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From 'Stare Back and Smile'

by Joanna Lumley


The traveller and writer Augustus Hare had once owned St Mary's, when it was called Holmhurst. Standing on a south-facing hill in Baldslow, it was a grey stone, rather gothic-looking building with a grey stone terrace, sweeping lawns and a view across fields and woods to the sea three miles away. Augustus Hare had sold it to the Community of the Holy Family on the proviso that they kept his treasures intact - stuffed owls and eagles, drawers full of bird's eggs and the original sandstone statue of Queen Anne, the copy of which stands outside St Paul's Cathedral. The school had built on wings and corridors, and the first impression was of a rabbit warren. Wooden corridors wound on for ever, lit by gas lamps to dormitories with biblical and Greek names: Hebron, Siloam, Salem, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta. My first dormitory was called Kappa and was so far from the front door that my mother said goodbye to me by my bed, where I sat in my coat beside my trunk, speechless with excitement.


The junoir common room was called Utopia and had hand-painted original William Morris wallpaper which I am afraid we thought was rather dreadful. Wide windows looked over the terrace to the lawn on which Queen Anne stood and crumbled: her hand holding the orb had fallen off, and some of the seated figures had moulted pieces into the surrounding brambles. . . . . Huge beech trees shaded a pond called Typhoid because of its unappetizing appearance, beyond, past the bamboos whose shoots we used to grub up and eat, were the Boarder's Gardens. Partly protected by trees on onew side and the school vegetable garden on the other, the Boarder's Gardens had once been a small formal garden where geometrically shaped beds circled a round central flower-bed, all surrounded by low box hedges. Where the school grounds met the road there was a high stone wall and a shrubbery of dark laurels, beeches and rhododendrons on which shone the street lamps. When the leaves were wet and darkness came early on winter evenings, we kept away from the shrubbery. It was the part of the school where the safe oblivion of our ordered life met the hiss of a passing bus and the world outside. . . . From the dormitories at the front of the school - Salem, Hebron and Siloam - you could see the last rays of light on summer evenings on distant Hastings, so indistinct that it could be mistaken for Capri.


During her 'phone conversation giving permission to use quotes from her book, Joanna Lumley left the following message:

I ought to tell you that the property has been sold off and is in the hands of developers. I went to see it for the last time about two months ago before it gets developed. I'm so sorry to give you that bad news. I wish you all the best with your work, Augustus Hare sounds a fascinating man. Good Luck!