ST ALBAN'S CHAPEL WINSLOW
A BRIEF HISTORY
The Catholic Chapel of St Alban, Winslow, is situated within the beautiful surroundings of Winslow Hall, in Sheep Street. The Hall was built for Sir William Lowndes, Secretary to the Treasury, between 1698 and 1702, to a design by Sir Christopher Wren.
The Catholic Parish of Winslow is geographically extensive, embracing the following villages:
Addington, Adstock, Botolph Claydon, East Claydon, Granborough, Great Horwood, Middle Claydon, Mursley, Nash, North Marston, Steeple Claydon, Swanbourne and the town of Winslow.
Before the Chapel
Mass came to be celebrated in Winslow as a consequence of the Second World War. The Franciscan friars at Buckingham had, for some time, sought somewhere in Winslow to say Mass for local Catholics, and for the many evacuees who had come to the district.
Market House in The Square, Winslow, (demolished after the war) had been established as a club for evacuees and the committee responsible agreed to allow an upper room to be used for Mass. The first Mass in Winslow was celebrated at 8.30am on 12th January 1941, the feast of The Holy Family. Mass was timed to end before the club opened.
Additionally in August and September that year, three camps were established in the vicinity of Winslow, Turweston and Tingewick, for Irish workers employed by the government in construction work. These were possibly for airfields being constructed, as in 1942 one Fr Philip Keys, OFM, is recorded as having been appointed chaplain to the RAF at Winslow. An airfield at Great Horwood became operational in September that year.
Early days of the Chapel
In 1907, during the Hall ownership of Norman McCorquodale JP, OBE, a linking building was constructed between the Hall and a detached pavilion, which had been the original brew house and laundry. The link contained a new entrance to the Hall and a billiard room. It was the billiard room and the downstairs part of the pavilion which became the chapel and upstairs was used for the priest’s flat.
After various tenants, the United Glass Bottle Company purchased the freehold of the Hall just before the outbreak of war in 1939. It was requisitioned during the war for use as HQ of 92 Group, Bomber Command RAF. The billiard room became the Operations Room. Armed RAF Police guarded the perimeter.
In 1947 the property was purchased for £8000 by Thomas Oakley (Luton) Ltd, with the intention to demolish the whole. This was prevented by Buckinghamshire County Council invoking measures under the new Town and Country Planning Act, after representations from The Wren Society.
In June 1948 Winslow Hall was bought by Geoffrey Houghton Brown, who by Deed of Gift gave the billiard room and three adjoining rooms to the Bishop of Northampton for use as a chapel and future priest’s residence. The parish continued to be served by the Franciscans. The Chapel we was blessed by Bishop Parker of Northampton on 12th September 1948 and the first Mass celebrated at that time. A licence for weddings was issued in 1952.
In 1959 Winslow Hall was purchased by diplomat Edward Tomkins (Later Sir Edward), for £7500. There were for some time tenants, including Mr John Ambler and his wife Princess Margaretha of Sweden, before it ultimately became the Tomkins’ family home.
In 1964, prior to responsibility for priests being transferred to the Diocese, a survey was carried out on the chapel premises. This showed there was a considerable amount of dry and wet rot needing remedial action, which was treated prior the first Diocesan priest, Father Paddy Glynn, taking up residence.
In 1971 Sir Edward Tomkins purchased from the Diocese the chapel and adjoining rooms for £2500, and in December granted the Diocese a lease of 99 years for the Chapel and what had become the priest’s flat at a ‘peppercorn rent’ of £1 per annum.
Priests of St Alban’s
1941 to 1965 Franciscan Friars based in Buckingham
1965 to 1983 Father Paddy Glynn
1983 to 1990* Monsignor Noel Burditt
1990* to 1991 Father Michael Lee AA
1991 to 1994 Father Keith Sawyer
1994 to 2009 Father Kevin O’Connell
* It has not been possible to confirm this date from a documented source.
When the chapel was first used for Mass, the way in for the congregation was via the Hall entrance on the north side, and then steps led down from a lobby into the chapel. The wooden panelling on the walls was still in place.
In 1974 a further survey showed there was again evidence of quite severe fungal infection to the premises. This was treated during 1975, when major alterations took place. Sir Edward offered the use of two rooms in the Hall for Mass during this disruption as well as generously contributing to the cost of building.
