A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

St Gregory’s Cheltenham – David Burke remembers…


David Burke has kindly allowed me to reproduce these fascinating articles:

From ‘Days gone by in Cheltenham’ – Memories of David Burke

I. Christmas 1945

During the war there was a black out at night, no lights were allowed to show through windows in case it helped the German bombers pinpoint a town. So, Christmas 1945 was special in that Midnight Mass was said at St. Gregory’s for the first time in six years. The church was packed; we had walked down to church with our torches. We lived about two miles away and as there was no car in our household, we couldn’t afford taxis; no buses ran at night, so we walked.

I remember Christmas of 1945 very well. I was an eleven-year-old altar server and for the first time I was allowed to help erect the crib in the Lady Chapel in St. Gregory’s church. It was a really big crib, about the size of a garden shed that was stored in sections outside the sacristy. It took 3 of us to erect it in and it took most of the day. When it was finished it looked good, big straw roof sections and a painted scene to portray Bethlehem night sky behind the crib.

All the big candles were lit and the church was decorated with holly, no tree or lights in those days. The first thing that happened at Midnight Mass was the blessing of the crib, which had been hidden behind a big screen up until then. The congregation sang a carol, “Unto us a son is born”, I think!

My Dad was in the choir. In those days it was right high up at the back of the church where the huge organ was and you had to go up a lot of twisting steps. He said it was bitterly cold, they all kept their coats and scarves on. He used to joke that when the priest said “Many are called but few are chosen” it was translated in the choir to “Many are cold but few are frozen!”

One of the choir, a pal of my Dad, Fred O’Hanlon, who was a great tenor, sang a solo, Gounod’s “Nazareth” which was beautiful. Mr. Pratley was the organist and he played really well. He looked a bit l like Monsieur Hulot, tall bent and stooped with a hat. His mum kept a little shop along Ambrose Street.

We walked home after Mass and then Mum had lots of mince pies made which she heated up on the big, black solid fuel range in the kitchen and we had mince pies and hot cocoa, nothing as posh as sherry in those days! and then to bed wondering what the next day would bring ……….

David Burke 2015


II. An Altar server’s Sunday  High Mass at St. Gregory’s during the 1950’s

Every Sunday morning in my young day there were four masses at St. Greg’s, 8.00 a.m. for the early birds, then 9 and 10 for families, they were known as low masses with no singing.

The full majesty of the Catholic liturgy came into play for the ll.00 a.m. mass, a Solemn High Mass.

Organist, Hubert Pratley, choir members, including my Dad, Fred O’Hanlon, “Monk” Edwards, a bald headed teacher from my Grammar School, his wife and a few others ascended the twisting stone staircase that led up to the organ and choir loft at the back of the church.

In the sacristy we altar boys would be jostling for position, the lowest task was to be a “torch”, bearing a candle, six boys did that. That was after fighting for the best black surplice and white cotta, some were stained with candle wax or were torn, maybe even a bit short. Altar serving at that time was an entirely male province.

Then you might be allocated the “boat”, bearer of a heavy brass container of incense. “Boat” was second fiddle to the Thurifer, which contained two round slabs of glowing charcoals. These had been heated up on a mini gas ring in the sacristy. They were kept alive by swinging the heavy thurifer continuously on its long chain which allowed air to stoke the heated charcoal.

For High Mass the “Sixes” were lit, these were six huge candles at the back of the altar and were difficult to light as you couldn’t see the top of them and had to have the wick of the candle snuffer bent over to light them. It was maddening to do that and get back off the altar only to see one of the candles hadn’t lit properly and you had to go back out and do it all over again.

Then after the Thurifer and Boat jobs had been given out, two teenage servers  had posh brass candles, much superior to the humble “Torches”. Then one of the adult servers would have the cross which led the procession which would take place.

Then came Mr. Smith, the MC (Master of Ceremonies) and his deputy, Pat O’Hanlon. They would carry the Holy Water stoop with its ancient brush which had all but lost its whiskery strands.

Finally, the celebrant, a priest, often the Rector, resplendent in his cope, in white or red according to the season. The celebrant would be accompanied by two other priests who would act as Deacon and Sub deacon.

Sharp on eleven we all processed out of the Sacristy and made our way to the back of the church whereupon choir and organ burst into the litany of “Asperges me Domine”.

The incense boat was held out to the Celebrant who sprinkled incense upon the glowing red charcoal in the thurifer. This then gave out luxuriant fumes of a pungent nature, especially if you were holding the thurifer.

