A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
by Richard Barton
Sometime in early 1989, I was talking to Father Dee about St. Dominic’s when he casually mentioned that later in the year, the church would be celebrating its Golden Jubilee. As a member of the Gloucestershire and North Avon Catholic History Society I was immediately interested in what archives existed – although as the church is so young I assumed that there would be few records. However, Father Dee presented me with a log book, mainly covering the period 1950-51, and suggested that I might like to produce a commemorative history. With the background interest and knowledge gained from previous research into the Woodchester Mission and the Leigh Family, I was only too happy to accept the challenge. Soon there unfolded a story of determination, devotion and progress which has been chronicled in this souvenir booklet.
I have dwelt mainly on the period stretching from the celebration of the first Mass in the Y.M.C.A. in 1933 until 1965, the year which saw the departure of Father Patrick McCarthy. This should not imply a lack of interest in, or disrespect for, his successors, but, obviously, the years since 1965 are still very fresh in the minds of many of the St Dominic’s parishioners. The earlier mission which commenced during the Great War has, sadly, not been fully investigated as the Dominican archives are at the present time unavailable.
It has been fortuitous that I have had the help of Mr. Patrick Lister of Coventry, who has provided me with a wealth of detail concerning his mother, Mrs. Molly lister. His contribution to the production of the booklet has been tremendous. I am also indebted to Mr. Szczepan Rubin who has provided details concerning Dursley’s Polish Community and to both Father Patrick McGovern and Father Patrick McCarthy who have shared some of their personal reminiscences of their time at St. Joseph’s. Thanks are also due to Father Bill Dee and Father Edwin Gordon for making their respective parish archives available as well as Father J.A. Harding, who gave me permission to use the Diocesan Archives and offered much help and guidance.
I am also grateful to Mr. Gerald Howell, Managing Director of Lister-Petter, and Mr. David Evans for allowing me to reproduce an extract from ‘Lister – The First Hundred Years’ and also the Editor of the Dursley Gazette and Mr. Derek Archer for giving their permission to reproduce the photograph of the old Y.M.C.A. building. Readers are reminded that copyright for this extract and of this photograph are the property of Lister-Petter Ltd and Bailey Newspaper Group Ltd respectively.
Finally, I would like to mention my dear friend, Brian Torode, who helped me to edit the text and, as ever, offered much support and encouragement.
Richard Barton, August 1989
Surrounding St. Dominic’s Church, and within its parish boundaries, are the remains of a number of mediaeval places of worship built by clergy, parishioners and benefactors who were part of an English Church fully in communion with the See of Rome. The churches we know, today, as St. James at Dursley and St. John the Evangelist at Slimbridge retain considerable pre-Reformation features. The latter has been described as, ‘probably the best example in the County of the Early Gothic style of the C13th.’ Other churches with mediaeval features include St. George’s, Upper Cam; St. Martin’s, North Nibley, and St. Cyr’s, Stinchcombe. St. George’s was rebuilt in 1340 by Thomas, Lord Berkeley, supposedly ‘in expiation of Edward II’s murder.’ All three churches have been altered and partially reconstructed during the nineteenth century. Of the ancient church of St. Bartholomew at Coaley, only the fine tower has survived. Two churches were totally demolished during the nineteenth century. In 1779, Rudder, the County historian, described the old church at Owlpen as, ‘very small and has a low spire at the west end’, whereas the earlier Church of St. Giles at Uley, ‘has no aile… and a low embattled tower.’ Rudder also refers to pre-Reformation chapels at Langley Hill, Stinchcombe, and at Cambridge but neither of these has survived.
No religious houses existed in the immediate locality although before the Dissolution of the Monasteries the Benedictines of Leonard Stanley Priory were the patrons of both Cam and Uley parishes. Similarly, Coaley living was held by St. Peter’s Abbey at Gloucester and, prior to 1475, also the living of Dursley. In that year the title of ‘Rector of Dursley’ was linked with the Archdeaconry of Gloucester so that from this date the Rectors were non-resident and Dursley was cared for by a succession of assistant curates. Many of the Dursley Rectors were influential men, five of them becoming bishops during the period 1475-1540. Three Rectors of Slimbridge also became bishops, including Oglethorpe who was deprived as Bishop of Carlisle because he would not accept the ecclesiastical reforms of Queen Elizabeth I. The pastoral care of the parish clergy was also supplemented by the chaplains of the various chantry chapels which existed prior to the Reformation period; two chantry chapels existed in Dursley Parish Church and two in Slimbridge parish.
Dursley, like most of east Gloucestershire, was situated within the Diocese of Worcester until 1541. In that year the former Abbey of St. Peter in Gloucester became the cathedral for a new county-sized diocese. James Brooks (1554-1558) was the only Bishop of Gloucester to be in full communion with the Holy See although, at his death, a successor was nominated by Rome.
FROM QUEEN ELIZABETH I UNTIL THE REIGN OF QUEEN VICTORIA
There is no evidence of any resistance within the Dursley area to the liturgical and other reforms that we associate with the Elizabethan Settlement. Unlike the Forest of Dean where influential families resisted these changes, paid fines and supported the illegal activities of Catholic priests, there would appear to be no parallel movement in south Gloucestershire. The main Catholic family in this area was the Poyntz of Iron Acton Court and Tockington Park. Sir Nicholas Poyntz had earlier built Newark, near Ozleworth, from the stones of Kingswood Abbey. Two members of this family left Gloucestershire to develop their religious life on the continent. Robert Poyntz (1535-), the son of John Poyntz of Alderley, having studied at Oxford, et out for the Catholic university of Louvain. Rudder described him as a, ‘learned author and a great zealot for the Roman Catholic religion.’ Mary Poyntz (-1667) met her kinswoman, Mary Ward, at Tockington Park and went abroad with her to share in the eventual founding of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Connected to the Poyntz Family were the Throckmortons of Tortworth. They were resident there for much of the sixteenth century and they were related to the Throckmorton Family of Coughton Court, a valiant Catholic recusant family.
Mary Poyntz was not the only local pioneer in setting up conventual life for English ladies. Jane Berkeley (1550c-1616), Abbess of the Convent of the Glorious Assumption, in Brussels, was the daughter of Sir John Berkeley of Beverston Castle. This abbey, set up by a Lady Jane Percy, was one of the first English convents on the continent.
The Blessed Richard Sergeant, who was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, in 1586, for being a Catholic priest, is believed to have been born at Stone, near Berkeley.
Whilst these threads indicate that members of some of the wealthier local families clung to the old religion, little impact was made on the community as a whole. During the reign of the Catholic King, James II, who passed through the village of Nympsfield on his progress to Gloucester in 1687, an attempt was made to establish a proper Catholic mission in the City. However, the place used for Mass was closed and the priest imprisoned during the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, when King James’s attempt to give the general population religious toleration and freedom of conscience was brought to an abrupt end.
In the list of ‘Papists and Reputed Papists’, of about 1717, there are no entries for the Dursley area. The nearest principal families then were the Pastons of Horton Court, who supported a chapel and chaplain, and the Jerninghams of Painswick. During the late 1770’s Mass was probably celebrated in Thornbury Castle, the home of the Vaughan Family and, in 1782, a Franciscan priest from Perthyre, near Monmouth, regularly celebrated Mass at Gloucester and three or four times a year at Stroud. Ten years later a proper chapel was erected at Gloucester, followed by one at Cheltenham in 1810. For a number of years, the priest at Cheltenham, Dom John Augustine Birdsall, O.S.B., served a small congregation at Horton. On his visits there, his diary records, that he also visited families in Stroud and at Leighterton and, on one New Year’s Eve, there is a record of him baptising a child at Hunters’ Hall, near Kingscote. These journeys were, sometimes, made on foot.
The widow of the Vicar of Old Sodbury, Mrs. Sarah Neve, was a Catholic and, in 1838, she opened a chapel in the former Swan Inn at Chipping Sodbury. This would have been the nearest Catholic place of worship to Dursley until the Passionists arrived at Woodchester eight years later. However, there is some suggestion that Mass may have been celebrated at Nympsfield from, as early as, 1842.
In 1845 William Leigh, a wealthy convert to Roman Catholicism, purchased the Earl of Ducie’s estate at Woodchester. Leigh had been influenced by the Oxford Movement and he chose to express his faith by endowing a lavish mediaeval-style church, staffed by priests who would celebrate the full liturgy of the Catholic Church. He had chosen a spot that would be the centre of a circle a hundred miles in circumference and without a single Catholic chapel.
At about this time there arrived in England an Italian Passionist priest, Blessed Dominic Barberi. Leigh invited Barberi to establish a mission at Woodchester, having heard of Barberi’s reputation for sanctity and his ability to preach. In 1845 Barberi had received John Henry Newman into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Passionists arrived at Northfields, Nailsworth, and established a house of study with a public chapel and, later, a school. Four years later the Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation was consecrated by Bishop, later Cardinal, Nicholas Wiseman. During the following year, the Passionists moved on to Broadway and Woodchester became a Dominican Priory where the Friars established their noviciate. A large ‘monastery’ was built adjoining the Priory Church and, over the years, many notable Dominicans were trained there including Bede Jarrett and Vincent McNabb. The Dominican Fathers later built a church at Stroud, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and this adjoined St. Rose’s Dominican Convent, founded by local ladies, Elizabeth Matthews (1815-1905) and Emily Sandys.
