1 - A Religious Presence on Canvey

Tale of two Convents

The Anglican Convent

In June 1950 a group of Roman Catholic Sisters arrived on Canvey Island from their main house in Wanstead, East London to establish a convent and school there.  This was in response to a request from Fr B Manning who was the Parish Priest on Canvey at the time.  The Sisters found that there was already a large, rambling building that had once been home to a group of mainly Anglican Sisters, the Society of the Good Shepherd.  This order seems to have been on Canvey Island from around 1919 and it is said that the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford consecrated a chapel for them in 1924.  Interestingly enough, in our own history it is recorded that when the Sisters arrived from Wanstead there were still two of the Anglican community – Mother M Paul and Mother M Catherine still living in the guest house.  Maybe this was the first experience of ecumenical living!

In 1953, the Sisters along with many other residents of Canvey Island experienced the effects of the Great Flood when the sea wall was breached.  The Sisters had to be evacuated by boat and for a time both the convent and the school were closed.

Replacing the older convent this new building is permanent home of the small community of Sisters of Mercy wno live and work on Canvey Island.

In 1970 serious defects in the Convent’s foundations led to its demolition and it was replaced by a new convent dedicated to Our Lady and St Joseph.  The Sisters continued to teach both in the Primary School on Canvey and later on in Benfleet too.

In time Sisters of Mercy moved to other communities and others retired from teaching.  Then in 1993 the Convent became too large for the Sisters living there and after some discussion, it was agreed to build a house in the corner of the site and ‘The White House’ became the new convent The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brentwood had been looking for a new site on which to run its Diocesan Youth Centre and approached the Sisters of Mercy about this.  A lease was drawn up in September 1994 for a 10-year lease and on 22nd July 1995 there was an official opening of the centre which was renamed as ‘Walsingham House’.  In April 2005 the lease was extended for another 5 years and during that year some of the sisters moved to new communities.

In 2008 the last sisters moved from Canvey Island but “Walsingham House” continued to serve the Youth Service for the Brentwood Diocese, the Diocese even used the White House for resident staff members when the sisters moved away.  But at the end of 2017 the Diocese decided to move to another property within the Diocese and therefore our two properties became empty.

This now brings us to our current situation.  We were made aware that the original Anglican community had several memorial crosses in a fenced off area at the very back of our property just next door to the Primary School.  When we investigated we found them to be in a poor state.  We hoped that we might be able to replace them with one or two simple, engraved memorials.  However, when we examined the crosses we found that out of the 16 there only 10 had the full name of the person engraved on the cross.  Six of them only had the religious name and date of death.  A search began to try to locate the full name of these sisters, particularly as one – Janet Mary – was designated as the Foundress and First Superior of the Society of the Good Shepherd.  It seems a shame that we may never discover the complete identity of these generous women.  However, we hope that someone somewhere will either know the complete name or may be able to point us in another direction to find the answers.  We would like, as one religious order, to leave a lasting memorial to those who went before us in Canvey, so any help would be deeply appreciated.

Mother Founder Superior Janet Mary

These are the 16 names of the Society of the Good Shepherd who spent time on Canvey Island from 1919 until the late 1940s and whose crosses are on our property.

Mother Foundress, Janet Mary…. died 7 Apr 1938 Superior 1909 – 1938

Sr Margaret….died 27 March 1933
Sr Emily….died 11 May 1934
Sr Scholastica….died 19 Jun 1936
Sr Mary Fidelia, Anchoress….died 22 Oct 1936
Sr Grace….died 14 March 1937

Ellen Matilda Parsons died 31 Mar 1933
Ellen Ann Gadsden died 6 Jan 1934
Edith Mary Mitchell died 19 Jan 1935
Olive Blanche Williams died 1 Jun 1935
Jean McKenzie Young died 2 Dec 1935
Lewis Paynter Gilbertson died 21 Sept 1937
Matilda Eliza Mackinley died 17 Jun 1938
Elizabeth Annie Kicke died 2 Aug 1938
Ann Mitchell Baird Cradduck died 16 Sept 1938
Mary Elizabeth Ewing died 24 Jan 1939

Other members from the same Society appear to be buried in St Katherine’s Churchyard, according to Janet Penn from the Canvey Community Archive.

Comments about this page

  • Both Mother Superior Janet Mary and Sister Margaret have been found and identified. Just four to go.

    By Janet Penn (22/02/2018)
  • Found another. Sister Mary Fidelia has been found just three to go.

    By Janet Penn (22/02/2018)
  • Sister Grace has been found. Just two left to find

    By Janet Penn (23/02/2018)
  • We can now report that the graves of the nuns and lay members have now been moved and it is planned to intern them at Willows cemetery in Northwick Rd. Sister Barbara is keeping us updated. There will be some sort of memorial placed at their new gravesite soon. 

    By Janet Penn (28/08/2019)
  • Good afternoon from Australia. I was a 7 year old student at the Catholic Convent on Canvey Island in 1953. I was attending the convent school at the time of the floods. At the time of my attendance, there was a beautiful Mother Superior, an exceptional lady. I would love to know her name. Both she and Father Manning are constantly in my prayers. My short time at the school were some of the happiest days of my life. I am in a school photograph from that time; this I have found on a Canvey Island website. Warmest love and prayers, Christine

    By Christine Patricia Gray (Christine Thompson) (01/12/2019)
  • It was lovely to read about the old Convent. I started there in 1954 aged 5 my brother was already at the school. We boarded a coach in South Benfleet and travelled the old convent. The sisters were strict but kind. At lunch time they put out enamelled bowls for us to wash our hands in before lunch. We said the alphabet daily standing behind our chairs chanting aaa bbb ccc ddd etc the same applied to the maths tables we said the daily. Country dancing was one of my favourite lessons although the boys were not so enthusiastic.
    Some of the Nuns I can remember are Mother Catherine, Sister Veronica, Sister Annunciator, Sister Agnes, Sister Dominic, Sister Raymond. Also there was Mr Diamond. Mr Diamond led the boys to win an area Football tournament which was really a super achievement.
    We moved to the New school around about 1960.

    By Frances White nee Twydell (03/11/2020)
  • My brother…Michael Groves…was best friends with your brother…Peter Twydell. I think you lived about 100yards up from Cementry Corner. We lived in Hope Road Benfleet so quite walkable. Strange how these randoms memories flood back.

    By Chris Groves (22/02/2021)
  • HI I have been looking into my family tree and have found a letter that Mary wrote in 1922 to the 4th Hussars in Ireland asking for details of, we think its her brother John Francis Parsons.
    I was wondering if you have any information on Mary.

    By Carole Parsons (03/05/2021)
  • What Mary are you talking about Carole?

    By Janet Penn (03/05/2021)
  • Sorry. The last was not very clear. Mary Parsons. We think she was at the Covent of the good shepherd at Herman st Essex in 1922.

    By Carole Parsons (03/05/2021)
  • We are a Canvey Island group Carole. No idea about Herman Street wherever that is and no Mary Parsons has turned up in our research. So we do not have an answer to your question.

    By Janet Penn (04/05/2021)

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