The first 60 years

We believe that this, quite lengthy, history was written in the late 1960s by a, now unknown, parish archivist. It was sent to us by an ex-parishioner. It contains lots of nuggets of information about the development of the church and its contents, how much things cost, loans taken out,  3-day fund-raising bazaars, items – now gone – that came from other churches, as well as the Parish Priests and lay people who made it happen. Several of the images reproduced here are from old postcards discovered or kindly loaned by parishioners

The history of the parish of Stroud Green may be said to date from 12th November 1892 when a group of laymen met to discuss the possibility of a mission being established in the district. They constituted a parish council long before Vatican II. The photo of these stalwarts hangs in the parish room. Energetically they pressed on with their endeavours despite delays in official quarters and suspicions on the part of some of the neighbouring clergy.

Under the above date a petition was sent to Archbishop’s House, Westminster:
“We, the undersigned, on behalf of ourselves and our children, approach you with heartfelt feelings of love and veneration, humbly beseeching you of your clemency to take into your favourable consideration the pressing needs of a Mission Church in this district. We feel sure that our appeal will not be in vain, when we inform you that we are half-an-hour’s walk from the nearest Catholic Church, a fact that renders it difficult, and in many cases impossible, to attend to our religious duties as regularly as we would wish. This is also a good field for a Mission, and would be the means of spreading our hold (sic) faith in the district. We hereby promise to support the Mission as far as our means will allow.”
Over one hundred and fifty signatures were subscribed to this petition to Archbishop Vaughan. With the bare and tardy acknowledgement of their petition on 12th December the Committee decided not to meet again until they heard some further news from Archbishop’s House. Hopes were raised by a rumour that the Benedictines of Ampleforth were interested in founding a community and school in the neighbourhood. Prior Burge confirmed the rumour in a letter addressed to a member of the Committee. However nothing came of their attempt.

No further news came from Archbishop’s House so the Committee meeting on 3rd June 1893 wrote requesting an interview with the Archbishop, who betimes had been given the Cardinal’s hat. The deputation of Messrs Dagnal, Hay, Hathway, Heffernan, James, Leggett, McCarthy, Tigar and Bevan called upon the Cardinal at Spanish Place on Sunday 11th June 1893 and left with his blessing and his assurance that “a mission was necessary and a mission there should be.” Without more ado, the Committee, now called “The Stroud Green Catholic Association” set to work to collect funds and to elicit the co—operation of the local Catholic cIergy. They incurred the disproval of the Cardinal for using his name in support of a Concert & Cinderella Dance in aid of the proposed Mission, “such an Entertainment for starting a new mission could not in any way be approved,” 27th April 1694.

Two months later, unknown to the Committee, Fr.Thomas Belton, CRL, on orders from his, Abbot General, approached Card. Vaughan with a view to obtaining permission for a foundation in his diocese. The offer of new men and new money must surely have appeared to the Cardinal a providential solution to his Stroud Green problem. After repeated consultations with the Vicar General and the neighbouring rectors the Mission was defined and duly committed to the Order of Canons Regular of the Lateran. Fr. Belton’s announcement to the Committee on 20th July 1894 that the Cardinal had consented to the Order founding the Mission at Stroud Green “was received with cheers.”

A month later Fr. Belton wrote to the Committee “I am starting begging tactics …As soon as ever, the agents have found some suitable site, we shall be on the field.” True to his word he informed the members on 22nd October that a house had been secured and that he would celebrate Mass there on the 28th inst.” In the event this was not possible as he was taken ill and had to hand over his work to Fr. Augustine White, CRL, who with Frs. Higgins and Layard formed the new community to serve the mission.

Two rooms on the ground floor of 12 Womersley Rd., which the Order purchased together with a site for a church, were fitted up as a temporary chapel and there on 11th November 1894 the first Mass was said in the parish of Stroud Green, crowning the efforts of the Lay Committee with success. In August the year following, the chairman, Mr. Dagnall, moved that “the Committee feel that the time has now arrived, when they might be disbanded, their object having been secured, not that they might be relieved from any further work, but that they should not in any way hamper the freedom of the Rev. Fathers and by their resigning it would be permitting every member of the mission taking an active part in the Mission.” The Committee was disolved (sic) 16th August 1895. Its place was taken some years later by “A Church Debt Fund Committee” which relieved the clergy of much of the hard labour of collecting money. It produced & published its own balance sheets of the Church Debt Fund.

