Monday, May 14, 2012

Goddesses in the Dirt: Remnants of an English Convent Girlhood

Unearthing the Divine Feminine, one archetype at a time...
Many years ago in Merrie Olde Englande there lived a little girl who wore a boater. But the girl came from America and had no idea what a boater was. She learned quickly - a boater was a straw hat that one wore in the summertime at the Catholic convent school her parents wanted her to attend. Because that is what good little Catholic girls do - submit to the education of nuns.


So the story began.


That little girl, was of course me. When we moved to England my parents made me and my sisters attend boarding school - but we were day girls. Most of our fellow classmates were English girls but many came from all over the world - their parents were in the oil business or "awl bidness" as Molly Ivens referred to it. We American girls, however, stuck out like sore thumbs. We were loud and we had funny accents.


We were made to wear blazers.


(not to mention learn Latin. Nuns are good at that.)


And white gloves (these were found still tucked into the pocket)



We had summer uniforms (I LOVED this zip up smock)


With an eye hook at the top of the zipper at the neck just in case you might let too much skin show - Goddess forbid. 



The nuns were on the lookout for too much leg showing as well. At teatime every day, the Sisters lined the hallway into the dining room, making the girls run a gauntlet of rulers. If anyone's hem was too short (as was mine on one memorable occasion) Sister would jab at your leg and pick you out of line. You were sent home - pronto. Expected to return shortly once your mother had let your hem out.

In the winter we wore cardigans and skirts with Peter Pan blouses, brown Oxford lace up shoes. I preferred the summer shoes, which were T-strap leather sandals. Cool.


During art period we wore smocks.


This has been stored for decades but lo and behold........evidence of my last masterpiece I painted before putting this thing in mothballs.


Name tags on everything

I loved the tiny pockets in the blazer. When was the last time I ran this through my hair?



And then there was the matter of the silverware. 

Every girl at St. Maur's Convent School in Weybridge, Surrey had to purchase a full set of silverware, with one's name engraved on each piece. They were given to the convent kitchen at the beginning of your term and at every lunch you would be seated at the table only to find yourself facing a full set of silverware with everyone else's names on it.

It became a game with every meal to see if one of the pieces had your name on it, instead of Gillian Lake or Grainne Stewart or Fiona Mullins. As the head girl at table doled out the roast beef and boiled potatoes, the sponge cake and treacle pudding, we searched in vain. At teatime after sports and ballet in the afternoon, when the nuns snapped at us to sit up ramrod straight, stir our tea with our right hand and use our fork with our left, I learned to mash potatoes onto the back and expertly guide peas into my mouth without them rolling off like raindrops onto my plate.

I found this in my dining room buffet the other day. It was in a sorry state of tarnish.


Dug up the old silver polish from the basement


To see if I could once again

find my name

Voila


Good as new. Almost makes me want to whip up a massive dish of Bubble and Squeak.


Sister Maury would be proud of me. I remember my fish fork from my dinner fork


My fish knife from my dinner knife

And my dessert fork and spoon

Back they go into their silver pouch to rest again



As an archaeologist, most of the time I dig things up in the ground. But sometimes I unearth things in the corner of the guest bedroom. You know, the one where thousands of family photographs are unceremoniously piled into Budweiser boxes. 

Somewhere, between the Chalcolithic and the Bronze Age layers I found this shot of my younger sister and me in full convent school mufti, standing in the back garden of our house in Walton Upon Thames. Our family pet, Alfie the Sealyham Terrier, is running away from us. 

We are a bit scary.


My dad was a West Point grad and I imagine he asked me to stand up straight like a Cadet when he took this photo. I was in uniform, after all. Pretty snappy, eh?


Of course no one was as cool as my older sister in her Marymount uniform. She went to a different school than my younger sister and I. Because she was closer to graduating my parents felt it important she be enrolled in a more "American" academic program.

A few years back I returned to Merrie Olde Englande with my daughter and we made a stop at St. Maur's Convent. Wandering around the old campus, I realized I still wear my skirts too short, but Sister Maury isn't around any more to send me home to mother to let my hem out. I sometimes sit in the front row at lectures but it's no longer Sister Agnes I'm listening to, raining down a shower of spittle as she sputters on about 1066 and the Norman Conquest.


I learned many things at St. Maur's. During Mass every Wednesday afternoon, I marveled at how Father could remember all the names of the saints...Melchizedek, (along with Peter and Paul, Andrew,
James, John,
Thomas, James, Philip,
Bartholomew, Matthew,
Simon and Jude;
Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus,
Cornelius, Cyprian,
Lawrence, Chrysogonus,
John and Paul,
Cosmas and Damian)




I also picked up, to my mother's lament, an English accent. It couldn't be helped. The American girls were forced during Elocution Lessons, to read poetry with a proper accent. 

Tyger tyger burning bright 
in the forests of the night
what immortal hand or eye
could fear thy fearful symmetry....


I sang in front of the queen with the school choir (albeit from the orchestra pit!) at Covent Garden. I learned to conjugate Latin verbs, write with a fountain pen, compete within a system where one's academic rank was made public as well as navigate a fierce social hierarchy of English schoolgirls. But mostly I learned what it was like to be an outsider...and how to depend on myself. 


One more thing I learned by excavating these finds from my own past: 


Silver can be brought back to life with a little polish, and 
- even though I was forced to wear it for most of my nascent years - 

Navy blue never really goes out of style.

73 comments:

  1. Oh Amanda, how well you unearth the past! I too was a convent girl, a place where you learn your place, and your manners, and dream of other places, other manners. Many of your memories could be shared by those girls who spent time in such places. You'd think our spirits would have been crushed with so much obedience training!

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    1. a place where you learn your place and your manners and dream of other places and other manners.

      oh boy, rosaria, you really nailed that one on the head - perfect description of a convent school!

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  2. Amanda, this almost seems too good for a blog post, if that makes any sense. I had a very goofy but thoroughly engaged grin on my face the entire time I scrolled through the images and photos of this post.

    This, btw, I loved:

    'making the girls run a gauntlet of rulers.'

    Nice.

