A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
From Hatherop to Fairford – The Catholic Mission 1780-1867
by Richard Barton and Brian Torode
When I took up my duties as the new pastor in the various parishes in which I served around the Clifton Diocese, I would try to draw into my first Sunday homily, words from Bishop Charles Walmesley, Vicar-Apostolic of the Western District. Writing to William Hull, the new pastor at Hatherop, he encouraged him to be zealous in his ministry:
October 24th, 1780
I send you my best wishes and my blessing on your arrival at Hathrope. I hope you’ll be careful and diligent in attending your flock, even those who are at a distance, and to get a knowledge of them as soon as you can. On Sundays and Holydays never fail of giving them due instructions, which in a little time will be, I hope, of your own composition. Catechism in particular must never be omitted on the Sunday. It is a very essential article; and endeavour to explain it in the most clear and intelligible manner, and by that means it will be profitable both to the children and the upgrown people.
It is necessary to avoid idleness, and the use of time must be accounted for to the Almighty, particularly by those of your character. Employ yourself therefore in composing Discourses for the instruction of the people, and in preparing your thoughts for the explanation of the Catechism. Be assiduous in reading the Scriptures and the proper Comments upon them, the Moral and Practical treatises of Divinity, and suitable books of Spirituality. Such must be your employments, both for your own satisfaction and the benefit of your people. (I flatter myself you will cordially undertake these exercises, and what others your own experience may hereafter point out to you. My services shall not be wanting, whenever necessary.) C.W.
In the churchyard, at Hatherop, lies the body of one of the last chaplains, the Rev. Francis Leigh, who died in February 1830. It is said that he was for some years in London before coming to Gloucestershire. His sister lies next to him under a similar tombstone. The Catholic Directory for 1813, includes a notice of death ‘July 3, Mrs Dorothy Leigh at Hatherop.’ This looks as if she may have been his mother or sister. There would appear to have been no resident priest after Francis Leigh for the Laity Directory of 1837 stated that the Hatherop Mission was served once a month from Courtfield, the home of the Vaughans in the Wye Valley. The Chaplain was Fr John J. Reeve, alias Power, a former Jesuit, who served Courtfield from 1834 to 1843. During the late 1830’s the Hatherop Mission was served from Prior Park in Bath.
The Hatherop Mission was clearly in gradual decline. Further correspondence from the time of Bishop Walmesley (1770-97) states that the Webb Family provided an annual allowance of £80 for a priest at Hatherop of which £30 was for the incumbent himself, £10 for maintaining a horse, £10 for the upkeep of the chapel and the remainder for assisting the poor. However, as the year passed Webb family life concentrated on their houses in Wiltshire and Dorset, and Hatherop became less important as a political and social centre. By the second half of the century the Gloucestershire county historians were describing the estate as dilapidated, though, as Fr Leigh’s correspondence shows, the Webb Family had ensured that the chapel and the priest’s accommodation were in a decent state of repair, and the Hatherop mission seems almost certainly to have continued uninterrupted.
Not only did the Webbs support the Catholic mission at Hatherop but, also, Gloucester too. In the Gloucester register there is an extract from the Rev J. Birdsall’s Memoirs of the Gloucester Mission – communicated to be by Miss Fanny Blount of Leamington.
‘The letter from Sir John Webb to Bp Walmesley, saying that Bp Talbot (V.A. of the London District) & his successors were to nominate the Priest for Gloucester, and is dated August 9th 1788. Seven or eight hundred pounds of the 1000 guineas placed in Bp Talbot’s hands by Sir John Webb are said to have been left for the above purpose by Sir John Webb’s daughter, who died at Hotwells, Bristol, in 1787.
Rev Mr Gildart left Gloucester May 15 1789 & was succeeded by Rev Mr Greenway, who purchased the house & garden. He died Nov 29 1800 much regretted – he was buried near the wall under the pews between the two windows nearest the altar.’
Returning to Hatherop, ‘The Diary of a Country Parson’ reveals that, on 10th January 1823, the Reverend F.E. Witts dined and slept at the home of the Rector of Coln St Dennis, and during this visit he,
‘met there a Mr Lee, a Roman Catholic priest, residing at Hatherop where he has a chapel. Sir John Webb formerly possessor of Hatherop estate was a Roman Catholic. The present owner is Mr. Ponsonby whose wife, Lady Barbara Ashley, is granddaughter and heiress of Sir John and daughter of the late Earl of Shaftesbury’.
In 1814 Lady Barbara Ashley-Cooper had married the Hon. William F. Ponsonby, third son of the Earl of Bessborough. He was raised to the Peerage as Baron de Mauley in 1838 – a title adopted from the ancient Barony de Mauley to which his wife was co-heir. As the estate came to the Webbs by the heiress of the Blomers, so it passed from them by their heiress marrying the Earl of Shaftesbury, and so eventually it fell to Lord de Mauley.
In 1844 Hatherop Castle was damaged by fire and Lord de Mauley decided to completely rebuild it. His architect was Henry Clutton whose ‘good Gothic design’ was exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1848. Clutton was to become a Catholic himself in 1857. William de Mauley died in 1855 and his son Charles inherited the estate and continued the building programme. However, in 1862 his brother sold Hatherop and the property was bought by Maharajah Dhuleep Singh. Teresa Llewellyn wrote in her diary in May 1857,
‘thence we went to Hatherop, a place adjoining Williamstrip. Mama remembers it as an old place inhabited by a Roman Catholic priest – and now it is rebuilt and is partly rebuilding still, by the present owner.’
The Baroness de Mauley died at 19 Albemarle Street, London on 5th June 1844. She was only fifty-three years old and the cause of death was given, on her death certificate, as epilepsy. In the Mortuary Chapel of Hatherop Church there is a most exquisite recumbent effigy of Lady de Mauley, sculptured in the purest white marble by an Italian artist; Raffaelle Monti, she lies in perfect beauty, dressed in white satin, the texture of which can almost be felt. It was executed in 1848, the year Monti fled to England after serving in the Risorgimento. The marble effigy is placed on a rather poor Perpendicular tomb chest with free-standing sculptured kneeling angels at both ends. The whole elaborate French Gothic mortuary chapel was clearly influenced by William Burges and its carved decorations include the letter B reminding us that this whole chapel is in memory of Barbara, Lady de Mauley.
The Catholic chapel remained intact at Hatherop Castle until the death of Lady de Mauley, after which her husband closed the house to the Catholic religion. It appears to have been decided, at some time before this, that the chapel would be closed and so Lady de Mauley had left £300 in her will (Stapleton) towards the cost of building a new church. Lord de Mauley was to make a contribution in memory of his wife and he also paid a stipend of £40 per annum to the Missioner, but this ceased in 1888 (according to local historian, Celia Willant). He had promised his wife that he would support the local Catholics even though both he and his sons were members of the Established Church.
Before the death of Lady de Mauley, during the twelve months following 1st January 1839, we find these statistics for the Hathrop Mission in the Bishop’s archives:
‘Hathrop. Baptisms 2. Marriages and deaths 0 – 0. Communions 10. Conversions 0. Census 36.
For some months after the chapel closed, Mass was celebrated in the gamekeeper’s cottage at Coln St Aldwyns, about a mile off, and it is still remembered how one day the good woman of the house had stowed away a covey of young partridges beneath the altar and they made their escape during Mass. In the 1851 census returns Edward Peach is described as a gamekeeper and he is listed as living in a cottage at Quenington, with his wife, Anne, and sons, Thomas and Richard, who were described as oxmen. The youngest son, William, was shown as a sixteen-year-old ploughboy.
