As you drive towards the main campus of Falmouth University sharp modernist buildings fill the skyline. This once grand private estate has now been a place of learning and education for more than 70 years. Since Tremough Convent School closed its doors in 1993 however the old buildings have mostly been swallowed up by new development and forgotten.
The Les Filles de le Croix, a religious order founded in France in 1641, bought Tremough from the Longfield family in June 1943. Alongside their service to God, their mission was to provide girls with the same educational opportunities as boys.
Sister Augustine, one of Tremough’s last surviving Sisters, always felt that teaching was her special calling. “I just loved it, the Sisters were well trained you see and very dedicated.”
When the school opened rationing was at its height and it only succeeded through the sheer determination and resourcefulness of the Sisters and the formidable Mother Patricia.
Transforming the former mansion of Tremough House into a functioning school was a mammoth task. The grand bedrooms were converting into classrooms, the ballroom into the chapel and the old stable block was made into the first dormitories.
When the first pupils arrived rationing meant feeding them was a challenge. The Sisters established orchards, greenhouses and vegetable gardens and soon the school had a constant supply of fresh produce. This tradition of ‘grow-your-own’ for the school dinner table continued into the 1980s, although it seems it was not always popular with the girls.
“The school lunches were terrible” says Stephanie Paddy who attended Tremough from 1958. “I remember being served beetroot which they grew in the walled garden, Sister Vincent tried to make me eat it by saying it would make my cheeks nice and rosy, I have a dislike of beetroot even now.”
Another former pupil Lesley Treloar joined the school as a day girl, cycling from the nearby village of Mabe. “Rhubarb deserts used to feature an awful lot because the grounds were pretty much covered by it, I have hated rhubarb ever since.”
The food aside, the school was an instant success. The Falmouth Packet reported in September 1944 that several of the girls had won national awards and that Tremough was welcoming more pupils than ever. That success continued throughout the school’s lifetime.
“There were small classes you see” Sister Augustine tells me with pride, “I could take girls out for a one to one help, I was quite good at that”.
Lesley thinks that being a Tremough girl certainly opened doors for her in job interviews. “I believe I had a great education. They were strict for sure and didn’t stand any nonsense but it wasn’t unkind . . . I can remember [they] just taught you a lot of respect for your elders and authority, which is not a bad thing . . . it has shaped me into a strong character.”
Much of the school day was structured around the Catholic faith, the girls recited the ‘Hail Mary’ throughout the day, regularly visited statues of saints found in the grounds to pray and were expected to wear hats and gloves at all times.
Sister Augustine, originally from Ireland, entered her religious life at just 16 and puts the strictness down to the Sister’s own educations “It comes from our background I suppose as Irish Catholics we were kind of strict but we certainly did the best we possibly could for the girls, everything was for them.”
Sister Augustine smiles as she tells me about the girls swimming on hot days in the ornamental pond in the Italian garden. “It was fun here for the girls, they did have a lot of freedom too.”
The school eventually closed when many of the Sisters became too old to teach and funding dried up. The last 6 remaining Sisters now live together in Bethany House, Falmouth and still work enthusiastically in the community.