Last year, around this time, a long walk across town took me past the doorway of the ‘Poor Clares’ on Lawrence Street. I stopped to take a few photos of these hand-painted signs, before they were gone.
Back in 2004, on one of my ‘York Walks’, I’d wandered past this convent and become aware of it for the first time, and caught a glimpse of its buildings behind the high walls. It’s not on my side of town, so I haven’t passed it often since, but I was aware that the nuns had left and that a planning application for its conversion to student accommodation had been approved.
Serenity was my impression when I passed by in 2004. Sadness when I passed by in April 2015. Those signs seemed to encapsulate the community on this site, endearing hand-painted lettering with its own particular style, of a different time.
“But it’s only bricks and mortar,” the Mother Abbess said, in a nice feature in the York Press. But it isn’t just that, is it. When people live in a place for long enough and make a garden there and plant trees and grapevines and make quiet space for visiting wildlife, it’s much more than that.
I’ve heard that the grapes from the grapevine used to hang over the boundary wall near the bus stop on Lawrence Street. I’ve heard that the redevelopment keeps the orchard — perhaps where the grapevine is.
I wonder what will survive the building site. If I lived on this side of town and had to pass it every day I’d be finding this redevelopment very difficult. On the other hand, it was inevitable.
There’s a nice article in the Press: Convent Life on the Quiet, by Stephen Lewis, from Feb 2015. Only eight nuns occupied the site, in the end. Hence the sale of the site.
Photos of the interior can be found on 28dayslater.co.uk (search results via Google)
There’s a more recent page on the developments at the Poor Clares (30 May 2017).