These major alterations included an entrance to the chapel through the east frontage, together with a new entrance to the flat. A small entrance vestibule with doors led into the chapel. Immediately to the right is a small sacristy which doubles as a confessional. The old way into the chapel was bricked up. The altar was moved from the west end into the bay window, where a low dais was constructed.
At some time the orientation of the altar reverted to the original placement, with bench pews replacing chairs. The tabernacle was placed to the left of the altar (facing) and is flanked by a small glass crucifix and glass figure of Our Lady, the gift of Lady Tomkins. These were originally illuminated from a battery powered light below them.
The metal crucifix which hangs above the altar was made by a prisoner at Grendon Underwood Prison during Father Glynn’s time. At the rear of the chapel is a beautiful oil painting of Our Lady, executed by artist Cheri Williamson Rush in 1995, a member of the congregation.
Geoffrey Houghton Brown
This initial benefactor of the Chapel was born in 1903, becoming a Catholic in 1924. He was well known as an artist, decorator and designer, and dealer in antiques. There is a painting of the crucifixion by him in the Church of Mary Mother of God, Leslie, Fife. He became a member of the Guild of Catholic Artists in the 1930s.
He at various times owned other historic houses. In 1939 he purchased Felix Hall near Kelvedon, Essex, a 56 roomed mansion, which he reduced by partial demolition. There had been a Catholic chapel there during ownership by the Petre family. In 1940 whilst he was away Felix Hall caught fire when workmen were thawing frozen pipes, and caused damage to the roof. He sold the property in 1947, but retained the Lordship of the Manor.
Mr Houghton Brown bought Winslow Hall in 1948 and moved to Winslow. In that year he obtained a grant of £6786 from the Ministry of Works for replacement of lead work to the roof. The Hall became a display setting for the antiques in which he dealt. Geoffrey Houghton Brown died on
3 February 1993.
Sir Edward Tomkins
Edward Emile Tomkins was born 16th November 1916. He was educated at Ampleforth and Trinity College, Cambridge. During his military service he became a prisoner of war in Italy. On his escape to freedom he walked 500 miles in 81 days to rejoin forces in the south of that country.
Sir Edward married Gillian Benson in 1955, who was social secretary to Lady Jebb, the wife of the then Ambassador in Paris. He was knighted in 1969 and had a distinguished career as a diplomat, being Ambassador in Paris from 1972 until he retired in 1975.
Sir Edward and Lady Tomkins and their children were parishioners, and many parish and local events were held in the Hall or in the grounds. Lady Tomkins died in 2003 and Sir Edward in 2007. Both are buried in Winslow Cemetery. During their ownership there were many notable visitors to the Hall, including the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, and Cardinal Basil Hume, who was a friend of Lady Tomkins.
The major change for Catholics in the form of worship came from what has become known as ‘Vatican II’. This included the introduction of vernacular language for the Mass, lay participation in proclaiming the scriptures, and the development of lay ministries, all of which have been effected in the Parish.
For some time there was a Children’s Mass at 4pm on Sundays, but when the attendance declined, a trial time of 6pm on the first Saturday of the month during the summer was mooted. When an alternative of 9.30 Sunday morning was suggested it was deemed impracticable, as the Sisters from Aylesbury had their car serviced on Sunday mornings!
At one time a mid-week Mass was introduced on Wednesday morning (market day), which Father Glynn called ‘Ladies Mass’. This later became ‘Shoppers Mass’ and the Thursday evening one was for ladies. Advent 1982 saw the introduction of a Sunday evening Mass. This was shortly after the reopening of the chapel following closure for redecoration.
The parish has participated in Quiet Days and in Parish Retreats. The Holy Week commemorations have been enhanced by Father Kevin’s introduction in 1996 of a Seder Meal, normally held in the St Laurence Room in Market Square.
In latter years leadership of Holy Hour services and Stations of the Cross were taken on by laity.
The lay participation in the functioning of the Chapel and parish has led to greater responsibility for them. Initially this was financial, especially the need to meet the cost of the alterations to the fabric and fittings of the chapel and flat.
In 1996 Father Kevin prepared a document entitled ‘Looking Ahead’, in which was set out the likely needs of the parish in the future. Under the heading of ‘Collaborative Ministry’ the immediate requirement for Catechists, Eucharistic ministers, and people with administration experience was set out. A Skills Survey was prepared and issued to the parish in order that the information needed could be gathered and assessed.