To the strains of the Asperges we all processed in majesty down towards the high altar with the Celebrant sprinkling holy water upon the congregation as he passed down the aisle. When you felt the holy water upon your brow each person in the congregation then made the sign of the cross. Sometimes you got a drop or two, sometimes quite a drenching !

Thus, all duly blessed, the mass was now to begin. The Celebrant changed out of his cope into the normal chasuble vestment. So began the sung high mass, all in Latin in those days, our prayer books all had Latin and English translation.

The Celebrant said mass with his back to the congregation, at the high altar, the present altar in its current position didn’t come until many years later.

After the priest, deacon, sub deacon and all the servers were on the altar the heavy brass communion rail gates were closed so as to distance the congregation from the ceremonies being performed on the altar.

The Kyrie, followed by the Gloria, where the congregation alternated verses with the choir. Then one of the priests would be accompanied by two candle bearers round to the pulpit, a far higher affair with a dozen steps or more in those days. Ascending the steps, the priest would then read the Gospel of the day and give his homily. Depending upon the oratorical talents of the priest the homily could be anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes long.

After the homily choir and congregation again alternated the verses of the Credo, our profession of faith. The Celebrant would then incense the altar and then the thurifer bearer in turn incensed the clergy, servers and the congregation.

Whilst this was going on the stalwarts of the parish would be taking the first collection, in those days Gift Aid or planned giving was unheard of so it would all be in cash.

Then came the focal point of the mass, the consecration. The servers rang the bells and choir and congregation erupted with a joyous Sanctus.

At the solemn moment of consecration, the Celebrant held aloft the host followed by the chalice. The gong was solemnly struck accompanied by the server who held the thurifer aloft clanking it against its chain link.

When the consecration had finished we were into the Our Father, or Pater Noster, where the congregation stood along with those on the altar.

Choir and congregation then sang the Agnus Dei after which came the distribution of holy communion. Everybody knelt on the cushion in front of the communion rail to the high altar and the priest, accompanied by a server with the communion plate, made his way along the line. Communion was only the host and was only given by the priest by placing it on the recipient’s tongue.

Finally came the last Gospel of St. John and the second collection, a regular feature of mass going in those days. Following the final blessing by the Celebrant, priests and servers processed back into the sacristy where the servers were given a blessing and began extinguishing candles.

As the vast congregation, the church was always full for 11.00 mass, filed out of church many would stay a while, perhaps to light a candle, buy a Catholic paper or a magazine such as the Catholic Fireside. Mr. Pratley would be playing one of his favourite melodies on the organ as we exited.

In the porch outside, my Dad or one of the other members of the SVP, would be holding their collection box for donations. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul undertook visits to needy families, the sick and those in hospital.

Out in the fresh air a hubbub of conversation ensued, bicycles were mounted or the long walk home begun, no buses on a Sunday morning in those days and few people had the luxury of a car.

As it was by then past midday, the pubs had opened. St. Greg’s was flanked by one immediately opposite, a spit and sawdust affair, or the Great Western Hotel on the corner of Ambrose Street which boasted a lounge bar. At the end of mass both establishments were well patronised.

My Dad biked home whilst I walked and we both eagerly anticipated the special Sunday roast dinner that my Mum would be preparing, our highlight of the week’s meals.

David Burke                            29th November 2005


Good Friday in the late 1940’s

Our Hot Cross buns came from Locke’s Bakery, much better than the supermarket buns of today. All the shops were closed except for fishmongers and greengrocers.

There were no newspapers printed that day and the only trade that worked was the building trade. The buses didn’t start running until 2.00 p.m. like a Sunday.

Our milk lady, from Proctor’s Dairy, still delivered our milk. She had a horse and cart, one with rubber tyres so as not to disturb the customers with her early morning delivery. Good recycling then, you left the empty bottles out and she left the full ones, silver top, red top or Jersey milk. On rare occasions we had cream which was yummy.

Olive and Olive fishmongers were on the corner of Post Office Lane and Berry’s the greengrocer across the lane were places to visit on Good Friday.

Our dinner at home was always fish with parsley sauce, boiled potatoes and some peas and carrots.

After that we went down to St. Gregory’s for the Good Friday service which was always packed. Part of that service was the Adoration of the Cross. While everyone was queuing up for that we altar boys took great delight in taking the long candle snuffers round the various statues and removing the purple cloths which had covered them in Holy Week.

