Downside School
, ,

Coordinates51°15′18″N 2°29′42″W / 51.255°N 2.495°W / 51.255; -2.495
TypePublic school
Private 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; 407 years ago (1617)
FoundersEnglish Benedictine Monks in exile
Department for Education URN123910 Tables
HeadmasterAndrew Hobbs[1]
Staffc. 200
Age11 to 18
Colour(s)Maroon and Gold   
SongPatriae domus decorem
PublicationDownside Diary, Tessera, The Raven, The Rook, The Old Gregorian
AlumniOld Gregorians

Downside School is a co-educational Catholic independent boarding and day school in the English public school tradition for pupils aged 11 to 18. It is located between Bath, Frome, Wells and Bruton, and is attached to Downside Abbey.

Originally a school for English Catholic boys, it was established in 1617 by English and Welsh monks living in exile at Douai, France.[3] 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 their present site, in Somerset. Downside School became fully co-educational in all year groups in 2005.

The School

Downside School

Downside is run by lay staff and a board of governors consisting of a chairman and ten others. Of the latter, one is a member of the Benedictine community.[4] In 2019 the school and the abbey became separate trusts. The Abbey proving difficult to maintain, the remaining monks moved to Buckfast Abbey.[5]

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:


Downside School

Monks from the monastery of St Gregory's, Douai in the County of Flanders, came to Downside in 1814.[7] In 1607, St Gregory's was the first house after the Reformation to begin convent life with a handful of exiled Englishmen.[8] For nearly 200 years, St Gregory's trained monks for the English mission and six of those men were beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929. Two of the monks, SS John Roberts and Ambrose Barlow, were among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.[9]

Imprisoned then driven from France following the Revolution, the community remained at Acton Burnell in Shropshire for twenty years before finally settling in Somerset in 1814.[8] New school buildings were built there, designed by Henry Goodridge. The monastery was completed in 1876 and the Abbey Church in 1925, and raised to the rank of a minor basilica by Pope Pius XI in 1935 .[10] Attached to the monastery, the school provides a Catholic boarding education for boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 18. During the 19th century, Downside remained a small monastic school. Dom Leander Ramsay 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".[11]

The 20th century brought about changes for Downside, with the expansion of the school buildings and the school population, numbering over 600 boys at one point.[12] Over the decades, the number of pupils fell, but with development drives and renewed demand for boarding education, pupil numbers rose.[12] Girls were admitted from 2005.[13] Since the opening of Isabella House in 2007, approximately 60% of the pupils are boys and 40% are girls.[2]


Members of the school compete in a range of sports, including rugby, football, netball, hockey, cricket, golf, and tennis, and even the Downside Ball Game, a variation on Fives, played on a purpose-built outdoor court. Sports are played most afternoons, with every pupil expected to participate at least three times a week.[14]

Cricket ground

The cricket pavilion

The first recorded match on the school's cricket ground was in 1898, when the school played Lansdown.[15] In 1930, the school hosted the Australian cricket team in their preparation for The Ashes, with the notable exception of Don Bradman.[16] In 1934, the ground hosted a single first-class match between Somerset and Glamorgan.[17]

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 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 among 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.[18]

In September 2013, a single-person aircraft crashed in the school grounds, causing the death of the pilot.[19][20][21]

Sexual abuse inquiry

The school entrance

Following investigation into the English Benedictine Congregation, including Downside School, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published a report in August 2018.[22] Ten people connected to the Benedictine schools, mostly monks, were convicted or accepted a caution for abuse. The report said that appalling abuse was inflicted on pupils over a period of forty years, but the schools had tried to cover up the allegations.[citation needed] The chair of the inquiry, Alexis Jay, said that for decades the schools tried to avoid giving 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 well-being of the abusive monks" over safeguarding the interests of pupils.[23] In 2001, after new procedures were introduced following the Church's 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 abuse.[24] A statement on the school's website in 2018 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 headmaster of Downside in September 2018.[25]

