Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Convent School

Nun in cloister by Doris Ulmann  
via wikipedia
When I was 6 years old my parents took me away from the local village school I attended. Although my parents were not Roman Catholic, they sent me to a Convent School for girls in Derby. 
I felt very frightened during my first week, it was an unfamiliar world to one so young. I had never come across women wearing long black dresses with their hair completely hidden by a white wimple and black veil. On my first day I remember feeling, and was in fact, physically sick in one of the very long corridors. I did not dare to own up that it was me, and was anxious when I saw the nuns scattering sawdust on the mess I had made.
One mystery for me was the fact that those of us who were non-Catholic were daily left alone together in the classroom. The nuns would round up the other pupils and they would disappear in a long crocodile through a Gothic high arched door into what seemed a long, gloomy, dark abyss to my eyes. Where had they gone? what were they doing? and importantly would they return?
Two views showing the Convent
In recent years I have become interested in Pugin, the Architect, and have visited places that he designed, and one of those destinations took me back to that childhood school, the Convent.
I now know where the Gothic door led to, and it is supremely beautiful, it leads to one of Pugin's first churches expressing his love of Gothic Revival. He was only 25 years of age at the time he designed and built St. Mary's Church, Derby.
courtesy Eamon Curry via wikipedia
courtesy Martinb9999 via wikipedia
This Pugin altar image is from St. Peter & St. Paul in Shropshire, but vividly reminds me of St. Mary's, Derby with the striking use of blue, gold and red.
courtesy V & A collection via wikipedia
Typical example of floor tiles designed by Pugin
It is interesting to reflect on the journey I had to make as a 6 year old to reach the Convent. I would catch a bus from the end of the road in the countryside where I lived which dropped me at a terminus a couple of miles away. I then caught a Trolley bus into Derby, a journey of about 4 miles, this was followed by a good walk to the school.The junior school had no catering facilities which resulted in me having to catch another bus to get my lunch at the senior school. It was necessary to take your own cutlery, which I was always loosing, much to the annoyance of my mother. When I consider these journeys I made as such a young girl, it is little wonder I lost my cutlery. There was too much for me to remember, which number bus to catch and to where, and what time to catch it? Loosing the cutlery, I think, has given me a lasting fear of mislaying anything. I now have a recurring dream where I loose my passport, money, or my bag, I am on foreign soil and have no means of getting home.
My parents eventually removed me from the school, as I think that they could see that it was all a bit too stressful for one so young. The Convent was a fee paying school, and I realise that my parents had my best interests at heart.
Trolley buses - for those who do not know, draw their electricity from overhead wires. The poles that picked up the electricity on the roof of the bus were always becoming detached and the conductor would have to alight from the bus with a long post with a hook at the end to reattach them. 

courtesy alan Murray-Rust via wikipedia
One particularly happy memory is being met out of school once a week by my lovely maternal Granny. She would take me to the Kardomah for toasted buttered teacakes and a drink of hot chocolate before catching the bus home. Up and down the country from the early 1900s until the 1960s - 80s, the Kardomah was a small chain of coffee shops with a café. Coffee was freshly roasted and ground on the premises and the aroma richly pervaded the air. The shelves were laden with attractive jars full of different types of coffee bean. The feature I liked most were the high backed bench seats on either side of the table where you sat in the café. These were covered in red leather and attached to the wooden frames with big brass studs. When you were at your table it was like being in your own little red leather cocoon. It is a particularly special memory for me to have been there alone, with my Granny, enjoying our time together.
Kardomah Café
courtesy leodis net via BBC
My sweet little maternal Grandmother, I think that I was the 'apple of her eye'.
Next post will feature Pugin

42 comments:

  1. Dear Rosemary
    Great pictures! You have wonderful memories of your grandmother. I like the Gothic monasteries , because they have fine lines and wonderful decoration. In the churches I have seen I like huge musical instruments. When we visited an old church in Budapest we heard a chant. Is this old bus on the road yet?
    Olympia

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    1. Dear Olympia - I suspect that the bus is probably in a Transport Museum. It is not possible to run them these days because the overhead electric cables no longer exist.
      It was interesting to hear about your trip to Budapest where you heard a chant, I wonder if it was similar to the chants that you hear in the Russian Orthodox churches. When you say you like huge musical instruments, are you referring to the wonderful organs with their large and often beautifully decorated pipes?

