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The Early Years

Herbert Alfred Vaughan

(1832–1903), Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster 

The Beginnings

Lady Henrietta Pelham-Clinton, 1843-1913, Dowager Duchess of Newcastle

Section 1: The Early Years


IN THE Franciscan Annals of March 1878, a member of the Third Order of St Francis wrote, "There is a large district fringing the Loughton and Ongar branch of the Great Eastern Railway stretching from Stratford to Ongar, embracing the parishes of Woodford, Woodford Bridge, Chingford, Loughton, Chigwell, Chigwell Row, Epping and adjacent places without a church (St George's Walthamstow is the nearest, except St Helen's Ongar at the extreme end) at which the faithful can assist at the holy sacrifice. A Brother of the Third Order of St Francis, anxious for the salvation of so many thousands of souls residing in this large district and therefore removed from the life-giving influence of our holy religion, asks his brethren and sisters of the Third Order to unite with him in a daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament and to offer in connection with this visit, a Pater, Ave, Gloria, that Almighty God will be pleased to establish a mission."

This anonymous quotation is often seen as the first inspiration for the founding of the friary church of St Thomas of Canterbury at Woodford in the county of Essex. These standard accounts go on to point out how, some 15 years later, Cardinal Vaughan, Archbishop of Westminster, was taking a rest at Ascot in the home of Lady Henrietta Pelham-Clinton, Dowager Duchess of Newcastle. During this visit he happened to lament the fact that there was no Catholic church or parish between St George's Walthamstow and St Helen's Ongar. He went on to express a wish to establish a Catholic church in the Epping Forest area; the Duchess immediately offered financial help. Accordingly in 1894-1895 matters moved swiftly apace to remedy the situation with the building of the present Friary church. 

A foundation stone was laid on the 18th May 1895 by Cardinal Vaughan and, within a year, the new church was consecrated on the 7th July 1896.

Such a version, however, does not give full credit to the developing Catholic church in the North London area or the astute plans of the shrewd Cardinal and his good friend, the Dowager Duchess. The anonymous writer of 1878 talks of Catholics being deprived of a church in the area but why should this be on the Cardinal's mind in 1893 when the number of Catholics who performed their Easter duties at Woodford in 1894 was a mere 79 (21 men, 58 women) and, by 1898, was only 247 (91 males,156 women)? Why should the Duchess agree to pay for founding a church which would hold 700-800 people in an area so devoid of Roman Catholics?

The answer to these questions lies in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in England in the last quarter of the 19th century. The Catholic Emancipation Act had been passed in 1829 and by letters Apostolic of Pope Pius IX, dated 29th September 1850, the English hierarchy was restored and the Metropolitan See fixed at Westminster with 12 Suffragan Sees. The Catholic Church came out of the catacombs and, aided by the influx of immigrants from Ireland and other parts of Europe, began to make its presence felt in the capital. 

The influence of John Henry Newman, the rise of an intellectual elite and the re-emergence on to the political stage of old Catholic families also stimulated the growth of the Church. The inner west of London became known as the stronghold of Catholicism and the Church's growing importance is symbolised by the building of Westminster Cathedral which was completed in 1903.

At the same time there was a marked decline in the Church of England. On Census Sunday 1851, only 23% of Londoners attended church: in 1901 this had sunk even lower, to about 19%. Indeed, the greater portion of church attenders belonged to the Roman Catholic or Nonconformist faiths. However, due to the rapid urbanisation of the capital and the consequent lack of space, it was difficult for Catholics and Non-conformists to continue their missions or build parishes

Accordingly the north-east borders of London witnessed a dramatic increase in church building as well as a tendency for both Catholics and Non-conformists to expand into the small villages and hamlets around London which, after the coming of the railways, became more closely linked with the capital.

Section 2: The Beginnings

MATTERS moved very swiftly. In 1894, the Duchess bought a house in Stag Lane, Buckhurst Hill and brought in an order of nuns, the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, to teach children of the area, Cardinal Vaughan and the Duchess insisting that children of all denominations be admitted. In March of the same year the Duchess also purchased a house on Epping New Road called Kenilworth. The house was blessed by the first Guardian, (appointed by the Chapter at Amiens) an Englishman from Padfield named Father Edward Fisher who took up residence there with seven other Franciscans.