    But the metaphor that runs through this post, particularly with your name on the handle of the silverware, is extremely resonant for me -- especially given what you do for a living. In a book I read this weekend, a character says the only living things are ideas. Then another characters asks, what if the person who has the idea dies before they can communicate it? The first character responds, the idea continues to exist, awaiting discovery and intercourse -- a vessel, I thought.

    The book was about death and how the idea of a person never ceases to exist and it made me think a lot about blogging, how we are uploading the ideas which comprise our lives onto a medium. The next step in the archeological impetus?

    Thank you so much for taking the time to unearth these images and ideas and for sharing them with us. I thoroughly enjoyed this and presume there may be more to come as you invite us? An expectation to savor.

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    1. thank you suze. there was a bit of an epic proportion to this post with all the fotos and memories, so maybe you are right - it is due a longer story which i might just now write, thanks to your suggestion.

      oh those words you write about ideas being living things, still living and continuing whether the vessel dies. this is powerful stuff, this is. yes, maybe the electronic universe is the next step in the archaeological impetus. such rich juicy ideas on which to feast....thank you for that♡

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  3. This was so much fun Amanda. I was so totally engrossed going through your pictures here. The life of a Catholic schoolgirl is rather foreign to me having grown up in evangelical country, but at the same time I can relate to some of the pressure to conform to a particular norm. I can recall being sent home for wearing shorts in the middle of an Oklahoma summer because the Baptist Youth person thought showing one's legs was a sin. I could go on. However, I just love what you have shared here and feel cheated that I didn't have my own silver with my name on it or a blue blazer. Seriously.

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    1. there is a lot of commonality right there - whether it be a ruler snapping nun or a baptist youth counselor, the upshot is the same: cover up, ye sinful creature!

      the blazer and the silver are like archaeological treasure to me, being reexcavated in my own house so i do feel lucky to still have them. i thank my mother for that♡

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  4. My inclination is to think that the propriety of those years has stood you in good stead. And prepared you for the adventures in which you now participate.

    And while I am a Bear, magnus lupus malus sum. Well, sometimes.

    Another wonderful story of goddesses (or goddesses in training)!

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    1. r-bear, my retention of latin has faded over the years... you are a big bad wolf? pray tell the correct translation!

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  5. I enjoyed this post so much. See I went to a Catholic school too. So I can relate to so much that you wrote about. Except that, thankfully, we never had to eat at school. We could take a packed lunch with us. Not sure how I would have survived on convent food ;) Oh and what is it with nun's and navy blue? Our uniform had navy blue in it too. Your post brought back some wonderful memories ...

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    1. not sure what it is about nuns and navy blue - but i attended an all girls school when i returned to the states (no nuns there!) and i still had to wear navy blue!

      actually the food at st. maur's was pretty darn good and i looked forward to it - especially the sponge cake and treacle.......

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  6. Oh, precious memories - now! I bet at the time you despised many of the rules. You and I would have been good comrads I can imagine, hiding at forbidden places and inventing cheeky poems in Latin. No, I wasn`t a Catholic girl, but was in an all-girls school, too, and learned Latin and was not allowed to wear trousers. Funny how your wonderful description brings my own memories back, of our spinster headmistress and how the boys lined up at our front door after school, only to be chased away by Miss P. Aaah....

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    1. geli, we would have been a team! yes, hiding in the nun's quarters and spying on them.....all sorts of fun could be had. actually a couple of the border girls from gibraltar got into big trouble when they got on the theatre building roof and fell through! (no one badly hurt luckily!)

      would love to hear more about Miss P chasing away the boys after school ;-)

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  7. I have really enjoyed these memories you have shared. Very different schooling than myself, but interesting just the same.

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    1. thank you michelle. the english academic system is much different than that in the states, and i am grateful i was able to spend some time immersed in it.

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  8. Something about this post made me feel very sentimental and soft. I am not sure if it's just my unchecked Anglophilia (OH! To have a real British accent!!) or remembering my own past through the gauzy mists of time. Either way, it was wonderful and touching and brilliant. Thank you.

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    1. thanks maggie! the british accent only stayed as long as i was surrounded by english voices. once i returned to the states it stayed behind, but i believe some people have a tendency to mimic more than others.

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  9. going to such school, wearing uniforms etc, is not such a bad thing:) I attended public schools with no uniforms (except of very very ugly in the primary school during the end of comunnist area) and when I saw movies from Western countries I always envy such uniforms:)

    Even now I think the summer dress is ok!


    Blog about life and travelling
    Blog about cooking

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    1. ola, i've come to appreciate the uniform. in fact i wore it for so much of my life that i never really left it. being a writer and archaeologist i don't have to worry much about what i wear and tend to this day to still stick to black and blue - less chance of showing stains! hehe

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  10. Brilliant delights! What is it about these old wools, cottons and silver that wipes away some tarnish in me and makes me shine? You've told it so well, and the images are fantastic. Digging into your past as an archeologist is just too much fun, and the details are precious as you clear away age and years. The names on the silverware is so great. I thought you were going to say they set out each place setting for each girl. But the jumble is much better, giving you something to look for every meal. Wonderful.

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    1. ruth, it would have taken the poor nuns hours to separate the silver daily with all the girls at the school, but wouldn't that have been something? after suze's comment and now your writerly images of old wools, cottons and silver i am inspired to delve deeper into these memories and craft them into a longer piece. thank you.

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  11. I never went to a boarding school so this was a fun read for me.;) Did you keep all these items?? All the old uniforms and silverware? Amazing. And look at you, so cute you were (and still are;).
    Thank you very much for your endearing comment on my latest post;) It warmed my heart.;)
    xoxo

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    1. zuzana, thanks to my mother, i still have these items, which she lovingly stored away for me, only to unearth all these years later...

      xo

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  12. i'm somewhat stunned, amanda. as strange as it might have been for you initially, this became (a part of) the making of you. even the way you present it here, it is the archaeology of one girl, namely you.

    what might it be to hear you speak? do you still have the accent?

    i leave this post feeling as though i got a glimpse of you through a window while i was walking at night. what a feeling.

    xo
    erin

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    1. erin, no british accent any more - when surrounded by english schoolgirls all day long and forced to speak a certain way by our elocution teacher, we did pick it up for the years we lived there. i am a mimic, however. when i am in greece i begin to speak with my hands, and sometimes continue to do it here..

      xo

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  13. I loved this! What a fun peak into your school days. And the Nuns... ugh the Nuns! My mother has great stories of her days being schooled by Nuns, like the time that one of them cut my mother's bangs in class because they were too long! Can you imagine that happening today?! Nope. Thankfully by the time the Nuns got their hands on me in the 80s, they were much more relaxed :)

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    1. sara - i can't imagine that! i think today child protective services would be called in for cutting off a kid's hair without their permission. that was another era for sure.

      xo

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  14. I loved this post. It fills out your back story and reminds me of my children’s experience in England (minus the nuns!) My daughter at age six (this was day school in London) used to wail about the tie, itchy kilt and tights. Like you, she much preferred her summer uniform. I can’t believe you had to bring real silverware! I love that you saved everything and that you shared it with us. I’d love to read more posts about your childhood experiences in England.

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    1. we wore knee highs, even in winter - i don't think i would like the tights either. but a kilt - now that's some uniform your daughter had to wear!

      xo

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  15. My goodness what you've unearthed and displayed here is marvelous, Amanda! You're much more than an archeologist. You're a story teller. And I suppose those two would go hand in hand. I so related to this story, although I've never lived abroad. I did, however, attend Catholic school (elementary) and I remember those nuns with their rulers (they had several uses for them), elocution and the saints. And your wardrobe with its Peter Pan collars, the smocks, etc.. Oh my. The memories! Reminds me of the clothes I used to sew for myself. Smocks galore.

    I agree w/the Suze. Seems there's more to be said here. Certainly much around and within the lines, and it's the kind of story that I could see easily morphing into a much larger work. (Or maybe that just me in want for more nostalgia.) And even if never does, if it stays as you've beautifully put it here, it's beautiful as is.

    You do now how to polish a thing! :)

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    1. thank you, jayne - i appreciate your suggestion about the longer story and i may just take you and suze up on that.

      sounds like you experienced your own share of nuns with rulers.. ;-)

      xo

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  16. well this certainly brought back memories - uniforms almost the same - with boaters - how uncomfortable were they?
    we were not a catholic school, but all girls, and day pupils n a boarding school - thats all similar; and not too far away geographically either!!

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    1. now that i think about it, the boater did feel like a tight band around my head. when my sister and i went for fittings they had to special order the hats as our heads were bigger than the english girls. i remembering feeling quite awkward about that.

      so you were a day girl at a boarding school as well! in england or africa?

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    2. in england. Guildford. we had to wear a blue pudding bowl hat in winter, and boater in summer. i remember it being quite hard and strange feeling. apart from the personalised silver and a few other dtails it all sounds very familiar!!

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    3. I was at school with you and as a Canadian also felt an outsider. I also lived in Ashley Park, thank ou for the trip down memory lane.

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  17. Once again I am reading your post and I keep thinking..wow this is so wild...learning so much about eachother in "Blog World"..it's a gift and I am so thankful!!! So you have an accent..heehee..why did I never imagine that,and never in my wildest imagination did I ever think that you had stored somewhere in closet these treasures...and they have your name..Oh dear,treasures for sure.As an artist I always look to pieces from the past to use in my work,which is why perhaps I have this wierd love for "Rust"...it's been around the block,I suppose.I know you understand.
    I feel like I just read a chapter from your book and I am overjoyed in knowing you.
    One last thing,you left a beautiful comment on my blog and I cant stop thinking about it...you said my jewelry is "the capturing of fragments of life and seeing them frozen forever" and that it "is not unlike excavating and finding remnant's of someone's past".You know I started crying when I read that..you defined my work in a way I always wanted to,but never could.Thank you,it means the world to me coming from you dear friend. xox

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    1. cat - the english accent is no longer. now i speak like a midwesterner ;-)

      thank you for this lovely comment - your work does strike me that way, very powerfully. it is archaeological. and now i am thinking for some reason about seeing bits of silverware forever suspended in resin, appearing in your beautiful necklaces...

      xo

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  18. Oh Amanda....does this bring back memories! Of course, I never had *special outfits* for Arts, etc...or my own *Silver*...but, I had my NAVY and Burgundy Uniform...my knee socks...and the *honour* of attending schools with the names *Star of the Sea*...and *Presentation*. (The kids who attended coed schools used to refer to it as *Pregentation*......waaaaaaah!) I was often reprimanded for wearing my skirts too short... if you were sent to our Mother Superior.... you knelt down on the floor and if your skirt did NOT touch the floor.....you were sent home! (I went home a lot....)

    Still, I had an excellent education - especially in today's terms.. and I think you did too!

    I so understand your picking up the accent....I lived in England for three years....and though I tried NOT to speak so *veddy British*....one just couldn't help it!

    Love the pictures....they are wonderful!

    Always,

    ♥ Robin ♥ (of the *Presentation*)

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  19. it's a world far beyond the power camp i grew up in- so i am entirely drawn in by it all!

    sherry

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  20. I was there - at St. Maur's. I left the north shore of Chicago in 1969. I was eight and going into third grade. I was there for three years. I have same straw hat hung on the wall of my mudroom - it has held up amazingly well. I am 51 now and live in New York.

    We lived in Pickwick on Mayfield Road in Weybridge and my sister and I walked back and forth to school in our hats and blazers with our gloves on wearing regulation underwear. It was such a stark contrast to our life in the States. The nuns were so strict and everything was so structured. It wasn't easy a good deal of the time. I never grasped Latin but excelled in needlework. I remember ballet, lunch, the nurses office high up in the main building and living in fear of getting caught eating sweets in my uniform. It was a life changing experience. I too came back to the States with a British accent and impeccable manners which thankfully my children inherited. I gave my being a sense of formality I still carry with me.

