A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
After the Second World War large housing estates were constructed in the south west corner of the City of Bath. Not only had people relocated from London during the war, but between 1945 and the early 1970’s the Admiralty/MOD transferred many staff from the dockyards at Plymouth, Rosyth, Chatham and Portsmouth. Many of these young people were recently qualified apprentices who had passed the exams to become draughtsmen working in the design offices. The resulting expansion included a large number of Roman Catholic families who had moved into the areas of Southdown, Whiteway and Twerton.
Back in 1925 a site had been acquired for the erection of a new Catholic Church in the Victorian suburb of Oldfield Park. The foundation stone was laid on 6th October 1927. The Church of Our Lady and St Alphege, which was opened on 13th July 1929, was the dream of Dom Claude Anselm Rutherford, the Prior of St John the Evangelist’s Church in Bath. In 1932 the Benedictines withdrew from St John’s and five years later Our Lady and St Alphege became an independent parish with Fr Joseph Dolan as its first resident Parish Priest. The result was that all of the above mentioned new housing estates were now situated in St Alphege’s Parish.
THE OLD ST JOSEPH’S
According to Catherine McDonald writing in 1969:
‘The Mass came to Southdown during the Second World War. The Anglican Church Hall became the Headquarters of the Home Guard, of which the late Col. Guy Rogers, of Prior Park, was the Commanding Officer. The Home Guard did their training on Sunday mornings so that it was difficult for the Catholic men to get to St Alphege’s for Mass. In 1942, the Rev. M. Wright, the Anglican Vicar, allowed the late Fr. Joseph Dolan the use of the Hall for Mass. In 1945, after the War, the late Mr. Lewis, of Clonmel House, Mount Road, informed Fr. Dolan that the present site was available and a hut church was erected by the men of the Parish, of whom the late Mr. O’Mara was one of the stalwarts. This was used for Mass on Sundays and Holydays and the children’s catechism until this present time. And now we have the happiness to be very near to the opening of a proper church of St Joseph.’
The Anglican Church Hall referred to was that of St Barnabas Church which was then situated in Rush Hill. Janet Rickets recalls that those attending Mass there were principally American troops who were staying at St Martin’s Hospital.
The Clifton Diocesan Directory for 1969 mentioned that during the Second World War the Catholics of the area used the Church of England Hall for Mass, and in 1947 the prefabricated Church of St Joseph was opened. Mike Lewis offers us further details of these early days:
The original ‘old’ St Joseph’s Church was a wooden building purchased from the Army War Department just after the war and erected by parishioners on a site just to the right of the car park area where the ‘new’ St Joseph’s stands. During the war years this site had been occupied by a ‘Search Light Station’. Interestingly during the rewiring of the present church in 2008 a Daylight Signalling Lamp and associated Morse key was discovered underneath the floor.
In the Clifton Diocesan Archives there is a letter dated 1st August 1945 from Mr King, the Diocesan solicitor, to the Bishop of Clifton. This letter reveals a number of interesting details concerning the purchase of the land.
It would seem that ‘Lot 2’ had been purchased the previous night for £825. Mr King suggested that it might be possible to buy part of ‘lot 1’ from the purchaser. ‘Lot 3 seemed to have been bought on the ‘spur of the moment’ and he thought there might be ‘room for manoeuvre’. Mr King reported that had written to the Town Planning Officer seeking his reaction to the possibility of a church being built at Sladebrook Lane. The fact that there was already land allocated for a community centre with provision for two churches would, Mr King thought, not come to fruition for a good few years. However, the need of the Catholics in the area was immediate. The Planning Officer’s reply was that he should arrange for plans to be drawn up and an appointment made with him to discuss them.
In January 2010 Jean Haggett received a letter from Graham, the grandson of Mr. Lewis of Clonmel House, Sladebrook Road:
‘I remember you were good to all at Clonmel. How did you manage that steep hill up to Mount Road? What a view of Bath from Clonmel House! When I stayed there as a youngster, I thought it was a little bit of heaven. Of course, you knew my grandfather – my no nonsense grandfather. He could be slightly frightening at times. Did you know he owned the land on which the church was built? He actually gave the Catholic Church the land for the new church. I was dumb founded when I was told that fact.’
On August 7th 1997 the following article appeared in the pages of the Bath & Wilts Chronicle and Herald, under its column, ‘Fifty years ago.’
‘Around 300 people packed the Catholic church of St Joseph at Sladebrook Road for its opening.’
