A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

Tetbury Catholic Mission 1880-1884


By Richard Barton (1991)

Recently, I was looking through the Diocesan archives in the Bristol Record Office and I came across some correspondence relating to the late nineteenth century mission at Tetbury. These letters between the Missioner at Malmesbury and Bishop Clifford give an interesting insight into the way in which a small Mass Station was served at that time.

The author of the essay entitled, ‘One Hundred Years of Catholic History in Tetbury’, which was published in the commemorative brochure produced in 1981, gives us the following details about the early days of the mission:

‘In his book (1882) Wesley Brown mentions all the denominations in the Town but makes no mention of Catholics who didn’t have a church. However, they did have a Sunday Mass at the time as we know from Fr. Larive’s account book and from a local magazine.

In the issue of January 1881, a local magazine, under the heading, ‘Roman Catholics in Tetbury’, reported: ‘We understand that the Baron de Brienen has taken a large room at the home of Mr. Hugginson, Confectioner of the Town, and fitted it up with necessities for a place of worship. The congregation, at present, numbers twenty or thirty’.’

The 1881 census return for Tetbury reveals that the Baron and Baroness de Brienen lived at The Priory, in the Chipping, with their three daughters, namely Ida, Charlotte and Margaret. The baron, aged forty-one years, was described as a land proprietor and his birthplace was given as The Hague. His wife was a native of Canada and their staff of nineteen included an Austrian governess, a French cook and two Dutch servants. The Baron subscribed, regularly, to the Tetbury Cottage Hospital during the years 1878 to 1885 and, these dates probably represents the period that the family resided in Tetbury.

Kelly’s Directory for the year 1885 reveals that Mr. Frederick Hugginson, Cook and Confectioner, had premises in Market Place and Church Street, Tetbury. The 1881 census return lists the family as residing at Market Place, so it was probably in these premises that Father Larive celebrated Mass. Hugginson, himself, was described as a Confectioner Grocer and he was born in the town in about 1840.

Father Francis Larive, the Fransalian Missioner at Malmesbury, arrived in the town in 1867 and built a church there in 1875. By the year 1884 he was a sick man and so worn out that he was forced to resign the Malmesbury Mission and return to France.

Father Breen, the Archivist of the Fransalians, researched these early days of Tetbury and he wrote the following:

From what I have been able to find there is little in our Provincial Archives on Tetbury. It is possible that there is more in the Archives as Annecy. Just one item of interest has come to light and that is a small notebook written by Father Larive, himself. It lists his parishioners and, under Tetbury, there are four families:

(I) J. Freeman, Master of the Workhouse  

Mrs Freeman, Matron of the Workhouse

Their children – Agnes Freeman, John Freeman, Jose Joseph Freeman and Clement Freeman.

(II) James Sweeney, His second wife a Protestant, Catherine

Frederick James, son of his first wife, Elizabeth

Gertrude, daughter of his first wife

The children of his second wife – Elizabeth Mary, Ellen Nora, James Archibald and Joseph George.


(III) Emile Williams, a coloured man, wife Protestant

Reginald, born 16th June 1880.


(IV) At Mrs. Vanstones House. A Protestant

Annie Bridgeman, 2 years old, baptised Woodchester

Agnes Bridgeman, 3 years old. Mother died, Father lives in Avening.

The Correspondence

With the letters is a small statement of Accounts For First Year 1881:

Baron de Brienen £36-0-0d

Diocesan Fund £5-0-0d

Offertory £18-6-0d

Total: £59-6-0d


Rent of Room for Chapel £22-0-0d

Fitting up Chapel £8-0-0d

Fares to and fro £15-0-0d

Total: £45-0-0d

Cleared £14-6-0d

First Letter which was sent from Malmesbury on 28th November 1882 to Bishop Clifford:

My Lord,

I received last Sunday Your Lordship’s decision respecting Tetbury and at once accepted it. But before the closing of the day I could see my way out of the difficulties which Your Lordship referred and as I was considering whether I might or not take the liberty of submitting my views to Your Lordship, Father Decompoix arrived here. Having acquainted him with Your Lordship’s decision I showed him, by facts and figures, how the work at Tetbury appeared to me feasible without injuring my health and with a profit of at least £15 for the Mission of Malmesbury, for the three winter months during which Mass would be said in Tetbury. My plan appeared practicable to both Father Decompoix and Father Rey and, as they advised me to submit it to Your Lordship, I beg, most respectfully, leave to do so, trusting on Your Lordship’s forgiveness at again drawing your attention to this matter.

If it pleased Your Lordship to approve our undertaking the work, it would enable us to teach the children their catechism and prepare for First Communion and Confirmation such of them as are bound to receive the sacraments and thereby to counteract the sad consequences of their attendance at Protestant schools for their childhood. I cannot lose sight of my responsibility for the souls of the children who are within the district of my mission.

The enclosed statement shows that there would also be a sum of between £15 and £20 left for the priest for his services during the 3 winter months. This sum would be of great help to us, as the property of the mission at Malmesbury has lately suffered greatly by the heavy rains and the flood. I have this week paid £8-9-3d for repairs and there is more to pay. All my resources are drained completely.

Yours etc.


A Scheme for serving Tetbury from Malmesbury during the 3 winter months 1882-83

The Rev Fr Rey being proposed for the work.

19 Sundays and Days of Obligation from Dec. 1882 to March 1883.

After the day of the re-opening at Tetbury the duty there would be done by Fr. Rey.


