A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
Before the last war, there were only a few Catholic residents in Cricklade. However, Miss Cecilia Willant, in her notes on the history of the Fairford Mission, states that Fr Edmond MacSweeney, the Parish Priest of Fairford, “was instrumental in reviving the Faith in Cricklade”. This is supported by evidence from the Catholic Directories for 1938-1943, which gives details of a weekly celebration of Mass in the town at 8-30am. Parishioners remember Fr MacSweeney cycling over from Fairford to celebrate this Mass and to teach the Catechism to the children. The Mass centre that they remember was located in the old schoolroom in Gas Lane, a building that had been used for a time as a cinema and is now a motorcycle workshop.
Our most senior parishioner who remembers these early days was Mrs. Eileen Bowsher who came to settle in Cricklade on 1st September 1939 and died in June 2004. Other resident Catholics included Mrs Margaret Ridge of Hope Cottage and her daughter remembers her cleaning the room for Mass and putting flowers on the altar each week. Mrs Bonn, the wife of Major Bonn, who lived at what is now Cricklade Country Club, also came to Mass. She was a foreign lady and attended Mass with her staff, Mr and Mrs Gannon. John Dunne came to Blake Hill Farm with the contractors George Wimpy in 1943 and was later to marry a local woman. Mrs Joan O’Leary, former Deputy head of Prior Park Preparatory School, first came to Cricklade as a land girl in 1942. She lived on a farm in Bentham and then returned in 1949 to settle with her husband Joe at Sutherlea in Purton Stoke.
In November 2008 Michael and Doreen Gannon were shown an earlier edition of this article and they have kindly added further information about the beginnings of the Cricklade Mission:
‘The story commences with Leo Bernard William Bonn who came to this country in 1870, leaving his native Franconia as he disliked the Prussian treatment of his native land following Price Bismarck’s victory over Bavaria and Austria in 1866.
Leo Bonn resided in Newbold Revel this was the ancestral home of the distinguished Roman Catholic de Revel family, a Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. By the time of his death Leo Bonn had ensured the care of the stained glass windows knowing that it was to be purchased by the Roman Catholic Carmelite Order. Leo Bonn had a son Walter Bonn, who married a Lena Theodora Davidson (7th October 1924).
Lena Theodora Davidson was from an old aristocratic family. The marriage of Walter Bonn and Lena Davidson bore two sons Michael, born in January 1927, and Christopher, born in September 1929.
For more information about Leopoldina Theodora Davidson of Inchmarlo (14 September 1894 – 5 July 1974) and her husband Major Walter Basil Louis Bonn (27 February 1885 – 10 September 1973) see:
The focus of this story, is Lena Bonn who was instrumental in resurrecting the Mass in Cricklade after some 400 years. It took her several years of persevering, persuading and cajoling.
My father, Mattthew Gannon, commenced working for Major Bonn as a Stud Groom at Street Ashton House, near Rugby, Warwickshire, in the autumn of 1929. In those Warwickshire years Mrs. Bonn carried the three Gannons to Mass which was celebrated in a private house chapel owned by the Fieldings (Lord Denbigh) on his estate on the edge of Monks Kirby. There was also a convent in the village with a boarding school, which Michael Gannon attended as a day pupil from 1930 until 1932.
In December 1932 Major Walter Bonn moved his family to Common Hill House, Cricklade, Wiltshire, which previously was known as Chelworth House. The Major requested that all his staff could join him if they so desired. When the Gannons arrived at their new home, around teatime on 5th December 1932, Father Staunton (priest at Cirencester) was awaiting them in the stable yard and, seeing Michael Gannon’s string of holy medals dangling from his neck, gave a smile and a warm welcome.
Walter Bonn was educated at Eton, later he joined the Welsh Guards to serve in World War I with distinction and was awarded medals for gallantry. This educational process was repeated for his two sons, Michael and Christopher.
His wife, Lena Bonn, was an energetic, imaginative, conscientious, headstrong woman and a very, very, devout Catholic. Each Sunday during the early 1930’s Mrs. Bonn took the Gannons to Mass in Cirencester along with her own family when they were home from school. Michael Gannon can remember that she spoke many times to his parents of how desperately needed a Catholic church was in Cricklade and how hard she was working to provide one.
