A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
In recording the spread of the Catholic Faith in the outlying area of the City of Gloucester it is essential that we remember the ‘Mother Church’ of St Peter, the building of which commenced in 1859 and its predecessor which was built before 1800. The Priest at the time of the building of the present church, Father Leonard Calderbank, had been appointed in 1850, the year of the Restoration of the Hierarchy and by 1864, when he died, the sanctuary, the altar, the side chapel and four boys of the nave had been completed.
Canon Calderbank was succeeded by the wealthy Dr George Case, nicknamed ‘Jewel Case’, who immediately set about completing the church. The old presbytery was pulled down, the nave extended to the street and the tower and spire were erected. On October 8th, 1863, the church was solemnly consecrated by the Bishop of Clifton, the Rt. Rev. Dr William Clifford.
During these years the population of Gloucester rapidly increased and this was reflected in the growth of the Catholic community. In 1813 the Catholic population in Gloucester totalled forty out of a population in the City of about eight thousand. By the year 1840 the total number of Catholics had grown to two hundred and fifty and the City’s population in 1851 exceeded seventeen thousand.
Considerable improvements had continued to be made to the church by Canon Barron, who was the priest-in-charge from 1878 to 1894, his major achievement being the extension to the school. The year 1894 began the long and memorable ministry of Canon Joseph Bernard Chard who was to be at St. Peter’s for a period of forty years retiring in April 1934 as a result of a period of ill health. He was succeeded by Father Roche (who, by the time of his death in 1992, having served nearly fifty years in Gloucester, had become ‘Rt. Rev. Monsignor Canon Provost Matthew Roche, Protonotary Apostolic’).
The years before the Second World War saw great industrial development in and around the area and, outside of the City, new housing estates were being built. Courage and vision were certainly not lacking in the person of Father Roche who supervised, with ever increasing effort, the spectacular expansion of the Catholic population and the challenges that this brought during the 1930’s and in the five decades which followed.
On Sunday, November 22nd, 1942, a group of Catholics in the outlying village of Brockworth gathered together for a unique occasion. Parish member John Williamson indeed felt proud and elated as it was his privilege to serve the first recorded Mass to be celebrated in the area since the days of the Reformation. Canon Roche was the officiating priest and rightly so, for his was the vision to create a Catholic community in this village lying at the foot of Coopers Hill and the Cotswold escarpment, about five and a half miles from the centre of the City.
Brockworth, situated on the main route from the east, the road we now know as Ermin Street, was on the main thoroughfare leading to the first fordable part of the Severn, and its history of human habitation dates back to the New Stone Age and even beyond. During the period known as the ‘Iron Age’, about 500 B.C. the people living in the area fortified the summit of Cooper’s Hill with a rampart and protective mounds and ditches. Other earthworks were built to the east in Witcombe Woods and at Birdlip. Up on the hill, in a grave containing the remains of a woman of noble birth, a beautifully designed bronze mirror was discovered. This was clearly the work of skilled craftsmen and the ‘Birdlip Mirror’ can be seen in Gloucester Museum. In 1966 a man working on his allotment in Court Road found a flint scraper such as would have been used to clean the skins of animals killed in the hunt and it probably originates from this period.
The road through Brockworth heard the tramp of the Roman Legions as the conquerors took over this area and later marches from the Port of Gloucester, or as they knew it Glevum, would have taken them over the hill to Cirencester, the great Roman provincial centre, named Corinium. Known Roman villas were located at Hucclecote, Crickley Hill and Witcombe, and fragments of Roman pottery have been found in the area, together with coins and Roman nails. It was during the Saxon period, around 600 A.D., that the village was called Brocwurthin, the ‘wurthin’ (enclosure) by the ‘broo’ (brook), this being presumably the Horsebere Brook and the Saxons renamed the Roman road ‘Iter XIII’ calling it ‘Ermin Street’, as it is known today. In the Domesday Book of 1086 references were made to ‘Brocowardinge’. Certainly, the village of Brockworth has a long history of human activity.
