Creating 'men and women for others' since 1593

Our story is more than 400 years old, and we are proud of our wealth of history and heritage which is displayed and preserved in our very own museum.

1593 - 1679


Foundation and the Early Years

In 1593, the English Jesuit College of St Omers – Stonyhurst’s direct lineal predecessor – was founded by the English Jesuit priest, Fr Robert Persons SJ.

The school’s purpose was to provide a safe place of education to the sons of English recusant Catholic families, at a time when such schooling was illegal in the boys’ home country. Persons secured the patronage of Philip II of Spain, providing permission and funding to establish the institution in Saint-Omer, a town then located in Spanish Netherlands.

The College operated according to the Jesuit order’s 1599 Ratio Studiorum. This is the earliest known modern curriculum to have existed, which prescribed the education received by pupils in all Jesuit schools across the world. Beyond the traditional humanist education of Classics, the curriculum also required the study of history and mathematics, and encouraged the writing and performance of poetry, drama, and music.

As the Ratio was devised with day schools in mind, the system had to be adapted uniquely to suit St Omers in its unusual context as a Jesuit boarding school for pupils living in exile from their own country. In 1617, the College’s third headmaster, a Fleming named Giles Schondonch, collected his 16 years’ experience into one manuscript. Written on Schondonch’s deathbed, the ‘Customs Book’ of St Omers was to act as the practical and philosophical guide for his successors, to set down the unique system devised at St Omers. As Schondonch noted:

The goal of those youths, who are educated in this family, is different from those educated elsewhere. […] To this end do their parents or friends send them here […] that they may return home and recover their rights, standing steadfast in the faith and firm in the integrity of their way of life [and] that amid so many false doctrines in England, they may see for themselves and show others the right path to follow.

This unique adaptation of one of the most effective education systems of early modern Europe would establish one of the most acclaimed schools of its day.


Fr Giles Schondonch SJ appointed Rector.


Protomartyr of the College executed – St Thomas Garnet.

St Omers Printing Press founded.


Museum founded - first object recorded at St Omers.


St Omers independent of the Walloon Jesuit College.


St Omers Customs Book written by Fr Schondonch on his deathbed.


First English Rector appointed – Fr William Baldwin SJ.


Town of Saint-Omer ceded to France by Spain.


The Popish Plot led to the questioning of many St Omers boys and masters, and to executions of seven former pupils including St John Plessington and St Philip Evans.

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1684 - 1760


Fire and Renewal

During the course of the 17th century, the College had established a reputation as one of the foremost educational institutions in Europe.

St Omers sought to fulfil its aim of returning to England young men equipped intellectually and spiritually to challenge the Protestant hierarchies and support the mission of the reconversion of the country to the Catholic faith. The personal envoy to James I, Sir George Chaworth, had noted on passing through the town of Saint-Omer in 1623:

the most remarkable thing in St Omer, and which most concerneth us, is the colledge of the Jesuits there, which is, I thinke, the best ordered in the world. At my being here there were 140 youths of England, who renounced theyr names, and (as I feare) nation and nature of Englishmen. It was pittie to see them (for they were the fynest youths I ever sawe), that they shold be bredd traytors; but, excepting their religion, they are the strictest, orderlyest, and best bredd in the world.

The extent of the educational project taking place at St Omers is indicated by the scale of the College’s rebuilding following the devastating fire of 1684. A 1689 print by Guillaume-Lorraine Montbard documents the rebuilt school’s facilities which included chapels, libraries, theatres, music rooms, gardens, a printing house, a clock tower, and even an apothecary.


Present formal gardens laid out by Sir Nicholas Shireburn of Stonyhurst. 


Prep school for St Omers founded near Boulogne.


Carrolls of Maryland educated at St Omers: Daniel and Charles, ‘Founding Fathers’ of the United States, and John, the first Catholic bishop of the United States.


The More Bequest, of relics of St Thomas More, left to St Omers by Fr Thomas More.


St Omers declared a ‘Royal College’ by Louis XV.

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1762 & 1773

Expulsion, Suppression and Survival

The second half of the 18th century was a period of significant upheaval for the Society of Jesus, causing the College to have to undertake two moves within two decades, first to Bruges, and then Liege. 

In 1762, the French Jesuits fell out of favour with Louis XV by finding themselves on the wrong side of the king’s mistress Madame de Pompadour. The Society’s many detractors were able to bring about the expulsion of the Order from French territories in 1762. The boys and Jesuit masters of the College were forced to flee Saint-Omer and move to Bruges, then in the Austrian Netherlands. The school remained in Bruges, under the protection of the Empress Maria Theresa, until the brief was signed by Pope Clement XIV for the suppression of the Society of Jesus across the globe in 1773. 

