For many of us, the idea of a summer holiday will be just a memory because of the coronavirus pandemic - but since 1853 Jesuit students have taken a two week holiday in Barmouth, Wales. The house at Barmouth is still owned by the Jesuits, and is today used as a retreat centre.
Travel back in time over the last 160 years with the British Jesuit Archives.
The summer holidays are about to start, and for some they are already upon us. Children will be enjoying their six weeks off school, and many of us take a week or a fortnight’s vacation by the sea or in the countryside. The Jesuits also enjoy short breaks from their work and the Archive holds material recording holidays taken by Jesuits over the last 160 years.
Jesuit students, known as Scholastics, used to take a two week holiday in Barmouth, in Wales. This tradition started in 1853 when Fr James Etheridge SJ rented a house there, and by 1865 had become an established custom. Later the order bought a house in Barmouth, firstly Aber House in the centre of the town, which was subsequently sold, and a house just outside Barmouth at Llanaber was bought in its place. The holiday was referred to as ‘Barmouth Villa’ and settled into a pattern where first the Theologians and then the Philosophers would each have a fortnight’s holiday there.
The young Scholastics made the most of their fortnight’s ‘Villa’. They went on hiking expeditions, made tours of the surrounding area in carts and char-a-bancs, went cycling, fishing, sailing and rowing. Barmouth was ideally suited for this, being surrounded by beautiful hills (it is situated on the edge of Snowdonia) and having an estuary navigable by small boats up to eight miles inland. At the top of the navigable waters at Penmaenpool is an inn called ‘The George’, much frequented by Scholastics on holiday. It made an ideal destination for a day trip by boat from Barmouth, with labours of rowing and sailing rewarded by a beer at ‘The George’.
The holidaying Jesuits would on occasion write in the visitors’ book at ‘The George’, sometimes in Latin and sometimes in verse, as well as more prosaic, English prose entries. When Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ was taking his two weeks ‘Villa’ in August 1876 he wrote his poem ‘Penmaen Pool, for the Visitors’ Book at the Inn’ which starts:
Who long for rest, who look for pleasure
Away from counter, court or school
O where live well your lease of leisure
But here at, here at Penmaen Pool
10/12/2020 From the Archives: 160 years of summer holidays
You’ll dare the Alp? You’ll dart the skiff? –
Each sport has here its tackle and tool:
Come, plant the staff by Cadair cliff:
Come, swing the sculls on Penmaen Pool
Trips to nearby parts of Wales were popular pastimes, with horse-drawn carriages known as ‘whitechapels’ used in the early days to transport the holidaying Jesuits to Harlech or to Devil’s Bridge. Later, charabancs were used instead.
In 1873 the Beadle of St Beuno’s kept a diary of that year’s Villa. The Beadle was clearly more keen on sailing than walking in the surrounding hills. He was laconic about a trip to Cader Idrison Tuesday 5 August, which he describes as ‘Day very hot, hills very clear, waterfalls well charged with water’. He was more expansive about yachting and rowing;
‘We hired for the fortnight the Jolly Dog a yacht of … the type familiar at seaside resorts. In this put to sea when the weather was suitable, an operation which involved beating up a rather narrow channel to the bar, nearly a mile away, which was not crossable in all states of the tide. In the other direction stretched the estuary, which, when the tide is in, makes a fine sheet of water and on which Father Kerr devised another form of entertainment. With some of the Benedictines of Belmont, who were likewise at Barmouth for holiday purposes, we manned a flotilla of four-oared boats, which he, cruising about in a pair-oar and signalling with flags, manoeuvred up and down and gave their crews lessons in rowing, an art in which some were not very proficient.’
More interested in walking was Alban Goodier SJ, later Archbishop of Bombay, but in 1893 a 22year old Scholastic who took a two week holiday at Barmouth with some of his fellow Philosophy students from St Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst. He kept a diary of his holiday, noting interesting geological features and the marvellous views to be seen from the summits. Having climbed to the top of Diffwys, the mountain behind Barmouth, Goodier and his companions:
‘…peered over the side and watched stones rolled over the top spring from crag to crag,until, after the lapse of quite a minute, they leapt out of sight. It was too much for me; Icontented myself with sitting on the cairn of stones which marks the highest point.
As I say, the view from Diphwys quite repayed us for all our labours. Down in the valley inthe south was the lovely estuary, seen from another position, winding in and out amongthe hills as if it had come up to comfort them in sadness; beyond this stretched the longrange of Cader Idris, another precipitous crag, whose summit from below seems like ajagged knife-edge fired upward.’
The house at Barmouth is still owned by the Jesuits, and is today still used as a holiday house as well as a retreat centre.
If you are interested in any of the material mentioned in this blog post, or the rest of the collections held at the Jesuits in Britain Archives, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.