Convent Orphanage in Baldock

Edwin Weston

My name is Edwin Weston and I am trying to locate a convent orphanage in Baldock where my brother and I resided for about three years in the early fifties. As we were both very young (6 and 7 years of age when we left), we do not remember any details of the location or name of the convent. I remember the large dinner hall and being served hot lemonade and bread and jam. There was a big stairway going up to the dormitories. The convent had its own spacious grounds at the back which were surrounded by farmland. I remember there were rose gardens (I think) and also being taken by the sisters to watch some kind of coronation parade, but did not see very much because it was so crowded. The sister superior was an elderly little lady. I remember once I was sick and had to stay in the locked dormitory and a sister brought me lunch on a tray. I got very lonely and jumped out of the second floor window and gashed my lip. A policeman came to my bedside the next day and told me I was a naughty boy.

I live in Canada now and have never returned to Baldock, but I’m curious to know the name and exact location of the convent. Based on the memories and comments of other people, I believe it may be St Joseph’s convent (but I am not sure). Does anyone know if the convent is still there? Also is there a photo of it anywhere? Any information would be much appreciated.

This page was added on 23/02/2017.

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  • I was a boarder (the only boarder in my year) at the Covent of Providence from 1956 to 1961 and remember a lot of the pupils mentioned. I went back to Baldock around 1992 and was surprised to see most of the nuns were still albeit in a building behind South Lodge. At the time South Lodge was a home for wayward girls and not surprisingly I was not allowed in to visit my memories. I remember a pilgrimage to Lourdes around 1959. I have a picture taken of our group if anyone wants a copy. I was interested by the post by Marion Hill and the picture she mentioned. I will have to check it out.

    By Antony Nicolaou (27/09/2022)
  • Dear Edwin I am sorry you had a bad time in the childrens’ home run by nuns.
    I think it must have been very traumatic to be told of by policeman rather than
    comforted so that you would not have felt so lonely.. As a child I was in childrens
    home called Klánovice ( not far from
    Prague in Czechoslovakia). I hope you had a good time in Canada. My daughter
    lives nearby and the place is now a care home for elderly.

    By Olga Chalupova (13/05/2022)
  • Posted on behalf of Bridget Jackson (nee Fitzgerald)

    In the correspondence, articles and memories under the heading Convent Orphanage in Baldock, I think there may be some confusion between the Convent of Providence, which was based at South Lodge on London Road, and St Joseph’s Convent that was off the Letchworth Road. The latter was known as the French Convent and I remember children from there coming to school at the convent of Providence. It is now, I see from local maps, Burleigh House Residental Home. Certainly before I left Baldock in 1966 it had ceased to have children there and had moved to caring for the elderly. When the nuns from the Convent of Providence first came to Baldock in 1919, they set up a school called St Joseph’s College in what is now Pepper Court on the Market Place. St Joseph’s Convent was already established before that. It was in 1945 that the Convent of Providence was established at South Lodge, which had 11acres of land. (Information from the booklet, ‘ The Parish of The Holy Trinity and St Augustine of Canterbury, Baldock – One Hundred Years of History’ produced by the parish in 2013) The photo shows the pupils of the school taken in the Sunken Garden. My sister Catie ( Catherine FitzGerald, mentioned in George Wright’s memories,) is the only one not in school uniform. She is in the picture because our mother taught occasionally at the school and she came with her. I am sitting to her left and my sister, Marian, is on the third row back second girl in from the left.

    By Marion Hill (27/07/2021)

    By Geoff Cordingley (28/06/2021)
  • My name is Tony Ellison. My sister and I were both at The Convent of Providence in Baldock in 1952 and 1953.
    I remember the field at the back, where we used to ride ponies once a week. I also remember Sister Clare and Sister Superior. I remember too the entrance hall and the big staircase to the dormitories.

    By Tony Ellison (28/06/2021)
  • Hello Edwin,

    It certainly was St. Joseph’s. Which has now been turned into luxury flats.

    I was there from 1963 to 1967. I also remember two sisters who were much older than me and they were orphans.

