The French Convent (Convent of the Annunciade or the Blessed Virgin Mary)
For seventy-two years one of the most unusual dwellings in the village was a French Convent occupied by up to 45 French nuns and a French Priest.
The Founding of the Convent
The Convent was founded in 1904 in a house called ‘The Moorings’ in the Droveway and in a small wooden house called ‘The Maisonette’ at the end of the Droveway. The nuns had been forced to leave their former home in Boulogne by the French government when new laws were brought in closing certain religious establishments and splitting the church from the state. They chose St Margaret’s as the nearest place to Boulogne, although there were very few Catholics here. Initially the nuns struggled to make a new home in a foreign village but by July 1905 the twenty-four nuns from France and their priest, Father Fournier, were settled into their new home.
The 1911 census shows 42 people in the Convent on census night. There were 32 cells and 13 Guest rooms at this time. In residence there were 35 nuns and five lady guests, their priest, Father Fournier, and an errand boy, 16 year old Edgar Stone.
The nuns earned a living through the sale of needlework and taking in lady boarders. Marie Papin, 60, was the Mother Superior in 1911. The youngest nun was 23 year old Bertha Grossier.
The Closure of the Convent
The Convent became an established part of village life, the nuns running a popular crèche for local children of any faith.
During the Second World War the army requisitioned the buildings and the nuns were evacuated to a private house in Aberystwyth, returning after the war.
The Convent closed in 1976 due to the limited number of new novices. The remaining nuns decided to return to France and went to Thiais, 15km from Paris, where seven sisters from St Margaret’s had set up a convent in 1925. They are still there today and visitors are welcome.
The Convent buildings were sold and converted into flats but the original chapel was retained and is still used for regular services. The Convent’s cemetery at the rear of the buildings where 33 nuns are buried also remains, the earliest grave dating from 1910, and the last from 1975.