From as early as 1847 the Passionists are believed to have celebrated Mass at Nympsfield, but nothing is certain before the year 1852 when a room at the Cross was licensed by the Dominicans and registered for Catholic worship. Mass was first celebrated in this room on Sunday 21st March. The Chapel House, formerly the Red Lion Inn, continued to be a place of worship for the Catholics of Nympsfield until 1923 when Miss Blanche and her sister, Miss Beatrice Leigh, largely financed the erection of St. Joseph’s Church.
Nympsfield, although only a small village, had become a centre of Catholic activity, largely as a result of the energetic involvement of William Leigh, Senior, his son and two daughters and then his two grand-daughters, Blanche and Beatrice. During these years, many families moved into the area; from about 1900 a Catholic school was provided, chiefly through the generosity of the Leigh Family, and, later, a convent and orphanage were opened. Much could be said about the development of Catholic life in Nympsfield but, in spite of the close relationship which later developed between the Catholics of Dursley and their co-religionists in Nympsfield, the village story is really a separate one. Also in studying the influence of the Leighs upon the village of Nympsfield one needs to be aware that non-Catholics were not always happy with the changes that occurred.
The Dominicans served Nympsfield from their Priory at Woodchester, the priest walking there through the Park. The late Father Edwin Essex spoke of a man from the Dursley area, named Walsh, walking up to Nympsfield, regularly, for Mass. This man, who was quite elderly, had a reputation for being very devout and it was said of him that, even in stormy weather, he never seemed to get wet.
The Honourable Mrs. Gifford, who lived near the neighbouring town of Berkeley, was mainly responsible for the opening of the Chapel of Our Lady Star of the Sea, in 1883, at Sharpness Dock. This mission was served for a time from Woodchester but it was closed five years after the building was erected. From 1914 Mass was also celebrated at Wotton-under-Edge and, shortly after that, in Dursley itself. Tradition has it that from about the year 1915 Mass was celebrated in a converted barn which was situated in Broadwell Lane. The reason for commencing services there is uncertain but there were, apparently, some Belgian refugees residing in the town.
In February 1920, Father Hugh Pope, the Dominican Provincial, wrote to the Bishop of Clifton, regretting that, for a number of reasons, the Dominicans were compelled to close the Wotton-under-Edge mission and that he feared Dursley would have to follow suit. ‘We have been dogged with ill luck, only four or five people are left in each place and the cost of motor cycle and threatened tax etc. make it necessary to withdraw.’
After the Dursley mission closed, local Catholics again travelled to Nympsfield for church and, from about 1929, for school as well. In 1932 Father Bede Jarrett wrote to the Bishop asking him to take over pastoral responsibility for Nympsfield. As a result, the Reverend, later Canon, Denis Ryan (1898-1963) was appointed as the first resident incumbent at Nympsfield, an area which then included Dursley. Father Ryan originated from County Limerick and, after studying for the Priesthood at Thurles and the Venerable English College in Rome, he served in the Diocese of Clifton as curate at the Pro-Cathedral in Bristol, later Salisbury, and then, for about nine months, as Parish Priest at Chard.
THE LISTER FAMILY
In about the year 1817 George Lister settled in Dursley where he worked as a cardmaker, quickly establishing his own business. Gradually he built up a factory and, with the help of Daniel Budding, the inventor of the first rotary lawnmower, he turned to the manufacture of machinery for producing woollen cloth. His son, Sir Robert Ashton Lister, did not inherit his father’s business as the two had become estranged. Instead he built up his own company. In 1867, R.A. Lister & Co began with a staff of three men and a boy. Within a century that number had grown to seven thousand.
Ashton Lister’s firm started by selling and servicing agricultural machinery but, later, moved into manufacturing. It remained a small scale agricultural engineering concern until the year 1899 when it began to sell, and then to produce, cream separators. The firm expanded rapidly developing stationary petrol engines, sheering sets, generating sets and, of course, the Pederson bicycle.
Sir Ashton’s son, Charles Lister, who had earlier introduced the petrol engine to Listers, became the Managing Director and, gradually, his sons entered the business – Percy, George, Robert, Frank and Cecil. In 1925 Sir Percy Lister became Managing Director and, later, Chairman. The Company’s vast expansion developed around a range of diesel engines which, together with other Lister products, were exported throughout the world. The impact upon Dursley was tremendous. The factory came to Dominate the little market town, offering employment to local families as well as to many newcomers.
The dramatic rise of the Lister Family and their Company had its effects on the local religious scene – Sir Ashton Lister had been an active Congregationalist, however, Molly, the wife of his grandson, Robert, was to play her part in establishing a Catholic church for Dursley.
Charles Lister’s second son, Robert Browning Lister, was born in the year 1894. After studying Engineering at Glasgow University he served in the Gloucestershire Regiment and the Royal Engineers during the First World War. In 1921 Robert married Millicent Eva Allsopp, who was at that time working as a secretary in London. She had been born on the Island of Mauritius on St. George’s Day, 1900, as her father, a Captain in the Royal Ulster Rifles, was then on garrison duty there. Her mother died when she was quite young so she and her sister, Patricia, were brought up by a stepmother. Molly’s father died of a stroke during the First World War and, after the Armistice, her sister emigrated leaving Millicent, or Molly as she preferred to be called, without any close family.
After the Listers married, Robert worked in the family firm for a time, taking up the position of Director of the Horstmann Car Company in Bath, before moving to Dursley, in 1922, to become Works Director, with A.E. Mellerup, in charge of the cream separator department. The family took a small house in Stinchcombe before acquiring ‘The Elms’ at Stone. Robert Lister, who by this time was father of Patrick, aged three years, and Georgina, aged one year, developed his career taking charge of auto trucks and, later, marine engines.
Meanwhile, Molly Lister spent her time raising small livestock, as a hobby, besides becoming an expert gardener. From this time social work became a strong interest too. Throughout the years which followed she worked for the blind, Stone Girl Guides, Dr Barnardo’s Homes, Junior Imperial League and the British Legion. She is remembered, by many, for her interest in the Lister Recreation and Social Club, especially the Ladies’ Section. She supported village life in Stone with garden fetes, whist drives and so forth – becoming a welcome figure to open these events. She was much sought after as a committee member. Molly Lister has been described as a sparkling personality – a great hostess who liked to dress well – a lady with a high sense of values and service.
In about 1931 the Listers moved to ‘Longacres’, Cam, where they remained until 1937 when they took up residence at ‘The Gables’ at Falfield. In Falfield Molly Lister soon became involved with raising funds for the village hall there.
Molly Lister was a devout Catholic but the practice of her religion was limited in a non-Catholic household situated many miles from the nearest churches at Nympsfield and Chipping Sodbury. This lady became the driving force behind the establishment of a parish in Dursley. She had no inherited money of her own so her efforts were always directed at the community sharing in the enterprise in question. Her husband, Robert, was not a Catholic, although he began instruction but never pursued it. Any monies he may have given towards building the new church would have been in recognition of his wife’s commitment and sheer hard work.
Listers Factory also provided another leading personality in the early days of Catholic revival in Dursley, namely, William John Wigmore. He was buyer and right hand man to Frank Lister, besides teaching short hand to many at evening classes at Dursley Technical College. He came to Dursley and lived, initially, in lodgings before marrying and taking up residence, for many years, in Uley. From here he moved to his home in the Knapp. William Wigmore seems to have become quickly associated with the nascent Catholic community and, in December 1932, he was received, by Father Ryan, into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. He was, at this time, aged thirty-one years.
As Listers had grown, a trickle of Catholics found employment in the factory and they settled with their families in the Dursley area. Their increasing numbers necessitated the provision, once more, of Mass in the town itself.
FATHER DENIS RYAN (1932-1934)
Father Ryan arrived in the village of Nympsfield on 3rd August 1932. At that time he was thirty-four-years-old and he had worked in the Diocese of Clifton for nine years. During his first eighteen months at Nympsfield he maintained a diary of principal events in his new parish and we are fortunate in having an account of his first celebration of Mass in Dursley. He mentions in the diary that arrangements had been made, with the Y.M.C.A., as early as December 1932 but, for various reasons, the first Mass was postponed. He later wrote:
‘The snow prevented the Bus bringing the Dursley people to Mass on the last Sunday in February. On the following Sunday, the First Sunday of Lent – 5th March 1933 – Mass was said in Dursley itself. The Y.M.C.A. lent the lounge of their hall for 3/6d the Sunday. There were about twenty-five people present – quite a nice little crowd. Took Collins’ taxi from here (he charges 5/- the Sunday). Took server, vestments etc. Left some of the things with one of the Catholics of Dursley – altar linen, cards etc. and they had altar ready when we arrived there about five to nine on the Sunday morning. Heard confessions in a little ante-room. Said Mass on table – very low. (By the next Sunday) one of the men – Mr. Fanning – had top made to lay on table – which makes a very nice altar now. Someone brings a bunch of flowers each Sunday to decorate it. Mass said there now every Sunday… Vestments for Mass had to be got – two sets (white and red) were given by the Convent here and the Franciscan Convent at Woodchester gave purple (and promised a green one).’
The Parish log book includes a list of families known to have attended Mass at the Dursley Y.M.C.A. at this time, namely:
Cross 5, Pates 3, Webber 5, Whiting 5, Sheridan 3, Neale 1, Fanning 1, Wigmore 1, Everall 6, W.H. Smith 1, McNulty 1, Mrs Lister 1, Powers 1, Uley 1 and Littleton 4.
Mass was celebrated every Sunday at 9.00am, allowing Father Ryann to return to Nympsfield for the 10.30am Mass there. The old Y.M.C.A. Hall was situated in Long Street and it was originally fronted by two substantial houses – Enderley House and Florida House. The old hall, a timber and corrugated iron structure, was erected in the early 1920’s and it consisted of a large function room for dances, concerts and indoor events. In addition, there was a billiard room which contained two full size tables. In 1939 the hall was sold to Listers Factory and they used it mainly for storage until it was demolished in 1981.
Father Ryan clearly saw the need for the erection of a proper church in Dursley and correspondence has survived, written to him by Molly Lister, concerning possible sites which were available in the town. This letter is dated 29th September 1933:
‘Sites on Kingshill Road belong to a farmer called Hatherall of Blackboys Farm and Francillon of Dursley (Solicitor) has the selling of them. I understand the cost has a great deal to do with the frontage taken, but you can take a smaller frontage and go back further off the road at a much cheaper rate. But the catch is that the existing new homes on the Kingshill Road all paid at the rate of about £130 per ½ acre – which is terrible. However, the field running behind it, the price runs about £60 to £70 per ½ acre and a rough road has been cut to reach a few houses already built there. Also there is one side left in the Knapp, behind the Recreation Field and this belongs to Mrs. Owen of York house, Dursley.’
Father Ryan not only considered possible sites for a church but he also started fund-raising as well. The Nympsfield notice book refers to plans for a jumble sale in Dursley during January 1934 and entries from the following month include regular acknowledgements from Father Ryan, to his parishioners, for money left in the ‘Dursley Church Building Fund’ box in St. Joseph’s Church.
Father Ryan’s labours in Dursley clearly bore fruit and the need for a proper church building grew. However, in 1934 he resigned the parish. Before he departed from Nympsfield he forwarded a cheque to the Bishop for the amount collected at Dursley.
Father Ryan was succeeded by the Reverend James Murtagh, a thirty-one-year-old Irish priest. Father Murtagh had trained for the Priesthood at the Seminary of S. Sulpice in Paris, after which he served as a curate at Weston-Super-Mare and then Gloucester. He was to be Parish Priest of Nympsfield from 1934 until the autumn of 1949.
EVELYN WAUGH AND STINCHCOMBE
During December 1936 Evelyn Waugh and his future wife, Laura, were house-hunting in the West Country. As a result, they visited Piers Court at Stinchcombe which was then on the market. Waugh was, at the time, thirty-three-years-old. He was the son of a publisher and literary critic and, in 1930, he had been received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. In 1928 he published his first novel, ‘Decline and Fall’, and in the years which followed he wrote numerous other books including the biographies of St. Edmund Campion and of his old friend, Monsignor Ronald Knox. Waugh was a complex personality and it would be inappropriate to attempt to summarize his life in just a few paragraphs. Certainly, he made an impact locally, both as a colourful figure and as an enthusiastic Roman Catholic.
Piers Court was purchased by the Waughs and an extensive programme of alterations was undertaken. When he eventually sold the property, in 1955, he described it as, ‘occupying a lovely position overlooking the beautiful Berkeley Vale… a fine example of an 18th century manor house (with extremely fine façade).’ The house was surrounded by a large garden and extensive grounds and there was a cottage and farm. In all the small estate covered forty-one acres and it cost £3,500.
On April 17th, 1937, Waugh married at the Church of the Assumption in Warwick Street, London, and, by August, he was installed at Piers Court. He was obviously not impressed by the arrangements for the celebration of Mass at Dursley. He wrote in his personal diary, ‘Mass among the cigarette stubs at the Dursley Y.M.C.A…’ A fortnight later, he attended Mass at Nympsfield and wrote, ‘afterwards, by appointment, I took Laura into the convent… We drank coffee in a group of nuns. I was reproved by Mother Superior for suggesting that the time of the Dursley Mass was inconvenient – “you should have arranged things differently”.’
Waugh is remembered by many locals for dressing flamboyantly, arriving late for Mass and voicing the thoughts of a congregation, in loud whispers, during a long sermon or a second collection. The Waughs did not live continuously at Piers Court, they were often abroad, and the family moved away from Stinchcombe for the duration of the Second World War.
Stinchcombe had once received a visit from an even more influential convert, namely, John Henry (later Cardinal) Newman. Soon after Easter in 1865, Newman visited the Reverend Isaac Williams at the Old Vicarage, Stinchcombe, a friend and former curate from his Anglican days. In spite of poor health, Williams had earned a reputation as a poet and an important devotional writer. Shortly after the visit, Williams died and Newman first thought that he might have contributed to the death of his old friend as Williams had insisted on driving him from Stinchcombe back to the railway station.
For a number of years, one of Evelyn Waugh’s neighbours was Dr Thomas Parkinson Leighton O.B.E. (1887c-1957), the Chairman of Gloucester Medical Board. He was a cousin of the late Archbishop Thomas Leighton Williams of Birmingham. After a successful career in Lancashire he retired to Langport Court, Stinchcombe, where he was later to become choirmaster at St. Dominic’s, Dursley.
During the 1960’s Captain Lord Robert Crichton-Stuart was living at Stancombe Park. He was the son of the 4th Marquis of Bute and was a prominent Catholic personality. In 1963 he was a Privy Chamberlain of Sword and Cape and President of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. During this period, Melksham Court, Stinchcombe, was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell Joseph. He was a wealthy Jewish hotelier with a Catholic wife and a staff which normally included a number of Italians.
One of the earliest references I have found to the raising of funds for St. Dominic’s Church is in a letter, dated 19th November 1937, from Molly Lister to her son, Patrick:
‘Father Murtagh is arranging a whist drive at the Y.M.C.A. Hall in aid of the building funds for the church and I am going. I am working terribly hard to make it a success as you know the difficulties in Dursley. I rang Mrs. Pepworth who is a great leader of affairs in Dursley and she has promised to come and bring others – so that’s a help.’
A week later, she wrote:
‘Today I go to Dursley to a whist drive at the Y.M.C.A. for the church. It ought to be alright and I hope it will bring in a lot of money as we must do something soon about a church as we have been told that the Y.M.C.A. is up for sale and that soon we shall not be able to have our services there.’
The November whist drive was followed by one at Christmas and soon fetes, jumble sales and other fund-raising events became a way of life for the small Catholic community in Dursley. At the parish church at Nympsfield there was still the offertory box for the building of the chapel-of-ease at Dursley.
In March 1938 the Diocesan Trustees purchased the site in Jubilee Road for the sum of £360. Also, in that month, Mrs. Lister organized the first Shamrock Ball in the Lister Social Club. The Dursley Gazette advertised beforehand that the, ‘St. Patrick’s Day Shamrock Ball will be held at Lister Club Hall, Dursley, on Thursday next.’ The ball was organized under the patronage of the Countess of Westmorland, who was a Catholic lady from Badminton, Lady Tubbs and Captain and Mrs. W.F. Eyre.
‘Green and white were the principal modes of decoration. Lilies, tulips and narcissi were tastefully distributed among all types of fern and palms and pale green lighting effects added a refreshing lustre to the decorations. All arrangements were made by Mrs. Robert Lister to whom much credit is due. Mrs. Lister, through the Gazette, wishes to express thanks to all her helpers and particularly to Listers Social Club Committee for their willing assistance. Mr. L. J. Watts was an efficient M.C. and the catering arrangements with cocktail bar, carried out by Mr. S. Hodgson, were excellent. Messrs. F. Brinicombe and son had charge of the decorations and the lighting scheme was carried out by Mr. S. Morris. Mr. Eames was the fortune teller and Mr. Gabb was the door steward. Music during the evening was supplied by the Lister Rhythmic Orchestra – the members of which were obviously enjoying themselves as much as the dancers – under the conductorship of Mr. S.T. Webber A.R.C.M., R.M.S.M.
Among those present were Mr. and Mrs. R.B. Lister, Captain and Mrs. Eyre and party, Mr. and Mrs. Pain Mminchinhampton) and party, Mr. and Mrs. Bracher and party, Mrs. Faulder Burn and party, Captain O’Flynn, Mrs. Mervyn King (Bristol) and party, Mr. Allen and Miss Nurshaw (Falfield), Mr. W. Sallusbury-Baker and Miss Vowles and Father Murtagh (Nympsfield).’
Molly Lister wrote to Father Murtagh, some six weeks later, with details of her fund-raising activities:
‘Enclosed is my cheque for £84-4-6d which sum is profit on the Shamrock Ball – £57-15-6d and the takings of the Dursley share of the fete at Woodchester on Easter Monday – £25-9-0d. will you please send it to His Lordship… I have booked the Club Hall for September 30th together with the big accordion band for a 2/6d dance to meet the needs of the less well-off people, and also a vaudeville show for a fortnight later, so the autumn season should start off well for us all. My chauffeur is bringing this up to you as I have missed the post and am so impatient for His Lordship to receive this cheque so that he may know what Dursley is doing for itself.’
Father Murtagh, in forwarding the cheque to the Bishop, remarked, ‘It is proving easy to find money for the fund since Your Lordship set your hand to buying a site for the church.’
