Douai School

For the sixteenth-century seminary, see English College, Douai.
Douai School
Motto Dominus mihi adjutor (Latin: "The Lord is my aid")
Established 1615 (re-founded 1818 and 1903)
Closed 1999
Type Independent
Religion Roman Catholic
Founder St. Edmund's Monastery (Paris)
Location Upper Woolhampton
Gender boys
Ages 13–18
Houses Faringdon      ; Gifford      ; Samson      ; Walmesley     
Colours Blue and gold
Publication Douai Magazine
Former pupils Old Dowegians
Song Ad multos annos
Website Former Douai School

Douai School was the public (independent) school that was run by the Douai Abbey Benedictine community at Woolhampton, England, until it closed in 1999.



The monastic community was founded in Paris in 1615 and moved to Douai after the French Revolution taking over the former buildings of the community of St Gregory. The monastery provided educational opportunities from the beginning, but had no formal school in its first decades of existence. A boarding school later emerged in a dependent priory at at La Celle.


Following the move to Douai in 1818, and the refoundation of the community by Richard Marsh, a more recognisable school emerged and by 1823, there were 28 boys on the roll. Around that time, the fees for students were being advertised at £32 a year or £30 for church students.[1] Links with the English dioceses were crucial to the school's survival. In the 1880s the Diocese of Birmingham was sending seven boys a year to the school. [2] Rather than the vertical house system of English schools, Douai retained the horizontal divisions of 'Rhetoric', 'Poetry', 'Grammar' and 'Syntax' throughout the nineteenth century, and even for a time in its new home in England.[3]


The modern school in Woolhampton, Berkshire 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 June 1903 as a result of Waldeck-Rousseau's Law of Associations (1901). Former pupils lobbied the Irish Parliamentary Party to raise the matter of the expulsion in Parliament. However it was English Tory Catholics who espoused the cause: Lord Edmund Talbot in the House of Commons and 11th Baron Herries of Terregles in the House of Lords.[4]

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."[5]

Day boys were admitted from the early 1960s, when annual boarding fees were £360.[6] By 1984, there was a record number of 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.[7]

In 2005, Edmund Power (headmaster 1993–97) was elected Abbot of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

List of Headmasters


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 m2) 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 56 Old Boys of both Douai and St Mary's College who were killed in the First World War.

In the early years at Woolhampton, the school was seen as an appendage to the monastery and it was only with the foundation of a separate abbey church in the 1930s and the creation of distinct school and monastic refectories in 1944 that a degree of separation emerged. 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.[8][9] The former school buildings were also used as a location for the 2002 television film of Goodbye, Mr. Chips.[10]

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.

Former pupils

Former pupils are known as Old Dowegians and are eligible to join the Douai Society, founded in 1868.

Notable former pupils include:

The Douai Society tie is black with thin multiple stripes of yellow, red, yellow, navy, yellow.


Association football was introduced to the old school in the late 1880s. Before this, football was played to particular rules which allowed the use of hands and forbade any kicking backwards. Cricket had been played for many years in the old quad, but in 1885 a new pitch was laid at Douai's country house in Planques.[13]

External fixtures, which were unknown at old Douai, were soon organized after the move to England. Cricket and hockey were played at the new school from 1905, and from 1918–19 rugby union replaced soccer as the main winter sport (soccer returned as a minor sport in 1962). In 1920, the Trinidadian Louis Wharton became Douai's first Oxford University cricketer, having won a Blue for soccer the previous year.[14] He went on to play cricket for Somerset.[15] After the war the Surrey all-rounder Alan Peach was cricket coach, succeeded by Frank Shipston of Nottinghamshire. 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.[16][17][18]


In the 1890s mortar boards were introduced but this innovation was soon abandoned. 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.[19]

Junior School

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 II.

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, Faringdon and Gifford Houses.

In 1976 a non-denominational school was opened at Ditcham Park.


  1. 'The Catholicon' (1836) 26.
  2. Catholics of Consequence: Transnational Education, Social Mobility, and the Irish Catholic Elite 1850–1900, Ciaran O'Neill (Oxford, 2014), p.195. ISBN 9780191017469.
  3. From Repatriation to Revival: Continuity and Change in the English Benedictine Congregation 1795–1850, Alban Hood (Farnborough, 2014), p. 163. ISBN 978-0-907077-66-4.
  4. O'Neill, p.194
  5. The English Benedictine Community of St Edmund King and Martyr. Paris 1615 / Douai 1818 / Woolhampton 1903–2003. A Centenary History, edited by Geoffrey Scott (Worcester: Stanbrook Abbey Press, 2003), p. 149. ISBN 0-900704-43-8.
  6. 'Catholic Herald', 27 December 1963
  7. Cricinfo – Players and Officials – Father Ignatius Rice
  8. The English Benedictine Community of St Edmund King and Martyr, edited by Geoffrey Scott, p. 149.
  9. Locations in Three Men and a Little Lady listed on Accessed 5 March 2008.
  10. Goodbye, Mr. Chips on Accessed 5 March 2008.
  11. Kavanagh gave an unflattering account of the school in his autobiographical The Perfect Stranger (1966).
  12. Mayr-Harting wrote a personal memoir of the school (1949–54) in The English Benedictine Community of St Edmund King and Martyr (2003), pp. 174–193.
  13. 'The Douai Magazine', 1895.
  14. 'The Tablet', 27 December 1919
  15. Cricinfo – Players and Officials – Louis Wharton
  16. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". Retrieved 2007-08-01.
  17. Oliver Price Blood, mud and aftershave in The Observer Sunday 5 February 2006, Section O is for Oti
  18. "The story behind "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and how it became a rugby anthem.". Retrieved 2007-10-08.
  19. Blazers, Badges and Boaters: A Pictorial History of School Uniform, Alexander Davidson (Horndean, 1990), p. 131. ISBN 0-906619-25-4.

External links

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