Downside School

Downside School is a co-educational Catholic independent school for children aged 11 to 18, located in Stratton-on-the-Fosse, between Westfield and Shepton Mallet in Somerset, south west England, attached to Downside Abbey. It has both boarding and day pupils.

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Coordinates51°15′18″N 2°29′42″W
TypeIndependent day and boarding school
MottoApud bonos iura pietatis
(Amongst good people, there are rules of piety [worth more than riches] Justinus, or :- "Among the Good, Piety is the Law".)
Religious affiliation(s)Catholic
Established1617 (1617)
FoundersEnglish Benedictine Monks in exile
Department for Education URN123910 Tables
PresidentGavin Quinlan
ChairDom Leo Maidlow Davis OSB
HeadmasterAndrew Hobbs
Age11 to 18
Colour(s)Maroon and Gold         
SongPatriae domus decorem
AlumniOld Gregorians

Originally a school for English Catholic boys, it was established in 1617 by English and Welsh monks living in exile at Douai, France.[2] The monastic community returned to England in 1795, with both the community and its school initially housed in the Shropshire home of Sir Edward Smythe, a former pupil. By 1814 the abbey and school had been re-established at its present site in Somerset. Downside School became fully co-educational with boys and girls in all year groups in 2005.

In 2017 the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) began an investigation into the English Benedictine Congregation, including Ampleforth College and Downside School. Ten individuals from the two schools, including monks, were convicted or accepted a caution for abuse. The final report released in August 2018 said that the abuse had been inflicted on pupils for over 40 years, but the schools had tried to cover up the allegations. Downside School has since instituted measures for protecting and safeguarding its students and appointed a new headmaster.[3]

The school

Downside is run by lay staff and the Benedictine monks of Downside Abbey.[2] Several monks work in the school as teachers and chaplains. It has a board of governors consisting of a chairman and seven others. Of the latter three are members of the Benedictine community.[4] However the school does not have a separate legal status from the abbey, so the monastic trustees have financial and executive control of the school. The governors provide general direction and management.[5][6]

The school is divided into six houses; five senior houses and one junior house, with both day pupils and boarders in the same houses. Each house takes its name from the Community's martyrs or benefactors:

  • Powell House although in the senior school is a Junior House for all boys in Third Form before they join their senior house in Fourth Form. It is named after the Martyr Blessed Philip Powell, a monk of St Gregory's at Douai.
  • Barlow House (Boys) is situated on the south side of the main quad. It is named after the Martyr, Ambrose Barlow who was also a monk of St Gregory's at Douai. The house colours are black and white.
  • Caverel House (Girls) was formerly a boys' house but was re-furbished and changed to a girls' house following the admission of girls to Downside in September 2005. Caverel is named after the Benefactor, Abbot Philippe de Caverel. The house colours are green and white.
  • Isabella House (Girls) was founded in 2007 as a second girls' house in the senior school. The house is situated in a purpose built building in the south-east of the school grounds. Isabella is named after a Benefactor, Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain and Portugal. The house colours are gold and blue.
  • Roberts House (Boys) is situated in the north and west sides of the main quad. It is named after the Martyr and monk of St. Gregory's in Douai, St. John Roberts. The house colours are red and white.
  • Smythe House (Boys) is situated in the east side of the main quad, and is named after the major Benefactor Sir Edward Smythe. The house colours are yellow and black.[7]


Monks from the monastery of St Gregory's, Douai in Flanders, came to Downside in 1814.[8] In 1607, St Gregory's was the first house after the Reformation to begin conventual life with a handful of exiled Englishmen.[9] For nearly 200 years St Gregory's trained monks for the English mission and six of these men were beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929. Two of these monks, SS John Roberts and Ambrose Barlow, were among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.[10]

Imprisoned then driven from France at the Revolution, the community remained at Acton Burnell in Shropshire for 20 years before finally settling in Somerset in 1814.[9] The Monastery was completed in 1876 and the Abbey Church in 1925, being raised to the rank of a minor basilica in 1935 by Pius XI.[11] Attached to the Monastery, the School provides a Catholic boarding education for boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 18 years. During the 19th century Downside remained a small monastic school. It was Dom Leander Ramsay who founded the modern Downside and planned the new buildings, designed by Leonard Stokes, that opened in 1912 and now form two sides of the "Quad".[12]

The 20th century brought about changes for Downside in the expansion of the school buildings and school numbers — over 600 boys at one point.[13] Over the decades the number of pupils had been falling but development drives and renewed demand for boarding education has seen numbers rise.[13] As part of the renewal, girls were admitted in 2004.[14] Since the opening of Isabella House in 2007, approximately 60% of the pupils are boys and 40% are girls.[1]

