|Brother Paddy's Reminiscences
About the author (written before his death, May 28th 2003)
Brother Patrick, born Patrick Leonard, was both a student and member of staff at the Priory. After studies and training at Autreppe in Belgium and at Maison Carree in Algeria, he returned to the Priory in 1934 and continued there until 1956 when he took up an appointment at Blacklion, County Cavan, Ireland.
When Blacklion closed he moved to Templeogue, Dublin, where he continues as an active member of the community. He now travels, almost continually, the length and breadth of Ireland collecting funds for the White Fathers' missions in Africa, and he still finds time to keep bees and run an engineering workshop.
Around 1912 there was a fear in France that the proposed anti-clerical laws would close the seminaries, so the Superior General and his Council decided to transfer the junior seminary of St Laurent d'Olt to England. About this time The Priory came on the market and was purchased by the White Fathers. Fr Travers and colleagues took up residence immediately, and on the 17th October 1912 Fr Bouniol and Fr Falguiere arrived with 14 students.
In the last century the building was officially opened by royalty and was to be known as the Royal Albert Infirmary. Over the door in a niche was a statue of Prince Albert and the royal coat of arms. The statue had been removed many years before and the niche was now filled by a statue of Our Lady.
A new wing was built and was blessed by the then Bishop of Portsmouth, Bishop Cotter. Of the 56 students who were admitted eight became Missionaries of Africa, three were ordained for dioceses, and one became a brother. Two died, one being a scholastic and the other a novice.
During 1917 the possibility of accepting British candidates was mooted and the first six students came form St John's College, Portsmouth, in 1918. The Scots followed and the Irish arrived ten years later.
During June of the same year, the new wing was leased to the Brothers of Christian Schools who had 72 novices. In 1920 part of the buildings was used as a Novitiate. The novices were quite separate from the student body except for Holy Mass and meals.
The Junior Dormitory in the thirties
During the 1930s what was known as the small dormitory was erected for the senior students. It was a wooden structure divided into several rooms, but it had no central heating.
In 1912 there were 30 Catholics in the area, but by 1931 the numbers had increased sufficiently for Bishop's Waltham to be erected as a parish under the jurisdiction of the White Fathers.
Up to the late 1930s students travelled from London by train to Botley and changed to a branch line for Bishop's Waltham. When the passenger line closed the station only handled freight. Leaving the platform one walked up the steep hill and into the grounds from where there was a view of the old house with a statue of Our Lady of the Rosary over the Hall Door, and one could not miss noticing all the lovely roses. The Superior or one of the fathers greeted all visitors and made them v very welcome.
THE FARM AND PLAYING FIELDS
The back field was bought from the West family, and also what was to become the football field known as The Mine. The field next to the railway line was rented and part of it was to become the famous cricket pitch.
During the early years Fr Travers was approached by a neighbour, Mr Carpenter, who offered the loan of a cow or the use of his horse or help in any way. I remember during the hay making in 1930 he and his son were there giving a hand. In the years up to 1910 the hay was loaded onto the Priory cart which was drawn by a mighty Clydesdale and taken to the hay shed as also was grass for making silage. Then the mechanical age came in with the purchase of a lorry which had suffered bomb damage. A neighbour had a hay sweep which was attached to a car. The sweep was borrowed and adapted to fit the lorry and presto! the backache of pitching hay high into the cart was over. A few years later a Fordson tractor was purchased and also a grass mower and other gadgets. Later on the Fordson was replaced by a Ferguson. A milking machine was added to the equipment since the cattle herd was getting larger. The Milk Board sent a lorry every day to collect the churns, and the farm was by now a commercial venture. It is worthy of note to mention that one particular year the Priory herd of Guernsey cattle was the seventh highest in Hampshire for milk production.
Brother Paddy, haymaking time at Galleydown
A new cattle byre was built and the dairy had a modern system of milk cooling and sterilising equipment. The herd was tested for bovine TB when such a thing was not obligatory. At various times when the workload was heavy, students with farming knowledge would lend a hand doing the milking or other farm chores. Some of them still speak nostalgically of those days.
