St Augustine’s College in its Golden Years with the Southwell Family

In the November 2020 digest of The Pugin Society there appeared an article about the Southwell family and their connection to St Augustine’s Church and St. Augustine’s School, at a time when the school was billed as being in its golden period. The article is reproduced with the permission of Catriona Blaker, The Pugin Society.

The Dowager Viscountess Southwell and The Chapel of St Joseph
Catriona Blaker

This little chapel was given to St Augustine’s by Charlotte, née Mostyn, Dowager Countess Southwell (sister of the Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff, Francis Edward Mostyn), as a thanksgiving for the coming of age of her son Arthur,Viscount Southwell, who at one time attended St Augustine’s College, run by the Benedictines here in Ramsgate. The school buildings, which were demolished in 1973, were opposite the entrance to St Augustine’s church, in the garden behind the Monastery buildings. The chapel was indeed a generous gift, costing £400, approximately £36,000 today.

The reredos shows the death of St Joseph on the left hand side, the saint in the centre with his attributes, a set square and a flowering staff, and on the right, the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt. It is, reputedly, the work of the De Beule firm of Ghent.The windows, made by the Hardman firm, show from left to right St Joseph, Our Lady of Lourdes, St Theresa of Avila and St Michael. Between the windows is a statuette of Winifred of Wales, marking the strong Welsh connections of the Mostyn family. It is a copy of the statue of St Winifred at St Winifred’s (Winefride’s) Well, Holywell, Flintshire. St Joseph is, among other things, the patron saint of fathers and families. Perhaps, therefore he commended himself particularly to the fatherless Southwell family.

The Dowager Countess Southwell
The Dowager Countess Southwell. (Joseph Byrne, Ramsgate, c.1880 – courtesy St Augustine’s Abbey Archives)

Charlotte, Viscountess Southwell – and by the date this chapel was built the Dowager Viscountess – was the daughter of Sir Pyers Mostyn, 8th Baronet, one of the wealthy Catholic Mostyn family of Talacre Abbey (still standing, and now known as Westbury Castle) in Flintshire. This imposing early Tudor Gothic house and estate was built for the the Mostyns between 1824 and 1829 by the architect Thomas Jones. The Mostyns sold the estate in 1919. In 1871 Charlotte married Thomas Arthur, 4th Viscount Southwell, KP, who died in 1878. Southwell is an Irish title, and the Viscountcy was established in 1776. The original seat of the Southwell family was Castle Mattress, or Matrix, in County Limerick.

Arthur Robert Pyers Southwell, 5th Viscount, born on 16th November 1872, was the only son of Charlotte and Thomas Arthur and the brother of the Hon. Frances Mary Winifred. In 1891, and for some time before, the Dowager Viscountess Southwell, Arthur and Frances were living in Rostrevor House in Grange Road, Ramsgate, along with four servants, so that the young Arthur could be educated at St Augustine’s College.

Although the number of pupils there was not large, the aspirations and standards of the school were high, and in addition to sporting and scholastic achievements many enterprising dramatic performances and concerts were put on by the boys. In 1884, his voice presumably having not yet broken, Arthur took the part of Nerissa in the College’s production of The Merchant of Venice. His mother was clearly a great supporter and benefactress of the school and helped to give it social standing on ‘Exhibition Days’, as they were called, by presenting prizes on many occasions, along with her daughter and Augustus Pugin’s widow, Jane, together with other Catholic luminaries of elevated rank. At the College, what had been the Hales Medal, awarded for general proficiency and good conduct, was re-named the Southwell medal in 1885. In 1893, presumably after Viscount Arthur had officially left, the College and Benedictines held a banquet, a not unfrequent event at the College at that time it would seem, followed by toasts and fireworks, to celebrate his coming of age. It was at this point that his mother gave the chapel, surely her most costly gift, to the community and St Augustine’s.

Arthur 5th Viscount Southwell in 1900
Arthur, 5th Viscount Southwell, in 1900 (Wikipedia Commons)

Viscount Southwell later became a Captain in the Royal Monmouthshire Engineers Militia, then a Major in the Shropshire Imperial Yeomanry, and eventually acting Lieutenant-Colonel in the Machine Gun Corps during World War One. In 1897 he married the Hon. Dorothy Walrond, daughter of the 1st Lord Waleran, and, with his five children, lived at Knolton Hall, Ellesmere, Shropshire. It was here that his mother, the Dowager Viscountess Southwell, died, in 1929, when her death and benefactions were recorded in the Tablet. Interesting insights about the life of the family at Knolton can be found on https://gladysvaughan.wordpress.com/knolton-hall/. From 1929 the Viscount lived at Bourne House, East Woodhay, Hampshire, until his death in 1944. During the Second World War he led the local Air Raid Precautions Unit, using the dining room at Bourne House as the control room. It is pleasant to think that, in addition to his involvement in the First World War, he was still, it seems, making himself useful in a military capacity during the Second cataclysmic outbreak.

The story of this chapel illustrates in a unique manner the piety and remarkable commitment, and generosity to her faith of a member of Catholic high society in the 1890s and is also a nostalgic reminder of what was a golden period for St Augustine’s College – Exhibition Days with theatrical performances, receptions on the lawn, the band playing and Benedictines and Catholic society figures working together for the greater good of their school, pupils and beliefs. It is good to have this window into a small but rather unusual and special community, not long before it would all change at the outbreak of the First World War.

Many thanks to Andrew Sharp and Peter West for their generous sharing of archival material and photographs.