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Dr David Moses, headmaster of St Martin’s Ampleforth, on why students benefit from a strong sense of spiritual direction

PUBLISHED: 00:00 27 April 2017

Dr David Moses has fun with some of the younger members of his independent Catholic school

Dr David Moses has fun with some of the younger members of his independent Catholic school


St Martin’s is part of the greater Ampleforth community

St Martin�s pupils do what children do best � play � in the grounds of Gilling CastleSt Martin�s pupils do what children do best � play � in the grounds of Gilling Castle

A new job is always challenging, but factor in the responsibility of overseeing the upkeep of a 15th century castle set in 2,500 acres of land as well as caring for more than 120 children and it takes on something of a monumental scale.

But Dr David Moses, who took over as headmaster of St Martin’s prep school in September, moving his own family – his wife Clare and teenage sons James and Ethan – into Gilling Castle in the process, is undaunted. In fact, he seems positively charged by the challenge.

He’s made a lot of changes in a short amount of time; some practical – setting up a meeting room, revamping the staff room, cleaning the detailed stucco work in the entrance hall – and some more intangible – encouraging the children to take more of their learning outside, establishing an open door policy for students, parents and staff and meeting families at the gate every morning.

It might seem that Dr Moses has made overly bold strides for a new boy at the Benedictine independent school, but he’s actually had more than a decade to get to know the school well, albeit from a mile away across the valley at Ampleforth College, where he began teaching English in 2005 and became housemaster of St John’s five years later.

A mini St Martin�s pupil enjoys a mini outdoor adventure in the innovative Forest SchoolA mini St Martin�s pupil enjoys a mini outdoor adventure in the innovative Forest School

‘I have brought the college with me,’ he said, as we discussed St Martin’s renewed feeling of optimism and buoyancy. ‘My first job when I arrived was to instil a real sense of direction and purpose and to bring everyone together – children, parents and staff – into one cohesive community.’

St Martin’s is part of the greater Ampleforth community, acting as the direct feeder school for the highly-regarded college, founded by the monks of Ampleforth Abbey in 1802. It’s housed in Gilling Castle in the picturesque North Yorkshire village of Gilling East, where it offers day and boarding facilities for around 122 children aged three to 13.

Lessons are held in the splendour of the former home of the de Etton family, who first appear at the end of the 12th century. The Fairfax family, linked to the de Ettons by marriage, claimed the property in 1489 and it continued in their line until the death of Lavinia Fairfax in 1885. After passing through several hands, it was bought by Ampleforth Abbey in 1929.

This means that the nursery, pre-prep and preppers, most of whom are day pupils who live locally, now dine amid stunning early 16th century stained glass and pass by distinctive markings on centuries-old stone where swords and arrows were once sharpened on their way to their lockers.

Is it meant to do that? Things take an interesting turn in a science lesson at St Martin�s AmpleforthIs it meant to do that? Things take an interesting turn in a science lesson at St Martin�s Ampleforth

‘The children bring this building alive,’ said Dr Moses. ‘It’s been a family home for a very long time – me and my family are the 43rd generation to live here. As a wider school family, we eat together, pray together, play sports together and sing together. It’s vitally important that we are one community; one family.’

Praying is an important part of the school day and mass is held in the beautiful upper floor chapel three times a week – both activities reflecting the founding monks’ Benedictine ethos and imbuing the students with their trinity of guiding principles: compassion, inclusion and generosity.

Chapel and classroom are inextricably linked at St Martin’s, with the strong connection between the monastery and the school resulting in an academically rigorous education that also gives students a strong spiritual compass.

This concept of a ‘compass for life’ crops up again and again at Ampleforth, where it’s described as ‘a personal direction finder that will always allow students to hold on to their moral bearings; to seek their own true north, even when life is treating them roughly’.

‘This is a very nurturing environment, where children are given the space to get a real sense of themselves; who they truly are,’ said Dr Moses. ‘We encourage them to explore their physical space, to really get to know nature by adventuring in the grounds and learning practical outdoor skills at our Forest School, while also exploring their own spiritual space.’

When their rigorous academic studies are done for the day, the children have the choice of numerous clubs and activities, including the Lyceum, a series of lectures by guest experts, shooting, chess, drama, choir, pipe band (they have the biggest pipe band in the north of England) and walking the headmaster’s dog Basil.

And, whether they’re boarders or not, students can always stay over at school after a late evening activity or in preparation for an early start as part of its pioneering ‘flexi-boarding’ scheme.

‘It’s all part of the warm, welcoming, family atmosphere here at St Martin’s,’ said Dr Moses. ‘And part of our strong belief that children should be encouraged to hold on to their childhood; to play and explore at every opportunity and to learn more about themselves and the environment in the process.’

If you would like to find out more about life at St Martin’s, Dr David Moses and his team are hosting an open morning on Saturday May 6th from 10am. For details, visit

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