Dover Beach Revisited

Some of us may still remember a line or two from Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘Dover Beach’, in which he describes the ebbing tide of religious belief. I’ve just returned from three days photographing a vast and now redundant Catholic seminary, where the endless corridors echoed to that famous ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar / Retreating . . .

One of the boys' dormitories

The only other people there besides myself were the caretaker and the odd-job man. The building is on such a huge scale that we had to carry walkie-talkies to communicate with each other. The buildings are mostly neo-Gothic – every Catholic architect of the nineteenth century seems to have worked there, including three generations of the Pugin family. Surprisingly there was also a girls’ wing, with cubicles painted a delicate shade of eau de nil and littered with old sewing machines.

The girls' dormitory

Work and prayer in the shadow of the Cross

In the girls' wing

Most of the buildings are in good order, though the Junior School with its grade one listed chapel and its dormitories has long been empty and vandalised. The pupils’ home-made toboggans lie scattered around the floor.

The derelict Junior School

A junior dormitory

St Aloysius' Chapel

St Aloysius' Chapel

St Aloysius' Chapel

 

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