A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
Written in 1987 by the late Lillian Bell who died on 26th December 1997:-
In the Domesday Book, the village which is the subject of this short article is referred to as Circesdune, whilst a document from the reign of Richard I refers to it as Krychdon. In the parish registers from Elizabeth I’s time the spelling is Chursdon, a form from which the local Chosen Hill gets its name. Just as Churchdown’s name has changed over the centuries, so has the whole character of the village altered. Until the middle of the last century Churchdown was a rural village with a population of 400 in 1700 which progressed to 750 in 1891, to 989 in 1901, to 8,000 in 1954 and now stands at 11,000.
The Norman church on Chosen Hill was built and dedicated to St. Bartholomew whose cult had developed during the 12th and 13th centuries. This church possibly replaced a Saxon church which is believed to have stood on the field now known as Chapel Hay. At the time of the Conquest, Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, held Churchdown along with some other local places. These were forfeit on his disposition in 1070 and passed to Thomas of Bayeux, Archbishop of York, whose successors then held them until the Dissolution. For all this period the pastoral needs of villagers were supplied from St. Oswald’s Priory in Gloucester.
Our story then jumps forward to December 2nd 1939 when, with the minimum of warning, some 200 children, nuns, lay teachers and headmaster Edgar Latham, with his wife Lucy and son Dominic, were evacuated from Birmingham to Churchdown. The Catholic population also increased due to the building of large housing estates in Pirton and Parton roads to provide accommodation for the workers at the Rotol factory which manufactured airscrews and other components. Until that time, local Catholics numbered less than a dozen – the more active of us cycled to Mass in Gloucester or Cheltenham and went by train or bus to Benediction on Sunday evenings.
Before the coming of the evacuees, Mass was said in Churchdown, probably for the first time since the Reformation, on September 3rd 1939 (the day which saw the outbreak of World War II). It was offered by Canon Matthew Roche, parish priest of St. Peter’s Gloucester, in the Assembly Room of the Chosen Hotel, at the bottom of Albemarle Road, the road in which I live.
Edgar Latham asked Canon Roche for a Sunday Mass and the Canon said he could not do it for lack of a priest. Latham then said, “what about a supply from Prinknash?” This was arranged, and Father Norbert Cowin obliged. He was succeeded by Father Dyfrig Rushton (later Abbot of Prinknash) who went there on Sunday mornings during the war, alternating with priests from Gloucester and Blaisdon. From the Chosen Hotel the mass centre was transferred to the skittle alley of the Hare and Hounds and in August 1944 to the Sandycroft Social Club on the main road.
Here, when the main hall was destroyed by fire, we lost the altar and other furnishings we had received from the private chapel at Hartpury House (probably St. Dominic’s Church, Hartpury, which was closed in 1939). We used the Lounge Bar at Sandycroft until Brennan Brothers completed the conversion of brick barn buildings (in Cheltenham Road East) to a church where, on December 8th 1954, some 50 parishioners assembled to see Canon Roche unveil a statue of Our Lady and to recite the Rosary. The first Mass in the church was said by Canon Roche on December 19th 1954 with a congregation of 192. On Sunday 6th March our church was blessed and dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour by Canon Roche and on the following Sunday, Dr. Joseph Rudderham, Bishop of Clifton, said Mass.
On March 1st 1957 Canon Roche said a farewell Mass in his “barn church” before handing it over, free of debt, to Father Edward Moriarty. On July 12th 1968 Father Moriarty left for Trowbridge and we welcomed Father John Lee who came to us from Wells. Father Lee’s health made it necessary for him to leave us in March 1984. His successor, the present parish priest Father Donal Daly, took over in July 1984.
In addition to the Catholic Ladies’ Social Guild, there is a branch of the S.V.P., a parish council with a fund-raising social committee and considerable parish involvement in programmes of preparation for First Holy Communion and Confirmation.
I am privileged to have been a Catholic in Churchdown longer than any other and have attempted to preserve some record of our church’s history throughout.
Journal of the Gloucestershire and North Avon Catholic History Society, Issue No. 3, Summer 1987
A further article by Lillian Bell:
Some dates and figures from the Diocese of Clifton:
Dr. Rob MacKay spoke about Lillian Bell’s commitment to the parish at her Requiem Mass in January 1998. He mentioned that she had been associated with the parish since the Second World War, in one way or another, serving as Parish Secretary for many years and always concerned for the history of the church. “Typical of this,” he said, “was her action in obtaining a brick from the demolition men at the pulling down of the old Chosen Hotel … ‘Lilla’s brick’, as it became known, was incorporated in the structure of (the new church), providing a tangible link with those early days of the Parish.”
See also ‘St Bartholomew’s Church, Chosen Hill, Churchdown’ by Wilf Pereira: