St Mary's Cheshunt
 
 

Bishops College

Bishop's College

There are two strands to the history of Bishops' College; closely interwoven with the story of the College as an institution, runs the thread of the development of the buildings.

The premises have been occupied by two quite distinct establishments; Cheshunt College, for the training of Nonconformists Ministers, from 1792 until 1905, and Bishops' College, for the Church of England clergy, from 1909 until 1968.

The first college was founded in 1768 by Selina, Dowager Countess of Huntingdon, at Trefeca, near Talgarth in Breconshire.On the death of the Countess in 1791, it was decided to move the College to "a convenient place near London" and eventually premises known as Churchgate House in Cheshunt were bought for 950.The buildings first occupied by Cheshunt College consisted of the house abutting the Green Dragon, dating from about 1720, and the saloon block which was added to it in 1746. The saloon continued to be used as a chapel until 1806, when the new chapel was built a few yards to the south - the building until recently used as a Council Chamber. Services were attended by some of the local residents including Oliver Cromwell of Cheshunt Park, great grandson of the Lord Protector.

Cheshunt College, as it was now known, prospered in its new location and by 1820 accommodation was needed for twenty students, so the premises were extended by the erection of new buildings behind Churchgate House. These new wings created a three-sided courtyard and included a large dining hall, now known as the Huntingdon Suite.

A new house for the College Principal was built in about 1860 and this was extended in 1909.Known in recent years as Fox Lambert House, it was demolished in 1984 to make way for the new Borough Offices.

The centenary of the Trefeca Foundation was celebrated in 1868 by the launch of an appeal for funds to build a large extension to the College and by 1874 the building programme of 10,000 was completed and paid for. The College now took on a High Victorian appearance with the east-to-west block of students' rooms, the ornate Octagonal Room and the Tower - said to be a few feet taller that the Church Tower across the road, in order to out-do the Church of England.

The hey-day of Cheshunt College was undoubtedly during the long Presidency of H.R. Reynolds between 1860 to 1894.His successor, Owen Whitehouse, had great difficulty in following such a charismatic man, and the College's finances were in a bad way. An amalgamation with other colleges was suggested as part of the divinity faculty of London University but it was eventually decided to move the College to Cambridge in 1905, still known as Cheshunt College, the institution survived in Cambridge until 1967, when it amalgamated with Presbyterian Westminster College.

In 1903, therefore, the College buildings in Cheshunt became vacant and the following year the property was bought for the Church of England largely due to the energy and generosity of the then Vicar of Cheshunt, Frederick Fox Lambert. The plan to found a< new college for the training of ordinands for the Church of England ministry was supported by the Bishops of St. Albans, London and Southward, who formed the body of Trustees to administer it. The Bishop of Chelmsford joined the Trust upon the foundation of that diocese in 1914 and this is the origin of the title "Bishops College".

During the fifty-nine years of the life of Bishops College, the buildings received modest additions. The Principal's House was extended in 1909, a new entrance doorway to the dining hall was constructed in 1931 and a beautiful new chapel was added at the east end of the "1870 block" in 1936 - this was later extended westward in 1960.In 1957 a new Principal's House was built, enabling the old house to be used to accommodate the increasing number of students. This house was also demolished in 1984.

In 1939 the College buildings were commandeered by the Army and were occupied by various regiments throughout the war including some of the troops evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940.Staff and students, whose numbers dropped to 6 at one point, spent the war years with Dorchester Missionary College. On returning to Cheshunt in the autumn of 1945 they found the buildings in an appalling condition and the grounds riddled with unfilled trenches.However, college life gradually returned to normal with many old men studying for ordination upon their release from the Armed Forces.

In 1959 the College celebrated its Golden Jubilee and was visited by Princess Margaret.During the 1960s there was a decline in the number of students at Theological Colleges throughout the country and a scheme of rationalisation was published early in 1968 which recommended the closure of some colleges and the merger of others. This led to the closure of Bishops' College. A writer in Cheshunt Parish Magazine said: "There are colleges with smaller assets, tangible and intangible, and far fewer men, which, one might be forgiven for thinking, should have merged or packed up long before priests had been trained for service in the Church at home and abroad.

The premises were purchased by the former Cheshunt Urban District Council in 1972 and have been used as Council Offices ever since.

In 1986 the building was refurbished as part of the Borough Offices project.