Determined to create a place of Catholic worship in Cricklade and well aware of the gap of some 400 years, Mrs. Lena Bonn became the chief negotiator to secure some initial accommodation. She eventually succeeded with a Mr. and Mrs. Goodson who owned the grocery shop in the High Street (opposite the Police Station). This resulted in the suggestion being made to Father MacSweeney that Mass could be celebrated in a room above the grocery shop, overlooking the High Street.
Father Mac and Bishop Lee must have approved of the plan because the first Mass was celebrated in this room with about fifteen Catholics present. It was in early summer and Michael Gannon, who is not completely sure, believes it could have been in the year 1937 or, perhaps, 1938. Michael Gannon was the altar boy at the first Mass and for the first time had the Latin responses to make on his own. He had previously been an altar boy at Cirencester from 1933 but there were older boys there, namely Mr. Gasman, Pat Stevens, Anthony Keeley and Freddie Copenhall. Michael was fortunate that Mrs. Bonn had given him some assistance with his pronunciations before his big day.
Michael also remembered the members of the congregation at the first Mass – the four Lynams from Purton Stoke, Mrs. Armstrong, Mrs. Bonn and her two sons, the three Gannons, some people from Latton and the Ridge Family.
Just before the outbreak of war in September 1939 Michael Gannon remembers that the celebration of the Cricklade Mass moved from the room above Goodson’s shop into the building at the back of Goodson’s shop, not far from the Gas works (one could smell it!) The building was approached from Gas Lane and it had previously been a school and also a local cinema. One of the projectionists had been George Kilminster, who lived in Abingdon Court Road well into his nineties.
In 1940 Matthew Gannon left Major Bonn’s employment because of the wartime squeeze on hunting which had meant that the number of horses had been reduced on the estate and Matthew had made up his hours with gardening. He was granted the licence of the Foresters Arms, at the Leigh, which was a Stroud Brewery tied house. The Foresters’ Arms was about a mile from Common Hill House and, living opposite to the pub, was the Curtis Family. Audrey Curtis married Johnny Dunne, one of the many Irishmen who came to this country to work on building the airfields, and, in due course, Audrey Dunne became a Roman Catholic. Johnny had a very good tenor voice and was often heard singing in the Foresters.
In 1943 the Bonn Family moved from Common Hill House to Marsden Manor, on the Cirencester to Cheltenham road. Their stay there was a short one because, after the war, they moved to Jersey where Mrs Lena Bonn died during the 1970s.
Father MacSweeney was born in County Cork and ordained Priest for the Diocese of Clifton in 1913 at Downside Abbey. He was appointed to Fairford in June 1932 where he laboured with notable zeal until his retirement, because of ill health, in September 1963. He died on 3rd June 1972 at St Angela’s Convent in Clifton. He was a loveable character and respected by Catholics and non-Catholics in and around Fairford. He took a great interest in sporting events in the area and when duties permitted he would go with the local lads to football matches. He also organised band contests and was for five years the chairman of the Bull Hotel Skittles Club. During his time in Fairford the parish changed from being a tiny rural one into a very busy one. Of the thousand or so workmen employed on the construction of Fairfield aerodrome, many were Catholic and he was appointed as chaplain to the Catholic employees of Sir Robert MacAlpine & Co Ltd, the main contractors. Secondly, with the outbreak of the war, the new airbase was occupied by the United States Air Force and “Father Mac” served as chaplain for eighteen months and helped out when necessary. There were also more than a thousand Polish Nationals at the hostel in Fairford Park.
It was probably as a result of this changed pastoral situation in Fairford that Father MacSweeney became unable to supply the spiritual needs of the small congregation at Cricklade and so the mission was transferred into the care of St Peter’s Parish in Cirencester. This is confirmed by the Catholic Directories for the years 1943 to 1946 which refer to the clergy from Cirencester supplying a weekly Mass at Cricklade every Sunday at 9-00am. Philip Coppenhall remembers accompanying Father Staunton to serve this Mass in the former cinema in Gas Lane and also, during the construction of the Warat bases, the U.S. forces at Blake Hill and at Down Ampney. The war brought new people to the town so that out of a normal congregation of seventeen or eighteen over two thirds of them would have been members of H.M.Forces and the Women’s Land Army who were stationed in this area. Until 1944 South Cerney was the only RAF base in this area; the airfields at Fairford, Down Ampney and Blake Hill were only opened fifteen months before the end of the war in Europe.
Father Thomas Patrick Staunton was Parish Priest of Cirencester from April 1932 until November 1952. He was assisted by various priests including Fathers John McGrath, Peter Jones and Francis Daly who acted as Parish Priest from the time of the death of Father Staunton until the appointment of Father John O’Donnell.
In 1946 the need for a preparatory school for Prior Park College in Bath had long been felt and the blitz, together with an overwhelming demand for places emphasised this need. The Christian Brothers who ran the college got word of the sale of “The Hermitage” (The Manor House) in Cricklade. Within a fortnight the deposit had been paid and the house and grounds secured. The Christian Brothers took possession of the Cricklade property on August 26th 1946 and on September 18th the new school was opened. The first community consisted of Brother Dositheus O’Connell, the Superior, Brother Conrad Hayes, Brother Francis Hennessy, Brother Conleth Browner and Brother Baylon Lyons. The following Saturday Bishop Lee blessed the house, chapel (situated in what is now the library) and furnishings and on the next day celebrated the first Mass. In his address he spoke of this as being a ‘red-letter’ day for Prior Park, for the new Preparatory School and for the town of Cricklade, adding, “You have been chosen by Providence to be the cause of bringing back the Blessed Sacrament to Cricklade after a lapse of four centuries”.
During the following year the staff of Prior Park was joined by a new matron, Mrs Madge Kelly, who was to be for many years part of the life of the school. The Catholic Directory for 1947 tells us that the Chaplain at Prior Park Preparatory School was Father Francis Meegan and that he celebrated a public Mass at 9-00am each Sunday. In the directory for 1948 there is mention of an additional celebration of Mass at the same time at Cricklade Camp. In October of that year Father Meegan was appointed Chaplain at St Clotilde’s School at Lechlade and Father Thomas Walshe briefly succeeded him. The Clifton directories tell us that Father John Bernard Madden was chaplain at Prior Park from 1950 until his death on 12th August 1969.
Even though there was now a Catholic chapel at Prior Park the townspeople continued to worship in hired accommodation. In 1949 Sunday Mass was celebrated in a Nissen hut at Waylands, next to the old Fire Station. This had been a billet for army personnel but it served as the Catholic Church until it was demolished. John Dunne remembers how sometimes only four or five people would attend Mass there and Joan O’Leary recalls her daughter Mary Clare being baptised there. On 30th March 1949 Father Staunton wrote to the Bishop suggesting the purchase of the former Baptist Chapel and adjoining cottage to replace the “little hut, which could be taken away from me at any time”. The Nissen hut was demolished and during the early 1950’s Mass moved to the Town Hall. George Walsh, who lived opposite the Town Hall at the time, would light the overhead heaters, prepare the altar and set up the chairs early each Sunday morning.
On All Saints’ Day 1952 the Parish Priest, Father Thomas Staunton, died whilst celebrating Mass. He had recently returned after a long absence due to a serious illness followed by convalescence in Ireland. He had been Parish Priest at Fairford from 1925 until 1932 before succeeding Fr Groome at Cirencester. He was known as a brilliant scholar and spoke five languages. His obituary described him as a much loved pastor – “a quiet man, very dapper and correct, always paying attention to details”. The new Parish Priest, Father John O’Donnell, was not appointed until January 1953. He was a relatively young man when he came to Cirencester and had served as the first Parish Priest at Stow-on-the-Wold and then as Parish Priest of Sacred Hearts in Charlton Kings. Like Father Staunton he quickly gained the respect of his parishioners and during his ministry in Cirencester he increased the number of Masses at St Peter’s and oversaw the growth of the congregation as new people came to settle in the area. It was this man who, in his first year at Cirencester, was to realise Father Staunton’s dream and provide the Catholics of Cricklade with their first proper place of worship.
