The St. John’s Seminary Archive tells the story of the Seminary from its foundation in 1889 to its closure in 2021.
The archive is a unique source for the history of Catholic priestly training. The documents provide a fascinating insight into the working life of a Catholic Seminary and are particularly useful when researching individual students.
The main archive collection comprises papers relating to the management of the Seminary, including its financial, architectural, social and cultural history. These documents include registers of students; diaries of the Rector and Dean; rules and constitutions; liturgical records; house records; records of student clubs and societies; financial records; architect’s plans.
Supporting and enhancing the main administrative archive are a substantial collection of photographs; several small collections of personal papers generated by individuals associated with the Seminary; and the records of the junior Seminary, St. Joseph’s, Mark Cross (1924-1970).
The documents exist in a wide variety of formats: paper records; photographs; film; tape recordings.
The St John’s Seminary Archive is accessed in the same manner as the Diocesan Archive.
Diocesan personnel and external researchers are welcome to consult the documents in the Archive by appointment. Please contact the Diocesan Archivist to arrange a visit.
Opening hours: Monday: 8am-2pm; Tuesday: 8am-5pm
All readers must register and complete an Archive User Agreement form before being granted access to the archive material. External researchers must also show some identification on their first visit.
Download here: Archive User Agreement Form
Some of the St John’s Archive catalogue can be found online through the Catholic Heritage website (please note that this is not the complete catalogue).
In 1873 Cardinal Manning of Westminster informed James Dannell, the second Bishop of Southwark, that he must make his own arrangements for training secular priests for work in the diocese of Southwark. It was Dannell’s successor, Bishop John Butt who eventually got things under way in 1888. He purchased 60 acres of land near Guildford and appointed an architect, Frederick Walters, to design a Seminary.
Fr. Francis Bourne was appointed as first rector, with the Seminary opening first in temporary accommodation at Henfield in Sussex in August 1889. Two years later, the new Seminary buildings were ready and an official opening ceremony was performed on 8th September 1891.
Francis Bourne was later to become Bishop of Southwark, and then Archbishop of Westminster.
First students at Henfield, 1899
For an excellently researched account of the history of St. John’s Seminary, please read:
Fr Seán Finegan: In Hope of Harvest. The Story of St. John's Seminary, Wonersh, Wonersh Press, 2011.
The Seminary Buildings
The buildings were designed by the architect, Frederick Arthur Walters (1849-1931) and built largely of red brick in the Dutch/Jacobean style. The main building consisted of a large central section running east to west, with two north-south wings at either end. At the western end was the chapel and at the eastern end the convent, which housed the religious sisters who looked after the domestic arrangements of the Seminary up until the 1990s.
Facing the main entrance was a large entrance porch with elaborate decoration in moulded and rubbed brickwork. At the top was the coat of arms of the founder, Bishop John Butt, the fourth Bishop of Southwark, who laid the foundation stone and blessed the building on 8th September 1891.
One of the most striking features of the Seminary was the ambulacrum, ‘a place for walking’ 210 feet long and 19 feet wide, which runs the full length of the main building on the ground floor.
After the Second World War numbers in the Seminary increased and plans were made for extensions to the buildings. This work, begun in the late 1950s, extended the wings of the building to twice their original size.
Photograph of the buildings taken before 1939