A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
HOLY CROSS, WOTTON-UNDER-EDGE
by Richard Barton (2020)
Five hundred years ago, my ancestor, Robert Seborne alias Plumer, of Wotton-under-Edge penned his last will and testament. In line with the piety of his day, he made various bequests of money for Masses or more likely for candles to burn in his Cathedral Church of Worcester and in his Parish Church of St Mary:
Our Lady of Worcester, Mother Church
Our Lady’s Light, in Wotton Church and also High Cross Light
St Nicholas’ Light
St Katharine’s Light
All Souls’ Light – Torches there – say a whole one (?)
St Thomas the Martyr
From these references we gain a picture of the rich devotional life practised in St Mary’s Church on the eve of the Reformation. The mention of the High Cross may refer to the Rood Screen which would have been a focal feature within the building. However, there would seem to have been a special devotion to the Exaltation or Triumph of Cross in Wotton as, from the thirteenth century, the annual Fair was held on 14th September, Holy Cross Day. Seven hundred years after that initial charter was granted by King Henry III in 1252, a small chapel was opened in Old Town dedicated to the Holy Cross.
This short article incorporates material that was produced at the time of the 1982 celebrations together with some provisional notes about Miss Ward and Mrs Wells whose generosity enabled this little church to be opened.
There are few references to Roman Catholicism in the Wotton-under-Edge area before the First World War and these I have drawn together in my essay on St Dominic’s Dursley.
From 1914 Mass was celebrated at Wotton-under-Edge by the Dominicans of Woodchester and, shortly after that, in Dursley. 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.’
The most colourful of Wotton’s Catholic residents was William More Adey (1859 – 1942), He was a member of Oscar Wilde’s circle and was received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church in 1879, whilst studying at Keble College, Oxford.
See the excellent blog by James J. Conway : https://strangeflowers.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/places-under-the-hill/
From 1949 the Mass was once again celebrated regularly in the town of Wotton, this time by the Salvatorian Fathers of Thornbury, who used the local boys’ club. However, this arrangement ceased after four years when the Church of the Holy Cross was opened in the former Old Town Mill.
This mill, erected in 1817, was originally water-powered but the water supply was unreliable and it was converted to steam in 1825 with a fifteen horsepower engine which serviced the whole factory. By that time, two hundred people were employed in the mill, manufacturing Kersymere and broadcloth. The present church was formerly the engine house and when the mill closed it was converted into three separate dwellings.
HOLY CROSS CHURCH
‘A Few Points of History’ by Father Paul Keyte S.D.S. (1982)
Miss Wells and Miss Ward were both very devout retired teachers who shared a home in Wotton-under-Edge. They did a wonderful work of teaching the catechism to the local Catholic children. Miss Ward became seriously ill and ultimately died.
The morning that I received the news of her death I visited Miss Wells to offer my condolences. She expressed a wish to do something in memory of her friend. It just happened that we had heard that the building used as a Liberal Club was to be auctioned that evening.
Miss Wells thought that the possibility of our acquiring it was most remote but she said that if it was within her budget she would be more than happy to have somebody bid on her behalf. Because I had no wish to probe as to how much she was prepared to pay, I contacted a Catholic solicitor in Bristol. I think his name was Mr. Price. He agreed to act on our behalf.
We arrived at the place of auction as the town clock was striking eight. Both Mr. Price and Miss Wells went into the auction. I remained in the car and offered the Rosary for our success. As we had no previous approach other interested parties had decided that we would not be bidding. It worked to our benefit for the representatives could not contact authorities to increase their bids. The bidding closed at £500 and Miss Wells and the solicitor returned to the car to inform me that the building on Old Town was ours.
I returned to Thornbury and contacted the Bishop. When he heard the price he asked if the building was safe. He couldn’t believe it. He promised that the Diocesan treasurer would visit the following day and he would be guided by his recommendations. When the treasurer saw the building he had no hesitation in offering a £1,000 loan for reconstruction.
