A short history of St Joseph’s by John C Howe
Editing by Mrs Pamela Cross.
When the newly ordained priest Fr Manning came from Rome he lodged with his brother at Pendle Court in Bletchingley and soon found his way into the Catholic Chapel in Hooley Lodge which was the home of Lady Constantia Mostyn and her daughters. Mass was said in this chapel whenever it was convenient. Lady Mostyn came from an Old Catholic family who had suffered for the faith and she married Sir Edward Mostyn who was the head of another old Catholic family. This was in the newly created diocese of Southwark with its first bishop Thomas Grant. The countryside that Fr Manning saw was all fields and woods and it would have been hard to imagine that this would become a new town but of course that is what happened. It did not take long before Fr Manning had organised a meeting between Bishop Grant and Constantia Mostyn at which a bargain was struck. The Bishop appointed the Chapel to be the Mission of St Joseph’s and appointed a priest called Fr Ahearn to be its first Mission Priest. In 1855 he lived in Hooley Lodge until a Priest’s House could be built. During that time he brought in eight Catholic children to the neighbourhood who were baptised in that Chapel. In addition Fr Manning’s family and his brother were received into the Church. Constantia Mostyn provided her side of the bargain by buying the land off the railway. This little plot in Brighton Road adjacent to the Reading Arch. On this plot she built a Church, School and a Priest’s House. These three provided the pillars on which a highly successful Catholic Church was built in the area. All building was completed by 1860 and Mass was said regularly from then on. The Church was consecrated in 1862 by Bishop Grant and the school opened for business in 1867. While Lady Mostyn paid for the initial cost of all these works, the running costs of the Church became the responsibility of the congregation. The school, however, was subject to financial arrangements made by HM Government the County Council through the local Education Authority and the Parish. In 1887 a French order of nuns came to Redhill and opened a convent. In 1889 the convent bought the land in Ladbroke Road and built the school buildings in that area. The Convent co-operated with St Joseph’s School and in particular gave them assistance with teaching Religious Education to the children.
The years ticked on, people came and went, after 40 years the buildings were in need of maintenance and on a Sunday the Church was over full, these factors could not be ignored when a very substantial estimate was given for repairs to the roof and other maintenance projects and it was decided the only answer was to rebuild the lot. The Parish Priest was Fr Joseph Kavanagh and he faced his problem like many other priests have done throughout time. Fr Kavanagh’s father in fact put up the money and so all three buildings were taken down and rebuilt in the Gothic style which many people will remember. As a result a memorial in stone was placed in the Church to the Kavanagh family. Alas this seems to have disappeared. Rebuilding was completed in December 1899. A new church and school were able to face the new year with increasing confidence and the overcrowding of the church was eased, unfortunately this was only a temporary measure because the expansion of the area soon made this a problem again in later years.
The Parish provided services to the populations of Reigate, Merstham, Nutfield and Horley in addition to Redhill. The congregation from these areas either walked in or came by public transport. There were not many cars in those days, and this situation continued until well after the end of World War II.
In 1914 the advent of World War I gradually affected the Country and the Parish more and more. The development of large armies meant that young men volunteered and eventually there was conscription so the whole male population was involved in one service or another. World War I had an emotional effect upon the whole population and there was a great desire amongst the people to remember the fallen from the various communities. A memorial was placed in St Joseph’s Church on the wall and remained there until the church moved to Ladbroke Road when it disappeared.
The size of the congregation continued to increase and during the 30s this reached serious proportions. As a result the Church of the Holy Family was built in Reigate and opened in 1939 to serve the people of that part of the borough. In Horley there were several attempts to set up Mass Centres in people’s property which also eased the problem but did not cure it.
The advent of World War II was dramatic. A large number of the congregation had joined the Territorial Army and so were called up. A very substantial school from Brockley in South London was evacuated to Nutfield and occupied Nutfield Priory. In the long run this was to have considerable benefit to the Parish because they brought their own Priest with them, Fr Abutnot, he served as Chaplain to the Convent as well as to the school. The Village hall of Nutfield was turned into a Mass Centre every Sunday, initially to serve the school, but subsequently many of the local population attended Mass there and this continued after the war when the arrangement was made with St Mary’s Bletchingley which replaced it. The increase in population of the local area affected a number of children in need of education and St Joseph’s School was proving to be somewhat inadequate. The Parish bought a villa in Chapel Road and turned the various rooms in it into classrooms to alleviate the problem but it didn’t answer the main need.
In 1955 the Parish Priest Fr Tom Healy announced at Mass that St Joseph’s was in negotiation with the Education Authority of Surrey County Council concerning the relocation of the school. He had his eye on a plot of land which he subsequently bought. Under the various Education Acts which had been passed by Parliament in the last 80 or 90 years, there was special provision for parish schools of the St Joseph’s type, whereby the Parish would pay a proportion of the move and for the purchase of the land etc. The figures that Fr Healy announced were quite frightening but they stimulated considerable discussion amongst the congregation. In particular a very fine gentleman called Tim Hale forward with his proposition for a football pool. He organised this and it was very successful and the money rolled in. He took the trouble to organise a committee that would be above criticism in particular by persuading a parishioner who was the chief accountant for the London Electricity Board to take up that post.
In the mean time the people of Merstham were partly served because of the generosity of the Church of England, Canada Hall in South Merstham became a Mass Centre every Sunday Morning. The football pool was so successful that all surrounding parishes joined in with considerable benefit to each of them.
Education was struggling at this time. The only secondary education for children was the Convent and the parish boys had to go down to Crawley to St Wilfrid’s mixed modern school for further education. The Convent which opened in Ladbroke Road in 1887 catered for girls. Although this was a highly successful school in fact it was limited when you viewed it in context of the needs of the congregation. At the same time Surrey County Council recognised there were bigger problems than this with the expanding town of Redhill and its requirements and they organised a brilliant move which resulted in St Bede’s the great ecumenical experiment which has proved to be a highly successful school and plays a significant part in the community. This was achieved mainly by combining the Catholic Convent of St Joseph’s with the Anglican Girls School, Bishop Simpsons, and turning it into a Co-Educational School to serve the two communities.
In 2004 on pilgrimage to Medjugorje, a few parishioners and Father Laurence Quin-Morris went to visit a grotto of Padre Pio, made by a local villager in the outskirts of the town, way out in the countryside. On the way back we stumbled upon a sculptors house and workshop, inside were the Stations of the Cross. We mentioned to Father Laurence that they were just what we needed in our church and he agreed. There were five more, needing to be made and we asked 'Theo' the sculptor if he could make them in the five days we had left, before we returned to Redhill. He said he could.
His wife said, that he stayed up working on them night and day and praying all the time, he was making them. He took them to the house where we were staying and he cried when he gave them to us. He said he felt that part of himself was going back to Redhill with them. They are made of the local stone of Medjugorje and are very heavy so each one of us carried one station in our cases. Lots of prayers went into the making of these Stations of the Cross.
Photos: Pam Dysart
PRAISE THE LORD