For some people a trip to Whaddon Road was part of the day for the Robins’ football match.

After church it was back home and then the Hot Cross buns came out, they were heated up on the black kitchen range and our ration was used to spread the hot buns with butter. They always tasted really yummy and always left you longing for more.

Maybe some other people have memories of their Good Friday in times gone by.

David Burke 12th April 2017



IV. Memories of St Gregory’s

In 1945 St. Gregory’s was the only Catholic church in Cheltenham, population was smaller. There was a convent adjacent to the church ( now used as Rectory and offices ) which was used by Sainte Union nuns, three of them taught at St. Greg’s primary, Sister Dominic, Sister Mary Elbe and Sister Anthony I think. Nazareth House was in the Bath Road then with homes for children and the elderly. There was a convent in Hatherley Road, think the Little Sisters of the Poor and they did have a Sunday mass there at 7.15 a.m. in an outbuilding., big glass conservatory. The Sainte Union nuns ran the girls school in Charlton Kings, Charlton Park Convent. Eventually they merged with the boys school, Whitefriars, set up by the Carmelite fathers, it is now St. Edwards and still located in Charlton Kings.

Now the Sacred Hearts church serves Charlton Kings and St. Thomas More, Hesters Way. St. Greg’s masses in those days were on Sunday at 8.00 a.m., 9.00 a.m. 10.00 a.m and solemn High Mass at 11.00 a.m.

Church was run by the Benedictine Order from Douai Abbey in Berkshire

Buses didn’t start running until 2.00 p.m. on a Sunday in those days

Christmas Midnight Mass one of few times in those days when altar boys wore red cassocks instead of black.

Church used to own Ivanhoe, a big old house on way to St. Greg’s Primary school. It was used by various groups, I can remember the Knights and Squires of St. Columba meeting there.

Pub opposite which opened at midday on Sunday just as congregation were leaving after 11.00 a..m. mass.

Polish mass on Sunday afternoons

Evening Mass on Saturday’s to fulfil Sunday obligation didn’t come in until 1950’s

Church more user friendly now with confessionals moved, just one side of church, used t be both sides, the seats are better and it has heating that works

Altar moved nearer to congregations

Organ moved down near altar and choir sing adjacent to the organ

Pulpit had 10 or 12 steps in my day now only 2 or 3

St Peter’s statue moved from back of church to front

Loop system for deaf now and better public address and acoustics all round


V. St. Gregory’s School, Knapp Road, Cheltenham



I went to St. Gregory’s RC primary in Knapp Road between 1939 and 1945. It used to boast three nuns who came from the Sainte Union Convent who helped out the lay staff. They lived in the convent next to St. Gregory’s church which is now used as the presbytery.  Known as Madam Dominic, Sister Antonio and another who obviously didn’t rate as I can’t remember her name, they gave tuition in altar serving to the young lads in school.

Being an altar server at the nearby St. Gregory’s Church, then run by the Benedictine fathers, had its perks. One of them was that when the mighty organ at the back of the church needed tuning an altar boy was needed to press the various keys down whilst the tuner attended to them. That was a two day job and it was a fine skive from school provided it was warm.

A worthwhile bonus of being an altar boy was being drafted in when there was  a funeral at church. Provided you looked suitably solemn and carried the holy water at the graveside without dropping it, the undertaker would reward you with a half a crown, a large sum indeed for an impoverished family. Funerals in those days were solemn affairs.

The priest said a Requiem Mass and wore a black stole and then, for the graveside farewell, he changed into a magnificent black cope with gold stripes. This was a touch Dracula like and really looked imposing. Often the coffin would have a purple cover over it before it was consigned to the grave. If it was someone really important then the thurifer was taken to the graveside so that the coffin could be incensed before interment.  Nowadays, thoughts and ideas have changed, I think for the better, and there is a Mass of thanksgiving for someone’s life when they die and the altar and priest don white robes and there is no black.

So, we return to school, where one of my earliest memories was in the first class. In those days, 1939, after lunch some canvas beds were brought out and we all had to have a half hour lie down. I can remember, can’t remember why !, I bit the ear of another little boy alongside to liven things up. This resulted in me being given a real  telling off by teacher and being made to stand in the corner for the rest of the sleep period. I can remember Gladys Kirkam being one of the teachers then and I liked her a lot.