Turning to more recent times the Gloster Aircraft factory was located within the civil parish and some of the greatest names in the history of military aviation were developed here. The Gloster Gladiator, the fighter of World War One fame, was one and its prowess extended into the period of the Second World War. The Hawker Hurricanes took off from our local air-strip to defend this island realm and it was here, under the direction of Frank Whittle, that the earliest jet planes made their first appearance.
In fact, it was in the straggling collection of buildings adjoining the aircraft factory and airstrip, in which workers were housed, that the Hostel cinema was located. This cinema was the location for that first Mass celebrated by Canon Roche in 1942.
Realising the need for a suitable building in which to hold weekly services the small group of parishioners from the Brockworth area began organizing activities to raise funds towards establishing a new Catholic parish. These pioneers included Mrs. Copley, Anne Molloy and Ruth Williamson and their helpers. The team conducted regular house to house collections appealing for a shilling per week from each Catholic living in the area.
In 1946 the property, ‘Rathlea’, where the local post-master had resided, was purchased for £5,000 by Canon Roche along with two acres of land and this house is now St. Patrick’s Presbytery. A new hall was planned for the site and voluntary labour was required to dig out the footings. It was at this point that help arrived in the form of a group of Irish building workers, men living at the Hostel. Working in their spare time, during the evenings and at weekends, they saved St. Peter’s Parish thousands of pounds by removing tons of earth to enable the concrete foundations to be laid in the deep trenches and in the excavated areas. Canon Roche appreciated this enormous contribution and he asked the men to suggest a saint to whom the new hall should be dedicatedo and the answer that came back from them was unanimous – St. Patrick.
The erection of the new church hall at Brockworth proceeded steadily and on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 1954, the Foundation Stone was solemnly blessed. In that same year an extra one acre of land adjoining the site was purchased for the sum of £1, 125.
The architect of the hall was Mr. Egbert A. Leah, of William and Egbert Leah, and the building contractors were Messrs Costelloe and Kemple. Mention should be made of the team of volunteers who spent many hours cleaning the wooden blocks which had been purchased second-hand to form the floor of the new hall. Canon Roche was quite naturally very impressed by their huge effort and saw it as an indication of the enthusiasm that his Brockworth parishioners had for the hall project.
1955 proved to be momentous for the Brockworth Catholic community for it was in that year, on St. Patrick’s Day, that the Right Reverend Joseph Rudderham, Bishop of Clifton, came to bless St. Patrick’s Hall and to celebrate a first Mass in the building with his Brockworth flock. The building had been designed for both religious and social use. However, in the short term the hall was to be a chapel-of-ease to St. Peter’s and it soon hosted its first marriage that of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Long, natives of County Cork, in Ireland. The social activities which took place there in the years that followed were often fund-raising ventures that would enable the eventual construction of a proper Roman Catholic Church for those living in the Hucclecote, Witcombe and Brockworth areas.
Whist drives took place in the homes of parishioners, namely the Mesdames, Loveseys and Mayos. Fund-raisers were held such as social evenings and an exciting venture was the Dramatic Group which was directed by Mr. Mayo. Dances were arranged by Joy and Michael Hickey and on Saturday, July 6th, 1957, there was a Summer Fete held on the land adjoining the hall.
During these years Brockworth Catholics were served by the priests who came out to them from St. Peter’s. however, on September 24th, 1960, Brockworth was given its own priest, namely Fr. John F. McCarthy and it became a canonical parish. His objectives were to build a proper church and, in the longer term, to establish a school and the latter has not been realised.
Ordained in 1944, when he was only twenty-four, Father McCarthy had trained for seven years at St. John’s Seminary, Waterford. His first curacy was served at St. Nicholas’s Church in Bristol, where he stayed six years. He then moved to St. John’s Parish in Trowbridge for four years before spending a further six years as the assistant priest in Minehead. Brockworth then was to be his first charge as Parish Priest. Peter Hickey was the first baby that he baptised in St. Patrick’s Hall.
The task of building a church was a formidable one especially when the congregation was still relatively small. A way forward was to run bingo evenings and these commenced in 1960 under the direction of Father McCarthy. His volunteer helpers did sterling work and over the years raised considerable revenue for the parish and drew people to St. Patrick’s Hall from the wider community. Their names include:
Within a period of seven years the bingo had nearly raised the target figure of £30,000 and so, on 3rd April 1966, the church was commenced. A site next to St. Patrick’s Hall was cleared and, by June 1967, the first steel supports had been erected. On 5th August 1967 the Foundation Stone of St. Patrick’s Church, Brockworth, was solemnly laid by Canon Roche.
The architects of the new church were Ivor Day and O’Brien of 48, Queen’s Square, Bristol. Their design was certainly impressive with a modern feel creating something of a landmark in Ermin Street in contrast to the medieval Parish Church which lay on the edge of the sprawling housing estates. The interior sense of height was enhanced with tall window lights filled with Italian stained glass lights. This enhancement was made possible as a result of generous donations made by Mr. and Mrs. Maddox. Other benefactors to the church included Marie McManus, James Savodnikas, Tom O’Neill and Sam Heaney.
At 7pm on Wednesday October 2nd, 1968, the Church of St. Patrick was solemnly blessed and opened by Bishop Rudderham.
The parish, still in its infancy, continued to raise money and attract the Roman Catholics who moved into the area. Sadly, in 1968, having existed for fourteen years, the Brockworth branch of the Union of Catholic Mothers was disbanded. Support had diminished but over the years it had contributed hugely to fund-raising events and the general life of the new parish.
After thirteen years as Parish Priest, Father McCarthy moved on to a larger parish in the Bristol area. His departure, on 4th July, 1973, was marked with a special Mass and afterwards there were appropriate presentations both to him and to his housekeeper, June Gough. During his time in Brockworth Fr McCarthy had helped to build a thriving parish and he had supported his parishioners in completely clearing the debt on the church.
On the day after Father McCarthy’s departure the new parish priest arrived, namely, Father Bartholomew Collins. He had been educated at St. Finbarr’s Diocesan Seminary, Cork, and at St. Kieran’s College in Kilkenny before being ordained on June 7th, 1942. Like his predecessor Father Collins he had served as curate at St. Nicholas’s in Bristol before moving to St. Joseph’s Church in Fishponds in 1945. Four years later he became the Parish Priest of Wellington but his stay was relatively short as he moved to Dursley with Nympsfield in 1951. Finally, he served fourteen years back at St. Joseph’s Fishponds, this time as Parish Priest, before his appointment to Brockworth in 1973. On his arrival he published the first parish newsletter in which he thanked people for their warm welcome.
The parish was changing as new people arrived and as the early pioneers were aging, moving away from the area or dying. Patrick Molloy, for instance, began serving at eighty years old and was going strong at eighty-eight and James Cooney and his wife were still involved with the life of the church at the age of eighty-four.
Fund-raising continued with twice weekly bingo evenings in the hall and annual bazaars. In 1973 alone £173 was raised from the bazaar and within two years the November bazaar had increased its profits to £278.
The News Letter became an important means of communication with parishioners and its editor, Miss Monica Phillips, became adept at typing the stencils and duplicating the sheets.
On Friday, September 10th, 1976, a meeting was held to organise a Girl Guide company in the parish to be led by Monica Phillips and Patricia Webb. The group was registered as the 2nd Brockworth (St. Patrick’s) and soon the girls were gaining badges and attending camps as far afield as Cowley, the Malvern and even Wales. The young people in general were not forgotten and on December 10th, 1977, a weekly youth club came into being. At first it met on Saturday evenings from 7.30pm until 10.00pm but after the first year this was changed to Sunday, after the evening Mass. This prospered under the guidance of volunteers such as Bert and Pat Chivers, Chris Griffin, Pat Gildes, Ray Richards, John Archer, Garry Whelan and Danny Hennessey. Michael Griffin was also involved with deanery youth work.
