Records of Sedgley Park School, Wolverhampton, and Cotton College, Oakamoor, Staffordshire

Scope and Content

Ledgers, correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, prints, engravings, printed items.

Administrative / Biographical History

Founded by Bishop Richard Challoner and placed under the care of the Rev. William Errington (Chaplain to Bishop Challoner), the first post-Reformation English Catholic boarding-school for the education of boys whose parents were 'in more confined circumstances' was opened at Sedgley Park, Wolverhampton, in 1763. Under Bishop Challoner's instruction, Errington had attempted to find suitable accommodation for such a school for the previous twelve months. Attempts were made in both Buckinghamshire and Wales, but both failed. A third, successful attempt was made in the village of Betley on the Shropshire and Staffordshire border. Mr James Corne offered his house to Errington for use as a school. The 'Betley School' received its first pupil in January 1762. The Rev. William Errington appointed the Rev. John Hurst to run the Betley School while he continued his search for premises more suitable for the numbers Bishop Challoner had in mind. Larger property was finally obtained in 1763, from a Protestant nobleman, the Right Hon. William Ward, Viscount Dudley and Ward. On his accession to the peerage two years before, Lord Ward had vacated his mansion at Sedgley Park, two miles south of Wolverhampton, and was prepared to let it. As soon as negotiations were completed, Errington summoned Hurst and the pupils from Betley. They are said to have arrived at 'Sedgley Park School' on Lady Day, 1763. The Rev. William Errington is believed to have stayed until May when the Rev. Hugh Kendal arrived to take over the Presidency. The Right Hon. William Ward died in 1823 and was succeeded by his son, John William Ward, who in 1827 was created Earl of Dudley. John William Ward continued to let the mansion at Sedgley Park but the confinement of annual leases meant that no structural development of the school could take place. New premises were once again sought, and Cotton Hall in Oakamoor, Staffordshire, was purchased by the Birmingham Diocese in December 1865. In September 1868 a prepatory school was opened at Cotton Hall. The Very Rev. Canon James Moore remained President over both Sedgley Park School and the prepatory school at Cotton Hall, with the Rev. Joseph Bonner (Chaplain at Sedgley Park) taking charge of the establishment of the prepatory school. The prepatory school was to be for boys under the age of 11 with the maximum number in attendance being 50. The first pupil arrived on Christmas Day 1868. By the end of 1869 the school had 7 pupils, by the end of 1870 there were 15 and by March 1872, 34 boys were studying there. The financial strain of running two schools eventually led to the complete removal of Sedgley Park School to Cotton Hall in 1873. The 'new' school was known initially as 'New Sedgley Park School'. The two senior classes from Sedgley Park went straight to Douai, France, to continue their education, leaving seventy-three students to move to Cotton Hall. In view of its cumbersome nature the new name was quietly dropped and 'St Wilfrid's, Cotton Hall', became the School's official title. Most often referred to simply as 'Cotton', the School appears to have taken the name 'Cotton School' around 1929, becoming 'Cotton College' by 1933. On St Wilfrid's day 1932 and in the grounds of Cotton School, Cardinal Bourne opened St Thomas's Junior School. The need for the provision of extra accommodation stemmed from the rise in numbers. Erected on the site of the old kitchen garden, St Thomas's Junior School stood apart from the rest of the school and for reasons of economy was built in brick rather than stone. It was dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury, patron of secular clergy. The additional school building provided a hall and stage, classrooms, dormitory accommodation for 50 boys, a physics laboratory, an art room, kitchens and reception room. In 1942 a small community of the Sisters of La Retraite was established at the College. The Sisters assisted with the boys' food and healthcare. The College closed in 1987 and proposals to convert the listed buildings into private homes were submitted.

Founded on the Feast of The Annunciation, 25 March, 1763, at a time when the Penal Laws were still on the Statute Book, Sedgley Park School came into existence through the determination of the convert Bishop Richard Challoner, Vicar Apostolic of the London District. The Bishop came under attack from many Catholics who belived the opening of a Catholic boarding-school would re-awaken hostilities towards them. On 5 December 1865 the purchase of Cotton Hall and surrounding land was completed by the Birmingham Diocese. The complete removal of Sedgley Park to Cotton Hall took place in 1873, with the two senior classes from Sedgley Park going straight to Douai, France, to continue their education, leaving seventy-three students from Sedgley Park to move to Cotton Hall.

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Archivist's Note

Former Catalogue Ref. SC/A-Y

Originally published by Access to Archives (A2A) The contents of this catalogue are in the copyright of Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives.