Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: August 01, 2017.
Webpage updated: August 01, 2017




In 1813 twenty-two French nuns of the Poor Clares established a community in the house that formerly belonged to Mr S W Shepheard, the tanner, at Coxside, Plymouth.  They settled in Plymouth following persecution in their own country.

The property had the initials "S.W.S." and the date "1798" carved in one of the walls and became known simply as "The Nunnery".  There were spacious grounds surrounding the House, with awns, trees, garden plots, a fish pond and even a fountain.

During the time they were in Plymouth the nuns made a name for themselves as the manufacturers of a special brand of snuff and also some pills for rheumatism, which they gleaned from an old recipe.  They were sold at a chemists in London run by two brothers of one of the nuns by the name of Coglan.

Clare House was also known as a shrine to the 17th century English Franciscan martyr, John Wall (1620-1679), whose head was allegedly in their possession.

There was a Friar in charge of the community and these were: Richard Sumner, 1813 to 1817; John Bernardine Davison, 1817 to 1820; Augustus Roberts, 1820-1821; Leo Sumner, 1821; Ignatius Casemore, 1818 to 1824; and Samuel Bonaventure Fisher, 1823 until 1834.

Two of them, Richard Sumner and Ignatius Casemore, died at Clare House and were buried in the private ground at the rear of the House.

By 1834 the number of nuns in residence at Clare House was down to just seven and there was a difference of opinion as to where the community should go next.  On Wednesday May 28th 1834 they embarked on board the schooner "Minerva", of which Mr J Gover was the Master, and set sail for Gravelines, in France, where they landed on June 6th.  They were accompanied by the Reverend Fisher, the Roman Catholic priest.  One of the nuns was 83-years-old and several of them were in their seventies.  The youngest was though to be in her forties.

It is claimed that Mr William Bryant bought the site of Clare House in 1834 in order to erect a starch factory but it is not clear if he was responsible for them leaving or simply purchased the house when they left.  

While they were there they buried the head of John Wall in the cloister garden.  However, this venture was not a success and the nuns returned to England the following year.  The nuns who had been at Plymouth left that group and moved to Scorton, in Yorkshire, to set up a new community.

The site was subsequently acquired by Mr William Bryant and his partner Mr Edward James, who built a soap works and a starch making factory on it.  In 1851 Clare House was occupied by Mr Henry Lang, manager of the Edward James's starch works.

When in 1862 part of the land was being excavated for a new building, several decayed coffins and human remains were found.  The local Roman Catholic Bishop was informed and he got in touch with the Order in Brittany, who gave him a list of the nuns who had been buried within the grounds.  At his request the remains were placed in a large box and re-buried in ground nearby.