Understories of Sacred Heart College

Contents

Experiences of attending school at Sacred Heart College, Nelson 1964 - 1967

The old Convent Building, formerly in Manuka Street, included the attic floor called ‘The Granary’, now at Founders Park.   This set of reminiscences was written in April 2019, as an address to a public gathering held in the Granary, to remember the old Convent Building, as part of Nelson Heritage Festival, April 14, 2019.

The Porch

It is late January, and at last, school is back. I catch the bus across the road from home, wearing for the first time a bright red, bias-cut summer pinafore. It has a white poplin blouse, the short sleeves turned up twice at the cuff, because that’s the trend in 1964. Brown T-bar sandals. White ankle socks. The same white panama I had worn to St Joseph’s – because parents aren’t made of money, you know - but now it has the black and white Sacred Heart band, with the school crest embroidered on the front.

Sacred Heart School Nelson
Sacred Heart School Nelson . Source St Joseph's School

So I’m at College. This is the Big Time. The bus is filling up with red, as we swing past the beach where we’ve spent most of our summer. Where we’ve all become Beatles fans. We spend the trip squealing about who’s our favourite. I can do a Liverpool accent. I bore everyone with it for weeks to come. At Richardson Street, Irene Beattie gets on the bus, then Noeleen Smith at Mt Pleasant Avenue. Who else will be going to Sacred Heart with us? Who has defected to Nelson Girls? Or Waimea College? Nayland doesn’t exist yet, in spite of all us baby boomer teenagers.

We stand at the front of the Church, expecting to go in through that terrifying side gate: that mysterious portal to the Other Side, an opening in the high, green, corrugated-iron fence, the one Sister Barbara had always come through, to blow her whistle and tell us playtime was over.  But the big main gates are open today. Maria, and Christine, and Fay are already wheeling their bikes up the driveway, so we join them. Past a big shady tree with a green-painted bench circling it. Past Reverend Mother’s Office, next to the Nun’s Chapel – that’s another mystery, we’ve never been in there before, either. We stand in the asphalt courtyard, looking up at this huge, complicated building. Then Buster Day pops her head round the corner. ‘We’re over here,’ she calls, beckoning. ‘Quick! We’re already lining up!’

The tiny patch of ground in front of the South Porch is ours, it seems. It’s full of girls in red, far more of us than at any of the other porches. A tall, slim Nun claps her hands. ‘Put away your bags in a locker in the Porch,’ she tells us. Her voice is so quiet, pitched so low, that we have to strain to listen. Is that intentional? ‘Take off your shoes,’ she reminds us. ‘Put on your slippers. Follow me…’ 

The Porch is dark, shaded by yews, a set of concrete steps leading down to the playing fields. That’s called the Green, Louise Persico tells us. She has older sisters, so she knows. 

We file in through the doors, awed into silence by the tall ceilings, the herring-boned paneling, the frosted-glass in the doorways decorated with fretwork, cutting the corridor in two. What’s behind there? We gaze about, but there’s no time to gape. We’re hurried past, up the stairs to our left. They’re wide, with dark wooden bannisters, beautifully polished, with large round newel posts, yellow pebbled linoleum covering the treads.  ‘Always be quiet on the stairs,’ Sister instructs, ‘No running! You’re ladies now, remember!’


Our parents have spent the summer sighing deep sighs, assuring one another that we’re teenagers now, and so there’s trouble ahead. A small part of us is looking forward to this. But Sister doesn’t seem to have heard about it, yet. This is news to us. She opens a door labelled ‘St Philomena’, in discreet gold lettering, and there we are, in the Third Form classroom.

The Classrooms

The Third Form
The Third Form is the biggest classroom of all – so large, that it can take the whole School, on choir days, when Sister Leone arrives. ‘Miss Persico will pass out your Music booklets,’ she tells us. ‘It is page dix: page ten. Ouvrez!’

