New book explores history of Hampstead school

Skipping with a sister in the garden

Skipping with a sister in the garden - Credit: Archant

Nuns and strong women who shaped the history of a Hampstead school are celebrated with the launch of a new book.

Launch of Marion Jeffrey's history of the school

Launch of Marion Jeffrey's history of the school - Credit: Archant

Exploring the Catholic educational tradition established at St Mary’s School, author and Trustee Marion Jeffrey uncovers just how dedicated and giving a community the Congregation of Jesus (CJ) order is.

The school was founded in 1872 by the order of nuns, and celebrates a continuity of Catholic education all the way through the war years up until the formation of a new charitable Trust by a group of parents and friends in 1992.

“The school is very well-known,” Ms Jeffrey said.

“What people don’t know is the story of how it came to be there.’

The book was launched in the Mary Ward Hall at St Mary’s School this month, with more than 200 attendees, including Sister Frances Orchard CJ, the Provincial of the English Province of the CJ, and former pupil of the school.

In her book, Ms Jeffrey reflects on the panoply of female characters and nuns who dedicated, and continues to dedicate, their lives to giving religious and academic knowledge to their pupils.

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The stories written up by the people who lived through the evacuation of the school into the Sussex and Wiltshire countryside during the harshest ever recorded winter of 1939, “are extraordinarily vivid”, the author said.

She interviewed other former staff and pupils and, making extensive use of the Bar Convent Archives in York, put together an incredible and detailed account of how much there is to celebrate in the continuity of Catholic education.

Being from a family of five girls, and brought up in a Catholic educational environment, Ms Jeffrey found St Mary’s School particularly unique and compelling.

“I wanted to peg the history of the school to the woman who have run it, to the impact they have had,” she said after the book was launched.