The building was metaphorically, as well as in fact, a gift. It had all mains and contained a large hall which had been used as a bar and a bowling alley. The large hall we decided to make the chapel and the smaller room, the sacristy. Below there were garages and, as they were at that time being used, we had to delay decisions but I had in mind to convert them for youth purposes.
There was obviously quite a fair amount of work to be done and part of the work was contracted out to a small builder and other work was done voluntarily. When it finally opened the Administrator loaned vestments and sent the Cathedral Altar Servers by coach to enable us to have fitting ceremonies. It was opened by Bishop Rudderham with an evening Mass and a choir made up of visiting Salvatorian Fathers.
We ended the night with a dinner for the clergy and refreshments were served in another centre for all the people who attended. If I remember correctly it was the feast of St. Matthew, 21st September, 1953.
My future plans were drastically altered as that night the Provincial Superior asked me how soon I could go to Wealdstone, in Middlesex, as parish priest. I departed for Wealdstone on the Wednesday following.
I am pleased that the interest has continued and congratulate all who have had a part in the present development. I am sure that both Miss Ward and Miss Wells continue to cast a beneficent eye on the people of Wotton-under-Edge.
From legal papers we know that on 19th May 1953 James Wilfred Palser conveyed the property to the Trustees of Clifton Diocese for £610 and on 22nd August 1962, Reginald Walter Morley conveyed 13 Old Town to the Diocesan Trustees for £2,325, enabling this property to become the presbytery. This required a loan of £1,250.
By 1980 the building had become somewhat dilapidated and it was decided to move the church downstairs and create an ‘Upper Room’ as a venue for parish activities. This project was completed in April 1982. The Church of the Holy Cross was solemnly blessed by Bishop Mervyn Alexander on Wednesday 22nd September 1982. Father Aelred Dobson was Parish Priest for many years but, since his death in 2010, it has been served by the Salvatorians of Thornbury.
WHO WERE MISS WARD AND MISS WELLS?
Miss Winifred Ward was born on 25th January 1882 in Clapham. Her parents were George Parsons Ward, a cabinet maker, and his wife, Anne (nee Salter), a teacher. Her father died in 1911 and, at the time of the census in that year, Winifred and her sister, Theodora, were living with their mother at ‘Glen Rosa,’ St Margaret’s Road, Isleworth. All three women were listed as Assistant Teachers in Elementary schools and employed by London County Council. In 1939 we find Winifred in Chilworth but, by 1947, she had moved to Wotton-under-Edge and was living at 9 Wortley Terrace with Miss Wells. She died in Bristol on 23rd March 1953 but her home was still at 9 Wortley Terrace. Her will was executed by her sister Theodora and she left an estate in excess of £3,000.
Miss Constance Alice Wells was born on 6th March 1891 in Cambridge. Her parents were Charles Wells, a butcher, and his wife Alice (nee Doughty). In 1939 she was living with her sisters, Alice and Florence, at Walkworth Lodge, Walkworth Terrace, Cambridge, and her profession was given as a Certificated Assistant Teacher employed by London County Council. By 1947 Constance was living at 9 Wortley Terrace, Wotton-under-Edge but two years later her address was given as ‘St Anthony’s.’ In 1964 the address for Miss Wells was given as 12 Wortley Road in the electoral roll. Constance died on 17th April 1971 at Kingswood and probate was granted at Ipswich for her estate which was valued at over £15,000.
Sadly, I have been unable to discover anything more about these benefactresses, One wonders how the two women met; presumably it was through teaching? Why did they move to Wotton-under-Edge and when did they become Roman Catholics? I think that it is likely that they were both converts and it occurs to me that they may have been influenced by Major Meek’s Apostolate of the Countryside initiative, which encouraged urban Catholics to settle in rural areas so as to support small, scattered and struggling parishes.
Further information and corrections would be gratefully received …