We may wonder why the Church was dedicated to St Joseph. Perhaps the parish priest just wanted to honour his name saint Certainly during the first half of the twentieth century St Joseph had became hugely important. He was the Patron Saint of carpenters, doubters, travellers, house-hunters as well as having eight countries to care for. In popular devotion his name had become associated with a happy death – after all hadn’t Mary and Jesus both attended at his death bed! In 1870 he was declared the Patron of the Universal Church and in 1937 the Patron of those who combat atheistic communism. Eighteen years later in 1955 he became the role model for the workers of the world, the best of all skilled craftsmen, with an added feast on May Day. Increasingly then Joseph had become the responsible parent who stood by Mary and who demonstrated courage in doing what he believed to be right. He was one who trusted in God and the father of all who have recourse to him. Bearing all this in mind St Joseph was not a surprising choice as Patron of the new church.
Although the first St Joseph’s Church was a humble place of worship it was held in great affection and parishioners today recall attending Mass and catechism classes there and even cleaning it. At the lower end of the site was an additional wooden building which was used as a hall.
Fr Joseph Dolan was assisted from 1942 until 1944 by Fr Leonard Duncan and then from1944 until 1949 by Father James O’Brien. During 1949 Fr Dolan was succeeded as Parish Priest by Fr James J. Kelly and he was to serve the Parish until 1962. His assistant curates included Fr John Sullivan (1949-1950), Fr William Roche (1950-1952), Fr Louis Farrow (1952-1958) and Fr Bruno N. Bradley (1958-1962).
The 1958 Clifton Diocesan Directory lists St. Joseph’s Church in Sladebrook Road as having Mass on Sundays at 9am with Confessions on Saturday from 6.30pm-7.30pm. On holydays of obligation Mass was also celebrated at 8am and 8pm. On 11th June in that same year the neighbouring Anglican Parish Church of St Barnabas was consecrated, its congregation having moved from Rush Hill.
The Clifton Directory for 1959 reveals that Sunday Mass was celebrated at St Joseph’s at 9am and 11am with an evening service at 3pm. On holydays Mass was now celebrated at 10am and 8pm. This pattern of worship continued for some years. From 1967 we find references in Diocesan directories to Catechism on Sunday afternoons at 3pm and also a First Friday Mass at 8pm.
Interestingly one of our most senior parishioners, Mrs Carter, cannot remember either this First Friday Mass or the Masses on Holy Days as she recalls that people either went down to St Alphege’s or to St John’s.
In 1963 a new Parish Priest was appointed, Fr Francis O’Leary, and he was assisted first by Fr William Stonestreet (1962-1963), then by Fr Bernard Leo Dolan (1963-1969) and finally by Fr Patrick W. Evans (1969-1970).
In 1959 the estimated Catholic Population for the whole of St Alphege’s Parish was given as 1268 and the Sunday Mass Attendance was 673. Two years later we know that of the 599 attending Mass in the parish 176 were worshipping at ‘other Chapels and Mass Centres in the Parish’ which must refer to St Joseph’s. In 1965 the total Catholic population had grown to 1538 and the Mass attendance had grown to 683. In that year twenty-six children made their First Holy Communion at St Alphege’s and eleven at St Joseph’s.
A community was certainly developing around St Joseph’s and families included the O’Maras of Roundhill Park, Liam and Jean Erangey and the Ditt family. Geoffrey Allen came to Bath in 1954 and during the following year he moved with his young family to Southdown. Many others who are still actively involved in our parish today
Arrived at St Joseph’s with young families.
THE NEW CHURCH
Certainly a vibrant Mass centre was emerging in Southdown and it was eventually decided to respond to this obvious pastoral need by erecting a new purpose-built church to seat approximately 250 people. In fact parishioners were asked to vote on the matter and the majority gave their approval to Fr O’Leary’s plan.
The Parish Bulletin for the week commencing 28th April 1968 states:
‘New Church at St Joseph’s. On Wednesday night there is a meeting in St. Joseph’s Hall to discuss the feasibility of the new church and the proposed plans. This event, on the Feast of St. Joseph, the Workman, is an historic occasion. We hope every family in the parish, but especially in St. Joseph’s will be represented. Please come and give us the benefit of your ideas. It will be from this meeting that we can measure the interest in the proposed new scheme. Remember, the church will be for the people of St Joseph’s, not just for the priests.’