    My husband played some music in the car the other day and for some reason I burst into tears - I remembered playing it on my recorder at St. Maur's around Christmas hence my googling which brought me to you. Thank you. You are the only person other than my sister who shares the same experience. Kindly let me know what years you were there.

    Be well, take care and thank you.

    Rebecca Idzik Bahr
    Laurel Hollow, NY

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    1. Hi Rebecca,

      It's lovely to hear from another St. Maur's girl! I was also contacted by another women who read my blog who had attended the school at about the same time, so fascinating how the internet brings lives together.

      My family lived in England between 1967 and 1969 in Walton on Thames on Silverdale Avenue. The experience was life changing - although the curriculum was challenging, I truly enjoyed it. I was saddened to learn St. Maur's shut down and has been consolidated I believe with its brother school, St. George's in Weybridge. I wonder what they are doing with the old building? Also wonder if you recall Sister Maury and Sister Agnes? If you'd like you can contact me via email at: amandasummer10@aol.com

      Best wishes for a wonderful holiday and thank you for getting in touch!

      Amanda

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    2. Dear Amanda
      My friend from St Maur's with whom I still maintain a written snail mail communication sent me this link. It was charming to see the uniforms etc I have kept none of these accoutrements - I guess tehy were less exotic to us British girls.
      I boarded at St Maur's from 1976-1981. When I read books like "Frost In May" I realise that the school was not so strict then as in former years but I do think it has not been the best foundation for my adult relationships. I read "The Making of Them" by Nick Duffell and although I hate the position of victimhood I do think it is book with a powerful message.
      Thanks for posting this
      Bridget

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    3. Bridget,

      How lovely to hear from another St. Maur's girl! I am curious to learn how the school changed over the years and became less strict, as you say. We attended Mass once a week, Wednesdays, as I recall. And while some sisters were easy going some were more heavy-handed. I recall running a gauntlet of nuns with rulers in their hands as we went in for afternoon tea and being sent home because my skirt was too short!

      I'm not familiar with either book you mentioned but I assume they give some insight into convent school life? I will plan to look them up.

      Thanks again for being in touch,

      Amanda

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    4. Trish,

      I can't thank you enough for your post. Reading all these happy reminiscenses of St Maur's was beginning to make me wonder if I'd attended the same school. I can honestly say that my 1964 to 1972 years at St Maur's were the worst of my life, and I wouldn't wish them on anyone. Unlike you, my parents were posted in the Middle East so I had no choice; maybe better, I don't know. I learned all sorts of odd skills, like how not to make a noise in bed at night in case the nun in her cubicle heard you. Bad luck if your bedsprings squeaked, you had to sleep without moving. I can still suppress a cough, no matter how intense the tickle. And God help you if you needed the loo at night. It was my misfortune that my previous school had been a French convent so I had picked up the habit of using my hands to express myself. I spent most lessons being made to sit on my hands to break the habit and got more conduct marks for waving my hands than anything else.

      Sr Senan (Satan, we called her) was an appalling woman who seemed to delight in crushing younger children. When I was in 1 Alpha, I was moved to her dormitory which was all second years due to a junior needing a bed in The Jungle where I was. They all seemed so much older to me. We had hairbrush inspection every evening (remember that!) and I put my hair in the waste paper basket as we did in The Jungle. It was the wrong thing to do. In Sr Sennan's dormitory everyone had to wrap their loose hairs in tissue paper before putting it in the bin. I was called down to her classroom the following morning and, in front of her whole class of second years, was told that I was a dirty little Arab with no idea of civilised hygiene. The worst thing she did was insist that I pray for my darling father every night as she said that he, as a non-catholic, was going to hell when he died unless my prayers could convert him to the true faith. All my younger years were spent on my knees praying for my father.

      When I was young, Sr Lelia and Sr Perpetua both seemed terrifying but became human once you were in their class. Sr Senan never did, always the same cold fish with the slightly moist, jutting out lower lip and the colourless eyes... Thank you for telling me I wasn't the only one. Fear and ignorance had nothing to with it, the woman was a sadist who took pleasure in tormenting younger children and I could have got an equally good education at any number of English boarding schools.

      Jenny Davies

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    5. Jenny I remember you so well................you were very kind to me when I was in Sr Declans Class..............you were the big girls and I was told to stay away from you all. Sr Senan was a nightmare and if I remember correctly had two nieces in the school at the time, Bridget and Genna. I remember her sending me out of the dining room to the top of the refectory and at after lunch grace when everyone stood , looked up the dining room towards her and the crucifix I stood behind her and gave her the bird,, all the girls were looking,,,,,,her neice snitched and I nearly got expelled. LOL she was a nightmare....
      Ah those were the days..... she was Irish lo

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  21. Hi Amanda.. a careless & random Google image search brought me, a past St Maur's boarding pupil from 1962-69, to your blog.

    I boarded from the age of 10yrs, and left after A and S levels at 17yrs old. I hated it so much.. living with nuns, when I lived only 14miles away & felt I could have been a day pupil. I have the odd fond memory, but mostly lousy ones.. one or two nuns who delighted in terrifying the younger children (Sister Sennan being the chief offender, & possessing eyes with almost white irises to add to the trauma).. being told I "might have bad blood" because I was adopted.. being punished for sleep walking (which had been brought on by fear and homesickness). There are more, but none bothered me from the moment I walked out of the gates for the last time!

    Thanks for the nostalgic glimpse of sewn in name labels & engraved cutlery.. I remember my mother complaining that the school would only accept Grade A1 silver plate (.. and about the cost of those blue blazers & the boater!)

    Trish (formerly Patricia Brown) :)
    Melbourne, Australia

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    1. Wow, Trish - Thanks so much for sharing your memories of St. Maur's - I'm so sorry to learn that your experiences were not all that positive. The comment about bad blood is most disturbing and being punished for sleepwalking is especially cruel. I imagine ignorance and fear on the part of the staff contributed to a lot of this. I don't recall Sister Sennan, perhaps she had left by the time I was there, or she was teaching only the older girls. Walking out that gate for the last time must have felt like the ultimate freedom. Wondering however, if you felt the education you received was at all a bright spot in an otherwise unpleasant experience?