Edward Peach was the nephew of Father Edward Peach (1770-1839) who was, in turn, the son of Richard and Mary Peach of Hatherop. When the priest died in Birmingham, having built the first St Chad’s Church in 1809, he left his nephew, Edward of Coln St Aldwyns, his best suit, 3 shirts, mackintosh cloak and a copy of his “Practical Reflections exemplified”. Father Edward Peach was in turn the nephew of Father Henry Peach who was born in Gloucestershire back in 1732. Members of the Peach family are interred in St Thomas’s churchyard at Fairford.
Canon Mitchell, whilst living at Chipping Norton, had served the chapel at Hatherop for several years, riding over once a month to say Mass. For sixteen years Mitchell laboured body and soul, in Chipping Norton to promote the welfare of his own people and to found the new mission of Fairford upon the wreck of the Hatherop mission. He utilized the roomy presbytery at Chipping Norton by taking foreign youths as pupils. His straightforward manner in an argument won for him much respect amongst his Anglican neighbours, and it is told that once, after a lengthy and unsatisfactory controversy in Jackson’s Journal, his opponent came to him appealingly with, ‘Let us stop this argument at once; come and lunch with me, and you shall choose any oil painting you like in my library, only let us stop.’ Canon Mitchell accepted the invitation and also the picture, but only upon condition that the painting should be hung over the altar in his church as a testimony that he had not weakly withdrawn from the battle’.
Mitchell was described as, ‘not a man given to social intercourse for the pleasure of it, but no one among his flock ever had reason to complain at his want of sympathy and real kindness in their troubles or perplexities.’ In 1853 he exchanged livings with Rev John Fanning and moved to Taunton where he was Rector until 1899.
In 1892, Mitchell wrote,
‘I went to Chipping Norton on £50 per annum. It was a small country town of about 2-3000 inhabitants. I was asked when I had been there a short time to take Fairford and of course Cirencester. I refused Dr Baines. Dr Walsh a long time after asked me to oblige him by trying & if I found the distance too great to give it up. I did so. I have sometimes ridden eleven miles to say Mass, in rain, snow and all kinds of winter weather. Sometimes it was seven, or five, and I had to go back to breakfast at the same place. There was no house to celebrate in and I procured a keeper’s lodge, which had only two rooms one below and one above. I was obliged to sit on empty bags under a tree to hear confessions etc. when there was someone ill in the upper room.’
In a letter, written to the Bishop of the Western District, in November 1846, Mitchell filled in some of the more recent history at Hatherop. He wrote,
‘the priest who preceded me was unfortunately deranged. He died so. He was not accountable for his actions and gave much annoyance to Lord de Mauley and others. I, Mitchell, have no doubt, however, that his conduct was exaggerated. Labouring under his vicissitudes Lord de Mauley met Dr Baines’ solicitor for the good of religion with an indignant refusal and treated the Bishop in a most unworthy manner during the existence of this misunderstanding. I took charge of the few people there and we were driven from one cottage to another amidst the insults of the villagers and the parson who belongs to the aristocracy. I complained to Lord de Mauley of the treatment. He said “if there was imprudence on the on the side there ought to be a double share of prudence on the other to make things even’ by dint, at last, of firmness and perseverance religion has so far been kept alive”.
On 11th March 1845 Fr John Mitchell wrote to Bishop Baggs, The Vicar Apostolic of the Western District,
‘Knowing that a chapel is to be erected, enemies of our religion are executing all their power to poison the minds of the community against Catholics, the most rabid lectures are delivered from the pulpits etc. I am very anxious to have a place where I can assemble the people in order to neutralise these effects. I have been doing all in my power for the mission and my private appeals amount to this – £30 a year in perpetuity for the support of the priest after the death of two old servants.
All I am waiting for is £200 from Lord de Mauley and I have the plans made. I want to begin as soon as possible in the spring – I have everything ready and all I need will be £100. The Mission is nothing at present – it is only in prospect that I look upon it with interest. I have clung to it firmly through every reverse and multiplied annoyances. I shall delight in the thought of having at last, a chapel.’
The establishment of the new mission at Fairford was enabled by Richard and Dorothy Iles of Reevey Farm, Kempsford. The farmer and his wife had been received into the Catholic Church on 30th December, 1843, because, it is said, they were concerned because a clergyman of the established church would not tend one of their dying labourers.
Canon Mitchell wrote to Mrs Iles on 30th December, 1893:
‘Taunton, Decr 30 / 93
Dear Mrs Iles,
On this day 50 years ago, you remind me, thro your (long) letter, that you recd the blessings of the Holy Church at my hands. As I near the point when the examination will take place I have hopes that the good works of those whom I recd into the church will plead for me.
I am carried back in mind to the very distant past and memories are awakened full of interest. My very humble efforts at that time to keep the mission from utter destruction were untiring. Active – Ardent -Zealous & in the full (vigor) of youth, I remember riding eleven miles in the rain to say mass at the keeper’s house, & riding back the same distance to breakfast. My catechism class consisted of grown up old men. The oldest was John Betterton (75) the youngest over 50.
Mrs Peach had left a nest of Partridges under the table where I was saying Mass and in the middle of it they flew out alarming me much. On one occasion immediately I rode up to the door she was waiting for me & described the beating Peach had given her. She said that her arm was quite purified by his violence. The (t) had evidently made its escape from her alphabet. I heard confessions seated on empty sacks under a tree when the upper room was engaged by the sick. The only real comfort was your quiet and hospitable house which I much enjoyed.
The Bishop of Birmingham is with me and time is difficult to monopolize so I must wish you & Mr Iles and family the blessings of the holy season & a happy new year with many returns of the same.
Very (sincerely yours
Canon J. Mitchell
P.S. Great running for the Derby consider the winning post within sight, & Canon Brownlow of Plymouth fully a-head.
Records indicate that on 1st Feb 1845, John Hanks & and a Trustee released cottages etc at Horcott to Richard Iles. On 29th January 1846 the appointment of hereditaments passed from Iles to Mitchell. With further donations from Catholics it had been possible to buy land at Horcott but it is said that at the time no vendor would risk selling land for the purpose of erecting a Catholic Church. On 1st April 1867 this land was conveyed by Mitchell to the diocese of Clifton and it consisted of the site of three cottages with some garden ground situate at Horcott, a strip of garden extending from the site of the cottages up to the footpath leading from Horcott and containing 1 rood and 16 perches, and a piece of land 2 roods and 30 perches lying between the two footpaths “leading from Fairford to Horcott, and Horcott Lane.”
In 1897, Richard Iles wrote to Canon Russell saying,
‘I bought the land for the mission, that is the land on which the church stands with grounds and gardens thereto belonging. Canon Mitchell built the chapel. Lord de Mauley contributed £200 (I believe). Canon Mitchell collected the residue required for building the church.’
The Church of St Thomas of Canterbury was a simple buttressed church , in lancet style, consisting of chancel and nave with a west porch, a small adjoining sacristy and a thin bellcote. It was built during 1845 at a cost of £700. When it was opened, the only ornament was the stained glass window above the altar, depicting St Thomas of Canterbury and flanked with scenes from the lives of Pope St Gregory the Great and St Augustine of Canterbury. We have no details of the architect or builder but it has been said that Pugin may have influenced the design of the building. The construction of the roof and other details are certainly reminiscent of some of Pugin’s humbler churches in England, Ireland and in Australia. Interestingly, we know that in May 1842, Pugin sketched Fairford Parish Church and he visited the town again in July 1850.
