One of Uckfield’s landmark buildings is disappearing from our skyline.
Demolition of St Michael’s Convent of Mercy, next to the Roman Catholic Church in New Town, is to enable new homes to be built and improvements made to St Philip’s School, writes Paul Watson.
A battle to try and save the convent was lost. Wealden District Council noted: “The convent building is not considered to be a candidate for listing.”
Officers attempted to secure retention of the building but were “resisted by the applicant”, the council said.
The building was, until recently, home to the Sisters of the Convent of Mercy.
In later years, only a handful of Sisters lived there before eventually moving to Midhurst.
The Sisters came to Uckfield in response to a request from the Southwark Rescue Society because an orphanage had been built in Church Street.
The Society wanted the Mercy Sisters to look after the young girls who would live there.
On October 26, 1896 Sisters from Midhurst took possession of the new convent and orphanage building. For the first time since the Reformation there were Catholic Sisters in this part of East Sussex.
The Sisters also re-opened St Philip’s School, in Church Street, which had been closed since 1895.
World War Two
During World War Two, plans were made to move to the New Town premises.
The move took place in December 1945 into the large house which had been used by Canadian soldiers and the RAF.
It was in a poor state of repair with doors missing, burnt for firewood, and thick dirt on the floors.
Throughout their time in Uckfield the Sisters supported Catholic parish life.
They were also part of the wider community.
In the Depression of the 1930s they established a soup kitchen and during the war Sisters served as air raid wardens and fire watchers.
They also visited the sick in their homes and in hospital and were regularly seen in the town centre.
In the 1880s
The convent building began life in the 1880s when an attempt was made to provide education in the town to a higher standard than that provided by the grammar school.
The College and High School was designed to prepare pupils for universities and the learned professions, and the Services.
However, the college was not successful and it closed in 1894.
In May 1894 the county council established an Agricultural and Horticultural College in the premises.
There were lecture rooms, laboratories and workshops plus accommodation for 50 students.
Practical farming took place at Little Horsted.
First World War
During the First World War many of the students joined the forces, the buildings were requisitioned and the Uckfield college closed in 1915 and was sold in 1917.
According to the book Bygone Uckfield, by Barbara Fuller and Betty Turner, between the wars the building was run as a prepartory school called St Michael’s College.
- Information about the Covent of Mercy and the Sisters taken from a booklet: St Michael’s Convent of Mercy 1896 – 1996.
- Information also from Uckfield and District Preservation Society’s book, Around Uckfield.