The history behind Loreto College, St Albans

By L Murphy

An advert for Loreto in the 1931 St Albans trade directory
A photograph of Hatfield Road
Mary Ward; the founder

In January 1922 Loreto College was founded as an all girl’s boarding school with only 7 pupils. Now it’s a comprehensive Roman Catholic school with over 800 girl’s. Terence Newell, a citizen of St Albans in the 1930’s recalls his memories of the teaching at Loreto College “A small but devoted band of nuns laboured hard at transforming the young girls” in “Ten of the best” (1985).  



It is situated mainly on Hatfield road, which also home the still standing almshouses built and endowed in about 1736 by Sarah Churchill, the first Duchess of Marlborough. However it also borders Marlborough Gate and Upper lattimore road, which was home to Samuel Ryder, the founder of the Ryder cup.  



The school was founded primarily by Mary Ward, a Catholic nun born in 1585, who campaigned for Women’s education. She helped to set up the I.B.V.M: The Institute of Blessed Virgin Mary, which went on to start Loreto College, becoming the first provider of secondary schooling for girls in St Albans.  

 The school buildings


The original part of the school, known as “the elms” was built in the years before 1922 and was used as the convent, as the school was originally run by nuns and had been untill a few years ago. The nuns however worked hard to expand the school and in 1923 brought a building known as “St Josephs” from Samuel Ryder, a well known English business man and founder of the Ryder cup. This building on Upper Lattimore road had been home to Mr Ryder for many years but became Loreto College’s new languages department shortly after. In the 1930’s the school further expanded with the building of the chapel, library and many new departments; which also became dormitories for the boarding pupils at the school. In December 1941, in the war against Japan, American soldiers billeted in St Albans drilled on the hockey pitch at Loreto College, where an old gymnasium was used as an air raid shelter during day raids and as extra dormitories during the night. However the pitch was repaired and in 2000 a new gymnasium was built, allowing the sports at the school to develop further from just “Netball and Hockey” to over 20 that they now offer. The newest building was built in 2009 and named the Mary Ward building to commemorate Loreto’s founder and is now used as the English department.   

Now Loreto College is well known around the world with other schools in England, Ireland, Africa, Asia and even Australia, which all originated from one woman; Mary Ward, of whom we recently celebrated her 400th anniversary.

This page was added on 10/08/2011.

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  • This might not be appropriate but I grew up near Park Street? and attended Loreto College from about 1952 till about 1956, then attended St. Michael’s R C secondary school at Garston, I was interested how the college has changed, obviously the nuns that taught me are no longer with me?? also I saw that there is re-unions is these re- unions in the time line I mentioned if not no worries, Just curious as I get older, as I moved to Peterborough 45 years ago. I would appreciate any pictures of the school/college from those days, I remember walking from one building where we were taught, also had our little bottles of milk (lol) then up a path to the main building and sitting on long a bench with other pupils for our dinner, thank you

    By ruth dawson (nee Latham) (07/01/2017)
  • In following up my comment above, I have three images to support the item.  First is an extract of the 1879 1st edition map to show The Elms.  Second is a photo of The Elms as it is today as part of Loreto College, and taken from the drive at the junction of Hatfield Road and Lattimore Road.  Third is the surviving decorated wall which curtains both Hatfield Road and Lattimore frontages.  At least, I will add the images as soon as I discover how to do so!  I might need to create a new article, and I am sure someone at Herts Memories will be able to connect the two parts!

    By Mike Neighbour (09/01/2016)
  • Perhaps the photograph of Hatfield Road is not very appropriate for this article as it shows a section around a mile away near the junction with Beaumont Avenue.  I wonder whether a photo across Hatfield Road towards Loreto might be found.  I will try and find one for you.

    Although Samuel Ryder did indeed present the cup for the golf competition, in the local context he was better known for his seed business headquartered in Holywell Hill.

    It is misleading to include a reference to the Marlborough Almshouses, just because they are situated along the same road.  There is no connection between the Almshouses and Loreto College.

    “However it also borders Marlborough Gate and Upper Lattimore Road, which was home to Samuel Ryder…”   Only the very southern strip of the school’s current estate belonged to Samuel Ryder; including Marlborough House (retained by the College and later renamed).  Marlborough Gate was laid after Ryder moved to Clarence Road and the land from Marlborough Gate to Victoria Street developed (1924).  The paragraph about buildings suggests it was already known as St Joseph’s when purchased which is not the case.  Marlborough House had been the family home of Samuel and Helen Ryder and their three daughters.

    It is rather misleading to say that the school was founded by Mary Ward.  The school was founded by the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It was this Order which was founded in the early 17th century by Mary Ward.  The author’s first sentence in that paragraph is partly corrected later, so it would be helpful if the paragraph is edited so as to be unambiguous.

    The description of The Elms suggests it might have been of recent build when the school opened.  In fact it already appeared on the 1875 OS map under that name and was a private residence up to the time of its sale.  I can send a copy of this map extract if required.

    By the time of the first residential directory in 1883 Arthur B Twining had moved into The Elms.  He was a banker and tea dealer.  Twining’s were well known for those two businesses, although the banking concern was later sold to Lloyds Bank.

    By 1901 the house was occupied by stockbroker Hall R Price; it was he who temporarily renamed the house Clementhorpe after the place where he was born.

    Under its next owner, Thomas H Russell, it reverted to its original name.

    Since the 1870s the plot to the east of The Elms was the site of New Zealand plant nursery, run by the Watson family; this was later transferred to a site at Smallford.

    There was also a house near the corner of Hatfield Road and Beaconsfield Road called Hurst Lea, which also became part of the College estate.

    I hope this helps to provide a wider perspective.

    By Mike Neighbour (21/10/2015)