Travelling back in time to when Doctor Who lived in Shropshire

Some time in the late 1940s Doctor Who, the world's most famous time traveller, fetched up in Shropshire.

Tom Baker played Doctor Who for longer than any other actor
Tom Baker played Doctor Who for longer than any other actor

And for him it would indeed have been an initially alien world.

In this incarnation he was a schoolboy amid a religious order in a grand mansion.

That Liverpool lad was Tom Baker, for whom the religious calling was not to last, and instead he became an actor – best known as the fourth Doctor Who, renowned for his trademark resonant voice and scarf.

He played the Time Lord from 1974 to 1981, to become the longest-serving actor to play the Doctor in the series.

His time in Shropshire was spent at first at Pell Wall Hall, near Market Drayton, which was the home of St Joseph's College, a school run by the French Catholic order, the De La Mennais Brothers, otherwise known as the Brothers of Christian Instruction. The school at Pell Wall Hall closed in 1962.

A somewhat blurry spotlight on Tom Baker during his days at Pell Wall Hall.

Baker's biography on his official website is not very revealing about his Shropshire years, saying: "Tom was not at all academic and struggled with everyday school work, failing the 11-plus.

"At 15, much to the delight of his family, he joined a religious order, the De La Mennais Brothers originating from Ploërmel in Brittany in France, and he dedicated himself to the monastic life. However as the years went by, disillusionment overwhelmed him, and at 21 he decided to leave.

"Tom later wrote about his time in the monastery in his autobiography Who On Earth Is Tom Baker?”

However, when Baker was the subject of "This Is Your Life" in 2000 presenter Michael Aspel put to him: "In 1946 at the age of 12 you go to St Matthew's Catholic School in Walton. One day a Christian Brother comes to the school to talk about his life and work, and you were inspired, weren't you?"

"I was – I was then," Baker replies.

"You decide to join. After initial instruction in Shropshire comes the big question – is the monastic life for you?"

Children at the Roman Catholic school at Pell Wall Hall, Market Drayton, with Tom Baker top right.

After his time in Shropshire he was sent to the Maison de Bon Secours in Jersey (later Highlands College) and was happy initially, before later deciding it was not the life for him and he left the Order.

So it seems Baker went to board at the Pell Wall Hall school in 1946 or perhaps 1947, and it seems he later went to St Edward's College at Cheswardine Hall, which opened in 1950 and was run by the same Order.

The evidence for that is that his official website has a picture of Cheswardine Hall captioned: "Tom spent his later years as a monk here at Cheswardine Hall in Market Drayton, Shropshire."

In fact he was not a monk, and it was not a monastery, as Michael Billington, whom we thank for providing the photo of Baker at St Joseph's, points out.

Michael attended St Edward's College at Cheswardine Hall in the 1960s, and has become its effective historian, including setting up a Facebook site dedicated to it.

The hall near Market Drayton housed St Joseph's College, a Catholic school which closed in 1962.

"Those who took holy orders were never called monks. The correct title would be Brothers. We never lived in a monastery," he says.

Run by Brothers, the role of the college was to educate boys aged from 12 to 16 who might later on enter the religious teaching life.

As for the reasons for Baker's waning religious commitment as a young adult later, perhaps a quote from him on the IMDB website gives a clue: "My faith vanished swiftly when I bumped into a couple of girls in Germany. It was incredible. God must have been livid."

In 1955, at the age of 21, he was called up for National Service.

Afterwards he started to take an interest in acting, but there were some lean years before he got his first professional acting job, which was as the bear in The Winter’s Tale at the Cambridge Theatre, the Edinburgh Festival and Venice.

Baker went on to land theatre and television roles.

However there were still periods with no acting work, and he was working on a building site as a labourer when he landed the Doctor Who role.

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.

Top Stories

More from the Shropshire Star

UK & International News