William D. Proctor, A.R.I.B.A. of Oatley & Brentnall, Architects of Bristol, was invited to prepare plans. The parish archive includes two plans entitled ‘Sketch Scheme of Proposed New Church at Sladebrook Road, Bath,’ dated March 1968. Photographs exist of the architect’s model which includes an unexecuted but striking outdoor sign board and seating area. The whole scheme was approved and planning permission was granted in November of that year. It is interesting that the design also included a possible extension to the hall. Near to the main entrance is a simple foundation stone inscribed with three crosses. Sadly we do not know the date that this stone was laid by Fr O’Leary although a film exists of the event. However, on Thursday 14th November 1968 the Bath & Wilts Evening Chronicle included the following the following description of the work, in its columns:
‘Start on new RC church. Work has started on a new £24,000 building for St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church at Southdown, Bath. For the past 20 years the church, which draws members from Southdown, Whiteway and Twerton, has been housed in a hut bought from the Army and rebuilt on the Southdown site. Now the hut is being partly demolished and the new Bath stone-faced church built behind it. The front part of the old building will be used for the next nine months until the new premises, a church with hall under it, are complete. The church which will have a low-pitched tiled roof, has been designed by Oatley and Brentnell, of Bristol, and will be built by George V. Williams and Sons Ltd. of Bath.’
In the Diocesan Archives is a letter dated 11th June 1968 indicating an overdraft granted by Westminster Bank of £10,000.
We are fortunate to have the Architect’s own interpretation of his design, which he wrote as the ‘Foreword’ to the booklet for the Opening Ceremony:
‘The design of the church is a mixture of old and new. Clerestory windows light the central area, but two large steel girders support the roof and make columns unnecessary.
It was considered important to ensure that everyone is near the altar, so the length of the nave was limited to ten rows of pews, some 46 ft. To accommodate 250 people the width was set to 56ft. No-one is more than 50ft from the altar.
At the east end the Sanctuary is 24 ft wide but only 12 ft deep and the altar has been positioned as near as possible to the people. A canopy over the altar stresses its importance and reflects the character of the roof construction. It is hoped that a symbolic dove can be mounted on the front of the canopy.
A small sacristy is located to the south of the Sanctuary and, by reason of the slope of the ground, it was possible to build a hall and toilets below the north side of the church.
Since the budget was limited, every effort has been made to obtain value for money and yet keep maintenance costs low. Time will show, but it is hoped that the design will prove to have sufficient flexibility to enable alterations and extensions economically to be carried out. The contract price was £22,500.’
In addition to the architect’s description we also have accounts from contemporary Diocesan Directories and a full newspaper article written by the respected Bath architectural historian, Bryan Little. The 1969 directory recorded that:
‘The new church will consist of a “one piece” nave to seat 250 persons in 10 rows, so that no member of the congregation is more than 50 feet from the altar. A simple steel frame will support the clerestory and the tiled timber roof which will extend over the nave. Walls will be of unplastered concrete block with external stone facing. The estimated cost is £22,000, and it is hoped to be completed in 1969.’
Regular whist drives were held on Thursday evenings to raise money for the new church. These were run by Mr Gordon and Liam Erangey assisted by Jean Haggett. Father Dolan and Father O’Brien attended each week. Fr O’Brien, who had never played whist before, became an expert and won many an evening. Jumble sales also played an important part amongst the many fundraising activities.
The 1970 edition of the Clifton Diocesan Directory includes a fine photograph of the interior of the building but it was incorrectly described as ‘The new church at Thornbury’.
The article by Bryan Little in the Bath and Wilts Evening Chronicle for 17th December 1969, shortly after the church’s opening, is worth reproducing in full:
‘Now that the hut chapel has been cleared away from the forecourt of the new Catholic Church of St Joseph at Southdown, Bath, it is easier to appreciate the relationship to its sloping site, and the exterior merits, of the building which has been designed by Mr W.D. Proctor of the Bristol architects Oatley and Brentnall.
Sladebrook Road is lined with small, privately-built houses of various dates and styles, and its steep, straight slope gives a splendid vista right down to the city centre and beyond. Any public building, carefully thought out as is this new church, and combining within itself a worshipping space and a small hall below it, is bound to add distinction to such an area.
The way in which it is poised on a hillside, and its great width in relation to a modest length, have made for a somewhat ungraceful exterior. A vertical feature of some kind would greatly help the building’s external appearance, and I am sorry that the central mullion of the western window has not been carried up, beyond the angle of the gable above it, so as to be prolonged upwards in a cross more widely conspicuous than that which Mr Proctor has included in his window design.
But the new St Joseph’s is in general well set in a spacious site which allows for the eventual enlargement of the church hall; the scene will be much improved when the landscaping, and grassing of the ground below the building has all been carried out.
The interior, both in its design and in its contents, is in many ways more distinguished and interesting than what one sees outside. The central compartment, or nave, of the new church is clerestorey-lit, with a low–pitched upper roof. Tall concrete piers at each corner of the main rectangle are its chief means of support, and the aisles, or side compartments, are not parted from the nave by traditional pillars and arches.
The clerestorey is upheld by sturdy horizontal steel girders. This means that the side compartments, in accordance with modern thinking, contain no “dead ground” that all those present at Mass can see the sanctuary, and that although the congregation is not “gathered round” in a semi circle or half-polygon, no one is too far from the altar not to feel at one with the worship offered there.
Inside, as from outside, the nave feels wide for its length, and the dignified comparatively narrow sanctuary is half-polygonal in shape and is lined with reconstituted Bath stone, which appears elsewhere in the church’s fabric.
The best interior effect is the bold contrast between the royal blue paint on the steel beams and cross rafters, the natural colour of the impregnated soft wood timbers, and the pale sycamore wood used for various doors.
Some of the new furnishings are of good modern design. This applies in particular, to the font, of Bath stone on the plan of a convex-sided triangle, and to the tester over the altar with its silhouette recalling the “winged” headdress of a Vincentian sister.
Other items, as the result of a transfer which would have been almost inconceivable a few years ago, have come from the Anglican church of St Luke, in the Bedminster area of Bristol which was built in the early 1860s to designs by John Norton on a scenic site on one of the brinks of the New Cut. This church has lately been closed.
Some pews, a curiously designed chair in a vaguely early Tudor style, a kneeling desk, have been reconditioned and brought over to this new church on the upland outskirts of Bath. Despite their Victorian style they look astonishingly good in this otherwise contemporary interior. Their re-use in St Joseph’s is also a tangible symbol of the easier relations now widely prevailing in this country among the various religious denominations.’
A caption provides a further interesting detail –
‘The chair, brass lectern and kneeling desk which were brought to St Joseph’s from a Bristol church’.
What became of the fine brass lectern?
Returning to the construction of the church, we are well informed about this in the brochure which was produced to mark the Solemn Opening. We know that the building contractors were Messrs. George V. Williams & Sons Ltd., of Lower Bristol Road and that the foreman of the works was Mr. Bert Gregory whose co-operation, it was noted, ‘has been magnificent’. The new church was clearly a parish effort and the men, women and children of St Joseph’s were thanked for having worked so hard and for having given so much of their time. Others given special mention included the volunteers (such as Liam Erangey) who plastered the undercroft; the boys in the woodwork class in St Brendan’s who worked the Crosses for the Stations; and finally the Irish Sisters of Charity (from Oldfield Road), ‘to whom the families, the Women’s Guild and the children owe so much’.
Gifts for the church included the carved Medallion of St Joseph the Worker which was presented by Bishop Joseph Rudderham; the pews and lectern which were presented by the Archdeacon of Bristol, the Venerable L.A. Williams on behalf of the Anglican Diocese of Bristol; the Canopy or Tester over the altar which was given by the Lee and Emmerson families; the Tabernacle which was the gift of the Mother Superior of the Convent of the Good Shepherd at Marshfield; the Sanctuary Crucifix which was given by Mrs. Bolton in memory of Edward James Bolton; and the Cross of the Risen Christ given by Mr and Mrs Botor. Other generous benefactions included that of Mr and Mrs Matthews who donated £100 and a further £100 given in memory of Edward Johnson by his family.
The fine plaque of Our Lady and Child was first hung in the Church of Our Lady and St Alphege and was given ‘In Memoriam – Percy Livingstone Parker April 1st 1925’. There are photographs in the parish archive showing it in situ when the Lady Chapel was consecrated in 1954. Later on Theodore Kearn, the Austrian sculptor, provided the present rich carving for the Lady Chapel at St Alphege’s in 1955 and as a result this plaque had become available for use at St Joseph’s.
Bingo was held on Monday evenings organised by Liam Erangey and Dave Kelleher. This and regular jumble sales raised money for most of the vestments and a heater in the sacristy. Bill Warren was involved with the care of the church during the early 1970s and Tony Smith also came to settle in Bath and worked hard caring for St Joseph’s.
OPENING THE NEW CHURCH
On 20th November 1969, at 7pm in the evening, the Right Reverend Joseph Rudderham, Bishop of Clifton, opened and blessed the ‘New Church in Honour of St Joseph to serve Southdown, Twerton and Whiteway’. The font and altar were made of natural Bath stone. Interestingly the consecration crosses were provided in anticipation but the church has never actually been solemnly consecrated or dedicated.
The Bath and Wilts Chronicle for Friday 21st November 1969 offers the following account of the service:
‘New Roman Catholic church blessed. A Bishop who had been expelled from China, the Anglican Archdeacon of Bristol, and representatives of local Methodist Churches and Salvation Army attended the blessing of a new £24,000 Roman Catholic Church at Bath last night.
