Convent Notes

Bruges Augustinians

Founded 1629 from Louvain: known as the convent of Nazareth.

In 1794 twenty two of the community left Bruges to travel to England: the plan was for the remaining eleven nuns to join them as soon as they could. By the end of 1795 only seven sisters were left in Bruges; a further five travelled to England over the course of 1797. Only Olivia Darrell (d. 1802) and Martha Ferguson a lay sister (d. 1802) remained in Bruges. The community in England initially searched for accommodation in London but by August 1794 they settled at Hengrave Hall, Suffolk. However, the community longed to return to their home in Bruges and with the Peace of Amiens 1802 the nuns voted to return to Bruges. They left Hengrave 1803 27 Oct and arrived at Bruges on 2 Nov: there they remain.

Louvain Augustinians

The convent was known as St Monica’s. Founded in 1609 by English members of the Flemish Augustinian convent St Ursula’s. With the approach of the French revolutionary army decided to leave Louvain and go to London. They left Louvain at the end of June 1794 and reached Greenwich on 17 July. Initially they stayed in Hammersmith, but found that it was not sufficiently secluded for their needs. The community moved first to Amesbury, Wilts in January 1795 before settling finally in December 1800 in Spetisbury, Dorset where they remained for the next 60 years. Note: Nuns who joined St Ursula’s and died there are listed separately as they were not formally members of an English convent.

Paris Augustinians

Known as Our Lady of Sion: founded in 1634 when Mary Tredway and Thomas Carre received letters patent to buy property in Paris or the suburbs to build an Augustinian monastery to receive girls and women from the principal families of England. This was confirmed by the archbishop of Paris. Mary Tredway’s quest for property was supported by Mme de Combalet, the niece of Cardinal Richelieu. There were problems with the first two sites chosen, but by 1638 they had purchased property in the rue Fossées-St-Victor where they remained until the mid-nineteenth century. Although they were imprisoned for a time during the revolution they remained in Paris, their situation having been transformed by the execution of Robespierre, 28 July 1794 resulting in the end of the Terror.

Brussels Benedictines

Known as the Monastery of the Glorious Assumption. Founded by Lady Mary Percy in 1597/8; it was the first of the new foundations specifically for English women. The convent quickly attracted members, but a bitter dispute over the choice of confessor affected recruitment for two decades in the early seventeenth-century. Once a resolution was reached the convent began to flourish again, remaining in Brussels until forced to withdraw by the effects of the revolutionary wars in 1794. They arrived in Winchester in 1794 and remained there until they transferred to East Bergholt, Suffolk.

Cambrai Benedictines

Established in 1623 under the authority of the English Benedictine Congregation, the foundation was initially linked to the Brussels convent. In December 1623 nine postulants were clothed at Cambrai. The chief benefactor of the foundation was the father of Gertrude More, one of the nine. Paris was a daughter house of Cambrai. The convent and their documents were seized suddenly in October 1793 leaving the nuns time to save only a few items. They reached England May 1795 joining monks of the English Benedictine Congregation at Woolton, Lancs. In 1807 they were offered a house at Abbots Salford, Warwicks. where they lived until they moved to Stanbrook Abbey, Worcs. in 1838.

Dunkirk Benedictines

Convent founded 1662 as daughter house from Ghent. When Pontoise closed in 1786 six of the remaining nuns and many manuscripts went to Dunkirk. In 1793 the convent church was used for meeting of the Jacobin Club, Dunkirk. On 13 Oct 1793 the nuns were turned out of the convent and their property was sequestered. They were sent to the Poor Clares in Dunkirk for a few days and then to the Poor Clares at Gravelines. The three communities were imprisoned together. Two of the Benedictines died in prison. In 1795 they were given permission to leave and arrived in London 3 May 1795. They stayed in Hammersmith, living in the house formerly occupied by the Mary Ward sisters until 1863 when they moved to the convent they had built for them in Teignmouth, Devon.

Ghent Benedictines

Known as the Abbey of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Lady. The convent was founded in 1624 by a small group of nuns from the Brussels convent who supported the choice of a Jesuit confessor over the choice of their abbess, Mary Percy at Brussels who had opposed it. Further daughter houses were founded from Ghent at Boulogne in 1652 (moving to Pontoise in 1658); Dunkirk in 1662 and Ypres in 1665. The community left Flanders at the approach of the revolutionary army, and settled first at Preston in Lancashire. They moved to Caverswall Castle in Staffordshire in 1811 and finally to Oulton, Staffs.

