THE SALESIANS AT SHRIGLEY HALL 1929-1985
From the Middle Ages until 1819 the Shrigley estate and much land around it was owned by the Downes family, who in Elizabethan times built a new, mullioned house on the site of the present Hotel. During the Depression which followed the Napoleonic Wars they sold the current property to the Turner family, who had made their wealth in calico printing in north Lancashire. It was the Turners who built Shrigley Hall in the neo-Classical style in 1829. Later in the nineteenth century the Hall and estate passed by marriage to the Lowther family, whose last survivor, an ex-colonial, military gentleman, died in 1928. His executors sold the property, for a mere £8,000, to the Roman Catholic religious order, the Salesians of Don Bosco, early in the following year.
The Salesians, whose founder, Fr. (from 1934 St.) John Bosco, had established their headquarters at Turin in northern Italy in the mid-nineteenth century, were then expanding their missionary work in India and other parts of the partially-English-speaking British Empire. They had, therefore, been looking for a property in England, in their Anglo-Irish province, to use as a Missionary College. Though rather remote, particularly in those days, Shrigley fitted the bill, especially at the price negotiated in the aftermath of the Great Crash. And so Shrigley became mainly a junior seminary, educating boys between the ages of 11 and 16-18 who might eventually become Salesian priests or brothers, though at times, especially in the 1930s, it also housed older Salesian students of Philosophy and Theology. Especially in the earlier years, around 1 in 10 of the boys eventually entered the religious life as Salesians, with many of these, again particularly in the early years, proceeding abroad as missionaries.
The first boys, many of them from Ireland, arrived at the College on 19 September 1929 and alterations to the Hall, which had already commenced, continued apace. An immediate need was for dormitories. A single huge space for 100 boys was created by raising the roof over the main range of the House to expand what had originally been a shooting gallery! And an entire storey was added to the north range. Then in 1932 a new wing was built to the north-west, on the site of the old Elizabethan Hall: on the ground floor (now the William Turner Suite) it provided for a chapel, and upstairs for a senior dormitory. Also during the early 1930s a large Study Hall (now the site of the Cheshire and other suites) was built. Within a few years there were 160 boys in residence. They, together with the staff and older Salesian students of Philosophy and Theology, often brought the College’s complement to around 200.
Once the College was operating at full capacity the main rooms along the front of the Hall (to the left as you face it) were the Parlour (where visitors were received) and the Staff Dining Room, and (to the right) the upper-school classrooms. A lean-to-roof (or ambulacrum) was added round the courtyard (or ’quad’) and this was where, when not working, the boys and staff spent most of their recreation time. A detached stable block to the rear of the Hall (at the left-hand, top-end of the current car park) was named St Joseph’s and by the early 1940s was being used for a science laboratory, craft workshops and playrooms. A music room was also created in the main building.
The most important new development undertaken by the Salesians, however, was the Church and Shrine of Don Bosco, their founder in the mid-nineteenth century. The first sod of this major building was cut on 1 April 1934, the day of Don Bosco’s canonisation in Rome. The architect was Philip Tilden, well-known for many years as a designer of major buildings, re-modelling and extensions for the high and mighty, such as Sir Martin Conway and Winston Churchill, but whose business hit hard times following the Great Crash, Slump and Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s. Tilden later wrote that his aim at Shrigley was to reproduce in modern form the old mystical air of Church tradition, an objective which he most certainly achieved. (Photos of the Church can be seen HERE)
The rounded arches and octagonal plan of the Chapel are based on Byzantine and Romanesque churches of the Middle Ages. The Tilden Church was certainly designed on a very grand scale, apparent more from the exterior nowadays since the interior has been divided up to accommodate the swimming pool and Health Club. Nonetheless, the top half of the conversion, the Tilden Suite, still is a grandiose space. Most of the stone for the Church was hewn from the quarry, seen on the right as you begin the ascent of the driveway leading to the Shrigley Hall Hotel. The original floor plan of the Church was a cross within an octagon. The main public entrance was up the stairways from the west through large double doors facing the Main Altar at the east end. A seven foot high crucifix was suspended forty feet above the floor and its stone surround can still be seen today in the wall space which was formerly above the Sanctuary. The Gallery inside the western entrance served as the organ loft and had a large raised area to accommodate the Shrigley four part choir during Church services. Surrounding the central nave, with its double bank of benches and kneelers on either side of the central aisle, six side altars formed part of a wide processional route encircling the whole Church. These six altars were dedicated to The Sacred Heart, Mary Help of Christians, St. Joseph, St. Francis de Sales, St. John Bosco and St. Theresa of Lisieux. The architect himself had painted (onto aluminium plates) the twelve Stations of the Cross which were positioned around the Church along this processional route which led to and from the two double-doored entrances to the extensive sacristy behind the High Altar.
The Salesians also made significant alterations to the grounds. At the rear of the House, overlooking the quadrangle from the ornamental Terrace, stood a tall statue of the Sacred Heart. Behind this the open land in front of the St. Joseph's building (former mews) was converted to an ash-covered playing area, now part of the Hotel car park. Land alongside a large portion of the drive, on the right approaching the College, was leveled and protected by tree planting, to become "The Top Pitches". These new playing fields for soccer, cricket, tennis and athletics, gave welcome alternatives and replacements to the weirdly shaped and bizarrely sloping "pitches" situated down beyond the two lakes and the Oakridge Plantation. The larger lake was banked up and the overflow was harnessed to provide water power to the electricity generator. In time a small graveyard was set out close to the Church. In 2007, as part of its Annual Reunion, the Shrigley Association published a substantial booklet of reminiscences and tributes, honouring the four pupils who died at the College in the 1930s, the fifth boy who died in 1958 and the members of the Salesian Congregation who are also buried with them in this cemetery. (See Publications)
Shrigley became less and less viable as a school following World War II, as running costs grew, vocations declined and missionary work fell away. By 1981 there were fewer than sixty boys at the school the Salesians decided reluctantly to close down their Missionary College. The few remaining students left in 1983 and the whole Shrigley estate was eventually sold in 1985. Then began the extensive conversions and refurbishments to create a high-class Hotel, Conference Centre, Health Club and Golf Course. After the closure, the focus of Salesian work in the area switched to Savio House (formerly Ingersley Hall) just outside Bollington. Here a thriving Retreat, Conference and Youth Training Centre continues the presence and influence of the Salesians of Don Bosco in their (now) British Province. ( UK Salesian Province and Savio House: Bosco Volunteer Action websites)
Over the years, some 2,000 boys had been educated at the school and it was clearly regarded by many of them with great affection, as evidenced by the Annual Reunions and other Events organized by the flourishing Shrigley Association of Past Pupils and Staff of the "Alma Mater"
CLICK HERE FOR AN HISTORICAL SURPRISE FROM A PAST PUPIL.
HISTORY OF SHRIGLEY - DATES & PERSONALITIES
1. HEADMASTER/PREFECT OF STUDIES
Fr Thomas Payne (1930-37)
3. PROVINCIAL SUPERIORS
1926-40 FR. ENEAS TOZZI
We can see, from the above, that 3 Past Pupils became HEADMASTER at Shrigley - Fathers James Collett, Edward Fox and James Gibbons.
5 Past Pupils became RECTOR of their ALMA MATER - Fathers Patrick McQuaid, Albert Winstanley, John Hoey, Michael Lindsay and Michael Power.
Later 4 Past Pupils became the PROVINCIAL SUPERIOR - Fathers Edward Fox, MIchael Cunningham, Michael Winstanley and Martin Coyle
ADDENDA.......Further reading on the History of Shrigley.
1.) "THE FOUNDATION DECADE AT SHRIGLEY" - Seminary,Church & Shrine 1929-39"....Peter Roebuck, Libreria Ateneo Salesiano, Roma, 2004.
2.) "SHRIGLEY 1929-2004", a collection of photographs.....Michael Kilduff, Reprographics Dept., University of Ulster, Coleraine, 2003.
3.) "A BRIEF HISTORY OF SHRIGLEY UNDER THE SALESIANS".....Peter Roebuck, Programme - 2004 Celebrations by the Shrigley Association to mark the 75th Anniversary of Shrigley's Foundation - pp 4-11.
4.) "THE SALESIANS AT SHRIGLEY HALL 1929-1985".....various contibutors, edited by Peter Roebuck & Eric Baggaley,
5) "A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PAST PUPILS' ASSOCIATIONS OF THE SALESIAN MISSIONARY COLLEGE, SHRIGLEY PARK, NEAR MACCLESFIELD".....various contributors, edited by Mike Kilduff,
6) ARCHIVES - a series of articles about Shrigley, notably about the building (and the builders) of the Shrigley Church, edited by Mike Kilduff, Association Archivist.
7.) "THE SALESIAN CEMETERY AT SHRIGLEY ", Michael Kilduff and Peter Roebuck, University of Ulster, Coleraine, 2007.