The blessing of St Joseph’s Church, Sladebrook Road, Southdown, was by the Bishop of Clifton, Dr. Joseph E. Rudderham. He then celebrated the first Mass in the new church before a packed congregation.
He was assisted by a number of clergy. Among them were Father Francis O’Leary, parish priest of St Alphege, Oldfield Park, and Father Patrick Evans, curate. St Joseph’s is a daughter church of St Alphege.
The Bishop expelled from China is a Frenchman, the Rt Rev Rene Boisquerin, Bishop of Sui-Fui. He was thrown into prison and suffered great hardship before being told to leave the country, said Father O’Leary. The Bishop had been appointed to look after Chinese Catholics in Britain and is based in Liverpool. He previously worked from Bristol.
The Archdeacon of Bristol, the Venerable L.A. Williams, has presented the pews now in St Joseph’s Church. They were previously in an Anglican church at Bedminster, which is no longer used. Father O’Leary said representatives of local Anglican and Methodist churches and the Salvation Army had been invited as “part of the growing movement for reconciliation between Christian churches.”
It is designed with a mixture of old and new styles. The central area is supported by two steel girders which support the roof and make internal columns unnecessary. This gives a vast open central area. The church is built with Bath stone facing. Because the ground slopes steeply on the site, it has been possible to build a hall beneath on the north side of the church.
Other clergy who assisted at the first Mass were Canon J.J. Kelly, St John’s RC Church, Bath; Father John Carter, St Mary’s Bath; former curates at St Joseph’s, Father Leo Dolan and Father William Stonestreet; and Father Anthony Cotter, from Bristol. Mgr J.C. Buckley, a life-long friend of Father O’Leary, preached the sermon.
The ceremony was attended by clergy from Swindon, Chippenham, Gloucester and Bristol.’
At the conclusion of the ceremony, guests were invited to the old hut church or to the new undercroft where refreshments were served. At the time of the opening the former church was still in position and the parish has a small water colour by H.W. Humpage showing both buildings together, entitled ‘St Joseph’s R.C. Church old and new’. The Bath & Wilts Evening Chronicle for 17th October 1968 reported ‘New replaces the old’ and the caption beneath the photograph of the two buildings standing together, reads – ‘The old with the new at Sladebrook Road, Bath, as the new St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church takes shape alongside the old St Joseph’s Church on the right’.
During 1970 Fr O’Leary left the parish and he was succeeded by Fr Louis Farrow. He was assisted first by a succession of assistant curates including Fr Bruno Bradley (1970-1974) who had special responsibility for St Joseph’s, Fr James E. Nolan (1975), Fr Nicholas J. Tranter (1977-1978) and finally by Fr Joseph Calnan (1979-1980).
Amongst papers in the parish archive is a set of correspondence concerning the heating system which had been installed by Messrs. T. H. Haskins & Sons Ltd. Apparently Gas officials had suggested that the architect was greatly at fault in the siting of the hot-air heater. In December 1975 the architect wrote to Fr Farrow explaining that South West Gas were possibly concerned about this system because of problems connected with the conversion to North Sea Gas, coupled with an increased awareness of the need for ventilation to avoid a build-up of unburnt gas. The space under the church and around the hot-air heater was ventilated by means of a number of air bricks. It was suggested by the architect that the solution might be to knock out pieces of stone between the holes in the perforated blocks and to fit some 4” wire mesh behind to prevent the entry of rodents. Eventually the whole system was replaced with wall heaters.
On a happier note during 1975 a Flower Festival was held at St Joseph’s, at what would seem to be amazingly short notice. Fr Nolan wrote to parishioners as follows:
‘On Friday next, August 15th, it will be the Feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady. It is a Holyday of Obligation and Masses at St. Joseph’s will be at 10am and 7pm not 8pm as is usual. I think it will be a good opportunity for us to show our devotion to Our Lady by having a Flower Festival. There will be a Sung Mass at 7pm and tea and biscuits will be available in the parish hall after the Mass. All are invited to attend whatever Mass is convenient and to meet others socially after the evening Mass. Please make every effort to support this occasion.
St Joseph’s Church will be open on Thursday evening from 6pm to 8pm when there will be someone in attendance to receive your offerings. You are invited to bring flowers or potted plants for display around the main altar and Our Lady’s Statue. If you wish to arrange your flowers personally in your own vase you may do so, provided that you mark the vase with your name, to be claimed later. Potted plants can be claimed arrangement. Some greenery will be appreciated.
After 8pm on Thursday the ladies will arrange the flowers and potted plants. This will take some time so please do what you can to make things easier. The whole idea is to honour Our Lady, not to compete, as you know.’