Paris Benedictines

Known as the Convent of our Blessed Lady of Good Hope, it was founded in November 1651-February 1652 from Cambrai. The nuns moved five times before settling at Rue du Chant de l’Allouette in the suburb of St Marcelle in April 1664. Initially under regulation by the English Benedictine Congregation, they desired to submit to the authority of the Archbishop of Paris (Cardinal de Retz). Agreement was finally reached in 1657 whereby they came under the authority of the archbishop while retaining Benedictine Spiritual Directors and Confessors. The monks of Port Royal supported the English nuns, although this did lead to some difficulties for them by association when the monks were linked to Jansenist beliefs. After the initial building no modifications were done to the convent until 1767 when a new infirmary and lodgings for the Confessor were built.

In 1793 the revolutionary officers took away the registers and books in the pulpit and the nuns were only able to bring to England a register which had been made just before the revolution. The last death recorded was April 1792: the register has been found to be correct. On 16 July 1794 they were moved to the castle at Vincennes as prisoners on a diet of bread and water. They remained there until in November they were allowed to join the Augustinian Canonesses in their convent. Finally, in March 1795 they left Paris, and arrived in London in July that year. From there they moved to Marnhull, Dorset, moving several times before settling in Colwich, Staffs.

Pontoise Benedictines

Founded first in 1652 from Ghent by Mary Knatchbull. The early years in difficult conditions in Boulogne led the Abbess Christina Forster to seek permission to move to Pontoise. They secured agreement and moved in May 1658. Although they received recruits (some of whom were of royal blood) their expenses were considerable; for instance they assisted the foundation of a convent in Dublin during the reign of James II. By 1723 the convent was reduced to twenty choir sisters, mostly aged and infirm. The obtained some assistance from Louis XIV but their debts were increasing and the buildings needed extensive costly repairs at a time when little money was coming from England. By the end there was an annual deficit of £10,000, the convent was suppressed in April 1786 and their property sold at auction. The remaining nuns were dispersed with six joining the Dunkirk foundation.

Ypres Benedictines

Known as the monastery of Gratia Dei. Founded in 1665 by Mary Knatchbull from the Ghent community initially as an English house, it was unable to attract enough recruits to make it viable and was made into an Irish convent in 1682. It attracted Irish members steadily. At the request of King James II the nuns moved to Dublin in 1688. However, they returned to Ypres following James’s defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The community finally left Ypres after the Abbey was destroyed in 1914 and moved to Kylemore, Ireland where they remain.

Bridgettines, Lisbon

A small group led by their confessor Father Joseph Seth Foster arrived in Lisbon, Portugal in May 1594 from Rouen, France. At the time Portugal was ruled from Spain. The Bridgettines were a double house led by the abbess with brothers as full members: last brother died 1696. A serious fire in 1651 destroyed many buildings and most of their papers: some sources give the date of the fire as 1650. The sisters removed to the near-by convent of Esperanza for five years while their convent was rebuilt: the brothers’ accommodation survived. The nuns returned home on 4 Oct 1656.

The earthquake and subsequent fire in Lisbon 1755 affected the convent badly and they had to appeal for funds to rebuild. The Napoleonic wars when Portugal was invaded also had a serious impact on the convent. In 1809 Wellington took possession of the Bridgettine convent and the community joined the Irish Dominican convent for a time. Ten Bridgettine sisters decided to return to England settling at Aston Hall, however the rest remained in Portugal. Conditions in England proved difficult for the members there and while some returned to Portugal others drifted away. The surviving community finally returned to England in 1861 and settled in Devon; only closing in 2011.

Carmelites Antwerp

Founded in 1619 by Mary Roper, Lady Lovel. A number of offshoots were founded from Antwerp which had English members from time to time but they were not primarily English houses. These include Bois-le-Duc (1624), Bruges (1625), Cologne (1630), Alost (1631, suppressed 1783), and Dusseldorf. Movement between these houses is explained in the notes where it occurs. Lierre (1648) and Hoogstraten (1678) were founded from Antwerp as English convents.