Later in the same year, a small galvanised iron chapel, 40ft by 80ft, was erected in the gardens. Mass on Sunday morning was at 8.30am and 10.00am; Catechism for the children at 3.30pm; Rosary, Sermon and Benediction at 6.30pm. During the week, (a sign of the times, when people began work early) there was morning mass at 5.30am and 7.00am; Benediction on Wednesdays, Stations of the Cross on Fridays with ample opportunity to attend confession. These, however, were only temporary measures. Mr. Leatherley had his eye on a large estate opposite the coaching inns in Woodford High Road on the brow of the small hill which ran down past the newly established Bancrofts School. The house was one of the 18th century mansions owned by Henry Vigne and bordering land owned by the Duchess' noble friends, the Wellesleys. In 1894, the Duchess, through Leatherley, bought this "Oaks" as well as the Montclair site and plans were pushed ahead to use most of this site for a large parish church, a Franciscan community of about 40 as well as an elementary school near the Duchess' planned boarding school for girls in Mornington Road. Henrietta would keep part of the Oaks but turn the rest over for the construction of the Friary and the Parish Church.

1895: A description in 24th May edition of the Woodford Times: "...the church, which will be in the early English style, is designed to accommodate 700 worshippers. It will be provided with a nave and two aisles and two side chapels with a porch, organ gallery over the sanctuary and choir behind for 40 friars. Its dimensions will be as follows: Total width inside, 51ft; length of nave, 81ft; total length including sanctuary and choir, 148ft; height of nave inside, 48ft; height of nave outside, 56ft; height to top of cross, 80ft. The Friary, which is to adjoin the church, is intended for 40 monks and will be 150ft. x 88ft. The estimated cost of the church, friary, etc. is about £10,000."

In March 1895, tenders came in for the new buildings and on 2nd April 1895, a contract was drawn up, the architect being a priest, Canon Alexander Scoles of the Clifton diocese who was himself a member of the Third Order of St Surrey. The above description of the new church is provided by the Woodford Times.

The foundation stone of the church was laid on the 18th May 1895 by Cardinal Vaughan in the presence of the Dowager Duchess and some 600 spectators: priests and religious, prominent lay folk, "including many Protestants." According to the Catholic Standard and Ransomer as well as the Woodford Times and Catholic Times, the Duchess had gone out of her way to adopt a high profile for this occasion: flags were flying and the laying of the foundation stone was proclaimed by press and handbill. The ceremony was described as "brilliant": the Cardinal and entourage being in full pontificals, a choir had been brought in to sing Battman's Mass in F whilst a soloist beautifully delivered the hymn "Et Incarnatus Est."

On Saturday, 18th May 1895, Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, Archbishop of Westminster, laid the foundation stone for the new church in the presence of the Dowager Duchess of Newcastle and some 600 spectators. 

At the reception afterwards, the Cardinal paid homage both to the Dowager Duchess as well as "the truly missionary spirit of the Friars in Woodford fast becoming a suburb for wealthy people".

Even in these early months it was apparent that the eight strong Franciscan community was not only serving the small Catholic population of the area but winning converts. By May 1895, according to the Catholic Times, a hundred people were already attending the iron chapel in the grounds behind Kenilworth House whilst, according to parish records, 79 people performed their Easter duties that year and in 1896, this had grown to 123.

Years 1945-2000
Section 3: Years 1914-1945


THE BUSTLE and frenetic activity of the early years was replaced by the silent work of consolidation and development as the late Dowager Duchess' expectations of the Church's future in Woodford were soon fulfilled. In 1891 the population of Woodford was 10,984: in 1901 13,798: in 1911 18,496 and in 1921 21,236, whilst the number of households in Woodford alone had risen from 2,614 in 1901 to 4,336 in 1921. The growing Catholic population, in what is now known as the five London Boroughs and the county of Essex, was also recognised by the hierarchy. In 1917 the archdiocese of Westminster was divided and Bernard Nicholas Ward appointed Administrator Apostolic of the newly formed diocese of Brentwood. On 20th July 1917 he was appointed Bishop and, on 7th November of the same year, formally consecrated.

