This History is produced with the kind permission of Mrs Kelly, who has researched the history of our school.

In the spring of 1864 the right Rev Dr. Vaughan Bishop of Plymouth, invited Mother Margaret Hallahan and her Sisters of Penance and St. Dominic to found a house in some part of his diocese.

A house called Southampton Villa in the village of St. Marychurch near Torquay, which, although unsuited for the establishment of a convent, was considered adequate as the temporary home of an orphanage. The house and adjoining land was duly purchased.

When Mother Margaret and six of her nuns arrived in August 1864 they accepted two poor children from Torquay, forming the nucleus of a new orphanage for girls which was to be called St. Mary's Priory.

In 1866 work started on a new building, which was opened by the Bishop in May 1867. In thanksgiving for the recovery of his son Dennis from a grave illness, Mr. William Potts Chatto of the Daison had promised to build a church in the name of St. Dennis. He proposed this to the nuns, and they agreed; that a Church be built on their land. Mr. J Hanson, who had designed Plymouth Cathedral, was appointed architect.

The parent convent, of the Sisters of Penance and St. Dominic, founded by Mother Margaret Hallahan, was located at Stone in Stafford shire. Its duties included visiting the sick and poor; instructing needy children and adults; conducting bible study; providing accommodation for meetings; and keeping the church sanctuary in a manner fit for a king. The institution included a hospice for the incurable and an orphanage.

The cornerstone of the new church was laid on the 5th August 1868 and the Bishop consecrated the high altar on 18th August the following year, enabling the partially complete building to open for worship. Within a year, work began nearby on a purpose-built convent. This was occupied in May 1871 and renamed St. Mary's Orphanage. The cost was defrayed by the Sisters of Penance and St. Dominic and Southampton Villa, was demolished over a decade after the nuns had established it as their first home from home in Devon.

During the transition, old orphanage and new convent were joined by a rough track, of wooden boards covered with felt, which was dubbed mud lane by the nuns. On the site of the old orphanage, a tower and spire was added to the new church in 1878. This feature now stretches 173 feet high. On the whole the project must have cost Mr. Chatto at least £10,000. To this, Mr. Chatto's mother subsequently donated funds for the Lady Chapel and a magnificent organ.


History of Events

1897 By 1897, the sisters had launched an exclusive private high school for girls. In 1905, it was recorded that the sisters had a school for a limited number of young ladies, a high class day school and an elementary school for 200 children.
1921 In 1921, when the head teacher was Elizabeth White, the school log for April noted the introduction of domestic classes and children in the playground for a splendid view of the partial eclipse of the sun. The new school library opened with a heat wave in June.
1922 By 1922 the nation-wide flu epidemic had reached St. Mary's. On 6th February, with 33 children absent, the school was closed until 21st February by order of the medical authority.

On 19th March, one of the infants - Jack Maloney - died and his schoolmates were subsequently given time off to attend his funeral.
8th May was recorded as the first day when no fire was needed in the school but heat was needed again in all rooms from 20th October after a measles epidemic.

1924 On the 30th May 1924, the school log noted a proud concert honouring Empire Day. The audience, including VIP guests the Very Rev. Shepherd, the Rev Mother Prioress and the Lady Arundel, were treated to song, dance and a recording of King George V speaking - played on a wind-up gramophone.

An account of general life at the school 1923-1934

Children were called at 6.15am to get up; say their prayers; strip the bed; wash in cold water; dress; make the bed; and be ready for 7.30am Mass before breakfast. This was followed by peeling the vegetables'; cleaning shoes; and performing a cleaning job from the roster.

Breakfast was two slices of bread and dripping and tea. Lunch alternated between soup (with pastry or suet pudding) and meat with vegetables.

Tea was two slices of bread and margarine with tea or cocoa - except after a rare trip to Petitor Beach where winkles were collected and boiled for a feast or a twice yearly visit to Buckfast Abbey where the monks would serve up tea with scones and jam.

The annual egg was served at Easter, dipped in cochineal.

Christmas meant making paper chains, a tree lovingly dressed with candles and a small present from Father Christmas.