From Baron de Brienen £40

From local contributions £2

From Offertory (5s) per Sunday and Holy Days as before £4-15-0

Total income: £46-15-0d

Deducting Expenses of £25-16-0d

Balance left for Priest £20-19-0d


Hire of Chapel at 12s per Sunday and Holy Day £11-8-0d

A fly and breakfast at 12s per Sunday and Holy Day £11-8-0d

Altar wine, candles etc. (at £1 per month) £3-0-0d

Total expenditure: £25-16-0d

Nothing to pay for chapel fittings, the old ones are available.

The result of this letter was that, on 30th November 1882, Bishop Clifford gave permission for Father Rey to serve Tetbury but only on the condition that Father Larive did not attend Tebury, presumably, because of his illness.


Second Letter which was sent from Malmesbury on 4th December 1882 to Bishop Clifford:

‘My Lord,

On the receipt of Your Lordship’s letter of 30th inst. On Friday morning I went to Tetbury to inform the Baron of Your Lordship’s permission of having Mass said at Tetbury on Sundays and Holidays of Obligation for the months of December 1882, January and February 1883 and the conditions laid down by Your Lordship. The Baron was very glad and very thankful and as he wished to have Mass on Sunday 3rd inst. I secured the same room which we used as a temporary chapel last year for the said three months for a rent of £5-10s.

I went on Saturday morning by omnibus to Tetbury to fit up the temporary chapel and to give notice to the Catholics of the place and neighbourhood and to have everything ready for Sunday 3rd inst. As the landlord of the house lets apartments I had a very comfortable bedroom and a sitting room with fire and attendance for the two nights of Saturday and Sunday. I therefore remained at Tetbury from Saturday morning to Monday morning when I returned by omnibus to Malmesbury.

Mass was said at 10.30 and attended by 16 Catholics and 2 Protestant men who seem to be in earnest about knowing the truth concerning our Faith, both living in Tetbury.

In the afternoon I catechised the children (5) and had service for the congregation at which the Catholics attended as in the morning (except the Baron). To them were added 5 or 6 reputable Protestant men and one Protestant woman whose husband is one of the Catholics of the place.

Everything went off quietly, all were much pleased and one of the Protestant men expressed to me his regret that he had not a larger place.

My expense was as follows:

Omnibus fares on Saturday and Monday 2s

Apartment 3s

Breakfast, dinner, tea and supper 3s 2d

Total: 8s 2d

That made of serving Tetbury in every way better than by taking a conveyance on Sunday morning. First because for a closed conveyance to Tetbury and back to Malmesbury they charge 10/-. Second because it gives the priest more time to take care of the Catholics there, as he can always have an afternoon or evening service. Third because it secures more rest to the priest having a warm and comfortable sitting room to himself where he can converse with such as he wants to see or who may wish to see him, from Saturday evening to Monday morning.

I think it right to explain this better mode to Your Lordship because I shall want Your Lordship’s permission to go there occasionally on Sundays or days of obligation, particularly when Father Rey’s presence is wanted here on certain Saturday evenings for hearing confessions. Also on Christmas Day when he has to be at Rodbourne for the Midnight Mass which the ladies have obtained from Mr. V. Clarke.

The Baron has paid to me £40 in advance which enables me to pay the heavy liability which we have incurred by the repairs of the property here as stated in my last letter.

Yours etc.


This request was granted by Bishop Clifford.

Third Letter which was sent from Malmesbury on 15th December 1883 to Bishop Clifford:

My Lord,

I have seen the Franciscan Father before I left Malmesbury this evening and as he told me that tomorrow is the last Sunday of their services for Malmesbury I write at once for instruction from Your Lordship with respect to Tetbury. On receiving Your Lordship’s letter respecting the Rev. Mr. Dunhaw not coming to me at Malmesbury, I wrote to our Superior and asked him whether he could send me a Father.

In his reply, which I received today, he says that he regrets he cannot send me one and added, ‘Supplied Monsigneur with an auxillary ad tempis.’ I suppose Your Lordship can give me no further help, and therefore I beg to submit to Your Lordship’s decision what I believe I can do if Your Lordship approves of me trying it.

I propose to come on Saturday evening to sleep at Tetbury where I have a comfortable bedroom. Then on Sunday morning to say an early Mass for the congregation at 9 o’clock and then taking a cab I would leave Tetbury at 10 o’clock and arrive in good time to say (by duplicating) the 2nd Mass at Malmesbury a little after half past 10 o’clock. The distance being only five miles.

As we have hired the chapel room for a quarter I think it right to propose this plan before coming to the conclusion of closing Tetbury.

Yours etc.


Concluding note: Tetbury

Baron de Brienen pays £25 rent

Room is £22 a year (£1-18-8d a month)

Offertory: 6/- a Sunday

Father Larive duplicates, pay 5/- for Mass

Catholics 25-30

Father Larive left Malmesbury, for France, in about August 1884 so, it would seem, his Tetbury Mission floundered, having lasted from December 1880 until the winter of 1883/4. Sadly, we do not know whether Bishop Clifford permitted Father Larive to finish his Tetbury season.

Fifteen years later he was sent back to England as parish priest of Petersfield and there, old, deaf, with failing sight and increasing sickness, he met with antagonism from the benefactors of the mission who wrote letters of complaint to his superiors. He wrote in his diary that he was lonely, had no consolation in prayer, no health, no consideration and no spiritual comfort. He had given his all for the return of the faith to Malmesbury and Tetbury. One day in 1893 he was found kneeling at his bedside, dead.







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