St Joseph’s Convent School

At the back of St Michael’s Hospital is to be found a little L-shaped lane, sloping gently, with a high wall on one side.  If, in the 1950s, you were to wander down this lane, at the end you would find a grassy enclosure, bordered on two sides by fields and overlooking Hayle Causeway, and, standing at right angles to one another with a tarmac playground in between, two small buildings…a pink-washed cob cottage and a long blue wooden hut.

This little enclave was St Joseph’s Convent School, founded by the Daughters of the Cross, the Order of nuns who arrived in Hayle in 1902, turned Downs House , given to them by their benefactress, Miss Ellis, into a convent, and  twelve years later through their efforts at fund raising, created and ran St Michael’s Hospital.

They established the school in 1932, to meet the needs of a sudden influx of Catholic children to Hayle, using a former gardener’s cottage and a wooden hut moved from the Downs garden as classrooms.  The school went on to accept children of all denominations.

The pink cottage was the classroom of  ‘the Little Ones,’ children from five to eight years old, while the blue hut housed ‘the Big Ones.’  These pupils were aged from eight to eleven years, but  here there was a difference, as the Convent only taught boys up to the age of eight, so this class was girls only.

The setting was idyllic, the two nuns who taught, Sister Mary Rita and Sister Josephine Mary, kind disciplinarians, not above tucking up voluminous black skirts to run as fast as the children in games of rounders.

At lunchtime the children walked up to the Downs dining hall, in summer usually a sunlit ramble, but  winter walks could be very different, and they often arrived back from lunch wet and cold.  The only source of heat in the blue wooden hut was a small cast iron stove, frequently the building was so cold that children wore coats and gloves throughout the day.

St Joseph’s eventually closed in 1969. In spite of the sometimes Spartan conditions, the school provided a wonderful grounding, not only academically, but also morally.  Many girls went on to pass the eleven plus, and pupils must have been shaped by the goodness and integrity of their  teachers, and also the beauty of the surroundings.

Kath Mullinger