Back in 1852 the Particular Baptists opened a chapel in Calcutt Street. Some of their baptisms took place at Hatchetts ford – a large, deep, reed and rush-fringed inlet of the River Thames. The converts were baptised by total immersion and for some time two broughams were hired (one for each sex) to return the dripping participants to the chapel. The church flourished and maintained its own pastor until the First World War, but afterwards numbers declined and it was eventually closed in 1937. The building fulfilled a very different role in World War II when it became a WVS canteen providing relaxation and refreshment mainly for airmen from the nearby Down Ampney and Blake Hill aerodromes. After the war the old building ceased to have a use and the chapel was not actually purchased until 1955 when it was acquired through another party, as the Baptists did not want the property to be acquired for Catholic worship. The cost of purchase was £525. Terence McHugh of Manor House, Baunton, a Director of Jackson, Stopp and Staff at Cirencester was instrumental in this purchase. His wife was a daughter of Bobby Clayton of Toc.H. fame.
The “Catholic Herald” for the 11th March 1955 reported that “Catholics in and around Cirencester have purchased a Baptist chapel in Swindon Road, Cricklade, Wilts, at a cost of £515 (sic), and that it will be converted into a Catholic church – the first in the town since the Reformation. It will be dedicated to St Augustine, who is reputed to have met the Welsh Bishops at a ford at Cricklade on his way to Wales. Catholics in Cricklade have been attending Mass in a hut and later in the Town Hall. The new church will be served from Cirencester”. The new church was opened and its dedication served to keep alive the ancient tradition that St Augustine met with the Celtic bishops at St Augustine’s Oak near Down Ampney and that he healed the blind man at nearby Lertoll’s Well. This choice of patron was suggested by Monsignor Patrick Lynch who had arrived with Fr John O’Donnell as his assistant curate.
Not only was there a new place of worship for the Catholic townspeople but also in 1968 a new purpose-built chapel was erected at Prior Park to the design of F.W.Beresford –Smith of Bath. As we have seen the school had its own resident chaplain and this even continued after the Christian Brothers withdrew from the school in 1980. Father Edward Hickey was chaplain from 1969 until 1971. His obituary recorded that he “also had the pastoral care of the small Catholic community in the town”. Father Edwin Gordon was chaplain from 1976-1978, Father Eamon McGlinchey was chaplain from 1978 until Christmas1983, when he became Parish Priest of Fairford, and Father Louis Ward, a Fransalian, succeeded him and stayed until 1988 when the Chaplaincy passed to Holy Rood Parish in Swindon.
Joan O’Leary remembers Mass being celebrated in St Augustine’s and many of the people who attended – Jim Mc Hale, Patrick and Frances Lanney, Eileen Bowsher who prepared the altar, Maisie New who played the organ until her death in 1980, George Walsh and his daughter Doreen Cove, John Dunne and many others. Her husband, Joe, was a strong Irish tenor.
In April 1978 the first constitution was drawn up for the newly established Parish Council for St Peter’s, Cirencester, and for many years Joan O’Leary was the representative for St Augustine’s. On 13th October 1982 Mrs Geraldine Dudley, then a new parishioner, called an open meeting at St Augustine’s Church to discuss the future. By this time difficult decisions needed to be taken as St Augustine’s had fallen into a bad state of repair. Was the building to be restored or closed and new premises found. At this time the redundant Anglican Church of St Mary was lying empty and unused. As a result of this meeting we find further discussion at the November meeting of the Cirencester Parish Council. Consideration was given to the acquisition of St Mary’s Church. It was thought that between £10,000 and £12,000 would need to be spent on putting the building in good order but it was felt that “it was unlikely that the Cricklade parishioners would be able to support the church.”
By March 1983 the Cricklade area had passed from the care of Father O’Donnell, the Parish Priest of Cirencester to Father Patrick Evans, the Parish Priest of Fairford. However, it should be said that Father Eamon McGlinchey, the chaplain at Prior Park, was helping to look after the Mass Centre at Cricklade. When Father O’Donnell died on 31st October 1987, only months after celebrating his Golden Jubilee of Priesthood, Canon John Lewis, the Vicar of Cirencester, said “ Father O’Donnell was a much loved figure in the town, being much liked and highly respected. I was sorry to hear of his death, and he will be much missed by very many people”. During the years that he served Cricklade he was assisted by a succession of curates and these included Fathers Patrick Lynch, Michael Meehan, William Dee, James Stirrat, Timothy Crowley, Patrick Evans, Thomas O’Donovan and Peter Kennedy.