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  2. Hello Rosemary,
    the pictures are beautiful. The red bus, a school of nuns ...
    Congratulations

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    1. Hello - I am pleased that you enjoyed the pictures, and in particular the old bus, and the school of nuns. Thank you.

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  3. Thank you for sharing those memories. I attended a convent school for 13 years (right through my schooling). It was an Anglican convent although it was very high church and we said the angelus every day and had incense.

    Your post brought back many memories.

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    1. Dear Susan - that is obviously where the other pupils were off to each day, although at the age of six I did not realise, and found it all very mysterious as to what was going on.
      I am glad it brought back memories for you, hopefully good ones.

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  4. Hello, Rosemary - My gosh, you had quite the daily trip to the convent! At 6 years old, I was barely on time to catch the school bus right in front of our home. And, bring your own cutlery? I've never heard of that here in the U.S. Thanks for sharing this post. Looking forward to learning about Pugin.
    Cheers from DC!
    Loi

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    1. Hello Loi - I think taking your own cutlery to school was probably unusual here too. May be it was because it was a Convent, I do not really know. All I remember is that it was a continually trial for me due to mislaying it all of the time.
      I will post about Pugin in a few days.

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  5. Dear Rosemary - I am amazed at all that you were required to remember at such a young age — and that you were sent out into the big world all alone. I remember playing around the neighborhood, unattended, when I was four. It was certainly a different time!

    That's a wonderful photo of your grandmother. One can see from it that she had a very purposeful stride.

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    1. Dear Mark - it was different then. As children we would be out all day in the summer, making dens in the fields and having adventures, something that many children do not get today. Nobody ferried us to school, and I think you perhaps learnt to be more independent earlier.
      The photo of my granny is one of those 'street photographer' pictures which you do not see anymore. She was a very sweet lady.

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  6. Hello Rosemary:
    So much of this post resonates with us, particularly the idea of being put in a strange and rather terrifying environment, school [one of us was sent to boarding school at the age of eight], at such an early age with all the stress associated with it and which must, almost certainly, attach itself to a young person. Little wonder after all that travelling each day that you mislaid your knives and forks for lunch. What an extraordinary idea that you should be required to provide your own.

    Pugin, like you, is someone whose work we greatly admire. The altar piece you illustrate is truly wonderful. We shall look forward to your Pugin post.

    Trolley buses are still on the Budapest streets. They are numbered from 70 upwards as they were first introduced to mark Stalin's seventieth birthday!

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    1. Hello Jane and Lance - sent to boarding school at eight was not unusual then, but I am sure that whichever one of you was boarded must have some heartfelt memories.
      All I can assume is that the cutlery was in short supply at the convent, I know that the senior girls did not have to take their own, it was just the young ones from the junior school for some reason. It was certainly a big issue for me at the time.
      Perhaps it would have been a good idea if we had kept our trolley buses, trams, and canals in good order to reduce the reliance on oil.
      Hope you enjoy the Pugin post.

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  7. Dear Rosemary,

    I think your childhood experience is very sad. You should have done what I did: you should have run away!

    I went to a school similar to the one you describe and felt very sad and unhappy, not to mention bored. When my parents left me there, every day, I felt very lonely.

    One morning, the big wooden door which led into the school was opened, as one of the nuns was accepting a big parcel. As fast as I possibly could, I ran out of the classroom, into the big entrance and, in a flash, I was out in the busy city streets.

    I crossed roads and ran, my heart beating really fast. It was the day of my 5th birthday and my mother got the shock of her life, when she opened the dorr and there I was, out of breath, but with a happy grin on my face! HAPPY DAYS! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

    I never returned to that school. My dad said I shouldn't. I'll never forget that day, Rosemary. I am actually allergic to nuns, priests and bee stings!

    Lovely photos, again!

    CIAO!

    ANNA
    xx

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    1. Dear Anna - lovely, lovely spirit you have, very endearing. You had much more courage than me, I would never have dared to do that.
      Fortunately my parents did not leave me at the Convent for long, I do not think I complained but they were shrewd enough to realise.
      I love the items you are allergic to, bee stings being the worst.
      Thank for your delightful comment, it made be smile.
      Ciao Anna♥

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  8. Your story makes one think about how time changes. I don't dare let my son who is almost 8 to bicycle at school... We live in the country side but the street is very busy and people are driving like mad. Also there is no bus because it was not proftable enough to have a bus route here... We certainly are more protective of our kids today and I am not sure this is always a good thing.
    To go back to your story,
    I like the way you haven't forgoten the feelings and impressions a six year old can experience and I believe the ones who have been lucky enough to have met their Granny understand how precious these memories are.

    Have a lovely weekend dear friend : )

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    1. Dear Demie - grandparents are indeed so important. As grandparents ourselves we adore our grandchildren, each and every one of them. Our grandchildren know that we are there for them in whatever circumstances, we will down tools to help out if we possibly can.
      I think something perhaps has been lost in childhood today, I was terribly innocent. However, other new advantages have been gained. Today I am just as protective of my grandchildren too, and would worry if they had to do what I did at the same age. There are so many more cars on the road.
      Take care dear Demie.

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  9. I certainly remember trolley buses, they used to run up and down the road outside my grandparents house in North London, and I am sure I also visited a Kardomah cafe in Golders Green when I was very small, I remember the amazing aromas, and my mother telling me that aroma rhymed with Kardomah. The convent experience sounds terrifying...good on your parents for recognising you weren't really happy there. J.

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    1. Dear Janice - I am so pleased that someone else remembers the Kardomah cafes. They were the kind of coffee houses that people try to replicate today, such a sad loss when they closed.
      Yes, my parents had my best interests at heart, and must have recognised that I was not happy.

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  10. I rember my days at the convent. I attended 3 convent's in my time. I can tell you, that the nun's were not so nice as we might think.. I always used to dread when mother superior would walk into the room, we would all have to stand up very quickly and nod our heads.. before the lessons, the priest of our parish would come into the class and lecture to us on morality (6 years old)! what did we know. I would always get the ruler over my knuckles for not remembering my french homework or some words that i was supposed to have delivered that very day from a French book and especially when i didnt answer in French.. ola la..
    My dear mother was a staunch Irish catholic. My father converted whilst we were living in Australia. I loved going to Mass, something i do very rarely these days.
    I can relate to what you wrote about being left behind with the other girls. That is horrible.
    I do not know of Pugin and his gothic revival architecture..looking forward to reading about him.
    Is St. Mary's a catholic church! and also St. Peter and Paul in Shropshire..!
    What great memories of your grandmother you have Rosemary. So precious. I did not have that in my life.
    love the photos of the Kardomah caffe.. How great you must have felt to be sitting their sipping your cocoa..
    lovely post Rosemary.
    Thank you.
    Happy weekend
    val

    I was brought up with strict religious rules. In a way I am glad i had my formative religious studies in the catholic faith. As the years passed by, I became more interested and open to other religions. A good thing I feel!

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    1. Dear Val - all of the commissions that Pugin had were for Roman Catholic churches, so yes, St. Mary's, and also St. Peter & St. Paul's in Shropshire are Catholic churches. Pugin was a convert to Catholicism when he was left a young widower.
      It is a shame that you did not have grandparents in your young life, is that because your parents moved to Australia?
      My maternal granny was just such a sweet lady, a very kind and loving little lady.
      Hope you will enjoy the Pugin post.
      Take care Val.

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  11. I loved your Pugin post. What an experience it must have been to live with the non's at the age of 8. It's a beautiful story Rosemary.
    Have a great weekend.

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    1. Dear Marijke - it is always interesting to reflect over past events, and useful sometimes to write them down.
      Do hope that you will enjoy the post I write about Pugin in the next few days.
      Enjoy your weekend too, and lets hope for warmth and sunshine.

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  12. Hi Rosemary
    As always, such an interesting post! I attended a strict Convent school - the nuns were diverse in their personalities, some very affable, others not so. Always mysterious though :-)

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    1. Hello Nat - glad you enjoyed reading it. I have been surprised how many people actually went to Convent schools out of those that have commented. I was not there very long, but I hear what you say. I did get the impression that they could be strict especially at the senior school.

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  13. Dear Rosemary,
    Great post, love the story and your photos.
    Thanks for sharing.
    I remember Trolley buses from my childhood.
    Wish you a wonderful weekend.

