The Old Convent East Grinstead from 1870 to the present day
In July 1870 the sisters of the Society of St Margaret moved into St Margaret’s Convent. Now known as the Old Convent Estate and converted to private housing, the current residents celebrate the achievements of the sisters and their founder John Mason Neale with the publication of a comprehensive history by Dr Kathryn Ferry
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Church Times review
…this book transcends its apparently local and particular focus and addresses a real revolution in religious life. It is a triumph.
The reviewer, Revd Dr William Whyte, is a Fellow and Tutor of St John’s College, Oxford, and Professor of Social and Architectural History in the University of Oxford.
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Dr Kathryn Ferry’s absorbing new book examines how the architecture of the Old Convent reflects cultural and religious movements of the mid-19th century. In 1855 John Mason Neale established an Anglo-Catholic order of nuns in East Grinstead, known as the Society of St Margaret (SSM). The Society’s core mission was to nurse the rural poor but within a decade, it was also running an orphanage, St Agnes’ girls’ school and workroom for the production of ecclesiastical embroidery. Such was its success that from its Sussex headquarters the SSM took its charitable work across the globe with daughter houses in America, South Africa and Sri Lanka. The expanding scale of the SSM mission meant that by the 1880s its convent was the largest Anglican religious house in England.
St Margaret’s Convent was designed by pre-eminent Victorian architect George Edmund Street. A friend of John Mason Neale, Street gave his services for free to create a complex of buildings that stand as a key monument in the Gothic Revival, also anticipating the Arts and Crafts vocabulary of Street’s pupils Philip Webb and Richard Norman Shaw.
Illustrated with contemporary photographs, historic photographs and prints along with some of Street’s original coloured drawings, the new history of The Old Convent, East Grinstead is the most comprehensive and authoritative work on this remarkable story of ambition, drive, courage and hard work underpinned by an unwavering devotion to Christianity and trust in God. Dr Ferry argues that the Sisters were early feminists, educated women taking charge of their own destiny at a time when they were expected to spend their adult lives as wives and mothers, dependent upon and ruled by their husbands.
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