Bishop Mervyn wrote to the Anglican Diocese of Bristol on 28th March 1983 stating that he was corresponding at the request of Father Patrick Evans in Fairford, “who ministers also the people and area of Cricklade”. The letter continued:
“He is negotiating the possible transfer of St Mary’s Church in Cricklade, and he has been careful to keep me informed of developments. I wish to assure you that he has my support and confidence in this matter. The diocesan trustees are in principle supportive of this move, subject to satisfactory reports from surveyors, etc.”
On 27th June 1983 an inspection was made of the building by Messrs. S.W. Hookway and Company, Chartered Quantity Surveyors for Father Evans. In a covering letter it was noted that: “the extent of repairs needed initially, depends upon the degree of comfort and style that would be required by the local congregation. Or to put it another way, how much discomfort can they tolerate”. This report, which cost £115 to carry out, was considered to be sufficiently encouraging to proceed further. At about this time there was an article in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard, which is worth reproducing in full:
“Hopes for new lease of life for St Mary’s – Religious Services could be resumed at a redundant Cricklade Church within 12 months. Roman Catholics in the town are hoping to take over St Mary’s church, which has been unused for over two years. The Anglican church became redundant in 1981 – 28 years after the two Cricklade parishes amalgamated under the one roof of St Sampson’s St Mary’s was used for occasional services after the amalgamation.
Father Patrick Evans said last week that both the Anglican and Catholic Dioceses were keen to see a deal go ahead. “We just have to bide our time. The wheels of the law and church grind very slowly,” he added.
Father Evans leads a congregation of about 75 Catholics at Cricklade. Since the early 50’s they have met at a small, former Baptist chapel in Calcutt Street. The move to slightly bigger premises in the High Street will be welcomed. “It would be a great tragedy for a beautiful old church like St Mary’s to be put to a purely secular use – as a warehouse, art studio or whatever. We would like to see it kept very much for the purpose for which it was built,” said Father Evans.
The Rev. Ken Withington, vicar of St Sampson’s, was just as happy with the proposal. “We will be delighted if the local Roman Catholics can take over St Mary’s because this will mean it is used for Christian worship again every Sunday, which is what it was intended for,” he said.
St Mary’s Church is a small but beautiful building in Cricklade High Street. Its oldest features date back to Norman times in the 12th century. Many alterations, additions and improvements have been made over the centuries. Basically the church seemed in a good state of repair, explained Father Evans. Some work was needed on the roof and it would have to be decorated inside. The Catholics hope to lease the building for a ‘peppercorn’ rent. There are no plans for the old chapel in Calcutt Street.
In response to this article Reg Coole wrote to Father Evans expressing his delight that the St Mary’s might be used again for worship and wishing the Catholic community success in the venture. He also enquired whether St Augustine’s might be leased by the Cricklade Historical Society as a venue for the museum, which was then housed in a tiny building in the High Street.
Things seemed to be progressing well but in August 1983 Father Evans ceased to be Parish Priest. Father Eamon agreed to become Parish Priest of Fairford and Cricklade but he continued to teach at Prior Park until Christmas and so was not inducted until 7th February 1984. Immediately he was thrown into the negotiations regarding St Mary’s and St Augustine’s and for a time the latter was closed and Mass was celebrated in Prior Park chapel.
On 1st October 1983 Bishop Tinsley, Bishop of Bristol, accompanied by the Catholic Archbishop of Bordeaux, Archbishop Maziers, visited St Mary’s and handed over the key of the Church to Fr Mc Glinchey. Immediately work began and in December 1983 Seymour Aitken provided a full report of the repairs and renovation of the fabric carried out for Father McGlinchey in November and December 1983 which today makes interesting reading:
Roof: work on these repairs was tendered to two local builders, but as they could not undertake it in the time available, or at the price determined, it was awarded to C.Rogers of Lechlade at £450 plus VAT (£517.50). Mortar fillets on the South aisle, and slates were replaced on this and the S. Nave roof. These parts of the roof, and the S. roof in the Sanctuary were found to be in good order, the slates being hard and unlaminated. The ridge was replaced and patched in two places.
There was evidence of some structural collapse, and possibly decay, on the N. slope of the Sanctuary, but it was decided to replace slates rather than probe, as this whole area is covered with relatively soft slate: this part of the roof is not exposed to sun and wind because of the proximity of the vicarage. Gutters were cleared and slates replaced over the N/aisle, where again slates are relatively soft. Minimum disturbance was caused, in the hope that the roof may continue to provide watertight cover for 2 to 5 years. The N. slope over the Nave is in good condition and little replacement was required.
The drain from the tower had splayed onto the fillet on the NW end of the N/aisle dislodging it. This was replaced, and the pipe led down the roof to the concrete bunker beside the tower. The work was completed in 4 days by two men.
NB: It is likely that the N. slope over the chancel, and the roof over the N/aisle will need to be replaced in the course of the next 5 years. However, if slates are not disturbed, they may last indefinitely.
Chancel: Mr. J. O’Leary carried out work on the removal of two choir stalls from either side of the chancel, setting up the panelling from these behind the organ, and along the S. wall upon the platform that he built on treated wood, with 7/8 board covering. The priest’s door was cut by approximately 7” to provide airflow below, and to enable it to be opened over the platform.
Pargetting and Replastering: This work was carried out by Mr. Bill Giles. The original intention was to repair the chancel roof only. Much discussion took place on the nature of the plaster to be used with the advisers of the North Wiltshire District Council. A1/2 mixture of lime putty (slaked lime) and sand was determined, with a couple of handfuls of chopped straw mixed in to provide strength in every two shovelsful. Mr Stirling of North Wiltshire District Council visited the Church on a number of occasions, and showed great concern and interest. Our approach to him was based on the hope of obtaining funds for essential repairs.
Painting: This was done by Mr. V. Wilkes, with some assistance from Mr. W. Giles and Mr. W. New, using Crown Covermatt Soft White on the walls and ceiling of the Nave and N. and S. aisles. The E. wall of the tower, around the Norman arch, and in the Sanctuary were painted in Covermatt Ivory. Wood carving over the N. and S. Aisles and woodwork in the Sanctuary roof and three beams in the Nave, were painted with colourless preservative (Selignum) after being washed, brushed and allowed to dry. This work commenced on December 8th and was scheduled to finish by December 20th, so that cleaning at the Church could be completed before Christmas, and the carpeting and decoration of the Sanctuary be accomplished.
Rising Damp: There is evidence of rising damp in the front (East) three pews of the N> aisle. This may be controlled by digging a I” trench along the outside of the Church from the buttress on the outside wall to a point level with the E Sanctuary wall and filling it with pea grit. Similar action should be taken on the S. wall where the existing trench has become overgrown.
Expenditure : Roof £517.50
The Quantity Surveyor’s report had indicated that £15,000 would be needed to restore the church and it was acknowledged that in due course more permanent and lasting repairs and renovations would be carried out. A heating system was also spoken of !!
Fund-raising began in earnest and a slip of paper records that at one point £812 had been raised as a result of a donation of £150, £62 from the Church Restoration fund box and £600 from the sale of one bell.
In 1976 the bells of St Mary’s fell silent, for age and neglect had made it unsafe for them to be rung again. They were taken out of the tower and stood on the floor of the church. A plan was drawn up to transfer three to St Sampson’s but funds were lacking to move more than one. Fortunately, the second bell was nearly the right pitch to fit St Sampson’s ring so this was moved and re-hung bringing the set to six and providing a new challenge for the ringers. Two of the other bells were donated to Tattingstone church in Suffolk and Catsfield church in Sussex, the Sanctus bell, cast in 1733 with its inscription “Come away make no delay” still remains at St Mary’s.
On 1st January 1984 the Reverend Ken Withington, handed over St Mary’s to Bishop Mervyn and the First Mass was celebrated in the building. The formal handing-over took place in the presence of Rev Gillian Bobbett, Minister of Cricklade United Church who also addressed the Bishop. A year later, on the first Sunday of 1985 St Mary’s was to join St Sampson’s and the United Church by becoming part of the Cricklade local ecumenical partnership.
