About St Beuno's

St Beuno's west front picture 1900

St Beuno's College was built in 1848 as a place for Jesuits to study theology.  Up to this time prospective Jesuit priests studied in Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, but the increasing numbers put a strain on the old buildings.  So in 1846, the then Provincial Superior of the British Jesuits, Fr Randal Lythgoe, when visiting the Jesuit parish in Holywell travelled to see some farm land that the Society of Jesus owned near Tremeirchion and immediately decided that this should be the site for his new ‘theologate’.  In early Victorian days when epidemics of typhoid and cholera regularly swept cities, the country air of North Wales was considered a healthy place to prepare the young men to go into the new industrial towns and cities to serve in schools and parishes.

The architect was Joseph Aloysius Hansom, of Hansom Cab fames.  Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit poet who studied at St Beuno's College from 1874-7, described the building in a letter to his father: "It is built of limestone, decent outside, skimping within, Gothic like Lancing College done worse". 

Hansom's St Beuno's enclosed a square garden, on the west side of which there was a basement gallery containing the Recreation Room, a schoolroom, two private rooms and the Entrance Hall.  On the floor above was the Library, which looks both inside and out as though it were a chapel (and is a chapel today), the Rector's Room and a 'stranger's room’.  On the south side, the tallest side rising higher than the tower, were three galleries which housed the professors and the students.  On the north side was the monastic refectory with its pulpit for the reader. 

Within twenty years of its being built the College was too small and extra rooms were added in the attics and a new North Wing to the left of the tower was built. 

In the early days of the College could be said to be environmentally friendly: heating for the lower floor was at least in part solar, with the heat from the greenhouse below the West Front being channelled into the house.  Fresh water was provided from local streams which was stored in tanks, which still exist above the terraces, and food was grown locally both in the College's grounds and on the adjacent College Farm.  The College also had its own gas works.  There was also a school built for local children.

In 1862 the College was presented with a medieval cross by a Mr Hynde, who bought it for £5 from the Anglicans at Corpus Christi, Tremeirchion.  The Tremeirchion Rood of Grace stood for 140 years on a plinth at the entrance to St Beuno's before being restored and then translated back to Tremeirchion churchyard as a Millennium gift.  It now stands proudly under the yew it was found beneath in the mid-19th century.

In 1866 what can best be described as a folly, the 'Rock Chapel', was built on a wooded hill to the south of St Beuno's.  It was designed by a Jesuit student, Ignatius Scoles, who had followed his father's footsteps and trained as an architect before joining the Jesuits.

St Beuno's theology students 1910The College remained a theologate until 1926 when the students were moved to Heythrop College in Oxfordshire.  It then became a place for the last year of Jesuit training, the tertianship, and the Province infirmary for the older Jesuits.  During the Second World War it was home to many Jesuit novices as a refuge from the London bombings.  During the 1970's the house began to open to religious sisters on first 8 day and then 30 day retreats.  The retreat work grew from strength to strength, and when the tertianship closed the whole house was dedicated to retreats and spirituality in 1980.  In 2002 St Beuno's was listed as a Grade II* by CADW as a Welsh Historic Monument.

Today the house has a full and thriving programme of retreats and courses all the year round, from weekends to 30 days.

For a more detailed history of St Beuno’s, please see Canute's Tower by Paul Edwards SJ. (Unfortunately this is currently out of print.)


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