I was excused games due to my brittle bones. This meant I could go and admire the huge steam trains with their cream and brown carriages at St. James Station next to the school. St. James was opposite St. Gregory’s Church and was the terminus of the London trains of God’s Wonderful Railway, the GWR. This gave an added bonus as the trains had to be shunted onto a huge turntable to be pointed in the right direction for their next journey.

I also learnt that in the Station they had a handsome (and warm) waiting room with comfy green leather padded chairs. So……on one of the occasions when I was getting over a fracture, I would go off for a hospital appointment during the school day and then pass a happy hour in the station waiting room with the Hotspur or Adventure before making my way back to school.

An episode I well remember was when a few lads and myself were larking about on the way home one afternoon. Near Cheltenham Library there was a teaching college and its grounds. We thought it would be fun to pinch some tall bean    poles from there. Needless to say, we were caught and the gardener frog marched us to the Central Police station. This was an imposing Regency building, until recently the headquarters of the Countryside Commission.

We were all made to sit on a hard bench in front of the desk Sergeant. He was a mountain of a man with a pock marked face. After letting us stew for half an hour he put the fear of God into us by taking our names and details of where our Dads worked and then let us go with a caution. We didn’t pinch any more canes after that !

On one occasion I had a far more dramatic journey to hospital. The school was on two floors and on the ground floor, a canopied walk alongside the classrooms   ended in substantial swing doors which were self closing. I remember not how but somehow, my right thumb got into the hinge of this enormously heavy door as it was closing. The Head Teacher, Austin Lee, showing great presence of mind as my thumb was practically severed, rushed out with a huge lump of cotton wool. “Here, David, put your thumb in that and don’t move it until you get to hospital”.

My state of near consciousness was such that I blindly obeyed him and duly passed out when I got to hospital. When I came round from the anaesthetic, they had done a great job of stitching it back together, way before the days of microsurgery, and it did save my thumb.

Nowadays, I have the memory of that occasion by having a clicking joint in my thumb and a slightly different nail but otherwise perfectly serviceable.

I used to hate the boiled smell of cabbage that pervaded the school dinners and as we were able to get free bus passes, I went home for my lunch. We all had to carry a box with our gas mask in it over our shoulders everywhere we went. Coming back one day,

 Walking through the centre of Cheltenham, my daydreams were interrupted by being aware that there were few people about. Suddenly, a hand appeared from a shop doorway and yanked me inside. “Don’t you know there’s an air raid on, you daft bugger” hissed a voice. I looked up to see the owner of a ladies knitwear shop whispering in case the German bombers heard her. I shook my head and she gave me a withering look and walked off to the back of the shop. I didn’t like her much and nipped smartly out into the street and continued my trip to school.

When I got into the playground it was deserted and I went to my class, blissfully ignorant that the whole school were taking cover in the air raid shelters that had been built in the playground.. After the “all clear” siren had sounded I was given a right ticking off by my teacher for failing to have the presence of mind to go straight to the shelter. I remember being in Miss Leishman’s class and taking great exception when I was put in Miss Smith’s class, didn’t think much of her for some reason and I made it clear I wanted back in Miss Leishman. When the war ended the whole school had a great treat when Mr. Tartaglia, who ran the Cotswold Dairy down the lower High Street, brought a huge vat of ice cream. He gave every pupil in the school an ice cream, the first we had had since the war began. He had two boys at the school, I recollect, Freddie and Phillip. Someone else organised a banana as well and we were pop eyed, not remembering what bananas tasted like.

 Sometimes, in the summer months, I would walk home and this could entail passing a farrier’s where there was an open doorway and you could watch the horses being shod. There was an intriguing smell of singed hooves which became quite addictive until the farrier decided he’d had enough of junior spectators and told us in fruity language to sod off. In those days, our milk was still delivered by horse and cart as was our coal and the Cheltenham and Hereford brewery used many horse drawn drays.

Opposite the farrier’s place was Locke’s Bakery, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of sticky buns, iced cakes and Chelsea buns. Piece de resistance was the local delicacy of dripping cakes, or “drippers” as they were known. These appeared hot and fresh each morning, they were squares of doughy goo with a crisp top and a sticky underneath. If you were lucky, you got one a corner with a really thick piece of toffee like sweet, no doubt millions of calories and totally unhealthy in today’s diet conscious age.

At the side of St. James’s station was the goods yard where the railway wagons were stored and much shunting and puffing of engines went on all day. Alongside the rails were a batch of sheds and in these were billeted some Italian prisoners of war.

