LIFE AT OUR LADY’S CONVENT IN THE LATE 1950S
Catherine Acons, who was a boarder at Our Lady’s Convent from 1956-61, has sent in wonderful accounts of her time spent there, along with great little pictures from her precious Brownie 127 camera.
Where it Started
I STARTED as a boarder in 1956, age 8. My sister followed in ‘58 and we left when I was 12 and she 10.
Dad was in the RAF and, as was usually the case, thought the family would be uprooted a lot so going away to school was the answer. It was near his childhood home, where Grandma Acons still lived.
He and his siblings were taught, through charity by the nuns there, because Grandma was a widow with eight children to raise.
When tiny, after returning from Singapore, we lived not far away, on Hazel Road and I was in Infants at the Convent, from age 3 and my brother, Kenelm from age 4.
He went on to Grace Dieu school, then Ratcliffe College, both Rosminian schools.
Dark navy blue blazer, with huge bird badge. I’ll explain soon.
Boarders had the same gym slip as day girls, deep navy with a woven gold white and navy sash. Shirts white and the tie gold, white, navy.
Velour hat for winter and straw one for summer. Brown lace up shoes ‘outdoor’, t-strap leather ‘indoor’ shoes and knee length beige socks. Ouch, and elastic band garters, to stop slippage- and start varicose veins.
A darning ‘mushroom’ was crammed into our mending boxes. Lose it and you were begging a friend for a loan, before Inspection!
Summer dress became a wonderful surprise. They let the girls choose the fabric and three styles were made for junior, middle and senior.
I regret not being there til senior, to wear the lovely full circular skirt, wide belt and fancy sleeves. Lovely mid blue cotton with white spots. Your own petticoats! Genius.
For sport, navy cullotte shorts and airtex shirts. Yes, it’s true. We did kneel on the floor, the nun with the ruler then measured distance from floor to your hem. Back to the sewing box to hours of unpicking tedium, if one fraction of a half inch away from the perfect four inches.
White plimsolls. Chalky fluid to keep them spick and span. This stuff joined my shoe polish kit in our outdoor lockers under the covered bit of the quadrangle. It joined also many other secrets we’d hidden there.
No patent leather. We’ll have none of that. Shinier than polished brown lace- ups, they’ll reflect your undies. No, not just some joke from a great that comedy play ‘Once A Catholic’ but thanks, Mary O’Malley, you told it like it is!
In free time we could wear our ‘own’ clothes. My sister and I once had matching tartan kilts with matching coral red twin sets. A cotton frock or two in summer. What style!
Mum bought all kit and caboodle from D and P. Dixon and Parker, the school uniform shop in Nottingham. Overpriced and always oversized “To make it last”. I liked the fact that it was on Maid Marian Way. I could at least imagine her in all her medieval finery, with her gorgeous hero Robin. Robin the rich to give to the poor. More on charity later.
Ah, but we boarders had so many more compulsories!
Three pairs of navy nix and three pairs of under nix, white ones, called ‘linings’ and we had to keep our own laundry in constant check.
Shirts should be clean and pressed and button- holes mended. We all had a regulation sewing kit. I still have mine, falling to bits, red and cream, my name inside, still with it’s red silky padded lid for pins and needles and copious space inside for notions of every need. Especially a large roll of knicker elastic and a safety pin to thread it through!
Then there was the Sunday suit, with silky cream shirt, for Sundays at Loughborough parish church, (other days were in our own church within the grounds). Filing there in crocodile, with shoes that reflected enough to start fires. This suit also worn on high days and feast days.
Except for the procession days, with rose petals ‘strewed’ before priest and his entourage, for what seemed miles, down to the church in town or around our own cloisters.
We all had to have white, everything, including shoes. Bullying ensued for girls, like us sisters, who only had plastic, beach type ones, (via Aunty, at Timpson’s in town).
There were so many beautiful ones. Bridesmaid styes, ballet styles... shoes for a queen.... SO jealous.
And mantillas, black lace for benediction, daily mass and mournful times and white lace for big celebrations with happy hymns, like Corpus Christi.
Finally the white dresses. These could be whatever we chose, not too over the top on frills, but could be quite fancy. We had little white cotton gloves to finish the whole look.
These gloves came with their own special’ shampoo’. You had to wash them while wearing them, to avoid shrinkage.
A quick note on that word, ‘strewed’. ‘Strewing’ was a highly sought honour. A beautiful be-ribboned basket was held on one arm while one daintily walked, sort of backwards, crouching a bit, to flick fresh rose petals before the priest’s feet. All the way along the route. Looking innocent and perfect. I never did it. I was good at basket trimming and petal stuffing.
But I was also good at poking my fingers into the soft candle wax under the statues in the cloisters, and making things from it. Though perhaps it was also because of my bendy, corroding pink metal, round, national health specs.
Not a good look for a strewer.
Ah well, their loss...
Music there was a great thing. Sister Mary Cecily was the big cheese. I adored the choir, and still sing a lot. Because I played piano I wasn’t in the orchestra, except for recorder bits. Don’t we all love a recorder!
One day we were told we’d join with other Leicestershire schools, to sing massed choir, in De Montfort Hall. The ‘Trish Trash Polka’ but with lyrics, all about a circus. Wonderful, but bettered only by another occasion, when we formed a joint schools orchestra. No one learned drums. Who ever would, then? Certainly not girls. It arrived, with tympanum! Huge kettle drums. Some nice teacher had the inspired thought that the pianist, myself, was jobless, so the drums would do for me. No word to express my sheer and utter bliss!
Mary Glen, Doris and Sally Burdell.
Miss Bowley (or Bowen), Maths and Sports mistress. “I was ill a lot so was useless at maths but good at sport”
Sally Burdell, Felicity Acons, and Sheila.
Catherine Acons in “Our new blue and white spotty summer dresses. Different styles for junior, middle and senior.”