Air crashes

On Saturday 15 May 1943, during a cricket match between the school and an army team, two Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft appeared over the playing fields at around 3 pm. They proceeded to circle the fields, performing manoeuvres as they did so, an eyewitness describing them "diving over the field and banking steeply". In what would be the final pass, at around 3:20 pm, both aircraft flew across the cricket ground at an extremely low altitude, and then climbed rapidly to clear the tall fir trees bordering the field. The second aircraft appeared to clip the trees with its tail and nose-dived straight into the ground, crashing and bouncing, the burning debris finally coming to rest amongst the schoolboys watching the cricket match from an embankment. The pilot and nine people on the ground were killed, with 15 others injured, ten of them seriously.[15]

In September 2013 a single-person aircraft crashed in the school grounds, causing the death of the pilot.[16][17][18]

Child abuse

The IICSA, following investigation into the English Benedictine Congregation, including Ampleforth College and Downside School, amongst other institutions, published a report in August 2018.[6] Ten individuals from the two schools, including monks, were convicted or accepted a caution for abuse. The report said that appalling abuse was inflicted on pupils over 40 years, but the schools tried to cover up appalling allegations. The Chair of the Inquiry, Prof. Alexis Jay, said that the schools for decades tried to avoid giving any information to police or authorities, with monks being "secretive, evasive and suspicious of anyone outside the English Benedictine Congregation", prioritising "the reputation of the Church and the wellbeing of the abusive monks" over safeguarding. After new procedures were introduced in 2001 following the Nolan Report, which recommended that abuse should be referred to the statutory authorities, monks gave the appearance of co-operation and trust, but in reality continued to cover up the abuse.[3][19] A 2018 statement on the school's website embraced the findings of the Social Care Institute of Excellence (SCIE) audit, completed in March 2018, and released a revised and stringent Child Protection Policy. Andrew Hobbs, formerly the Acting Head and designated safeguarding lead during the audits and the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), was appointed Head Master of Downside in September 2018.[20]


Members of the school compete in a range of sports from rugby, football, netball, hockey, cricket, golf, polo and even the Downside Ball Game, a variation on Fives played on a purpose-built outdoor court. Sports are played most afternoons at Downside with every pupil expected to participate at least three times a week.[21]

Cricket ground

The first recorded match on the school's cricket ground was in 1898, when the school played Lansdown.[22] In 1934, the ground hosted a single first-class match between Somerset and Glamorgan.[23]

In media

In 2003, Downside was the setting for a television show A Second Chance, in which a teenager from London, Ryan Bell, was sent to Downside to see if a 'difficult' student would do better in the independent sector. After excelling at Latin, biology, and on the rugby field, Bell was eventually expelled after being caught drinking.[24][25]

Notable alumni

Tirian Bird, the first Financial & Commercial Services Officer (FACSO) of Van Mildert College JCR, Durham University.

Alumni are known as Old Gregorians, after St Gregory, the School's Patron Saint.


  1. "Downside School - Absence and pupil population". Compare a school. UK Government. Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  2. "School History". Downside School. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
  3. "Child abuse inquiry: School 'reputations put before abuse victims'". BBC News. 9 August 2018. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  4. "School Governors" Downside School.
  5. Gledhill, Ruth (9 August 2018). "Damning catalogue of sex abuse at top Catholic schools". The Tablet. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  6. Ampleforth and Downside (English Benedictine Congregation case study) - Investigation Report (PDF) (Report). Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. 9 August 2018. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  7. "House Structure". Downside School. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  8. "Downside School". Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
  9. "Archives of Downside School" (PDF). National Archives. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
  10. "Sermon of Paul VI on the occasion of the canonisation of forty martyrs from England and Wales, 25 October 1970 (largely in Italian)". The Vatican. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
  11. "Downside". English Benedictine Congregation. Archived from the original on 27 November 2010. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
  12. "Obituary". The Tablet. 23 March 1929. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  13. Turner, Graham (1 February 2003). "Faith in the future". Telegraph. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  14. "Witness Statement of Andrew Hobbs" (PDF). Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  15. "ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 75858". Aviation Safety Network. Flight Safety Foundation. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  16. "Land Mines and Fighter Plane Crashes!". WW2 Peoples War. BBC. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  17. "Flying Accident, Downside School". Hansard. UK Parliament. 18 May 1943. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  18. "THE DOWNSIDE DISASTER Eye-witness's Description". Catholic Herald. 21 May 1943. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  19. Harriet Sherwood and Rob Evans (9 August 2018). "Report damns culture of acceptance of sexual abuse at two Catholic schools". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  20. Downside School (2018). Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  21. Sporting Life Downside School
  22. Other matches played on Downside School
  23. First-Class Matches played on Downside School
  24. Riddell, Mary (11 May 2003). "Young, gifted, but black". London: The Observer. Retrieved 28 October 2006.
  25. Amelia Hill and Kamal Ahmed (11 May 2003). "Who is to blame for Ryan's fall?". London: The Observer. Retrieved 9 December 2010.
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