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The Convent In Bridport

A Memory of Bridport

I was disturbed to read the Memory posted in early September from a contemporary about our common primary school, Bridport Visitation Convent. It was reprinted in the Bridport News of October 1st so needs to be balanced I feel. That gentleman clearly doesn't remember his time there with relish but I wonder why he didn't put his schooldays into the context of the time.
My own experience at the Convent was not so different in the detail so I'm perhaps lucky not to be troubled by the same demons that our friend apparently is. The food was not great and some was truly awful. I can still taste it today and when I first had porridge without lumps, I thought there was something wrong with it. Discipline really was upheld rigorously as he says, but surely it was everywhere then in comparison with today. We were in the late 1940s/early 1950s and many greatly lament the gradual undermining of those standards.
I was a day pupil from Sept 1949 until July 1954. We ate school dinners with the boarders (until I persuaded my mother to let me take sandwiches) and a couple of times, we took a boarder home to stay with us for the weekend. In fact we had one for the whole summer once when he couldn't go home because a member of his family had some unheard of disease called polio. Unheard of today anyway, which again shows how far away we are from those days. I don't remember any of the boarders I knew complaining of anything abnormal or in fact anything at all really. We were just children of the time and that was the way things were. Some Nuns were tougher than others, some had a sense of humour and some didn't but they were all keen for you to learn and dedicated themselves to that objective.
So I remember the Nuns with affection actually, and whilst each of them had their individual favourites as I recall, they were generally democratic when they meted out punishment. A Sister did make a boy in my class lose control of his bodily functions in front of the whole class one day, so I know they could be tough. I see him in town from time to time 60 years on, and we have a chat. I doubt if he can remember the incident frankly but I do know he's had a relatively successful life and is always full of fun. But Nuns could also be quite attentive, if you were ill or were genuinely trying to understand something but couldn't. The standard of education was known to be high as one other person points out and I believe the 11 plus pass record was one of the best in Dorset at the time and particularly so amongst the boarders. That's what a school's about isn't it?
The building taken down in 2000 is sadly missed. I returned to live in Bridport, after a lifetime elsewhere, in 2005 and when I come down over Coneygar Hill, it still shocks me to see the houses there, even after 3 years. I feel a little bit of me went with that building and a lot of other people must feel the same way.
So no actually. I don't resent my time at the Convent indeed, quite the contrary. Clearly the boarders had it tougher because they were simply there longer but that was what a boarding school was expected to be like then. We have different standards today and generally, that's a good thing I suppose. But I wonder whether it's a better world in which a child can say to his teacher, as they do locally today "f off Miss". Try saying that to Sister Bernadine or Sister John Mary!

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