A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
by Richard Barton (October 2017)
As a lover of local vernacular ‘Arts and Crafts’ architecture I have been interested in the Catholic chapels at Bisley, Brownshill and Box. The stories of Bisley and Brownshill are well-documented but details surrounding the erection of Box Chapel are comparatively sparse. For many years I was a good friend of Teresa Cullis and I would encourage her to write up her memories for one of the journals of the Gloucestershire Catholic History Society but this project never came to fruition. Here is the information that I have been able to assemble.
On 6th June 1936 an article was printed in ‘The Tablet’ under the title ‘Apostleship of the Countryside’:
‘Box, MINCHINHAMPTON, Glos
‘A very beautiful new chapel was opened here a fortnight ago. It is situated on the Minchinhampton Common, four miles from Stroud and one mile from Amberley. This is magnificent Cotswold country, high and open but not isolated. The golf links at Minchinhampton are famous and there is plenty of accommodation for visitors. As there are only twelve resident Catholics in Box it is hoped that the chapel will quickly attract more and that an active community will be formed. Mass is said every Sunday and Holiday of Obligation, and it is probable that soon Mass will also be said during the week. The chapel is served from the Dominican Priory at Woodchester, which is two and a half miles away. Some houses are for sale in the village and there is plenty of land for building.
Further particulars will be sent to those who write in the first place to the Secretary, Apostolate of the Countryside.’
Very little is known about the early history of this mission or why it was decided to build on the edge of the common rather than in the town of Nailsworth or in the large village of Minchinhampton, both within the Priory Parish. Father Alban from Prinknash Abbey stated that he had been told that it had been built by the devotion and generosity of a Mrs. Johnson, who lived at St. Mary’s Hill House, Woodchester.
Mr and Mrs Kay Johnson certainly lived at this property during the 1940s but their home in 1933 was 108, London Road, Gloucester. Four years before that, their home address was given on the electoral roll as Melrose, Longlevens. Kay was a Tea Planter who set off for a new life in India from his native town of Wigan in 1913. He was then aged twenty-two-years and described as an engineer. Kay married Florence Mary Ince in Calcutta during 1943 and they had two children James and Jean. I have not been able to establish whether Florence was born in India or whether she settled there later. She died on 23rd September 1961 and Kay died on the Isle of Wight in 1978.
An undated sheet of paper in the Clifton Diocesan archives offers the following details:
‘BOX (near Minchinhampton) 1st Mass said 23 August 1931. Catholic Residents 18. Mass (preceded by Confessions) at 8 am on 2nd and 4th Sundays.’
However, a letter to the Bishop of Clifton written by Father Hyacinth Koos O.P., the Parish Priest of Woodchester, and dated 19th March 1933 stated, ‘When Fr. Bruno Walkley O.P. opened a Mass centre at Box (about 4 years ago).’ This conflicts with the date that is given above for the first celebration of Mass.
Further correspondence between the Priory and the Bishop, includes a letter written by Fr. Bruno Walkley himself, dated 8th November 1935, in which he reports that ‘the walls of Box Chapel are 3′ high…’
The Victoria County History for Gloucestershire (Volume 11: Bisley and from Longtree Hundreds) simply states: ‘a small Roman Catholic chapel, served from Woodchester, was opened at Hampton Green, near Box, in 1936, and remained in use in 1973.’
The architect was Harold Fletcher Trew and his address was 28 Heathville Road, Gloucester. His other work include many houses in the City of Gloucester but in the Cotswolds we find a house, Damsells Cross, at The Highlands, Painswick, a near contemporary of Box Chapel, and the later Cotswold stone bus shelter in the centre of the village of Painswick. At Box he certainly produced an attractive building with beautifully detailed ‘priest’s door leading into the Sacristy which formed the south Transept.
In 1970, David Verey described the church in his Pevsner Volume for the Cotswolds :-
‘Chapel of St Thomas More and St John Fisher (R.C.), Hampton Green. By H.F. Trew, c.1930. Of stone with a Cotswold stone roof and Perp windows. – stained glass. S. chancel window by Henry Payne.’
We know that Henry Payne had moved in 1909 from Birmingham to Amberley and established there a studio in the Morris tradition, where ‘the perfect life was to be lived in an old, stone manor house where you could have your workshops and your family’. The house in question was St. Loes and was converted by a family friend, the architect Sydney Barnsley (from the booklet to mark the centenary of the birth of his son Edward Raymond Payne 1906-1991). For many years Henry and his son worked together and it is probably the case that the window of Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher was commissioned by Trew when he designed the chapel.
The dedication of the Chapel to St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher is explained by the fact that these men were both canonised by Pope Pius XI on 19th May 1935.
Why the chapel was built is partially answered in an article by Maureen Crick, in the Priory Magazine, which refers to an earlier report in the ‘Stroud News and Journal’ from the 1960’s.
‘Standing Room only at Box R.C. Church
So many people wish to attend the service at the Roman Catholic Church at Box that there is not enough room for them all. On Sunday morning there was standing room only.
There are now plans to hold two services on Sunday instead of the usual one and it is thought that if the Church grows at the present rate it will have to be enlarged.
It is remarkable to think that in 1935 there were only five Catholics at a meeting in a garage at Box.
They then decided to have their own church. After a short while they were given a piece of land at Box Green and raised the money to build the church, which cost them about £2,000.
Now the Catholic population in the area has risen steeply due to the new building developments. There are over a 100 in the area and every Sunday there is an attendance of about 65-70; last Sunday there were 80 in the Church.
The services are taken by a priest from the Dominican Priory at Woodchester.’
John Fendley, in the Clifton Diocesan History for 2000, noted that the mission at Box commenced in 1931 and that it ‘began on the initiative of six local Catholics, with Mass in a room in the Box Institute’. He also added that in 1953 the average attendance at the Box Chapel Mass was forty.
Ethel Smith, in her ‘Box as I remember’ makes a brief mention – ‘… in the early 1930s worshippers from the Roman Catholic Church at Woodchester saw a piece of land at Hampton Green that they could buy. This they did and built their Church. What a wonderful help it has been to those who live at the top of the hill to go to a church service so near after walking three or four miles to Woodchester’.
Gerald King, in his legal summary of property held by the Diocese of Clifton, stated, ‘Half acre of land purchased in 1935 and the Church of St Thomas More and St John Fisher was erected at the cost of £1,000 and opened by Bishop Lee in 1937.’
In her article, Maureen Crick went on to refer to the rather ugly extension which was added to the church during the 1960’s and mentioned that one of the original parishioners spoke with sadness of the ‘old days’ when the candlesticks, canopy, tabernacle and other lovely things that had to be sold to pay for this extension.
Father Bernard Jarvis O.P. was celebrating an 8.30a.m. Mass for 72 parishioners when he was Parish Priest at Woodchester. However, the church was closed by Father Michael Jones-Frank in 1992 and the church was then extended sympathetically and converted into a home. The stained glass window by Henry Payne was removed and re-fixed in the south aisle of the Priory Church.
This account seems incomplete and the author would urge those who know more to add to the story.
12-4-2018: Thanks to Gill Hogarth, Clifton Diocesan Archives, for adding further details about Box Chapel.