Driven out of their convent June 1794, they returned to England via Rotterdam. After a short time in London they were offered accommodation at Lanherne, Cornwall by Lord Arundel. The profession book was lost or destroyed in the upheavals in 1794 a short version (pb) was copied from earlier abbreviated texts as a replacement.

Carmelites Hoogstraten

Dedicated to Our Lady from Sichem. Founded in 1678 from Antwerp. Between 1701 and 1712 the community retreated to Mechelen because of the unsettled times. In 1790 under the leadership of their confessor Charles Neale, three nuns left Hoogstraten (with 1 from Antwerp) to establish a convent in Maryland at Port Tobacco: now residing near Baltimore.

In the face of the threats from revolutionary soldiers in 1794 the remaining nuns left Hoogstraten to return to England and in December settled at Canford, Dorset, where their benefactor was Sir John Webb. In Sept 1825 the community moved to Torigny Normandy and after five years hardship 1830 they moved again this time to Valognes, Normandy while remaining an English convent. They returned to Chichester in 1870 having received a legacy which enabled them to build appropriate buildings.

Carmelites Lierre

Founded in 1648 from Antwerp. The community built new premises at the beginning of the eighteenth century where they remained until driven out in July 1794. They rented property from Sir John Lawson of Brough at St Helen’s, Auckland, co. Durham until 1804 when they moved to Cocken Hall, co. Durham and finally to Darlington where they remained until 2010.

Carmelites Port Tobacco, Maryland

Founded by a group of four nuns (three American and one English) together with their Confessor Charles Neale in 1790 in response to growing demand for an English convent in American. They arrived at Port Tobacco and acquired enough land to support them growing tobacco. The death of Charles Neale hampered their efforts and in 1831 they decided to move to the growing city of Baltimore and open a school. Their descendants still live near Baltimore.

Dominicans Brussels

Founded in 1661 by Cardinal Philip Howard at Vilvorde near Brussels. Professions up to 1668 were made at Vilvorde, until they moved to Brussels to ‘The Spellikens’ in 1669. The church and monastery were rebuilt in 1777. In the face of the advancing revolutionary armies they fled to England and established themselves at Hartpury Court near Gloucester where they remained from 1794 to 1839.

Franciscans Brussels

The convent formally opened in Brussels in August 1621. In 1637 ‘on account of the dearness of provisions, and the smallness of the enclosure’, they moved to Nieuport in Flanders. However, they suffered a number of health problems and decided to move again: this time to Princenhof in Bruges in December 1662 where they remained until 1794. Concerns over security led the nuns to return to England. They lived first in Winchester and then in 1808 found a permanent home at Taunton. One off-shoot was established: in 1658 a group of nuns left Nieuport to establish a new convent in Paris. This eventually became a Conceptionist house, known familiarly as the ‘Blue Nuns’.

Conceptionists Paris

[Came out of Franciscan foundation above]

Known as the convent of Bethlehem. They first came to Paris in 1658; a group of nuns from the third order of St Francis They gained permission to remain (confirmed in May 1670) because of their good reputation. They settled first in the Faubourg Saint-Jacques but after two years moved to a Convent situated in rue de Charenton in the Faubourg St Antoine. Their convent was seized on 14 Oct 1793 and in November 1794 they were transferred to the English Augustinian convent as prisoners. The nuns were released in 1795 and allowed to return to their convent. 3 nuns returned to England. From 1795-9 the convent remained in the hands of the nuns. Their property was sold by the Directory on 9 Oct 1799. The remnant of the community (6) returned to England January 1800, staying first in London with Lady Jerningham until moving to Cossey, Norfolk, finally settling in Norwich in July 1800. Although they opened a small school, they were not able to attract new recruits to the convent, numbers fell and by 1806 the remaining nuns dispersed.

Mary Ward Institute

The complex history of the Mary Ward Institute in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries means that the sources and the data relating to the members of the Institute are very different from the other convents and in many cases data is probable rather than confirmed. The sisters were not enclosed and their religious life was based on the model of the Society of Jesus. They were suppressed in 1631 but managed to survive through their educational work in the schools they established at St Omer, Liège, Munich and other cities across Europe. They were the first women religious to establish themselves permanently in England: they opened a school in Hammersmith in 1669 which survived until the end of the eighteenth century and in 1686 founded the Bar Convent in York. A number of girls attending the school in Hammersmith went on to become members of other convents: this is noted in each case.