 She is tiny. She trots about, as only a French woman can, a bundle of instructional energy, who marshals all the school in the name of music. Lack of talent – the utter incapacity to hold a note – is no excuse at all. ‘Somebody is singing flat. I can ‘ear you, above all the others! You will ‘ave to mime.’  But curiously, most of us can sing. Perhaps expectation alone makes it so. Singing is part of the package. It is simply expected that you can, and so you do. ‘When you sing, girls, you pray twice.’  

It’s not the only bargain in the basket. Choir comes in multiple languages. ‘Trottez gaiment,’ we all sing, even those of us who are doing Commercial, and not Languages. ‘Credo in unum deo…’ Years later, at University, I’m told that my Latin is wrongly accented. This emerges, because I’m the only one who is happy to read it aloud. ‘I learned it from a French speaker,’ I tell them. ‘Ah,’ they say, and give up on me.

That same year, we are recorded by Radio 2XN, who broadcast us one night on the wireless. Like all teenagers, we are half thrilled, half embarrassed. Notoriety isn’t good: we’ve learned that. Fame, self promotion – you need to be careful. ‘Both the cream and the scum float on top, Jacqueline Cook.’ ‘Yes, sister.’ Even our regular stage performances have to be cloaked as inter-House Competitions for the best musical show, or charity concerts for the elderly. But we have among us a family called O’Hagan – and their uncle, a world-famous Irish tenor, has visited the School to hear us sing.

We provide the choir for the Church, and some of us – Catherine Schon and I among them – come in on Saturdays and sing for weddings. Panis angelicus. Ave Maria. We stand in the tiny conductor podium space that bulges outwards from the choir loft in the Church, and we bask in the way the rafters throw our voices around the roof space. Praying is a major part of the curriculum, it seems. ‘We’ll Bless the Hour, girls. All stand.’ ‘Sister has a special intention. We’ll say five Hail Marys.’  

This Third Form room is wide, and deep, two rooms originally, the partition doors still folded back, halfway down. It has one doorway to the corridor, from which we have all entered, spreading out across the rows of desks. ‘Open your geography books to the Malay peninsula…’

There is another door at the back, which rarely opens. It is mid-morning. A hand goes up. ‘Sister, sister! I think there’s someone knocking at the door.’  ‘Continue writing paragraph 3 into your books, and maintain silence.’ Sister glides to the back, and the door opens, just a little. We try to swivel our eyes around, listening to hear the murmured conversation – one of those ones that Nuns can do so well, where the voices travel just as far as it takes for them to hear one another, and no further.

‘Eyes front!’ Sister commands, using that radar she turns on whenever we’re peeking. ‘Curiosity killed the cat, Patricia Monopoli.’  ‘Yes Sister. Sorry, Sister.’ We get busy with our blue coloured pencils, shading in the seacoast of Malaya. 

On wet days, or feast days, Sister announces a treat. The 16 millimetre film projector is wheeled in to the third Form corridor. We sit on the floor, a screen unrolled on the doors to the Convent side – and we watch slightly-out-of-date Hollywood films. War and peace. The baby in the battleship. Margot Fonteyn dancing The Firebird. It happens rarely enough to make it memorable.

One wintry day we are huddled around the gas heater in the fireplace at the back of the room, allowed to eat our lunches inside, since today, even the Porch is being lashed with rain. Kay is becoming bored. She idly opens one of the big storage cupboards beside the fireplace, and climbs inside. Someone shuts the door on her, and we all laugh. Then everything goes quiet. Too quiet. Someone re-opens the door. But Kay has vanished. There’s simply no-one there! We eye one another, nervously. Then the back of the cupboard opens up, and Kay crawls back through.  ‘It’s a doorway!’ she says. ‘Just like The lion, the witch and the wardrobe. Come and look!’ But we don’t. Ever. Our highly-developed sense of guilt has kicked in. How do you confess something like that?

To this day, reading C S Lewis makes me nervous.

St Marys convent 1895
St Mary's Convent in 1895.Mission Sisters' Archive

The Fourth Form
The Fourth Form is Sister Isidore’s domain: the senior class for some, in the days when you could still leave school at 15. This is the commercial year – you take your Chamber of Commerce exams, in English, basic arithmetic for book keeping and banking, and handwriting. (Amazingly, I actually manage to pass that one!)

At fourteen, you are likely to be offered a place over summer in a shop, the junior sales assistant, sweeping, wrapping, tidying – 9 to 5 weekdays, 9 to 9pm Fridays. £6/10/- a week – cash, in a brown envelope. It’s a taste of the workforce – enough to let you see what’s waiting for you.

To help you along – and to raise money for the Missions – Sister has a sweet stall in the classroom. Boxes come in from Griffins Factory, and someone is rostered on to attend to the steady flows of threepences and sixpences at morning break and lunchtime. Sugar hasn’t yet been declared evil.  ‘A little something to keep your energy up, girls?’

The classroom is divided along the back, with a large window into the new typing room. Those who are serious at commercial subjects – shorthand, typing, book-keeping – sit in there, practicing away on the gigantic upright manual typewriters: clatter, clatter, clatter, Sister in control with the timer. ‘Sixty words a minute girls! I’m not sending you out at the end of the year with anything less!’

Sometimes the girls have to wear capes, that reach down over their arms to hide the keyboard. ‘You have to stop trying to look at the keys. It should be second nature to you, by now…’ Fifty years later, I still have to look at the keyboard. There are little flip-top jotters, too, for taking down shorthand – a code that always seems to me so much harder to master than the French, or Latin, the rest of us struggle with instead.

The classroom looks out to the main building. We’ll be back over there next year, those of us staying into the Fifth Form.  Sister is having quiet conversations with us, individually. ‘So Denise, do you think you have a chance at School Cert.? Maybe something in Town will suit you better…’  

It’s hard for us to see how much influence this is having – how much our futures are channeling, this way or that. Everything is changing around us. Vatican II is under way: our new Christian Doctrine books arrive, and the old hymn sheets vanish from the Church. Is it true they’ll not be using Latin for the Mass? We sit in the Cloakroom on wet days, knitting peggy squares for the Missions, trying to make sense of all the changes. 

On sunny lunchtimes we lie on the grass down on the Green, far enough away that Sister can’t see us - or we think she can’t. We’re rubbing coconut oil onto our legs, getting a head start on a suntan for the beach. ‘It’s good stuff alright,’ Kathleen says. ‘I can almost hear it sizzle!’ Nobody knows about skin cancer yet – although we’re starting to work out why some girls’ hair goes green at the Swimming Baths.  

We read our way, aloud, through As you like it, and Pride and Prejudice. ‘A good speaking voice is a boon to the workforce, girls,’ and we rehearse and rehearse for the end of year concert performances: always shortened versions of well-known 50s musicals. I’m in St Margaret’s House, so we’re doing The Sound of Music – in part, anyway, since Judy Taylor has cleverly designed us a play-within-a-play, with a theatre group trying to decide what to stage. I get to play the Director: a full-on beatnik type in corduroys, desert boots, duffle coat and horn rimmed glasses.

On the night, Irene forgets her lines, and I improvise my way around it. We win anyway. Miss King gives me the drama prize.  ‘That was just a little more dramatic than I’d intended,’ she whispers. Me too. Mostly, it’s quiet, and calm. We don’t even hear the Standard Ones from St Joseph’s, whose classroom is just through the wall. We have little notion of how quiet we have learned to be, or how this will differ from the way things are elsewhere. Quiet, and neat – for we clean the rooms ourselves, mops, and dusters, and beeswax floor polish on Fridays.  ‘Tidy away your books – no bulging desk flaps. Chairs on tables. Carefully. No scratching.’