It soon became apparent that the temporary chapel would be inadequate for Sunday Mass for much longer so provision for a permanent church was made. The services, at reduced rates, of the architect, Alexander Scoles, a canon of the Portsmouth diocese, were secured and he produced a plan for a church, euphemistically styled “ Early English”. Whatever its style it had the advantage of being cheap and functional. Within less than two years of taking up residence since coming from Bodmin, Cornwall, where he had been Prior, Fr. White had the foundation stone laid by Card. Vaughan and by the 15th December 1897 the south (Lady) aisle was in use. Above the temporary altar hung “an exact copy” of the Madonna Greca the glory of Ravenna. Before this Shrine of Our Lady of the Portal, the Sodality of the Children of Mary was founded by Bl. Peter Honestis, CR., in the XII century. By October 1900 the debt on this first stage of the building was cleared and £170 was in hand towards the completion of the church.

The Madonna Greca the glory of Ravenna

In December 1901 it was announced “the tender for the building of the church has been accepted at £3,366. We must reckon that as £3,500 at least. (Wise man!) The work will be entered upon in the New Year. We are glad to be able to inform you that the Mortgage on the property, £5,130, has been paid by the Order. The Building Fund at present amounts to £519.15.11. It will be necessary to borrow £3,000.

Within ten months the completed church was opened by Rt. Rev. Robert Brindle, DSO., Bishop of Nottingham, and dedicated to God in honour of St. Peter-in-Chains, at the suggestion of Abbot Santini, CRL who was responsible for the Order seeking a foundation in London. “The ceremony was most important, the weather all that could be desired“ and a large congregation gave £47.12.1. The Building Fund Statement, dated 30th Sept. 1903, recorded : “Builder £3,471; Architect £174; Benches £175; Electric install. £120; Heating install. £124.” Wisely husbanding his limited resources Fr. White refused to add to the parish debt by spending on embellishments though “gentlemen who wish may have a hat rest affixed to their bench at a small charge of 1/6; a pattern may be seen in the first bench on the Epistle side.”

The General Chapter of the Order in 1908 entrusted Fr. White with the work of establishing a community in the diocese of Southwark and in recognition of his services appointed him abbot. He received his abbatial blessing from Archbishop Bourne, assisted by Abbot Gasquet, OSB and Abbot Geudens, CRP in St. Peter-in-Chains. One of his first ceremonies was to consecrated (sic) the altar in the Blessed Sacrament chapel, which his family had donated in memory of their parents.

The church still lacked a suitable high altar and to raise funds for this the Committee organized a four-days bazaar in Fairfax Hall [Ed. Portland Gardens N4, today the Kurdish Community Centre], and employed Bernasconi’s Export Bazaar Co., to decorate the hall in an “Old London” ensemble. “Quality” opened the proceedings. The Dowager Duchess of Newcastle the first day; the Earl of Lonsdale the second; the Earl of Ronaldshay, M.P. the third, and the Mayor of Hornsey, Alderman Sloper, JP., the fourth. The profit was £408.16.O. This enabled the Committee to place the order for the altar & reredos with Walls of Cheltenham on the basis of a design submitted by Canon Scoles. They also accepted Messrs Conrad & Grew’s tender for the decoration of the sanctuary at a cost of £57. The orders were placed in July with the proviso that all the work had to completed (sic) by the end of September!

The reredos in Bath stone & marble provided a central throne for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, flanked by statues, on the right Sts. Peter, Patrick and Monica, and on the left Sts. Augustine, Edward and Agnes. Beneath was the altar in marble and alabaster. Fr. Isidore O’Ieary, CRL, newly appointed in charge of the parish had Abbot White come back to consecrate the altar on 24th October, 1908. To mark the occasion an anonymous donor gave a very fine silver gilt Benediction monstrance. Shortly afterwards the Lady Shrine, which had replaced the Madonna Greca and which had once stood in the church in Spettisbury, Dorset, was decorated with murals by Conrad & Grew.

It was as well that debts had not been recklessly incurred for as the years went by it became increasingly difficult to meet the interest on the loan of £3,500. On 3rd October 1913 the Committee regreted (sic) “to state that after providing for the interest there is a balance of £12” and went on
“during the ten years it has been in existence only £200 has been paid off the principal, which can hardly be considered satisfactory”.

The times had not been propitious for fund-raising. The S.V.P. established in the parish in 1906 after a talk by the Marquis of Ripon, made frequent calls on the generosity of parishioners. On 24th January 1909 the Mayor and Corporation of Hornsey attended in state solemn high Mass at which Fr. Higgins preached in aid of the Mayor’s Fund for the Unemployed of the Borough. Later acknowledging the £14.17.7 raised by the appeal the Mayor wrote, “I consider your people did nobly.” It was not the first nor the last time they were so to do. Two weeks previously they had given £6.18.0 for the victims of the Italian earthquake. Fifteen years later, Sunday, 9th March there were three appeals 1) Hornsey Cottage Hospital, 2) Catholic Federation for legal expenses of Dr. Sutherland and Mr. Wareing in the action brought against them in their defence of Catholic teaching on birth control, and 3) Card. Bourne’s appeal for the starving children of Germany.