In 1965 William Buxton had formed a branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul helped by James Jackson and others. After closing for a few years, it was re-formed in 1980 and developed a pattern of weekly meetings offering help to the lonely and those in need. Local social concern was complimented by an interest in issues further afield and a Mother Teresa Group developed in the parish with monthly meetings and collections of clothes for people in need around the world. The Legion of Mary was also established in St. Patrick’s Parish and the Liturgy at the time was supported by a folk group.
Many of St. Patrick’s parishioners resided in the area of Hucclecote and it was decided in March 1977 to celebrate a 10.30am Mass on Sundays at Hucclecote Community Centre. Father Collins celebrated this Mass weekly with, sometimes, as many as one hundred worshippers.
After acquiring a suitable property in Court Road, Brockworth, situated close to St. George’s Parish Church and the historic Brockworth Court, the Sisters of the Presentation of Our Lady arrived to take up residence during October 1977. Besides pastoral work some of the sisters taught at the local primary schools of St. Thomas More in Hester’s Way, Cheltenham, and St. Mary’s in Churchdown.
The Christmas bazaars at St. Patrick’s continued to prosper raising £544 in 1979 and £582 in 1980. Not only did this swell the parish coffers but charities such as CAFOD and the work of the Sisters of Mother Teresa were generously supported too. Building projects continued. In 1980 it was decided that the under-floor electric heating in the church was proving too costly, so it was decided to install new gas heating systems for both the church and hall.
It was also agreed that it would be beneficial to create a new entrance area or Narthex for the church and to install a pipe organ over the new porch to replace the small electronic instrument. The parish had received various legacies and with the continued fund-raising sufficient funds had been accrued to commence work. Ivor Day, O’Brien and Stevens, architects, designed the extension and in December 1980 the imposing new entrance was opened. Its construction enabled a more welcoming environment for worshippers especially wheelchair users and brides were now able to properly walk down the central aisle.
A suitable pipe organ was obtained, at a bargain price, and installed in the gallery by Victor Saville during February 1981. This has provided a far more worthy instrument and is played by the parish organists Denis O’Connor and Anthony Kilroy.
On the evening of Friday June 12th, 1981, a large congregation gathered for the Solemn Dedication of St. Patrick’s Church. This was celebrated by the Right Reverend Mervyn Alexander, Bishop of Clifton, in the company of the Abbot of Prinknash and many clergy, friends and parishioners. Members of the Prinknash community formed the choir and Anthony Kilroy was the organist. Amongst the concelebrating clergy were the three priests who had enabled the church to be built and later enhanced namely, Canon Roche, Father McCarthy and Father Collins.
During the ceremony relics of the saints were set into the altar and these included St. Oliver Plunkett, St. Maria Goretti, St. Martin de Porres and St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. The walls of the church and the altar were anointed with chrism, marked by consecration crosses, and incense and holy water were used to hallow the altar and building. After this wonderful celebration over 200 parishioners enjoyed the excellent refreshments laid out in the hall by Mr. and Mrs. Treasure and many other helpers.
Writing this account at the time of this Solemn Dedication ceremony, Bob Berry concluded by saying:
‘Perhaps now is the time for everyone to ponder on how they can assist in some way or other to help their parish continue to build on the firm foundations, in our case, laid down twenty-five years ago, by that small group of Catholics who lived in the Brockworth and Hucclecote areas.’
With thanks to Mrs Patricia O’Connor for making available these notes written by the late Bob Berry for the Dedication of St. Patrick’s Church in 1981.
This short article was compiled by me as a brief parish history for the boys who served at the altar. We had recently set up a branch of the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen and we had about twenty members at that time.