I remember Silvio particularly because he was always keen to trade his ration of sweets for soap and it was to my mind a super swap to get precious sweets instead of rotten old soap. From my memory, the security of these prisoners seemed non-existent as they appeared to come and go as they pleased within the goods yard where they helped off load coal trains and the like.

End of WW2


St. Gregory’s pupils were every one treated to a Cotswold Dairy Ice Cream to mark the end of World War 2. Mr. Tartaglia brought his van into the playground and we all queued  up, boy did it taste good.



 My days at St. Gregory’s primary came to a halt when I was fortunate enough to win a scholarship to Cheltenham Grammar School. As there were only two scholarships awarded by the school the family concluded they had another Einstein in the family. As my Uncle Arthur said at the news -“you’ll have to be Prime Minister, my boy !” Believe me it wasn’t fun, out of 700 boys there were only about 15 Catholics, you can imagine the rest.


David Burke at Cheltenham Grammar School aged about 13

So in September 1945 I started at Cheltenham Grammar School, at that time  it was located in the lower part of the High Street In Cheltenham. Next door was the Cheltenham & Hereford Brewery who still brewed beer on their premises in those days. The buildings of the school were mostly very old, draughty and very uncomfortable with miles of stone floored corridors.

Most of the boys at the Grammar School were fee paying, there were some there, like myself, as scholarship boys, but we were in a minority. As I had brittle bones I was excused games, so that made me even more of a minority pupil, scholarship, Catholic and no games.

You were categorised into a class stream, A for really bright, B, not quite so bright, C, average and D, below average. I was put into 2C.

Our teachers, almost all male, were tough guys in the main, some, like Mr. Sheldrake, an English master, could give you a stinging clip of the ear if you caused him displeasure. Others, like Mr. Parker, our Physics master, would first throw chalk at you if he thought you weren’t listening and then the blackboard duster if the chalk failed.

Other teachers would punish you by making you stand on the seat of your desk, a really scary thing.

Other teachers were more helpful, Mr. Booth, the woodwork teacher, endured my feeble efforts, I only made a toothbrush rack in all my years of woodwork ! Johnny Alderton, a young teacher of French, was wet behind the ears and boys in class would rib him unmercifully.

Joe Curtis, our History master and Horace Cook, English, were superb teachers where you looked forward to their classes. George Ryland, the bald Art Master, was a fearsome sight in his plus four trousers and had little patience if you didn’t do a good job in the art room.

Fred Wright, the Chemistry master, was a nice guy and always had a bit of a laugh, Mr. Trevett, the Maths teacher was good at his job and ran a good class. Bill Neve, the Music teacher was a kindly soul, he loved his subject and if you were musically inclined that was a good class.

Mr. and Mrs. Edwards were Catholic teachers and one or other took the Catholic boys in a classroom every morning for our prayers while the rest of the school was at Assembly in the hall. He was known as Monk Edwards, a nice guy. They were both in the choir at St. Gregory’s church where my Dad sang in choir as well.

The Headmaster was Mr Heywood, he presided over the end of term “Inquests” where each class in turn stood in a semi-circle around his table where he was flanked by your form master and a couple of other teachers. One by one you were called out to stand in front of him like a prisoner before the judge. He would then go through your report and highlight good and bad points and the other teachers would comment as appropriate. It was not a nice time, “could do better if he tried” was a frequent comment.

There was another boy in my class who was excused games, he was known as Fatty Randall, he was a tad large, but nice fellow and quite bright. Another boy who stood out was Feldman, a Jewish lad, again a good companion.

Playtime at the Grammar School was not looked forward to if you were unable to accept the harsh rough and tumble that took place. It was a time when some lads played Fives on a special court. Others, like me, queued up in the school porter’s domain. Lovesey’s Buns were sold at the price of a penny, Lovesey was a portly, amiable character who had lots of special duties




Cheltenham Grammar School



Grammar School from Fleece Hotel and Brewery side of High Street


Grammar School in the 1950’s



A soldier who fought in the First World War came across a church on the continent which had been shelled to destruction. The porch of the church was the only part still standing and over the holy water stoop there was a small statue inscribed “Sacre Coeur”, showing Christ with his Sacred Heart.

Lionel Lewis, the soldier, was a Catholic. He took the statue with him and kept it throughout the war. He was one of the fortunate few who came through the war unscathed.

When he got home to Bristol he gave the statue to his mother who lived in the parish of St. Joseph’s, Fishponds.

