Sunday, 28 April 2013

St Joseph & The English Martyrs, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire

Despite this being the church I normally attended as a child I know very little about its history and neither Pevsner nor Mee mention it (perhaps a lingering anti Catholic prejudice?). So from the church's website a little history:

The history of the Catholic presence in Bishop's Stortford was recalled by Monsignor Stapleton Barnes of Cambridge, who delivered the homily at St. Joseph & The English Martyrs official opening on the 20th June 1906, when he recalled that St. Michael's Church had been built by Catholic Stortfordians...Then it was ended...Centuries passed. Then came the Second Spring. The town was a valley of bones, not a Catholic Church within miles and scarcely a single Catholic in the town. A Catholic priest would come once a quarter to say Mass in a room of a hired house, and half a dozen Catholics would come from the neighbourhood to worship God.

Next, on 4th May 1896, came five Sisters of St Mary of Namur who, with encouragement from Major Skeet and Cardinal Vaughan, then Archbishop of Westminster, had arrived to start a mission and school for Catholic girls.

cardinal vaughan
Cardinal Vaughan
The occasional visit by confessors and chaplains did not fully meet the spiritual needs and guidance of the Sisters or the embryonic Catholic community. The nearest Catholic Church was at Old Hall Green, near Ware, and that required a walk of approximately three hours each way.

These factors convinced the Sisters of a need for a local priest. This need was communicated to Cardinal Vaughan, via the Sisters' Mother General in Namur, and probably by Major Skeet too. This resulted in a visit of Bishop Brindle at the behest of Cardinal Vaughan.

Then a chance remark in early 1899 by Fr. Bennett, Provincial of the English Province of the Redemptorists, was made to Cardinal Vaughan.

Later in 1899 the Cardinal, a missionary at heart, invited the Redemptorist Order to accept the task of establishing a Catholic community in the town. Father Oliver Vassall-Phillips was chosen for the job which he started on 6th May 1900.

For a short while Mass was said in a small wooden shed in the grounds of the Windhill Lodge - the present site of St. Mary's Catholic School - where the Sisters had established themselves.

Then for a short while Masses were held in a private house in Windhill, opposite what is now the Old Monastery.

During these early days Fr. Vassall-Phillips had problems finding a house to accommodate the Redemptorist community and coupled with the lack of growth in attendance to Mass he resolved to go to meet his superior. He records how, whilst on his way to the rail station, he met Mr. Fehrenbach who persuaded him to stay. Mr. Fehrenbach, a German watchmaker, showed Father Vassall-Phillips a disused public house with some ground on the corner of Newtown Road and Portland Road.

This was duly purchased and a second hand prefabricated tin shed was erected on site by November 1900 and formally opened on the 7th November in the presence of Bishops Brindle and other visiting clergy and distinguished laymen and 300 other onlookers.

Thereafter progress was swift. In 1903 Major Skeet sold Windhill House to the Redemptorists, together with its surrounding land as well as the adjoining property, St Katherine's House, which became the site for the present St Joseph's Church.

A legacy inherited by Father Vassall-Phillips was used to build the new church to designs prepared by Mr Doran Webb. The plans were inspired by a church in the town of San Miniato, near Florence, which itself had been designed by Michelangelo.

The foundation stone of St.Joseph's was a stone from the original parish church of St Michael, encased in marble. It was laid by Cardinal Bourne on 13th July 1904.

The church was formally consecrated on 19th June. Cardinal Bourne felt it his duty to attend the solemn requiem sung for Cardinal Vaughan's Anniversary which fell on the same day, and so Bishop Fenton, auxiliary Bishop of Westminster formally consecrated St. Joseph's church on the 19th June 1906.

To be honest there's little of interest here but childhood memories of the boredom of Mass means it has a special place in my heart.

St Joseph & The English Martyrs (2)

Stations of the Cross

Nave (2)

Bishop’s Stortford. The greatest thing it has done for the world was to give birth to Cecil Rhodes, and we may believe that the time will come when the house in which he was born will be a place of pilgrimage. Yet this small town had its place in history centuries before young Rhodes sat in the pews at St Michael’s listening to his father preach. In the public gardens is a mound on which it is believed a castle stood, Waytemore Castle, the fortress of Bishop Maurice of London, into whose hands the Conqueror entrusted this key position by the ford over the River Stort. The outer works and moats can be traced among the walks and flowerbeds.