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    2. Pat I remember your hair..............it was amazing and you had the most radicle a nd wonderful layered cut and shoes...you were an idol to the poor oppressed 3 alpha class....you used to walk through to St Gabrielle wing where you all sept.....

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  22. I have just found this, and what a wonderful read it is!
    I also went to St. Maurs, and remember Sister Agnes well. She made me sit in the front row and we used to joke that we front rowers needed umbrellas to sit there. I didnt like her very much. Then one day I lost my fountain pen. My father had bought it for me and I was a bit upset. Sister Agnes bought me a new one and said it was from the whole class. What a sweetheart, it changed the way I felt about her after that.
    Denise Aston (was Jackson)

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    1. Denise, We all joked the same way about Sister Agnes as well - whenever she would pronounce certain words in Elocution she would spray the entire front row - hahaha! How lovely that she replaced your fountain pen and you found there was a kindness in her that was otherwise not always evident. I can't imagine life as a nun in a convent school but no doubt they had their own painful issues they were dealing with.

      Many kind thanks for sharing your memories!

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  23. Lindy Miller (was Linda Taylor)June 11, 2013 at 2:24 PM

    Hi Amanda,

    How wonderful to stumble upon your blog! I too was at St Maur's from 1863-69 and well recall St Agnes and the need for a brolly if you were near the front. I also remember St Sennan, with 'the eyes'! St Lelia was my form mistress and Latin teacher and I often reflect on the day I asked to see the Head Mistress (Sister Marie) and requested dropping Latin because I couldn't cope with St Lelia and her awful anger any more. Needless to say, my request was denied and I learned how to tolerate her ..... just. It was so very strict but it became the norm so I accepted that that was just how it was, though when my father changed job and my parents suggested I board, I declined and left in the middle of O levels. I never envied the poor boarders and seem to remember that the O'Brian twins and Gillian Bond ran away. I thought that was wonderful! You paint the picture well and it's the first time I've seen the uniform since I left! Thank you.

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    1. Linda - How lovely to read your reply and memories of your time at St. Maur's. I recall the name Gillian Bond as well! Perhaps we were in the same form? Other girls in my class were Gabrielle Farah, Janet Weaver, Judy Brown, Amanda Burroughs (I think that was her name) and other girls whose first names only I remember: Grainne, Lynn, Shelagh, Lorraine. Not in my class, but younger, I recall there were two sisters from Gibraltar who boarded - their names were both Mary Isabel Triay, but we called them Mit and Tot to distinguish them. One of them fell through the ceiling of the arts and dance hall! (Amazingly she wasn't hurt badly I heard!) Other girls from school whose names I recall are Catherine Hodges and Denise Weaver, Janet's sister (both sisters were ballet dancers.)

      Thanks so much for writing and sharing your stories!

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  24. I was there in 1977 with my sister, Carla, for a year and then moved to the States - I now live in Texas. Sister Eta was Headmistress. We boarded there and the housemother was German( I can't remember her name!)I am 52 now and remember every cold, dreary day but I am somehow thankful as the experience made me independent.Thank you for the memories!!:)
    Trudy Vendryes Malek

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    1. Trudy,
      I just found your comment buried in my blog comment section, so I'm sorry I didn't publish it until now! A few girls in my class were from Texas, their dads were in the 'awl bidness' as were so many families at St. Maurs. Even though it wasn't a warm and fuzzy kind of place, it did foster independence, and this must have been even more so for the boarders than the day girls. I always wondered what it would be like to board there, but was happy I didn't have to!

      Thanks so much for sharing your memories~

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  25. What a wonderful blog to find on a rainy morning! I attended St Maurs from age 5 to age 16 - 1962 to 1977. So nostalgic to see the uniform - the exact gloves! I wish I hadn't given my boater away- I kept it til I was about 22 then gave it to a drama group. The art overall was the design I had in my older years there. I lived fairly near Silverdale Avenue - as the crow flies - in Cricket Way off Oatlands Drive, and was a day pupil with my older sister. Once for two weeks when our mother was in hospital we had to board, and I hated every minute of it. They put me, or maybe us, I don't remember, in the Infirmary and we had been told it was haunted. There were always rumours of a tunnel going from the school to the old Oatlands palace, and headless Anne Boleyn with supposed to walk the school - which seems ridiculous to me now but I was only about 7 or 9, and I was petrified. I remember the bathroom area had bath 'rooms' with no doors only curtains, but just one actual room with a door that locked. When this old nun said I had to have a bath, I ran into that room and locked the door so she couldn't come in - and she spent the whole time tapping at the door, but she wasn't going to see me in the bath, no way! I have endless memories..... thanks for taking the trouble to post. I will send the link to my sister so she can see the uniform again. She got her cutlery back when she left, but I don't think I got mine. Simple dans ma vertu, forte dans mon devoir - simple in my virtue, steadfast in my duty. Anne-Marie (formerly Edginton)

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    1. Hi Anne-Marie,

      Again, my apologies for not posting this sooner. How amazing to hear all these stories! After hearing those ghost stories, it must have been terrifying for you during those weeks you boarded as a young girl. The Anne Boleyn story is fascinating, as I can't imagine what connection she would have with the convent school, but I was also amazed at the story of the tunnel between St. Maurs and the Oatlands Park Hotel! I didn't think it was that close to the school to imagine a tunnel between them. We stayed at Oatlands (we called it the OPH, or short for Old People's Home) for a while before we moved back to the States when another family moved into our house. I don't remember that about the bathrooms - no doors but curtains. I would have been terrified as well to have a nun tapping on my door as I was trying to take a bath! I have my cutlery but my younger sister can't locate hers either. Was that the school motto you quote?

      Thanks again for sharing your memories of St. Maurs!

