Lancashire At War.co.uk
Exploring the hidden history of War sites in Lancashire
Holly Mount is tucked away up a lane between Greenmount and Tottington in Bury. During the First World War there was a hospital for wounded soldiers and refugees were taken in. During the Second World War it again took in refugees. It also narrowly missed a stick of bombs in WW2.
The collection of buildings at Holly Mount were built in the 1860s as a College for Young Gentlemen but was forced to close in 1885. It reopened in 1888 as a Convent and Poor School with the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary from Belgium.
In the book 'Holly Mount Alpha Omega & Phoenix' compiled by Michael P Conroy, it states that in 1914, the early part of the First World War, 56 evacuees from Belgium came to Holymount They were from 21 families and included nuns from the order.
Above: The Infirmary during WW1, now a private house.
The school also helped injured soldiers during WW1, as it became one of the many military hospitals set up across Lancashire. In total some 1300 soldiers were cared for at some point of the war in Holly Mount. These included British, Canadian, New Zealand, Australian and Belgium soldiers. Remarkably only two died during its four years as a hospital. Belgium and Hungarian refugees were also taken in.
The school took in Basque refugees in 1937 (during the Spanish Civil War) and again during World War Two the school took in refugees. Some of these were children who had some Jewish as well as Catholic blood in them and so were under threat in Nazi Germany - they were saved as a result of the Westminster Archdiocese Refugee Committee. One of these refugees, Klous Berentzen wrote an account of his stay in Holly Mount in Mr Conroy's book. He and his two sisters were saved by the actions of this Committee. His mother tried to escape to England as well but was captured and died in a concentration camp. Some of the jewish refugees stayed for the whole duration of the war.
There were also refugee children from central Manchester (at risk of bombing) and The Channel Islands (occupied by German forces) billeted in Holly Mount and the surrounding area. The school itself took in some of the refugees that were not taken in by local families.
The Convent building has now been demolished and replaced by houses. The main school building remains and is still in use as a Roman Catholic Primary School. The Infirmary is now a private house as is the Rosary Hostel that once housed girls who having left the school worked locally
Above: The church is now converted to private apartments.
Below: The main school building today.
During the Second World War "a stick of bombs" were dropped nearby. The Bury Times reported the story on 7th September 1940 (Above).
This scanned in page is courtesy of Ian Burgess of aircrashsites.co.uk. Many thanks Ian.
There are contradictory accounts of where the bombs dropped and the damage they did. The bombs were dropped on Saturday 31st August 1940 according to the Bury Times, which states: "A few stones blown from the top of a wall dividing two fields was the only damage". Some small craters also resulted from the bombs.
The Bury Times states that these bombs were close to a "children's home and orphanage" which is most probably the one at Holly Mount as the only other place that meets that description is Crowthorn, about three miles away - but not in Bury.
However in the book 'Holly Mount, Alpha Omega & Phoenix' there are two contrasting memories of the bombing raid:
Klous Berentzen states: "One night two stray bombs fell near Riggs Mill. I was in bed and proud of the fact that I didn't wake. Other boys told me the bedsteads had given quite a jump. The craters, when we saw them, were wide but flat and not very deep. They earned our scorn, as they did not yield any visible shrapnel".
A completely different account is given by Margaret Carbery. She stated that when an air raid occured, the children were taken to another building which had a basement. "One night there was an unexpected air raid and we weren't in that building, it must have been an act of God because a landmine was dropped on that building and it was very badly damaged, some uf us could have been injured or killed that night. It was a big thing for the next few days and it gave us a lot to talk about, also we found pieces of shrapnel from the mine and kept these for souvenirs."
So which account is correct? The official account is that no property was damaged and we have seen no account of any damage recorded elsewhere. Surely if the Convent buildings were hit more people would remember it? Mrs Carbery goes on to say that she did not spend the whole war in Holly Mount, so could this be a mis-remembering? Could the event she describes have happened elsewhere? If anyone can help clear up this mystery we will be very grateful. Please contact us.
We do know that a bomb dropped in the middle of Turton Road outside No. 318 (according to a personal communication with Joyce Johnson, whose husband stood guard. Houses were evacuated as the bomb had not exploded. Mr Johnson was a young member of Tottington Home Guard. I bet he was nervous guarding an unexploded bomb.
Below: the view near 318 Turton Road, the location of Holly Mount Convent is marked in the distance.
Above: The Rosary Hostel, much changed and now a modern house.
Update: August 2017
We were contacted by Lawrence Cox who said he had a postcard of wounded Belgian soldiers at Hollymount. Lawrence very kindly offered us the postcard free of charge - Thank You for your kind act, Lawrence.
In this spirit of sharing, we have a copy of both sides of the postcard (RIGHT).
The names are hard to make out, so we asked Local Historian, Jonathan Ali, to help us correctly transcribe them. Hopefully we got them all correct. If anyone has any information about any of the people here we woul love to gear from you.
Entitled "Hollymount wounded soldiers 1914"
And signed by Cecile - the names are as follows:
Pierre Van Mechelen
Emile Feues / Felles
Pierre Van Hove
Joseph Van Rompaey
Arthur Van den Berghe
Sister M de Prague
Dr Van Raemdonck
What we do know:
Thanks to Michael P. Conroy's book 'Holly Mount - Alpha Omega & Phoenix, we know a little about some of the staff pictured.
Sister Guiseppe was in charge of the Infirmary and died aged 33 in 1918 and is pictured elsewhere in his book with children from the Infirmary. Conroy tells us that "Out of the first twelve Sisters seven died before they reached 35. Most of them died as a result of tuberculosis of the lungs, an illness of which suffered many orphans". We presume therefore that sadly this was Sister Guiseppe's fate. Her grave stone reads Sister Guiseppe Austin 22-1-18.
We believe "Rev. Mother" to be Sister Mary Duggan, born in Ireland, later educated in Belgium. She came to Holly Mount in the early part of the 1900s. "After the war, Sr. Mary, and via her, her entire community, received several medals out of gratitude for this help" writes Mr Conroy about Sister Mary and her staff's help for Belgium refugees and wounded soldiers at Hollymount.
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