The Convent Site had major links with the cotton spinning industry. We all remember the River Blakewater running through the grounds of the school with it's cobbled banks. Many a tennis ball disappeared in it's strong flowing current. The river, in fact, powered a three-storey spinning mill by means of a water-wheel, and was built in 1828 by John Hornby This was the first Brookhouse Mill.
In 1832 a much bigger mill was added on the site. A certain Mr William Kenworthy was John Hornby's associate. He was native of Lancaster, having come to Blackburn in 1830. Together with James Bullough they made the discovery of the "roller temple and the weft fork". In 1849 they took out a patent for a machine desgned for the "sizing and dressing flax and cotton yarn". To a large extent they revolutionised the cotton industry in Lancashire.
For some years he resided in a handsome house constructed to his design on the south side of Whalley New road, somewhat to the west of Bastwell Bridge - known as "Brookhouse Lodge". It was described by the historian Whittle, as a "neat residence, after the cottage ornee style, consisting of gables equilateral, clustered chimneys, pyramidal roof, etc".
In February 1859 Brookhouse Lodge was purchased from Edward Kenworthy and converted into the Convent of Notre Dame a seminary for young ladies, (served by the priests of St. Albans) and later known as Notre Dame Grammar School.
Catherine Button née Charnley informs me that one of her ancestors, a Blackburn builder named Charnley built the Chapel. His initials were included in one of the stained glass windows.
Rita Houldsworth attended Notre Dame Convent from 1927.
Read her account of the strict school days hereafter
When I was there we had a bilingualmotto - Tenet le vrai, Caritas Cristi Urget Nos, Vivat Notre Dame. We also spent time praying that Blessed Mere Julliard would "make saint". The youngest boarders lived on the top floor, too. Some were as youngas seven, poor babies. They were known as Coppers -- not from thecurrent word for spare change but for a hill well-known in the Boer War. A visiting priest who was taken to see their quarters remarked that getting there was like climbing "Spy and Cop" in South Africa.
As we entered school, the first stop was the bootroom, where each girl had her cubby hole. This contained indoor shoes (also highly polished), white gym pumps and brown games pumps for outdoor use. The school floors were kept highly polished. A team of Irish maids (who never spoke a word to us) kept them immacualte and spent their days pushing and pulling long-handled, weighted polishers in the corridors. We all slid on those corridors whenever we found ourselves alone there! Whenever we met a nun or a teacher in the corridors, we flattened ourselves against the wall and bowed our heads until they passed by. Once, when I was in a hurry, I failed to stop and bow until I was half-way down that flight of half-a- dozen steps just beyond the Principle's Office. Without a word, Sr. Mary Brendan stopped at the bottom of the steps, flattened herself against the wall and bowed to me. I never forgot THAT lesson!
Like the Salle (Music Room), the Art Room was on the top floor. Miss Wren was aptly named. Her round form was always clad in a linen artist's smock from which two very thin legs protruded. Of course, we called her "Jenny Wren"! She tended to assign the same projects over and over and was easy to inveigle into chatting. She promised for years to teach us about architecture but never got around to it. She did, however, make us draw diaper patterns over and over and we all knew how to "describe an arc". She marked our report books without any reference to grades thourghout the term; just thought of a letter and wrote it down!
The lower classes were very small (mine had seven girls) although there were two or three boys in kindergarten. When the girls came in from the Catholic elementary schools after the 11+, we had about 23 in class. All levels took French each year but, starting in Upper III, we were divided into three classes: Latin, German and Domestic Science. Sadlyfor me, the Latin class had to drop Needlework when we entered Upper IV. Four of us were good friends during those years -- Sheila Gastang, Jean Collins , Anne Reidy and I . I wish I knew what had happened to them all.
The nuns were the heart and soul of the school. They wore the full length, full-skirted black habit with white wimple and showed only their hands and faces. They were well-qualified and excellent teachers. Sr. Josephine was head mistress duirng all the years I remember. Looking back I realize that her face was quite ugly and we all loved her, although no one would dream of taking a liberty with her. She ruled with firmness and modesty and was absolutely fair. The only other member of the administration was Sr. Dorothy (I think), small and friendly with a low dry voice who was the bookkeeper. She used to put a postage stamp at the bottom of the bills for fees. It made it "official" in some way. I think that was a custom for other bills in those days. When I read about cruel nuns in Catholic schools in later years, I was shocked. Our nuns, with the exception of Sr. Clare, were kind and gentle. Sr. Clare was a prima donna -- or perhaps I should say "prima ballerina" as she moved with grace and arrogance, her veil floating behind her. She had a special devotion to St. Anthony and "owned" his statue in the corridor outside her Lower III classroom. One lunchtime, late for assembly, I rushed past him catching his wooden pedestal with my foot, and he fell heavily on my right shoulder. St. Anthony broke into many pieces and Sr. Clare never forgave me. And that shoulder is still a bit wonky at times.
Sr. Aloysius was Deputy Head Mistress and taught senior History and Plain Song, which we practiced in Hall every Wednesday, first period. She used to say, "Girls, if someone wakes you in the middle of the night with 'Kyre Eleison', what do you answer automatically? 'Et cum spiritum tuo,' we chanted. And every one of us would do that to thisday. The oddity of following a Greek phrase with a Latin one did not occur to us. In October we said a decade of the Rosary at afternoon assembly every day -- Catholics and non-Catholics.
During WWII , we had to carry gasmasks to school, always. School hours were changed to allow all but the seniors to go home at 3 PM instead of 4, and the country had Summer Time throughout the year (with double Summer Time in summer) to save electricity. We had concrete air-raid shelters in the grounds, parallel to Ivy Lane. Luckily we never had to use them during school hours. Air-raid drills were hilarious for us and infuriating for the staff because when we wore our gas masks and laughed, the resulting sounds were "rude".