The last returns which Fr. White made in April 1905 showed that the Sunday Mass attendance was 350 and Easter duties 300. During the year there had been 39 baptisms and an average attendance at the childrens’ Sunday School of 60. In his sermon when the Lady aisle was opened Card. Vaughan had spoken of the need of a school in future plans for the parish. As early as 1895 Fr. White had secured the services of the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady who advertised “A Day & Boarding School for Young Ladies, Womersley Rd. , Stroud Green, which is one of the Nicest & Healthiest localities in London.” A year later the Notre Dame sisters had set up a day & boarding school in Tollington Park, then part of the parish. In 1915 the Sisters of St.Gildas took up residence in Dickenson Rd and established their High School for Girls, “boys to the age of 11 accepted.” It was some twenty years before a parish school was opened.

In May 1914 the Order purchased a property in Haringey Park and there a social club was inaugurated on the 27th June of that tragic year. Soon scarcely a Sunday was to pass without prayers, being asked for “…killed in action.” To the memory of those parishioners killed in that great struggle a memorial window, depicting the warrior saints Michael, Maurice, Martin, George and Joan was placed in the Lady aisle and dedicated on 23rd May 1920. Shortly after that date Fr. Joseph O’Connor, CRL, succeeded Fr. O’Leary as parish priest.

The 30th anniversary of the foundation of the parish was marked by a bumper bazaar of three days in the Crouch End Hippodrome[Ed. today the site of the Virgin Active Gym complex in Tottenham Lane], the purpose of which was to reduce the £2,800 debt still on the church. “The wider objective of this ambitious attempt in these hard times,” to quote the Souvenir, ”is seen as completely freeing the church from debt so that attention may be given to other needs, amongst which not the least urgently felt is that of a Parochial Hall.’ The new parish priest, Fr .Abbot Smith, CRL, announced the proceeds of the bazaar as over £5O0. A week previous to the bazaar St.Peter-in-Chains Cricket Club was established and took its place with St. Austin’s Dramatic Society and Tennis Club among the parochial organizations and sodalities. The Tennis Club had long been in existence, playing on the courts in Cranley Gardens before moving to the Club in Haringey Park.

In the spring of 1925 the Order purchased property in the south of the parish and there in No.140 Tollington Park Road a chapel was opened on Sunday, 31st May. The temporary building later erected in Everleigh Street was dedicated to St. Mellitus, the first Bishop of London, at the expressed wish of Card. Bourne. Two years later, Sunday, 19th June, it was announced in St. Peter’s “a new church has been opened in West Green for those living in Harringay.” Both these missions were served by the fathers of the parent parish.

The original debt on the church was at long last extinguished in 1929 but new debts were incurred for developments in the parish even though the times were difficult once more. The depression of the early thirties had the effect of greatly reducing membership of the Club and running at a loss it was dissolved and the property, which later would have proved so useful, was sold. A collection taken on 12th March 1933 for the Mayor’s Fund for the local unemployed produced only £7.3.0; half that of the similar appeal in 1909. However this did not deter Abbot Smith from collecting funds to make a Martyr’s Shrine in the vacant chapel where a facsimile of the Chains, venerated in the Basilica of S. Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, were preserved. The Shrine, designed by E. J. Walters, with its altar piece carved by Joseph Furthner, was dedicated by Bishop Myers on 10th December 1933. The same Austrian craftsman was responsible for the statue of St. Augustine, placed in the church to commemorate the 15th centenary of the saint. Neither baroque work harmonised with Canon Scoles’ “Early English” style, but they added variety to the church as well as a duplicate rose window to Christ the King and a duplicate statue of St. Augustine!

Carving commemorating the English Martyrs

A financial burden, far greater than the original church debt, was undertaken in 1936 when a parish school was established. A property in Elm Grove was purchased for £6,600 for which the Order had to obtain a loan. In addition there was the enormous cost of equipping and maintaining the school over thirty years. Without the co-operation of the Sisters of St. Gildas, the services of lay teachers and the active support of parents and parishioners it would have been impossible for the parish to carry the burden unaided from central diocesan funds. Ten years later, despite the war years intervening, the debt was down to £1,800. A truly remarkable achievement. Means to achieve this success were indeed varied and ingenious : “Be a Brick & Buy a Brick” and “Down the Debt” were captions used, along with others, advertising support for “School Sunday”; “Caledonian Markets”, whist drives, pools, fetes, dances, etc, all were gist for the mill and few, may be, would have obtained the sanction of Card. Vaughan.

