13 April 2022

Saint Paul’s, a former school,
is part of the architectural
heritage of Stony Stratford

Saint Paul’s Court in Stony Stratford was first built as a grammar school ‘to be conducted on the Public School system, by graduate clergy’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Paul’s Court is one of the most imposing buildings in Stony Stratford. It was first built as a grammar school ‘to be conducted on the Public School system, by graduate clergy.’

This Victorian complex of buildings facing the High Street in Stony Stratford was built in a lavish style by the Revd William Thomas Sankey, Vicar of Saint Giles Church (now Saint Mary and Saint Giles) at a cost of £40,000 in 1863.

WT Sankey was the Vicar of Saint Giles from 1859 to 1875, and was known as a great benefactor to Stony Stratford. He was instrumental in clearing away many slum dwellings for the building of New Street, one of the town’s most picturesque streets.

The building was designed by the architectural practice of Goldie and Childe.

George Goldie (1828-1887) was born in York, the grandson of the architect Joseph Bonomi the Elder. He was educated at Saint Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw, in Durham, and trained as an architect with John Grey Weightman and Matthew Ellison Hadfield of Sheffield, in 1845-1850, and then worked with them as a partner. In 1858, he formed a partnership with ME Hadfield, practising as Hadfield and Goldie in Sheffield and London.

Goldie practised alone in London between 1861 and 1867. In 1867 or 1868, he formed the partnership of Goldie and Child with Charles Edwin Child (1843-1911). In 1880 or 1881, Goldie’s son, Edward Goldie, joined the firm, which practised as Goldie Child and Goldie until George Goldie died in 1887.

The works by Goldie and Child in Ireland include Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church, Baker’s Place, Limerick, Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church, Bridge Street, Waterford, the Good Shepherd, Clare Street, Limerick, much of the interior work and decoration of Holy Trinity Church, Adare, Co Limerick, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo, and the High Altar and reredos in the Redemptorist Church at Mount Saint Alphonsus, Limerick.

The chapel porch at Saint Paul’s … the buildings were designed by Goldie and Child (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Paul’s College opened in Stony Stratford in January 1864, with Sankey as the first Warden. There was room for 200 boarders and most paid fees of 24 guineas a year. The general course of instruction included Latin, Greek, French, Mathematics, and the usual details of a sound English education.

The spire was of a considerable size and the college prospectus showed a very grand building, in keeping with Sankey’s vision. He wanted to make Stony Stratford a centre of educational importance, reflected in the prestigious design of the college.

This is an imposing building of local stone with brick dressings, comprising a chapel with apsidal end, entrance gatehouse and assembly rooms in an ambitious German Gothic style.

Internally, the chapel has fittings of marble and stained pine of high quality. The assembly room, now subdivided, has ceiling paintings. The main building is Grade II listed and the fine moulded arched entrance, along with the later stone wall along the High Street, are separately listed Grade II.

The former college is now divided into commercial and residential premises (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The college had less success after the Revd WT Sankey died in 1875, closed briefly in 1882, and eventually closed in 1895.

Then, for a short time in 1896, the college became a cigar factory, and then stood empty for two or three years.

The buildings were bought in 1900 by JWC Fegan from London for use as a boys’ orphanage. Fegan was a wealthy and religious man who dedicated his life to helping homeless boys in London. He was looking for a home for his ‘bold, pert and dirty London sparrows’ when he came across the College of Saint Paul, which he bought in 1900 for £4,500.

It became Fegan’s Home for Orphaned Boys and for over 60 years ‘Fegan’s Boys’ went to school there. The home was known for retaining a set of canes, known from Edward I to Edward VIII, and selected according to the severity of a boy’s punishment.

During those years, however, around 4,000 boys were given a good home, many remembering their somewhat harsh education with a degree of affection.

Tom McClean, known for his record-breaking feats, was one of ‘Fegan’s Boys.’ He rowed solo across the North Atlantic in world record time in 1969. In 1983 he earned another record in 1983, sailing the same ocean in the shortest yacht, the Giltspur, which was only 7 ft 9 in long. Using skills he learned in the Parachute Regiment and the SAS, he later ran the Highland Outdoor Adventure Centre in Scotland.

A statue of Saint Anthony of Padua … Saint Paul’s was a preparatory school run by Franciscans until 1972 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Fegan’s school closed in 1962, and then served as a preparatory school run by Franciscan monks until 1972. Since then, the building has served many uses, including the offices of the Swiss commercial bank, Societé Generale.

The school chapel is now a restaurant, Calcutta, and the other buildings in the complex serve as offices, craft workshops and apartments.

The swimming pool was filled in, a block of retirement homes were built at the back, and the playing fields were used to extend the Ancell Trust sports ground.

This building remains one of the most imposing buildings in Stony Stratford.

The former Saint Paul’s College remains one of the most imposing buildings in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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