THE recent news that a luxury spa is to open at Rainhill Hall Hotel is the latest chapter for a collection of buildings with a rich history that takes in the Rocket steam train, European royalty and the 1966 World Cup.
The story begins with the wonderfully-named Bartholomew Bretherton, a coach proprietor who operated coaches from Liverpool’s Saracen Head inn in the early 19th century.
The first stage where horses were changed on journeys from Liverpool to Manchester or London was Rainhill and Bartholomew purchased land there in 1804. By 1807 he was living in Rainhill and established stabling for 240 horses next to The Ship Inn. Soon after this he built himself a large house, Rainhill House and the beautiful St Bartholomew’s Catholic Church in the late 1830s.
Bretherton was an important and influential resident of Rainhill, and was very much involved in the Rainhill locomotive trials in 1829, the route of which ran across part of his land.
On Bartholomew’s death in 1857, his eldest daughter, Mary, inherited his properties. She enlarged Rainhill House, renaming it Rainhill Hall, but died childless, leaving the building to Frederick Bretherton, the only son of her cousin, also called Bartholomew Bretherton.
In 1907, Frederick’s granddaughter Evelyn Stapleton-Bretherton married Prince Gebhard Blücher von Wahlstatt, who was descended from the great Prussian General-Field-Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, the first Prince, who had contributed notably to the allied victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Evelyn became a Princess and spent World War One with the Prince in Germany where her memoirs, ‘Princess Blucher, English Wife in Berlin’ became a best-selling account of Germany during the war years.
She later returned to England where she died in 1960 and is buried, next to her husband, in the cemetery of St Bartholomew’s Church.
In the meantime, Frederick had decided to sell the bulk of the family’s Rainhill estates and the house and five acres of surrounding land were sold to the Society of Jesus in 1923.
The Jesuits renamed Rainhill Hall Loyola Hall after Loyola, the birthplace of their founder Saint Ignatius and the property became a hugely popular spiritual retreat.
A new wing to Loyola Hall was soon built and cost £100,000. It was partially financed by the sale of 15 acres of land for the construction of Rainhill High School. The new wing contained fifty rooms for residential visitors, a chapel and a conference room.
One of the Hall’s strangest episodes happened in 1966 when it briefly hosted the North Korea national football team. In the 1966 World Cup, the unfancied North Koreans made the quarter-finals but did not have any accommodation arranged near to Goodison Park where the match was being played. This led to them taking over the booking made for the Italy team, who they had sensationally beaten in the tournament, at Loyola Hall. However, the Koreans were not entirely comfortable because they were not used to each person having a single room and, being atheists, seeing a large amount of crucifixes. Some players insisted on sharing rooms and many did not sleep well. They went on to lose the quarter-final match against Portugal 5-3.
In 1974, the Hall’s stables, clock tower, coach house, and east lodge were demolished with further renovations in 2000 and 2006.
The Jesuits long association with the Hall ended in 2014 and the Grade II-listed building was offered to St Helens council by the society to provide accommodation for refugees or asylum seekers.
There were discussions of a potential community takeover of the building by a group called Friends of Rainhill (Loyola) Hall with ideas put forward including using it for multi-faith spiritual retreats, convention centre, outdoor theatre, farmers markets or a museum celebrating Rainhill’s significance in railway history.
In 2018, St Helens Council gave approval for the Hall’s transformation into a hotel and wedding venue and in December 2020 it became the latest hotel in Signature Living’s portfolio.
200 years on from its creation, diners can now eat in the hotel’s restaurant called Bretherton after the building’s founder.