Prior Park College
|Motto||Deo Duce Deo Luce|
Day, full boarding & weekly boarding school
|Chair||Sister Jane Livesey CJ, MA|
|Founder||Congregation of Christian Brothers|
|Location||Ralph Allen Drive
|DfE URN||109347 Tables|
|Students||circa 590 students|
|Houses||Roche, Allen, Burton, Clifford, English, Fielding, St Mary's, Arundell, Baines|
|Colours||Navy and Cyan|
Prior Park College is a mixed Roman Catholic independent school for both day and boarding students. It is situated on a hill overlooking the city of Bath, in Somerset, south-west England. Prior Park has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building. One of the wings of the mansion includes a church, the Chapel of our Lady of the Snows, which was built in 1863 by Scoles and Son and is grade I listed (there is also a chapel in the original house). The adjoining 57-acre (23 ha) Prior Park Landscape Garden, once part of the school site, is now owned by the National Trust.
Prior Park Prep School, based in Cricklade, Wiltshire, is a feeder school to Prior Park College.
Originally intended to be England's first Catholic university, Prior Park College was founded in 1830, and since then has been a Roman Catholic school. It was established by the Benedictine, Bishop Baines, as a seminary, and continues to provide co-educational schooling for students aged 11 to 18 in the Catholic tradition and ecumenical spirit.
In July 2009, after twenty-four years as head teacher, Dr. Giles Mercer retired. He had been head teacher since 1996, and with his previous position as head of Stonyhurst College, he was the "longest serving Catholic senior school headmaster in England" He was succeeded by James Murphy-O'Connor, the nephew of former Prior Park pupil Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.
The Palladian mansion which now houses Prior Park College was originally designed and built chiefly by John Wood, the Elder in 1742. He was commissioned to build on the hill overlooking Bath by Ralph Allen: "To see all Bath, and for all Bath to see"
Bishop Baines purchased the mansion in 1828 for £22,000 and used it as a seminary. Renovations were made according to designs by H. E. Goodridge in 1834. The seminary was closed in 1856 after a fire in 1836 that resulted in extensive damage and renovation and brought about financial insolvency. It was later bought by Bishop Clifford who founded a Roman Catholic Grammar School in the mansion.
The Chapel was designed by J. J. Scoles in 1844 but not completed until 1863, following 18th-century French models such as Chalgrin's St. Philippe-du-Roule in Paris. Pevsner describes it as "without any doubt the most impressive Chapel interior of its date in the county".
The grammar school closed in 1904 and the site was occupied by the army during the First World War and afterwards by a series of tenants until, in 1921, the Christian Brothers took it over and founded a boys' boarding school in 1924. Prior Park College has continued to occupy the house, but, in 1993, 11.3 hectares (28 acres) of the park and pleasure grounds were acquired by the National Trust and have since been the subject of a detailed restoration programme.
Prior Park Landscape Garden, now owned by the National Trust was first started in 1734 to 1744 with the Allens benefiting during the first phase from the advice of their friend Alexander Pope. The Palladian bridge and lake that it spans were added in 1755; the final phase with the green slopes from the house to the lake are thought to have been planned by Capability Brown in the 1760s.
The main building (Mansion) has been badly burnt twice. The 1836 fire left visible damage to some stonework. The 1991 fire gutted the interior, except for parts of the basement. Rebuilding took approximately three years. Unusually, the blaze started on the top floor, and spread downwards.
Prior Park uses The Monument Field, a National Trust-owned site named from a triangular Gothic building with a round tower on the top erected by Bishop Warburton. It contained a circular staircase and had a tablet which was inscribed in Latin in honour of Ralph Allen.
Since 2000, refurbishments include the indoor swimming pool, a new Information and communication technologies centre, other classroom extensions, and the new Mackintosh Dance Studio, which opened in September 2006.
Prior Park College has plans to build a new sports hall to expand training capacity and capabilities. Additional sports facilities are located within easy reach at the National Lottery-funded University of Bath Sports Village, which is the training camp of the England rugby union and netball teams, as well as Bath Rugby Club and the Great Britain rugby league team
In 1946 a preparatory school was needed for Prior Park College, the independent Catholic senior school in Bath that was run by the Congregation of Christian Brothers. Nothing suitable being available in Bath the Brothers obtained the Cotswold stone 'manor house', largely rebuilt in the 19th century, known as The Hermitage, at Calcutt Street in Cricklade. It was said to have been built on the site of a medieval hermitage. The land comprised about 31 acres including vegetable gardens, greenhouses, an orchard and land suitable for playing fields. The house would take 62 boys and it was intended to build an extension so that a total of 100 could be accommodated.
The Christian Brothers took over the house on 26th August and opened the school on 18th September 1946. There was a headmaster and four teaching brothers and these were later supplemented by Brother Novices, who spent two years at the school to gain experience before moving to teacher training college, and lay staff, for subjects that were not specialisms of the available brothers. The drawing room of the original house was converted to a chapel (now the school library) and blessed by the Bishop of Clifton when he opened the school. In 1947 more classrooms, a refectory and recreation rooms were built. New dormitories were built in 1962 and in the mid 1960s there were 100 boarders. A new chapel and hall were added in 1967. In the 1970s day boys were taken.
Unexpectedly on 7th March 1980 the Christian Brothers told the lay members of staff that they would be leaving Cricklade and Bath immediately. The school was sold and from 1981 was under lay management under the Headship of John Bogie. Day girls were later admitted and it then became a fully co-educational boarding and day preparatory school. Gerard Hobern took up the Headship in 1994 and under his leadership opened an ICT suite, fully equipped sports hall in 2000 and astroturf pitch in 2008. In 2009 the school opened its own Pre-Prep department in the walled garden. Mr Mark Pearce became Head in January 2011 and the school now has around 250 pupils from age 3 – 13.
Notable former pupils
- Damian Cronin, Bath and Scotland rugby player
- Peter Levi, Professor of Poetry at University of Oxford
- Christopher Logue, CBE, poet
- Sir Ken Macdonald QC, Director of Public Prosecutions of England and Wales, head of the Crown Prosecution Service
- Sir Cameron Mackintosh, British theatrical producer (formerly partnered with composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber)
- Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster
- Hugh Scully, broadcaster
- John Aloysius Ward, former Archbishop of Cardiff
- Stephen Bowman, member of Brit Award winning band Blake
- Michael Please, BAFTA winning animator
- Cressida Bonas, socialite.
- Adam "Nolly" Getgood, Periphery, Red Seas Fire
- Prior Park (Now Prior Park College) - detailed Grade I listing
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- Church of St Paul - detailed Grade I listing
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- "Psalm of Lydia Sweeps". 28 January 2008.
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