From 1978 a Vigil or first Mass of Sunday was celebrated at St Joseph’s in addition to the two morning Masses. However, in the following year we find services being rationalised with only one Morning Mass celebrated at 9.30am. The morning Mass on Holydays and Sunday afternoon services were both taken away and Confessions were now only heard after Mass. Gill Hogarth recalls that Fr Donal Daly, the parish priest of St Joseph’s Peasedown St John, also said Mass at St Joseph’s Southdown for some period in the early 1980s.
Monsignor Farrow also received help from Fr Graham Langford. He was the first parish priest and builder of the Church of St Peter and St Paul at Combe Down, and after his retirement he did much to support and to enrich the liturgy at St Joseph’s.
David Milliner and Jennifer Marks were married at St Joseph’s on 8th July 1978 and their wedding was followed by two more during 1985 and further ones in 1996 and 2005. Tom Gunning of Twerton was ordained Priest in 1985 having been ordained to the diaconate during July 1984 by Bishop Mervyn Alexander at St Joseph’s Southdown. The Gunnings worshipped at Southdown for many years and Fr Tom recalls going up to Mass on the parish bus and on occasions the service being delayed because ‘Twerton had not arrived’.
On 2nd September 1986 Miss Edith Marie Gosling, of 198 The Hollow, died aged ninety-two-years. The residuary bequest in Miss Gosling’s will was in favour of “Clifton Diocesan Trustees Registered… for charitable purposes in connection with St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Southdown, Bath’ and the residuary estate was then estimated as being worth in the order of £375,000.
During 1987 Monsignor Louis Farrow died and he was succeeded as Parish Priest by Father William Roche who did much to rejuvenate St Joseph’s. Among other improvements he had the church decorated and carpet laid in the sanctuary.
Sister Brigid Gabriel (Margaret McGourty) (1919-2004) a member of La Sainte Union Bath, was Parish Sister for eighteen years and from the 1985 until her death had a particular responsibility for St Joseph’s. She is remembered for her visiting and for organizing many events. During her time a Mother and Toddler group flourished together with many other organizations and activities designed to build up the life of St Joseph’s. Her Requiem Mass was celebrated at St Alphege’s on 27th May 2004 and she was buried at Perrymead Cemetery. Canon Roche has said ‘She was a most considerate and caring person and all the work she did was very much appreciated by all who came in contact with her.’
From 1986 until 1994 Mike and Angela Lewis, with the help of Sister Brigid, held annual Christmas ‘Cheese and Wine’ parties in the Church Hall usually around the middle of December. These were always popular events and often eighty or more parishioners would attend. Another date in the calendar was the annual September fete. Dominica Allen has commented that ‘the coconut shy became a great hit with the teenage boys’ – no pun intended. She has also remarked that St Joseph’s has always been a happy, welcoming church with a friendly atmosphere; people worked together.’
Organizations which regularly met at St Joseph’s over the years include the Mothers’ Group, St Agnes’s Guild, the Altar Servers, the Squires of St Columba and the Faith and Light Group. Football matches were also arranged from time to time and much more.
On Tuesday 27th September 1994 Bishop Mervyn Alexander came to celebrate the Silver Jubilee Mass at St Joseph’s Church. Plans had been carefully prepared and a Jubilee Committee was formed. Back in June members resolved to invite the clergy of the Bath Deanery together with those who had served at St Joseph’s in the past– Fathers Tranter, Daly, Meegan and Dolan. The two head teachers were also to be invited as well as two sisters from each of the two convents.
Other guests who were to be invited included Mr. A. Gregory, the builder, the Vicar of St Barnabas and the Minister from Southdown Methodist Church. A buffet supper was to be served afterwards in the hall and in an overflow marquee which was to be erected on the grass. All the carefully made arrangements bore fruit and the Silver Jubilee was a joyous celebration. People were delighted that Frank and Pat O’Leary were able to be present as he had been responsible for erecting the church twenty-five-years earlier.
Bills for repairs found in the Parish archive indicate a constant problem with vandalism as a result of open land, concealed areas and easily accessible flat roofs. In August 1992 intruders forced the hall doors open and windows were smashed during the following year. Graffiti and other damage to the sacristy and other flat roofs have also taken place over the years. £3,600 was the estimated cost of repairs to the flat roofs in the year 2001 alone.
In 1998 Canon Michael English was appointed as Parish Priest and served the parish until the summer of 2008 when he retired having celebrated his Golden Jubilee. During his time it was reluctantly agreed to move the main weekly act of worship from Sunday morning to Saturday evening as part of a strategy for the whole deanery.
