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Description: Former Convent Building to the North West of Chapel at the Former Convent of the Holy Child Jesus
Date Listed: 14 September 1976
English Heritage Building ID: 293988
OS Grid Reference: TQ8071609301
OS Grid Coordinates: 580716, 109301
Latitude/Longitude: 50.8550, 0.5662
757/22/414 MAGDALEN ROAD
14-AUG-06 ST LEONARDS-ON-SEA
FORMER CONVENT BUILDING TO THE NORTH W
EST OF CHAPEL AT THE FORMER CONVENT OF
THE HOLY CHILD JESUS
Former convent building. 1846-8, modified from schemes drawn up by the architect Charles Parker c1834 but completed by William Wilkinson Wardell. New refectory added in 1890 and kitchen extended in 1894. Library added to the north west in 1909-10. An Italianate style building of two to three storeys, rendered with slate roof and mainly sash windows.
PLAN: Roughly L-shaped. The north west wing originally housed the priests before a separate presbytery was built and the south wing comprised the convent. Later the north west wing was in educational use.
EXTERIOR: The north west elevation facing Magdalen Road is of two storeys with balustrading, mainly blank round-headed arcading to the first floor and flat arches to the ground floor with a right side round-headed arched doorcase. Some C20 casement windows. The south elevation is of three storeys with parapet and has eight windows, multipane sashes with shouldered architraves, including a projecting section of one bay to the left and projecting cambered arched loggia to the ground floor. The west elevation to the south wing is of two storeys with parapet and eleven multipane sash windows with shouldered architraves. The ground floor had an arcade originally but the ground floor now includes a tripartite sash, a large mullioned and transomed window and the main entrance through a projecting porch with diamond patterned stained glass window. There is a circular turret with small lancet windows to the south. The east side has a gabled Gothic style c1890 refectory extension to the northern part with large oriel window and mullioned and transomed casements and a two storey 1890s extension to the south with tall windows to the ground floor and cambered windows on the first floor.
INTERIOR: Large well main staircase with two moulded gilded balusters to each tread and mahogany handrail. The ground floor corridor has diamond-shaped multi-coloured floor tiles and includes six-panelled doors, a stone arched doorcase with corbel heads and three round-headed alcoves opposite the main staircase. The Refectory has a tall ceiling with cross beams and a brass plaque marking the place occupied by the foundress of the order, Cornelia Connelly, when this room was in use as the chapel between 1850 and 1868, before St Michael's Chapel was completed. To the south is the entrance to the 1883 underground tunnel connecting the convent to the school building. The north west wing contains Connelly Hall with east and west walls decorated with murals, the east wall of Lake Como, the west a woodland scene, both thought to be by Cornelia Connelly. This wing also contains a library of 1909-10 with full-height built-in bookshelves, cupboards with linenfold panelling and gallery with trefoil-headed moulding approached by Gothic style stairs with carved balustrading and chamfered newel posts with acorn finials. There is a first floor hall of three bays with arch-braced roof supported on wooden columns. A later C19 stone cantilevered staircase has moulded iron balustrading and twisted column newelpost. There is also a winder staircase and a plain well staircase. A number of mid C19 fireplaces with pilasters and round-headed firegrates survive, together with a more elaborate Gothic style fireplace with round-headed firegrate possibly to the Foundress's quarters or a guest bedroom.
HISTORY: In 1834 the site was purchased by the Rev. John Jones with a bequest of £10,000 from Lady Stanley of Puddington. Funds were raised to provided a Roman Catholic church, a priest's house and a convent, which was originally proposed to be occupied by the Irish Sisters of Charity. Two early schemes for a church and convent in Italianate style of c1834 by the architect Charles Parker were modified in their execution with only the loggia and the west end of the convent building recognisable as Charles Parker's work and William Wilkinison Wardell completed the buildings to a plainer form 1846-8. By 1848 an L-shaped convent building, including Jones' house at the west end and the south wing of the convent, appears to have been built. A church or chapel was being constructed in 1837 and the plans had changed from an Italianate style chapel to a Gothic design by 1839. The Irish Sisters of Charity rejected Jones' offer of accommodation because they said St Leonard's was too far from any community which would require their help. Four other orders also rejected the offer until in 1848 a newly formed teachiing order, The Society of the Holy Child Jesus, founded by Cornelia Connelly, accepted the offer of accomodation. The Refectory to the south of the convent building served as a chapel between 1850 and 1868 until the Chapel of St Michael was completed in 1869. The convent chaplains originally occupied the west end of the convent but a separate presbytery, "The Priory" was built to the designs of William Wilkinson Wardell in 1856 at the south eastern end of the site to allow the space to be re-assigned for classrooms and dormitories. In 1874 Connelly Hall had the west wall painted with a woodland scene to balance the Lake Como scene on the east wall, both said to be by Cornelia Connelly. In 1883 an underground tunnel was built to link the convent to the Junior School to the south west of the site. A new refectory was added in 1890 on the east side and the kitchen to the south east was extended in 1894. In 1895 an east dormitory wing was added to the convent building, replaced by a larger building in the early C20 including a gym, concert and assembly hall, studio and bedrooms, subsequently extended or rebuilt in the 19320s or 1930s which is called the New Building and is not included in the listing. A library was constructed in 1909-10 to the north west. The northern part of the site was given to the diocese in 1955 to build a primary school. In 1974 the Society of the Holy Child Jesus moved the whole school to Mayfield (the Middle School had been there since 1883) and in 1976 the site was bought for use as a summer language school, in which use it has remained up to the present.
The Venerable Cornelia Connelly (1809-1879) founder of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and educational reformer was born in the USA of English parentage and brought up first as a Presbyterian, then an Episcopalian. She married the Rev. Pierce Connelly, an Episcopalian minister in 1831 and they had five children. The Connellys converted to Catholicism, Pierce deciding to seek ordination as a priest an Cornelia to become a nun. A period living with the Sacred Heart nuns in Rome led her to conclude that she had no vocation for their order. She was encouraged by prominent Catholics, including Pope Gregory XVI, to found a new religious congregation in England, suitable for middle class English converts wishing to become nuns. In October 1846 the first Convent of the Holy Child Jesus opened in Derby and in 1847 Cornelia was installed as the Superior General of the order, the first new native congregation of women founded in England since the Reformation. Its work was educational, ranging from poor schools and industrial schools for young working women to day and boarding schools for the middle classes and, from 1856-64 at St Leonard's teacher training. The mother house was St Leonard's, from which new houses and schools were opened in London, Liverpool, Preston and Blackpool duriing the 1850s. The first American house was founded in Pennsylvania in 1862 and in France in 1863. In 1863 Connelly was given the ruins of the Old Palace at Mayfield, the medieval former synod hall of the archbishops of Canterbury. On completion it became the noviciate for the order, the Middle School was sent there in 1883 and later it became the mother house. Her achievements were carried out against the background of Pierce Connelly's refusal of access to her children and, between 1848-58, an unsuccessful court action for the restitution of conjugal rights. She died at the convent at Mayfield in 1879. In 1992 she received the title Venerable, the first step towards canonisation.
STATEMENT OF IMPORTANCE: An Italianate style Catholic convent by Charles Parker and William Wilkinson Wardell of 1846-8 with some later alterations. It has historic importance as the mother house of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, the first new native congregation of women founded in England since the Reformation, founded by the Venerable Cornelia Connelly.
N. Pevsner "Buildings of England: Sussex", p.529.
This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.