Mrs. Molly Lister became well-acquainted with the Misses Leigh of Woodchester Park and they are referred to in correspondence between herself and her son. The share in the Easter Monday fete at Woodchester Park paved the way for the most publicized of all the fund-raising events – the Woodchester Park Open Day of Whit Monday 1938. The Dursley Gazette, along with the Gloucester Journal, fully reported the occasion in its columns:
‘People from all parts of the country, visited the famous Cotswold beauty spot and sightseers made a tour of the mansion which never fails to attract interest because of its unfinished state. Buses carried people from the gates to the house where stalls and competition booths had been erected and in the evening dancing took place on the lawn to the accompaniment of music from loudspeakers. Father Murtagh (Parish Priest of Nympsfield) was M.C. for the entertainments. After tea had been served in the dining room of the house, an address on the ‘History and Associations of Woodchester Park’, was given by Mr. Evelyn Waugh, the well-known author and novelist. A large crowd assembled in the quadrangle where the address was to be given and Father Murtagh introduced Mr. Waugh… (Afterwards he was) besieged by autograph hunters and he complied with their requests good humouredly.’
Fund-raising continued into 1939 and the Dursley Gazette was able to report that,
‘a successful jumble sale was held in the Town Hall, Dursley, on Saturday in aid of the Catholic Church Building Fund. A profit of £16 was realised and the organizer wishes to thank the many helpers and supporters.’
On June 24th 1939 a fete was held at Piers Court but, by this time, the Church of St. Dominic had been erected and opened.
The Dursley Gazette for Saturday, 3rd September, 1938, gave the following account of the laying of the Foundation Stone:
‘The Bishop of Clifton, Dr Lee, visited Dursley on Saturday to lay the foundation stone of the new Roman Catholic Church in Kingshill, which is to be called St. Dominic’s. Included in those present were the Rev. James Murtagh of Nympsfield, several Bristol ministers, two Dominican Fathers from the Priory at Woodchester and one of the Benedictines from Cheltenham. After he had laid the stone Dr Lee blessed the foundations and at the end he gave a short address in which he said he had named the church St. Dominic’s on account of the good work the Dominican Fathers had done in the area.’
The architects of the church were Messrs. Roberts and Willman of 2, Hammet Street, Taunton, and the builders were Messrs. A. Reynton and Sons of High Street, Wotton-under-Edge. Roberts and Willman designed various other churches in the Diocese of Clifton:
St Dunstan, Keynsham 1935
St Bernadette, Westbury 1938
Sacred Heart, Westbury-on-Trym,1939, built by Stansell & Son of Taunton.
The church at Dursley cost £2, 689.13.5d to erect and the architect’s fees were £135. St. Dominic’s had also to be furnished and equipped – the altar rails, pulpit, benches and vestment press were provided by Messrs. Wake & Dean Ltd., Furniture Manufacturers, of Yatton, Bristol. These items cost £210.5.0d. J. Wippell & Co. of London supplied a tabernacle, altar crucifix, sanctuary lamp and six candlesticks for £66.4.0d, which brough the total outlay to £3,101.2.5d.
The new church was actually opened on 26th February, 1939 and again the Dursley Gazette provided full coverage in the following Saturday’s edition:
‘The Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton, the Right Rev. William Lee, blessed and opened the new Roman Catholic Church of St. Dominic at Dursley on Sunday. Three priests were present – Monsignor Canon Long of the Pro-Cathedral, Bristol, the Rev. Dr Rea (Bishop’s Secretary) and the Rev. J. Murtagh. Two hundred people were present at the Mass which was said by the Bishop and seventy people received Holy Communion. The nuns from the Convent at Nympsfield, the Nympsfield Children’s Choir, and a number of Nympsfield parishioners were also present.
During Holy Mass the choir sang the Kyrie Eleison, the hymn, ‘Jesus Thou art Coming’, the Sanctus, and the hymn, ‘Faith of our Fathers.’ In his address the Bishop said the people were indebted to Miss Leigh, of Woodchester Park, without whom it would not have been possible to have a priest to say Mass. The nuns of Nympsfield were also thanked. The Bishop also praised the foresight of Father Ryan, who, while in charge of Nympsfield, appreciated the need for a Catholic Church in Dursley and started the fund for it. This work was later continued by Father Murtagh.
Thanks were expressed by the speaker to his people in the Dursley district who had generously given to the fund, and especially those who had organized events in aid of the building fund and those who gave personal donations. No parish of its size in the diocese had contributed more generously. The architect and builder were also congratulated.
The Rt. Rev. W. Lee greatly encouraged his listeners by saying that he would not charge any interest for the next five years on the debt of £3,000 which the new church had imposed on the parish. Therefore, the money which is raised in future in the parish will go towards paying off the capital expenditure.
The Church was called, “St. Dominic’s” in honour of the Dominican monks at Woodchester, who put in a tremendous amount of work in the district.
In future there will be Children’s Catechisms at 3p.m. on Saturdays and confessions will be heard on Saturdays from 3.30 till 4.30p.m.’
At last the church had been completed and services were no longer held at the Y.M.C.A. Hall. Evelyn Waugh had written disparagingly of, ‘Mass among the cigarette stubs’, but Patrick Lister remembers attending Mass there as a child and recalls a far more positive atmosphere:
‘I shall always remember the prayerful stillness of the room at the Y.M.C.A. in Dursley – not an empty silence but a purposeful and dedicated calm that I have valued since at retreats.’
His mother wrote of the opening ceremonies of the new church:
‘I am pleased with the church – it is really lovely. Very simple and with comfortable benches instead of those beastly chairs. His Lordship was in great form and gave a very good address. Church was packed. I officiate as godmother to Wigmore’s (Uncle Frank’s right hand) youngest child this afternoon. It will be the first christening in the new church.’
That baby is now a squadron-leader.
Father Murtagh wrote to the Bishop, probably in March 1939, enclosing some interesting statistical details:
‘I have 200 Catholics, children and adults, in Dursley and district. Church is well filled on Sundays. 35 attend Mass on holy days, 25 attend Benediction on Fridays and there is an attendance of 80 at Sunday Mass. The Sunday collection averages at £2.’
THE WAR AND ITS AFTERMATH
The new church was, of course, only a chapel-of-ease to St. Joseph’s Parish Church at Nympsfield. The priest still resided at the Convent in the village and contact between the two communities remained much as before. The school had been a link between the two congregations and, in April 1939, Mrs. Lister was appointed a governor of the school. Two months later, Evelyn Waugh, who was also a school governor, started a debating class at St. Joseph’s School.
During the summer, as the days led up to the outbreak of war, Evelyn Waugh refers, in his diary, to Father Murtagh spending the sum of £40 on plaster stations of the cross – presumably for the new church at Dursley.
The war years saw various changes to life in Dursley. Evacuees arrived from various places and Evelyn Waugh vividly describes waiting for the arrival of the evacuee children in Stinchcombe on 1st September 1939. He refers to the villagers waiting, listening to the radio in Mrs. Lister’s car, before empty buses arrived and, finally, a police officer who informed them that the children had come four hundred short and that there were now none for Stinchcombe.
Towards the end of the month Dominican nuns arrived to take up residence at Pier’s Court. According to Waugh, they planned to bring thirty children, two parents, six nuns, a mistress and a priest. The nuns remained at Piers Court until September 1945 when the Waughs returned.
Mrs. Lister became an Air Raid Warden, spending some of her time entertaining evacuee children. Although extremely active, and ostensibly fit, she suffered severe curvature of the spine. Later she moved to Bath, on her own, and took up war work driving for the Admiralty during the Blitz.
During the war a party of Italian prisoners-of-war was housed at Nibley House. John Richards of Nympsfield recalls Father Murtagh celebrating two Masses each Sunday at Nympsfield, one at Dursley and then journeying over to Nibley House for a midday celebration. Over 120 prisoners were housed at Nibley House and my cousin, John Eley, the present owner, informs me that the fine stencilling in one of the rooms was carried out by a prisoner named Pirelli.
After the war Evelyn Waugh and his family returned to Stinchcombe until 1955 when they moved to Combe Florey, in Somerset, where he died eleven years later. Waugh wrote in his diary, shortly after his return to Piers Court, ‘to Mass in Dursley. We expected some welcome from our neighbours but have had none.’ Molly Lister wrote to her son, during September 1947, ‘I have got petrol for Dursley and go each Sunday morning. This morning Evelyn Waugh offered me breakfast at Piers Court any Sunday morning. I would like to accept and I thought it most kind of him.’
The Listers moved to Southampton when hostilities ended. Sadly, Molly Lister’s health deteriorated and she died of Leukemia in a Bristol nursing home on Saturday, 5th August 1950. Her funeral service took place at St. Dominic’s Church on Thursday 10th. The Parish Priest was on holiday at the time so the Requiem Mass was celebrated by Father Francis Morrisey of Upholland College, who was doing supply. He was assisted by Dr Leighton who acted as M.C. and five boys from the orphanage at Nympsfield served at the altar as many of the usual servers were away on holiday.
The Dursley Gazette paid tribute to her, ‘Mrs Lister had many friends in mid Gloucestershire and to them all the news of the death of such a generous-hearted lady has come as a heavy blow.’ Her friend, Mrs. Grace Bracher, wrote an emotional letter to Patrick Lister:
‘I feel your mother’s loss very deeply – we had been friends for so many years. She had a wonderful nature – so kind and so loving and so big and generous. Many are mourning her loss and many in their hearts are calling her ‘blessed’. Her friends were in all classes of life and many people realised she was a real lady without affectation and in kindly simplicity no regarder of personages.’