It is worth recording the word of thanks in the booklet produced for the first Mass:
We are deeply indebted to the Reverend Ken Withington, who encouraged us and then guided us in the taking over of St Mary’s.
Words cannot express what we owe to Mr Aitken of Brook House, who masterminded and then supervised the work of renovation and then the decoration of St Mary’s. Without his unstinting efforts and tireless vigilance, this work could not have been carried out in such a short time and to such satisfaction. We offer him our sincere and heartfelt thanks.
Likewise we are indebted to a host of workers and helping hands: to Mr. Joe O’Leary, our carpenter and carpeter; to Mr Bill New, who gave so much time and put in so much effort in organizing the plastering and the painting; to Mr Apperley, our groundsman and general factotum.
We thank the good ladies of St Sampson’s and our own good ladies for all the cleaning and polishing and especially for the wonderful floral arrangements; all carried out under the supervision of Mrs. Geraldine Dudley.
Our gratitude extends to Mrs. Vera Holbrook, organist for many many years at St Mary’s and our organist today. We sincerely thank the many other hands, seen and unseen, who did so much to bring about this happy occasion.
Not lastly, but indeed firstly, we thank our Bishop, Mervyn Alexander, for gracing us with his presence today, in coming to offer the first Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in St Mary’s.
The Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard produced a photograph of the handover whilst in the March edition of the Clifton Catholic Voice we read:
“600- year old church is Catholic again. There was an occasion of great ecumenical and historic significance at Cricklade, Wilts, in January when a redundant Anglican church which has stood since before the Reformation once more became a centre of Catholic worship.”
“The entire project would not have been possible without the generous help given by prominent local Anglicans, Mr & Mrs Seymour Aitken, of Brook House, Cricklade. Mr Aitken personally planned and supervised an extensive programme of renovation and re-decoration to make the church once more suitable for public worship. On the day of the first Mass, he and Mrs Aitken also invited guests to a reception in their beautiful home.”
27th December 1983 saw the first Catholic baptism in St Mary’s when Father Eamon baptised Justin Watkins, the grandson of Maisie New. Roger Wilcox and his bride Amanda Woodley were the first couple to be married in the church according to the rites of the Roman Catholics but that did not take place until 1986. Sadly Margaret Ridge died on 7th November 1984 and Joe O’Leary on 8th December and both are buried in Cricklade Town Cemetery.
Negotiations continued for the sale of the former St Augustine’s Church to the Town Council and by the end of 1984 it was agreed to sell the property for £20,000, a price substantially lower than its value if it had been sold for residential development. This was in consequence of the help and support offered to the Catholic Church in Cricklade by all sections of the community in the restoration of St Mary’s.
The January 1986 newsletter of the Cricklade Historical Society records:
“1985 has been a memorable year for the Society, the main event being the acquisition of a new Museum building. This was formerly a Nonconformist Chapel and later the Roman Catholic Church of St Augustine of Canterbury, standing close to the site of the Saxon east gate of the borough. This project would not have been possible but for the generous and prompt action by the Cricklade Town Council who purchased the property and had already commenced renovations. These will enable us to occupy the museum towards the end of this year.”
“When the Catholics moved into St Mary’s, the Town Council seized the opportunity to buy their church, an attractive early Victorian building, which has been renovated and will be leased to the Historical Society.”
On 5th June 1984 a Parish Meeting took place at Cricklade to discuss various issues. These included:
The Mass: Sunday Mass: Holyday of Obligation – time
Weekday Masses : Morning or Evening ?
Altar Servers : High Masses; Choir ?
Church Rotas for Readers; cleaning, Flowers; Ushers.
Work to be done (voluntary) Baptism Font; Trench outside; wardrobe, Falling water drain; cemetery; grass.
Other Work : Church notice board; water; outside light
Necessities : Votive Candle stand; glass fronted case; bookcase; baptism booklets; marriage booklets; funeral booklets; lectionary; Stations of the Cross; Baptism Book Register; Marriage Book register.
Means: Social functions; coffee mornings; wine & cheese; sales; jumble; mini-marts; continuous programme; weekly offering envelopes.