We bring fresh flowers from home every Monday morning. ‘Jacqueline Cook: are your mother’s yellow Dutch irises out yet?’ ‘I’ll ask, Sister.’  We sharpen our pencils, refill our fountain pens. We darn our stockings, mend our gloves, brush our hats. Shoes polished every night. Books covered – one of the many uses for old rolls of wallpaper. It’s a take-care, make-and-mend world. We’re learning much more than we think we are. We even play in the Saturday netball competitions – and win – with out-of-alignment patched leather basketballs.

My gym tunic has only one more length of hem to be let down. ‘Either the hems have to go up,’ sighs my mother, ‘or you’re going to have to stop growing.’ Then Sister Leone comes in for French lesson, waving the latest copy of  J-2, the youth magazine from Paris that a cousin of hers posts out for us to see.  ‘ ‘Ave you ‘eard?’ she asks us, ‘about le mini-jupe?’  She shows us the pictures: long-legged, enviably slim French girls, with their skirts cut half way up their thighs.Maybe I won’t have to let down that pesky hem, after all.

Nelson convent building
Nelson Convent later Sacred Heart College. Mission Sisters' Archive

The Fifth Form
It is a small room, small, and dark, and very, very serious – for this is School Certificate year, and School Certificate means Sister Thomas. In fact it is only half a room, closed folding doors cutting it off from the Library next door.  Sister comes in from a dark paneled door at the front, and we come in from the Fifth Form porch. Her desk has a high platform, and the usual statue of the Virgin Mary in an alcove in the wall, high above it. Our exam papers are stowed behind the Virgin, in their buff-coloured Ministry of Education envelope. ‘She’ll help you, Girls, if you pray hard enough – and believe me, some of you are going to need that help…’ 

But in the Fifth Form, it’s not always Sister in charge. Pressure is ramping up on the curriculum. Sister Thomas calls in the big guns. Father John Weir talks to us about poetry. English is no easy-option, he warns us. He may be a published poet – but he failed English 1 at Canterbury University. Twice.  

Not a problem to concern us, of course. University? That’s for the Debenham girls. Not for the likes of us.  Miss Frona King, Drama and Elocution, introduces us to some serious stuff though, the first time anyone has suggested actually reading plays, treating them as part of literature. She is reading to us one morning from Marlowe’s Dr Faustus: a fiery speech about retribution and the endangerment of the soul.  ‘See see!’ she gestures – ‘How his blood flows in the firmament!’ There is a sudden thud at the classroom window: a rope noose is swaying against the glass. We all gasp. Someone screams. No-one had warned us the builders were measuring up the fire escapes for repair work… 

Every Friday morning Rex Marple arrives, to teach us art, still life only, of course; no human subjects – although one morning as we concentrate on our arrangement of pears and a single lily, he sketches two of us, Wilhelmina Zwart and I, working away in the second row, and then he presents us with the finished product. We both still have those sketches, to this day. 

Sister draws on convent resources for us, too: French now belongs to Chere Soeur Leone, who scares us silly with ‘Dictée – en Français, mes jeunes filles…’ We agonise over which ‘e’ takes an accent, and try not to mix our Latin with our French. 

On the bus, we gasp excitedly over the new Biology textbook, with horrifying photo sequences of surgery conducted to remove hydatid cysts from the human brain. Which sadistic DSIR scientist chose those? We frighten ourselves half to death. 

It’s not all academic, though. Mrs Keitha King arrives to teach us Ballroom Dancing - at the Boys College! Catholic boys only, of course. McBrides. Gargiulos. Perrones.  It has not occurred to us that we are an object of fascination at Nelson Boys: a cohort of girls in scarlet, appearing weekly on their College campus.     

One winter’s night, walking back in the dark, we are jumped – literally – from the trees above the path. Some of the boys – it’s too dark to say which ones – have decided to lie in wait for us. We run. Perhaps they didn’t know we could do that, little ladies that we always are in public.  Well, mostly. There are still occasional denunciations at Morning Assembly, Sister Thomas standing on the stairs as we group around in our various classes. 

‘Girls! I have a serious matter to report. One of our Old Girls has telephoned, to tell us that last Friday, two pupils were seen in Town after School, in uniform – with their ties off – no gloves – and talking to boys! Well! What do you have to say for yourselves?’ We display the requisite shocked looks. There’s no escape. Surveillance extends across the known world.  

‘On a more positive note,’ Sister continues, ‘this week our A Team won the semi-finals of the Basketball’ – it was netball really, but we called it basketball. ‘Some of the Sisters were there to watch, and reported back how many of the Fathers and older brothers had come to see Our Girls play. Most gratifying! Quite a crowd of them!’ She beams around at us.

We do sometimes wonder, though, how far this enthusiasm for our athleticism has to do with the short, black gym tunics and long black stockings we’re wearing: suspender belts and all; tights haven’t been invented yet. We must have looked like the senior class from St Trinian’s.

The Science lab
It is Wednesday afternoon, and we are led by the new Nun, Sister Marie Vianney, to our first ever session in the Science Lab.  It’s at the end of the South Corridor on the first floor: a refit, demanded by the new national curriculum standards, now the budget is finally supplemented by State funding. There are high, pine-slab work benches, each with sinks and a gas tap for the Bunsen burners. We are to learn how to use a microscope, how to heat test tubes and mix chemicals. There is a very impressive locked cupboard, full of equipment, which we fetch out for each class, and clean and pack away as the session ends. We’re good at cleaning away: we have, after all, just spent 2 years doing much the same, down at Miss Gane’s cooking classes at the Tech. 

We start with copper sulphate crystals – those of us with older brothers and home chemistry sets have done this one before. It’s pretty: we like the colour, the prospect of making something that looks like the Queen’s sapphire jewelry. She has just visited: we had marched down to Trafalgar Park to see her. Very lady-like, in our panama hats and white gloves.

 No gloves in science lab: for all we are told to ‘Be careful, girls,’ because there are serious gaps in the safety legislation.  Rubber hoses pop off gas tubes in mid experiment. Test tubes explode. The flimsy slide covers we are taught to scrape across with one dramatic swipe to make a blood-sample, easily shatter and we cut our fingers. But Sister persists.

Sacred Heart college Photonews Apr6 1968

Sacred Heart College. Photonews April 6 1968

 We cut up earthworms, fascinated by the four matching hearts. We dissect the compulsory rat, hoping against hope that we don’t slip with the scalpel and puncture the bladder. We pin everything carefully into the dish of grey wax, trying to pretend it’s just a sort of colour illustration, in 3D – not an animal that was warm and alive, not so long ago.

When it comes to dissection of the baby rabbit: ‘They have a complete appendix you know, girls, not just a vestigial one like us: turn to page 36 in your books’ – we get an unexpected reprieve. One of the boarders has crept down during the night and released them all into the garden – where they very sensibly burrow deep into the clay bank and disappear forever.  

Most of all though, we love microscopy. Mrs Maplesden is now our history teacher: her husband is Conservator of Forests, up in Golden Downs. He comes in on Saturdays and teaches us advanced lab techniques – so advanced, in fact, that it takes me right through to the new Form 6A at Waimea College, where they discover that I can do lab work that isn’t even on the curriculum. I show them how to pop fern sporangia, live-action, with the heat of the binocular microscope. I know how to draw water-bourne creatures like paramecium across a slide, by the suction effect of blotting paper to one side. It’s a new kind of magic – all in line with the expansionism of the 1960s. We sit on the tiny, spindly-legged stools, in our pocket-handkerchief sized lab, dreaming of whole new futures.  

Not to be, of course, for we have no maths, or physics, or chemistry.  We are Convent Girls. Thus far – but no further.  

The loo
One hundred girls, two dozen Nuns… Yet the loos always seemed few and far between…In the old Montessori Building, the loos were rather curiously down stairs – curious, because by our day, that building was only one storey. The loos though, followed the line of the Hill, plunging rather precipitously down into the cold behind the Cloakroom, and backing on to those for the St Joseph’s side of the building, at the end of a set of concrete steps. Even on a hot day, it placed a chill on you.  

