From Our Own Correspondent
Most of us are accustomed to look upon Ushaw and St. Edmund's, Ware, as the two oldest among our colleges in charge of secular clergy, as both trace their history back to the Douay foundation of 1568. An Old Boy of the famous Midland College of Cotton, who is our Birmingham Correspondent, now puts forward a claim that his Alma Mater is " the oldest College in England."
On one recent afternoon, the page of some Catholic directory presented a line of thought It bore an advertisement and something more. The wording had a pride of meaning. It spoke of St. Edmund's, Ware, as " the oldest Catholic college in England."
" That can't be," exclaimed a priestly son of Cotton. " Oh no, Cotton comes first."
And then, as fellow Cottonians, we began to discuss the delightfully piquant claims of the " two oldest Catholic colleges." My friend was reminded that Cardinal Bourne would always insist that St. Edmund's had pride of place. though his Eminence was not heard to give historical proof.
We scanned our Buscot. (To the uninitiated, let it be explained that the late Canon Buscot wrote an informative history of Cotton. It was his magnum opus as the recognised historian of the Archdiocese of Birmingham.)
WHERE IS COTTON Where the Swiss-like hills of the Pennine range spread out into Staffordshire, there stands Cotton. On the north-east side rise the Weaver hills beyond which the broad expanse of the moorlands stretches out to Buxton. To the south-east stand stately Alton Towers, and hard by across the Churnet Valley lies pretty Alton.
The college's first locale was at Sedgley Park, where it was founded in 1763 by Bishop Challoner. It marked a distinct phase in history, for Catholic secondary education made its reappearance In England after an exile of two centuries, and. as Canon Buscot said, the old culture of Oxford. which was the culture of Catholic Europe, nourished, as it had been, in the congenial soil of Douay, found a home at Sedgley Park.
The move to Cotton, brought about through the growth of the college, took place in 1873, so that it is necessary to bear in mind two outstanding years, the foundation at Sedgley ill 1763, and the transfer to Cotton in 1873. It also is important to remember that the college created a new realm of Catholic higher education.
Challoner also founded St. Edmund's, Ware, according to Canon Buscot, but at the outset, it was a revived elementary school at one time conducted with success at Twyford, near Winchester, during the early part of the eighteenth century. The Catholic character of these small schools was disguised as far as possible, and as they received non-Catholic children they passed unnoticed, and their life was brief. Prospects of Catholic education seemed hopeless.
Encouraged by an apparent outward toleration in the working of the penal laws, Challoner sought an opportunity of reviving the Twyford school. At the same time it was thought prudent that the Bishop should not appear as the promoter or owner of any such venture, and he left it to one or another of his priests to undertake the responsibility. The result was that a small academy was opened about 1752 at Standon Lordship in Hertfordshire, for boys under twelve years of age. On the sale of the Standon estate in 1767, the school was removed to Hare Street, and finally it settled at Old Hall, which, on thc coming of the Douay students in 1795, became the well-known College of St. Edmund.
So, from Canon Buscot's historical research, he would seem to prove that as Cotton was founded as a college in 1763, and St. Edmund's was given the status of a college in 1795, Cotton has a right to the claim of being the oldest Catholic college in England.