From the Archives: Campion House, Osterley

POST BY RSomerset

Photo of a portrait of Fr Lester
Fr Edmund Lester SJ

One of my main tasks since starting in my position as Archives Assistant at the Jesuits in Britain Archives in September 2016 has been cataloguing the Osterley Papers.

Campion House at Osterley belonged to the Society for the best part of 90 years, and for most of that time it ran as a college with the stated aim of saving late vocations.  It accepted men who felt they might have a vocation but whose education was insufficient or too long ago, and brought them up to scratch academically, then sent them on to seminaries and dioceses to train for the priesthood.  It was emphatically not only for those destined to be Jesuits, the students went on to join many religious orders (the Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Salvatorians, the Dominicans to name but some) and also to become secular priests in the dioceses and missions.

Photograph showing the examination results, a booklet for retreats in 1995, and hints for table manners first pageOsterley was run for over 50 years - 1915-1966 - by two great  leaders, Fr Edmund Lester SJ and Fr Clement Tigar SJ.  It was Fr Lester’s vision which saw that there would be a surge of men wanting to become priests after the First World War and whose education had been interrupted by military service.  At Osterley he could allow these men to take their first steps on the path to priesthood. The men were primarily taught Latin, French, Greek, Mathematics, English and Public Speaking, and were usually there for two years.  In the archive are student essays, attempts at Latin translations and teachers’ mark books.

Photograph of a page in the day book showing a pink paged programme for the concert in 1925The students came from a wider range of social backgrounds than had previously been usual for the priesthood. As a result, their training included etiquette. Among the papers in the archives is a booklet entitled ‘The Osterley hints on Table Etiquette’, which is a list of 34 rules and tips on how to behave at mealtimes. Trips were also organised to the theatre, to concerts and public lectures. ‘Gramophone Concerts’ were held on Sunday nights, when recordings of great works of classical music were played to the students. Concerts and plays were frequently put on at Campion House by the students, and the Day Books, which are held in our archive, often contain programmes and reviews of these. 

Campion House had 13 acres of gardens, and these were cultivated by the students to provide food for themselves. Most afternoons were taken up with garden work, and occasionally days were announced as ‘garden days’ when the entire day was spent gardening. The archives contain letters and notes about increasing storage for produce, and many photographs of garden work taking place.

Black and white photograph of a garden at the far end of which some men are working seemingly on putting bricks on a wall. One man pushes an empty wheelbarrow towards photographer. The men are supervised by an older priest with his hands in his pockets.

Black and white photograph of beautiful maintained lawn with two men working in the gardens. They are at a distant but one seems to be pushing a lawn flattening machine.

Campion House at Osterley was also used for retreats, and the archives contain photographs of retreatants, especially during the war years. Soldiers came from the front to spend a few days of their leave at retreat, including many from Commonwealth countries, but also from the RAF, and women from the ATS and WAAF.

Black and white photograph showing a group of men in soldiers' uniforms being greeted by two priests, both of whom have their back to the photographer.

Sepia photograph of line of men in military uniform following a priest preceded by two candlestick bearers and a man carrying cover crucifix.

Sepia photograph of group of women in military uniform sat neatly in three rows around a priest.

The Jesuits in Britain Archives holds a wealth of material about Osterley and about other institutions run by Jesuits.  The cataloguing of this collection is still in progress but will be made available online once complete. Feel free to contact us if you are interested in making an appointment to see this or other material.

Lucy Vinten Mattich, Archives Assistant