An article by Sally Mosley about her schooldays at Lilybank.
article and accompanying photographs were published in the "The
Peak Advertiser" on 8 October 2007; Sally is one of the
regular contributors to the newspaper.
I was recently asked by Radio Derby to give an interview about
my schooldays at The Lilybank Presentation Convent, having been
one of the first pupils to attend there. The wonderful former
hydro building has just reopened as Lilybank Hamlet, offering
high quality residential and sheltered accommodation for the
elderly and persons in need of care, and was featured on the
radio station during an afternoon show.
The interview took place at Lilybank where I chatted to presenter
Suzanne Perry. Suddenly I found myself whisked back over 40
years and was given the chance to nostalgically tour my old
school which in parts remained amazingly unchanged. During the
visit my memories were in turmoil, my tongue twisted on air
and at times my eyes brimmed with tears of emotion!
A guided tour of Lilybank followed which was provided by Shabir
Ali, Director of Progressive Care who now own the building and
are in the throes of sympathetically returning it to its former
glory. I saw the impressive results of their first phases with
luxurious fixtures and fittings in the residential care section
as well as beautifully appointed self-contained apartments which
offer independent living but with assistance readily available
on call. It was evident that Shabir loves the building as much
as I do.
Way back in 1962 I had been a chubby little
5-year old in a stripy yellow summer dress, white cardigan
and straw boater when I first walked through the large front
door at Lilybank, my new classroom being in what had been
the cocktail bar! Lilybank had been one of only two hydros
in the town to reopen after the Second World War and continued
as a hotel for several years until it was bought by the Convent
to be used as an infant school, the main Convent and upper
school remaining further up Chesterfield Road.
Back in the 1960's Lilybank still contained many original
features, fixtures and fittings, and I remember school dinners
being taken in the luxurious dining room where we sat at
antique tables and chairs to be served by the nuns with delicious
food on silver salvers. On my recent visit I noticed that
an original huge ornate mirror still hung in the hallway
but my reflection revealed wrinkles and grey hairs instead
of puppy fat and curls!
The circular Ballroom with its sweeping views over Matlock
had been our indoor playground where we dashed about on the
sprung dance floor playing British Bulldogs as we leapt up
and down on the fitted window seats. This was also our Main
Hall where we held assemblies as well as musical productions
and operettas. The window seats and stage have gone, but
the room makes a wonderful lounge for the residents whose
winged chairs now sit upon a carpeted floor.
Acres of landscaped gardens were our outdoor playground and we
dashed about as pretend horses on the terraced paths or made dens
in the bushes and flower borders. The croquet lawn was where we
had races and played 'squashed tomatoes' or 'tig' with
forward rolls on the handrail alongside. Sometimes we didn't
hear the bell ringing for the end of play and nuns would have to
search and drag us back to lessons.
We had our own private tennis courts, whilst games of rounders
were played on a grassy slope with the ball forever disappearing
down into the bushes and trees which flanked an old cobbled path
leading from Henry Avenue to Steep Turnpike, and I remember the
terraced front lawns being great for doing a roly-poly!
Schoolchildren were given milk for their mid morning break in
little 1/3-pint bottles, which in summer tasted sour but in winter
transformed into milky ice lollies.
Lilybank was a boarding school with children coming from around
the world. Long distance travel was much different in those days
and the boarders often stayed for a whole term without a break,
so they did not see their parents for months at a time, and I
certainly remember lots of tears.
When the boarders first arrived they had huge heavy trunks which
contained their clothes and a few toys and a large box full of
sweets and chocolates for their tuck. These were kept in a special
tuck room down in the basement. I so wanted to be a boarder and
to have a big box of sweets, but as I only lived along Smedley
Street in Matlock, my parents would not allow it!
There were lots of prayers, processions and confessions as part
of the Convent education, with mass twice a week, sometimes in
Latin. It was difficult as a small child to think of sins to confess
to, but as I wanted to be punished with a few prayers so that
I could use my pretty rosary beads, I often made a few up. Generally
it was that I had tormented my sister or been rude to my parents.
With the Ten Commandments drummed into me at an early age, there
was no way I could ever do anything really bad.
It may be hard to imagine but I was often caned when very little
- a light whack across the hand with a bendy cane, meted out by
the nuns, which was generally for talking in class. It certainly
didn't cure me, as I am constantly described as a chatterbox!
The best teacher at Lilybank was Miss Ballington, a local lady
who taught the final year before eleven plus. I still use some
of her artwork ideas and sewing techniques on my grandchildren
and think of Miss Ballington with very fond memories. Mother Benedict
and Mother Leila were also very kind and nice to me, but Sister
Fidelma on the other hand was the one I seem to remember held the
cane - need I say more!
As readers will know, I am passionate about the Peak District
and love to walk in the countryside, this probably stems in part
from the lovely nature rambles that we had, when nuns would take
us on walks to Lumsdale and the Wishing Stone.
Back in the 1960's a nun's habit was like those worn
in The Sound of Music. They had long black gowns with a huge white
bib and a wimple or headdress, with only the flesh on their scrubbed
faces and hands exposed. It was always a bit of a puzzle to know
what colour hair the nuns had and we would regularly scrutinize
their faces in the hope that a wisp of hair had escaped. Jangling
from their waists were beads and keys - the sound of them swishing
along the corridors of Lilybank was like some wicked chatelaine
from a Bronte novel.
Lilybank was highly polished and squeaky clean - the
nuns loved dusters and bees wax! They were also very sympathetic
and I often remember tramps being given food at the kitchen door
to help them on their way to the nearest workhouse.
The kitchens, bustling with rosy cheeked nuns in full habit and
blue aprons, seemed to be permanently full of steam from huge saucepans
of boiling cabbage and potatoes. I also remember that we had wonderful
Doxey's sausages or spam, followed by rice pudding or semolina.
Our winter uniform was a horrible 'poo' brown and yellow colour,
making us look like banana toffee-striped sweets. It consisted
of a tunic, cardigan, and a gabardine sleeveless body warmer topped
by a heavy raincoat, scarf and beret. But lurking beneath were
enormous thick cotton pants with old fashioned knicker elastic
which would occasionally snap and leave them dangling around your
ankles! This expensive uniform had to be bought from Henry Barry's
in Manchester who sent out a representative to the school once
a term to take orders. Having an older sister at the school though
meant that I often got to wear cast offs and hand-me-downs!
Pupils would belong to a 'house' and also wear a coloured
sash which tied around their waist and draped down their legs.
I was a Greek so my sash was green.
I escaped The Convent when I was eleven as by then my family had
moved to Bakewell and I finished my education at Lady Manners.
Now I look back with mixed emotions on my early schooldays - happy
play times and the privilege of being at school in such a wonderful
building and location; sadness that I did not keep in touch with
some of my friends and a sense of poignancy that The Presentation
Convent School as I knew it has gone for ever. Lilybank has survived
though, and has been transformed into a place of luxury. Maybe
in years to come I will find myself once more staring out of those
ballroom windows and reliving my memories whilst dozing in a winged