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O Colégio dos Inglezinhos (English College) or, more accurately, the Pontifical College of St. Peter and St. Paul, dates back to 1622. With the same intention as the Irish College of Lisbon, which had been founded in 1590, and similar colleges in other parts of Europe, the Inglezinhos was designed to train Roman Catholic priests to undertake the risky practice of preaching in Post-Reformation, Protestant England and Wales.


1622 was the year when the necessary Papal Brief authorising the college was received from the Vatican and is considered to be the year when the college was founded, although it would be some years before the first students arrived. Permission to establish the college had been received from the King of Portugal (Filipe II or III?) in 1621 and the Chaplain to the British community, Fr. Aston, had already purchased a suitable building. His successor, Fr. Newman, obtained sponsorship from a wealthy Portuguese nobleman, Dom Pedro Coutinho, who offered to buy suitable land and erect the necessary buildings. However, difficulties were later experienced when Coutinho proved less generous than his first offer.


In 1627 Fr Joseph Heaynes (alias Hervey), from the Catholic college in Douai, northern France, was sent to Lisbon to finalise arrangements. He would become the college’s first president. On his return to Douai, via England, he was arrested and held in Dover Castle but managed to escape and make his way back to Douai. There he collected ten pupils and some teachers to travel to Lisbon. The school finally opened in 1629. Its first years were ones of considerable poverty; food was scarce and the teachers were not paid. Despite this, the college quickly attracted a reputation for the quality of the missionaries it sent to England, although two of its students were arrested in England and died in prison after being condemned to death.


The conditions of the college slowly improved and, by 1714, it proved possible to demolish the existing dilapidated buildings and lay the foundations for a new college. The new buildings survived the 1755 earthquake but the old bell tower collapsed, killing the then-president, Dr. Manly.  Students and teachers left the college after the earthquake, and it was then occupied by homeless families.


In 1808, during the Peninsular War, French troops under Junot expropriated the property and billeted troops there. The students were sent to England, where they stayed until 1815.


The academics at the College often had strong scientific leanings. Fr. Ilsley, 18th President of the College is reputed to have made the first steam engine in Portugal. With this he constructed what must have been the first Portuguese railway, even though it was only a miniature one, which ran for the amusement of the public in the Passeio Publico.


From the end of the 19th century to the beginning of World War II the college played an important role in the sporting life of the British and Portuguese communities, taking part in cricket and football matches against the leading teams, with the football team playing under the name of “The Crusaders” and proving almost unbeatable. The College eventually closed to students in 1972. In 1973, its archives were sent to Ushaw College in Durham, which was, like Lisbon College, a daughter of Douai. They are now housed in the Lisbon Room of Ushaw.


For more information, please see the following previous BHSP articles: The English College, Lisbon by A.H. Norris (1979), From Douai to Lisbon by A.H. Norris (1979), The Inglezinhos. A short history by D’Arcy Orders (1995) and The Lisbon Room at Ushaw by Michael Sharratt (2001).