Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010
Old boys' joy as Pell Wall Hall is set for renovation
Pell Wall Hall when it was St Joseph's College
The former St Joseph's College was at Pell Wall Hall

Old boys from the former St Joseph's College at Pell Wall Hall near Market Drayton are pleased it is to be restored.

The house, which was the last domestic commission of famous architect, Sir John Soane, has been in a state of disrepair for many years.

The new owner, Bernard Goodwin, is planning a full renovation project.

The school, which was run by French Catholic order The Brothers of Christian Instruction, closed in 1962.

War time

The school chapel at St Joseph's School
The school chapel was previously used as a ball room

A number of boys attended St Joseph's College as boarders during World War II, having been sent to the safety of Shropshire's countryside and avoid the bombing in towns and cities.

Gerald Griffiths was at the school for six years from 1944: "I was originally at a Catholic grammar school on the outskirts of London in Chiswick and it was closed because of bomb damage.

"My parents contacted a local priest and I was introduced to St Joseph's College at Pell Wall."

He was put on the 2.10pm train from Paddington to go to Shropshire: "A lot of boys came up from Southampton because that was the mother school, St Mary's College, which is still there today."


The boys arrived at the school late at night, but, said Mr Griffiths, they were made very welcome.

The first day after speaking to some of the older lads, I just went under the stairs and was crying my eyes out
John Southall

Some enjoyed it more than others: "There were a lot of boys who were quite homesick, especially those who were going up for the first time.

"I don't remember being homesick myself, but it was very strange. Strange environment, not knowing what was before us, but we were made very, very welcome."

John Southall arrived at St Joseph's on 7 January 1942, aged nine: "At first it was trying. The first day, after speaking to some of the the older lads, I just went under the stairs and was crying my eyes out, but I think that would be normal."

Head Boy

Matron was Miss Freeman, she looked after the little ones. She was definitely a mother to them
Gerald Griffiths

Gerald Griffiths left St Joseph's in 1950. He ended his time there as head boy and has happy memories of his years at the school: "It was the companionship. The main thing was the sport, cricket and football, indoor games and we all got on so well together."

There was a tremendous age range among the pupils. Mr Griffiths remembers some of them being very young: "I could always remember a little boy called Rose.

"They had a kiln in the Potteries. They used to bring their little boy every Monday morning and collect him every Friday evening. He couldn't have been much more than four or five."

The Edwardian Blue Dormitory building has now been demolished
The Blue Dormitory where the younger boys slept

Brian Ford from Market Drayton went as a young boarder and remembers sleeping in the Blue Dormitory, one of the Edwardian additions to the building which has now been demolished.

Miss Freeman

Mr Griffiths remembers the matron, Miss Freeman, who looked after the younger boys at the school: "She was definitely a mother to them. They loved her really."

Although St Joseph's was run by a Roman Catholic order there were non-Catholics among their number.

Brian Ford was one of them: "It was not a pre-requirement to be a Catholic to go there although there was expectation that we attended mass and services and were were expected to take religious education lessons."

He said there was no real effort to convert non-Catholic pupils and everyone was treated the same.

German plane

The bottom lake at Pell Wall Hall
The bottom lake at St Josephs was a favourite swimming spot

Mr Southall remembers the pupils gathering in the main classroom at the school to follow the progress of the war on a map on the wall and listened to the news on the radio.

On one occasion a bomber crashed onto Tyrley Farm on the opposite side of the Newport road from the school: "It looked as though he had crash landed and was going slowly uphill, so he had chosen the ground well.

"Although it was very badly damaged and probably couldn't be used again, I think they managed to escape from it."

A German plane also crashed near the school and the boys were able to get a good look at it but were not allowed too close for fear of exploding fuel or ammunition.

Polish pupils

Brian Ford remembers several Polish boys being at the school, having fled from mainland Europe.

Two of them became personal friends: "I understand, but there's no verification, but they had escaped Nazi occupation of Europe and managed to get to England. The story was that they had in fact witnessed their father being shot by the SS."

Despite the drama of the plane crashes, John Southall said they felt safe at school away from the air raids which afflicted the towns and cities.

The 1951 St Joseph's football team at Pell Wall Hall
Members of St Joseph's football team in 1951

Sport was an important part of life at St Joseph's and one of the brothers, Brother Philip, was remembered by both Mr Southall and Mr Ford as being the driving force in the games field.

Mr Ford said Brother Philip had decided they should not play football on the tennis courts: "He had cricket stumps painted on the walls of the court so that we could practise our bowling and batting."

The brother later became a priest and a lifelong friend of Brian Ford and his family: "He was a significant influence in my life."

He summed up his time at St Joseph's: "Happiness, yes, happiness. It was that sort of place, for me anyway."

The brothers

The brothers were mostly liked and respected by the boys. Mr Ford described them as kind, generous and above all, fair: "They thought they had a duty to give an opportunity to youngsters to live a good, moral life and be of use in society."

The maths teacher was Brother Arthur, who, according to Brian Ford, was a dead shot with a piece of chalk: "I do remember if you had a pen or a pencil while he was at the board he could turn round, fling a piece of chalk and knock the pencil out of your hand.

"That was when he was being kind, sometimes it was right between the eyes."

Brother James, the Superior at the college, was Gerald Griffiths's favourite: "I think he was a very understanding man... He was the equivalent of the headmaster and obviously he was the superior of the order at the college.

"There might have been one or two hiccups with certain brothers in as much as some were perhaps a little strict, but they soon got pulled into line by the Superior."

Mr Griffiths said they were never treated harshly: "We never had any hard punishment. There was never any strapping or caning or what have you. It was just that you did as you were told because they were kind men."

Corpus Christie

The boys of St Josephs built a grotto in the grounds at Pell Wall Hall
The boys built a grotto in the grounds to house an altar

One of the highlights of the year and fondly remembered by the boys was the Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) procession through the grounds of the college.

In the early years of the college the pupils had helped the brothers to build a grotto with an altar to the Virgin Mary inside.

John Southall recalled: "There were processions to the grotto in the grounds... we processed up to that, down by the lakes and up and round again and the on to another altar which was set up on what we called the Top Lawn and back to the main chapel."

It was also a welcome event for Brian Ford: "A convent of nuns and their girls came and participated in the procession... that was the highlight of the year... the girls coming for Corpus Christi."

The lantern light

The Main staircase at Pell Wall Hall. Picture courtesy of Jackson Stops estate agents
The central staircase at Pelwall Hall

There was little appreciation of the significance of Pell Wall Hall when John Southall was a pupil: "We didn't know the history of the place, only that the brothers bought it in the 1920s. We didn't know who the architect was or the year it was built."

For Gerald Griffiths it was the enormous doors that impressed him: "There were huge, great, oak or mahogany doors. They were floor to ceiling height."

Another feature of the house was the lantern light, designed by Sir John Soane which illuminated the main staircase and the landings on either side. This was destroyed in the fire of 1986 but later became the focus of a fundraising drive by old boys.

St Joseph's old boys examine the rebovation work at Pell Wall Hall
Members of the Old Boys Lantern Light Committee

The strong friendships forged at school carried on after the boys left and many are still in contact through the old boys society which meets every other year.

They formed a committee to raise money to pay for the restoration of the magnificent lantern light and raised enough to build a new framework which is now in place on the roof of Pell Wall Hall, awaiting new window frames and glass.

When the old boys hold their meeting in May 2010 there will be plenty to talk about and maybe even something to see, as the work to restore the hall has already started.

Do you have memories of the school? Get in touch

Your E-mail address
Town & Country

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

I attended St Josephs around 1954 when Brother Gabriel was head. Brother Paul was maths teacher. there was a B Bernard, B Valentine B Gerard I think there was a B Arthur. I would like to contact Mike Gough if he is still with us.

Mike Paget-Tomlinson, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria

I am researching my family tree and have memories of my father Clifford Weetman having told me that he was a past pupil at both St Josephs, Market Drayton(prior to 1937) and St Marys Southampton abt 1937 onwards. Does any one remember him.I would be very gratefull of any contact regarding him.In postcards home sent from St Marys in Sep 1937 he mentions being in Form Five Lower and friends called Philip Lester,Sandy White and Bridges and Brother Oswald.He writes about going to see the ship Berengaria in the docks. I hope to hear from someone possibly.

Linda Strong, Lytham St Annes, Lancashire

I attended St Edward's College, Cheswardine Hall from Sept 1961 to 1966 and we used to play football and cricket against Pell Wall lads. I then went to Jersey for a year then Dublin for 3 years. Then returned to England when my father died. I have kept in touch with some of my classmates and teachers.

Peter Finnerty, Doncaster

In pictures: St Joseph's School
10 Mar 10 |  History
Bright future for Pell Wall Hall
22 Feb 10 |  History
A stroll in Pell Wall's gardens
26 Feb 10 |  History


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