At that time, the school did not have a separate legal status from the abbey, so the monastic trustees had financial and executive control of the school. The governors provided general direction and management.[26][22]

In May 2020 it was revealed that in the time following the release of the 2018 IICSA report regarding abuse at Downside School, the school had had financial problems due to spiralling legal costs,[27] and, to raise money, had been forced to sell some Renaissance paintings.[27]

Notable former pupils

See also: List of Old Gregorians

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

Notable staff

In chronological order

In media

In 2003, Downside was the setting for the Channel 4 television show, A Second Chance, in which Ryan Bell, a teenager from London, was sent to Downside to see if a "difficult" student would do better when educated in the independent sector. After excelling at Latin, biology, and on the rugby field, Bell was eventually expelled after being caught drinking.[33][34]


  1. ^ "Head Master's Newsletter | Leading UK Catholic School". Downside School.
  2. ^ a b "Downside School - Absence and pupil population". Compare a school. UK Government. Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  3. ^ "School History". Downside School. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
  4. ^ "School Governors" Downside School.
  5. ^ Diggins, Alex. "The boarding school living in the shadows of a sexual abuse scandal", The Telegraph, July 31, 2023
  6. ^ "House Structure". Downside School. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  7. ^ "Downside School". Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
  8. ^ a b "Archives of Downside School" (PDF). National Archives. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ "Downside". English Benedictine Congregation. Archived from the original on 27 November 2010. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
  11. ^ "Obituary". The Tablet. 23 March 1929. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  12. ^ a b Turner, Graham (1 February 2003). "Faith in the future". The Telegraph. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  13. ^ "School website". Retrieved 15 May 2023.
  14. ^ Sporting Life Downside School
  15. ^ Other matches played on Downside School
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ First-Class Matches played on Downside School
  18. ^ "ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 75858". Aviation Safety Network. Flight Safety Foundation. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  19. ^ "Land Mines and Fighter Plane Crashes!". WW2 Peoples War. BBC. Archived from the original on 6 November 2008. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  20. ^ "Flying Accident, Downside School". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 18 May 1943. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  21. ^ "THE DOWNSIDE DISASTER Eye-witness's Description". Catholic Herald. 21 May 1943. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  22. ^ a b Ampleforth and Downside (English Benedictine Congregation case study) - Investigation Report (PDF) (Report). Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. 9 August 2018.[dead link]
  23. ^ "Child abuse inquiry: School 'reputations put before abuse victims'". BBC News. 9 August 2018. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ "Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse [IICSA]". Downside Abbey. 2018. Archived from the original on 4 September 2018.
  26. ^ Gledhill, Ruth (9 August 2018). "Damning catalogue of sex abuse at top Catholic schools". The Tablet. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  27. ^ a b Simpson, Craig; Gleadell, Colin (14 May 2020). "Art sold to support Catholic school rocked by child sex abuse inquiry". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  28. ^ George Sharman, "Sir R. R. Terry", in British Music, Vol. 24 (2002), pp. 57-73
  29. ^ Luke Bell, Obituary: Dom Illtyd Trethowan, The Independent, 10 November 1993, accessed 27 December 2023
  30. ^ Obituaries in 1981: Harry Lee, ESPNcricinfo, accessed 23 September 2011, citing John Woodcock, Wisden Cricketer's Almanack 1982 (London: Queen Anne Press, 1982
  31. ^ The Raven Vol. LXI, No. 251 (Downside School, 1970), p. 1
  32. ^ Bellenger, Dr Dominic Terence Joseph (born 21 July 1950), Who's Who 2020, online edition, Oxford University Press, accessed 28 December 2023 (subscription required)
  33. ^ Riddell, Mary (11 May 2003). "Young, gifted, but black". London: The Observer. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
  34. ^ Amelia Hill and Kamal Ahmed (11 May 2003). "Who is to blame for Ryan's fall?". London: The Observer. Retrieved 9 December 2010.