The hilly streets of Bishop’s Stortford set off to advantage the fine old buildings among the new, many of them inns from the 16th to I7th centuries with overhanging storeys; the Boar’s Head and the timbered Black Lion still carrying on, the White Horse, with its plastered heraldic front of Italian work, an inn no longer.
Two fine churches, an old one and a new one, look to each other across the roofs of the town, both set on hills. The new church is All Saints, the old one is St Michael’s. The new one, looking out over the town from Hockerill, was designed by Mr Dykes Bower, and is one of the best modern churches we have seen. It has a magnificent rose window in the east with Christ in the centre surrounded by dazzling colours, rings of little suns, flames, and symbols. The west window has three great plain lancets in the tower. There are four high arches on each side of the nave, supported by round columns, the stone roof is spaced out in 125 compartments, and there is a charming oriel in the sanctuary.
But the eye turns first and last in this town to the splendid 500 year-old church shooting up its pinnacled tower and spire from among the houses on the top of the other hill, summoning its worshippers with a peal often bells. The spire was added in 1812. They enter today by the very door people pushed open five centuries ago, and in one spandrel of the doorway is the same strange carving of the All-Seeing Eye, the Angel of the Resurrection sounding his trumpet in the opposite spandrel. The door opens on the six great bays of the spacious nave and aisles, where corbels of angels and apostles and medieval folk turn on us their stony gaze; we noticed a gardener, a cook, and a woodman among them. Save for a few changes and additions the church is wholly medieval, and has a Norman font which has been buried, having probably belonged to the church before this. There are 18 rich choir stalls, making a grand show with their traceried backs and panelled fronts, and misericords crowded with 15th-century faces and fancies, men and animals, one of them a rare early carving of a whale. The fine chancel screen is mainly 15th century, but the vaulting is new. The pulpit and a remarkable chest are Jacobean, the chest having an inside lock of 14 bolts which are as long as the lid. Both the north chapel and south vestry are Victorian.
There is a tablet in this fine church to a man who made the River Stort navigable up to Bishop’s Stortford. He befriended Captain Cook, who showed his gratitude by making him known to navigators all over the world, naming after him Port Jackson in New South Wales and Point Jackson in New Zealand. The man whose name thus lives on the map was born George Jackson at Richmond in Yorkshire, but he died Sir George Duckett; here in the church is his memorial. We find no memorial to a butcher’s son born here in 1813, who did much to help photography by proving the use of collodion in developing films. He was Frederick Scott Archer, and his children were pensioned by the Crown because his invention brought him no profit but yielded vast profits for others.
Much happier in his fortune was the famous physician who lies in the Quaker burial ground; he was Thomas Dimsdale, an Essex man who adopted Hertfordshire as his county, practised as a doctor in the county town, and sat in Parliament for it. He is remembered for his pioneering with inoculation for smallpox, and especially because Catherine of Russia invited him to her capital to inoculate herself and her son. It was in 1768, when the adventure was fraught with some peril, and the empress arranged for relays of horses from the capital to the border to aid the doctor’s escape in case of disaster. Happily all was well, and Dimsdale received £2000 for expenses, a fee of £10,000, and an allowance of £500 a year. He was laid in the burial ground of the Quakers here when he was 89 years old.
One of the windows of St Michael’s is in memory of the old vicar Francis Rhodes, who was laid to rest here eight years after his delicate son had left for South Africa. He lived to hear the good news that his son had found health and strength and was working in the diamond digging, and he saw him home again entering on a graduate’s life at Oxford; but he died in 1878 before Cecil entered the Cape Parliament, and before he had formed his great plan of a British South Africa. In the birthplace we see his portrait looking down from the wall on the bed in which Cecil Rhodes was born.
Bishop’s Stortford has been long in paying homage to its great son, but it has made amends, has bought the house he was born in and the house next door, and is developing both as a Cecil Rhodes Museum. The house is refurnished with pieces that either belonged to the family or belonged to the time, and it is an attractive place for any pilgrim interested in Rhodes of Rhodesia. In addition to the bed he was born in, one of eleven children, there is here the Bible his mother gave him, a fine old clock which was ticking in those days, a picturesque native drum used for communicating signals, a water colour he painted of a windjammer, and the uniforms he wore on ceremonial occasions - and never again.
Cecil Rhodes’s birthplace has all the glamour and fascination that invests the homes of famous men, and it is gratifying to find how much this great empire-builder’s memory is honoured in his native town.

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