During the first 20 weeks in St Mary’s the parish had received £1912.44 through donations and fund-raising and had spent £2597.51 moving into their new home. Things were clearly going well and in the newsletter for 16th December 1984 Fr Eamon was able to announce “Last Sunday at Cricklade we had possibly the biggest number for Holy Communion since the opening day last January 1st”.
To be continued……
With thanks to Michael and Doreen Gannon and their son Dr Mark Gannon.
Although this beautiful Church contains many fine Anglican fittings its transition to Catholic usage has necessitated the acquisition of a number of devotional objects and other furnishings some of which are of interest.
The Holy Water Stoup was installed by David Greaves of Dike & Sons of Cirencester in memory of Joe O’Leary who died in 1984 shortly after the church was re-opened. Joe had been involved in the acquisition of the church and he constructed the wooden platform for the sanctuary. The Font was given a new lead liner in 2001 by Cox & Hall of Tetbury.
The Stations of the Cross were sponsored by various families in the parish and were blessed by Fr Eamon McGlinchey on 18th February 1986.
he nineteenth century Statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception was the gift of the Sisters of St Clotilde who ran a school at Lechlade Manor from 1939 to 1998. It is probably French in origin. The pedestal comes from the former Benedictine Convent at Fernham which closed in 2002. The wrought iron votive candle stand was the gift of Christine Spearing. The other statues in the church are of St Joseph and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The Tabernacle or Aumbry for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament was installed in 1990 and its brass canopy was added by Lesley Webb of Fairford in 2000. The Altar beneath the Tabernacle was used at Prior Park Chapel and then in the old St Augustine’s Church. The hanging Sanctuary Lamp is made of beaten brass and was made for the Church of St Teresa of Lisieux in Taunton when it was opened in 1959. Bill Pankhurst, a blacksmith from Oakridge Lynch, forged the wrought iron bracket.
The Altar Table is covered by an English oak top that was made by Den Hatchett of the Cricklade Craft Workshop and it incorporates a marble altar stone from the Convent at Lechlade.
The oak Rood above the Chancel arch was carved by Patrick Conoley of Hartpury in 1960 when he was working for R.L. Boulton & Sons of Cheltenham. It was commissioned for the Chapel of the Annunciation at Lechlade where it hung behind the altar until the closure of the chapel in 1998. Patrick Conoley is a sculptor with over fifty years of experience and since 1965 he has worked as a free-lance sculptor and has completed over 300 commissions in wood, stone and marble including a carving of St Thomas of Canterbury at Fairford. The small wooden Crucifix in the Sanctuary was carved in Oberammagau and presented to the church by Dorothy Foreman of Purton.
The carved wooden Crucifix in St Augustine’s Chapel was the gift of Fernham Abbey and the wrought iron Advent Candle Stand comes from St Clotilde’s Convent at Lechlade.
The Altar Frontal in St Augustine’s Chapel was presented (with matching tabernacle curtains) to St Thomas’s Fairford by Monsieur Rene Tondeur ‘in thanksgiving’ and is on loan to St Mary’s. Monsieur Tondeur died in 1974.
1938 – 1943 Rev. Edmond MacSweeney Parish Priest of Fairford
1943 – 1952 Rev. Thomas P. Staunton Parish Priest of Cirencester
(1952 – 1953 Rev. Francis Daly acting Parish Priest of Cirencester)
Jan 1953 – 1983 Rev. John O’Donnell Parish Priest of Cirencester
(The Church of St Augustine of Canterbury was opened in 1955)
1983 Rev. Patrick Evans Parish Priest of Fairford
1983 -1993 Rev. Eamon McGlinchey Parish Priest of Fairford
(The keys of St Mary’s Church were handed over on 1st October 1983)
1993 -1997 Rev. Anthony Fejer Parish Priest of Fairford
1997 -1998 Rev. Michael D’Arcy Walsh Parish Priest of Fairford
1998 – 2004 Rev. Richard J. Barton Parish Priest of Fairford with Cricklade
2004 – 2006 Rev. Patrick W.H. Eastman Priest-in-Charge of Fairford with Cricklade
2006 – Rev. Philip Beisly Parish Priest of Fairford with Cricklade
See also: ‘Medieval Catholic Churches in the U.K. – St Mary’s Catholic Church, Cricklade – so its not unique after all!’