Near to Brockworth Court is the ancient Church of St. George which was consecrated in 1142. It is well worth a visit because, before the Reformation, Catholic Mass would have been celebrated here, regularly, as this was the Parish Church. The church and manor were owned by the priests of Llanthony Priory, which was situated between the present Docks in Gloucester and the village of Hempstead. These priests were Augustinian Canons and they lived at the Priory until it was disbanded in 1539, during the reign of King Henry VIII. All that now remains of Llanthony Priory are some ruins.
The Reformation was a complicated period in England’s history and, I am sure, you will study it at school. As a result of it church services were altered and statues, stained glass, vestments and other ornaments were removed from churches. Not everyone approved of these changes and, one such person, was William Webley, a farmer of Droy’s Court, Brockworth, who was captured with the martyr, St. Edmund Campion, in 1581. He was released from prison a week later because, unlike Campion, he agreed to attend the new style services at the Parish Church. Campion was executed but William Webley lived until 1614 and his body was buried in Brockworth churchyard.
St. George’s Brockworth is not the only ancient church situated within the Brockworth area. The Church of St. Mary, Great Witcombe; St. Bartholomew’s, on the top of Chosen Hill, and St. Lawrence’s, Barnwood, are all over 800 years old. These ancient churches have been partly re-built or added to over the years. There was no ancient church in Hucclecote so the people who lived there would have gone to the church at Barnwood. The present Church of England Parish Church at Hucclecote is only about 140 years old.
Before 1540 Gloucester Cathedral was an Abbey Church, rather like Prinknash Abbey is today, the home of a community of Benedictine monks. At that time the bishop for this area was the Bishop of Worcester. The Abbey of St. Peter at Gloucester owned a lot of land and the monk’s property in the Brockworth area included the church at Barnwood and the grange at Prinknash. The last Abbot of St. Peter’s Abbey was William Parker and he was the head monk at Gloucester for twenty-four years before his death in 1539. During the time he was Abbot he built the tower of Barnwood Church and he enlarged St. Peter’s Grange, at Prinknash, which he used as his country home. Mass was celebrated at Prinknash from as early as 1339, but Abbot Parker is believed to have built most of the present chapel in St. Peter’s Grange.
After Queen Mary died, in 1558, Catholic Mass would rarely have been celebrated in the Brockworth area as it was illegal to be a Catholic priest or even to attend Mass. As you will remember, two priests and a poor glover were executed in Gloucester during the 1580’s and other priests and supporters were imprisoned in Gloucester Gaol.
In about the year 1643, John Theyer, who lived at Coopers Hill, became a Roman Catholic. His grandmother was the sister of Richard Hart, the last Prior of Llanthony Priory, who had been responsible for building the east wing of Brockworth Court, as the Canons of Llanthony owned much of the land at Brockworth, before 1539. John Theyer was a Royalist, keen supporter of King Charles I, as well as being an avid collector of historical books. When he died, in 1673, his library was sold and volumes included a large number from the old Llanthony Priory. Some of these fine books ended up in the King’s Library and others are now at Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. No doubt Catholic priests visited John Theyer’s house and Mass would have been celebrated, secretly, there. Theyer is buried in the churchyard of St. George’s Brockworth.
During the reign of King James II (1685-1688) the laws against Catholics were less strictly enforced as the King said that he wanted to introduce Religious Tolerance and to allow freedom of conscience for all of his subjects. A chapel at the Court House or Tolsey was set up for a time as a place for Catholic worship for the City. This building stood on the site now occupied by Burtons at the Cross. The King, who was himself a Roman Catholic, even attended Mass there when he visited Gloucester in the year 1687. When the ‘Glorious Revolution’ was unleashed and King was overthrown, during the following year, this chapel was stripped of its fittings and the Dominican Friar who was in Gloucester was thrown in prison. A Benedictine monk had been appointed as Master of Sir Thomas Rich’s Bluecoat School, by King James, but he was forced to go into hiding. The mob attacked the home of the Compton Family who lived at Hartpury, near Gloucester, because they were Catholics, and ‘Papist’ members of the Corporation lost their positions.