The year St.Peter’s school was commenced there was instituted the annual parish pilgrimage to Walsingham, with its special feature of the presentation of a massive Votive Candle to the Shrine. The first “Stroud Green” candle was blessed by Bishop Myers on Tuesday 23rd June 1936. The mention of candles prompts a quotation from the Notice Book, under date 26th June 1938, “Please place your offerings for votive candles in the wall safe at the end of the church, as the boxes on the candle stands have been broken open so many times & robbed.” There was vandalism even in the “good old days”!

In the May of that year Fr. Norbert Jones, CRL, first parish priest of St. Mellitus, died. Never had the parish seen such an impressive funeral cortege, bearing witness to the popularity with which he was held by so many, Catholics and others alike. A few months later Card. Hinsley wrote to Abbot Smith, “My council urge me to arrange with you that we take over Tollington Park.” Thus was severed the tie with the parent parish. A few years later there died Fr. Gilbert Higgins, CRL, in his 92nd year, forty six of which has been spent as a member of the Stroud Green community.

On Armistice Sunday, 1945 Alderman Wall, the first Catholic Mayor of Hornsey, attended a Mass for the War Dead with the Borough Councillors. Despite the heavy bombing in the neighbourhood the church was spared, apart from extensive damage to the west window, choir and organ loft. The Walsingham pilgrimage in 1946 was by rail, the fare being £1.2.4! The “Candle” that year was blessed by Abbot Smith, who after the service was enterained (sic) in the Convent School Hall, where a presentation was made to him by the parishioners. He had been parish priest for 23 years and was leaving to take up the post of Abbot General of the Order. Fr. Bruno Peters, CRL, succeeded and after three years Fr. Bede Coulthard, CRL, who had served in the parish for 15 years, took his place.

By the end of 1951 Fr. Bede could announce that the capital debt on St. Peter’s School was cleared but there remained the crippling cost of maintaining the school. Over £10,000 was found during four years from parish activities for this purpose alone. The Catholic Education Council helped out with an annual donation of £250, otherwise the parish was on its own. When the Westminster Central Schools Fund was initiated under Card. Griffin, the Stroud Green levy was fixed at £250 out of consideration for the work in the parish for its own school. “To ensure that this new liability can be met without great unfairness to those who are whole hearted in the work of the school here,” circulated Fr. Bede to all parishioners “a plan is being worked out for the whole parish and will be put into operation in the New Year,” 1955.

In the November of that year Fr. Bede wrote to Card. Griffin inviting him to officiate at the diamond jubilee of the opening of the church. In the event the Cardinal was unable to come and Fr. Bede had been succeeded as parish priest by Fr. Vincent Kettle, CRL. Meanwhile in preparation for the jubilee the work of repairing of the War Damage and of re-decorating the church was undertaken, and, in addition, the ancient bomb damaged organ was replaced by the rebuilt organ from All Saints, Spitalfields, originally built by Samuel of Dalston in 1888. For all this a debt of £5,000 had been incurred.

On Sunday, 24th June 1956 sixty years since Card. Vaughan had laid the foundation stone in the Lady aisle, Bishop Craven sang pontifical High Mass in thanksgiving and Mgr. Gordon Wheeler, (now Bishop of Leeds) preached the sermon. Not withstanding the jubilee and the ceremonial there was a second collection for the church renovation fund and a Church-door collection for the Hopwood Hall Teachers’ Training College! But there was also a tea-party for the children of St. Gildas and St. Peters, and for the adults a Dance in Hornsey Town Hall.

On this joyful note it is convenient to close this account of the parish of St. Peter-in-Chains, Stroud Green, leaving future achievements, including the building of the Parish Hall and the conversion of St. Peter’s into an Aided Infant School and of St. Gildas into an Aided Junior School, to another archivist.

Material progress and financial commitments can be recorded; spiritual achievements must he left to the recording angel. This account makes no mention of the work of assistant priests or of the efforts of the parishioners without whom little of what is recorded would have been achieved. To the stalwart committee men of 1892 and to the subsequent generations of parish helpers, including the “washer-uppers” after parish functions, a debt of gratitude is owed for moulding this into such an admirable parish in which “such wonderful relationships have been brought about that all problems have been faced and many resolved in an exemplary spirit of collaboration and friendship. The Sisters of St. Gildas have played a very large part in all this”, wrote the Director of the Westminster Schools’ Commission.