Wolverhampton's Listed Buildings

Park Hall Hotel

Park Drive, Goldthorn Hill

Listing: House, later Roman Catholic School, now hotel. 1705; additions of later C18; alterations including windows, c.1836; C20 alterations and additions. Early Georgian style. One of a number of early C18 houses in the Borough; important as an early Catholic school, founded by Bishop Richard Challoner, with connections with many notable Catholics of the C18 and C19, including John Kemble, actor, and Bishop John Milner.

Pevsner: It looks late C17 but may be very conservative C18 design. Brick of five bays and three storeys. In the middle a frontispiece of three tiers, with attached columns, Tuscan, Ionic, Corinthian. Above the doorway a steep open triangular one. The carvings of the frieze above the doorway look positively Jacobean.

Plaque: John Philip Kemble, 1757-1823, actor, attended Sedgely Park School, 1767-1771, formerly on this site; debut in acting, Wolverhampton, 1776.

Comment: originally this house was in the countryside between Wolverhampton and Sedgley, but Wolverhampton's expansion washed up against its boundaries in the 1930s in the form of the Goldthorn Estate.  The buildings are now the Ramada Park Hall Hotel.  The gardens at the front are now under a large car park. The rear of the building and the wing to the right of the picture above are all modern.  The wing to the left in the picture above seems to be Victorian, at least as far the the doorway; beyond that the three bays are recent, built to match. 

The main door with its remarkable decoration.  You can see why Pevsner favoured an early date for the building.  Where the statutory list got its dates from is not known. 

In the frieze above the door that must be an angel in the middle; but are those the masks of Tragedy and Comedy on each side? 

If so, why?  This must long pre-date Kemble's stay here.

The major source of information on the early days of this building is "The History of Sedgley Park School" by F. C. Husenbeth DD, published by Richardson & Son, London, in 1856.  Husenbeth had been a pupil at the school, and his information seems reliable.  The book presents a detailed picture of life at the school, including a detailed account of its buildings. 

Park Hall in 1763, with "The Lantern" in the centre and its detached service buildings to each side.

The house was built as the family residence of the family of Dudley and Ward.  Husenbeth describes it as being "built in the style of Inigo Jones" - a rather doubtful proposition.  He says, probably more accurately, that the house is called Sedgley Park from the parish in which it stands "but in the neighbourhood has been much more commonly called the Park Hall".  He notes that the building had many windows on every side which, when lit, gave rise to its local nick name, The Lantern.  To add to the confusion of names this central building was known, in the school, as The High House.  A peculiarity of the building was that the "usual offices" were in two buildings, (shown in the drawing above), detached from the main house.  It would have been more usual to have connected them by a low wing or, at least, a colonnade; but it seems that the Dudley's food came from the kitchen to the dining room through wind and rain. 

In 1757 the sixth Baron Ward inherited the title and set about moving out, to Himley Hall a few miles to the south.  In 1763he let the premises to Bishop Challoner for use as a Catholic school - at a time when such schools were still illegal (but mostly tolerated and soon to be legalised).  Until then British Catholioc children had been educated at English colleges and convents abroad, such as Douai, St. Omer, Vallodolid, Lisbon.  So, subject to a few doubtful cases of small, primary schools, Park Hall founded the first post-Reformation Catholic school in the country.

Park Hall in about 1801 with additions made by the school.

The school flourished, with many staff who were distinguished Catholics, and many pupils, by no means all of whom were destined for Holy Orders but many of whom did go on to become distinguished Catholic priests.  With the number of pupils usually being a little over 100, many of whom were borders, and the large number of staff it seemed necessary to employ to look after them, the house soon needed enlargement and additions and rebuildings went on throughout the life of the school at Park Hall.

The buildings in about 1837, showing the play area, known as "The Bounds".  Husenbeth gives many details of the games and recreations of the boys.

The school seems to have been conducted along lines unlike those of the then growing public schools.  There seems to have been no prefectorial system, the masters lived in and supervised the boys at all times.  It might have surprised Arnold and he might have learnt from it. 

In 1857 the then Earl of Dudley refused to grant anything other than a yearly tenancy.  The school decided to move and finally quit Park Hall for Cotton Hall, on the Staffordshire Moorlands, in August 1868.  The school continued there until it closed in 1873. 

The Hall lies on a ridge and one could see Wolverhampton, about two miles to the north, and Sedgley about one mile to the south.  Then the view would have been mainly of fields, woods and commons. Later it become a scene of industry.  Now it is mainly of suburbia.