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    2. Yes, that's the school motto. I have found the uniform list from 1962 (when I started school) amongst my mother's old things. I will put up a photo on Flickr (anyone interested search for St. Maur's Convent 60's Uniform List). The uniform was suppllied by Peter Jones, Sloane Square, SW1

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  26. Hi Amanda,
    I was at St Maurs too from 1966-1981 and boarded for the final 6 years. I wasn't allowed home for the first month after I started boarding - even though my parents lived about 30 minutes away. After that first month I never wanted to go home again - I loved it there!
    The photos of our uniform brings back so many memories - I wish I had kept it all.
    I was back at St Maurs last week - they have an afternoon tea and tour for old girls every year or so. The dormitories are all classrooms now - but still easy to identify as 'Sacred Heart' or Number 5' etc.
    Sr Mary (Murphy) died suddenly in January 2012 and Sr Kate (O'Neil - who was school nurse back in the 60's and reverend mother in the 1980's) died shortly afterwards.
    Best wishes,
    Miriam Geraghty
    PS St George's (who now runs St Maurs) has a website for old pupils for both St George's and St Maur's and you can register to get updates of reunions etc.
    http://www.stgeorgesreunite.com/

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    1. Miriam,

      I wonder if we ever passed each other in the halls, since we were there at the same time? I can't imagine what life was life for the boarders - we day girls weren't really allowed up in the dormitories. So happy the experience was a good one for you, as it wasn't for many girls.

      How wonderful that you are still able to visit St. Maurs and that they offer tours - I thought the school had closed? Also many thanks for the link to the website for reunions as well (of course it's named only after the boy's school :)) - I look forward to registering and getting updates! Best wishes and thanks again for getting in touch!

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  27. Charlotte Robins (Deeny)January 15, 2014 at 10:02 AM

    I was a boarder at St Maurs from the age of seven to fifteen - 1955 -63. Your blog brought it all back - a painful experience as I was miserable there. It was very, very strict in those days, we almost lived the life of nuns as small children. Talking was forbidden in most places, running everywhere, except for during games. At meal-times the nun in the refectory rang a bell and then you could talk but you had to stop the moment she rang the bell again. If you did not, you were made to stand, with your plate on a trolley, in the corner for the rest of the meal. Any item that was put down in the wrong place, such as on a window sill even for a few moments, was likely to be confiscated by a passing nun as was almost every book brought to school from home This was the time before Vatican 11, when the brand of religon inculcated into us was of a extraordinarily blinkered and intolerant kind. I too suffered greatly for quite a few years believing that, although my parents were nominal Catholics, they would go to hell because they failed to discharge their religious duties by going to mass every week and taking the sacraments. Later on, of course, I rebelled openly against this religious indoctrination and caused a scandal by refusing to become a Child of Mary (I did not want the nasty tin medal but I quite fancied the lily! Actually at fifteen I considered it morally wrong to make vows I had no intentin of keeping). Looking back I supose I can see why the nuns disliked me so but I do feel that if they had made some small attempt to make me feel more than just a corrupt sinner instead of telling me over and over again that I had the moral character of a "jelly fish" and would "end up in the gutter" they would have got more co-operation from me. Actually I did not end up in the gutter: I read for the Bar and became a specialist in child protection law (surprise, surprise). One of the worst things about the school was that you could never get away from the nuns, they slept in the dormitories, supervised meals and baths, censored our letters home, loitered out -side the one telephone cubicle listening in to the very rare telephone comversations we were allowed to make to our parents. I remember saving my mother's letters to take to the loo to read because that was the only private place. The result of all this was that I left the place with no self-esteem at all, although I was outwardly rebelious and confident this was wholely reactive not intrinsic. Now I watch in wonder as my step-daughter and daughter-in-law bring up their children to be confident and sure of their own value - not concepts the nuns would have recognised let alone applauded.


    There

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    1. Wow wow wow - thank you so much for sharing your story, Charlotte. I am humbled and honored to be hearing from so many St. Maurs girls tell the tales of their experiences. At some point I am considering writing a longer piece about this, due to all the responses. If you are so willing to share your contact info with me I would love to ask more questions - my email is amandasummer10@aol.com if you are so inclined. Thanks again for telling your story. xoxo

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  28. Hi!I went to St. Maur's from 1990-1992. Back then, the school no longer had boarding students, just day school. We lived in Weybridge. Since I had come from South Korea(dad working for Shell), I had never thought the school was strict. It was much more organized than the public school I had spent a few months in (Cleves), before I was admitted by St. Maur's. I loved it. we had the same blazer, same muffler, nearly the same summer uniform(sometimes looked like hospital patient gowns) and shoes. But we did not have our own silverware with our names engraved on it, nor the white gloves. I visited the school again in 2004, only to find that it had merged with St. George's (boys school). It's so funny that we had an american girl in our class, named Carla. We used to surround her and beg to speak, because we found her accents to be so interesting and unique. When I went back to Korea and came friends with those from the US, they did the same thing to me! and how odd, I now live in Pittsburgh PA. Thanks for all these photos - they really bring back my memories.

    Love, Joanne

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    1. Joanne, How curious that the school changed so much in the intervening years. Sounds like it was becoming much more open and accepting leading up to its merger with St. George's. Thanks so much for sharing your memories of St. Maurs.

      xoAmanda

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  29. Maureen (Hillman) SlaterApril 12, 2014 at 1:54 PM

    How delightful to read these memories of St. Maur's! My sister and I were the only American students there in 1948 and '49. At that time the nuns were addressed as Madame...my form teacher was Madame St. Evangelist and she was so sweet. These were post-war years and food rationing still existed in England. Early on I was intimidated by the formality of the dining room, with the prefect at the head of the table, the strange manner of holding the knife, fork, etc., but I soon learned how to smash the peas on top of the potatoes on the back of my fork. Our uniforms were very warm wool sweaters (light blue) under very warm wool jumpers (medium blue), very warm and heavy medium blue wool coats, knee high wool socks and it seemed that there was a pair of shoes for every occasion. Hats were medium blue wool tams. Summer was flower printed dress. The nuns were shocked to learn that I didn't know how to knit (I was 12 years old) and set about to teach me and assigned me the task of knitting gloves (not mittens), of course wool, that I was to wear with my uniform. I did and I wore them even though a couple of the fingers were too long. My father was a U.S. Air Force officer attached to the embassy and working with RAF folks. We lived in Walton on Thames (Hayes Cottage in Burwood Park). Unfortunately we left England earlier than scheduled due to my father's illness. I loved the time I spent in England and at St. Maurs.

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    1. Maureen,
      So good to hear your story. We lived in Walton on Thames as well! I can't imagine how different the school must have been just after the war - and to address the sisters as Madame! The uniforms sound very similar. And how funny that the nuns were shocked that you didn't know how to knit! I recall doing sewing lessons which i was bad at and hated. Still can't sew today for the life of me.

      Thanks so much for sharing your memories of St. Maurs. And if you read this and are willing to send me your email address at amandasummer10@aol.com I would love to ask more questions about your experience for a possible story I am writing.

      xoxo
      Amanda

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  30. Lovely to read these memories: the only one I can really relate to is the one above, as I was at St Maur's in 1947.
    I had come from Ingomar School, Walton on Thames, which I adored. St Maur's turned out to be rather a shock; very big, and very strict. We called the nuns Madam - Madam St Perpetua I remember particularly.
    Every Monday Revd Mother toured the classrooms, distributing cards for misdemeanours. Red was really bad. I only ever got one card, a white one, for failing to have a loop to hang up my games shirt.
    We had very elaborate blazers, navy, bound in pale blue, the badge beautifully machine-embroidered - far finer than the one I have seen in other comments. We wore the pale blue jumper, and a French navy sort of pinafore dress. The blue Harris tweed winter coat and tam o'shanter were very stylish. Yes, all uniform from Peter Jones.
    The refectory was newly completed, a revelation so soon after the war; rather like a restaurant for those days. We didn't have the cutlery, there were still shortages.
    I wasn't at St Maur's for very long; we moved from Oakfield Glade, Weybridge, to Haslemere. My mother didn't want to leave me to board, as she considered the damp climate, down by the river, unhealthy.

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    1. Oh Bunny, what stories! I don't recall Ingomar School in Walton, where I lived as well. And your tale about the misdemeanor cards does ring a bell. I recall them as house cards, as the girls were all grouped into houses at assembly. Getting a bad one was reason for concern! How curious that your mother didn't want you to board as she considered the damp climate unhealthy. I don't remember a river near the school but now with all the mentions of rivers and secret tunnels this story is beginning to spin in my mind! Would love to be in touch to gather more info at some point. Thank you again for sharing such wonderful memories.

      Amanda
      xoxo

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  31. Amanda, How amazing to come across this blog whilst reminiscing about old convent days. I was fascinated to read about the experiences of others, both good and bad. I was a boarder at St Maur’s from 1966-1968. I remember the boater hat and still have my set of engraved, silver cutlery wrapped up in the depths of my black school trunk! I immediately recognised the art smock, art being one of my favourite subjects. I still have a prize given to me for art – a beautiful publication of Titian’s paintings. Rather a lot of nude ones, but in a religious context!

    I think later students had a better time of it. For me, it was an unhappy time, far away from my parents who were posted overseas. I was terribly homesick and some of the nuns seemed to make it their mission in life to make ours a misery. Convent life was strict and regimented. We wore our school uniform at weekends and the days revolved around alternating periods of study and recreation. We always had to be playing tennis or lacrosse and weren’t allowed to sit and chat or else the nuns would tell us off!

    I had the misfortune of being in Sr Sennan’s Form 2 class and also in her dormitory. All the boarders were made to stand up in front of the whole class at various times to be reduced to tears. I refused to cry in front of her. My desk was in the back row. She didn’t allow me to read from my French book once that year, skipping over me to the next girl as if I didn’t exist. However, she would call me to write on the blackboard at the front of the classroom. No sooner had I reached the front row than she’d say ‘Too slow, go and sit down’! Every time. I was anxious and bit my nails. “It is a sin to eat meat on Fridays”, she told the whole class.

    It was cold in the dormitory. One morning, she caught me putting on my uniform in bed. She made me stand stark naked and pull back the bedcovers. “Not far enough”, she told me as she watched me shivering in the freezing cold. I was a modest child so it was a shocking experience for me. It was my first realisation of intolerance and prejudice. I’m of mixed blood and my parents aren’t religious. She treated my mother with disdain, yet fawned over girls who had well to do parents or came from America.

    One day, I’d had enough and called her an abusive name under my breath. She didn’t hear me, but I was mortified I’d committed a terrible, mortal sin and went to confession. It’s incredible to remember how the slightest misdemeanour was supposed to land us in hell! The priest asked me what happened and eventually I was persuaded to tell him the whole story. The following year, I was told Sr Sennan had returned to Ireland.

    Sr Declan was my form mistress in Form 3. She was lovely – thrown into a den of wolves, I thought! I still have the holy card she gave me and letters from the girls in my dormitory when I moved to Australia. I remember Sr Perpetua (‘Pepper’, we called her) who was fearsome and strict, yet kind-hearted beneath. Also Sr Agnes and Sr Regis. Sr Marie was principal at the time.

    I’ve lost contact with the other boarders and would love to hear from anyone who remembers me. Living together and sharing convent life, we became like family.

    Lesley Parriss

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    1. Oh my goodness, Lesley - I am honored and touched by what you shared here. What a lonely and difficult time that must have been for you. I am feeling lucky to have been a day girl, after hearing the horrible treatment by nuns such as Sister Sennan. All the stuff they fed out minds about sin and damnation I now consider abuse. I'm so sorry you suffered such guilt for a completely understandable reaction to being abused. Such things that a Catholic upbringing can make one feel, so sad.

      We must have crossed paths as I was at St. Maur's from 1967 −1969, but I think you must have been a year ahead of me? Friends whose names I recall are Gabrielle Farah, Judy Brown, Janet Weaver and her sister Denise. Other girls in different forms whose names I recall are Mary Isabel Triay and her sister (called Mit and Tot).

      If you are so inclined to share your email address I would love to be in contact for a possible story I am considering writing. My email is: amandasummer10@aol.com.

      Thank you again for sharing these memories so honestly.

