LAST week our lead article in the Stour and Avon Magazine detailed plans for Stapehill Abbey and we invited readers to send in their memories of the Abbey - which was called Holy Cross in the days when it was the home of Cistercian Trappist nuns.
Teresa O’Neale wrote: “My paternal grandfather died in 1922/23 when my father was only four or five years old. My father and his mother were helped by various charities, one being a society that provided holidays for poor Catholic children. In 1927 and 1929 my father came with a group of boys on holiday to Stapehill, then very rural and, presumably, quite a culture shock for a young boy from Brixton. In 1927 he stayed in a small cottage behind the Abbey called Samson and on his second visit stayed with the Joliffe family who lived on the main road adjacent to the common. (I assume some of the boys camped). The holidays obviously made a lasting impression because in the late forties or early fifties my father returned with my mother and brother and renewed his acquaintance with the Joliffes. A few years later I came along and every holiday, bar one to Cromer, was based in Ferndown. We always attended Sunday Mass at the Abbey. In my childhood it was High Mass in Latin with the nuns singing unseen from their chapel adjacent to the church. My father took early retirement in 1974 and moved to Ferndown so Mass attendance at the Abbey continued until the nuns left in 1989.
There was always a feeling of peace from the moment you turned into the drive. I can remember seeing nuns working in the fields on either side of the drive in their habits but wearing sun hats. I also remember in my young days there was a border collie who lived, and presumably worked, there. Just before the Abbey closed, Father Peter Logue, who was the last chaplain there, took me up on to the sanctuary of the church to look through the wrought iron screen into the nuns’ chapel. I was very surprised to see that the nuns sat facing each other in choir stalls. I had always visualised them facing forward like the congregation. Once the Abbey opened as a craft centre, it was fascinating to visit and see ‘behind the scenes’. I think the Abbey will always have a special place in the hearts of those who remember it as a religious/farming community.”