Green. Now stand outside the pub looking away, and begin walking to your right, along Avenue Road in the direction of Stonyhurst.
On your left is a row of classy terraced houses and you should turn left directly after the last of these terraces.

As you turn into the backing, sort of cling to the bungalow on your right and the path will descend gently into a wooded area. Down in the dip there’s the gorgeous Dean Brooke and as you pass over a small bridge, the path leads on, directly forward, for as far as you might want to go (so get yourself an OS map).

Cromwell's Bridge (1398), on the way to Hurst Green, and a frozen River Hodder
Cromwell’s Bridge (1398), on the way to Hurst Green, and a frozen River Hodder

We also like to picnic on the partial ruin of Cromwell’s Bridge. But there’s no safety rail, so Health & Safety nuts should stay well-clear and its probably not for the kids.

Stonyhurst College 7
Stonyhurst College on a frosty Winter’s eve (7)

Tours of Stonyhurst College generally run throughout the school Summer break, from around July 20th until the end of August. Stonyhurst Gardens are also open to the public in the summer holidays.
However, Stonyhurst shimmers most impressively on crisp winter days and dark nights and outside of this period, tours can be catered for by arrangement.