The family of Jack Freeman of Nympsfield remembers her chauffeur delivering Christmas hampers, completely out of the blue, when he was, for many months, on sick leave from Lister’s Factory.
1946 saw the death of Miss Blanche Leigh, aged eighty-two years. Three years later, her sister, Miss Beatrice Leigh, died aged eighty-three years. Both ladies had devoted themselves to developing Catholic life in Nympsfield – building the church and financially supporting the priest. They died in abject poverty. Their deaths marked the end of an era and, in many ways, their generosity made possible the development of the Mass centre at Dursley.
Father Murtagh was, himself, described in a newspaper account as:
‘a man of tireless energy and devotion to duty. He allowed no obstacle to stand in his path. No matter how bad the weather might be, he was never known to miss a service in Dursley, often making the journey from Nympsfield and back on a bicycle. On one occasion he battled his way through a heavy snowstorm and this superhuman effort so impressed a citizen of Dursley that he stood to attention and saluted the priest as he rode past.’
Father Murtagh sometimes cycled down to Falfield to visit Mrs. Lister at her home. She also received visits from the priest from Chipping Sodbury who came over to Falfield on his Ariel four motorcycle.
During the autumn of 1949 Father Murtagh suffered a breakdown in health and he was compelled to resign from Nympsfield. For four years he acted as the resident chaplain at More Hall Convent, Stroud. He died at the age of fifty-two years and was buried, in 25th August 1955, at Woodchester Priory. The Gloucestershire County Gazette wrote of him:
‘It was characteristic of Father Murtagh that he made light of his growing infirmities and did his utmost to ignore them. A grim tenacity kept him going and, even when the end was approaching, his usual remark was “I’m very well. Pray for me”. Those who had the privilege of knowing him will never forget his wise counsel and ever ready sympathy, while his quick sense of humour made him popular with his clerical friends, but his lasting memorial will be that he spent himself in the discharge of his ministry.’.
The end of the war brought a new challenge to St. Dominic’s Church – the Catholics from Europe employed at Listers and elsewhere. David Evans has kindly allowed me to reproduce the following extract from his book, ‘Listers – The First Hundred Years’:
‘In 1946 Listers decided to increase its workforce in Dursley by recruiting up to 700 of the East Europeans then living in Great Britain. In the autumn of that year Mr. G. Kuczak was appointed as Company Liaison Officer and, with Mr. S. Marshall, Employment Officer, the engagement of men began in the summer of 1947. The Unions co-operated fully, agreeing to allow 10-15% increase in employees in this way. It was the beginning of the increasingly international aspect of the Company’s workforce, and proved so successful that the background is worth recording in detail.
At the end of the Second World War a great number of Polish soldiers were in Great Britain. Some returned home, but others refused to accept the regime that governed their homeland and stayed on. For these the British Government set up the ‘Polish Re-Settlement Corps to help the change from military to civilian life. Being young, able and fit, they were absorbed easily into industrial concerns, Listers among them.
The poles employed by the Company, together with those working for other local firms, were housed at the ex-R.A.F. Station at Babdown, seven miles from Dursley, on the Tetbury road. The camp was under Polish control and remained open until about 1955 when Ministry of Labour financial support was withdrawn. Listers, like the other firms, set about housing nearer its works those in its employ – about 100 – who had not moved into Dursley of their own accord. At one time Owlpen House, above Uley, was considered but it was eventually decided to use properties in the town itself as hostels – for example Enderby House and Florida in Long Street, bought from the Y.M.C.A. in 1939, and Woodmancote (Hillside) House and Erwell House, both purchased in 1955.
Under the Ribbentrop Agreement, Poland was divided between Germany and Russia in 1939. In the eastern sector the Russians systematically deported all Poles and their families who were likely to become a threat to their domination, mainly from the intelligentsia. When Germany turned on her former ally, the Russians made an agreement with the Polish government-in-exile to release its deportees and a mass exodus from Eastern Russia began. Many of the able-bodied men made their way to the West to join Polish Service Units; their dependants sojourning in the British Central African Colonies for safety. At the end of the war the British Government used no longer needed military camps, such as R.A.F. Daglingworth, near Cirencester, to accommodate these. Some of the menfolk joined Listers and eventually Dursley R.D.C. houses eight or nine families within the town.
In june 1947, then, the first Poles – about 50 – arrived to work at Listers, and thereafter numbers climbed to a maximum of about 380. No formal teaching of English was attempted but through interpreters the main were trained in the Company’s school and on the shop floor. From the beginning it was decided to provide no ‘Polish Club’ in the works as it was feared that a ghetto situation could result. Instead the men were welcomed into normal company works and social life. It says much for the resilience of these men that they were able to settle and blend into a small, still fairly isolated, English country town, so well, and for the townsfolk who were able to accept them – some much embittered by their experiences – with open friendship and understanding.
The story is told of how the then Minister of Labour was horrified when he heard of Listers plan to introduce so many immigrants in so short a time and predicted possible riots by the local populace! They didn’t happen, of course, and great credit must go to the Company’s directors, especially George Lister, for courage in carrying through the scheme. There is no doubt that the Polish workers have fully justified the confidence the directors had at the time. The same can be said for the workmen of other nationalities who followed this first influx.
1947, like 1945-6, was a period of great expansion in industry generally and the search for more employees by Listers continued, the source of Polish workers having then dried up. By this time the Ministry of Labour had opened a hostel at Bridgend, Stroud, for Italians – mainly skilled foundry workers from Northern Italy – and some of these were engaged by the Company. Thus began the happy association with Italians and, in the following years, more were taken on. In about 1954 the steel mills of Lydney closed with reorganisation, and some of the Italians there came to work at Listers – easy then with rail connections to Dursley via the Severn Railway Bridge.
In 1960-62, by making use of contacts of Italians already in their employ, the Company invited over more from their mother country but insufficient came to meet needs, and in 1963 a team from the Company travelled to Southern Italy and Sicily to recruit.
A second wave of East-Europeans was engaged by the Company in 1948-9. During the war Germany had been in dire need of manpower and had imported, almost as slave labour, nationals of the Balkan States, Czechoslovakia, the Ukraine, Red and White Russia and Poland. At the war’s end some preferred to become ‘displaced persons’ rather than return to the communist governments many of their countries had in control. These were slowly taken in by France, the U.S.A. and Great Britain, and here they found employment in agriculture. Later many changed to industrial work and some came to Listers.
After the Suez Crisis of 1956, Colonel Nasser expelled from Egypt many with British passports and a few, on arriving in England, were accommodated in the Bridgend Hostel, Stroud. A number of these, mainly Maltese and Syrians, joined and increased Listers workforce.
Later the idea of recruiting from Yugoslavia was mooted but sensitive to the feelings of existing workers this idea was dropped. However, the Company has continued to engage individual workers of many nationalities over the last twenty years and its immigrant work force must be one of the most cosmopolitan in the area.’
Mr. Szczepan Rubin of Dursley has provided a few further details regarding the Polish community. In 1949, at Babdown, a branch of the Polish Ex-Servicemen’s Association was organized. When the camp was closed the Association developed in Dursley, constantly looking after the welfare, social and cultural needs of the Polish community. In 1958 a Polish school was opened with 28 children in two classes and with two teachers. The subjects taught included the Polish language, the history and geography of Poland as well as national and folk dances. Later on a dance group was formed which gave displays in many places. From 1961 concerts, shows, exhibitions of Polish art and craft, as well as an exhibition of paintings by local Polish artists were organized. The dances at the Lister Hall became so popular that after opening at 8p.m. the door had to be closed at 9p.m. In 1974 the Polish Ex-Servicemen’s Association marked its twenty-fifth anniversary with a festival. At the time the chairman was Mr. Rubin, the secretary was Mr. Wojciechowska, the treasurer Mr. Lesijak and vice-chairman Mr. S. Kuczaj. The work of the Association continues today – visiting and supporting the sick and elderly.
The European Catholics who settled in the area naturally looked to St. Dominic’s Church as their spiritual home. Even though the Liturgy would have been celebrated in Latin and in a familiar form to that which they had known at home, their different languages and cultures must have presented them with a few problems. However, visits from Polish and Italian clergy helped them to develop their spiritual lives as well as to retain something of their national identities. The Ukrainians would have probably found services at St. Dominic’s the most different but, by 1961, a Ukrainian priest, the Reverend Stephan Wiwcharuk D.D. of Coventry, was celebrating Mass according to the Byzantine rite, quarterly, at St. Dominic’s.
Such a significant increase in the Catholic population in the Dursley district prompted the new Bishop of Clifton, Dr Joseph Rudderham, to re-examine the pastoral care of the area. The resignation of Father Murtagh, in 1949, enabled necessary changes to take place.
THE REVEREND LITTLETON ALFRED POWYS M.A.
After Father Murtagh’s retirement, Father Edwin Essex O.P. was appointed to fill the vacancy on a temporary basis. Whilst he only acted as Parish Priest of Nympsfield cum Dursley for about five months he remained at Nympsfield as the Chaplain to the Convent and, in this capacity, looked after St. Joseph’s Church until March 1966. Meanwhile the Bishop sought a parish priest and, in November 1949, he purchased 5, Jubilee Road, as a suitable residence. St. Dominic’s was, therefore, to become effectively the Parish Church of the joint parish with St. Joseph’s as the chapel-of-ease.