Many farm buildings were erected over the years. The older ones were built by Brother Aubert, namely the hay barn, pigsties, fowl houses, cattle byre, slaughter house and granary. He also built the carpenter's workshop and the students' bicycle shed. Before and after the Second World War, the farm supplied the college with milk, butter, eggs, and meat in various forms such as beef, duck, chicken, lamb, pork, home-made sausages and black pudding, bacon which had been put in brine, and Brother Modeste's famous soft cheese and his beer made from the leaves of ash trees. The vegetables were home-grown, except the potatoes which were bought locally. The orchard produced bumper crops of apples which Brother Modeste stored in an outhouse. He remarked one day that apples were disappearing and could not understand why until he found a broken arrow with an attached piece of string stuck in a forbidden piece of fruit.
Brother Aubert used to go to the local cattle sales where he was well known. He had a keen eye for a young quality animal which he would buy to rear as prime beef. He used to join the farmers in the pub, and one day while having a drink a local was heard to say "Bloody parsons! I aint got time for them. When I be a-dying Ill send to the Priory for Brother Albert!"
The top football pitch was begun by Fr Bouniol in 1928. The sloping ground was not suitable as a playing field so he and his merry men - the students - used to spend the after dinner recreation period removing soil from A to B with wheel barrows. For any misdemeanour a student could be given a "penance" which consisted of removing so many barrowloads of clay after dinner or on a Saturday. Then the big day came in 1930 when a skip with its own railway and turntable arrived. There was an eagerness to fill it and the prize for the fillers was an illegal ride on the back of the skip, the speed of which was controlled by a piece of timber being applied to a wheel as a brake. On one occasion it got out of control when the "brake" broke and the riders jumped off just before the unit went helter-skelter over the edge of the embankment. There were several penances given out that evening during spiritual reading.
A treat for the students would be the visit of a White Father coming back from Africa and a talk by him about work in the missions. In the thirties Fr Voillard, the Superior General, spent a few days at the Priory as did some of his assistants in later years. Fr Voillard was a piece of history as he had been secretary to Cardinal Lavigerie who founded, in Algiers in 1868, the Missionaries of Africa dubbed by the people the "White Fathers" on account of their white garments, the gandoura and burnous. In 1948 Bishop Kiwanuka, a White Father and the first African bishop honoured the Priory with a visit. To celebrate the occasion a holiday was given - something that was not too frequent. Another visitor who remained for several days was Archbishop Arthur Hughes, who died in London some weeks later. He had been Apostolic Nuncio to Egypt during the War and knew King Farouk personally. His funeral which took place at the Priory was attended by several members of the Egyptian Embassy from London such was the great esteem in which he was held while in Egypt.
A frequent visitor was the late Canon Parsons of Finchley who encouraged several of his grammar school students to enter the Society. Every Friday afternoon for several years Canon Murphy from Portsmouth used to give courses in English to the senior class. One afternoon when local workmen were doing some outdoor repairs he said to the students. "Gentlemen", for he always addressed them as such, "Listen to the delightful local accents." Just then one of the men came out with a mouthful of expletives not to be repeated. "Gentlemen", said the canon, "Please close the window." At various times in later years the Provincial Superior would stay for a night or two and give a talk during Spiritual Reading.Another frequent visitor was Doctor Mitchell from Bishops Waltham. During 1937 there was an outbreak of scarlet fever and he came into the refectory during the evening meal. Standing on the podium, he asked for silence then he most seriously announced "Boys, the devil is in your midst" to howls of laughter from the boys. The quarantine was in a building on the premises. Meals had to be brought over and the soiled dishes and cutlery disinfected in Jeyes fluid. The victims were six lads and Fr Keane . . . . . . a community.
SPORT AND RECREATION
Apart from studies, sport played a major part in student life. Every Wednesday afternoon sports took place. For years before the playing fields were made, they took place on the downs. Every week the students used to go to the downs for sports. However the day came when the Superior was informed that it was no longer possible as the land was to be used as gallops for racehorses. Football was the principal sport, and Saturday afternoons were dedicated to it in the season. The Priory team was known far and wide for its prowess. After the war a naval team came from Portsmouth, and one of their number was heard to say "Fancy being beaten by a lot of ruddy choir boys!" During the Summer cricket was popular. There were two tennis courts, while indoors there was table tennis, billiards and a boxing ring.