The sheer extent of St Thomas of Canterbury parish at this time is hard to imagine. It included Chingford, Loughton, parts of Wanstead as well as South Woodford and Chigwell. In 1944 the visiting Provincial publicly commended the community for their work in three schools, four convents, five hospitals as well as the asylum at Claybury. This was without the responsibilities of the Franciscan community and the growing complexity of parish life. In 1917 the new bishop came to Woodford to administer Confirmation. In 1922 he returned whilst, in July 1924, Ward's successor, Bishop Doubleday left, declaring himself "more than satisfied with the spiritual and financial state of the parish, although rather exhausted after confirming a further 105 candidates." Three years later the Bishop of Brentwood returned to confirm a further 69 whilst, in 1939, when Father Agnellus gave a mission, 450 people attended mass at St Thomas of Canterbury with a further 160 at Chigwell Convent.

The diocese became more than aware of these pressures. In 1917 a separate parish was formed at Our Lady of Lourdes in Wanstead. In 1919 Our Lady of Grace and St Teresa at Chingford was formed whilst, in Loughton, the Spanish Claretian Fathers accepted responsibility for Sunday mass and, in March 1937, a separate parish was formed there after the diocese purchased land at Traps Hill. Perhaps the best indicator of the growth of the parish is the little Iron School whose first manager, after it was recognised officially as a public elementary school, in 1902, was Father John Forrest ofm. In 1908 the number on register there was 92. By 1923 this had increased to 118 so, in 1924, a plot of land adjoining the parish school was purchased by the community at a cost of £250. The Duchess had a two-roomed, brick building constructed beside the old 'iron' building but, in 1931 when the school's population had risen to 123, the 'iron' building was condemned by the Inspectorate. The Friars and the parish responded by considerable fund raising and the magnificent sum of almost £2,000 was collected to provide two additional classrooms.

There were other changes in the parish: on Friday, 16th January 1920, in accordance with the will of the late Dowager Duchess, the Poor Clares, an enclosed community of contemplative nuns, moved into the empty old residence of the Duchess known as the Oaks which stood to the right of the Friary. In 1931, Ivy Lodge, a mansion to the south of the church with magnificent gardens stretching from the High Road to Friary Lane was bought anonymously and given to the Friars and became a parish centre. Despite the bleak times, the friary church's first parish hall was a thriving social centre. The Society of St Vincent de Paul met there, being reinstated after a gap of eight years on October 15th 1922. Other societies also met in Ivy Lodge; the Children of Mary, the Knights of St Columba, the Catholic Women's League and, in April 1937, a Catholic Study Centre which was an offshoot of the Catholic Social Guild.

In 1931, there was a parish meeting over the impending Education Bill, a resolution being drawn up and sent to the local MP, Winston Churchill. The Third Order of St Francis thrived and there are accounts of Corpus Christi processions, the crowning of Our Lady's statue in May, devotion of the 13 Tuesday's of St Antony, the annual garden fete (1931), Christmas Bazaars as well as lectures on apologetics. There was a youth club in 1943 putting on plays and dramas and, five years previously, in November 1938, a Catholic Scout Troop had been founded.

The buildings and parish church continued to be renovated. In July 1914, it was decorated at a cost of £100. In January 1921 the lighting above the community choir was improved by removing panels from the roof and replacing them with a sky light. In August 1921, heating was installed in the church, a new electric clock and, nine years later, electric lighting. The underground wells continued to be a nuisance, there being constant work to deal with the dampness on "the epistle side of the church". In January 1932, a new altar and 13 more stalls were installed whilst panelling in the choir, warped due to dampness, was removed. In the same year the church was re-decorated and, in 1933, new vestments and candlesticks were bought and the organ's hydraulic system overhauled.