The first resident Parish Priest of Dursley was the Reverend Littleton Powys. He was a forty-seven-year-old convert, son of the author, John Cowper Powys. He was ordained as an Anglican clergyman in 1927 and served as curate in Folkestone before being appointed as Principal of St. Stephen’s House, in Oxford, an Anglican theological college. He held this position for six years before becoming the Rector of a parish near Steyning. At the beginning of the Second World War Powys became a chaplain to the Forces but, in 1940, resigned. He was received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church at St. John’s Church in Bath.
After spending four years studying for the Catholic priesthood at the Beda in Rome, he became curate at St. John’s in Bath. During his twenty months in Dursley, Father Powys kept a detailed parish log book which traces his many activities.
Father Powys arrived in Dursley on Friday, 17th February 1950 and that evening he marked the beginning of his ministry with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. He spent his first week in the old Bell Hotel and travelled, each day, to say Mass at St. Dominic’s. On 25th February he took up residence at the first St. Dominic’s Presbytery – 5 Jubilee Road. Eighteen days later he was joined by his housekeeper, Mrs. Edith Dix.
His new congregation quickly extended a warm welcome and a social evening was organized at which Father Edwin was presented with two pipes and tobacco as a mark of their appreciation. The new priest received a more practical gift – a parcel of groceries. Father Powys was also Parish Priest of Nympsfield so many of the families from the village attended this social gathering in Dursley. On St. Patrick’s night the villagers organized their own welcome, a dance in St. Joseph’s School, which was supported by two bus-loads of parishioners from Dursley.
Father Powys was determined to celebrate the Holy Week Liturgy as fully as possible but St. Dominic’s, like many new churches, lacked equipment as well as a tradition of music and altar serving. However, Mr. Cecil Day, a master at Stouts Hill School at Uley, became Master of Ceremonies and Dr Leighton organized the music. Father Powys noted in his log book:
‘Holy Week and Easter has been an exciting, absorbing and exhausting business – much improvisation: last night I made a processional crucifix at 12.45a.m.! But the people have been very responsive. We did the Ceremonies pretty fully and I sang the Exultet, the Blessing of the font and the Litanies (assisted by Barnard and Dr Leighton). Tomorrow we have the last 9.15a.m. Mass and I have first Communions – Heather Terrett, Hazel Terrett, John McAvoy, Carolyn Jones, Frank Barnowski, Helen Zak, Peter Hogan and Margaret Holder.’
At the 9.15a.m. Mass on Easter Day 165 people were present and about ninety received Holy Communion. From Low Sunday 1950 the Masses on Sunday were increased to two with celebrations at 8.30a.m. and 10.30a.m. By 1962 a further Mass was celebrated at 7.00p.m. in the evening and Benediction was given every Sunday at 3.30p.m. followed by Catechism.
Father Powys was eager to beautify the church. He acquired a new tabernacle from Staleys of Gloucester; the gift of a ciborium, recovered from the blitz which had damaged St John’s Church in Bath; a brass sanctuary bell, donated by Dr Leighton, as well as new altar cards, covers, veils and vestments. Mrs. Tranter, the daughter of Mrs. Dix, provided four heraldic shields for the altar rails and she painted the statue of Our Lady in bright colours. Shortly afterwards a votive candle stand was provided.
The highlight of 1950 took place on the Feast of Corpus Christi when Father Powys organized the first Procession of the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Kingshill. The event received significant coverage in the local newspaper and it is worth recounting at length:
‘St Dominic’s Church with its background of meadows and woods made a lovely setting for the Corpus Christi Procession held in the open air on Sunday. The number of children, girls in white and boys, many of them in choir-dress, was swelled by nearly eighty from the Convent at Nympsfield. Marist Sisters, in their blue and black habits, Children of Mary in their pale blue and white veils, little boys in scarlet cassocks, and the brightly-coloured banners, all shining in the sun, made a delightful picture. It is a pity that more of the Dursley people could not have seen it. There were many men in the Procession, including lads from the Naval Station at Sharpness, brought over by Father Edward Bagnall S.D.S..
The Congregation gathered in the church at 3-30pm in front of an altar ablaze with candles, in joyous mood to praise God for the glorious gift given to mankind on the first Maundy Thursday. .. After the opening hymn, the Procession, ably marshalled by Mr. Cecil Day and his assistants, made its way out of the church and down the alley-way to Kingshill shops. Turning right, it went along the pavement in fron to the cinema, while little girls with baskets of flower petals strewed them in front of the three priests bearing the Blessed Sacrament under a canopy. The hymn-singing by Choir and people, conducted by Dr Leighton of Stinchcombe, sounded crisp and clear as the Procession moved along past the Regal Cinema and right-handed up into jubilee Road again. Returning to the church, the Congregation of nearly four hundred souls resumed their seats, though many of them had to stand in the porch or overflow into the church grounds. The Rector, The Rev. L.A. Powys, then gave a short address, and this was followed by Solemn Benediction, the Celebrant being assisted by Fathers Eugene and Alphonsus from the Dominican Priory at Woodchester. The Service ended with the hymn: ‘Faith of our Fathers’, which was sung most heartily.’
Christmas Day was also celebrated with considerable dignity too. The church, including the 48 chairs borrowed by Mr. Wigmore, was almost full. Father Powys wrote for the local newspaper:
‘One of the most romantic of Catholic services is the first Mass of Christmas celebrated at midnight. The service this year at St. Dominic’s had an especial interest since it was the first Midnight Mass to be celebrated in the little church since it was built in 1939. The church was nearly full by 11.30p.m. and carols were sung most heartily until the Blessing of the Crib at 12 o’clock which marked the beginning of the Sung Mass. Great credit is due to the servers and choir for such a careful and reverent rendering of the Holy Mysteries. The soloist at the Offertory was Mrs. Hardman and her singing of Adeste Fidelis was delightful.’
During the following year Father Devas led a mission at St. Dominic’s. Each evening of the week a sermon was preached, followed by Benediction, whilst during the day parishioners were visited in their homes. A full size cross was erected outside the church which was illuminated by electric light. It had been made by Frank Challacombe and Bob Jones for use by the Knights of St. Columba during the Glastonbury Pilgrimage. Frank Challacombe, Bob Jones and their respective families were involved with many parish activities at that time.
Father Powys’s second Easter, in Dursley, saw a record number of communicants and on Whit Sunday fifteen children made their First Holy Communion. On the following Sunday, Trinity Sunday 1951, Bishop Joseph Rudderham made his first Visitation to the Parish and confirmed 104 candidates during the afternoon. The Bishop’s throne consisted of a chair from Nympsfield with a canopy prepared by Mrs. Dix, complete with a painting of the Episcopal arms produced by her daughter, Mrs. Tranter. The Dursley Gazette reported that Bishop Rudderham arrived at the Marist Convent on Friday and met many of his flock, from both Nympsfield and Dursley, at a reception held at St. Joseph’s School during the same evening. The account continued:
‘On Sunday morning, after the 8.30a.m. Mass in St. Dominic’s, His lordship made his formal entry into the church at 10.30a.m. Mass being met by the Parish Priest, The Rev. L.A. Powys, at the church door. Proceeding up the nave under a canopy, he gave his blessing to the people from the Altar. Mass then followed at which the Bishop presided and gave his address to the large congregation assembled.
It was not easy to accommodate in the little church the 104 candidates who came to be confirmed at 3.30p.m., together with their friends and relatives; and some of the congregation had to stand. In addition to those from Dursley and Nympsfield there were thirteen candidates from Woodchester Parish and nine from Thornbury. The Confirmation was followed by Pontifical Benediction of the Holy Sacrament at which Father Powys was deacon and Father Eugene O.P. was sub-deacon.’
The newspaper report concluded with the remark that
‘all those who took part, servers at the Altar, marshalls and choir did their very best to render a worthy service. The church looked spotlessly clean and was beautifully adorned with flowers.’
The excitement of His Lordship’s Visitation was followed by a Quarante ‘Ore or Forty Hours of Devotion when Father Powys admitted that he raided Dr Leighton’s garden for brightly coloured poppies and peonies to decorate the church.
The Parish Priest was not just concerned with worthily celebrating the Liturgy, important as this was to him, but he was also sensitive to the pastoral needs of his parishioners, especially the Polish community and other groups who had settled in the Dursley area. He was particularly aware of the need for transport which would enable Catholic families who were living in outlying villages to attend Mass and for their children to receive catechetical formation. Thirdly, he was keen to build up an active social life for both the older and younger members of his congregation, conscious always of the fact that Dursley still had no Catholic parish hall.
During this period, it was estimated that there were about one hundred Polish families in the area of which only a sprinkling were attending Mass at St. Dominic’s on a typical Sunday. In response Father Powys decided to entertain Father Lucian, a Polish Franciscan, for a few days during the June of 1950. Father Lucian visited a number of these families and heard confessions. He also attended a dance for the Polish community which was arranged at the Lister Hall but this was poorly attended in spite of an excellent Polish band. Father Lucian returned to Dursley during the following year when he led a retreat for Polish people. By the spring of 1951, Father Powys noticed that a larger number of Poles were coming to Mass and he was actually baptising more Polish babies than English ones.
The log book reveals a number of interesting episodes involving members of the Polish community during those early days. Father Powys referred to collecting Poles and Lithuanians from Coaley, for Mass, on his first Easter Day in the parish. During the month of January, 1951, he was invited to visit the camp at Babdown where he was asked to celebrate a Requiem Mass for Roman Nowicki in the small chapel there. Father Powys wrote of this:
‘They have a chapel in a hut – very attractive and entirely “un-European” in character with a picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa in the place of honour over the altar.’
