Tolkien and Stonyhurst College

Stonyhurst College is a Catholic boarding school for children aged 13 to 18, near Clitheroe, Lancashire in northern England. It has some legitimate connections to Tolkien and his children, but the school and the area’s connection to Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings is wildly exaggerated.

Tolkien’s eldest son, John, trained to be a Catholic priest from 1939 to February 1946 when he was ordained. Most of this training took place in the grounds of Stonyhurst College where his seminary had moved from Rome due to the war. J.R.R. Tolkien himself stayed at New Lodge in the grounds of Stonyhurst three times in 1946 and 1947. This has been established from the guest book and are the earliest known times Tolkien stayed at or even visited the school, despite claims to the contrary in publicity material and the press. There is a discussion of this in Hammond and Scull’s “Truth or Consequences” paper, including a refutation of claims he wrote parts of the “Lord of the Rings” during these short stays. Tolkien’s second son, Michael, worked at the school itself from 1965 to 1975/6, and his father visited him at his house in “Woodfields” which is just to the north of the main school buildings.

The above photograph shows the front of New Lodge in November 2022, taken from the private road in front, along which runs a public right of way for pedestrians. On the right is Tolkien’s own sketch of the back of the house from 1947.

However, this verified connection to Tolkien is absent from the route of the Tolkien Trail promoted by Visit Lancashire and local businesses, although the leaflet does have a picture of New Lodge. The trail is a bit of a wild goose chase quite frankly, not using the public right of way to get a good view of the school and visiting places without meaningful Tolkien connections. Much is made of local names derived from the Shireburn family, although Tolkien was using the name Shire long before his visits to the area.

If you want to see New Lodge and the main building of the school yourself, I’ve marked up this OS map with the key waypoints. The yellow and orange roads are council maintained roads anyone can drive or walk on. The green dashed lines are public rights of way for pedestrians. You can reach New Lodge via tarmac roads with the all-weather route 1-2-3-4, or across sometimes muddy fields via 1-5-4, or combine both to make a circular walk a couple of miles long. You can also make a detour to point 6 to see the houses at Woodfields.

1. The car park at Memorial Hall in the village of Hurst Green. Currently parking is free with a suggested donation of £2.
2. The corner of the council road before the gate of Stonyhurst College. The road veers off to the left and there are dire warnings not to go beyond the gate.
3. The gate into the school grounds in the distance. This gate is the start of the public right of way for pedestrians through the grounds and has a very narrow gap in the stone wall immediately to the left of the gate.
4. New Lodge from the public right of way, where J.R.R. Tolkien stayed for three short visits in 1946/7.
5. The gate at the start of the public right of way across the fields back to Hurst Green village. This route comes out at Smithy Row immediately to the north of Memorial Hall and its car park.

I’ve been careful to stress that these routes go along public rights of way. In England, it is a criminal offence to obstruct a public right of way, and the Highways Act provides a penalty of up to 51 weeks of imprisonment for that. Despite this, the school’s security guards seem unhappy with the existence of the right of way through the school’s grounds. I myself was once challenged by a very rude individual in a little white Mercedes van who demanded to know what I was doing there (“I’m walking along a public right of way”) and why I was there (“That’s none of your business and I am not breaking any laws.”) He then proceeded to crawl along behind me in his van as I walked, all the way from the front of the school to point 5 and then back to point 4. Very creepy. For a school which has had so many child sexual abuse scandals and court cases, the safeguarding issues that they need to worry about are not coming from law-abiding members of the public walking along rights of way in the open air.

Below I’ve reproduced the relevant sections of the Lancashire County Council Definitive Map, which is the ultimate authority on current rights of way, shown in purple. Note that the routes are recorded going down the middle of the roads. Despite this, the school’s security guards try to direct you to use paths they have marked out at one side. As a user of a public right of way, you are entitled to stop to rest, or to look at the view or take a photograph, and their preferred route isn’t ideal for those last two. You don’t have to use it.