      Amanda
      xoxo

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    2. Hi Amanda - I have been fascinated reading these memories of St Maurs ! I went to Ingomar (like Madeleine Albright astonishingly) and then to St Maurs from 1957-66 and I adored it ! so was sorry to read how many people didn't have such a great time . I do remember how mean Sr Sennan was (or Madame St Sennan as she was when I went there) - I wonder what was the matter with her . Sr Lelia - I will never forget her look when I wore a mini skirt returning to school at the end of the weekend. 'Pepper' - yes scary but not when you were older. Sr Eucharia I loved ! Sr Agnes was a poppet - her class always slightly out of control - I remember her telling us that Jesus was not Jewish but the first Catholic !! I also loved the sport (except Mrs Hislop ?) particularly the house matches - come on St Therese's and the plays we did - Pride and Prejudice the best - Sr Sennan knew Nicola Pagett who was then a star in 'Upstairs Downstairs' and asked her to come and rehearse us - sadly she wasn't the most charming person and depressed us more than anything else . I also loved the chapel choir with Sr Gertrude who used to give the sopranos hot sweet tea in the morning before a sung mass- funny thing is I don't remember the school as particularly strict but then I don't remember having to take a set of cutlery either ! My contemporaries were Anamaria O'Hara, Pam Mason, Sally Bell, Mary Manson, Cetta Agius - actually lots of names are coming back to me ! I think a reunion is overdue - sadly of course St Maurs is now the junior school of St Georges

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  32. I am finding this all so interesting, reading about St Maurs. My great aunt was Sister Veronica, who was there in the 40s and 50s. Does anyone remember her? My mother was married in 1942 and wedding gowns were not available during the war. Sister Veronica got her a gown that one of the nuns wore going into the convent! My mother loved her dearly so I am hoping she was a kind soul.

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  33. As an archaeologist you clearly know the power of artifacts. I was transported, 50 years. I was a pupil at St. Maur's from 1964-69.I also lived in Walton on Thames (hersham road) I was there for most of my prep school education and first year of senior school. Your photos were a shock to the system and awoke emotions, very deeply buried. My memories are some of the most unhappy in my life. I remember Sr Rose. the needlework classes led to many sleepless nights. She once told me I would never finish anything in my life as I hadn't completed a scarf at age 7! Sr Genevieve was a bully, I could go on. But the hardest part to deal with was the bullying from other girls. I remember one particularly powerful girl who decided I should be sent to Coventry. I spent many break times walking alone around the grounds - yes I too remember the stories of the hidden passage to Oatlands. I performed poorly at school and it was a huge shock to all concerned when I left St Maurs and did well academically. I live in Ireland now and while I felt it was a very privileged upbringing, I fail to feel the benefit. It has left me with deep scars and self esteem issues. People I would have known: the late Shauna McDonald Browne, Sally Lion, Jacqueline Hinkley, to name a few. Thank for sharing, it has been cathartic. Take care Jane Elliott (Holland)

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  34. Wow! This post and all its comments are such a blast-from-the-past!! I was looking up Mother Theresa because she's just been canonised and I remember meeting her and going to her lecture (at Rosalind House - St Maur's 'Finishing School') when I was a pupil at St. Maur's. I attended from 1964 to 1973 (approx!). It was so nostalgic to see the pictures of the uniform and the cutlery and the art smock - which I had completely forgotten about!

    I remember Sister Genevieve in Junior School and in Senior School - Sister Perpetua (Science), Sister Agnes (history?), Sister Regis (Geography) who was always suspicious of me because my mother was a Geography teacher! I also remember Sister Lelia who taught Latin (which I was reasonably good at) who hated my guts! In my last week of Fifth form (There wasn't a Sixth form) I arrived 5 mins late to her lesson because a nun had asked me to drop something off on my way to class and Sister Lelia said 'I have done my level best to break you in your time at this school - and I have failed - to the detriment of your soul!'

    I also remember in Junior School being told that I was the Devil's Child (I was left handed) and refused to write with my right hand. I was made to sit at the back of the class and had a remedial writing lesson each week when I had to copy out the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner (with my left hand) and I wasn't allowed to write it in cursive as a punishment! I remember Sister Rose (needlework) hating my guts because she didn't like my little brother (who was a menace) and was in the kindergarten. I got chucked out of RE for proposing an idea of God that the nun didn't like!

    I had a serious run-in with a nun that used to teach in the kindergarten and she was horribly strict with her kids - I really didn't like her - I'm struggling to remember her name now ... (ignatius?) I ended up in Mother Superior's office (Sister Marie) and I told her the whole story and the nun ended up being punished for lying!

    Though all of these sound like bad things, there were many good memories too - I liked my classmates, Bridget Walsh, Jane Backes, Annabel Ross (cleverest girl in my year) I wonder if she ever became a doctor?
    I remember Cathy Finlay and Anne ? and Michelle Gaillet and there was a girl in my class that drew a crawling baby on the top of my notepad - I was blown away by how talented she was - surname Clancy? There are so many faces I can recall but only a few names ....

    I loved the Salvador Dali painting of the crucifixion that hung in the chapel. I remember Mr Martin and Ms Ross (Games) and Bill Hayward (Music) who used to give me a lift home. I remember being told that we weren't allowed to wear patent leather shoes because they could reflect our knickers - which even at that young age I thought was daft!

    I was one of the lucky ones - I didn't board and I had the world's most understanding and supportive parents! I lived over an hour away from school so my Dad used to drive me in on his way to the office when I was in senior school which meant that I got to school at 07:30-08:00. The nuns would give me a glass of milk and two, often somewhat stale, plain biscuits .... If they check behind the classics section .....!

    The upshot of this privileged education and environment - I vowed no child of mine would go to a convent school!

    As a postscript ... I once spent several hours in the 'haunted' infirmary and on waking up from a two-three hour sleep, one set of curtains was blowing gently in the breeze although both windows and the door were shut! The Anne Boleyn connection is because the senior school was said to be one of Henry VIII's hunting lodges!

    Best wishes to all my fellow Maurons!


    Linda Thompson - back then I was Linda Greene!
    My email address is lpthompson@ymail.com

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