OLD PLYMOUTH . UK
www.oldplymouth.uk
 

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: August 22, 2018
Webpage updated: September 01, 2018

        

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ROMAN CATHOLIC CONVENT OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

Six Sisters of Notre Dame from their Mother House at Namur in Belgium were invited by Bishop William Vaughan to look after the schools for the poor that had been set up in Plymouth.   On July 25th 1860 they arrived at the presbytery of Saint Mary's.  From here they taught at the Roman Catholic Cathedral and at the Devonport Mission.

An early picture of the Roman Catholic Convent of Notre Dame, Plymouth

The Roman Catholic Convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame, Plymouth.
From a postcard.

Soon after, they purchased land to the west of the Cathedral and in driving rain on the late afternoon of Monday November 21st 1864 the Very Reverend Canon Richard Mansfield laid the foundation stone of their Convent.   Coins from all over Europe and a parchment scroll were placed in a cavity in the stone.  The architect was Mr Joseph A Hansom of Fulham Road, London, who was assisted by Mr Charles Clifton of Penlee Villas, Stoke, Devonport.  It was built by Mr Samuel Hallett of Plymouth and Mr Thomas Jenkins of Devonport, with Mr John Ley acting as clerk of the works. 

On October 19th 1865 this was opened both as a Convent and also a girls' school for boarders and day pupils.  The Chapel was opened shortly afterwards.  Pupils came from all over the world.  The sister superior of the Convent was Miss Mary Mesnard, Sister Mary Teresa.  There were at its opening just ten nuns but by 1887 this had increased to thirty, six of whom gave their services to the Roman Catholic elementary schools in Plymouth and Devonport.

An altar and reredos were installed in the recently extended Chapel in the Convent during 1886-87.  Both were designed by Mr Herbert Gribble, a former native of the Borough but now living and working in London.  The contractor was Mr A B Wall, of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.  The altar slab was of dark, polished Cornish granite supplied by Messrs Freeman and Company, of Penryn.  It was supported on four columns of polished Irish green marble with neatly carved capitals, the whole on a plinth of Devonshire marble.  The frot of the altar consisted of three panels, the centre one containing a bas-relief of the Last Supper and the two side ones with chiselled emblems of the Blessed Sacrament.

In the centre of the reredos was an alabaster tabernacle, which was surmounted by the expositorium with a carved, tapering canopy supporting eight miniature angels in prayer.  The candle and flower benches were in Devon and Belgian marbles.  On each side were two large carved panels, with groined and traceried canopies, one illustrating Melchisideck offering up the sacrifice and the other the gathering of manna in the wilderness.  In the centre were statues of the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph, in 612 Seaton stones, while the canopies were of Caen stone.  In addition to the stones and marbles already mentioned, Derbyshire alabaster, green and red serpentine, rouge malplaquet, griotte, jasper, Brocatella, Carrara, Emperor's Red Italian alabaster, and Californian marble was also used in the structure.  

In 1936 the Convent was extended by the addition of the old Presbyterian Chapel that stood on the corner of Wyndham Street and Anstis Street.  It was linked with the main building and the opening ceremony took place on December 16th 1938.

However, this happy situation was not to last.   During the bombing of the Second World War the Convent was completely destroyed.  The site is today a residential complex called Notre Dame House.  When the decision was made not to rebuild the Convent on that site, the Sisters moved to a large house named Trenley, between Woodbine and Weston Lodge, in Seymour Road, Mannamead.  That was in October 1943.

The present-day Convent of Notre Dame is situated in Looseleigh Lane at Derriford, Plymouth, and the chapel was built in 1971 to the designs of a Mr Lane.  It contains a stained glass window Father Charles Norris of Buckfast Abbey, Devon, who sadly died in Torbay Hospital on Wednesday May 12th 2004.  He was 94-years-old and had joined the Buckfast Community in 1930.  He served as an army chaplain in Africa and Italy during the Second World War and was awarded the MBE in 1943.   In 2003 his last major work was given to the New York Fire Department as a tribute to their work and losses in the aftermath of the September 11th 2001 atrocities.