Pupils and staff mark 50th anniversary of Princethorpe College

The first pupils at Princethorpe College
The first pupils at Princethorpe College

Pupils and staff at Princethorpe College have been celebrating a great milestone in the school’s history throughout this academic year.

The college, based off the Leamington Road in Princethorpe, has had a long and interesting history.

The college as it was in the mid-70s

The college as it was in the mid-70s

Princethorpe College was officially opened on Wednesday April 26, 1967. The Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Rev. George Patrick Dwyer, celebrated an inaugural Mass attended by 400 people, some of whom had travelled from as far away as Liverpool and Ireland.

The building, however, has a much older history.

Formerly a priory, it was built in the 1830s and for a while was home to a community of Benedictine nuns from Montargis in France, who had fled their home country in 1792.

Their plan was to build something similar to their original home.

Pupils playing basketball in the mid 70s

Pupils playing basketball in the mid 70s

Princethorpe’s gothic chapel was designed by Peter Paul Pugin and was finished in 1901. Its, which is now the school emblem, can be seen for miles around.

The nuns ran a small girls’ boarding school during their time in the priory but by 1965, pupil numbers were falling.

This meant the sisters had to sell their property and look for something smaller.

Conveniently, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSCs), who ran St Bede’s College in Leamington at the time, were on the lookout for larger premises.

The first headmaster at Princethorpe, Father John Kevin Fleming

The first headmaster at Princethorpe, Father John Kevin Fleming

They decided to buy the priory buildings, 200 acres of land with a farm, orchards, a man-made lake called ‘Switzerland’ and a number of houses. Princethorpe College was born, and the first term started in September 1966.

In a clipping from the Kenilworth and District Morning News reporting on the sale from December 23, 1965, Father John Kevin Fleming of St Bede’s said: “It is our fervent prayer that for many years to come, Princethorpe College will give our students the Christian education they need so much in this modern world.”

Fr Fleming was the first headmaster at Princethorpe, and was responsible for 12 priests, 20 lay staff and 205 boys.

The pupils followed a traditional curriculum taught mainly by the MSC clergy. Many were keen on their sport so the boys enjoyed plenty of cricket, tennis and basketball.

Choir practice

Choir practice

During the official opening later that academic year, Rev Dwyer thanked the MSCs for having had the boldness and courage in their new venture, and said it would have been a tragedy if the priory buildings had fallen into ruins.

He also said the boys’ education should not be limited to academic training - developing a pupil’s character was also important.

Since the first year, the college began to grow due to its success. Girls were admitted to the sixth form in The school’s buildings have also been developed over the years with a Sports Hall in the 1970s, a dedicated Sixth Form Centre in 2008 and The Limes classroom block in 2014.

And in 2001, the College merged with St Joseph’s, a girls’ Catholic school in Kenilworth. The older girls transferred to Princethorpe and the St Joseph’s became a co-educational junior school to the College, now known as Crackley Hall and Little Crackers. The Crescent School in Rugby, another junior school, later joined the Princethorpe Foundation in 2016.

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Princethorpe has held a number of events to celebrate the anniversary this year.

Pupils in the original refectory

Pupils in the original refectory

Celebrations started with a dinner in the House of Commons in May 2016, and the anniversary began in earnest with a two-day festival of music, sport and food, called Princefest, held in the College grounds in September 2016.

Other activities have included a celebratory concert in Coventry, a cycling pilgrimage across France visiting the towns associated with the MSCs and the Benedictine nuns, and a high tea for former and long-serving staff.

The year will end in a Golden Jubilee Ball in early July in the college grounds.

A commemorative book has also been produced called ‘A Spirit of Family’, which records the first 50 years of the college and contains hundreds of photos.

Anyone with a link to the school is encouraged to contact the Old Princethorpians’ secretary, Melanie Butler, at oldprincethorpians@princethorpe.co.uk as the association organises events for past pupils, staff and parents every year.