The Bruges College was consequently taken over by force, and the English Jesuit masters arrested and removed. Many of the boys escaped and the English Jesuits were eventually released, and all made their way to the English Jesuit seminary at Liege. Although the Society had been abolished, the Prince-Bishop of Liege permitted the English ex-Jesuits to continue to operate in the city. In December 1773, an ‘Academy’ was formally founded, attached to the Liege seminary, to educate boys of all ages. 

1768 – New prep school built in Bruges, the ‘Little College.’

1778 – Pope Pius VI formally recognised the Liege Academy.


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1794 - 1809


Coming 'home'

At the end of the 18th century, like many British Catholic institutions based in French and bordering territories, the Academy had to flee quickly and return to England, to escape the ravages of the French Revolution. Changes in the law by then allowed the founding of a Catholic school in England.

On the 14th of July 1794, the fifth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, the school fled Liege before the advancing French Revolutionary Army. Catholic Church institutions and foreign entities were both targeted by French revolutionaries during this period, making the school’s escape more pressing. Following a difficult journey lasting over 6 weeks, a small party of Jesuits, masters, servants, and 12 boys (known as the ‘Twelve Apostles of Stonyhurst’) arrived at Stonyhurst Hall. The 16th century house, built by his ancestors the Shireburns, had been offered as a refuge by Thomas Weld, an old boy of the College at St Omers and Bruges.

The former private family home was quickly adapted to the needs of the school: the Elizabethan Long Gallery became a dormitory; the Great Hall a refectory; the stable a public church; and the ‘Blind Tower’ a library. Early building developments appeared quickly, with ‘Shirk’ built within a matter of months to join the house and the stables (church). This historic core of buildings still stands at the heart of Stonyhurst, and continues to be adapted and used to this day.


First Academy Day at Stonyhurst.


Playgrounds laid out, destroying the historic parterre gardens.


Shirk constructed, the first addition by the school.


Prep school founded at Hodder Place.


Stonyhurst Hall and nearby lands given outright by Thomas Weld to the Jesuits.

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1810 - 1880


Adapting and Expanding

Within a few years it became apparent that the old Shireburn house would be insufficient for the growing school. Subsequent decades saw the establishing of many of Stonyhurst’s most important institutions and buildings today.

In the first great development, a new wing was built in 1810, replacing the early 16th century timber-framed section of the house. The ‘solid’ structure of the old house ‘became apparent, necessitating the use of gunpowder to demolish [it].’ The preliminary fundraising effort for the new front placed great emphasis on ‘the present advanced state of science in Europe,’ and asked for contributions to acquire mathematical equipment and books to be housed in specially-created sections in the new buildings. The buildings became a pioneering experiment in themselves, with Stonyhurst among the first interiors anywhere in the world to be lit entirely by gas lighting.

Separate and gradual expansions continued, and the next few decades saw the construction of important and innovative additions to Stonyhurst including St Peter’s Church, the Old Infirmary, the completion of the unfinished side of the Shireburns’ historic Front Quad, the Ambulacrum, and the observatories.


South Front built, including the first purpose-built science laboratory in a British school.


St Mary’s Hall built, to serve as a seminary.


St Peter’s Church completed.


Lord Arundell’s library donated.


Meteorological Observatory built.


By royal charter, Stonyhurst affiliated college of the University of London.


Infirmary constructed.


The Ambulacrum built - believed to be the oldest school sports hall in the UK. 


Front Quad completed, with the present Historic Libraries finished.


Stonyhurst Cricket Oval laid out.


Astronomical Observatory built.


Arthur Conan Doyle attended Stonyhurst.


Gerard Manley Hopkins studied Philosophy at Stonyhurst. 


Stonyhurst Association founded.

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1880 - 1914


'New' Stonyhurst

In the years around 1880, Stonyhurst underwent a significant transformation. Competition from other schools was increasing, and the old South Front at Stonyhurst was showing its age. The New South Front was erected in stages during the years 1877 to 1882. Such was the scale of the project it became known as ‘New Stonyhurst’ among the boys, with the Rector, Fr William Eyre, as one of its major patrons.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, teaching Classics at Stonyhurst at the time, described the events to his friend Robert Bridges:

There is always a stirring scene, contractors, builders, masons, bricklayers, carpenters, stonecutters and carvers, all on the spot; a traction engine twice a day fetches stone from a quarry on the fells; engines of all sorts send their gross and foulsmelling smoke all over us; cranes keep swinging; and so on.

There are acres of flat roof which, when the air is not thick, as unhappily it mostly is, commands a noble view of this Lancashire landscape, Pendle Hill, Ribblesdale, the fells, and all round, bleakish but solemn and beautiful.


Stonyhurst Union Debating Society founded.


