Holt Hill Convent
In January 1852 the Faithful Companions of Jesus opened a convent in a small house in Hampton Street,
Birkenhead as a day school for young ladies. This later developed into a boarding school. Due to an
increase in the number of the scholars in 1854 the school was moved to Hamilton Square and two years
later another move was made to a large house called ‘Shewells House’, acquired at Holt Hill, Tranmere. As
a consequence of the New Education Act 1944 Holt Hill was recognised as a direct grant grammar school,
and many parishioners of St. Joseph’s will have fond memories of their school years, both in the mixed
Prep school and later as ‘young ladies’ in the senior school. The school regime was strict but fair and as a
consequence the final ‘product’ had excellent employment opportunities with local employers.
With the re-organisation of the local schools Holt Hill joined with St. Winifred’s School and became jointly
known as Heathley High School, a comprehensive school for girls. For some time the school had to operate
on two sites until in 1981 the school moved to Noctorum High School on the Woodchurch Estate. It was at
this time that the FCJ Sisters finally ceased any connection with the school.
The last mass in Holt Hill prior to the Convent being demolished to make way for a housing estate, was
celebrated on 27th June 1982. In July the FCJ Nuns donated to St. Joseph’s parish the beautiful large
Crucifix which had hung in the marbled chapel of Holt Hill. This can now be seen suspended above the High
Altar, and will always be a reminder of the close links between the parish and the convent. (The stained
glass windows also from the Convent Chapel adorn St. Pauls on the Ford Estate.) In 1982 the buildings
were finally demolished.
The Singh Twins were Liverpool based artist for nominated for the "Liverpool Turner Prize". They both
attended Holt Hill Convent and have spoken publicly about it in the information below:
"Despite the somewhat secondary status we sometimes felt we were afforded as the only non-Christians in a
Catholic school, we look back on our days at Holt Hill Convent with great nostalgia. It was one of those old-time
institutions where discipline and good manners underpinned every aspect of school life. These traits were
considered to be essential ingredients for a thorough, all-round education and as important to the individual
student's development as academic instruction. Kindergarten and upper school pupils alike would have to stand
whenever staff and senior class prefects entered the room and talking was absolutely forbidden in the corridors
when moving between classes. A short but painful rap on the palm of the hands with a wooden ruler or a sharp
slap on the back of the legs was an acceptable form of punishment for anyone caught misbehaving in class or
failing to complete homework. Obtaining permission to do anything would always involve having to say "may I"
rather than "can I". Using the wrong term simply meant suffering the embarrassment of being totally ignored.
As we recall our Maths teacher commonly explain, "If the question is whether you can, then it is clearly
possible. But whether one is allowed or not, is an entirely different matter".
To a seven-year-old, desperate to be excused to use the bathroom (as was the case when we first broke that
particular rule of etiquette and grammar), this was not only a highly confusing response but an agonizingly
drawn-out reply to a desperately-needed short answer. But it has to be said that the explanation was most
effective in driving the point home, as it still echoes vividly in our ears today, whenever we hear anyone begin to
ask for something with the words "can I". Proper table manners were taught as standard fare with each meal,
beginning with a prayer of thanks led by the senior teachers' table. It was, of course, situated at the head of the
room, strategically placed there to oversee what the pupils might be getting up to at any given moment. A
member of the staff was allocated to make sure we all held our knives and forks correctly and rested them down
on our plates whilst chewing. And, at the end, every plate would be inspected to make sure that nothing was
wasted - scraps of meat being the sole exception, because of one teacher who delighted in collecting any left-
over bits for her cat. Pride of appearance and good grooming were definitely taken very seriously, to the extent
that our kindergarten teacher made a point of keeping a nailbrush in her desk, which, we can say from personal
experience, was used without hesitation on any little girl found to have even the slightest speck of grubbiness
on her hands.
We have not-so-pleasant memories of failing the hand inspection in our first year at Holt Hill, and being marched
into the toilets to have our knuckles and nails lathered up and scrubbed whistle-clean, but red-raw. Needless to
say, it only ever happened once. There was a strict dress code for different times of the year. Winter macs,
bowler hats and beige knee-length socks gave way to woollen blazers, white ankle-socks and straw hats in the
summer. There were also endless pairs of shoes that would have to be changed several times throughout the
course of a single day - including outdoor shoes, indoor shoes, sport shoes, and no less than three separate
sets of soft footwear for ballet, English Country and Scottish dancing. Even one's underwear colours had to
match the seasons! There was no getting away with it, as uniform checks were carried out without warning, at
the whim of the head nun. Woe betide any girl who neglected or forgot to comply that day. Thankfully, some
element of discretion was exercised with senior classes, who were spared the humiliation of having to prove
whether their underwear conformed to regulation or not. The school's reputation was everything. So, eating of
any kind, particularly sweets, outside the school premises whilst still in uniform, was a definite no-no.
Throughout our entire time at Holt Hill, it was especially frustrating to us that even if we had dared to, we had
no chance at all of defying this particular rule, due to the fact that one of our teachers followed the same route
home, marching at a brisk pace, never more than a few steps behind us. Maintaining that public image was
regarded as both a collective and individual responsibility. There was one occasion, for example, when every
pupil was required to write an apology note to a man who had complained that children had been making too
much noise in the area of the playground which adjoined his house.
On another occasion, we were reprimanded after a school coach-trip for singing "She'll be wearing spotted
bloomers when she comes", for a verse of the song "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain". Somehow, the
blame for instigating what was described as a display of vulgarity "unbefitting young ladies" was placed squarely
on the "Singh Twins". We were summarily marched off to the head mistress to explain our apparent lack of
decorum. Perhaps some aspects of discipline and notions of etiquette at Holt Hill Convent might have been a
little extreme. They would certainly be regarded so by today's standards. But, without a doubt, they provided a
solid grounding and personal understanding of standards that we continue to value in adult life. Good
citizenship, mutual respect, pride in appearance, dignity of behaviour and a sense of belonging to a community
that has the responsibility to be a good role model for others are all ideals that, in fact, sit perfectly with the
Sikh perspective. And for all that, we wouldn't change that experience for anything".