The St Ethelburga Convent, Orphanage and School

Deal's former Convent of St Ethelburga is said to have been established in 1871. Various accounts focus on its role of caring for orphans and educating young girls under the guidance of the Sisters of Notre Dame des Missions. However, the seeds for the foundation of the Convent were sown thanks to the concern and dedication of a remarkable Deal resident - a Miss Catherine Boys - many years earlier.

In 1842 Miss Boys, a convert to Catholicism, opened a small chapel in her home at Queen Anne House in Middle Street, Deal. This attracted a small congregation including many of the poor. The enterprise developed into a school and, then, an orphanage.

In the late 1860s, the good lady suffered from serious financial problems through bad investments. However her charitable work was saved by the intervention of a group of French nuns visiting Deal in 1870.

Queen Anne House Comemorating the work of Catherine Boys
Queen Anne House in Middle Street, Deal, where Catherine Boys founded her orphanage in 1842. Commemorating the work of Catherine Boys.
click images for larger versions

In October of that year, Mother Mary of the Heart of Jesus, founder of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Mission, and two companions arrived from France. They befriended Miss Boys - who must have regarded them as an answer to her prayers. They stayed and gained the formal involvement and support of the Sisters of Notre Dame des Missions. Sadly, Miss Boys died in 1872, leaving the nuns to build on her work.

With the orphanage and educational facility now on a sounder footing, it became clear within a few years that larger premises were required. In 1878, the nuns purchased Turret House on the corner of today's Park Street and West Street, converting it into Saint Ethelburga's Convent.

St Ethelburga's Convent and Orphanage St Ethelburga's Convent and Orphanage St Ethelburga's Convent and Orphanage
Artist's impression of the former Convent in West Street (c:1910). Artist's impression of the Convent and garden (c:1910). Pupils in the Convent  School's play area.

A bigger school

Early in the 20th century they extended Turret House by building an adjoining large school house. The nuns lived in Turret House and the school was for girls only, boarders in one half of the new building and day girls in the other.

The land stretched back to the rear of what is now Marks and Spencers in Deal High Street. Today's public car park area was, then, a kitchen garden where the nuns grew their own produce and a recreation area with tennis courts.

In the 1930s the Convent built a junior school for both boys and girls on its Park Street boundary. It was bombed during the Second World War - with at least two fatalities among the schoolchildren.

One Deal resident, Nick Cavell, recalled how his late father was at the school when it was bombed and, unbelievably, had to walk home to Walmer on his own, not surprisingly in some distress. Nick subsequently went to the primary school and remembers there was still a very large air raid shelter in the grounds, probably built after the bombing.

Others also had unhappy memories of attending the school. Christine Hanson's grandmother was a pupil before the war and had recalled one punishment by the nuns involved tying one hand behind her back and hitting her over the knuckles with a ruler.

St Ethelburga's Convent and Orphanage St Ethelburga's Convent and Orphanage St Ethelburga's Convent Chapel
Aerial view of the Convent and its gardens in 1927. Today's NatWest bank is lower right. The Convent building in the 1930s. The Convent Chapel.

Final days of the Convent

Another Deal resident, Sue Kidd, was a pupil at the school between 1953 and 1967 and recalls it closed in 1974. But she believes that the nuns might well have stayed on after that. It's a view echoed by Andrew Shawcross who attended religious instruction with the nuns in 1980-81.

By then the nuns had been reduced to using The Portery, a house fronting onto Queen Street. Andrew recalls that it housed eight to ten nuns with a few of them involved in teaching at local schools. It exists today as private housing next to the Hole in the Roof public house.

The remaining nuns were also much involved in a chidren's nursery school, located on the nearby corner of Wellington Road and Blenheim Road. Originally the building had housed the Slieve Donard private school. It is understood the nursery continued to function into the 1980s.

It is not clear when the remaining nuns finally left Deal, but locally there is a view that they dispersed to other parts of Kent - including Sturry, near Canterbury - probably in the latter half of the 1980s.

St Ethelburga's Convent and Orphanage infants school pupils and teachers 1979
The rear of the Convent on the corner of West Street and Park Street, circa 1960. The infants school pupils and teachers in 1979. The Portery, Queen Street, today.

The supermarket development

Following the demise of the Convent, the site on the corner of West Street and Park Street was redeveloped in 1980 as a Keymarkets supermarket and car park. It later became Gateways, then Somerfield and, later, a Co-op. Today (October 2019) the site is being completely redeveloped as an Aldi supermarket (due to open in November 2019).

Just a little of the Convent remained. Sue Kidd explained that the windows from the Convent chapel, bordering West Street, were incorporated into the Park Street wall of the earlier supermarket building. It is understood they will still be seen in the wall of the new Aldi.

DealWeb is grateful for the help provided by Lee Jones, Nick Cavell, Sue Kidd, Deborah Munday and other members of the Deal Kent Local History facebook group in the preparation of this article.


For former pupils and teachers
There is a closed group on Facebook for the Convent School's former pupils and teachers at:

More about Miss Boys and the Convent...

Extract from the Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850-1932), Saturday 6 September 1879, originally published in the Dublin Freeman.


Some thirty years ago there lived in the little town of Deal, on the south-east coast of England, a Protestant lady named Boys, well bred, highly educated, and gifted with the Christian virtues in no common degree. England was just then stirred to the depths, by the recent conversion of Dr. Newman, an event from the effects of which - we have, it on the authority of Lord Beaconsfield - the English Church "still reels."
to read the full article, CLICK HERE.


Extract from The Tablet (the International Catholic News Weekly) for 27 August 1898 (page 36):


The Right Hon. Viscountess Southwell opened a bazaar on the 8th inst., assisted by his Worship the Mayor of Deal, in aid of the orphanage at the above convent, lasting six days.

Her ladyship having declared the bazaar open, the sale of articles, consisting of plain, fancy, and ornamental needlework, many of them works of art, mostly the work of the good Sisters of Notre Dame des Missions, was briskly proceeded with. Everything was tastefully arranged on the heavily laden stalls, presided over by Lady Bird, Mrs. Jordan, Mrs. Wylde, and kindly assisted by a number of young ladies, who gave their services to help the good work.

There were a good many friends of the Orphanage and visitors present, among whom were Viscountess Southwell, the Mayor of Deal, the Rev. Father Conlomb (chaplain), the Rev. Father Limpens (parish priest), the Very Rev. Dean Broder (Dover), the Revv. Fathers Kolokoski and Poisions (Walmer) ; Mr. and Mrs. Jordan, Mr. E. H. Powes, Mrs. Cobb, Mrs. Wylde, Mrs. Stevens and family, Mr. Mahoney, and Dr. Smith.

The band of the Royal Marines from Walmer played in the Orphanage grounds, and the young ladies from the convent played on the piano at intervals during the bazaar. Fortunately the weather was fine, with bright sunshine, which helped immensely towards making the bazaar a success.

This page was updated on October 25, 2019