Lourdes Convent

Memories of the 1940s/50s

By Gloria Unsted

Remembering the stunning grounds

I was a non-Catholic pupil at Lourdes Convent from 1948 to 1954.  I remember the stunning grounds, the monkey puzzle tree, the huge cod liver oil plants (fatsia) that I used hide amongst. I remember the daisies on the tennis lawns and the grapes and pears that the nuns used to grow against the wall at the back entrance to the school that led to Cornwall Gardens, which some of us used to scrump!

A strict uniform regime

I felt sorry for the boarders who it seemed spent most evenings darning grey socks and learning their catechism. I imagine I can still smell the mustiness of boiled cabbage that always lingered in the corridor as I walked past the refectory. There was a strict outdoor uniform code which was blue gabardine raincoat, navy velour hat with brim and of course the inevitable blazer. All these had to be purchased from Harrods at an extortionate price of course. The summer uniform was a pale blue dress with a Peter Pan collar and a panama hat. The hat had a habit of changing its shape if worn in a downpour, causing the crown of the hat to rise to a point.

Photo:Woodslee - later Lourdes Convent

Woodslee - later Lourdes Convent

Image reproduced with kind permission of The Regency Society and The James Gray Collection

Photo:St John's - later Lourdes Convent

St John's - later Lourdes Convent

Image reproduced with kind permission of The Regency Society and The James Gray Collection


During the 1860s, when large villa-style properties were being erected in Withdean, these adjoining houses, Woodslee and St Johns, were built on the London Road, just north of Harrington Road. Woodslee was the northernmost of the two. For a long time the houses were occupied by a Catholic girls school, Lourdes Convent. The photographs were taken in 1972, just before the properties were sold for redevelopment. Click on each photograph to open a large version in a new page.

Reprimanded - in French

As I walked home from school for lunch I often got caught in the rain and my gaberdine raincoat was not dry enough to wear on the return journey. One day I wore a plastic plaid raincoat over my blazer and was severely reprimanded by the Reverend Mother. She beckoned me towards her from a little window at the top of the driveway. I did not need to understand her torrent of French to realize she was not happy to see my out of uniform.

The nuns were very kind

The nuns were Mother Mary Elizabeth who I recall being very kind, Mother Mary Agnes, and Mother Mary Paul. Our teacher for English was Miss Lamb, who I remember to be quite strict. Mrs Dann, who had a daughter in my class called Prudence, took us for singing (my favourite subject). Our choir used to win at the Brighton and Worthing Musical festivals. I think there was also a Mrs Thomas, but perhaps someone can confirm this. Among the girls in my class were, Charlotte Cross, Jill Upton, who was so clever I thought she must own a magic pencil, Myra Ward, Christine Bridge, Tessa Johnson, Clare Chalmers, Janet Field, Dulcie Noble, and Nicola Phillips. I think there was also a girl called Madeleine Snow.

This page was added on 21/08/2012.
Comments about this page

I was a Catholic boarder at Lourdes Convent from 1952 to 1957. I remember so well Mother Mary Elizabeth and yes, my memory of her was also that she was kind. There was Mother Claire, a large French nun who cooked our meals. I also recall Mother Margaret Mary, tall, athletic who pulled up her skirts to play lacrosse and far too fun-loving to be a nun! The girls really thought that she was in love with the priest (not sure but his name I think was Father Michael Chick, also young and good looking) and we thought they might run off together (but that was probably our over-active imagination!). I also remember Mother Mary Magdaleine who taught us French (or tried to!). She was such a sweet nun with large beautiful blue eyes and pebble stone glasses which she regularly used to remove to wipe a tear at our terrible behaviour. Tiny, little and wizened Reverend Mother died when I was a pupil and I can remember we all had to file past her body to pay our respects. Mother Mary Agnes took over and was a very well respected Reverend Mother. The girls I remember were Pamela and Sally Malham and Virginia Tchowska (sp?). There were also 2 Iranian (Persian) girls whose names I have forgotten. I would love to get in contact with anyone that remembered me from those days.

By Sheila Coles (24/08/2012)

I was a weekly boarder and in the same class as Gloria. I remember Adriana Novis Camilla Thirunavikarasu the Malham girls. I also remember filing past Reverend Mother's body and I was so fascinated by it all that I went round three times only to be hauled out by one of the nuns and told what a wicked girl I was!!

By Anne Yeats (nee Turner) (28/01/2014)

I was at Lourdes Convent from 1954 I think.  I remember the nuns named here very well.  I was a day girl, but had the misfortune of being seated for lunch in the boarders refectory where no talking was allowed until dessert. Oh the cabbage aroma... and beetroot with fish! I also remember the first Reverend Mother who would stand outside the changing room and rip down the hem of our grey flannel pleated shorts if she thought they were too short.  None of us could understand what she was saying of course.  I am glad I went to Lourdes, although at the time, I found it to be very strict.  The education I got there was amazing with hindsight, and it has absolutely stood me a good stead over the years.  Even the tennis instruction from Miss Metcalf is still working well for me now! I now live in San Francisco, but have had brief reunions with some girls from my class when visiting Brighton. Shelagh Hogan, Jill Gover, Josie Walsh, Lizzie King, Liz Abernathy among them. Of course the married ones have different names now.  If there is ever another school reunion, I would love to come.

By Janice Leach(nee Prossor) (20/07/2014)

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