Forty Years Ago

The removal vans arrive from Cockfosters
Sr Esther, Sr Benigna, (?), Sr Goedele, Sr Paula, M Lucia

It’s forty years this summer since my community moved from Cockfosters to Turvey Abbey. We didn’t all move on the same day, but by September 1981 we were all resident at the Abbey. I was with the community at the time, having become a novice in May that year. Here are some of my memories of the move.

I remember at Cockfosters our prioress, M Lucia, saying to the community that she and Dom Edmund had seen a property called ‘Turvey Abbey’ with ‘Turvey Mews’ next door, and someone said that must be for us. M Lucia didn’t seem to be that enthusiastic, which puzzled me. Sometime later I learnt that the price had been beyond what they could afford, but it seemed to be the right place so they went for it, and somehow managed to pay the bills as well.

The community had to buy a car, we hadn’t needed one in London. Work trips to Turvey Abbey were organised, we gave a hand with demolition and helped in the garden, (Bernard Stapleton was working here as gardener) and I spent my years of formation as a nun driving up and down the M1, not quite the usual image of a Benedictine novitiate, but it suited me.

Fire regulations required a lot of alteration to the top floor of the Abbey before anyone could sleep there (the servants had been sleeping there for the last 400 years), and it began to look like the turkey the week after Christmas, just ceiling joists, floor joists and rafters, but then walls and doors began to reappear. The rest of the Abbey was equally chaotic with new wiring and plumbing and a new heating system being installed. As the works progressed we managed to claim a few rooms on the first floor from the builders so we could spend the night at the Abbey. I wasn’t used to passing traffic and the rooms felt rather unlived in and cold. You came out of ‘our territory’ at the top of the main staircase, I remember an old radiator leaning upside down against the balustrade.

John King was helping us with the work. Sr Zoë’s parents were living in what is now Ravenswood House, Dick had recently retired and they had decided to spend a year at Turvey giving a hand and keeping an eye on the building works—it also created an opportunity to explain to the village what on earth was going on at the Abbey! Dick wanted someone to work with him, John had recently closed his shop and was happy to have a bit of work. The two became friends and the families remained in touch for the rest of their lives.

We began to move in, people in the village commented that it was nice to see lights on in the Abbey again. We had no previous experience of water meters, at first M Lucia didn’t believe how much water we used and assumed that we were being wasteful—leading to a comment by Sr Paula that we could have showers whenever we wanted—provided that we didn’t use any water.

The ‘Harrison and Rowley’ removal vans arrived with an extraordinary collection of objects—afterwards I was with M Lucia in Bedford a couple of times when the driver spotted her and tooted his horn, which gave her the giggles.

The press also arrived—a good story, the Abbey becoming an Abbey. A hilarious photo in the Daily Mail showed M Lucia and Dom Edmund floating over the lawn with the Abbey in the background (OK, so Photoshop hadn’t been invented then).

Our first chapel in the Abbey was in a room on the top floor, most likely part of the room where Mass was celebrated in penal times. The monks had moved to Turvey Mews before we moved to the Abbey and we celebrated the Divine Office and Mass in the upstairs corridor of what is now their guest house. We had used the room in the Abbey which would become our Blessed Sacrament chapel as a where-to-put-it room. We eventually moved everything out of it, it became our chapel, and our life at Turvey Abbey began.

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