A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Stonehouse – prehistory

Catholic strands anterior to the building of St Joseph’s Church, Stonehouse

St Joseph’s Church in Stonehouse, a modern building constructed during the mid 1960s, represents the aspirations of a then confident and expanding Roman Catholic Community. Stonehouse, itself, was growing too with Hoffman’s Factory and with more and more green fields being turned over to housing estates and industrial units. Stonehouse, which had once boasted of two railway stations and the canal, was enjoying an expansion resulting from its proximity to the Stroudwater junction of the M5 motorway.  

When Catholic parishes were formally established in 1917, Stonehouse was situated within the Dominican Parish of the Immaculate Conception in Stroud. The church in Beeches Green was opened in the middle of the nineteenth century and it served a wide area. Out towards the River Severn, before the First World, there was little Catholic activity other than the Chapel of Our Lady Star of the Sea at Sharpness to the south west and St Peter’s Church in Gloucester to the north west.  There was an early attempt to establish a Catholic congregation in Stonehouse when in 1894 the priest at Stroud, presumably Father Wilfrid Lescher, rented a room and celebrated Mass once a fortnight; but this was short-lived.

Farm Hill Park

From 1917 until 1921 Father Lionel Goodrich (1857-1930) was Chaplain to a family who were leasing Farm Hill Park at Paganhill. In 1919 he received the Reverend Charles Sharpe of More Hall, Randwick, into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church and from that time on the little chapel at More Hall became available for Catholic worship. Father Goodrich had many local connections as his family had lived at Maisemore Court and then at ‘The Chantry’ in Dursley. Before training for Westminster Diocese he seems to have worked as a barrister.

Oldbury House during the early 1960s

In 1923, or thereabouts, Sir Paul Augustin Makins (1871-1939) and his wife, Lady Dorothy, took Oldbury House a property just outside Stonehouse. In 1906 Sir Paul had succeeded his father, whose family seat was at Rotherfield Court near Henley-on-Thames, making him the Second Baronet. He had educated at Cheltenham College before Eton and Trinity, Cambridge, and during the War he served as a Temporary Major in the Remount Service. His wife Gladys died in 1919 and two years later he married Dorothy Wakefield, a teacher of dancing, twenty years younger than himself.

Lady Mary Dorothy Holmes Makins (1890-1956) was born in Calcutta on 20th November 1890. At the time of the 1911 census she was staying with family in Walton-upon-Thames. It is likely that she became a Roman Catholic before her marriage as a chapel was opened at Oldbury House soon after their arrival. It is said that this was situated at the top of the house but a converted outbuilding has also been mentioned. Evidently, Lady Dorothy hoped that Stonehouse people would attend the Masses that she provided which were often celebrated by well-known priests who came to stay and also by Dom Wilfred Upson (1880-1963) of Prinknash Abbey.

The Makins seem to have left Oldbury House by 1936 and Sir Paul died three years later in London, at 4, Eaton Mansions, Cliveden Place, SW1. The register for England and Wales was compiled shortly after his death and Lady Dorothy was listed as sharing this property with Geraldine Hedges. During the war Lady Dorothy was a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Fire Service and Geraldine a volunteer Ambulance Driver. When Dorothy died, at 25 Cheyne Place, Chelsea, on 6th May 1956, it was Geraldine who was granted probate.

During the Second World War, Oldbury House became the St George’s Training School for Girls, an establishment run by the Anglican Community of St Peter the Apostle (‘Laleham Sisters’).

Two of Sir Paul’s daughters settled in Gloucestershire. In 1939 Marcia Evelyn Makins was staying with Captain Robert Pearson and his family at The Churn in Hale Street, Painswick. His daughter, Avice Leybourne Pearson, and Marcia were both working as Hand Loom Workers. The two women moved to Raymond Buildings in Holborn for a few years and then returned to The Churn. In 1952 Marcia was running a weaving shop in Friday Street, Stroud, and in later years Marcia and Avice were at Ashley Grange, near Tetbury. Marcia’s sister, Monika Vivian Makins, married Peter George Goole Lowsley-Williams (1938-2007) a member of the family from Chavenage House. It seems likely that both Marcia and Monika became Roman Catholics although their father and their siblings seem to have remained Anglicans.

Mass at Oldbury House was not considered to be the solution to Stonehouse’s growing pastoral needs. The Parish Priest of Stroud, Father Dunstan Sergeant O.P., was keen that Mass should be available both for local residents and for those staying at Stonehouse Sanatorium. The Bishop of Clifton favoured the use of a public hall for Mass and he supported the move to the Subscription Rooms in Regent Street.

From 1933 Mass was set for 9.00am on the second and fourth Sundays which attracted only a congregation of twelve or thirteen people. The billiard room, and later the stage, served as confessional and sacristy, and Mass was celebrated in a ‘rather dingy hall with pictures of local worthies and Queen Victoria’s coronation on the walls.’

In late 1943, the Parish Priest, Father Cyprian Rice O.P. formed a building committee and was most active and energetic on its behalf, giving £16 of his Christmas Offering as well as a £50 personal donation.

The Mass centre continued to be served by the priest from Stroud but an influx of Catholic evacuees, during war time, made the provision of a proper church increasingly desirable.

The Dominican Province gave up Stroud Parish in 1944 and a secular priest, Father Michael J. Fitzpatrick was appointed by the Bishop. From this point on things really began to move and fundraising activities were intensified.

Writing on behalf of the Committee in 1944, just after the departure of Father Cyprian Rice, Bryan Keating (1907-1989) of Pendennis, St Cyril’s Road, Stonehouse reported to the Bishop that the Building Fund stood at £510, the account being at Lloyd’s Bank, Stroud.

As a result of this fundraising, a site for a church was acquired by the Diocese in September 1945 when 2.855 acres of land was purchased for £1.000. For some years the land was let as a full agricultural tenancy and then for just grazing.

Mrs Cicily Mary Cullis (1894-1969), a corsetiere of Regent Villa in Stonehouse, played a big part in raising funds for the construction of a church and in 1948 she had an audience with Pope Pius XII and he sent his blessing for the project. Her husband, Harold, had settled in the area in about 1915 and he showed much interest in both More Hall and Prinknash.

In 1954 Father Fitzpatrick left Stroud and he was succeeded by Father Edward Hickey.

At some point a complicated exchange took place whereby the Diocese gave up an area of land with access to a side road in exchange for an acre of land alongside the church site which would have given sufficient space for a school.

Building work began in April 1965 with the foundation stone being laid on 14 December that year by Monsignor Thomas Hughes V.G. The church was solemnly opened on 21 September 1966 by Bishop Joseph Rudderham, assisted by Monsignor Hughes and thirty other members of the clergy from around the Clifton Diocese. The building cost of £28,600 (excluding the organ).

The church was designed by Anthony Thompson of Peter Falconer & Partners of Stroud. Tony also designed the Church of St Thomas More in Cheltenham and he was made a Knight of the Equestrian Order of Pope Sylvester in recognition of his contribution to Catholic architecture over many years.

The Contractors were Messrs. E. Hook and Sons Ltd of Brimscombe and, I recall that the Nailsworth builder, Geoff A. Lloyd of Dunkirk Mills had some involvement too. The church was planned to hold 205 people plus sixty in the gallery. The building was of a modern design constructed of brick with a light weight concrete roof covered in copper. The walls were rendered in Tyrolean and the floor was of green Westmorland slate. The Stations of the Cross were designed and executed by Mr Bryant Olcher Fedden (-2004), the letter cutter and engraver of Toddington, who also made the Font top and bowl. Fedden cut the dedication panel when the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum (The Wilson) was extended in 1989.

In 1967 Father Hickey left Stroud and was succeeded by Father William O’Callaghan and, in 1973, the Stonehouse mission passed to the Fransalians who established a separate parish and cared for it until their departure in 1989.

With thanks to Father Peter Slocombe, the first diocesan Parish Priest, who searched through the Clifton Diocesan Archives and wrote a short account of these early days.

One comment on “St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Stonehouse – prehistory

  1. kethuprofumo
    August 14, 2020

    Wonderful piece of alive history, dear Richard. Thank you very much!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: