St Mary’s College, Oscott, from which the district of New Oscott takes its name, was first established in 1791 at Old Oscott which is now in the modern district of Kingstanding.
The passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act allowed Catholics to set up their own schools. Consquently, a number of Staffordshire gentry sponsored a boys’ school at (Old ) Oscott House together with a seminary or training college for priests. At the time this was a completely rural area. Just three men became students at the first Catholic seminary to be founded in England since the Reformation.
In 1803 Bishop John Milner, Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District, began to increase the number of seminarians and extend the building. With 150 boys at the school and 20 priests, accommodation was becoming a problem and the decision was made in 1827 to build a new ‘Oscott’ college.
An equally rural site was chosen at Holdford Farm alongside the Chester Road some two miles east of Old Oscott. A generous donor to the project was the wealthy Earl of Shrewsbury. Known as ‘Good Earl John’, he funded many Catholic chapels and other sites in the Midlands, including Birmingham’s St Chad’s Cathedral.
Designed in a Tudor style by Joseph Potter of Lichfield, the new college building was opened in less than three years, the name, Oscott being transferred to the new site which then became known as New Oscott, with the original site becoming Old Oscott.
St Mary’s College at New Oscott became the central seminary for the Midlands Catholic dioceses and an important national centre of Catholicism. In 1852, the first Synod of Westminster of the re-established Catholic hierarchy took place here with John Henry Newman preaching a sermon entitled ‘The Second Spring’.
Oscott College is built of red brick with stone dressings and designed in the style of an Oxford college with a central tower, quadrangles and cloisters. No sooner was the building finished than the Earl of Shrewsbury called in the architect, A W N Pugin to furnish and decorate the interior. Pugin, a convert to Roman Catholicism, was a prime mover in bringing medieval Gothic back into English religion and had worked with the Earl on other Catholic projects. He completely refurbished the chapel in rich colour and used a number of medieval artefacts brought from the Netherlands when he had toured there with Shrewsbury. Pugin’s precise and detailed work included the pulpit and choir stalls, the reredos and even the candlesticks. Much of the stained glass is by the noted Birmingham firm of Hardman’s.
The Weedall Chantry with its four side chapels was added by Pugin’s eldest son, as was Northcote Hall lecture theatre completed in 1881 by his youngest son, Peter Paul Pugin.
St Mary’s New Oscott, a relatively unknown but remarkable building, also has treasures within it. The museum set up by Pugin, while he was Professor of Ecclesiastical Art and Architecture here, has fine examples of religious art from the 15th to the 17th century. The library, on whose walls hang 260 paintings given by the Earl of Shrewsbury, has a collection of 30,000 books including early printed books.
The chapel is open regularly to the public for church services and there is a programme of guided visits to the College.