Prior Park College

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Prior Park College
PPC Logo.png
Prior Park College.jpg
Motto Deo Duce Deo Luce
Established 1830
Type Independent school
Day, full boarding & weekly boarding school
Religion Catholic
Headteacher James Murphy-O'Connor
Chair Sister Jane Livesey CJ, MA
Founder Congregation of Christian Brothers
Location Ralph Allen Drive
England Coordinates: 51°21′52″N 2°20′35″W / 51.364444°N 2.343056°W / 51.364444; -2.343056
DfE number 800/6001
DfE URN 109347 Tables
Ofsted Reports
Students circa 590 students
Gender Mixed
Ages 11–18
Houses Roche, Allen, Burton, Clifford, English, Fielding, St Mary's, Arundell, Baines
Colours Navy and Cyan          
Website College homepage

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.[1][2] One of the wings of the mansion includes a chapel, 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).[3][4] The adjoining 57-acre (23 ha) Prior Park Landscape Garden, once part of the school site, is now owned by the National Trust. The chapel is, in fact, unfinished. The pillars at the back have not been sculpted and are still in the same state as they were when they were left in 1863.

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 2008, students received the best A-level results in the history of the school, with over one-fifth of all students getting three A's and 77% receiving A and B grades.[5]

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"[6] He was succeeded by James Murphy-O'Connor, the nephew of former Prior Park pupil Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.

The school is part of the Prior Park Foundation which includes the Paragon School in Bath and Prior Park Preparatory School in Cricklade, Wiltshire.


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"[7]

Bishop Baines purchased the mansion in 1828 for £22,000 and used it as a seminary. The seminary was called Sacred Heart College.[8] 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.[9]

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".[10]

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.[11][12]

The main building (Mansion) has been badly burnt twice. The 1836 fire left visible damage to some stonework.[13] The 1991 fire gutted the interior, except for parts of the basement.[14] 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[15] 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.[16]

Since 2000, refurbishments include the indoor swimming pool,[17] 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.

Prep school[edit]

Prior Park Prep School is located in Cricklade, Wiltshire.

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 26 August and opened the school on 18 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 7 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[edit]


  1. ^ Prior Park (Now Prior Park College) - detailed Grade I listing
    Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1394453)". National Heritage List for England. 
  2. ^ "Prior Park (Now Prior Park College)". English Heritage Images of England. 
  3. ^ Church of St Paul - detailed Grade I listing
    Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1394459)". National Heritage List for England. 
  4. ^ "Church of St Paul". English Heritage Images of England. 
  5. ^ "Education League Tables — Performance results from Prior Park College". BBC News - Education. 15 January 2009. 
  6. ^ "Pupils, parents and staff honour longest-serving headteacher". Bath Chronicle. 8 July 2009. 
  7. ^ "Ralph Allen Biography". Bath Postal Museum. Retrieved 21 August 2009. 
  8. ^ "Brief History". Diocese of Clifton. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  9. ^ "Prior Park, Bath, England". Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  10. ^ Pevsner N, 1958, North Somerset and Bristol, page 115
  11. ^ "Green Priorities for the National Trust at Prior Park". Retrieved 20 August 2009. 
  12. ^ "Prior Park Landscape Garden". National Trust. Retrieved 7 April 2009. 
  13. ^ Colvin, Howard; Mellon, Paul (2008). A biographical dictionary of British architects, 1600-1840 (4 ed.). Yale University Press. p. 1143. ISBN 978-0-300-12508-5. 
  14. ^ Gillie, Oliver (6 April 1994). "Craftsmen restore country house to former glory: Sculptors use delicate skills to recreate rococo ceiling destroyed by fire.". London: The Independent. Retrieved 7 April 2009. 
  15. ^ "Prior Park Garden". Natiobnal Trust. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  16. ^ Tunstall, James (1847). Rambles about Bath, and its neighbourhood. p. 128. 
  17. ^ "Prior Park College". Independent School Council. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  18. ^ "Stephen comes home in glory after Brit Award". 26 September 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  19. ^ Fairall, Barrie (3 February 1995). "Cronin reborn as the demolition man". London: Retrieved 25 August 2009. 
  20. ^ "Psalm of Lydia Sweeps". 28 January 2008. 
  21. ^ a b "Prior Park College". Retrieved 25 August 2009. 
  22. ^ a b "Prior Park Gossip Bowl 2007" (PDF). Retrieved 15 March 2008. 
  23. ^ "Sir Cameron opens the Macintosh Studio at Prior Park College". cliftondiocese. Retrieved 25 August 2009. 
  24. ^ Thomson, Alice; Sylvester, Rachel (14 February 2009). "Cardinal Comac Murphy-O'Connor:Recession may be jolt that selfish Britain needs". London: Retrieved 25 August 2009. 
  25. ^ "Former prior park students win bafta". 14 February 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  26. ^ Stanford, Peter (28 March 2007). "The Rt Rev John Ward". London: Retrieved 25 August 2009. 

External links[edit]