In 1717 a Catholic priest was living at Leckhampton but the only Catholic that we know of living in the Brockworth area was Giles Bingle of Barnwood. Very few Catholics lived around here and, in fact in 1717, there were only thirty houses in the village of Brockworth, in total. In 1782 a Franciscan Friar came from his home, near Monmouth, to celebrate Mass, at Gloucester, from time to time. Six years later a Catholic priest came to live in Gloucester, probably the first since the departure of King James II. In 1791 it became legal to build Catholic churches and, in the following year, a small purpose-built red brick chapel was opened in the garden of the priest’s house – on the site of the present St. Peter’s Church in London Road.
Gradually the number of Catholics living in Gloucester grew and St. Peter’s Church was built to hold them all. It was started 130 years ago and it took nine years to complete it. In 1835 St. Peter’s School was opened which was the fore-runner of St. Peter’s High School and the Junior and Infant Schools in Horton Road.
On 22nd November, 1942, the first Mass, for many years, was celebrated in Brockworth, by Monsignor Matthew Roche, who was the Parish Priest of St. Peter’s Gloucester before Father Michael English. The service took place in the cinema of the workers’ hostel at the Gloucester Aircraft Company. This would have been somewhere near I.C.I. Some of the older members of our congregation can probably remember this event. Mass was celebrated regularly there and, ten years later, the Priest’s House, then called Rathlea, on Ermin Street, was bought by the Diocese. Two years later it was decided to build a proper hall and, if you look at the foundation stone, you will see the date that it was laid. The hall was opened on 17th March, 1955, by the Bishop of Clifton, Dr Joseph Rudderham. The 17th March is, of course, significant because it is St. Patrick’s Day and this hall became the first St. Patrick’s Church. In 1960, Brockworth was made a separate parish and Father John McCarthy was appointed as the first Parish Priest. Before 1960 the priests from St. Peter’s would have celebrated Mass in the hall.
It was quickly decided that a proper church should be erected and, in 1967, the building was commenced. There is, again, a foundation stone. On 2nd October, during the following year, the present church was solemnly opened by the Bishop. The font was originally at the back of the church and the main entrance was to the side. In 1980 the present entrance was constructed and, shortly afterwards, the organ was installed.
On 12th June 1981 a special event took place – Bishop Mervyn Alexander dedicated (consecrated) the Church. The relics were placed in the altar and the four consecration candles around the inside of the church were lit for the first time. These candles mark where the wall were sealed, like the altar, with the Oil of Chrism.
Mass has been celebrated at other places in the parish. The Benedictine monks of Caldey Island, near Tenby, moved to Prinknash Park in 1928. They were left the house by Mr. Thomas Dyer-Edwardes, who became a Catholic in 1924, and this gift was enabled by his grandson, the Earl of Rothes. Originally the monks lived in Abbot Parker’s old country home, St. Peter’s Grange, but in 1939 the monks started to build a huge new abbey. Fund-raising stopped because of the outbreak of the Second World War, and the present Abbey building, erected on the 1939 foundations, was not opened until 1972.
Between Prinknash Abbey and Brockworth is Taena. This used to be known as Whitley Court until a community of Catholic families and craftsmen moved there in 1952. Their chapel was blessed by the Abbot of Prinknash and Mass has been celebrated there ever since. Mass also used to be celebrated at the Hucclecote Community Centre from 1977 until about 1984. The Sisters of the Presentation moved into their convent in Court Road on 2nd October 1977. Before their move to Brockworth they lived for two years in Cheltenham.
PARISH PRIESTS OF ST. PATRICK’S BROCKWORTH
1960-1973 Rev. John F. McCarthy
1973-1985 Rev. Bartholomew Collins
1985- Rev. John Brennan