Parishioners responded by taking on these ministries. There are individuals who prepare young people for the sacraments, lead Children’s Liturgy and help with administration. There are groups like St. Vincent de Paul Society, CAFOD support, Liturgy and Social Group, Justice and Peace, Prison Chaplaincy and Music.
Some of these responsibilities had been in place for some time, and when the parish came to be without a resident priest on the departure of Father Kevin in 2009, more responsibility devolved to the laity for the day-to-day running of the Parish.
Franciscan Friars first came to Buckingham in 1892. They later established a college, chiefly for the education of young men entering the Order. In the early 1940s they started another college for the general education of boys, which closed in 1969. The Friars left Buckingham in 1976.
Father Paddy Glynn (1965-1983)
Father Glynn, the first priest appointed to Winslow by the Diocese, had as a curate in Norwich gained experience visiting prisoners. His ministry in Winslow was primarily as a Prison Chaplain, with the parish being secondary responsibility.
In 1976 he celebrated his Silver Jubilee of priesthood. A collection in the parish provided a 10 day holiday for him in Rome and an illuminated address was presented. There were special Masses in the parish and the Grendon Underwood prison, when Bishop Charles Grant concelebrated with
Father Paddy’s brother Fr Clive, and Fr Benedict a Cistercian monk, their uncle. Father Paddy’s mother was also present. When Father Glynn moved to Haddenham in 1983, there was a farewell party for him where he was presented with a ‘Communion Fish’, a gift from parishioners. He retained responsibility as prison chaplain.
Monsignor Noel Burditt (1983-1990*)
Francis Noel Burditt came to Winslow from Slough. His special role was as Diocesan Development Officer, overseeing the provision of churches for Catholics in the nearby new city of Milton Keynes. He was also Diocesan representative for education to the counties of Northampton and Buckingham. He had no role within the Prison Service.
On 6th June 1990 at 6.30pm the Parish joined in the celebration of Monsignor’s Golden Jubilee of ordination, when the Bishop and many of his priestly colleagues came to join in the special Mass, which was followed by a buffet supper.
Father Michael Lee A A (1990*-1991)
A member of the Order of the Augustinians of the Assumption, Father Michael was born in Baldock, Hertfordshire and from 1961 to 1968 was Parish Priest in Hitchin. He had previously been a member of staff at St Michael’s College, Hitchin, a Catholic private boy’s school run by his order.
Father Keith Sawyer (1991-1994)
Ordained in 1977, Father Keith came to Winslow with the dual role of Parish Priest and Prison Chaplain. His chaplaincy appointment was not to the other prisons mentioned elsewhere, but to the new one which had been built in Milton Keynes. This was the high security prison of Woodhill.
During his incumbency he was responsible for some of the seating alterations to the Chapel.
Father Kevin O’Connell (1994 – 2009)
One of Father Kevin’s earliest roles after his ordination in 1978 was attachment to the Catholic Communications Centre. Being a former journalist and newspaper editor, his services were useful in liaison with the media representatives prior to, and during the visit to Britain in 1982 of Pope John Paul II. He later served with the Catholic Missionary Society.
Father Kevin took over responsibility for Woodhill Prison, Milton Keynes, when he moved to Winslow. Later, in 1999, he also assumed responsibility of chaplain to Springhill Prison and the nearby Grendon Underwood Prison. These chaplaincies he relinquished at the end of 2007. He left the parish in 2009 to become a solitary priest.
Father Paddy Glynn was the first to create a Parish Council in 1977 primarily he said, ‘to undertake the burden of repaying the outstanding capital loan which had been made for the rebuilding and furnishing of the Chapel’.
The Council meetings were initially held at Lawn House, Winslow, the home of Mr and Mrs Fennell (later Sir Desmond and Lady Fennell). It is the minutes of the Council which provide much of the detail of this brief history. Under the chairmanship of Mr Fennell, structures were established for fundraising and maintenance of bank accounts separate from the Diocese.
One early initiative of the Parish Council was to conduct a parish census. In 1977 it was discovered that the existing list of families in the parish was very out of date. Where it was believed there were 60-70 families, it transpired there were some 200. The Parish Council took steps to bring the list up-to-date. This continues, with regular updates to include newcomers to the parish. Having dipped, parishioner numbers in 2008 were about 200.