Association Football Club established.


The ‘Boys’ Chapel’ consecrated (College Chapel).


Stonyhurst centenary celebrations (100 years in England).

Stonyhurst Golf Links first laid out.


Cadet Corps founded.

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Stonyhurst College front from south view

1914 - 1993


Challenges and Revolutions 

Following a ‘golden age,’ the first half of the twentieth century (beginning with the First World War) brought a number of new challenges to the College’s preeminent position among English Catholic schools.

The increasing number of Catholic and Jesuit schools, closure of the Stonyhurst undergraduate Philosophy programme in 1916, and falling numbers of pupils and Jesuits at Stonyhurst all combined to create a set of challenging circumstances in the early part of the 20th century.

However, these decades were a period of development and revolution. Many of Stonyhurst's surviving characteristics and traditions today were established or modernised during these decades. The position of ‘Playroom Master’ for each year group was established, reiterating the central role of the Playrooms as the centre of each pupil’s school life; ‘Playroom’ was coined due to the importance of each year group’s dramatic performances in the tradition stretching back to St Omers in the 17th century. Similarly, the present ‘Lines’ system was instituted in 1922 to foster a competitive environment resembling elements of a traditional ‘House’ system. 

The revolutionary cultural attitudes of the 1960s and ‘70s found difficulty with many ‘old fashioned’ aspects of Stonyhurst; a movement embodied by the closure and dispersal of the museum in 1974. Around this time, the first female pupils began to attend. The direct governance of Stonyhurst’s management and education solely by the Jesuit Order gradually reduced, bringing the creation of the Governing Body and the eventual appointment of the first lay Headmaster.


Rugby replaced Association Football.

Committee established.


‘Lines’ system created, with Weld, Campion, Shireburn, and St Omers.


More Library opened.


Venerable English College, Rome, took refuge at St Mary’s Hall for the duration of the War. JRR Tolkein sometimes visited the Guest House at Stonyhurst, as his son was among the seminarians.  


St Mary’s Hall became a prep school.


New Wing opened.


Stonyhurst's Governing Body established.


First female pupils attended Stonyhurst.


First lay Headmaster appointed.


Swimming Pool and Sports Centre built.


First IT and D&T centres built.


Co-education formally announced for Stonyhurst 6th Form.


Visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to Stonyhurst.

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1993 - Now


400 years and beyond

Throughout their history, both the College and the wider Society of Jesus have excelled in adapting to changing circumstances and embracing innovations. During the last 30 years since the College’s four-hundredth anniversary, this approach has been demonstrated – among many other changes – through the enthusiastic move to full co-education, creation of brand new facilities, rapid development of the ‘Stonyhurst Anywhere’ online learning platform, and the opening of Stonyhurst Penang in Malaysia.

Stonyhurst has also embraced the renewed educational potential of its unique history and the cultural memory embodied in its historic collections, and begun a programme to restore its unrivalled historic buildings and estate.


Renovation of the 17th century Shireburn Quad, Bread Rooms, Top Refectory.


Full co-education across Stonyhurst College and Stonyhurst St Mary’s Hall.


Higher Line Girls’ House established at the top of the restored historic Front Quad.


All-weather pitch built.


Restoration and modernisation of the More Library.

Opening of Hodder House (pre-school).


Stonyhurst became an independent charitable trust.


Weld House boarding accommodation opened by HRH the Duke of Gloucester.


St Peter’s Church restored by the Society of Jesus.


New Refectory opened.


Visit of HRH Princess Anne to Stonyhurst.


Renovation of the Historic Libraries.


Glassbrook Tennis Dome completed.


Opening of the new Museum.


The Stonyhurst Foundation founded. 

Stonyhurst win the Lancashire Tennis Association Education Award and David Shaw, Director of Tennis, wins Performance Coach of the Year.

Stonyhurst is nominated for the Tatler Public School of the Year Award.


Stonyhurst is named Lancashire Tennis School of the Year for the second year running.

Stonyhurst collaborates with HRH Prince Charles on the Easter Meditation.

Stonyhurst is nominated for the Tatler Public School of the Year Award.


Historic Fronts restored.

Smithfield Rugby Pavilion erected.

Stonyhurst International School Penang founded.

Stonyhurst celebrates 100 Years of Rugby through Centenary Event.

Stonyhurst's first female cricket captain selected for the England Cricket Team.

Stonyhurst is shortlisted for Independent Boarding School of the Year and The Development Award for Outstanding Fundraising Achievement in the Independent Schools Awards.

The Stonyhurst Foundation is shortlisted for Bursary Provision at the Talk Education Awards.

Stonyhurst is nominated for the Tatler Public School of the Year Award for third consecutive year.

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Pupils exploring the historic libraries