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    1. Dear Mette - they were funny old buses to travel on especially when they became detached from the overhead cable. I used to enjoy watching the conductor grab hold of the pole and run round with it tring to reattach it to the electric power again.
      Hope you have the sun.

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  14. Dear Rosemary,
    No sunshine here, but the weather is improving as we have 16 c now.
    A couple of days ago the night temperature was 0 c.
    Hope you have better weather then we have.

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    1. Dear Mette - I spoke to my family in Norway last night, and they said the same. They did mentioned that the weather had been scorching hot a week ago.

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  15. It is lovely to be back catching up on your blog Rosemary, thanks for your kind words on my latest post. What a coincidence that you had been there many years ago, it seems you are reminiscing at the moment, this post was lovely. We used to make elderflower cordial when we lived in the UK so memories for me as well today.

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    1. It is so nice to hear from you again, and so pleased that your blogging experience is back on track.
      I did not realise that you had lived in the UK, does that mean that you are British? for some reason I thought that you were from America.
      One of my husbands colleagues had a large family house overlooking Lago di Trasimeno and we called to visit them when we were staying in the lovely little town of Spoleto.

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  16. What an amzing experience!! Thank you for telling about it. I have only read books and seen movies that take place in schools like that.

    ~ Marica

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    1. Dear Marcia - I found it a very strange experience myself, particularly as I was a very naive child. Fortunately my parents realised quite quickly and I was removed from an environment that I could not understand.

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  17. Incredible story! No wonder you became ill. I felt homesick when being away from home and never wanted to go anywhere! Good your parents understood what was going on with you! However, it looks amazing! Christa

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    1. Dear Christa - it was fortunate that my parents understood and took me away quite quickly. There were just too many strange things for me to have to cope with at such a young age I think. Thanks for your comment.

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  18. My heart goes out to your six year old self. Thank goodness your parents responded quickly to your unhappiness.
    I spent all my schooldays at a small Moravian girls' school. They were happy, carefree years where I felt none of the academic pressure and bullying, not very successfully dealt with, that was experienced by my own children.

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    1. Dear Rosemary - you were fortunate in your school experiences. Yes, I was lucky that my parents quickly realised a problem. The funny thing is that ever since I wrote this, and acknowledged that my dream was probably as a result of this experience, I have not had the dream since. Perhaps writing it down and recognising it has cleaned the slate after all of these years.
      I saw this Pugin church on the news today, it was the funeral scene of the horrific death of those poor six children from Derby.

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  19. Dear Rosemary, this is a unique post and experience to share. Also very brave of you as a 6 yrs old girl to experience all that you shared in this post. I also attended a Convent all girls school from grade school to secondary school. It was the best times of my life. Those were the days of living carefree and very sheltered. My classmates and I formed lasting friendships up to this day. Then next year will be the 25th Anniversary of our High school batch. We are planning our reunion already. Our school was run by the Religious of the Assumption nuns. They have a school there in the UK, in Paris,France, Denmark, Spain, the Philippines, where I was from and other countries. Also your grandmother must be really special.

    I would like to thank you for joining my blog site. I will truly enjoy catching up on your blog posts. Pamela

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    1. Dear Pamela - I am pleased that you enjoyed reading this post, and thank you for sharing your convent school experiences too. I think it was difficult for me being so young, along with the fact that I was not a catholic which made everything much more mysterious for me as a young child.

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  20. That was an awful lot to lay on a six-year-old's shoulders. I hope your school experiences after the convent school were all better ones. But at least you have that lovely memory of your grandmother and Kardomah's. We had trolley buses here in Edmonton until just a few years ago when they finally switched over to all diesel/gas buses. Thank goodness, Trolleys were a pain in the ass and all those trolley wire lines were hideous.

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    1. Yes, the cables were hideous - I remember when the bus used to become detached from the cables, and the conductor would pull a big pole out of the side of the bus and attach it again.

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  21. Interesting read Rosemary.
    Would be rather daunting for a 6 year to have to do and remember many things.
    Great memories of your grandmother - that's good.
    I went to private Catholic School, different ones due to my parents transfers.
    Loved everyone of those 'paying' schools, from aged 3 the nuns looked after me :)

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    1. It is different for those who were non catholic attending a convent school.

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