Poor Clares Aire

Convent of the Immaculate Conception: Founded on the day of Pentecost in 1629 from Gravelines according to the introduction to the MS Aire Profession Book. Doubts have arisen regarding the date based mainly on p. 26 of the introduction to the Gravelines Registers which refers to a resolution to establish a filiation at Aire in 1619. Checking the careers of the nuns involved it is impossible to correlate the names of those who left Gravelines with a date of arrival at Aire in 1619. In spite of the threats to their existence, the community remained in Aire until September 1799 when with the help of James Peter Coghlan they managed to retain many of their books and manuscripts and travel to England.

Poor Clares Dunkirk

Convent of Bethlehem. Founded originally 1625 by four Irish sisters and Eleanor Dillon as Abbess. The convent was unable to receive novices but it was intended to open a school there: the four Irish sisters left to establish new convents in Ireland in 1629. The main foundation dates from 1652. During the 1658 war between France and Spain: Dunkirk was occupied as a result of the Battle of the Dunes and liberated by the English (26 Jun). They left the town to stay with the English Benedictines at Ghent, but no sooner had they left Dunkirk, but they were invited to return. They remained in Dunkirk until 1793 when they were imprisoned with the Poor Clares at Gravelines for 18 months and like them took the decision to move to England.

Poor Clares Gravelines

Known as the convent of Nazareth. Founded in 1609 by Mary Ward who wanted to establish a house for English Poor Clares; however she did not remain with them. Numbers grew substantially leading to a series of offshoots: the first Dunkirk convent in 1625: Aire in 1629 and finally Rouen in 1644. Gravelines suffered a series of traumatic events. In 1658 when war broke out between France and Spain, Gravelines underwent a siege of 69 days. Plague invaded Gravelines 1666, but there were no victims at convent. The National Assembly did not initially require the English convents to close, but in October 1793 they took action. On 12 October they seized the property of the convent and five days later brought the English Benedictines and the Poor Clares from Dunkirk to Gravelines and kept them together as it were in prison for a period of 18 months. Even after gaining their liberty the nuns decided that life was too difficult to remain in Gravelines and they would move to England. They reached London on 3 May 1795. On their arrival in England, Lady Mary Elizabeth Nugen, duchess of Buckingham invited them to Gosfield Park, near Halstead in Essex. After much debate in 1814 they reclaimed their convent in Gravelines. It was initially successful, but with declining numbers they gave it to the Ursulines in 1838 and returned to England.

Poor Clares Rouen

Convent of Jesus-Mary-Joseph; 24 rue de Joyeuse, Rouen. Founded as a daughter house from Gravelines in 1644 because of over-crowding in the mother house. They received a number of English refugees as guests after the Titus Oates plot and further influxes after Jacobite events in the eighteenth century. The revolutionary soldiers started their actions against the convent on 30 March 1793 and finally on 2 October that year the revolutionaries entered the convent and the following day the nuns were told they had to treat the convent as a prison. Other expatriate Englishwomen were brought to join them and on 6 February 1794 the chapel was filled with beds for prisoners and the nuns were turned out of their premises. They were set at liberty on 16 January 1795 and finally decided to leave for England: the first group left on 1 July 1795. After a brief stay in London they moved to Haggerston Castle in Northumberland. In 1807 the community moved to Scorton Hall, near Catterick, Yorkshire.

[Note complications for surname of Mary Parnall Talbot Howard]

Sepulchrines Liège

The convent at Liège was founded in October 1642 by Susan Hawley out of the Flemish convent at Tongres, remaining there until driven out by the impact of the revolutionary wars. The nuns left Liège in the summer of 1794, travelling to England via Maastricht as a party of 75. Staying temporarily in London, they moved first to Home Hall in Yorkshire, and after two years to Dean House near Salisbury, Wiltshire. Early in 1798 they moved to their final destination New Hall, near Chelmsford in Essex where they remained until 2005.