Douai Crest

St Edmund's, Douai 1818-1903

This text, courtesy of Mike Skivington.

The monks of St Gregory's Douai were expelled from France in 1795 and returned to England. They ultimately settled in Somerset arriving at the site now known as Downside Abbey and School in 1814. Prior Marsh obtained from the Prior of Downside the right to act as agent for the Douai property and in 1818 together with another Dieulouard monk set up an English school in the old buildings. At first the EBC only gave permission for a school but ultimately Prior Marsh, with the support from Rome and from the remaining monks of St Edmunds, was allowed to accept postulants. By 1823 there were twenty eight boys and in the same year six postulants entered the community. Dom Cuthbert Wilkes returned to France from the English mission and in his remaining years advised the new monks in the traditions of St Edmund's, Paris. The last surviving monk from Paris, Dom John Turner, lived until 1844 by which time the community numbered over thirty.

When Prior Marsh first arrived at Douai some buildings were partly occupied by tenants including blacksmiths and brewers and others were in a very bad state of repair. School and monastic buildings were slowly restored and added to and in 1840 Augustus Welby Pugin was asked to design a chapel. This was not officially opened for eleven years. Edmund Granville Ward provided funds for a library, the building of a new cloister and the magnificent set of red vestments still in existence and to which his name is attached. A guesthouse was also built at this time.

Monks not only taught in the school but also worked in England on "the mission"
Students who went on to the secular priesthood and the community between them produced sixteen bishops. From 1814 until 1916, with the exception of the period between 1887 and 1896, Douai monks filled the post of Bishop of Port Louis in Mauritius. The last of these was Dom Romanus Bilsborrow who then became first Archbishop of Cardiff (pictured here with R.B in centre between two abbots).

The bull " Diu Quidem" of 1899 granted the status of abbey to the priories of Ampleforth, Douai and Downside and in 1900 Douai elected its first abbot Dom Laurence Larkin.
A series of anticlerical laws in France, culminating in a decree of suppression by M. Emile Combes, made the situation for St Edmunds increasingly difficult and ultimately in 1903 they had three months in which to arrange a move back to England