Canon Michael was succeeded as Parish Priest by Fr Richard Barton. Within a few months St Joseph’s church and hall were closed for the season of Advent because of urgent electrical work costing nearly £13,000. The Diocesan Surveyor, Derek Salmon, later wrote, ‘Considering the state of the electrical wiring prior to the works that you have initiated we are all extremely lucky that nobody was electrocuted in the church prior to the rewiring.’
At this time of writing, between forty and sixty people gather each week for the Sunday Vigil Mass and their worship is enhanced by a small music group and a team of servers. There is coffee after Mass on one Saturday each month. At noon on Friday there is a further celebration of Mass which is attended by between fifteen and twenty people. St Joseph’s continues to have a faithful band of committed parishioners who care for the building and the extensive grounds and who raise money for their maintenance. It is generally unwise to name names but no history would be complete without mentioning Freddie Baker and Jo Cordwell who have done so much over the years to care for St Joseph’s.
THE RUBY JUBILEE
The building’s Ruby Jubilee was celebrated in 2009 and during this year events have included special liturgical celebrations to mark the feasts of St Joseph in March and St Joseph the Worker in May as well as a summer open day. Held inside on that occasion were floral displays, an historical exhibition and refreshments, whilst outside there was much activity at stalls selling plants, preserves, cakes, books and lots more. A considerable amount of hard work by parishioners both before and on the day resulted in a very successful event.
From 1st June 2009 the hall was made available to the new St Joseph’s Snooker Club, under the chairmanship of Len Gunstone, and its members have transformed what had become a rather tired and under-used hall into an inviting club premises. Upstairs an anonymous donor has provided a deaf loop and an improved sound system which has cost nearly £900.
The congregation of Oldfield Park Methodist Church, met for morning worship on Sunday August 9th 2009 and were led by their Minister, Rev Mrs Melanie Reed, in the celebration of Holy Communion. Nothing unusual about that – in fact the service was similar to many such happy occasions that congregations, over the 117 years since Oldfield Park has been open, have enjoyed. The difference on this occasion was that this Communion Service was held at St Joseph’s Church and was presided over by an ordained female Methodist Minister! The Reverend Melanie Reed later commented that the generous offer of the use of St Joseph’s for as long as the Methodist congregation needs it is a true testimony to Christian love, understanding and hospitality that should and can bridge any and all theological and doctrinal gaps. Fr Richard added that he was absolutely delighted that we are sharing our resources with Horizon (the new name for the Oldfield Park congregation) at St Joseph’s, until their premises in Southdown have been refurbished. ‘It is good that we are able to help our Methodist sisters and brothers during this important phase of change and renewal. Members of our congregation are delighted with this initiative.’
Parishioners, friends, past priests and hopefully Mr Proctor the architect, will gather on Friday 20th November 2009, for the Anniversary Mass which will complete our Ruby Jubilee celebrations. We look back with pride and thank God for those who built this church and have worshipped here. May the presence of this building continue to witness to the peoples of Southdown, Twerton and Whiteway for many, many, more years to come.
Canon Joseph Dolan 1937
Canon James J. Kelly 1949
Francis J. O’Leary STL PHL 1962
Monsignor Louis Farrow STL JCL 1970
Canon William Roche 1987
Canon Michael English 1998
Richard John Barton STB AKC 2008
St Joseph’s Southdown, Ruby Jubilee Sermon, 20th November 2009
When asked what events took place during a given year my mind normally goes blank. I have to say that before being appointed here as your Parish Priest I probably wouldn’t have linked 1969 with the opening of St Joseph’s Church, Southdown.
At a personal level I can recall a few incidents from the year 1969. In the May I was confirmed by the Bishop of Gloucester. On the run up to this I can remember another incident at Prep School. We had cross country running – I encouraged classmates to take an illicit short cut across fields and through a wood – my cheating was exposed and a detention was duly given. I can remember saying to my head teacher – a pretty severe military man – “I can’t do that tonight. I’ve got a confirmation class. II have to go to that because I’m going to be a vicar!”
In September 1969 I started at Grammar School. On the first morning I broke the cold water tap and water went everywhere. I took off for the bus leaving mother and our home in utter chaos. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that water gushed through the roof of the Sacristy here during the run up to this celebration!
On the international stage 1969 is best remembered because of an event which took place on 21st July. During the Apollo 11 Mission astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. For centuries people had dreamt of that day and now JFK’s promise of 1961 became reality. What a step for Mankind!
Advent 1969 saw the publication of the Clifton Diocesan Directory. Bishop Rudderham noted in his foreword:
Once again I am glad to welcome the New Edition of the Diocesan Year Book. It appears in a year which is likely to have a noted place in the Church’s history, for it is the year in which the new form of Mass will come into general use.