The Reverend John Mitchell performed the opening ceremony and celebrated the first Mass in the building on Sunday 12th October 1845. Fr Pascal O’Farrell, the Franciscan Priest from St Mary-on-the-Quay in Bristol, preached at the High Mass and Dr Daniel Rock, the Chaplain at Buckland, preached in the evening. When Fr Pascal died he was the last survivor of the Post Reformation Franciscan Province in England. Dr Rock, a friend and supporter of Pugin, was himself an eminent ecclesiologist and antiquarian who had served for many years as Chaplain to Lord Shrewsbury at Alton Towers before moving to Buckland. Dr Rock can be seen in the mainstream of that liturgical movement, of which Augustus Welby Pugin is the best known representative, which sought to restore medieval worship in all its exuberance. Monsignor Crichton has since written, ‘They wanted churches furnished with roods and screens with burning lights before altars and shrines, chantry chapels and the whole disorderly profusion of late medieval objects’.
Some notes concerning the history of the parish written by Miss Celia Willant include the note – ‘the church is reputed to have been designed by Pugin and could well be of his style’ but this is unlikely.
In September 1845, Mitchell was able to write to the Bishop that there was an income of £60 per annum for the priest and, together with other benefits, he felt that this would be sufficient to enable the appointment of a resident priest. He added that monthly duty was not sufficient. On November 10th he wrote again stating,
‘My Lord, sending by this post deeds of Fairford Mission, as I have given it up to Father Austin as regards duty. I consider I have now done with the mission and I hope in your Lordship’s hands it will not be permitted to die out after the difficulties sustained in preventing its extinction.
I had someone from Oscott – Prendergast – in mind. ‘Mr Iles gave the ground and has enclosed it partially at his own expense and has offered hospitality to the officiating priest. He and his wife are converts of only two years and may be considered the founders of the mission.
Lady Newburgh has left £30 per annum for ever to the Mission.
Lord de Mauley is a very difficult character to deal with and unless a new appointment has his approval, he might withdraw his payments, as he has threatened to do.
Please acknowledge receipt of deeds.’
On 15th February, 1846, Lord de Mauley wrote to Mitchell saying,
‘I have much pleasure in remitting to you your remaining £100 of my contribution towards the chapel. But I wish to (make it) understood with reference to any arrangements for the future which you may think fit to make with the Bishop of the District that I do not assent to the chapel being called the Lady de Mauley Chapel which would imply that I admitted a claim for its future maintenance upon her family. The Chapel at Hatherop House was a private chapel for the use of the Webb Family as long as they remained there. It was so considered by Sir John ,by Lady de Mauley & by myself when I was obliged to maintain it, I offered the Bishop of the District to contribute to any arrangement which would be satisfactory to his Roman Catholics in the neighbourhood. Lady de Mauley fully concurred with me in the view which I took. ‘
‘As long as it suits you to discharge the duties there, I shall be most happy to continue the small annual contribution which has hitherto been made. But in the event of you withdrawing…’
When the Church was opened it had no resident Missioner but in March of the following year William Leigh invited the Passionists to begin a Mission at Northfields, near Woodchester Park and for a time they looked after Fairford. On Easter Sunday 1846, Blessed Dominic Barberi travelled over to the new church at Fairford where he celebrated Mass, there being no resident priest. Father Augustine, from the Passionist Retreat at Northfields, Nailsworth, was the Missioner and we know from the Baptismal Register at Woodchester that, during 1846, he baptised Emma Thorn of Hatherop on 20th August, William Bowles of Hatherop on 5th July, William Petty of Kempsford on 16th August and Richard Albert Iles on 6th September.
Mitchell wrote, once more, to the Bishop on 10th June, 1846,
‘Please consider as soon as possible the want of a Missioner at Fairford in Gloucestershire. I have built a small chapel and sacristy there with a view of establishing a mission as there is no Catholic place of worship within a circle of 20 miles. The chapel is small and unpretending, but it is out of debt and the ground around it is about an acre. There is about £60 a year for a priest and a charitable lady has left £30 annually on the death of two very old domestics. The property is at present in my own name, but I would wish to make it over to the district when the Mission is supplied with a resident priest.’
Clearly nothing happened for Mitchell wrote to the bishop, again, on 16th November, 1846,
‘I sent the deeds so that they could be dealt with as soon as possible. They are in my name as there was no Bishop of the District at the time. The value of the living is Lord de Mauley £40, Lady Newburgh £10, Mr Iles £10 and Mr Murphy £5, Your Lordship’s donation £20.
It is hoped that a missioner will be sent before the death of Lord de Mauley as his £40 will otherwise be discontinued. Prudence more than anything else will be required of the resident pastor…
Things are going along nicely now, but Lord de Mauley said he will not continue his £40 longer than my ministry. I need to know who the new priest will be.’
On 31st December 1846 Richard Iles wrote to Fr Mitchell about the unsatisfactory situation at Fairford:
Reverend and dear Sir,
I am sorry I cannot report to you quite a favourable progress of the Mission at present. I am quite aware that it is not my place to find fault with Father Dominic but I cannot help telling you that there appears to be wanting at Northfield House, a little order in the arrangements of their affairs. When Fr Austin was here on the first Sunday in November he gave out that he should come again on the 1st Sunday in December. About a fortnight before the appointed day I had a letter saying he had been ordered to Manchester and he would be here a week sooner than he had said. He then said he could not fix his next day, but would let me know in time; it was to be Christmas Day or the following Sunday. Three weeks passed and I heard nothing. I wrote, but he was not at home. I received an answer from Father Marcellian saying Father Austin would be here on Sunday. I had just time to let the Catholics know, but in consequence of all these alterations many Protestants have stayed away not knowing when to come – hence a very thin congregation. It seems to me, Fr Dominic or Fr Marcellian (now Superior at Northfields) might have made better arrangements!
Mrs Petty made her 1st Communion last Sunday – an edifying convert. Two more have been some time on the anvil and are nearly hammered out. Mrs Powell is one and one of my servant’s mother. Both have made up their minds to become Catholics.
Mrs Powell is anxious to place her little boy under your care. If you will admit him to your school. He is now just 8 years old, wants strict management. Pleased to tell you little Tom is nearly recovered. The tumour has been taken out. We have all colds, in fact I think I never remember a time when colds and influenza are so prevalent as at present. Please give compliments to Mrs Mahony.
Yours, R.A. Iles’
Mary Powell, the sister of Dorothy Iles, had married John Powell a maltster from Donnington Mill. By 1851 Mary Powell was living as a widow in the Market Square in Fairford. In her will of 1888 she left her household to her daughter Anne Exton Powell. Other properties included her dwelling houses and premises and also land at the Moors. This estate left to her daughter and son Joseph Louis Powell. Her estate was worth £412-11-4d. When Anna Exton Powell’s own will was proved in 1891 she had left her investments to St Thomas’s upon the death of her brother.
Two of the Arkell family had become Catholics and now there is evidence of their brother John showing interest too. Fr Austin wrote to the Bishop on 9th July 1847,
‘I have heard of John Arkell at the Iles’ as one not indisposed to the Catholic religion, but had no idea they were so warm as his letter shows. Everything persuades me Swindon is important to secure. I am sure if the ground did not suit it could easily be sold again. I asked a Dr Fowler at Swindon, to look out a room for use as a chapel in Old Swindon. This John Arkell who writes the enclosed letter is brother-in-law to Mr Iles. I have never been to Arkell’s place, but know it is not far from the Cricklade Road, near Upper Stratton.’
The enclosed letter from John Arkell to Fr Austin, dated 7th July 1847, is preserved in the diocesan archives and reads,
‘On account of the wonderful change in the minds of so many in the county within the last few years, I’ve written to Mr Lee of Woodchester, to see if he has a sum of money he is desirous of investing in land or any other true Catholic who will do the same. The land is cheap and could be resold at a good profit and profit used to buy a church and house for a priest. There is a need for privacy of course, this would be the first church in this part of Wiltshire since the Reformation. Please pass on this letter to Mr Lee.’
He then described where the land was situated – between the Stratton to Swindon Station and the Town – an ‘ideal spot for a church and only a walk from Swindon New Town.’ It was to be sold at the Bell Inn, Swindon on Monday next.
On November 28th 1847 Iles wrote to the Bishop saying that the state of the Mission at Fairford was now serious and that there had been no Mass since 1st Sunday of October. Fr Marcellian said that due to the absence of Fr Austin from Stroud they could no longer supply Fairford, but that there would be a resident priest within a month – Dr Fergusson.
‘But a month, and another, has passed I wrote to Dr Fergusson and got no reply. Our chapel is at present shut up and both Catholics and Protestants are looking to me for answers. I need to be able to give answers.’
Bishop Ullathorne wrote on 2nd December 1847,
‘I thank you for your respected letter and assure you that the want of a priest for Fairford has pressed upon my mind ever since I came to the District. I have thrice several times appointed priests for that mission and on each occasion some particular circumstance has prevented my fulfilling my design. I had fully expected that Dr Fergusson would have been there a considerable time since, but the affairs of the Catholic Institute have delayed this arrangement and also kept me in a state of incertitude which has prevented my looking out for another person. A week or two will now decide whether we are to have Fr Fergusson ‘s services or not. If not, I will then immediately look out for another priest. The death of Mr Harley of Gloucester prevented my sending one whom I had fully calculated on for that mission. I should wish much to pay you a visit myself but very pressing engagements, for which see the enclosed pastoral, prevent me from leaving this quarter at present. You will oblige me by communicating the substance of this letter to as many of the congregation as you conveniently can. Wishing you, dear Sir and your family, all blessings and hoping it will not be long before you are provided with a Pastor.’
On 11th December Mitchell wrote to the Bishop to say,
‘I took Dr Fergusson to Fairford and he is just the person required for the infant mission. He has good city connections which will be useful to the mission. His doctor said he was not to do too heavy duty without help. Fairford is a very healthy vicinity and the duty so slight, it will not interfere with the requirements of an invalid. I thought I would write so as you are forewarned when considering Dr Fergusson.’
An appointment was imminent and, on 10th December, Fergusson was able to inform the Bishop,
‘I have been ill lately, but arrive for the Feast of Conception. Have seen Chapel and also a house to be let which would be suitable. I think this country place will agree with my health and I will be able to undertake the duties of the place.
If you are going to appoint me, I need help as there is nowhere in the Mission, except the chapel. I need to know so I can give an answer to the owner of the house.’
The appointment was made and Bishop Ullathorne again received a letter from Dr Fergusson at Kempsford stating that he was grateful to the Bishop and was returning to London to plan for his move.
On 8th January 1848 Fergusson wrote stating that he proposed being in Fairford by the next day but unfortunately he had problems with furniture, with the grant and with expenses. He said he had been promised some vestments and that he had some things of his own for the church of good design and he hoped to see Fairford beginning well. He added that he trusted that he would be there by next Sunday, the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, the anniversary of his first communion at St. Mary’s Sydney, when the work would be commenced.
Unfortunately, things went badly at Fairford and Dr Fergusson wrote to the Bishop on 7th April 1848,
‘Having been here three months I must say it cannot maintain a resident priest because there is only an income of £70 per annum and of this rent and a servant use up £21. The nearest priest is 16 miles off and going to him for confession is not less than £10 per annum. This leaves £39. £15 goes on my clothes. That leaves £24 to keep myself and a servant and the expenses of church. I cannot stay here. Also, there is the improbability of saying Mass except on Sunday which makes me unhappy and the solitude of the place makes me feel anxious to leave it before it plays seriously on my mind. A relative, a convert, who has just finished building a church near London, has asked me to serve it. May I request an exeat from the Western District?
Fergusson wrote to the Bishop Ullathorne again, on 13th, this time from Bristol,
‘I came here this morning hoping to see you and explain what brought me here.
When I first went to Fairford, I expected to have pupils for helping with income. However, as your Lordship said this was not appropriate, I lost chance of such a lucrative income. Lord de Mauley is too preoccupied with re-building Hatherop Castle to help me. I have only received one quarter’s allowance so far. I cannot stay and would again request an exeat, so I can go to Fulham – the builder of the church, Mrs Bowden, is a relative of mine.’
Bishop Wiseman of the London District appointed Dr Fergusson to Fulham and, after a chaser, Bishop Ullathorne eventually wrote in the May saying that he would be prepared to release Fergusson from Fairford as soon as his place was supplied but that it may take two or three months to find a substitute.
Clearly the situation at Fairford was changing and already the growth of Swindon was becoming a factor. In 1848 it is said that there were six Catholic families living in Swindon. The names of their fathers have come down to us. They were Thomas Deasy, Patrick burns, Owen Murphy, Patrick Miles, Patrick Norris and James Atkinson. As there was no church or priest nearer than Fairford, these six men resolved to walk there every Sunday – a distance of fourteen miles – to hear Mass. After a brief period, they persuaded the priest to come to Swindon once a month to say Mass for their families, and any other Catholics in the vicinity. This Mass was celebrated at the Greyhound Inn which still exists in Westcott Place.
Returning to the correspondence, the next letter is dated 27th November 1848 and comes from Fr Patrick Kelly, the new Missioner at Fairford, and he wrote to the Bishop informing him that the day before the congregation had been seven of whom five gave a penny each and the remainder given by two of the congregation brought the offertory to 15s-1d. He added,
‘I will be in Bristol soon to tell you about the Mission and the difficulties I have had to struggle since arrival. I might as well sa,y that sooner than give up the Mission, I was obliged to apply to a friend for a loan of twenty pounds, to purchase furniture there being no possibility of receiving any accommodation in this wretched bigotted village. I have promised to repay by December but find the congregation here insufficient to provide the commonest necessities of life with house rent etc. I have to trouble you with this hoping you can meet my engagements and provide the only other alternative of selling the effects to pay the debt. Wishing your Lordship many happy years in your exalted position.’
Again things clearly did not improve for we have another letter dated 31st December from Mr Iles to the Bishop,
‘Mr Kelly, having left this Mission, is it your intention to appoint another? The reason for asking is that attached to the chapel is nearly an acre of garden land, unoccupied, for which I have had several applications – a Catholic close by whose husband would be glad to occupy it. I fear Lord de Mauley will cease his £40 unless an appointment is made, especially as Mr Kelly left so suddenly without notice.’
Celia Willant wrote that Kelly, who was born in Clonfert in 1797, liked change and often only stayed in a mission for less than a year
The Passionists once again took care of the Fairford Mission but Iles continued to correspond with the Bishop. On 7th March 1849 he wrote,
‘I met Mr Mitchell at Chipping Norton and told him that I thought the Mission was not likely to be permanently supplied for some time. However, it must be settled soon as Lord de Mauley is an old man and, if he dies, his £40 will be discontinued.
If you agree Mitchell will make over the property to any religious order who would staff it. If nothing is done, the only alternative is to sell the property and shut up the mission.
It is due to Mitchell that the Mission was established; Dr Baines pressed it on de Mauley but he refused; Dr Baggs couldn’t take it on due to finance etc. therefore Mitchell took it on. Dr Baggs was thrilled and told me so. I thought I had better let you know.’
At about this time the Passionist, Fr Austin Edgar or Augustine of the Mother of God, drew up a census of local Catholics but pointed out that ‘the Catholics know so little of each other that there may be a number more.’ He had heard ten confessions at Swindon. In all there were sixty-five Catholics, which included four boys, thirty communicants and eight converts.