The Cloakroom itself would today raise red alerts for Occupational Health and Safety: the wooden steps had a dip of more than 4 inches worn in the tread, marked by generations of girls’ feet. We just learned always to take care: we were good at that. Mostly. Not so easy on rainy, icy days of midwinter.  

The loos in the main building promised to be rather grand, tucked into stair-wells, accessed through ornate wooden paneled doors. They had old-fashioned high-cisterns with proper chains to pull – and there was a knack to making them actually flush: a knack that took a while to acquire. 

So too the roller-towel: a looped towel on a rail, that pulled down – sometimes – as you tugged at it. You were instructed, of course, to always pull a clean section down for the next user – but at the same time, not to be too profligate with the dry bit. Sister who did the laundry insisted.

So too Sister who made the soap – for the convent still did its own hand soap, seriously carbolic. No risking hygiene. It was hell on chillblained fingers – and we all had those. Worse: it didn’t lather. It made the pink Lifebuoy that Mum used at home look like Knights Castille.  The physical presence of those loos, of course, remained unspoken.  ‘Sister! Sister! I need to…’   ‘Hurry along then. Quietly. Don’t run on the stairs.’

But sometimes… well…You just had to…. 

Sewing Room
A little further on from the Third Form classroom, on the right, is the Sewing Room. Sister Monica, ever cheerful, presides over the machines, and the hemming ruler, and the quick-unpick – a device for which I am eternally grateful, since I spend most of my time unpicking.  

‘Wrong side!’ pronounces Sister, handing back my hard-fought side seams. ‘It’s do it again time, I’m afraid.’   I’m useless at sewing. I tack the right sleeve to the left bodice. I finish every bit of the interfacings – French seams and all – only to find they’re on the outside of the garment.  ‘Nice sewing dear,’ says Sister Monica. ‘But I don’t think we want to see the lining…’  

My sensible winter woolen skirt in suitably sober olive green makes no sense at all.  My bright-and-cheerful lemon cotton Brunch Coat with a fruit print is eventually handed to my cousin Michelle, who is a sewing whizz, and cuts it down into summer blouses, which I see her still wearing years later.  ‘You do pick nice fabrics, dear,’ says Sister Monica, tactfully.  I’m in the corner, yet again, with the quick-unpick. It doesn’t seem as sharp as it used to be.  

Finally, even Sister Monica gives up. When Sister Isidore hatches a fundraising plot: ‘Proceeds to the Missions, girls: see to it that all your Mothers and your Aunties come!’ - I am hived off to another role, for we are to do a Fashion Parade of our year’s sewing, just like the ones that have recently been held at the new Miss Nelson teen fashion store.  Well – a little bit like… 

Good sewers, like Louise, and Christine, manage to make their Miss Simplicity patterns appear perfect. They lift the hems, tighten the darts, add wide leather belts – just that tiny bit you understand, ‘to see that the fit’s right, Sister.’  Miss King rehearses them, walking like what we still called ‘mannequins’, kitten heels, handbags, gloves… I am on the landing of the main stairs, with the world’s oldest microphone, linked by a dangerously frayed electrical cord to the Radio Room, that downstairs space beside the second porch, never otherwise used, but linked to rediffusion speakers high on the blackboard of every classroom. I’m doing The Announcing. 

‘Patricia is wearing a blue suit, in French wool, the jacket lined in matching gingham viyella… And now here’s Robyn, in pale apricot shantung, bias cut, with a piped waist and a boat-neck…’ We were a triumph. Everybody said so. Shillings, and florins, and even half-crowns clunked into the collection boxes.  

The following week, Sister Isidore’s eagle eye detected something odd about the gym tunics some of the girls were wearing. The shift dress was now all the go. They’d used the beautifully tidy hand-stitching Sister Monica insisted upon, to sew down the bottom edge of all the box pleats on their tunics, transforming them into the fashionable new straight-through, tight look.  

They were taken up to the front of the class, and handed the quick-unpick.  And that was the end of our foray into fashion.