The liturgy celebrated forty years ago tonight was actually celebrated in English using interim texts. So we read for the Gloria – ‘Glory to God on High and on Earth peace to men who are God’s friends’. A text which was actually said and not sung.
Bishop Rudderham also spoke of the many developments likely to take place in the diocese and further on we read:
At the time of going to press the new Church of St Joseph, Southdown, is nearing completion.
1969 was a year of new beginnings and a year of expansion. Not only did Man leave his footprint on the moon but for Catholics new Mass centres, new schools and new parishes were opening and huge Mass attendances recorded. Catholic people were without doubt a people of real hope – looking forward to the realisation of the dreams of the Second Vatican Council. In the wider world with the fading of the nuclear shadow we saw growth, prosperity and free-er individual expression.
Our first reading from the First Book of Maccabees describes a similar time of joy and liberation which had come after war, persecution and domination by an aggressive people with an alien culture. Our reading describes the Temple in Jerusalem being re-hallowed. God is returning to dwell amongst his people in the temple which the pagans had profaned. Like Judas Maccabeus and his brothers we have come to rejoice and celebrate God’s presence amongst us tonight and to recall events from forty years ago.
I didn’t know Joseph Rudderham. He was Bishop of Clifton from 1948 until 1974 and died in February 1979 – three months after I was received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The plaque behind me was his gift to the church. He obviously decided not to consecrate or dedicate this building but rather to simply bless it. The places for anointing with Chrism were prepared by the builders but have never been utilized. On the evening of 20th November he blessed the exterior of the church with holy water whilst the people sang the refrain ‘The house of the Lord is well founded on solid rock’ together with the verses of psalm 86. The bishop then entered the building and knelt before the altar whilst the litany of the saints was sung. Then the bishop walked around the inside of the church sprinkling the walls with holy water, then down the central aisle and back up and then from side wall to side wall, in front of the altar rails. During this sprinkling the people recited psalms 121 and 83. The sanctuary party then returned to the sacristy whilst the altar was prepared for Mass – a Votive Mass of St Joseph.
The service sheet ends with an epilogue –
O God you make ready an eternal dwelling place for your majesty from the living and chosen stones. Help your people who pray to you that whilst your church grows materially it may also gain spiritual increase.
These are key words for us. The Christian hope of heaven is of a New Jerusalem with – at its heart – the Lamb. Jesus is our foundation stone – our corner stone – our every stone. Indeed, he is our Rock of Hope and Salvation. We are the stones waiting to be dressed and set in the walls to bear different loads and to perform assorted functions. But without Jesus we are just a heap of rubble.
Because of the self-sacrifice and dedication of the last generation material stones were laid and we have this precious resource today. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. We show our thanks to them and to God by transforming these carefully laid stones into a beacon of spiritual light shining out on this hill top.
Essentially a church is a gathered people not a building. After all buildings come and go. This building was erected as a practical shelter or tent to fittingly house our celebration of the Eucharist – as something better than the wooden shack it replaced. In contrast St Alphege’s, our parish church, was designed as a work of art with the intention of lasting for many generations as a timeless witness to the Christian Faith. Every stone laid of St Alphege’s was intended to forge a link with past history – so as to present it to future generations of Bathonians. One day this concrete tent may need to be folded away. I hope that that will not be too soon – after all we still have important work to do here in Twerton, Southdown and Whiteway – but a time may come!
Forty years is a good time to pause and to re-evaluate. In biblical terms forty represents the passing of a generation. As you know forty is a special number in the Scriptures. We think of the forty days of the Deluge; forty years spent by Israel in the desert; forty years of the reign of King David and forty days of the journey of Elijah. In the Gospels Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness and for forty days he was in the presence of the disciples prior to his Ascension. Forty is a special number then and it is worth marking.
In our Gospel reading tonight Jesus cleansed the Temple. We think of the Temple precincts being cleansed with a whip as Jesus drove out the people who were defiling it.
For us the need may be to take the whip to ourselves – to banish despair and uncertainty – despondency and reservation – from our hearts – hearts which are the temples of the Holy Spirit. We pray that we might in confidence and trust get on with the task of proclaiming the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus – alongside our sisters and brothers who share our baptism – for the benefit of the next generation of people who live in Southdown, Twerton and Whiteway. Of course that future may or may not include this building in which we are gathered tonight but I sincerely hope that it will.
Our brothers and sisters who belong to the new Horizon Methodist Church and worship here on Sundays are a People of Hope too. They are responding bravely to enormous challenges and upheaval. We pray on this night for looking backwards and looking forwards that God may bring to fulfilment the good work that he has begun in us. We dedicate our common endeavour and – as People of Hope – we confidently proclaim – ‘Deo Optimo Maximo’ – To God – the Best – the Greatest.