Part 2: The SHCJ’s 121 years in Oxford

Continued from PART 1:

M.M. Agnese Duckett

The teaching of M.M. Agnese, Sister Stanislaus and M. Francis Xavier was successful and 69 pupils at the elementary school rose to 122 in 1904. The annals also celebrate 11 baptisms, 18 first communions and 15 confirmations as well as the reception of 10 former protestants into the Catholic church.

1904 also saw the Oxford community make their momentous move to Cherwell Edge once a grand private residence and now belonging to Merton College. In this peaceful yet central spot located South Parks Road, the Oxford community established St Frideswide’s. This hostel provided ‘Catholic surroundings and a Catholic atmosphere’ for young female Catholic Oxford students ‘while leading in every detail the life of the ordinary college-girl’.

The students bonded with each other and the SHCJ who guided them. In 1909, the students acted ‘Shades of Night’ for the workmen building the extensions being made to Cherwell Edge. A magazine produced by the St Frideswide’s English Club named ‘Clippings from the Edge’, describes competitions held for parodies and short stories judged by Reverend Mother as well as lively debates where ‘each member [was] convinced of the justice of her view and the impossibility of all others’. Winifred Marks, a student at Cherwell Edge during the war years, remembers how the SHCJ ensured the girls stayed well fed despite food rationing: ‘true to their vocation worked miracles in providing three cooked meals a day plus mid-morning coffee and afternoon tea.’

St Frideswide’s Students playing Tennis, c.1910

The SHCJ had an 80-year lease on Cherwell Edge and their time there seemed set to end in 1984 when it was likely that Merton College would not renew their lease. As a 1962 report by Mother Gerardine (Sr Elizabeth Swinburne) states, Oxford University wanted Cherwell Edge ‘badly’ while nearby chemistry laboratories expanded. Although it was known that St Frideswide’s was to eventually cease being a hostel for the Students of St Anne’s College – the college formed from the Society for Oxford Home Students which St Frideswide’s had previously belonged to – the SHCJ agreed to continue to fund two of the five scholarships once provided at Cherwell Edge, the Cornelia Connelly and Tolhurst scholarships.

As the needs of the young women of 1960s Britain changed and the University eyed Cherwell Edge ever more hungrily, preparations were made to locate a site more suited to the SHCJ’s future in Oxford. On 19th March 1962, Merton College estate Bursar informed Mother Gerardine that he and the finance committee could not agree to selling the SHCJ the freehold to Cherwell Edge. The SHCJ began to correspond frequently with University authorities, including the Vice-Chancellor, who wrote to Reverend Mother Provincial to express his ‘personal’ gratitude for the decision to leave and free up Cherwell Edge which would ‘make an enormous difference to the University’. Initially Cherwell House, a property on Linton Road, was suggested but the short lease and poor repair of the house rendered it unsuitable.

There is a gap in the records relating to the obtaining 14 and 16 Norham Gardens, but we know from the invitation to the Farewell Gaudy (Party) of 21st June 1969 that this was to be the Oxford Community’s new home by that date. The invitation communicates that ‘old students will always be welcome there’. 120 women, including 12 SHCJ sisters, attended the Gaudy to represent the 702 students who attended Cherwell Edge since St Frideswide’s hostel for students opened its doors to them. There were representatives from every generation of students.

The celebrations included a midday Mass, followed by a luncheon and after that ‘just talk, talk and talk’. Letters of thanks sent later expressed gratitude and the emotions felt that day, as summed up by the SHCJ account of it ‘a wonderfully happy one despite the sadness of the occasion’. The day had ‘united in a common bond of friendship the Edgers of all generations’ and the SHCJ hoped that ‘they went out with renewed courage and hope, and that the spirit of Cherwell Edge will live on, even though the place must change hands’.

Continued here:

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