The Granary
Depending upon the way you come in, the main Convent Building has four, or five storeys.  From the East, or Brook Stream side, you enter through the kitchens, or the Nun’s Porch. Even here, you climb wooden steps, having walked down past the Grotto, an ivy-covered river-stone cavern with a statue of the Virgin Mary of Lourdes. You probably have a morning tea tray for the lay teachers, to hand in to the kitchen Nuns, blue aprons over their habits and far too busy to chatter to nosy school girls.

The kitchen opens onto the Boarders Refectory, which has its own staircase leading steeply down from the bottom corridor. So which is the Ground Floor? It’s really hard to say – although mostly, we think of it as the one that opens onto the Western side, facing the old Montessori.   So let’s start there, and climb up, level by level, to the very top.

Ground floor: Fifth Form classroom, Library, Music Rooms. First floor: Third Form classroom, Science Lab, Sewing Room, a mysterious, most-often-locked room called The Boarders Day Room. More Music Rooms. 
Keep going up the stairs: the same yellow linoleum, but now, only on the treads and not the risers – and it’s the Boarders Floor. Dormitories, a small cubicle for the Sister in Charge.  And then – up to the third floor, which is the fourth level – or maybe the fifth. It’s the Granary. There’s a bare wooden staircase, no cheerful linoleum. Halfway up, the landing has a second, locked door: rough wood and chicken wire. If Sister lets you have the key, there you are: in the Granary. Not quite the top of the building, but as far as you can go, without climbing the wall struts (and yes: we did that too, one rainy day. If you did, you could look out the line of clerestory windows – and if you were very daring – which I wasn’t – the ones in the square tower right on the top.)  Mostly though, you went to the Granary with a task in mind. 

The floor space is vast: as large as the rest of the building, but never completed: bare boards, rough floors, no wall paneling. There are partitions here and there, a large riveted metal tank which is the water supply, and various storage zones: boarders’ trunks, old chests of this and that, art materials, sports equipment, theatre props. We go there to paint stage scenery, with plenty of space to spread things out – although even here, we’re enjoined to be careful. ‘No splashing paint about, girls. Keep it tidy.’ There are boxes of costumes, re-worked again and again, for this or for that event. Amazing how long taffeta angel frocks last. Bunting, too – at least World War One vintage. Old paper lanterns – far more ornate than any modern ones, beaded, with fancy shapes and painted scenes.

What you did not find stored up there, was grain – for Granary, we were all told, was from the French, grenier – an attic. Who stores grain, in this day and age?  It is very high up, and strangely remote from the everyday work of the school. With the boarders in class in the daytime, you hear very little of what may be going on. The view though, is amazing. You can see straight across to the turrets on Warwick House, and the Brook Stream, running down from the Sugarloaf. I wish the Nelson artist Irvine Major had this view when he painted the Convent building – for he makes it tall and oddly narrow, as if he somehow knows how high you are, when looking out.

One day, towards the end of my time at school, one of the Nuns comes and finds me in the little end-corridor space where they have put me to swot for my University Entrance exam. ‘Come and look at this!’ she says, rather excited.  We go right up to the Granary; she has the keys – and then down the length of the building, to the floor-to-ceiling window at the North end. You can see right out to the harbor entrance – and there, coming through the cut, is a submarine, its conning tower above the water, crew standing in honour guard for the arrival, tiny white figures against battleship grey, blue sky, and sea, and the line of mountains behind.

 Today, when I visit the Granary Building at Founders, I sometimes look through one of these end windows – which have been, as Yolanda Persico has shown us in her historical review of the Convent buildings, moved around in the re-build of what was left: after the move, after the fire, after assessing the needs of next generations. I wonder to myself: which window was that? Which did I look out from, and see that very unexpected sight? And does it matter? For I can never see that view through it, again.

Written by Dr Jacqueline A Cook, former pupil, St Joseph’s, 1956-1963; Sacred Heart College, 1964-1967.  

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