Nostalgia: Mary has fond memories of convent

After reading about the Servite Convent, reader Mary Hill, who lives in Surrey, contacted the Observer to share her story...

“My father, Dr Gough, was a Chichester doctor for 50 years and throughout the second world war, and was one of the few men allowed into the Chichester Carmelite Convent.

“On arrival at the convent, after a call, he would find the nun in question laid out with a sheet over her, with only the painful area exposed.

“The nuns were excited when I was due to be married in the cathedral in October, 1955. My husband’s name was Josselyn (known as Jo) and the nuns thought it was like Joseph and Mary. They made me the most beautiful picture, in wonderful colours, of the Tree of Life which included the cathedral, and framed it for us as a wedding present.

“They said they would know when the wedding had taken place because they would hear the bells. Unfortunately a replacement organist (the first one having been too free with the communion wine) forgot to give the signal and the bells were never rung.

“When our first daughter arrived, we called her Rowan. She was christened in the cathedral and the 
nuns wanted to see her (although I understood that wouldn’t have been so had she been a boy!)

“It was as in the later film, The Sound of Music: my father and I and Rowan were ushered into a cold, empty room with a curtain across one end.

“After a while the curtain was pulled back to reveal a black grille and behind it were several very excited nuns in their black habits and white wimples.

“They put their hands through the grille to touch the baby. It was a scene I was always to remember. I still have the picture.

“My father was made an emeritus surgeon and died on New Year’s Day, 1976. Rowan married but didn’t have a daughter of her own.”