On Holy Saturday he visited,
‘a house full of Poles and not only blessed it and them, but bread, fruit cake and eggs – each with a separate blessing. They had themselves provided the rituals – open at the right place.’
The Polish community gradually settled in Dursley and the log book records that many were ‘very successfully and happily married to English girls.’ At about this time a meeting was called between members of the Dursley Polish community and Father Gruza of Bristol. As a result, he agreed to celebrate Mass twice a month in Dursley and a Polish Church Committee was created to look after the priest’s expenses. This committee still exists today and it looks after the spiritual life o the community.
After the Babdown Camp was closed, in about 1955, the chapel there was disbanded and the picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa and the altar cloth were in need of a new home. These items were donated to St. Dominic’s Church and, today, the picture still hangs in a place of prominence. The picture had been given to Babdown by one of the soldiers who had brought it with him from Malmesbury and this same soldier is believed to have painted it. This picture was blessed by the Catholic Parish Priest of Tetbury who had pastoral responsibility for the Catholics who were living in the Babdown Camp.
In 1955 the local newspaper carried the following report:
‘Large congregations, including people of several nationalities, attended celebrations of Mass at the Roman Catholic Church on Christmas Day. Father Gruza of Bristol said Mass for Polish members of the Church at mid-day. To celebrate St. Nicholas’s Day the Poles gave a party to a number of children. Santa Claus appeared in vestments similar to those worn by a bishop instead of the customary red cloak seen in this country.’
Five years earlier Father Powys noted that members of some twelve different nations had met together for the celebration of Midnight Mass and, on another occasion, he recorded that two Austrian and two Tyrolese boys served at Mass. During the autumn of 1951 he wrote:
‘I find I have now the following races in the Dursley District among my flock – Italians, poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Germans, French, Belgians, Swiss, Austrian, Yugoslav, Spanish, Brazilians, Welsh, Irish, Scots and English.’
The rate of increase in the Catholic population at that time, raised the question as to whether the new church would prove to be too small in four or five years time – even with two Sunday celebrations of Mass.
St. Dominic’s Parish was certainly very widespread, although in 1950 it still had no definite boundaries. The Diocesan Boundary Commission hoped that Dursley would eventually serve the village of Kingswood as well as the Mass centre at Wotton-under-Edge, which was currently being served by the Salvatorian Fathers at Thornbury. However, this scheme was considered impractical in the short term as Nympsfield was still being served as a chapel-of-ease. However, North Nibley and Waterley Bottom were designated as lying within Dursley parish. One lady who lived at Waterley Bottom was a widow, Mrs. Kathleen Tranter. She had settled in the area shortly after the war and taught for fifteen years at the Chipping School at Wotton-under-Edge. A devout Catholic, she ran the Church repository and helped Father Powys in many ways – not least with wielding a paint brush. Her son, Nicholas, was studying at Prior Park College during the years that Father Powys was at Dursley but later he went on to study for the priesthood at S. Sulpice in Paris.
The attendance list for the ‘Welcome’ of Father Littleton Powys reveals the addresses of Catholic families who lived at Uley, Cambridge, Slimbridge, Coaley Peak, Stinchcombe and, of course, Nympsfield. As the months passed the need for transport for these people to Mass became a priority. Father Powys not only drove Father Murtagh’s ancient Ford motor car but he had his own Harley Davidson motorcycle. During his first summer in Dursley he wrote about the problems associated with instructing children whose families were scattered in Breadstone, Coaley, Cambridge and Slimbridge.
During a typical Sunday, in 1950, Father Powys drove a total of thirty miles collecting and then returning parishioners. These included the Burke Family of Gossington who attended the 8.30a.m. Mass. The collection of people for the 10.30a.m. Mass was undertaken in two separate journeys. He first collected those who lived in Coaley, Cam and cam house before setting out again for Woodmancote and Highfields. After Mass these people were driven home. After lunch he drove to Uley, Highfields and Coaley to collect and return children for catechism class. Later a Mrs. Davies from Minchinhampton assisted with catechism classes and she instructed children from Coaley and Gossington.
Eventually a solution was found to the transport problem and, from 18th February 1951, the White Lion Company of Wotton-under-Edge ran a bus service for the parishioners of Uley, Coaley, Cambridge and Cam. Minutes before the 10.30a.m. Mass commenced the ‘‘us set off again on a short journey to collect more people from Bull pitch. The ‘bus cost £3-10-0d per week and if there was a poor take-up there could be a deficit of over 25/- per week.
The extremely scattered nature of the parish also presented difficulties in getting the Catholic children together for, as Father Powys, stated,
‘It is so important that they should know one another and so feel less isolated by belonging to the Catholic Religion.’
As a response to this concern he arranged for a coach outing to Barry Island for the children. The day started off with drizzle but, after he had ‘besieged Our Lady’s statue with candles’, it cleared up and the sun came out; the trip was enjoyed by all. Later on in the year a tea party was held at Walters’ Café, in Dursley, for those who were too young or who were unable to go on the Barry Island excursion.
In September 1950 a Catholic cub pack was tried, under the leadership of eighteen-year-old Rose Kelly, but it failed as the boys who were interested seem to live over four miles from the church.
Adult social evenings at the British Legion Club often had a fund-raising purpose and, on one occasion, there was a draw prize of £100. Other fund-raising events during this time included a jumble sale at the British Legion hut which raised £40 and plans were made for a summer fete in 1952 at Piers Court. Another communal bus trip was the annual parish pilgrimage to Glastonbury.
The Parish Log Book compiled by Father Littleton Powys gives a fascinating insight into parish life during the early 1950s. The parish priest was evidently an energetic man who laboured hard for the people of Dursley and Nympsfield, and, as a result, he was popular and is remembered with affection. From Dursley he was appointed to Peasedown St. John, a small parish, handed over to the diocese by the Benedictines of Downside Abbey. On Sunday 18th November 1951, Father Powys celebrated his last Sunday in Dursley and then took up his new post, however, eighteen months later he left his new parish a sick man. He died at St. Teresa’s Convent in Corston during February 1954, aged only fifty-one years.
THE REVEREND BARTHOLOMEW COLLINS
Father Bartholomew Collins was introduced to his new flock by his predecessor at a social gathering on Friday 23rd November. He was a thirty-five-year-old Irishman from the Benden area of county Cork. He trained for the priesthood at St. Finbar’s Seminary, Cork, and then moved on to St. Kieran’s Seminary, Kilkenny, in which city he was ordained priest in June 1942. Father Collins was first appointed as assistant curate at St. Nicholas’s Church, Bristol, and then at St. Joseph’s Fishponds before being posted to Wellington as Parish Priest in 1949.
Unfortunately, Father Collins did not continue the parish log book so it is less easy to piece together events at Dursley during his time there. However, a letter survives from Evelyn Waugh who was to leave Piers Court during 1955:
‘Dear Father Collins,
An announcement at Mass on the following lines will greatly help:
If the weather is fine a large attendance from outside the parish is expected at the Fete at Piers Court on Sauturday next August 14th. The Catholic Women’s League and the St. Vincent de Paul Society are undertaking the bulk of the work but other helpers are urgently needed both in the morning and afternoon. Will those who are willing to give their time please leave their names at the church porch stating the hours they will be free. “We also greatly deed presents suitable for prizes at the various stalls, objects for the jumble sale and cracked china and glass to be used as targets for missiles.”
In about the year 1954 No. 5, Jubilee Road was sold by the Diocese for the sum of £2,000 and this money was used to partially fund the erection of a purpose-built presbytery situated next to the church. The new house cost approximately £2,500 to build.
Father Powys had mentioned in his log book the need for a parish hall and his successor was able to turn this dream into a reality. Father Collins achieved his goal by using voluntary labour. Many organizations became involved with the project including the Polish Ex-Servicemen’s Association. Their minutes of meetings include the response that they gave to a letter from the Chairman of St. Dominic’s Parish Committee. Dated 15th April 1956 the Association decided to appeal to all Poles to give as much financial support as they could, together with voluntary labour, to accomplish the building of a church hall. In response twenty or thirty volunteers helped to build the hall and others offered to paint the interior.
The Gloucestershire County Gazette reported, in full, the opening of the hall and we find this account in a newspaper dated Saturday 27th July 1957:
‘St Dominic’s Parish Hall which was officially opened on Friday evening has been built entirely by voluntary labour by members of the Church, who received valuable assistance from helpers who were non-Catholic. The new hall, which is of brick construction, stands near to the church. It will hold about 200 people and has a well-laid block floor which should be ideal for dancing. At one end there is a roomy stage and at the other a well-equipped kitchen. The builders – most of whom knew nothing about building work – commenced their efforts twelve months ago last Easter and were supervised by Mr. Noel Lee (architect) and Mr. P. Gooch, who was in charge of the brickwork. On Friday Mr. Gooch was presented with a watch in appreciation of his valuable assistance.
The opening was performed by Canon (later Monsignor) M.J. Roche of St. Peter’s Gloucester in the presence of the Parish Priest, Father B. Collins, a visitor from Cirencester, Father O’Donnell, and a large gathering of adults and members of the younger generation. Afterwards there was a social evening with Mr. O’Donnell as M.C. and during which there was a dancing display by the pupils of Miss Christine May and items by the children from Nympsfield Convent. Songs were given by Italian members of the Church. At the piano was Mr. H. Grewcott. It is intended to use the hall for the Church’s social events, all such functions in the past having to be staged in other halls in the town.’
