A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PARISH FOR THE ALTAR SERVERS
By Richard Barton (April 1989)
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 1960the 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