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News > Old Princethorpians News > VSOPs Travel Miles To Reminisce At The Priory

VSOPs Travel Miles To Reminisce At The Priory

In glorious sunshine on Saturday 17 September, eleven VSOPs (Very Special Old Princethorpians) returned to Princethorpe for a reunion of former St Mary's Priory pupils.

In glorious sunshine on Saturday 17 September, eleven VSOPs (Very Special Old Princethorpians) returned to Princethorpe for a reunion of former St Mary’s Priory pupils.

After a fairly itinerant existence of nearly 40 years, a French Benedictine congregation of nuns arrived at Princethorpe in 1832, building a priory based on a cardboard model of their cloisters at Montargis, which they had been forced to abandon in 1792 through the popular uprising which led to the French Revolution. The sisters of St Mary’s Priory at Princethorpe also ran a boarding school, typically for around fifty girls – a far cry from nine-hundred-or-so pupils nowadays. With falling numbers of both nuns and pupils, the sisters left Princethorpe in the mid-sixties for Fernham in Oxfordshire, with Princethorpe College opening in September 1966. We celebrate the fact that we are still in touch with many of VSOPs and some of the nuns who were at Princethorpe.

Many of the pupils attended the school because they had some connection with the nuns or possibly the clergy hierarchy, but Judy Povey, now living in Shropshire, recalls a conversation about choice of a school which took place between her father, who was a local farmer and Mary’s Wheildon’s father, who at the time sold agricultural seed from his mill in Kineton, a building which is still in the Wheildon family. That brief conversation cemented a school career and relationship with Princethorpe which has lasted for sixty years.

After a mid-morning coffee reception, the VSOPs later sat down to a buffet lunch, joined by Fr Teddy O’Brien MSC, Fr Alan Whelan MSC, Steve Kowal Development Director and the Headmaster. All delegates were given a booklet of memories which had been prepared by our archivist Catherine Lewis. Catherine had abstracted all references to each pupil from Peeps of Princethorpe, the annual school magazine which was produced by the Benedictines. Ed Hester read out various aspects which provided both wonderful humour and not a little embarrassment!

The VSOPs, some of whom had travelled up from the south coast or down from The Wirral, included two lots of sisters Ann Chester and Pauline Stearman, and Mary Holgate and Liz Hughes. We were also delighted to welcome reunion newcomers Cathy Marriott and Monica McLean.

Early afternoon gave way to tour of the building, given by Alex Darkes, which always provides present-day Princethorpians with new bits to put in the school’s history jig-saw! The East Wing of the original school, dating from the mid-1870’s, was primarily a classroom block, which also accommodated the head’s office. We discovered that the ground floor of the main school, just outside G4 Chemistry Lab, was called St Benedict’s Square. Another peculiarly St Mary’s Priory name to add to others like Jacob’s Ladder (first floor to second floor staircase) and Mount Zion (the narrow infirmary gallery over the nun’s gallery in the New Church. Fr Dwyer’s Bashed Hat – one of the memorable (or unmemorable!) puddings was also recalled with much laughter! Biddy Allen, whose father, Lew Baines, spanned amazing service for both St Mary’s Priory and Princethorpe College as home farm bailiff, had very vivid and happy memories of her time at Princethorpe, which she is always happy to share.

The afternoon concluded with a short service in the New Church, given by Fr Teddy O’Brien, followed by afternoon tea in the Sixth Form Centre. What is wonderful is that the VSOPs of the St Mary’s Priory era, very much embrace the same spirit and ethos which is imbued in the school in 2022.

We hope to be able to publish a date shortly for a further St Mary’s Priory reunion in September 2023. Grateful thanks to Loretta Curtis and Catherine Rogers for their assistance in organizing the day.

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