The Priory First X1 1964/65
Back : Sean Hughes (RIP), George Jason, Pat McHale, John Mills, Owen Gormley, Phil Mason
Front : Fr. Brian Garvey, Pat Gritton, Paul Fletcher, Charlie Savage, Vince Brosnan
Robert Walker, John Madden, Sean Murphy (serving) and Jim McLaughlin
The Tennis Court was built as a labour of love
by Fr Alan Thompson and students in the mid-fifties
One has to say a word about cycling since it was very popular. On holidays some enthusiasts would go as far as the New Forest, Salisbury or Chichester, making sure the cycle lamp had a good supply of oil or carbide. The oil lights, though legal, did not give a very good light. At some time every student visited Winchester Cathedral. The old prison was also visited and gave food for thought when one saw the different kinds of punishments which were meted out to offenders.
On one occasion when the students had a day off, four or five decided to go for a ramble over the downs. One of them dawdled behind and when he eventually caught up with the group which had rested for dinner he was asked what had happened to the food, to which he replied "I met a poor hungry man on the road and gave him most of it." Tommy was not very popular that day. He was the late Fr Tommy Kane.
There were paper chases which brought one over miles of farm land and there were sports days on the downs. On these occasions a man from the village would take the cooked dinner along by horse and cart, and after the meal a group photograph would be taken as a souvenir.
In 1933 a second football pitch was begun. This entailed much more work as the gradient was very steep. Many generations of Priorians have had happy memories of the games played on those pitches.
Football down in 'The Mine' , 1948
(L-R) : Pat Menzies, Edward Hughes and John Morrissey
The gymnasium was bought from a place near Southampton and re-erected by a local tradesman during 1931. It had belonged to one of the armed services and was surplus to requirements. Thrown in was a vaulting horse, parallel bars, and a beam. It also included a stage and dressing rooms. Over the years many plays were produced and given by the students in the gymnasium to which outsiders were invited. During the latter years one remembers the dedication of Mr Heath to the musicals.
A performance of the pantomime in the gymnasium for the visit of the Superior General 1956
Many former students will have remembered the big tree in the courtyard. Fr Marchant installed a swing from one of the strong boughs and over many years it was used by the younger generation.
In 1941 an invasion from the Continent was expected and citizens were told to take all precautions to frustrate an airborne landing. Behind the farm was the very long field of several hundred yards and in it were placed at different angles upright lengths of the railway that had been used for building the football pitches. At road junctions old vehicles were used as obstacles, people with any sort of weapons were encouraged to have them ready for service. The Home Guard was then formed.
Many stories were told of an attempted landing on the beaches and about the terrible enemy losses. Gas masks were given to everybody should they be needed. Ration cards for food and garments were introduced which was a very fair system and there were not too many complaints. There were some exceptions, one being an allocation of sugar for bee keepers for spring feeding, another being petrol coupons for special work. During the hours of darkness all windows from which light could be seen had to be blacked out and even cars and lorries had the main beams controlled by an ingenious device which shed the light directly on the ground.
Another organisation was Civil Defence and at the lectures one was told what to do in case of a gas attack or other military intervention. Small phials of phosgene and other gases were passed around for ever such a tiny sniff so that they could be identified. All households were issued with stirrup pumps to control fires from incendiary bombs or other causes. On one occasion they were used in the grounds when incendiaries were dropped over and around the village. The doodle bugs were a feature for some time and a few fell locally breaking windows or displacing plaster from ceilings. It was forbidden to ring church bells except in the event of an invasion and so it was that the Priory bell remained silent until the ban was lifted.
At the beginning of the war an air-raid shelter was made in the bank of the second pitch. It had bunks and one felt secure that in the event of a bomb falling on the premises one was safe. When an air-raid warning sounded all went there. One particular afternoon a bomber dropped his load on the local brickyard and before he could gain height the occupants of the cockpit could be very plainly seen.
One remembers the Battle of Britain when there were dog fights high up in the sky, and during the night ack-ack guns would be pouring missiles towards the head of the searchlight beams.
The army occupied the students' wing with the exception of the chapel and two rooms. The first unit was the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers who had been evacuated from Dunkirk. It was they who made what became known as "the Burma Road", which was nothing less than a long line of railway sleepers placed side by side. This was for the use of army vehicles which were parked under the long row of trees coming down from the house. The REME were followed by an infantry unit which did a lot of training on the football field with bayonet charges at dummies and much blood curdling screaming and shouting. Some weeks prior to D day it became the turn of the Americans. On the roads around Bishop's Waltham and going towards Southampton and Portsmouth were parked many hundreds of army vehicles of various descriptions waiting for the big day, and when it came they were gone. There was no end of aircraft to be seen towing gliders towards France.
Relations with the army were always very cordial. The farm supplied the different units with milk, usually between six and eight gallons. We received from them for free the pig swill which was a real bonus, but it had to be boiled to conform with the law and so a boiler had to be purchased. It used solid fuel, however a very simple method was developed so that it could burn spent engine oil of which there was plenty supplied by the army.
When the War Office commandeered the student quarters after the boys had left for Scotland and Ireland, the Priory was connected to the mains electricity. It was in 1927 that a small electric generator was installed in an outhouse to replace the gas lighting. The voltage was 110 DC. When the line was overloaded there was an annoying flickering of the lights and this is how it was until the army arrived.
During September 1942 ten students returned from Scotland where they had been sent because of the air raids. They were housed in the old building where they remained until after D-day when the army left.
One of the results of the army presence was that the Priory became part of Bishop's Waltham and the suspicion that there were French students still present disappeared. When the celebrations for the Queen's coronation in 1953 were to take place in the Bishop's Waltham Palace grounds vandals cut some of the tent guy ropes. A delegation came from the village to ask if members of the community would spend a few nights patrolling the grounds. It was the first time since the Reformation that Catholics had been officially invited into the grounds. It was ironic that two Irishman were chosen: the late Fr Bill Halligan and Brother Paddy.
The palace before it was destroyed was the country residence of the bishops of Winchester. During the disturbances in the time of Oliver Cromwell the residence was bombarded from the Priory hill, probably from somewhere near the main gate. The bishop was smuggled out of his residence in a simple way. Tradition has it that he was placed in a cart over which was put wickerwork on the top of which was spread a large heap of farmyard manure. Some say that when the driver was challenged "Where do you be going then?" he replied "I be off to the downs". Speculation has it that it was from those days that Bishop's Down got its name.
At the end of the war Galley Down was vacated by a local farmer and the White Fathers were offered the tenancy. It was a godsend. There was about 50 acres of land part of which was used for growing potatoes and barley while other fields were reserved for cattle or hay. There were also about 40 acres of woodland where badgers and foxes had a quiet home with plenty of rabbits for company. There were many nightingales in the hedges and they could be approached quite closely with a torch. It was about three miles distant from the Priory and was for many years the haunt of the boys.
Nick Muller and Anthony O'Gorman, helping with the haymaking during Philosopher's week
After the Matriculation examinations those students who qualified spent two weeks under canvas in a corner of one of the fields. The food was plentiful, though the cooks were not always up to scratch. The Jubilee Inn was always available to provide liquid food. During the evenings there would be music, songs and stories around the camp fire.
Pat McHale, Sean Murphy, Laurence McFadden, Phillip Mason (?) , Tom Hillas
At the beginning of the classical year a few days retreat was given by a priest from outside the community, and so gradually the new lads would be initiated to a new way of life. Every day there were morning prayers followed by Mass, then breakfast and a short period of recreation. Lectures began at 9.00 am with a break of 15 minutes at 11.00 am. Dinner was at 1.00 pm, after which there was recreation then more classes and homework. The staff took their meals with the students, but at a separate table. Before dinner some verses were read from the Imitation of Christ and at the end of the meal there were other readings. The community then went down to the chapel reciting the Miserere. Tea was at 5.00 pm. The refectory tables were originally 12 feet long, but were later cut down to six feet. The butter served at each table was sometimes a contentious issue since the one who divided the portions was the last to be served. Consequently the precisely cut portions could not have been better measured by sensitive scales.
A word would not be out of place to refer to the catering staff. They were ladies recruited locally by Mr Wheeler, affectionately known as Pop, who laid the tables in the refectory and, when members of the community were not available, answered the phone and opened the door to visitors. A neighbour, Mr Ernie Apps, would give a helping hand on the farm or in the garden at weekends. They were all dedicated people.
For many years there were five classes known as Rudiments, Grammar, Syntax, Poetry and Rhetoric. They eventually became known as Forms 1 to V and a Form V1 was added.
Every day there was a period set aside for manual work, which varied from peeling potatoes (until a potato peeling machine was installed) and polishing floors to cleaning windows and tidying the grounds.
A great bonus for some lads was being in charge of the boiler on Saturday afternoons which meant keeping it stoked to get hot - and sometimes boiling - water for the baths. The privilege ensured that one was excused from whatever function was taking place. Over the years no end of potatoes were baked on the fire ashes, a real treat.
Sunday mornings were reserved for letter writing, choir practice and, of course, sung Mass. In the evening there would be Benediction. Each weekday evening the Rosary was recited and the Superior gave a pep talk. After Sunday supper one took part in the debating society which was always presided over by one of the Fathers. There were two houses, the Augustinians and the Xaverians, who vied with each other for the honours at the end of each term.
One of the students was in charge of the tuck-shop which contained all sorts of everything from writing materials to sweets. Brother Modeste was the barber until eventually a student learnt the art of cutting hair and passed it on to others. At times practical jokes were played. On one occasion when a particular student received a parcel of goodies he refused to share anything. A few of the lads went over to the farm and collected a number of chicken heads - the chickens were being prepared for the following feast day. They were put in a package complete with stamp and addressed to the culprit. The package was then given to the prefect who distributed the mail at the 11.00 am break. Tom got his parcel and promptly made off, only to reappear shortly afterwards a very angry young man.
The college magazine was produced by the students. It was firstly known as The Priorian and was later called The Pelican.
A very special treat in the old days was to be allowed to go to the cinema in the village. Those were the days of the silent films. In a corner of the hall a pianist was kept very busy. Eventually what were known as "the talkies" arrived. Occasionally a neighbour, Mr Symes, who had a projector gave shows in the refectory. After the war a 16mm projector was bought which Fr Burridge used to operate. If he considered part of a film was showing too much flesh he promptly put his hand over the lens; this did not endear him to the boys.
No school would be complete without a captain and prefects who were elected at the beginning of the school year. They were responsible for certain functions such as sports and discipline and were chosen from Rhetoric. One exception was the late Fr Dick Walsh who was elected captain while in Poetry. He was later to become an assistant to the Superior General, and while in Tanzania was a personal friend of the President, Julius Nyere. It was Fr Dick who encouraged him to take up politics. When Julius Nyere was on an official visit to London he made a point of going to Dublin to visit Fr Dick's grave.
The Summer holidays consisted of seven weeks, the Christmas holidays lasted for two weeks, and there were a few days off at Easter. Nobody went home at Easter. The Irish boys also remained in residence during the Christmas holidays as the travel fare and time spent travelling was considered too much. They enjoyed themselves with outings, visiting different churches and playing cards in the evenings. There was no radio, but there was a gramophone and plenty of records.
To our knowledge about 170 of those students who passed through the Priory were ordained. With regards to those who found their vocation elsewhere it is gratifying to know that many of them have kept in touch with the White Fathers over the years, many of them becoming very successful professional or business men. Those who founded The Pelicans - an association of former students - are to be applauded and also the men who work behind the scenes.
These are some of the reminiscences of one who is a former student himself and who had the privilege of spending 25 years in that hallowed house. Alas the Priory is no more, and dwellings have taken its place. However there is a silent reminder of yesteryear in the form of the cemetery where lie the remains of Archbishop Hughes, himself an Old Priorian, Fathers Travers, Pierce English and Harry Morton, Cornelius De Waal - a deacon, Brothers Modeste and Aubert, and two students.
May They Rest In Peace