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.

Francis Larive

Fr Francis Larive

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.



Notes concerning the Fransalian Mission at Malmesbury by the Late Donald Halliday


The saintly Fr. Francis Larive, M.S.F.S., died at Petersfield, Hants, 28th May, 1893 (in what many people at that time thought of as the “odour of sanctity”).

“His sadness was not entirely personal, but came partly, as with many sensitive people, from the realisation that life itself is sad. To offset depression he had the Christian revelation of hope and love, which meant much to him.” (Derek Hudson, of Lewis Carroll, in his “Lewis Carroll”) “There is a sadness in coming to the end of anything in Life. Man’s instinct clings to the Life that will never end”. (Lewis Carroll)

Extract from “Catholics in Oxford”, by Father Martindale, S.J.

“We cannot but record the name of Brother Dewell, a lay brother of the Society, who died on April 10, 1899. Before joining the Society he was captain in a line regiment and saw service in India, Candia and elsewhere; and on becoming a religious devoted his not inconsiderable possessions to the service of God’s poor. He spent some fifteen years at St Aloysius’s, and his name became incredibly beloved by the distressed and the suffering. He was buried in the cemetery at Botley on April 13.”

It is interesting to recall that it was this same Captain (later “Brother”) Dewell who, in 1861, introduced the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales to England in the person of Fr. Francis Larive, M.S.F.S. – which led, in 1875, to the building of the charming little church of St. Aldhelm in his (Captain Dewell’s) home-town of Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

August 12th, 1987.

Leaf plucked from the grave in Botley Cemetery, North Hinksey Lane, Oxford, of Captain Brother Dewell of the Society of Jesus, who died on April 10th, 1899. In 1861 he had brought from India to his home-town of Malmesbury, in Wiltshire, Fr. Francis Larive, M.S.F.S. – thus introducing into England the “Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales” (Fransalian Fathers).


Botley Cemetery is next door to 20 North Hinksey Lane (where I am writing this). I must take a photograph of his grave which is close to the cemetery chapel. There is a picture of him in the church at Devizes, Wiltshire – which is still served by the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales.

St Aldhelm’s Malmesbury, is one of my firm favourites among the many R.C. Churches in Britain which I have visited. I find it wholly charming, containing, as it does, Fr. Larive’s historic statue of Our Lady of La Salette, and three fine stained-glass windows from the dear old pro-Cathedral at Clifton.

20th February, 1995.

I have been trying to discover the Christian name of Captain Dewell for you – but have failed to make it out on his grave, for the lettering is so worn by time (nearly 100 years) that it is hard to decipher. I think, however, that it may have been Charles – but I will continue my endeavours to discover it. I took a photograph of the grave, and will let you have one when it is developed. It is just a simple stone (of granite) cross hard-by the Cemetery chapel.

I have been to Tetbury, and also to Stonehouse when it was still M.S.F.S.. I was not aware that Father Larive had thought of starting a mission in Tetbury in the 1880’s. The Congregation is very short of vocations in England nowadays, as you will know. One wonders what the future holds for it (and for so many others as well now). It seems only to flourish in India at this present time and I was told recently that its next Superior-General is almost certainly to be an Indian. It may well be so. Whatever happens in the future the Salesians of Annecy (Fransalians) have become part of the history of your diocese of Clifton. It seems a pity that they gave up their nice house at Cheltenham.



An article from the Clifton Directory by Father B. Harrison M.S.F.S. written during the 1950’s :-

‘Many years were to pass before Mass was again said in Tetbury. Father T. Morrin, the parish priest at Malmesbury, said Mass at Chavenage near Tetbury for Belgian Refugees during the First Great War, but it was not until 1936 that Mass began to be said regularly in Tetbury. In that year Father Anthonioz, a successor of Father Morrin at Malmesbury, arranged for Mass to be said every Sunday in a room at York House, Silver Street, strangely enough no more than fifty yards from the house of Mr. Hugginson “confectioner of this town” where Mass had been said fifty-five years before.

The congregation at York House continued to grow and another milestone was passed when Midnight Mass was said for the first time in Tetbury on Christmas Day 1938.

The outbreak of war in 1939 brought more Catholics into Tetbury and district with the coming of Evacuees, civil servants and others. The chapel in York House became too crowded so the priests from Malmesbury arranged for Mass to be said in a large room at Oak House, The Chipping. This room too, soon proved to be inadequate for the growing congregation, and after a few months the ballroom at the White Hart was used for the celebration of Mass on Sunday mornings.

In September 1941, a further and greater step forward was taken. In that month the Zoar Baptist Chapel, built of solid Cotswold stone, was purchased at a public auction and converted into a permanent Catholic church. The church was solemnly blessed and opened by the Right Reverend William Lee, then Bishop of Clifton, on the Feast of Christ the King, October 26th, 1941. It is an interesting fact that Bishop Lee said the first Mass in this former Non-Conformist chapel only a few yards from the Anglican parish church where one of his predecessors in the see of Clifton, Bishop Brownlow, had officiated in his Anglican days as the curate at this same church.

After the opening of the new church Father H. Ford was appointed the first resident priest at Tetbury since the Reformation. Fr. Ford lived at No. 17, The Chipping but the Presbytery now is York House where the Catholics of Tetbury used to attend Mass in 1936. York House is also the Noviciate House for the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales who are charged with the care of the parish.’



The priest-in-charge from 1953 was the Rev. James Lahiff M.S.F.S. :-

‘On Sunday 3rd June 1956 a Corpus Christi procession was held at Tetbury for the first time for many years. Parishioners of St. Michael’s followed the Blessed Sacrament as it was carried from the Church to the Presbytery lawn, where Benediction was celebrated at an outdoor altar by the Parish Priest, Father Lahiff. A group of young girls dressed in white preceded the Blessed Sacrament, strewing flowers on the route. After the Benediction the procession returned to the Church, where Father Lahiff preached a sermon on the Holy Eucharist.’ (Wilts & Glos Standard, 9-6-1956)

In September 1958 the Clifton Diocesan Trustees bought a piece of land with a hut from the Salvation Army for £160 and this became the Church Hall.





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