La Retraite Convent and School was situated in Oxford Street. The building is now a care home.
The Congregation was originally founded in Brittany in the late 17th century for the work of retreats. Five sisters were sent to England in 1883 by their Mother Superior, to “Go where there is no church and build one there”. They first settled in Sevenoaks, Kent and opened a boarding school. In 1887 they learned, from the Sacred Heart Fathers of Glastonbury, of a property for sale in Burnham, where there was no existing Catholic Church. This single storey house was ‘The Rookery’, owned by the Tucker family.
The sisters moved in with a small number of boarders and eventually expanded the property to include a chapel and a boarding and day school for 180 girls. The chapel was built in 1888 as a condition of the granting, by Dr Clifford, the Bishop of Clifton, of a request by the sisters to found a convent in his diocese. The first mass was said there on 29th September 1888. The first resident priest , the Reverend H.V. Lean, was appointed in 1900.
As the school expanded, neighbouring Rose Farm, on the corner of what became Jaycroft Rd, was acquired (1935) and became the domestic science department. A preparatory school and residential accommodation for 6th form boarders was also added. St Joseph’s Primary school had also been opened on the site in 1891.
By 1967 the parish had grown sufficiently to merit its own Parish Church, which was built a little further down on the opposite side of the Highbridge Road.
The boarding and day school continued in the old building until 1984. When the school closed the Rose Farm building was adapted for a community of 10 sisters. During the works the original foundation stone of the building was found, with an inscription of ‘1697 J.C.’
Priory Gardens was cut through and flats for retired people were built on the northern part of the site. The remainder of the old buildings were adapted to become a nursing home. The chapel can still be appreciated in its original form on the Oxford St frontage. The old burial ground also still remains within the Priory Gardens housing development and can be accessed by the public.
Information from ‘La Retraite, Burnham-on-Sea Centenary’ booklet, courtesy of Pat Nicholls.
Please share your memories by leaving a comment in the box below.