School life at Stonyhurst College

School life at Stonyhurst College

This article describes some of the unique features of Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit school in Lancashire, England.

School Organisation

The Playroom System

Unlike most English public schools, Stonyhurst is organised horizontally by year groups (known as playrooms) rather than vertically by houses, although the girls are also split into junior and senior houses. Each playroom has an assigned playroom master, with each cohort moving through the playrooms, having a sequence of playroom masters (rather than a single housemaster).

All of the accommodation for boarders is contained within the college, under a single roof, with separate areas for each playroom.

Currently, Stonyhurst has the following playrooms, following the Roman order of learning (from Elements upwards):St Mary's Hall main|Stonyhurst Saint Mary's Hall

*Hodder House (Pre-Prep. 3-7)
*Hodder Playroom (Prep. & Elements 7-10)
*Figures Playroom (10-12)
*Rudiments Playroom ('Ruds', 12-13)

Stonyhurst College

Lower Line:
* Lower Grammar Playroom ('LG' 13-14)
* Grammar Playroom (14-15)
* Syntax Playroom (15-16, GCSE Year)

Higher Line (Sixth Form):
* Poetry Playroom (16-17)
* Rhetoric Playroom (17-18)

Before Catholics were accepted at British Universities, Stonyhurst was also home to a number of "gentlemen philosophers", engaged in university-level study. Typically these were wealthy aristocrats who were not first in line to inherit their parents' estates. The practice died out before the First World War. The Philosophers' common room is now used by the teaching staff. Back when pupils returned after A-levels to cram for entrance exams to Oxford and Cambridge, the higher line playrooms were called Upper Syntax and Poetry, with Rhetoric for the boys cramming for Oxbridge.


In addition to the horizontal division of the school into playrooms, there is also a vertical grouping which cuts through the year groups: the "lines". This system is used mostly for competitive purposes in sport and music. The Lines and colours are as follows:
* Campion (Red) (after St Edmund Campion)
* St Omers (Yellow, though Brown for sporting attire) (after St Omer, the town the school was founded in)
* Shireburn (Green) (after the Shireburn family which built Stonyhurst)
* Weld (Blue) (after Thomas Weld who donated Stonyhurst to the Jesuits)

Pupils remain in the same line throughout their time at the school, and if their parents were also pupils, automatically enter the same line.


At the College, the head boy is known as the "Head of the Line". In recent years the "Second Head of the Line" has been de facto head girl. The heads of line lead the "Committee", a body of ten Rhetoric pupils with the authority to mete out detentions and the writing out of the school rules to younger pupils who misbehave.

Other Rhetoricians are assigned roles as "Senior Monitors", typically with supervisory duties over younger pupils during study sessions and lunch.



The most severe punishment short of exclusion is the Headmaster's Detention, which takes place on a Sunday in the presence of the headmaster. Below this is the Saturday Night Detention, supervised by the Deputy Headmaster for discipline (formerly "Assistant Headmaster"). Pupils are expected to turn out in suits and polished black shoes, whether boarder or day pupil. Departmental detentions and tasks may also be allotted as well as "sets", writing out the school rules.


"Brags", a similar system to credits at the preparatory school, are now awarded for academic excellence, and recorded in the Studies Diary, carried by each pupil and checked weekly by their tutor. These are named after St Edmund Campion SJ's infamous "brag" and replace the Commendation system where certificates would be awarded at a teacher's discretion.

The School Day

The year is split into three terms, Christmas, Easter and Summer, each of which is approximately ten weeks long and divided by a one week's break in the middle. Holidays are long - four weeks at Christmas and Easter and ten over the Summer. During term time, school takes place six days a week, beginning at 8.20am with assembly. On Monday mornings this is led by the headmaster and takes place in the Academy Room. On the other five days it takes place in each playroom and is led by the playroom master. There are three lessons before first recreation at 10.35am. At 11.10am lessons resume until lunchtime (12.30 or 1.10 depending on the individual's timetable). On Mondays and Fridays games take place at 2.00pm following second recreation (4.00 during BST) and are followed by third recreation (tea) and then two lessons at 4.00pm (or 2.00pm during BST). On Thursdays, CCF or voluntary service replaces games. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, games begin at 2.00 and there are no further classes. Study periods take place during the evenings (times vary according to playroom). Society events typically occur during the evening. Lights out varies according to playroom.


