The beautiful building next to our school used to be the convent where the sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary lived. At one time over twenty sisters lived here together and many taught in our school. Sadly over the years the number of sisters dwindled and the convent has now been sold. However the building wasn’t always a convent.
From 1760 – 1889 ‘Hill Place’, as the convent used to be called, belonged to the Gaynes estate which covered an area of 32 acres! (Not many houses in Upminster then!) In 1927 the house was being occupied by a retired Harley Street doctor called Dr. Brookfield. The house had 11 acres of land attached to it and 16 servants lived there!! When the doctor decided to sell, Canon Van Meenan encouraged the sisters of Canning Town to buy the property and so on the 2nd May, 1927 Mother Alacantra, Mother Leonard, Mother Kevin Royce and Sister Aidan became the first nuns to live there and they established a small school.
The Sisters who established the school were members of the Religious of The Sacred Heart of Mary (RSHM) founded in 1849 in France by Father Pierre Jean Gaillhac, a Parish Priest in Béziers. Some Sacred Heart of Mary sisters had come to Liverpool as early as 1872 and then came later to East London.
The pupils were taught inside the convent until the present school building was finished in 1930. Our school started off as a private boarding school for girls but also took girls and boys up to the age of eight as non boarders. During the Second World War the school had to close and the grounds and buildings were taken over by the army. Fortunately the buildings escaped any bombing and the school reopened in 1946.
In the late 1940s a survey in Brentwood diocese showed that in the town of Upminster, there were lots of Catholic girls in non Catholic schools and their spiritual needs were not being catered for. The sisters responded to the needs of the local community and in 1950 became a secondary modern school for girls. Pupils no longer had to pay to attend the school and there were no longer boarders. Priority went to Catholic girls.
In 1978 the school became a comprehensive and more and more pupils went on to university and followed varied career paths. The mission of the school has become to try to ensure that our pupils enable others ‘to have life to the full’ just as Fr. Gailhac envisaged. 4 forms of entry led to re-organisation of the House system and the 4 current Houses Lindisfarne, Rievaulx, Thanet and Whitby were formed. Intense rivalry between the 4 Houses was, and still is evident in all inter-house competitions but particularly on Sports Day and in the yearly House Festivals in Music and Drama.
Crossing into a new Millenium
In 1983 Sister Saint Esprit left the school and its first lay head Miss Jean Johnson was appointed. Miss Johnson’s period as headmistress was a little less than four years and Mr. Barry Welch arrived in September 1987 the first man Headteacher!Mr Welch retired in 1999 and he was succeeded by Mrs Bernie Williams. She retired in 2013, succeeded by the present Headteacher Mrs. Kim O’Neill who had been Deputy Head at the school.
It is worth noting too that the sisters have played an important part in the development of St. Joseph’s School and St. Mary’s at Hornchurch and Catholic education in Upminster and Hornchurch owes a great debt to the sisters and the school enjoys continued links with them. One of the sisters, Sister Rosemary Lenehan, Provincial Superior of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, serves on the board of governors of our school.
The school continues to go from strength to strength and enjoys an excellent reputation locally and across the Diocese of Brentwood having been graded as ‘Outstanding’ in the last 3 Ofsted inspections.