The First World War had affected many homes but the Second World War made its efforts felt in the parish. There were complaints of bomb blasts which, in 1941, led to the church bell being inspected and strengthened and the removal of two crosses in front of the church. Shelters were dug round the church as, in September 1940, the Father Guardian complained of "incessant air raids". Refugees flooded in, school life was disrupted, even their coach was commandeered for the war effort. There were fund-raising events and concerts on behalf of the Red Cross and permission was given to attend Midnight Mass at 4pm on Christmas Eve to avoid the effects of the Blitz. Members of the Franciscan community played their part in the armed forces yet, by the outbreak of peace in 1945, the damage sustained by the parish community had not been too great.

Montclair School, now the location of Trinity Catholic High School, Sydney Road, Woodford Green. 

1926: A view of St Thomas of Canterbury, the Friary and the Oaks as seen from the newly constructed steeple of All Saints church.

Ivy Lodge mansion, bought anonymously and given to the Franciscan friars.

1932: An aerial view of the parish church of St Thomas of Canterbury, the Friary and the nearby Montclair School.

Years 1914-1945
Section 4: Years 1945-2000

THE POST-WAR years saw a dramatic rise in population. By 1961 the population of Woodford alone was 32,000 with more building estates promised and planned as well as an equally startling rise in population in the areas around Woodford. Some of the terrible pressure was taken off the Woodford community at St Thomas of Canterbury by the formation of the Hainault parish in 1952 and again in December 1968, when the Bishop commissioned the new parish of St Anne Line in South Woodford. 

Nevertheless, the pastoral burden on the Friars was awesome at a time when, as in the secular priesthood and other religious bodies, there was a downward trend in vocations. A quite exasperated note in the parish archives of 1968 indicated that the Franciscan community at St Thomas of Canterbury was finding it difficult to uphold all its commitments.

The Friars of Woodford were not helped by the shifting population of the area they served. In their influential book, Family and Kinship of East London, published in 1952, the sociologists Willmot and Young demonstrated that only 12% of the residents at the time actually came from Woodford whilst, in the same survey, only 47% of the Woodford population admitted to attending Sunday church - and that was once a month.

In the face of these difficulties the Franciscan community achieved great success. A note in the register for 1950 declared 75% of the parish were practising whilst, in 1958, the Bishop confirmed 200 people. At Easter 1956 the number attending mass was 1,270 and in 1977, 1,423. Seven years later in a letter to parishioners, Father Guardian expressed himself very pleased that he had to continually increase his order for communion wafers from the Poor Clares.

Nevertheless, the Franciscans had to find a solution to bringing the Mass and the Sacraments to the outlying edges of the parish. In 1951, at the request of the Bishop, the Franciscan community was asked to find a place in Buckhurst Hill to celebrate Mass. After a great deal of debate, they were allowed to say mass at the Welfare Centre Buckhurst Hill, for the first time on the feast of the Epiphany 1952. The Parish Council agreed to pay ten shillings rental per week. 

Such an arrangement continued until 1970 when, due to the generosity and ecumenical spirit of the Anglican authorities, the Friars were permitted to celebrate Sunday Mass at St Stephen's Chapel, Albert Way, Buckhurst Hill. In the same year, on Low Sunday, the first Mass was offered at the Broadmead Community Centre for people on the new estate. An entry in the parish register for 1955 says that a number of Sunday Masses in the parish had risen to 10: five in the church, two at Chigwell, one at Buckhurst Hill, one at the Poor Clares' Convent and one at Claybury Hospital.

At the same time the Franciscans were involved in many parish activities: training at Walsingham House, support in giving retreats to different parts of the country as well as ecumenical liaison with local churches and, after Vatican Council II, in the senate of Priests and local Deaneries. (The latter provided some slight amusement to the Fathers when, in 1973, it was decided that they would be part of the Waltham Forest rather than Redbridge or South Essex Deanery). 

It is impossible to assess the tremendous work of the Friars during the post-war years for little mention is made of the individual counselling, house visits, as well as the administration and business of the local Franciscan community.

