Tuesday, 4 March 2014

St Mary’s Convent IBVM. Memories of Shaftesbury in the 1950s. 1950s OldGirls Wanted. Notable old girls Sarah Bradford, Anna Chancellor, MarthaFiennes, Laura Lopes, Lady Flora McDonnell, Rosabel Crean, Cosima Emmetand Clare Smales.

St Mary’s Convent IBVM Shaftesbury
Class photo c1953
Old Girls Wanted

Jill Harding
Veronica Rigby
Mary Reynolds
Diana Stackpool
Margaret Greenwood
Helen de Domenico
Christine Morgan

R.I.P
Mary Meadmore
Susanna May 

If you were in this group, we would like you to join us for a reunion 9 May in Nunney, Somerset, at Sheelagh's. Please contact me via this page.

Portrait of Mary Ward (c. 1600)

St Mary's Convent was founded by the nuns of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in honour of the Venerable Mary Ward. She was born in Ripon on 23 January 1585, and her first word was Jesus
Sarah Bradford, Viscountess Bangor


Anna Chancellor

St Mary's Convent, Ascot is better known than Shaftesbury, we were the country cousins. Wikipedia  has a list of what they call notable pupils from ShaftesburyAnna Chancellor, (good old Duckface from Four Weddings and a Funeral), Martha Fiennes, Laura Lopes, Lady Flora McDonnell, Rosabel Crean, Cosima Emmet and Clare Smales. Astonishingly, Sarah Hayes now Bradford, the historian, is not mentioned. She was the first girl from Shaftesbury to go to Oxford, and we were all given a day's holiday to celebrate. She is always rolled out on television for her insights on the royal family.


St Mary's Shaftesbury was originally an old country house with a very long drive. The nuns were very good teachers and it was a happy school.Looking back, it is astonishing, but if one of the nuns was ill, another nun would take her place;  they seemed to be able to teach any subject. Mother Prisca was a refugee from Romania I think, who taught us amazing embroidery. A French nun was a marvellous cook, who did legendary meals in green on St Patrick's Day, and lovely pastry. Sister Carmel kept us endlessly entertained as she had the Irish gift of the gab. Sister Anthony used to roll up her long skirts and taught hockey. She used to look for our cigarettes and found them even when they were hidden among the huge sanitory towels we had to wear pre tampax days. 

Mother Gregory Kirkus

Mother Gregory Kirkus, the headmistress,  read history at Cambridge and became a convert, then a nun. She wrote several histories about the order of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mary Ward. Her obituary was on the BBC and in the Times, Telegraph, Tablet and Catholic Herald. She died in 2007 and has been my all-time inspiration.

We had a tuck shop, a good library, table tennis, a chapel of course, huge grounds to roam in, a natural rather muddy pool near the drive and a rare monkey puzzle tree. In the evenings we used to dance to records in the Great Hall with a good collection of songs like Guy Mitchell's "She wears red feathers and a hula hula skirt." There was also a large racing demon group:  we used to carry playing cards in our pockets ready to start up at any opportunity. In our younger years we used to play hopscotch. At the morning break  we were given a bottle of milk and delicious bread and dripping. No doubt health and safety rules have ousted that old custom.

Discipline was given in the form of conduct marks: on achieving? a certain number you got sent to the Tower Room for half an hour with a spelling book. I am very good at spelling as a result. Baths were taken once a week and I think we got a quarter of an hour. Only sixth formers got to see a newspaper, but the rest of us had loads of old copies of Punch to read. We were also given a spoonful of malt daily. If you were good at Latin that is what you did and the others did cookery rather happily. We had a very nice gym, and were adept at leaping over the horse and balancing on bars. In fact we could have been Olympians. We all stood on our heads and did endless handstands in our spare time. Outings were usually to Bath or Swanage. We did plays and concerts, and I have never heard any Christmas carol as good as our rendition of Adam lay y'bounden

The only men we ever saw apart from girls' fathers were the elderly retired priest, the only gardener (also elderly)  and Mr Roupell, an ex-army officer, who came in to teach tennis.