In 1967 Lionel’s mother died, in her 90’s, and she gave the statue to Fr. John Brennan, at that time a curate at St. Joseph’s church.

Each year, on Remembrance Sunday, Fr. Brennan, now parish priest of St. Catharine’s in Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds, places the statue on the altar at his church,. He tells the tale of its origin to the congregation as a poignant tribute to the fallen.

“I think that Lionel was in the Gloucestershire Regiment and they were in action along the Somme and at Ypres” explained Fr. Brennan, “almost certainly it was in France but it could have been in French speaking Belgium. Lionel married a Dutch girl and they lived at Frampton Cotterell from where they attended mass at St. Gerard Majella in Knowle, Bristol.”


Fr John Brennan



A Golden Jubilee with a difference took place on 30th June at Sacred Hearts church in Charlton Kings, Cheltenham.

Parishioners packed the celebratory mass, to mark 50 years since the dedication of the church. The mass was offered by Rt. Rev. Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton and concelebrated with former parish priests and guests.

A spontaneous burst of applause broke out at the end of mass when Bishop Declan announced that the present parish priest, Father Alan Finley, had been appointed a Canon of the Diocese. Father Alan has been at Sacred Hearts for 10 years and before entering the priest hood was a policeman in Somerset. At the supper in the church hall following the mass, Bishop Declan presented Fr. Alan with a Papal Blessing from Rome for himself and the parish.

Present at the mass were representatives of La Sainte Union, who used to run Charlton Park Convent next to the church, the Carmelite Fathers, who ran St. Edward’s school and the Sisters of Nazareth who have a home for the elderly in the parish.

Father Alan welcomed Cllr. John Rawson, who attended the mass in his capacity as Mayor of Cheltenham. The Mayor enjoyed meeting parishioners and the representatives of the religious orders.

Father Alan also welcomed the widow of Harold Trigg, Mrs. Bella Barrett, Harold sculpted the statues of Our Lady and the Sacred Heart as well as the Stations of the Cross in the church.

Earlier in the month, the parish fete raised a record sum of £8,200 which goes to update and improve church facilities. The hall is used by many clubs and organisations from Cheltenham. To mark the Jubilee year, £250 was donated to two charities. These were, the Cotswold Listener, who produce a talking newspaper for the blind, and the Charlton Kings Senior Citizens Welfare Committee who undertake voluntary work for the elderly in the area.

One of the earliest parish priests was Canon Edward McDonell, known affectionately to all as Father Mac, who achieved a stay of 25 years in the parish from 1953 to 1978.

An avid supporter of Birmingham City F.C., Father Alan is walking on air this year with the club having achieved promotion and is eagerly looking forward to the new season’s football.

David Burke 1st July 2007


In October 1242, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, was in very grave danger at sea . He vowed that if he lived he would found a religious house. His life was saved and in 1245 his brother, King Henry III, gave him the manor of Hailes so that he could keep his pledge.

Hailes Abbey, near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, was founded in 1246 by the Cistercian Order of monks. Richard’s son, Edmund, presented the monks with a phial said to contain the blood of Christ. From then until the Dissolution in 1539, Hailes Abbey became a magnet for pilgrims.

According to the records the monastic community never exceeded 25 in number despite the huge scale of the buildings. This may have followed from the edict of the founding Abbot of Beaulieu that until the monks had reduced their debts they should not increase their numbers. In its heyday the nave of the Abbey was 340 feet in length with a width of 63 feet and was built of the local Cotswold stone.

Pope Urban IV, when he was Patriarch of Jerusalem, guaranteed that the phial of blood given to the Abbey was authentic and was that of Christ.

So distinguished a relic demanded a worthy setting accordingly the whole east end of the Abbey church was rebuilt and extended. The relic made Hailes Abbey one of the great centres of pilgrimage in England. Then Henry VIII came along and after his disagreement with the Catholic church, he ordered that the phial be destroyed.

Like most Cistercian houses, Hailes depended on its flocks of sheep for the bulk of its income. However, they didn’t seem to run their finances too well and as their indebtedness grew various small parishes nearby were added to the Abbey to augment their income.

Today, little remains of the magnificent Abbey buildings which once stood at Hailes. English Heritage now look after the site and it is well worth a visit to see foundations which still remain in a glorious part of the Cotswolds. The vanished walls of the nave have been replaced by rows of Cypress trees. Adjacent to the site of the Abbey is a small museum which contains a variety of exhibits from both the Abbey and when it was used as a post-Dissolution home.