The new hall cost some £1,500 to build, the balance being found by taking up a mortgage on the new presbytery.
The education of the younger members of the congregation was clearly a matter of concern for Father Collins. When Bishop Rudderham came to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation on 4th March 1956, besides five adults, he confirmed fifty children. The only Catholic school was St. Joseph’s at Nympsfield which had been funded entirely by the Misses Leigh and they had striven for years for state aid. An article in the Universe, newspaper, from 1957, illustrates the problem of education for the children of Dursley:
‘There is not yet a school here, and the growing congregation which includes a number of Poles – would ensure the success of a private school. There is property available now, considered by the Parish Priest to be suitable for such a school. The price is £3,500 and details would be sent to anyone genuinely interested.’
Nothing would appear to have resulted from this request but the remainder of the newspaper article may have resulted in more success:
‘More Catholics would be very welcome, especially if they could help with catechism, the sacristy and any needed social work. There should be little difficulty finding employment at Dursley and the Parish Priest would give help and advice to Catholics who want to know more about the Parish.’
Although we do not have log book entries we do have a couple of very early parish bulletins. These indicate that parish life continued much as before. In 1952 there was a successful St. Patrick’s Ball and, later in the year, Father Collins organized the first May Procession at Dursley, ‘for a number of years.’ This was to be attended by local Catholic scouts and guides from Dursley and Nympsfield, as well as children and parishioners from Nympsfield village and its convent. The same bulletins also refer to the forthcoming Fort Hours of Devotion and the Corpus Christi Procession. During May 1952 the church interior was distempered utilizing more voluntary labour.
Father Collins was in Dursley for eight years and during his time as pastor he witnessed the erection of the parish hall and the provision of a proper presbytery. When Father Powys had introduced Father Collins to the people of Dursley he had said, ‘I feel so very happy that I shall hand over the parish into such good keeping as Father Collins.’ Father Collins had certainly made his mark and he left Dursley in the late summer of 1959 to continue his ministry at St. Joseph’s in Fishponds. From 1973 Father Collins was at St. Patrick’s, Brockworth, and there he died twelve years later. For three months during 1959 St. Dominic’s was cared for by Father Michael English until the arrival of Father McCarthy on 6th December.
THE REVEREND NICHOLAS PATRICK MCCARTHY
Father McCarthy was a priest with some fifteen years of experience when he arrived in St. Dominic’s Parish. A major pastoral concern during his time was the provision of a modern purpose-built school. Even though many of the children lived in the Dursley area it was decided to re-build the parish school in Nympsfield as the Sisters, who had run the school since 1929, had agreed to largely fund the new building project. At last, St Joseph’s was to become a state-aided school. The new buildings cost some £25,000 to erect and they were ready to receive the first children in June 1962, eleven months before the official opening.
Since November 1960, despite of some initial opposition, a special coach had been paid for by the Local Education Authority so that Dursley children could travel to Nympsfield. Support from local councillors, particularly Mr. Maxwell Workman and Mrs. Edwards, paved the way for this financial assistance and, three years later, a second bus was even provided. At this time upwards of one hundred children were travelling, daily, from Dursley to St. Joseph’s School and Mrs. F. G. Ratcliffe, a part-time teacher, accompanied them each morning. Dursley has continued to have close links with the school at Nympsfield and school managers have included Mr. Wigmore, one of the pioneers of Roman Catholicism in Dursley.
The parish debts were, naturally, of concern to Father McCarthy. When he arrived the debt on the parish stood at £1,300. During the year 1962 the debt on the hall was reduced to £450 and, by November 1963, the mortgage on the house was completely redeemed and the hall and presbytery were the sole property of the diocese.
During his years in Dursley, Father McCarthy managed to make improvements to the church and property. In 1961 the church was re-decorated in three stages at the total cost of just £20 to the parish. Tony Bright was responsible for the painting of the sanctuary, Lord Crichton-Stuart of Stancombe Park for the decoration of the transept and Mr. P. Donegan for the nave. Mr. Donegan was also largely responsible for the re-surfacing of the car-park and pathways. A new oil-fired heating system was installed in the church, costing £400, and, during 1963, the church floor was renewed.
Sadly, on 1st January, 1965, a fire in the church resulted in the need for a complete renovation and new sanctuary furnishings. The stalls were given in memory of the late Herbert Vaughan Jackson; a new lighting system was installed and Mrs. Gosiewska presented the Amiens Cross.
During the year 1964 consideration was given to extending the sacristy and connecting it with the house. This received a sympathetic response and, as a result, a mound of clay was removed, during the june, in preparation for the work to commence. Plans were prepared for the extension, funds were raised and the construction was completed during the following year.
Other major events which took place during Father McCarthy’s time included the confirmation of one hundred candidates, by Bishop Rudderham, in May 1961. During 1960 a branch of the Catholic Mothers was started, in Dursley, and Mrs. Maingot, the Diocesan President, attended an inaugural meeting. On Sunday 29th April 1962 Nicholas Tranter of Waterley Bottom was ordained a priest, by Bishop Joseph Rudderham, at St. Gregory’s Church in Cheltenham. On the following morning Father Nicholas celebrated his first Mass in St. Dominic’s Church. Two years later St. Dominic’s Church witnessed its first priestly ordination.
On 15th April 1964 twenty-four-year-old ‘Bruno’ Bronislaw Wegrzyn was ordained by Bishop Rudderham. ‘Bruno’ was thrown into a Siberian slave camp in 1939, with his family, after the Russian-German pact to divide Poland equally. His parents died there within a week of each other, having suffered from malnutrition, but their children survived and, later, settled in New Zealand. Bruno’s aunt, Mrs. Alex Skalka, also survived the camp and, eventually, settled at 45, Frederick Thomas Road, Woodfield. Bruno trained for the priesthood in Genoa but he used to stay with his aunt in Dursley during the vacations, working in a local engineering company. After his ordination, which was a major event for the Catholic community in Dursley, Bruno returned to Genoa for further studies before going back to New Zealand to serve in the Diocese of Wellington.
These years were still part of a period of expansion for the new parish. Many Catholic families settled in the area, not only finding employment at Listers, but also because of the erection of the nuclear power station at Berkeley. During its construction many Irish men were employed on site and, for a time, they had their own Catholic chaplain.
1964 saw the Silver Jubilee of the Opening of St. Dominic’s Church and on 4th September, in the following year, Father McCarthy left Dursley to take up his new appointment at St. George’s Church in Warminster.
THE LAST TWENTY-FIVE YEARS
The story of St. Dominic’s Parish, since the departure of Father McCarthy, has been one of consolidation rather than expansion. During these years the influence of Listers has declined and the Polish and Italian families who have remained in the area have been integrated into parish life. No major building work has been undertaken and the local children continue to attend St. Joseph’s School in Nympsfield before moving on to St. Peter’s High School in Gloucester.
After the retirement of Father Edwin Essex as Convent chaplain in March 1966 various secular (diocesan) clergy were appointed to succeed him and whilst their positions were mainly linked with the care of the orphanage and homestead, they also looked after the spiritual needs of Nympsfield people. In 1976 (or thereabouts*) the united parish of Dursley cum Nympsfield was formally divided and Dursley became fully independent form its mother church.
St. Dominic’s Church looks much as it would have done at the time of its silver jubilee except that there is now a free-standing altar and the font has been replaced. Interestingly, the building has never been solemnly dedicated or the altar consecrated.
During these years the Parish has been served by Father Matthias McManus (1913-1986) who was Parish Priest from 1965 until 1970. He was succeeded by Father Patrick McGovern who was at Dursley from October 1970 until January 1985 when Father William Dee was appointed as Parish Priest. In twenty-five years time a future historian can record and assess the contributions of these priests and their parishioners.
On Thursday 28th September, 1989, the Solemn Golden Jubilee Mass was celebrated by the Right Reverend Mervyn Alban Alexander, the Bishop of Clifton, followed by a reception in the parish hall.
*Footnote: The author has experienced considerable difficulty in establishing the actual date of this division. However, it is believed to have taken place in about the year 1976. At that time Father James Coghlan departed from Nympsfield to serve at Fairford. It seems likely that he was the first Parish Priest of the new independent Nympsfield Parish.
POST-REFORMATION CATHOLIC INCUMBENTS
NYMPSFIELD CUM DURSLEY
Dominican Friars of Woodchester
Rev. (later Canon) Denis Ryan 1932-1934
Rev. James Murtagh 1934-1949
DURSLEY CUM NYMPSFIELD (from 1950 Priest resided at Dursley)
Rev. Littleton Alfred Powys M.A. 1950-1951
Rev. Bartholomew Collins 1951-1959
Rev. Nicholas Patrick McCarthy 1959-1965
Rev. Matthias McManus 1965-1970
Rev. Patrick McGovern 1970-
DURSLEY (in about 1976 the Parishes were divided)
Rev. Patrick McGovern -1985
Rev. William Dee 1985-
BIS HOPS OF CLIFTON DURING THIS PERIOD
Rt. Rev. George Ambrose Burton 1902-1931
Rt. Rev. William Lee 1932-1948
Rt. Rev. Joseph Edward Rudderham 1949-1974
Rt. Rev. Mervyn Alban Alexander 1974-
PRIMARY AND CONTEMPORARY SOURCES: