Douai School was the public (independent) school that was run by the Douai
Abbey Benedictine community at Woolhampton, England, until it closed in
The monastic community was founded in Paris in 1615 and moved to Douai
after the French Revolution. The monastery provided educational
opportunities from the beginning, but had no formal school in its first
decades of existence.
The modern school was formed by the site's pre-existing St Mary's
College merging with the school of the incoming Benedictine community
that moved from Douai in 1903 due to Waldeck-Rousseau's Law of
Associations (1901). The merger produced a school of 109 boy boarders,
which had fallen to only 63 by 1911.
Its long history in France and its monastic influence meant that Douai,
although an independent boarding school, had in large part escaped the
influence of the public school ethos that had developed in 19th-century
England. However, in 1920, Douai was admitted to membership of the Headmasters'
Conference. In the 1930s David Matthew, later Apostolic Delegate for Africa,
congratulated the headmaster, Ignatius Rice, on the fact that: "no
Catholic school has been so free from the influence of Arnold of Rugby
as Douai has been."
Day boys were admitted from the early 1960s, and by 1984 there were 333 pupils. The school became co-educational in 1993.
The first headmaster was not appointed until 1909, replacing the older
system of a Prefect of Studies and a Prefect of Discipline jointly
managing the school under the oversight of the Abbot. A series of
headmasters followed in quick succession, before stability was provided
by Fr Ignatius Rice (headmaster 1915-1952).
Ignatius Rice was a friend of G. K. Chesterton whose Father Brown novels
were based on Father O'Connor, a mutual friend, and he was influential
in Chesterton's conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1922. In his younger
days he played cricket for Warwickshire during the summer holidays and
for some years enjoyed the distinction of being the only monk whose cricket
performances were chronicled in Wisden.
In 2005, Edmund Power (headmaster 1993-97) was elected Abbot of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.
List of Headmasters
Fr Adrian Coughlin OSB (1909 - 1911)
Fr Laurence Powell OSB (1911 - 1915)
Fr Antony Richardson OSB (1915)
Fr Ignatius Rice OSB
(1915 -1952) - Obituary from the Catholic Herald - 29th April 1955
Fr Alphonsus Tierney OSB
(1952 - 1973)
Fr Brian Murphy OSB (1973 - 1975)
Fr Wilfrid Sollom OSB
(1975 - 1987)
Fr Geoffrey Scott OSB
PhD FSA FRHistS (1987 - 1993)
Fr Edmund Power OSB PhD (1993 - 1997)
Peter McLaughlin PhD (1997 - 1999)
In 1786 the Earl of Fingall, the squire of Woolhampton sold his Woolhampton
estate and moved to Ireland. His family had been recusant Catholics and
had maintained a chapel and chaplain at Woolhampton House (now Elstree
School). On leaving the neighbourhood he left his chaplain to minister
to the local Catholics and endowed him with some 7 acres (28,000 sq.m)
of lands and some cottages. Three of these cottages stood on the site of
the entrance tower, and in one of these, Woolhampton Lodge, the priest
lived and had a chapel.
The oldest part of the current buildings date from around 1830. The
main entrance and tower were constructed in 1888 in the Tudor Gothic
style; the architect was Frederick Walters. In 1829 Fr Stephen Dambrine
was appointed to Woolhampton. He embarked on a building programme which
included a chapel in the Gothic style opened in 1833 to replace the
chapel in Woolhampton Lodge, and which itself was replaced by the
present St Mary's in 1848.
The cricket pavilion was built in 1922 to honour the fifty three old boys who were killed in the First World Wa
The Monastery was greatly expanded in the 1960s with the building of the new monastery designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd.
Haydock Hall, the study hall, was briefly converted into a film set for
the shooting of the dormitory scenes in the 1990 film Three Men and a
Little Lady. The former school buildings were also used as a location
for the 2002 television film of Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
Since its closure, the school's buildings have been redeveloped as private housing
In 1951, the school was finally divided into houses, each under a
monastic housemaster: Samson House, named after Abbot Samson of
medieval Bury St Edmunds; Faringdon House, named after the martyred
last abbot of Reading Abbey Hugh Faringdon; Walmesley House, after
Bishop Charles Walmesley, the eighteenth-century member of the
Community who had been a mathematician and astronomer. In 1970, a new
house was created - from 1980 called Gifford House to commemorate
Archbishop Gabriel Gifford. Faringdon ceased to exist in 1992, again
leaving just three Houses.
Cricket and hockey were both played at Douai from 1905, but from
1918-19 rugby union replaced soccer as the main winter sport. In 1920,
the Trinidadian Louis Wharton became Douai's first Oxford University
cricketer, and went on to play for Somerset. An indoor swimming pool
was built in 1937. A group of spectators (at Twickenham) associated with
the school is credited with introducing the song Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
as an English rugby union anthem
Eton collars were worn until the 1920s together with a blue cap surmounted
by the arms of St Edmund or a bowler hat. For daily use, boys wore a morning
suit. In the summer, the uniform consisted of an Oxford grey suit and a
boater. Uniform gradually became more casual and, after 1945, a variety
of grey suits was recognised uniform, with blazers worn in the summer.
In the early years, members of the Douai cricket XI would wear full ties
around the waist and half ties from their collars.
In 1948 a preparatory school (Douai Junior School) was opened at Ditcham Park
in the beautiful South Downs near Petersfield in Hampshire. The house
was formerly a convalescent home requisitioned by the Royal Navy during
World War ll.
Boys joined the school at aged 8 and after taking the Common Entrance
Examination, aged approximately 13, joined the 'Big School' in
Woolhampton. The setting for 'Ditcham' was beautiful in lush forestry
on three sides and with views to the south of Hayling Island and the
English Channel on clear days. In 1976 the boys from the junior school
moved to the Woolhampton site and a new Ditcham House was added to
Samson, Walmesley and Faringdon Houses.
In 1976 a non-denominational school was opened at Ditcham Park
Closure of Douai School
In 1998 the community took the decision that running the school was no
longer viable and announced its closure. An attempt was made to keep
the school open but run by a trust separate from the monastery but
sadly this attempt failed and the school finally closed at the end of
the summer term in 1999.
After the closure of the school, the site was developed by Bewley
homes. The theatre block, swimming pool, science laboratories and
Ditcham house were demolished and were replaced by new housing. The
main school buildings were converted and the developers have kindly
supplied pictures of the conversions of the Haydock (study) hall,
junior common room and school refectory. This link
will take you to pictures of the development and this link
for black and white pictures including the three halls as they were presented
in the book published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the move to