In July 1947, a Parochial Entertainments Committee had been set up as a forum for lay involvement. This became the Parish Council in 1951 and, as early as 1953, the Father Guardian was issuing an annual report on the parish. In 1963 and 1964 the Franciscan fathers organised an end of year party at the Roebuck Hotel for all those who had helped in the parish though, by 1964, people were beginning to question the value of such a festive occasion.

There were requests, as early as the 1950's, for a new place for the parish to meet. In 1973 the Catholic Parents Electors' Association, which had been formed in the parish, put forward a plan for the entire site to be razed and a new church and parish centre to be built. Such radical proposals were overtaken by other events but the Parish Council continued to develop. In 1976 the constitution was formulated and on the 5th November 1976 the first AGM of the Parish Council took place where members to it were elected. 

In November 1980, more radical measures were adopted to stimulate parochial life by the adoption of the renewal programme sponsored by the Movement For a Better World. A ten- year plan would be drawn up and, to prepare for it, a parish retreat was given. The actual programme beginning in the Autumn of 1981 with the parish renewal workshop and the division of the parish into zones, each with a leader and a number of messengers.

The Franciscan community had always appreciated the value of the written word in keeping in touch with members of the parish and elsewhere. The tradition of Father Edward Fisher of Padfield in publishing hand-bills as well as close liaison with the local press continued but received a fresh impetus in the post-war years. A newsletter was published in May 1948 under the auspices of the Franciscans: it was called Friary Newsletter and appeared on the first Sunday of each month, price 3d. Its circulation was about 450 copies each of 10 pages being full of articles and parish news. After a while its appearance became rather spasmodic but, in September 1967, it was re-issued under the title This Week which published parish notices as well as the "people's part" of the Mass. In the 1980's there was the publication of the Together newsletter once a month and the introduction of the parish magazine, In Touch.

With the passing of time a great deal of parish work was done by organisations; well established ones such as the Third Order, Guild of the Blessed Sacrament (last revived in 1961) and the Society of St Vincent de Paul which provides counselling and financial help, house visits and summer camps for the children on the Essex coast; the Knights of St Columba who organise a constituency committee with other churches as a pressure group on local MP's in all matters where human lives were involved. The Catholic Women's League continued its work at parish bazaars and fetes which had now become annual events, as well as running activities ranging from organising the cleaning rota of the church to the care of the altar linen. The Catholic Women's League also organised visits to the old and infirm, catechical classes for children attending non-Catholic schools, as well as Lenten lunches organised at different churches to raise money for charity. Other organisations such as Justice and Peace, CHAS, CAFOD as well as groups organising pilgrimages and Walsingham have all been generously supported by the parish.

Youth clubs may have been a phenomenon of post-war years but there is strong evidence that youth organisations have always flourished at St Thomas of Canterbury. As early as 1949, the Friars were laying out tennis courts on what was called the Montclair site (later St Paul's School - now Trinity Lower Site) "so young men and women of the parish could meet in a Catholic atmosphere". A youth club was formally begun in 1956, meeting in the Memorial Hall in High Road, Woodford before being moved to Ivy Lodge and taking the nickname of Ivy Lodgers. Like so many parish groups they used that old house until a series of fires in 1971/72 led to its being condemned and razed to the ground. One of the great characteristics of these early youth clubs was their love of amateur dramatics such as the play they staged in September 1957, entitled "The White Sheep of the Family".

After the demolition of the Ivy Lodge in 1972, the club used a variety of places: St Antony's Hall; Avon House; the United Reform Church Club in Buckhurst Hill and, in 1976, to the despair of some of the Friars, the Friary itself. The youth club continued in the 1980's being organised on a deanery as well as a diocesan basis with programmes at Walsingham House and participating in conferences at Mersea Island and elsewhere. Concurrent with these developments, was the expansion of the Scouting movement. The Scout Troop being joined in the 1950's by a Cub Pack, Girl Guide Company as well as Brownies, Ranger Groups, and later by Beaver Scouts.