In the early nineteenth century, the boys' uniform consisted of: a cap made of leather and fur, a blue swallow-tail coat with brass buttons, a red waistcoat, buff-coloured knee breaches and blue or grey stockings.

Today the uniform is as follows:

*Lower Line boys wear a green tweed jacket and black trousers, with a red tie emblazoned with the St Omers Cross.
*Higher Line boys wear suits.
*Lower Line girls wear skirts in the College tartan, known as Lady Borrowdale's gift and based on a fragment of tartan worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie on his flight from Culloden across to Skye, which is today among the collections in the Arundell Library. This tartan was also worn on the Queen’s visit to the College in 1990. The Earl of Wessex who visited the college in 2006 is said to have a pair of trousers made from the same tartan. ["']
*Higher Line girls wear suits with either trousers or skirts.

Blazers are awarded for full colours in sport, and ties for half colours or other achievements.

Notable events in the school year

Ascensio Scholarum

The "Ascensio Scholarum" is inherited from the College of St Omer. In its present form, it is the opening address of the headmaster at the beginning of the year to the entire school gathered in the Academy Room. Previously, it was a formal transition for pupils from one playroom to the next at the beginning of the year. It involved a pupil from each year announcing to the playroom of the year below them that the next playroom had been vacated by the senior pupils. The students and their belongings would then move up to their next playroom. This is how it acquired the name, "the ascension of the school".

Campion Day

Campion Day is celebrated annually on the Feast of St Edmund Campion. The first period (lesson) of the day is as usual, but followed by Mass, for which Lower Line must change into suits. This is followed by a lunch which takes the form of a Christmas dinner for Lower Line. In the afternoon, pupils and staff are allowed to change into casual clothing and Rhetoric host the Rhetoric Fair in the Ambulacrum for the whole school, with stalls and entertainment, the proceeds from which go to the school's charity, Learning to Care. In the evening a formal dinner is held for Higher Line.

Poetry Banquet

The poetry Banquet takes place in February in a marquee erected in the Ambulacrum. Poets donate raffle prizes and serve dinner to invited guests. At the end of which, they are free to join in the entertainment with their parents and friends, which features, among other things, performances from pupil bands. The proceeds from the evening largely fund the Stonyhurst Children's Holiday Trust week (see above, "Religious Life").

Great Academies

Great Academies, although different in its present form, is a continuation of a tradition begun at St Omers. The first to take place at Stonyhurst was on 6th August 1795."A Stonyhurst Handbook for Visitors and Others", third edition, 1963]

In 1810, it was marked by a twist of fate. The new Academy Room was to be inaugurated at the occasion on 7th August with the delivery of a prologue recalling memories from St Omers but it had to be called off: Thomas Weld, benefactor of the estate to the Jesuits had held a dinner as a treat to the boys in the Top Refectory on 31st July. After singing "I am mad Tom, behold me" at the boys' request, he complained of feeling unwell, and was assisted to his room, where he died in the early morning.

Today Great Academies weekend takes place annually at the end of the first half of the Summer Term. It is an occasion when the school is on display - there are exhibitions, musical performances, the school play, sporting events, as well as prize-giving and the headmaster's speech. It culminates with the Rhetoric ball and mass for Rhetoric pupils and their parents the following morning.

Rhetoric Ball

The Rhetoric Ball, a celebration for those in their final year, and about to sit their A-Levels, closes Great Academies. It is held, like the Poetry Banquet, in a marquee erected in the Ambulacrum. Rhetoricians are accompanied by their families and served dinner.

tonyhurst Chorus

Originally composed in 1894 to celebrate a century of happy settlement for the College in idyllic rural Lancashire, today, the Stonyhurst Chorus was sung each year following the Head of the Line's address at Rhetoric ball, which closed Great Academies. The first verse was sung by the Head chorister of the school and then the rest join in.

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:Old Alma Mater, here's to thee!::Stonyhurst! Old Stonyhurst!:Long life and all prosperity!::Stonyhurst! Old Stonyhurst!:While generations come and go,::While boyhood doth to manhood grow,:Be aye the same we used to know,::Stonyhurst! Old Stonyhurst!

:More bright be every coming year!::Stonyhurst! Old Stonyhurst!:More proud each step of thy career!::Stonyhurst! Old Stonyhurst!:And may thy sons that are to be::More worthy service bring to thee,:But not more loyal hearts than we,::Stonyhurst! Old Stonyhurst!

:Thy sons in every land are known,::Stonyhurst! Old Stonyhurst!:In all they prove them for thine own,::Stonyhurst! Old Stonyhurst!:And borne across each distant main,::From every continent our strain:Shall come in echoes back again,::Stonyhurst! Old Stonyhurst!

:Old college of the eagle towers,::Stonyhurst! Old Stonyhurst::Thy honour shall through life be ours,::Stonyhurst! Old Stonyhurst!:Fresh triumphs give us year by year::Of study and of play to hear,:And back to thee return the cheer,::Stonyhurst! Old Stonyhurst!


(Sung to the German melody 'Tannenbaum')

Stonyhurst Parlance

Below is a sample of terms from Stonyhurst parlance. As in other public schools terms have been coined pertaining to various features of life in the school.

*Alaska: The name given to the accommodation detached from the other dormitories.
*Atramentarius: The Atramentarius (now obsolete) would be responsible for the maintenance of ink pots in the desks of each classroom.]
*Bread Rooms: The English Department in what was once the College kitchen and bakery.
*Cacus: The Latin word for 'blind', used to denote to the window-less room created above Higher Line Common Room from part of the old Museum (obsolete now that the room has been extended to share the large windows with the common room below).
*Clang Corner: The name given to the area on the ground floor of New Wing where Poets congregate.
*Dungeons: The name given to the small, dark rooms occupied by Poetry boarders in the Shireburn Buildings.
*Lions: In the eighteenth century Lion statues stood at the main gate, which has been knows as "The Lions" ever since. The original lions are thought to be those now in the Jesuit Gardens.
*Pipes: The radiators along the Upper Gallery are numbered owing to the 'pipes' system no longer used, where students would leave their work on the specified radiator for their teacher to collect and mark.
*The Plunge: The name given to the old swimming pool, now Lower Grammar and Grammar changing facilities and dormitories.
*Quality Street: The name given to the better accommodation in the Front Quadrangle (now obsolete).
*Sewage Farm: The nickname given to the old Poetry Dormitories above the Top Refectory (now obsolete).
*The Snoring Dormitory: A special dormitory for snorers (now obsolete).

ee also

*College of St Omer
*Stonyhurst Saint Mary's Hall
*Hodder Place
*List of Stonyhurst Alumni/ae
*Roman Catholic Church
*Society of Jesus
*St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits
*English Heritage
*Hurst Green



* Chadwick, Hubert, S.J. (1962). "St Omers to Stonyhurst", Burns & Oats. No ISBN
* Muir, T.E. (1992). "Stonyhurst College 1593-1993", James & James (Publishers) Ltd. ISBN 0-907383-32-7
* The Authorities of Stonyhurst College (1963), "A Stonyhurst Handbook for Visitors and Others", Third edition
* Hewitson, A. (Preston, 1878), "Stonyhurst College, Present and Past: Its History, Discipline, Treasures and Curiosities", Second edition
* [ Stonyhurst College website]

External links

* [ Stonyhurst College website]
* [ St Mary's Hall website] (Stonyhurst Prep School)
* [ St John's Beaumont website] (a significant feeder school to the College)
* [ Unofficial Bulletin Board for Alumni]

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