A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

Reverend Peter Hartley – ‘A Martyr to Duty’ and ‘Victim of Charity’

Reverend Peter Hartley – ‘A Martyr to Duty’ and ‘Victim of Charity’

by Richard Barton (2020)


Most of the information that we have about Peter Hartley comes from the writings of Dr George Oliver (see above) but some of the details that he offers us are somewhat frustrating. For example, he speaks of ‘Barnley’ as Hartley’s place of birth and this has yet to be identified. Is it Burnley in Lancashire or perhaps Barnsley? If so, why was he incardinated into the old Western District which then comprised the dioceses of Plymouth and Clifton together with the whole of Wales? There is also a remark made by the ’Old Gloucester Boy’ which suggests that he had once been a minister of the Church of Ireland but this seems to be highly unlikely.

The earliest published reference that I have found relating to Hartley is in correspondence, dated 1808, between Bishop Collingridge, Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, and Bishop Miner of the Midland District. Milner wrote:

“I write to remind your Lordship what passed between us at 3 Portman Square relative to Riley, Spencer and Hartley who are represented to me as losing their time at the Park (Sedgley Park) – he then refused to take them at Oscott – It is true I henceforth held out a prospect of doing something for the Western District when I considered it as poor … the case is now altered … besides the houses of your Order, you have the renowned seminary of Old Hall.”


Collingridge then wrote to Bishop William Poynter (President of St Edmund’s from 1801-1813), “The terms offered by Mr. Gillow (President of Ushaw from 1811-1828) are £40 p.a. including all expense except pocket money and medical attention – but if your Lordship cannot lower yours to that sum, I must contrive to come to terms, be they what they may.” (See Dockery, ‘Bishop Collingridge’)



Hartley was ordained priest in 1818 (See Charles Fitzgerald-Lombard’s list of clergy
1800-1914) and we are told by Dr Oliver that, after completing his studies as St Edmund’s College, Ware, he first served in Chepstow. St Mary’s Chepstow was then a very small mission without a presbytery and school but it had been served by a secular priest since about 1812.

It seems likely that Hartley was in Chepstow for some years because he seems not to have taken up another appointment until he was transferred to Falmouth in 1823.

Falmouth developed as a port in the eighteenth century, and, by 1800, French sailors had established an oratory in a warehouse loft on the quay. This was soon burnt down, but was replaced in 1803 by a chapel and priest’s lodging, and a Franciscan, named Ignatius Casemore, took over the mission.  In 1818 he was succeeded by the Abbé Jean Baptiste de la Grésille, an émigré French priest, who had to move the house and chapel to make way for the building of the new Custom House in 1814. The Abbé enlisted the support of the French royal family in the building of a new church facing the river, capable of holding 150 people. The terms of the sale of the land required that the church should resemble a pair of semi-detached houses.  This was opened on 24 October 1821. Although the mission was well established by the time that Hartley arrived there, he was met with financial difficulties and a notice in the Laity Directory for 1827 requested donations for the struggling mission be sent to Bishop Collingridge.

In March 1827 Hartley moved along the coast to Poole but his stay there was brief as he was appointed as the first chaplain to serve a new mission at Tawstock House, near Barnstaple. Before we move to Tawstock, Dr Oliver offers us this background to the establishment of the Catholic mission at Poole:


Bishop Baines, coadjutor to Bishop Collingridge, wrote of the Poole Mission in 1825, that the income was small – ‘altogether from £70 to £100 but considerably under the latter.’

The opening of the Catholic mission at Tawstock House owed its existence to Sir Bourchier Palk Wrey (1788-1879), the Eighth Baronet. In 1818 he had married Ellen Caroline O’Brien, the nanny of his sister’s children, whose husband had gone missing, presumed dead. The husband “had the bad taste to turn up again” (Lauder), thereby invalidating the marriage, and died in 1828, four years after which Sir Bourchier remarried Ellen O’Brien. Dr Oliver takes up the story:



In 1991 Father Bartholomew Egan O.F.M. published some fascinating correspondence between Bishop Baines and Father O’Meara, in the South Western Catholic History Journal. O’Meara was to succeed Hartley at Tawstock so there are various references to Hartley in these letters:

Bishop Baines wrote on 20th October 1829: ‘You have probably heard of Sir Bourchier and Lady Wrey who live near Barnstaple in Devonshire and have had the Reverend Mr Hartley for their chaplain for some time. I have had him over here and he satisfies me that both the gentleman and Lady are persons of great worth who deserve that attention should be paid them and who are disposed to make a chaplain comfortable. Mr Hartley tells me that the finances are ample and that nothing can be more amiable and liberal than Sir Bourchier who is Protestant. Lady Wrey is a Catholic and a native of the Emerald Isle …’

In a further letter, written on 28/29th, Bishop Baines adds these details: ‘The priest resides in the family of Sir B. Wrey and has, I understand from Mr Hartley, an ample salary. What it is I do not know. Sir B. is rich and has a handsome establishment and he and Lady Wrey seem very pleasant worthy persons. Mr Hartley is a very scrupulous man and has manufactured for himself some difficulties which were quite unnecessary and which make his removal (as he thinks) desirable’

On 20th November 1829 Hartley was sent to Weymouth where he purchased the present site and erected a presbytery and St Augustine’s Chapel which was opened in 1835. Dr Oliver wrote this about the foundation of the Weymouth mission:


Writing, back in 1825, about Hartley’s predecessor at Weymouth, Bishop Baines offers us a glimpse of the situation there prior to Hartley’s arrival: ‘He has had some promises of subscription for his chapel, and a promise from his sister to furnish his house when he has one. He now says Mass in his own apartments which, though too small and very inconvenient, are accessible to all that can get in, and Mr Weld is not offended.’ 

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St Augustine’s Weymouth

The property where Hartley was to erect his new Catholic Chapel was situated in Radipole on the Turnpike Road between Weymouth and Dorchester. The site had a frontage of 126 feet, and a depth towards the East of 155 feet. On the South it was bordered by lands belonging to Sir Frederick Johnstone. The site was sold by Mr. Thomas Charles on August 23rd, 1831, to Bishop Baines and Father Peter Hartley. The dimensions of the Church are given as 56 feet long by 27 feet wide. It was opened for Divine Worship on October 22nd, 1835. Soon after his great work of building and opening the new Church and Presbytery, with all its accompanying anxieties, Father Hartley was sent to Chepstow where he spent a few years before moving to Gloucester, his final mission.

St Mary’s Chepstow

The much loved Abbe Josse died at Gloucester on 28th January 1841 so it is likely that Hartley would have been installed at St Peter’s Gloucester shortly afterwards.

An ‘Old Gloucester Boy’ said of him:

‘The Rev. Mr. Hartley was a most zealous and patient priest. It was said he had been a clergyman of the Protestant Church in Ireland. He had a reputation of being a man of great erudition. He almost denied himself the common necessities of life to minister to the wants of the sick, the infirm, and the distressed poor. He once visited a dock labourer at his dinner, when the labourer murmured at his lot. “Why do you murmur, asked Mr. Hartley, ‘You have plenty of meat for your dinner. I have not been able to get meat for my dinner for a fortnight.” The labourer bent his head with reverence and was thankful. Mr. Hartley died a martyr to duty, going where other clergy and ministers dared not venture – the fever dens of Gloucester.’


He caught a contagious fever when attending a poor, sick Irish traveller. Taken seriously ill while officiating at the altar, on Sunday 25th July 1847, he was compelled abruptly to conclude the service, and never recovered from the attack. He received all the rites of the Church on 29th July, and died on 3rd August, aged 55 years. He was buried beside the Abbe Giraud and the Abbe Josse in St John’s churchyard. An obituary notice in the local newspaper read:

‘His loss is deeply felt by his congregation, who were much attached to him, both for his talents and his piety, and especially for his sympathising labour on behalf of the sick and the poor.’


In 1956 Father Robert Lyons wrote a history of St Augustine’s Parish in Weymouth in which he included a paragraph about Peter Hartley suggesting that he died seven years earlier than was actually the case:

‘However, Father Hartley, the Church builder, returned again in 1839, but failing health brought to his assistance two other priests in succession, namely, Fathers Murphy and Waterkyn. Father Hartley died in 1840 (sic), and in the deeds of the Mission is an indenture dated May 27th 1840 (sic) which states that Father Peter Hartley, last holder of the property, died intestate. However, his three sisters and brother-in-law made over the property to the Right Rev. Bishop Ullathorne and Rev. William J Vaughan, both of Clifton, Bristol.’

William Bernard Ullathorne was Vicar Apostolic of the Western District from 1846 to 1848 and during the year 1848 William Joseph Vaughan moved to the Clifton Mission from being the President of Prior Park. This means that the Weymouth property would have been transferred to the Western District on 27th May 1848.

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