Mother House for the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood
Ladywell Convent was originally designed by Sir Guy Dawber as a two storey family home, for Major General Douglas Alexander Scott in the year 1911. It was called Tuesley Court and constructed of bargate stone, set at intervals with leaded windows. Other areas were later developed as shrubberies,orchards, lawns and kitchen gardens.
In the early 1950’s, Mother Francis Spring, the then Superior General of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, began negotiations to purchase Tuesley Court. These negotiations were completed in 1956 and the 80 acre property, consisting of the house, farm, gardens and orchards, was purchased to the princely sum of £15,000 and re-named Ladywell Convent. The Motherhouse, postulancy and novitiate, which for many years prior to 1956 were housed at Mount Alvernia, a Nursing Home in Guildford, moved in.
The name Ladywell (Lady-well) originated from a spring which still exists, in a field off Tuesley Lane, a few hundred yards from the rear entrance to the Convent. The field also contains a lake.
Above this field lies another, containing the site of the first church ever built in Godalming, mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The site was excavated in 1869 and, after inspection, was re-covered and marked. Following the acquisition of Ladywell, the site was cleared and a marble statue of Our Lady was erected, surrounded by a well-kept rock garden of shrubs and flowers. Each corner of the garden is marked by a stone, probably from the original church.
Over the years Ladywell was extended to accommodate the growing community, the work on the main house being designed by the architect George Clay. The sisters soon establishing a rhythm of life, consisting of community and personal prayer and various types of manual labour, so that Ladywell became virtually self-supporting.
The Chapel, joined to the main house by a cloister, was begun in January, 1958 and officially opened in April, 1959. The mosaic covering the entire apse behind the main altar was designed by Mr P A Feeney. It was set in Venice, from where it was shipped to England and painstakingly affixed to the Chapel wall.
The mosaic, predominantly blue, though shot with gold, creates a scene in which Our Lady stands centrally with the Divine Child in her arms, surrounded by angels.
Lower down two sisters kneel as they offer Ladywell to God, through Mary. Beneath them water is seen flowing from a spring.
Flanking Mary are eight Franciscan Saints, the chief ones being St Francis and St Clare, special patrons of Ladywell. Further out there are scenes depicting Ladywell’s early missions in Africa and the Far East.
Hanging from the centre of the high roof of the sanctuary is a crucifix, a replica of that which hung in the San Damiano Chapel in Assisi in the time of St Francis.
There are two side chapels. The right hand one is dedicated to St Francis and contains a stained glass window depicting a golden-winged St Michael in dramatic pose, overpowering Satan. The remains of Mother Francis Spring lie beneath this side chapel.
The left hand side chapel, dedicated to the Holy Family, also contains a stained glass window which shows St Teresa of Avila receiving the dart of love into her heart, with her words “Solus Deus Satis” (only God satisfies) included above. St Teresa epitomises the necessity of the contemplative aspect essential to a busy life, a theme present in the peaceful, harmonious industry of the Holy Family depicted in the mosaic above the altar. Beneath the altar step in the Holy Family side chapel lie the remains of Mother Collette Tierney.
High up on the back wall of the main Chapel the third of the large stained glass windows can be seen. It carries images of many saints, chiefly St Francis, all grouped around a representation of the Sacred Heart.
A wooden statue of Our Lady, presented by Mr George Clay on completion of the Chapel building, can be found at the entrance.
Today, Ladywell is “home” to sisters from all over the world. Sisters from Ladywell go out to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Italy, Jordan, the U.S.A. and nearer home, but still on mission, to Ireland, Scotland and other parts of England. The sisters return to Ladywell for rest, spiritual refreshment and renewed contact with the Ladywell sisters, family and friends.
The sisters at Ladywell form three communities, St Clare’s hospitality community, La Verna community for the elderly sisters in need of care, and the St Francis community who are responsible for the overall administration of the Congregation. There is also a Retreat Centre, extending hospitality and spiritual nourishment to resident retreatants and day groups.
Ladywell today extends far beyond the two-storied family home it once was, to a family home embracing peoples from many nationalities and from many parts of the world.