    By Kay (12/06/2021)
  • Hello Bridget,

    You cannot add photographs into a comment but you can go to ‘get involved’ and add your photograph there. An editor can than add it to this article.

    regards Geoff

    By Geoff Cordingley (07/06/2021)
  • I was very interested to find this article and the comments on it, particularly Tony Ellison’s. He mentions my sister, Catie, (Catherine FitzGerald,) who died as the result of a car accident in 1971. I have a school photo taken in 1954 on which my sister Marian and I think his sister, Avril, may also be. Probably he was too young to have started at the school then – Catie is in it because our Mother taught at the school briefly and she came with her, although she wasn’t school age. His mention of Bridget Mynott also brought back memories as she was in my class, as was Caroline King. (Is it possible to include the photo in this comment?)

    All of my Primary school education was there and I have lots of memories of the nuns who taught me . Sr Teresa, had ‘The Babies’ (now Reception) class, then we went to Sr Genevieve, who was lovely. Next it was Sr Brigid, followed by Sr Ailbe, whose ruler across the knuckles for those who couldn’t shine in the weekly spelling and mental arithmetic tests, ensured that I tried very hard not to fail! Eventually it was to Sr Clare that we then graduated, the most gentle and kind of them all and, I think, the only non-Irish nun in the convent. For a while there was Sr Alberta, also non-Irish, who had a reputation to be feared!

    The non teaching nuns were Sr Germanna, who did all the washing and ironing, she seemed to be permanently sat at the ironing board looking out onto the playground. She and Sr Teresa were siblings. Sr Monica did the cooking and eventually, long after we’d left, took a cookery course and became pretty good at it. Then there was the marvelous Sr Collette, who drove the tractor and managed the gardens and what was almost a small holding, which produced vegetables, tomatoes , eggs and apples that fed us and provided some income from the sale of surpluses.
    Later Sr Mary Louie arrived and I think helped Sr Germanna with the household side of things.

    The grounds were extensive and besides the playing field that others have mentioned, there was a well maintained lawn and flower borders beyond a long brick wall with a gate in it. Beyond that there was a sunken garden where a Grotto (dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes I think,) was built. There were also a couple of tennis courts and a cottage that was lived in by a Mr Millard and then latterly by someone who helped Sr Collette with the grounds.

    Inside the buildings there was a small chapel in which we had Benediction on a Friday afternoon – the scene of regular faintings as it was small and we were all jam packed in – too many bodies, too much incense and not enough air! Beside the front door was a large room where we went on special occasions like the breakfast after our First Communion. It had French windows that lead onto the lawns. The dining room was large with a hatch through to the kitchen and then there was an equally large playroom with a stage at one end, behind which was Sr Clare’s classroom.

    There’s a whole chapter about the school and a couple of photos of some of the nuns in the booklet that was produced by members of the parish to celebrate the centenary of the Catholic church in Baldock.

    By Bridget Jackson (07/06/2021)
  • This at one time may have been an orphanage but it evolved into a boarding and day school. The boarders were often children of families where both parents worked, and several of these were immigrant families. I remember the Greek/Cypriot Papandreous:George and Yioulla; ditto Nicholas and Margarette Makafides; Gordon and Marilyn Martyr who were I think from India, John Symes from what was then called Ceylon. several other siblings boarded together: the Tipper sisters Joan and Veronica; Geoffrey and Michael Haver. Other boarders I remember Caroline King, Sean McConville and John Brogan (who seemed to live at the convent), Pascal Wollard, not a name you would forget. Some of the older boys I remember: Lorenzo De Neo and Peter Max-Lloyd. Of the day pupils in our class were the Gerards Doyle and Solish; Susan Only or Awnley; Roland Rogers and John Bysouth, and Catherine Fitzgerald. Catherine and Gerald Hankin were invariably top of the various classes, I think Gerald left before the 11 plus class. Catherine unfortunately was killed in a car accident when she was about 15. Bridget Mynott also died young, her death was featured in the papers as a drugs related story.
    We often hear stories about the harsh treatment meted out by priests and nuns in Catholic institutions, the Magdalen laundries etc, but the Convent was not like this at all. I think the tone was set by the two brightest nuns there, Sister Ailbe and Sister Genevieve, who between them taught the two year groups prior to the 11 plus class, Sister Clare taught the latter. They were both kind but not soft and commanded respect, I never saw either use a cane, though Sister Ailbe did once spank a boy (Sean) in front of all in the playroom. They being the strong personalities they were, were able to give a lead to all the others, though they didn’t need much prompting for example Sister Germanna was another kindly soul, as was the Mother Superior at the time. The one great drawback was the food, simply awful. I learnt to loath leeks, marrow and boiled onions, all of which I think were grown by Sister Collette, in her garden which we ran past as the cry went up “Up the field”. We had plenty of space to play up there, I remember the big horse chestnut tree that stood in the top field, where the cricket pitch was. The football pitch below that. There was a tennis court but I don’t remember seeing the pupils on it that often.
    There was no tv, and only the radio at tea time, but luckily enough, a couple of us were allowed into the gardener’s house (Mr Seymour) to watch the 1959 Cup Final. The following final in 1960 was played on the same day that Princess Margaret got married, and a tv was hired to watch that and kept on for the afternoon game.
    All in all such pleasant memories of the girls particularly, and those two outstanding people: Sisters Ailbe and Genevieve. I went back to Baldock, Haselmere and London to see as many as I could in the early eighties, and what struck me then was that they were all Irish, a factor I hadn’t realised as a child.

    By George Wright (07/04/2021)
  • Both my sister and I were at The Convent of Providence in
    the early 50s. I remember Sister Clare,and the pony riding
    each week in the field.
    Tony ellison and my sister is Avril

    By tony ellison (03/12/2020)
  • I was there in 1961 when i was guys have brought so many memories flooding back.I recall we were given our pocket money once a week to buy and two of my friends planned to discreetly take more money than needed and escape from the covent that night..which we did.It was so exiting.We left the grounds and kept walking through the night with no idea of direction..we walked what seemed for hours..A policeman on his bike suddenly appeared..”Hey boys what are you doing walking so late at night”,We said,going home to london!!!.He made us follow him to the police station..the police were so kind..kit warm cosy and comfortable there with the police..until the convents driver came to take us back.The nuns were waiting..and boy did we get it.They sent us up to our dormitory..not a word was spoken.We thought we got away lightly..the nuns waited till we fell asleep..then woke us and, gave us the biggest strapping you can imagine..great memories😂😂😂

    By Christopher Patroklou (29/07/2020)
  • Hi Edwin, I was at the CONVENT OF PROVIDENCE in Baldock in the early ’60s. Your description closely matches my memories of the place. I remember the big dining hall. Breakfast was bread and jam, and supper was hot lemonade and bread. I think that lunch was the only hot meal of the day (except Sundays when we had spam, which was a huge treat! I remember the big staircase up to the dormitories. The grounds, which seemed huge to me, (I was 7 when I went there) backed onto farmland. There was a rose garden through which we walked to get to a Lourdes grotto where we went to say the Angelus when the weather was nice. There was also an apple orchard and green houses that some of the nuns tended. I think that much of the food that we ate was grown at the convent. I remember us all, inmates and nuns together, shelling peas when the pea crop was harvested. The nuns were wonderfully kind to me. I will always be grateful to them.

    By Chris Austen (05/12/2018)
  • i was in a kinda nunnery in baldock in the 50,s’i just wana know where it is and what was it.this is my name now,but at the time it was the greek version.mickalagis gavrielidis

    By michael.gavriel (29/09/2017)
  • You can see pictures of the convent as it looks now at:

    By Stefan (23/02/2017)
  • Hi Edith, there was indeed a St Joseph’s convent in Baldock. The building still exists but it is no longer a convent – I believe it may be a care home.

    By Stefan (23/02/2017)
  • Dear Edwin Weston, please contact Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies who may be able to help with your enquiry

    By S Williams (23/02/2017)