In September 1977 there was a debt to the Diocese of £4861 and £182 in the bank. At that time the main source of income was the weekly collections. In 1979 the average weekly collection was £33. By contrast the weekly offering by 2006 was approximately £350, but costs had increased in line with the income.
At one Council meeting Mr Fennell explained to the Council that, ‘Taking account of Father Glynn’s stipend from the prisons, [he] had only £6 per week left at the end of the day’. The reality of facing up to costs disclosed that Father Glynn was responsible for paying his own bills for gas, electricity, water and the local rate. Council therefore undertook to pay these – if there was enough money!
The struggle to reduce the debt to the Diocese continued over the years and by 1980 it had become £3400. Then in 1983 the Parish received a bequest of £14000 from the estate of a parishioner, which enabled the Diocesan debt to be repaid. Part of this bequest enabled the Parish to give £6000 to Father Glynn in recompense for the extent to which he had subsidised the parish.
From the early days various events were held to try and form wider cohesion within the parish. There were socials, outings and parties for the children at Christmas and Easter, with parish Christmas parties in Winslow Hall, together with mince pies and punch and various music and singing entertainments. There were Midsummer parties in the grounds of the Hall, when the sun always seemed to shine. Some early gatherings were hosted by Mr and Mrs Fennell in the school room at Lawn House. When numbers attending some of these venues grew too large, they were held at The School House, Addington.
In 1982, the year of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Britain, there was a coach for parishioners to attend the Mass at Coventry Airport. There was also an outing to Mount St. Bernard’s Abbey in Leicestershire, where Father Glynn’s uncle was a monk.
Some years saw pancake parties as a prelude to Lent, when parishioners banded together to provide the necessary ingredients. There have been Quiz Nights which have benefited CAFOD; barbecues have proved popular; Justice and Peace functions have entertained as well as challenged. ‘Safari Suppers,’ are also an excellent means of welcoming new people to the parish in an informal and relaxed atmosphere.
A feature of the development of the St Alban’s community has been the cordial relationship with the other churches locally. There have been times when the Chapel was not large enough for some occasions, and Anglican friends gladly allowed the use of St Laurence Church and rooms. Whilst alterations took place to the Chapel, Mass was celebrated in the Parish Church. Cordial relations have also grown with the Winslow Vineyard (formerly Winslow Christian Fellowship).
On June 12th 1983 Vicar Barnes, (as he was affectionately known) of St Laurence celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination. The parishioners of St Alban’s made a special collection for a celebratory gift (not recorded) to mark this occasion, and also as a ‘thank you’ for his kind help in the use of St Laurence premises.
Discussions took place in 1996 with the new Vicar of St Laurence, the Reverend Tony Whalley, on possible ecumenical cooperation. These covered pulpit sharing, ecumenical services, joint marriage preparation and healing services.
It is customary for the Winslow churches to take part in a walk of witness each Good Friday in the High Street and Market Place, Winslow. The ministers and congregations also join with the wider community in the Remembrance Sunday service at the War Memorial in the High Street, when Mass time is altered.
Why St Alban’s Chapel?
The town of Winslow originally contained land owned by Offa, King of Mercia. In the year 793 he granted, ‘12 hides in Winslow to the Abbot of St Alban’s’. Offa had been to Rome and upon his return decided to establish and endow an abbey in his kingdom, in the city which is now named after that foundation. There was for some years a grange for monks from the abbey at Biggin, to the south of Winslow.
Who was St Alban?
In the third century Alban was a Roman soldier based in Verulamium (now the city of St Albans, Hertfordshire). This was during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. Alban was a typical Roman citizen, worshipping many gods.
Christians at that time were subject to persecution and a priest was being hunted by the Roman authorities. Alban sheltered him, and when this became known an attempt was made to arrest the priest but Alban had exchanged clothes, allowing the priest to escape.
Influenced by the priest, Alban became a Christian. Brought before a judge, he was given the offer to recant by making offerings to the Roman gods, including the Emperor. He refused, saying, ‘I worship and adore the true God, who created all things’. This did not endear him to the authorities and he was executed by beheading in about 209AD, becoming the first English martyr. His feast day is the 22nd June.