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.

Loughborough Echo - - LOOKING BACK -

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.

Dress code

DRESS code:

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...

Mu­si­cal magic

MU­SI­CAL magic:

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.”

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