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  • Writer's pictureMary Allen

Anniversary: 130 years of Wimbledon College

Wimbledon College, late 19th - early 20th century

On 18 January 1892 Wimbledon College, a Catholic boys' school run by the Society of Jesus in South London, opened its doors to its first pupils.

Man sitting on a bench wearing suit and clerical collar and holding a hat. There is foliage behind the bench.
Fr James Nicholson SJ, the first headmaster of Wimbledon College

Jesuit priests had served the small Catholic community in Wimbledon from their base at Manresa House in Roehampton since the 1870s. In 1887 the English Provincial, Fr Edward Purbrick SJ, formally accepted control of the mission at Wimbledon from the Bishop of Southwark and in so doing secured an agreement that the Society of Jesus could establish a school in the area. The site of the first Jesuit school in Wimbledon was in the parlour of the presbytery at 3 Cranbrook Road with just two pupils (the Lloyd brothers) initially. Fr James Nicholson SJ was the first headmaster. The Jesuit school was housed at several other temporary locations in 1892, including at a site adjoining the All England Lawn Tennis Courts.

Towards the end of 1892 Fr John Clayton SJ, then Provincial, sanctioned the purchase of Wimbledon School on Edge Hill. Madame Edith Arendrup, a wealthy Catholic widow who had supported the establishment of the church of the Sacred Heart, contributed funds for the deposit to secure the property. Wimbledon School, known as Brackenbury's, had been founded by the Rev John Matthew Brackenbury as an Anglican military academy. The Jesuits moved to this new site in 1893 with a cohort of 23 pupils.

Group of boys in early 20th century clothing sitting and standing around a bench on which a man in clerical dress sits with 2 of the boys. They are outside with trees and foliage in the background.
Group photo with Fr Peter McPhillips SJ, 1902

The College rapidly expanded as the Catholic population of Wimbledon grew. An Army Department, or Army Class, operated between 1898 and 1921 to cater for students studying to take army, navy and civil service examinations. The College chapel was opened in 1910. 129 old boys died in the First World War; a war memorial was opened in the college chapel in 1922. In 1929 the Coombe Lane sports ground was purchased. In 1933 Donhead Lodge, a large house just across the road from the College, was purchased to establish a preparatory school for the College.

Up until the start of the Second World War Wimbledon College had been an independent fee-paying school. Under the headmastership of Fr John Sinnott SJ (1937-1950), the College was granted aided school status and school fees were abolished. In 1948 the College became an aided grammar school. Under the headmastership of Fr Robert Carty SJ, Wimbledon College again changed its status in 1968 to a voluntary aided comprehensive high school. The College has maintained this status into the twenty-first century.

Today, the College has 1300 pupils, including a joint sixth form with the all-girls Ursuline High School. The first lay headmaster was appointed in 2011. Its 125th anniversary was celebrated in the 2016-2017 academic year with a programme of events, the publication of an up-to-date school history and a whole school Mass held at Westminster Cathedral.

The records of Wimbledon College that have been transferred to the Archives have been catalogued and you can browse the catalogue here. If you are interested in consulting any of the records, please contact us.

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