The castle that we see today is the third castle to be built on this site. The first castle was built in 716AD of which little remains. The second castle, whose ruins are still very evident, was built in 1176 by Bertram de Verdun who also founded the nearby Croxden Abbey. The castle that stands today was built by the A.W. Pugin in 1844 for the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, John Talbot. It was intended for the Earl’s cousin, and after his death, as a Dower House for his widow. Pugin was a prominent gothic architect who had designed many buildings such as Alton Towers, Cotton College and the Houses of Parliament.
Unfortunately, the castle was not thoroughly completed before the deaths of both the Earl and Pugin in 1852. It was sold for a mere £100 and was the home for two families until 1904. During this time, five sisters of Mercy arrived from Ireland in 1852 to open a convent in Cheadle. In 1855 they opened the Alton Foundation, teaching in the parish boys’ school and undertaking the works of mercy. In 1904, the Sisters of Mercy took over the castle and opened a school for boys. In 1919 the castle was bought by the sisters for £3,500 and remained a preparatory school until 1989, when it closed. In 1995 it was bought by the Archdiocese of Birmingham as a Residential Youth Retreat Centre.
A team of ten young adult volunteers work on a peer ministry basis with the groups of young people aged between 9-14 years who visit Alton on retreat. Alton Castle serves around 9,000 young people each year. The retreats are based around a variety of outdoor activities that make the most of our beautiful location. These include trekking, mountain biking, night-line, archery, survival, the adventure course and the use of our indoor climbing wall. The activities provide a challenge that helps our visitors to grow in personal confidence and in teamwork skills. Retreats follow themes such as Who am I? and discipleship with the overall aim of engaging young people in reflection upon their relationship with God and their neighbour.
During the Castle’s 18 years of work with thousands of young people, many have come back as young adults to volunteer for a year or more, helping to provide the retreat experience that they have benefitted from themselves. Our team of young adults bring many skills and talents with them to the Castle. During their time here, they live as a Catholic community, sharing a common life of prayer, formation in faith, retreat work and social time together. The experience offers time for discernment and a renewal in their sense of discipleship. Often, many of our volunteers have gone on to pursue vocations in teaching or youth ministry.
If you are interested in finding out more about bringing a group from your school or parish to Alton Castle you can call Karen on 01538 703224 or visit www.altoncastle.co.uk
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer and would like to know more about what is involved Fr Michael Dolman would love to hear from you. You can reach him on 01538 703224.