The 0ldest deed for the land that is now Stonyhurst College dates back to the year 1200. Over the last 800 years, the site has grown and expanded, serving as an aristocratic estate and then a Catholic school that has helped inspire a number of elements of classic literature.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Shireburn family expanded the estate, establishing the oldest portion of the buildings that are currently at Stonyhurst. In 1794, the buildings and 30 acres of land were donated to the Society of Jesus to settle a group of Jesuits and their students who had been evacuated from France and the Netherlands. By the beginning of the 20th century, the school had grown from 12 students to the largest Roman Catholic college in England.
Among the school’s former pupils was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who attended Stonyhurst in the 1870s. It is said that his Baskerville Hall is based on his memory of Stonyhust Hall. The name of Moriarty, the archnemesis of Sherlock Holmes, is said to have come from one of the author’s classmates.
Stonyhurst is well provided with other literary links. J.R.R. Tolkien’s son was a classics teacher at the school, and the author stayed at a cottage on the school grounds for several months while writing The Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth is said to have been inspired in part by the surrounding countryside. There is a short walking route called the Tolkien Trail that covers the countryside around the school. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was a teacher at the Stonyhurst, and Poet Laureate Alfred Austin was a pupil, as were the sons of Oscar Wilde and Evelyn Waugh.
The school is also famous for its observatory which has played an important role in the development of astronomy in England, particularly in the study of magnetic fluctuations caused by solar storms. It is also an active weather station and has the longest continuous record of weather data in the U.K. (and amongst the longest in Europe). The 1860s observatory is accompanied by an earlier version built in 1838 (which has since been repurposed).
Since 1999, Stonyhurst has been a co-ed Catholic school. Visits and guided tours are, from time to time, available to the public during school vacation periods and good views of the exterior are available from public rights of way that pass close to the school.