As a 16 year old I remember attending an open air mass on 9th July 1950 which marked the first mass to be offered there since the Abbey was destroyed in 1539. Forty monks from nearby Prinknash Abbey came with their Abbot, Dom Wilfrid Upson, who celebrated mass. Some 5,000 people were there from all over the Diocese and further afield. Bishop Rudderham was there and the homily was given by the then head of the Dominican Order, Father Hilary Carpenter. We were blessed with glorious weather and the open air mass setting was spectacular. I still have a copy of the Daily Sketch of 10th July 1950 which carried several pictures of the mass. In recent years the monks of Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire celebrated the 750th anniversary of the Abbey with a mass in 2002.

Hailes is 2 miles N.E. of Winchcombe on the B4632 road, with Cheltenham being 10 miles away. Opening times vary according to season and the Abbey site is closed from 1st November until 31st March. Normal opening hours are 10.00 a.m. until 5.00 p.m.  Further details may be obtained from English Heritage on 01242-602398.




Prinknash Abbey is set to be turned into a luxury retirement village in a £25 million scheme headed by a Roman Catholic priest*. PG Group, whose chairman is Father Gregory Grant, the Dean of East Bristol, has acquired the abbey and six acres of surrounding land for an undisclosed sum.

Father Gregory, whose company is worth £10 million, aims to turn the historic building into luxury retirement apartments with a nursing home alongside.

The situation has come about due to the declining number of monks. Their ranks at Prinknash have dropped from more than 60 to just 12 and the abbey, with its dozens of rooms, is now far too big for them. They are moving back to their original home, the 16th century St Peter’s Grange, which stands half-a-mile away and which served as the monastery from 1928 to 1972.

The Tudor manor house has been used as a retreat and conference centre for the past 35 years. The monks plan to redevelop the home farm area just below St Peter’s Grange as a guest house and retreat centre. The PG Group intends to convert the abbey building, designed by architect Frank Broadbent, into between 50 and 80 apartments for sale. An 80-bed nursing home will be built nearby.

The abbey has a stunning aspect which overlooks the Severn Vale. Father Gregory revealed that negotiations with the Benedictine community had been ongoing for about 18 months. He said consultations had already begun with local planning authority, Stroud District Council, on the project.

“We want to create a retirement village with a safe and secure environment. Our aim is to obtain planning permission and be on site in a year’s time and complete the whole project by 2010.”

The head of the Prinknash community of monks, Abbot Francis Baird, said: “We are selling for a number of reasons. “There is the size of the building and the financial cost of running it, with things like heating and insurance.

“It’s a waste of a building. We felt that to move back into the grange would be much more sensible. It would be a re-grouping.” Abbot Francis, who joined Prinknash in 1978 and was elected abbot 12 years ago, added: “We are making a significant decision, but it’s certainly the right decision.”

Prinknash Park has been home to the Benedictine monks since 1928 when a deed of covenant was made out by the then owner, the 20th Earl of Rothes. For more than 50 years, Prinknash was synonymous with its well-known pottery which was started by the monks in 1942 when they found a seam of clay during building work.

The monks continued to make pottery at the abbey until 1997 when the pottery was sold. Today, their main income is from the manufacture and sale of incense. Prinknash Abbey is the oldest major incense blender in Europe and have been blending incense since 1906 when the community was on Caldey Island. They sell around 4,000 kg of incense each year and export it worldwide. In recent years the Orpheus Pavement has been opened, a copy of the Roman pavement at Woodchester, near Stroud.

Over the years the Abbey have developed a beautiful bird and deer park in the grounds. The park also boasts a large collection of peacocks, exotic pheasants and unusual pygmy goats. There is also a nature trail of historic trees. The park recently took in a collection of peacocks who were made homeless when a local hospital closed down.

After the Second World War ended the monastery had a community numbering fifty or more. 1947 saw the Abbey sending monks to take over St. Michael’s, Farnborough from the Solesmes Congregation. The following year monastic life was restored at the old priory in Pluscarden, near Elgin in Scotland with another infusion of monks from Prinknash. Both of these monasteries are now thriving and self-governing.

Their move to St Peter’s Grange and the redevelopment of the abbey will not affect the other activities at Prinknash Park.

David Burke, 10th February 2010

  • This plan fell through and the building is still vacant in 2018


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