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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Taylor

Centenary Anniversary of Loyola Hall

It is the centenary anniversary of the opening of Loyola Hall, a Jesuit retreat centre in the North West of England that operated between 1923 and 2014. In keeping with this milestone, our Cataloguing Archivist has spent several months processing the centre's diverse collection and detailed the process in this blog.

The Jesuits took possession of Loyola Hall on 27 April 1923, having been based at Oakwood Hall since 1909, a retreat centre in Romily in what was then Cheshire, now Greater Manchester. The Jesuits renamed the then Rainhill Hall to Loyola Hall after the birthplace of their founder, Saint Ignatius. The first major retreat took place on 23 June of the same year for thirty eight promoters, men experienced with undertaking retreats who recruited other men from their parishes. On 12 July that year, the Archbishop of Liverpool, Frederick Keating, came to attend a day of recollection and blessed the house. When Loyola Hall was initially founded by Fr George Pollen SJ, it ran roughly 30-day retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and weekend retreats for working men's sodalities and parish groups. Numbers of retreatants continued to rise during the 1920s. In 1923 the total number was 504, in 1924 the total number was over 800, and in 1929 over 2,000 people had come on retreat during the year. In 1933, the director of the house, Fr Edward Rockliff SJ, expanded the grounds of Loyola Hall by purchasing twenty acres of land from the Bretherton estate (the previous owners) to the north-west of the site.

Following the Second World War, the Jesuits began offering a more diverse range of courses. This included RAF Leadership Courses and Individually Guided Retreats. This coincided with the appointment of Fr Peter Blake SJ as Superior and Director, who was Chaplain to the British Armed Forces from 1939 to 1960. During Blake’s tenure a contemporary new wing was built with a purpose built chapel and further accommodation for retreatants. It was officially opened 14 May 1967 by George Beck, Archbishop of Liverpool. The following decade saw a visit from the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, on 22 January 1970. This was followed by a seven year period (1970-1977) when Loyola Hall became the residence for noviciates as part of their Jesuit formation, until their transfer to Harborne in Birmingham, where they remain to the present day. In the 1980s religious sisters joined the spirituality team at Loyola Hall and in 1991 the first salaried lay member of staff joined to develop work with young adults, which continued through the encouragement of director Fr Damian Jackson SJ. The following decade witnessed a diversification of course programmes to reach out to those who felt isolated from the Catholic Church, including divorced and separated people, LGBT, and other Christian denominations. In January 2009 the centre recruited its first lay director, Ruth Holegate. Loyola Hall officially closed at Easter in 2014 with the British Province confirming that retreats would take place principally through St Beuno’s Spirituality Centre in North Wales. This continues to the present day.

Several boxes containing material on Loyola Hall that were sent from the Retreat Centre.

The first step was to cross check the listed material with the contents of the boxes and add further notes. It was discovered that several further boxes had been deposited to the archive and were unlisted, so the contents were briefly scoped and brief descriptions and numbers were added to the already extant lists. The collection contained a diverse range of material across a variety of formats including paper records, born digital material, photographs, building and architectural plans, bound volumes, printed material and even a football signed by the North Korean Football team when they visited Loyola Hall in 1966! Our Archivist then colour-highlighted entries on the lists as part of the arrangement process to determine how the collection should be intellectually arranged through a descending hierarchy. This corresponded with creating box lists on separate spreadsheets for relevant legacy material historically held at the Province Archives. The custodial history of this material was tenuous and recorded on rudimentary index cards with minimal context. While scoping and developing the listings it was prudent to deaccession material not deemed relevant for long-term preservation. The material was consulted by the Province Archivist for confirmation and discarded material was recorded in the deaccession register.

Our archivist made full use of an empty readers’ room to sort, rehouse and clean parts of the collection

Once comprehensive lists for the accessioned and legacy material were completed the information was copied into a catalogue template on a separate spreadsheet. This was a useful way of arranging and editing large collections rather than directly inputting into archival management software (British Jesuit Archives use Axiell CALM). The excel template corresponds with the software fields so that information can be mapped and imported from the spreadsheet; our archivist added further details into relevant fields before importing. Amongst others, this included notes on conservation and data protection. The collection also included born digital material held on CDs from the early 2000s, making these records potentially vulnerable to corruption. The material was transferred to a computer drive, saved and converted to appropriate formats for long-term preservation. The material was then catalogued onto the new spreadsheet with notes made of the records’ virtual locations to ensure discoverability.

As part of the preservation process, large building and architectural plans were rolled out and flattened before being rehoused in the archives plan chests

The rehousing process involved removing materials from their original packaging, making notes on potential preservation concerns, undertaking necessary cleaning and repackaging the contents using acid-free folders, archival tape, brass paperclips and protective melinex sleeves for photographs. Amongst the collection were glass plate negatives and copper plate etchings that required alternative care. These delicate objects were wrapped in acid-free tissue, rehoused in bespoke boxes and marked as fragile; this was also necessary for the North Korean artefacts that included the football, pennant and badges. Once rehoused these boxes were individually labelled with a unique reference number, box number and permanently stored in one of the Archives' strong rooms.

The final product! Part of the rehoused collection of Loyola Hall

The last step was to transfer the catalogue from Excel into CALM. Once uploaded, the data was cross-checked for inconsistencies and the finished product was uploaded to the archives’ virtual catalogue on the Catholic Heritage website. The completed Loyola Hall catalogue can be found here.

An example from the collection. A large, bound volume of illustrated plans and elevations of Rainhill Hall from 1870 (LH/21)

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