At Cirencester there were twenty-three Catholics made up of seven converts, twelve communicants, five not yet communicants, three of communion age and two baptised. At Hatherop there were two communicants but six names are known, fourteen children, six of communion age, one goes to the Protestant Church and two others are baptised. At Lechlade there are two communicants. At Fairford the only communicants were Mary Powell and her children and Sarah Macdonald. At Swindon thirty-nine names were given – an English Catholic and his wife, Duffy, a painter, name unknown and a Frenchman, name unknown.. It is said that Father Augustine did much to encourage the small number of Catholics in the Swindon area.
Fr Augustine Grotti left Northfields for Aston Hall in the middle of the year and, shortly before the Superior, Fr Marcellianus Pini died on 14th March at the age of twenty-nine, Fr Vincent Grotti or Vincent of St Joseph arrived at Northfields. He eventually became the Superior or Missioner-Apostolic at Woodchester and then at Broadway when they moved there.
On 27th October 1849 Mitchell wrote from Chipping Norton to the Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District, saying,
‘My health has been very indifferent. I was seized with sickness and diorrhea which continued its violence for three hours from 12 till 3 and the doctor at last brought it under, and I felt a few days after somewhat better and I set out for the opening of Woochester but I was attacked again and was obliged to remain two or three days in a village half way before I could return. I am therefore anxious to have a short respite from duty and Mr Heffernan (of Heythrop) has engaged to do my duty and take care of my people with your Lordship’s sanction of course. Dr Walsh gave the mission to him before when I had Gloucestershire duty to perform. He has in fact had the care of the mission several times.’
On 12th November 1849 Iles wrote to the Bishop saying that the time for Lord de Mauley’s quarterly payment of £10 had gone by. As there had been no Mass since August that de Mauley does not consider himself bound to pay unless Mass is said. Iles continued that they were looking for a priest having understood from Fr Anselm that one was to come. The last Mass they had had was on the second Sunday in August. Finally, he added,
‘I have considered moving but have been dissuaded by Fathers Anselm and Austin. If the mission is to be kept on, I lay myself at your Lordship’s service.’
On 30th December Iles wrote to Fr Neve saying that he had just heard that a farm near a Catholic chapel will soon be on the market. As there is no priest at Fairford he welcomed the opportunity to be able to go to Mass and to be able to take the children. He asked whether he should. Having discussed this with Fr Austin and Fr Anselm (of St Vincent) they had advised him to stay and he had acted on their advice. Now he wants to know whether the Bishop thought he ought to stay for the sake of the Mission.
Iles wrote a letter on 7th January 1850,
‘I have given up all idea of leaving this neighbourhood at present. You thought it a mistake to build a chapel’, after which he goes on to explain the background.
Lord de Mauley has for several years given £40 per annum to Hatherop Mission as a result of a promise made to his late Catholic wife. There is no priest there, but Mitchell said Mass monthly in a house near there. I bought land at Fairford where the chapel was built, the principal cost given by Lord de Mauley. We have had several converts. De Mauley still gives £40 per annum until last August when there has been no body to receive it. If you think more success and good be done by establishing a mission in Cirencester or Swindon. I will support this. I think Lord de Mauley would too, provided that there is regular Mass at Fairford.’
Eleven days later he replies to the Bishop that there is no house attached to the Mission nor is there any suitable property vacant at present. When Kelly left, his house was paid up to the Sunday following and has now been re-let. Kelly talked of keeping a pony as he found the journey by road and rail too long. I am happy to provide one for a new priest if he would like one. Father Honorius from Woodchester is coming on Sunday. If your Lordship sends any priests let me know so that I can notify our very scattered congregation. I will offer him the best accommodation our house will afford.
The next resident priest at Fairford was appointed in 1850 probably after the departure of the Passionists from Woodchester to Broadway. Father William Godwin was born in 1821, trained at Lisbon, and then he was appointed to the mission at Gloucester in 1847 for seven months. Godwin then worked in Plymouth until 1850 when he came to Fairford. Like his immediate predecessors he also supported the growing Catholic community in Swindon.
Although Canon Mitchell considered himself to be finished with the Fairford Mission he still took an interest and, in later life, helped the diocese to acquire the site of the present St Peter’s Church in Cirencester. In 1853 he moved to Taunton and, during his time as Rector there, he built St George’s Church to the designs of Benjamin Bucknall, a young convert from Rodborough near Stroud who was designing Woodchester Park Mansion for the Leigh Family. Bucknall was later to design St Thomas’s Presbytery at Fairford.
In the Rectory at Taunton there a fine silver tea pot and jug. The former was given to Canon Mitchell, ‘as a token of esteem by his late congregation of Chipping Norton – 2nd February 1853.’ There is also a fine portrait of him in oils, hanging in the stairs, presented to mark the diamond jubilee of his priesthood, ‘which today remains a treasured possession of St George’s Rectory’ Canon Mitchell died on 22nd September 1899 in the 89th year of his age and the 63rd of his priesthood and he was buried at Taunton.
Members of the Webb Family continued to support the new Fairford Mission from afar. Anne, Countess of Newburgh, was a first cousin of Lady Barbara de Mauley and only sister of Sir Thomas Webb, the sixth baronet. She died aged ninety-nine years on 3rd August 1861 at Slindon, Sussex. She left an estate valued at al little under £14,000. Lady Newburgh’s Foundation at Fairford includes a monthly Mass for her late husband, Anthony James, 5th Earl of Newburgh, an anniversary Mass on May 6th, a monthly Mass for herself on 4th May, a quarterly Mass for Joseph and Sir Thomas Webb, her brothers, one half yearly Mass for Barbara Countess of Newburgh (widow of the 4th Earl) and one half yearly Mass for Joseph and Mary Webb her parents – thirty-eight Masses in all.
In 1851 the Benedictine Missioner, Fr Edward Anselm Glassbrook left Cheltenham. In March of that year the Bishop of Clifton received a letter from Daniel Evans of Cheltenham saying,
‘When the Reverend Mr Glassbrook succeeded the Rev Mr Dowding in the mission (at Cheltenham) he commenced with great zeal what had been desired, a second priest was sent to us – the —- was introduced and the evening service established which is estimated more especially by our poor. There are now complaints forwarded to the provincial that our present clergy are not eloquent preachers unfitted for the present crisis – and the class of persons (Protestants) who often come to our chapel. I think the most dissatisfied amongst us can bring no charge against our present clergy either in zeal, morals, or doctrine – what is turned an eloquent preacher and clever controversialist might attract but not edify so much as simplicity of preaching, and kindness and goodwill to all. I cannot refrain from alluding to this removal as leaning hard on an individual who has gained the good opinion of so many without the pale of the church and who has expended a considerable sum from his private means for the temporal benefit of the mission – and has also invested some money in house property here his absence may lessen in its value to him.’
After a brief time in the north of England, this Benedictine, Fr Glassbrook, took up the reins of Fairford where he remained for some years. We have a rather indignant letter which he wrote from Fairford to the Bishop on 28th February1853,
‘Sorry I missed you at Woodchester. I thought I would update you on the state of the poor remote mission at Fairford. The income is £60. Neither house or accommodation for a priest – I’ve had to rent one for £26. Coal costs £10, leaving £24 for everything else. I have been here nearly a year and a half and I have asked for help with no success. Your saintly predecessors promised Mitchell £20 per year and I was led to believe this would be continued. I expected your Lordship to have the goodness to inform me of his intentions.’
Glassbrook was born in Wigan on 12th February 1803 and was educated at the Benedictine College of St Edmund at Douay, being one of the first students to enter the college after the French Revolution. After five years he was clothed as a monk on 12th October 1823. He studied at St Sulpice, Paris, and was ordained in 1829. He afterwards went to Workington, and Maryport, Cumberland, and opened the mission at the latter town. Coming south he spent some years at Cheltenham where he faced the riots over the Restoration of the Hierarchy when the chapel was attacked by the mob.
He was later described as, a ‘zealous and laborious monk. it is well known that some of the monastic orders have a high reputation as agriculturalists and Glassbrook had a strong leaning in this direction. In Wales he rented land for grazing purposes, kept cattle, pigs and poultry, cultivated a large garden and employed a man-servant to work his farm. When visiting the distant parts of his scattered mission he rode his own pony in which he took a special pride.’ All this would have been very useful in Fairford where he, like his predecessors, was struggling financially.
In the event, Fr Glassbrook decided to move to Cirencester because it was a larger place and because he felt that there would be students from the Royal Agricultural College. The college had been built between 1845 and 1846. Glassbrook succeeded in acquiring land and fitted up a neat little chapel, capable of holding 100 persons, which he opened for divine worship on 23rd January 1855.
‘Fr Thomas McDonnell of Shortwood, who preached on this occasion, informs me that no such attempt had been made in Cirencester since the reign of Queen Elizabeth.’
A correspondent, in a letter dated 24th October 1855, writes that, ‘this zealous and laborious monk has now removed into Cirencester, and that Mass is said but once a month at Fairford.’ The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception was closed in 1858 and the Fairford Mission, which had been served from Cirencester since 1855, was then served from Swindon on the second Sunday of the month.
In 1857 Neve wrote to the Bishop to say that he had been to Cirencester to see Glassbrook about the return of all the items missing from the inventory from Fairford. Glassbrook had promised to return them all but has made several claims for reimbursement for repairs at Fairford, and for the flooring at Swindon. Neve held against this £35 for a burse at Fairford given by Mr Iles. Glassbrook admitted having received it, but having spent it on his own personal expenses, denied Iles had specified its intention.
‘There is no property at Swindon, except perhaps, he thinks, the vestment chest. The rent has not been paid for the last one and a half years, of this Mr Glassbrook was not aware. I have explained to him that this must be paid by him, but he says that the pew rents have not been paid and he cannot get them to pay.’
Neve then mentioned his visits to Mrs Powell and Mr Iles. He commented that the best place for the priest to reside was Swindon. He said that Glassbrook had been badly treated by the Swindon people and he had succeeded better at Cirencester. Glassbrook had, apparently, spent a lot of his own money at Cirencester and was bound to two or three young men who were at the Agricultural College. These were boarding with and under Mr Glassbrook. Mr Neve then then reported that he went on to Swindon where he missed Mr Arkell, who was willing to let the chapel go on but not to give up the Beer shop close by. In his view the present chapel must continue as they could not afford another at present.
On 7th April 1857 Glassbrook wrote to the Bishop himself. He mentioned that Dr Errington had visited Fairford, Swindon and Cirencester once and that the Bishop had visited Swindon twice. He suggested that Chippenham and Swindon might be united and pointed out that it had been the Bishop’s idea to take Swindon off his hands from 1st of last January.
‘This had not been done and I find that I cannot attend to the spiritual wants elsewhere under the present circumstances and the increasing duties at Cirencester will oblige me to reside more at home. I should feel obliged if your Lordship would relieve me of taking charge of the Swindon people.
If I should be informed that uniting Fairford with Swindon would help both of these two places I shall be most happy in giving my aid and assistance in thus forwarding Your Lordship’s wishes.
I am sorry to say that at Fairford I have not succeeded in getting any assistance from the Ponsonby for the last twelve months so that the only reliable source of help to perpetuate that mission is £20 a year.
As far as I can judge from past experience I am convinced that it would be necessary to have a priest resident at Swindon but there is no house and a rented room is the only substitute for a chapel.
A day school is much wanted and if a good teacher who could act in a double capacity of servant to the priest and a teacher for about four hours of a day of a Catholic school, in course of time a flourishing congregation might be established. At present the youth is going astray and all my efforts to bring them to their duties are in vain for want of a school.
Nothing has been done in this way as yet and on that account I called attention to your Lordship. I have received very little or nothing for my support either there or at Fairford as the necessary expenses of travelling etc take up the small offerings that have been made.’
Finally, he asked to give up the Mission in two months.
On July 11th 1857 Bishop Clifford wrote to Lady Newburgh,
‘As I am informed that you take an interest in the Mission at Fairford in Gloucestershire which is in my diocese I trust you will forgive me my troubling you with a few lines regarding it. On coming to my diocese I found that Mass was occasionally said at Fairford. I found also that there are but few Catholics in Fairford and its neighbourhood, but that there are between 100 and 200 at Swindon which is not far removed from Fairford. I have therefore appointed a Priest, Mr J. Clarke, to the joint care of Fairford and Swindon, neither place being able to support a priest by itself.’
The Reverend Mr Mitchell from whom I sought information concerning the means of support for the missioner at Fairford informs me that your Ladyship has been in the habit of subscribing £10 a year to that object, and also that you mentioned to him your intention of applying to the same object an annuity of £20; but that this was counting on the death of some person to whom you (at the time alluded to) paid that amount.
My object in writing to you at present is to express a hope that your ladyship will continue to allow the £10 to the mission and if so that you will let me know how and when it is paid. I should like to know what are your intentions respecting the £20 alluded to by Rev Mr Mitchell.
As I am engaged in trying to get up a school for the large number of children that are now running wild at Swindon I am anxious to know what means the priest who serves Fairford and Swindon can depend upon for his support. I therefore thought it best to write to your Ladyship on the matter and I feel sure that you will do what you can to help me in forwarding the good of religion in these parts.”
The Dowager Lady Newburgh replied from Slindon on August 6th.
‘My old age being in my 95th year is the cause of me feeling unable to reply sooner to your very obliging letter. Respecting the Fairford Mission I have given annually £10 per annum for some years past, and intend to continue the same during my life, upon the death of my old servant I have by will left £30 per annum for the benefit of the Fairford Mission. The last payment was sent on 13th July to the Reverend Edward Glassbrook.’
In the autumn of 1857, Iles offered to loan money for land for a chapel at Swindon but the Bishop wanted to make clear that he had not got the money to commence building yet. On 19th June1857, Reverend John Clarke informed the Bishop that he has taken a house at Swindon. Meanwhile the departure of Fr Glassbrook has caused unease in Cirencester and Mr P. Murphy wrote to the Bishop, on 6th January, from the Gas Works, Cirencester,
‘We the Catholics of Cirencester, having been deprived of the spiritual succour since the departure of Revd Mr Glassbrook from among us, are anxious to have our religious wants supplied. Mr Clarke is too busy and we are willing to pay the expenses of a priest from Woodchester Monastery if the Bishop agrees.’
In March 1858 the Rev. John Clarke left Swindon and he was succeeded by Reverend James Clark. In May 1858 Clark had already celebrated Mass in Mr Iles private chapel at Reevey.
On 5th October he wrote to the Bishop asking him to fix a charge for a grave at Fairford and for the attendance of the priest etc. He said he had asked Mr Iles what had been charged previously and he also asked Mr Clarke, his predecessor, but had received no result from either of them. He asked Mr Iles and he thought that it would be rather too much to make the same sum serve for a village as for a town as, ‘people think more of a small sum in a village than a town.’ He added that Lady Newburgh had sent the £10 which the Bishop had asked him to apply for.
In the event a school room was built at Swindon for the cost of £490 which was opened in August 1862. The plans were drawn up by Gilbert R. Blount who also produced plans for a church as well.
The chapel at Cirencester was used for a time by hurdle makers but was re-opened on 27th January 1861, being served on the third Sunday of the month by Fr Joseph Bartlett, a Dominican from Stroud. In the following year a student from the Royal Agricultural College became involved with mission at Cirencester.
On 22nd September 1862 the Bishop received a letter fromHenry Bradshawe,
I venture to trouble your Lordship with the enclosed letter. Being under a misapprehension that Cirencester was in the Diocese of Newport I sent it to Dr. Browne, hence the interval between its date and my transmission of it. The writer is a young Chilean whose residence of 2 years in my family enables me to speak with the utmost competence and in the highest terms of praise of his piety and good conduct. He has a large property in Chile and his guardian (a most respectable Protestant gentleman) was very anxious that with a view to the Rt Rev. Bp Vaughan that he should learn thoroughly the English system of farming and hence by residence at the Agricultural College… As of my young friend I have no great fears for him but I understand that there are several Catholic students there who are very slack in their religious attendance, perhaps it is not surprising if they are put to so great an expense as … £1 for going to Mass. To my young friend there really is no object or threat of guardianship as he could manage this for service at Cirencester he alone (or at least with the help of his fellow students) could manage all the expense… He has a strong disposition towards an ecclesiastical vocation and (at his guardian’s suggestion) he has gone up for a year i.e. till he should no longer be a minor.’
Garcia wrote to the Bishop, himself, in the following month,
‘I received a letter that you sent Mr Bagshawe stating the conditions under which you might let us have Mass down the town twice a month. For my part, I am willing to give £20 per annum; my expenses in the college being many I cannot afford more at present. My fellow in students cannot afford to assist the Mission so that if you can get something else for such a great object as the Catholic worship in this place, I am bound to say, that I will not be forgetful of such a kindness in your part, when master of my own will. I wish and hope that some day Cirencester shall not be in such a state as it is at present, without a priest, for, if I live long enough, I hope to do something towards the prosperity of a Catholic church in this town.’
A Fransalian served the Cirencester Mission on the first and third Sundays of the month until February 1863.
On 18th February 1863 the new Missioner, Fr Peter Seddon, wrote to the Bishop, from 5 Prospect Terrace, Swindon. He was a young energetic priest who, during his time at Fairford, made several converts,
‘I have compared the inventory which your Lordship gave me with the things in the church at Cirencester, and found nothing wanting except the Lavabo towels and a purificator. There are sixty devotional chairs which were sent from Stroud and which I have inserted in the catalogue. The Stroud people are asking for their things and if they take them away we shall not be able to have Mass. I have thought the plan over which I had the honour of laying before Your Lordship the other day and will with permission briefly re-state it for your Lordship’s consideration. I propose to reside at Fairford and, with your Lordship’s leave, to say Mass every Sunday at both Missions – one Sunday giving an early Mass at Fairford and the next at Cirencester, and vice versa. When I said early Mass at Fairford Mr Iles (who writes to me to say that he will do all he can to assist me) would drive me over to Cirencester to say the second one; but when I had to say first Mass at Cirencester I should be obliged to go on Saturday evening, and Mr Iles says he would send his conveyance for me to drive back to Fairford to say the second Mass there.
The final reason which urges me to submit this plan to your Lordship’s consideration is the impossibility of my following up any little advantage I may gain under present circumstances in the way of instructing converts etc. and the opportunity it would afford me of giving more frequent Services and instruction to the people, of establishing a small school at Cirencester, where there are about twenty children and, of giving the trial a fair chance for I fear , My Lord, after all your efforts all I could do by seeing people once a fortnight would not afford your Lordship much satisfaction. The second reason, my Lord, I have to offer is a pecuniary consideration. At present I pay 4.6d for Railway fare and 5.0d for board and lodging which with other little items makes 10.0d per fortnight, or £13 per annum. The average offertory I believe is not so much as 3.0d and the amount collected from the door to door amounts to little more than that – about 3.2d per week, which combined makes a total of about £12 per annum. In this, of course, is not included the £6 subscribed by Miss Dowling and Murphy for the rent of the chapel. We have then, my Lord, £12 receipts against £13 expenditure, without taking into account wine, altar breads, wax, washing, fire, wear and damage which with other miscellaneous expenses would probably add another £3 to expenditure making a total of £16 expenses against £12 receipts. With Mr Garcia’s £20 there would be a balance in favour of £16 per annum, but I suppose My Lord, it is uncertain how long he may continue to give it. By living at Fairford I could save the Railway expenses, as, if I had no other means, I could get into Cirencester any day for nine pence. Moreover, by serving each Church the offertory would be doubled. Thus My Lord, £6 for Railway fares would be saved and the income considerably increased. There is another reason, my Lord, why I should like to reside at Fairford even though your Lordship should not grant me permission to duplicate, and that is because I should find it more convenient to work the missions living upon the spot than so many miles away, and less troublesome. Still, my Lord, I don’t put my convenience against your Lordship’s better judgement and commands. I have made enquiries from Mrs Powell, Mrs Iles’ sister, whether in the event of your Lordship’s allowing me to live at Fairford she could accommodate me and she wrote back to say that she could.’
On 2nd March he again wrote from Fairford saying that he was settled in his new quarters and found them more convenient than being so far away as Swindon.
‘The person with whom I am lodging is, as I think I mentioned to Your Lordship, a widow lady, a sister of Mrs Iles. I have not come to any precise terms with her yet, but as I told her in my letter, I could not give more than £40 per annum. I suppose she is satisfied with that. On Sunday I said Mass at 8.30am at Fairford and then went over to Cirencester to say the second Mass. I told the people what your lordship desired me to impress upon them, giving them to understand that your Lordship did not pledge yourself to continue the present arrangement of giving them a Mass every Sunday.
There was a very good attendance and at catechism there were 18 children. What we want particularly my Lord, are desks and benches to commence a school as there are about thirteen children excluding Mrs Dowling’s who are now attending Protestant schools. The Altar stone, my Lord, which was lent by Mr Neve, is not in Mr Glassbrook’s possession so that if your Lordship would be good as to give us another I will call for it the first time I go to Bristol.
I want to ask another favour, my Lord, and that is to be allowed to have Benediction twice in the month at Fairford. I should like also if, your Lordship, would grant me faculties and permission to put up Stations of the Cross…The person with whom I lodge is Mrs Powell. It will not, however, be necessary to put more than “Fairford” as they know now where I live.’
On 15th June 1863 the following letter was written by Fr Peter Seddon at Fairford,
‘I have received a cheque for £10 on Sir Samuel Scott Bart & Co London from Mr Garcia and he desires me to obtain your Lordship’s acknowledgement for it in order to forward it to his guardian. The receipts at these Missions for the half year stand thus:
Offertory £12.6.6 1/2d, Collections £3.0.0d, From Mr Garcia through your Lordship £6.0.0d and Donations £2.0.0d which totalled £23.6.6 1/2d.
The rent of the chapel has not to be deducted from this. Your Lordship some help from the diocesan fund and I forward the half year’s account in order that your Lordship may judge what ought to be given. I hope Your Lordship will be pleased to take account of the fact of my having two churches entails somewhat heavier expenses. Perhaps I ought to mention that the reason I have not put down any subscription form Mr Iles is because he had paid up to April or May already to Mr Clark. The memorandum of sale for the land at Cirencester has been made out and signed – it is agreed mutually to buy and sell within five months.
The mission seems to progress favourably but still it is hard to keep some of them up to their duties, they have been accustomed to their own way so long. A few families are coming into the Church yet none of any importance.’
In November 1863, a conveyance for a piece of land was sent by Father Seddon for the Bishop’s signature with assurances that the solicitor was well known to Mr Iles and that all would be well. The land for the proposed new church at Pittacre Pitts in Chesterton was bought at least in part with money given by Joseph Garcia and his brother Pedro d’Alacantara Garcia who was also at the college. Joseph Garcia, himself, died at Cirencester in December 1864, the month in which he gained his college diploma.
In 1897 Iles wrote the following letter to Canon Russell, as a result of rumours afloat that certain monetary gifts were unaccounted for:
‘The Reverend Peter Seddon built the Presbytery borrowing £250 from Mrs Mary Powell, with interest to be paid during the lives of the late Mrs Mary Powell and her daughter, Annie Exton Powell, but on the death of the survivor, the money should fall to the Mission. I am not sure whether £250 covered the whole cost of the Presbytery but I think so.’
The Reverend Peter Seddon built the school. At the time young very wealthy Spanish gentleman came to study at the College and used to stay a day or so with Mr Seddon from Saturday to Monday, spending Sunday at the Presbytery. I believe from him came money to build the school.
I believe that Mr Seddon also got money from him to intend to build a church at Cirencester. However, the land was not good and the site of Cirencester Church was purchased by Canon Mitchell, and he gave a large sum of money for the erection of the church and the land purchased by Fr Seddon was handed over to Canon Mitchell as part payment for money he had given for the church, and I sold the land for Canon Mitchell to a gentleman. I know nothing of two Spanish gentlemen giving money for Cirencester and I do not think it correct. A French or Spanish gentleman cane some time later, went to Mrs Powell at Fairford and went to study Agriculture with Joseph Powell as guide, but I never heard of him giving money which you have accounted to me for as paid on account of the building: or whether the suto Cirencester.’
In the Diocesan Archives there is an undated Account of Receipts and Expenses for the Presbytery at Fairford. £250 was received from Mrs Powell and £62 from the sale of land. The latter had not been paid. This gave a total of £312. The cost of building was £368.10.9d with £11 interest on the money and the architect’s fee of £6. Other sundry items added a further £2.10.0d making a total of £388.0.9d. A balance of £76.0.9d was outstanding.
It would also seem likely that Fr Seddon would turn to a local Catholic architect for help with these projects. Sadly, we do not have details of this but we do have a conveyance of land to the Diocese dated 1st April 1867 which had provided for the erection of the church, presbytery, school, school house and burial ground. There is correspondence in the Diocesan archives dated 16th February 1866 in which the Bishop writes to Father Seddon about a claim for £385 from the architect Benjamin Bucknall.
‘My dear Mr. Seddon,
After reading over several times your letter to me of the 11th & Mr Bucknall’s of the 5th inst, I am still unable to understand whether the sum of £31 claimed by Mr Bucknall has been paid by you to him and is included in the sum of £385 which you have accounted to me for as paid on account of the building: or whether the said sum £31 has not beeb paid to Mr Bucknall because you do not think he has a claim to it. This is the point I want clearly to understand. If you have paid the sum claimed by Mr Bucknall it will be sufficient for you to let me know that fact, & I need not enter into any further details about the accounts till I come over to Fairford when I can see you personally – But if you have not paid the £31 to Mr Bucknall then you must let me know on what grounds you refuse payment. It is quite clear from both your statement and from that of Mr Bucknall that he cannot claim his commission from you, because he agreed beforehand to forfit (sic) that if he had exceeded his estimate – which he has done. But the £31 form no part of his commission but are part of the cost of goods delivered and accepted – Mr Bucknall did wrong in exceeding his estimate, but as there is no contract you are certainly liable for the £31 if the articles in question were really purchased for the house.
Please therefore to give me an answer on this point that I may know what to say to Mr Bucknall.
I hope to be at Fairford either in the 2nd or 3rd week in Lent and the question about Mr Iles(‘s) donation of £50 to Fairford (out of the £140 I hold of him as a loan to Swindon) must hold over till then, as I cannot say how soon I could raise the money, the mission at Swindon met being at present in a position to repay it. I have got Mrs Powell’s bond duly signed & Iwill bring it back to her when I come to Fairford.
I will also at the same time look more closely into the project of a chapel at Cirencester. Mr C’s offer is a very liberal one – but there are many things to be taken into consideration – First we must borrow the money to start with which is a difficulty. Secondly – you see by experience what estimates are and how many things run up when once we begin to build. Something might be done with £400, but if the £400 runs on to £500 we should find ourselves in serious embarrassment as there are no resources of any kind at Cirencester. I will think the matter over between this and when we meet.
I will also settle something about your attendance at Cirencester. I do not think I shall allow Mass there every Sunday – for so small a contribution as £15 to the priest, as this is not fair towards Fairford, which supplies by far the greatest portion of the funds for the Priest’s support. You may as well let the Cirencester people know that I shall see you in Lent & that I shall then have to make an arrangement about how Cirencester must be served in the future. With kind regards to Mr & Mrs Iles…
Concerning the school there is a letter to the Bishop from Martha Sophia Elder, dated 24th July 1873,
Re Timothy Mc Carthy, Catholic Schoolmaster at Fairford
‘When I had to give up the school at Coleford, McCarthy was sent by Fr. Seddon’s earnest desire, to Fairford, where he has been since, for the last six years. He has had little help from the mission, relying on the small salary I have allowed him 30/- monthly.
Costs, especially coal which is frightfully dear at Fairford, a wife, not strong, and a young family, make this terribly insufficient even with a small house and garden. I can’t help more, as of my limited income, but I am sure the smallest addition from your Lordship would be most gratefully received. His health is failing as much from want of sufficient nourishment, they seldom taste meat, – as any other course.
P.S. McCarthy says 36 children in the school. How many Catholics he doesn’t say.’
When Father Peter Seddon was at Fairford the future of the Mission would have seemed to be more secure than it had been during the last eighty years. There was a church, a resident priest, a presbytery and a school with a teacher. However, it was all still a huge struggle. The next priest, who came in 1867, was the Rev. John Dickenson and he was at Fairford for just two years. Austin Iles wrote of him, ‘unfortunately he was most unsuitable for the Mission and several of the previous missioner’s converts fell away.’ The poor teacher, McCarthy, seems to have been half-starved and he had few pupils. In 1876 only seven out of an attendance of twenty-five were Catholics. The school finally closed in 1888. Finding a priest for such a small scattered mission was also going to be a problem for many years to come. In fact, it was only in the twentieth century that these issues would be properly resolved.
Most of the correspondence was transcribed from the Clifton Diocesan Archives
|Chaplains at Hatherop
Robert Bowes alias Lane
|James Lolli alias Chester M.D||1765-|
|John J Reeve, alias Power, from Courtfield, afterwards from Prior Park 1836
Missioners-Apostolic of St Thomas of Canterbury, Fairford
Canon John Mitchell from Chipping Norton
|Augustine of the Mother of God C.P. from
the Passionist Retreat, Northfields, Nailsworth
|Thomas Tierney Fergusson D.D.||1848|
|Vincent of St Joseph C.P. from
the Passionist Retreat, Woodchester
|Edward Anselm Glassbrook O.S.B.||1852-1857|
|(from Cirencester after 1855)|
|John Clarke from Swindon||1857-1858|
|James Clark from Swindon||1858-1863|
Vicars Apostolic of the Western District and Bishops of Clifton
Diocese of Clifton created 1850
Charles Walmesley 1764-1797
Gregory William Sharrock 1797-1809
Bernardine Peter Collingridge 1809-1829
Peter Augustine Baines 1829-1843
Charles Michael Baggs 1843-1845
William Bernard Ullathorne 1843-1848
Joseph William Hendren 1848-1851
Thomas Lawrence Burgess 1851-1853
George Errington, Apostolic Administrator of Clifton 1855-1857
William Joseph Hugh Clifford 1857-1893