The Fabric and Stained Glass
Section 5: The Fabric and Stained Glass


By Frank O'Shea (2004)

APPROACHING the Sanctuary by the right hand aisle the first stained glass window depicts St Margaret of Cortona, a thirteenth century member of the Franciscan Third Order. She lived some years with a man to whom she was not married. He was murdered one night and his dog returned to her and, as the window shows, it pulled her dress to lead her to his body. After this event she led an exemplary life until her death in 1297. Her incorrupt body is preserved in the Franciscan church at Cortona.

The second fanlight window on this side shows another Franciscan Tertiary, St Rose of Viterbo, preaching to the people there. She died in 1252 at the early age of seventeen, but even in that short life acquired a reputation for great sanctity and charity.

Above the first confessional is a stone relief of St Anthony holding the Infant Jesus. Included in the relief is a lily, the traditional emblem of the saint. Two stained glass windows inside the confessional continue the dedication to this saint, one showing him giving food to the poor. The other commemorates one of the legends of St Anthony. He was challenged by one Guillard to prove his preaching on the Divine Presence. Guillard undertook to give no food to his mule for three days. After that time he would offer hay to the mule in the town square. Anthony was required to offer the mule the Blessed Sacrament in the same place at the same time. The mule's reactions would demonstrate the truth or fallacy of the doctrine. The mule declined the food but knelt before the Host which Anthony offered in a monstrance. Guillard confessed his error.

The third fanlight shows Our Blessed Lord presenting a ring to St Clare to signify her marriage to a heavenly bridegroom.

A relief over the second confessional shows the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a wreath of thorns. Stained glass windows inside the confessional show St Margaret Mary Alacoque a 17th century Visitation Nun and Blessed Baptista Varani a 15th century Italian Poor Clare Sister, both of whom were revered for their particular devotion to the Sacred Heart.

We are now in front of the chapel of St Francis with a statue of our patron St Thomas of Canterbury at its entrance. The ornate stone altar is surmounted by a statue of the Saint, the founder of the order of friars minor, who have served the parish from its inception in 1895. At the feet of the saint is a skull, the symbol of our human mortality. The front of the altar is carved in three panels. The centrepiece is a picture of Francis praying before the crucifix in the church of San Damiano at Assist It was while he was praying here that Francis heard the voice of Jesus enjoining him to 'Go and rebuild my church'. The right hand panel is a view of Francis receiving the signs of the stigmata in his mountain retreat at La Verna. In the left hand panel Francis is lying on his deathbed. The latter scene is repeated in the stained glass window above the chapel. 

This passing of St Francis is celebrated here at Woodford as in every Franciscan mission on 31st October every year, the eve of his feast day, in the ceremony known as 'The Transitus' (The passing over'). The feast day of 4th October was of particular significance in 2001 as it was the occasion of a welcome to the Provincial Minister and the Curia of the Order which had moved here three days previously following the closure of the Forest Gate mission in East London.

In the floor of the chapel is the resting place of Henrietta, the Dowager Duchess of Newcastle, who acquired the site and built the church and Friary at the end of the nineteenth century.

Returning to the back of the Church and proceeding down the left hand aisle the circular stained glass fanlights trace a number of incidents in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The first depicts St Anne instructing her daughter Mary with her husband St Joachim in the background. The second shows the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary recites the Magmficat Anima Mea Dominum (My Soul Glorifies the Lord) while Elizabeth's Husband Zachary looks on. Zachary was at this time struck dumb and remained so until the birth of his son. When he confirmed in writing that the boy was to be named 'JOHN' his speech was immediately restored.

The third window depicts the nativity scene.

The last window portrays the young Jesus learning carpentry from his foster-father. The legend round the window reminds us of the finding of the child Jesus teaching in the Temple and reads, 'He went down to Nazareth and was subject to them'.

And so we come to the Lady Chapel. The altar matches that in the chapel of St Francis save that the statue is of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the three frontal panels represent the Annunciation, the Assumption into Heaven and the Crowning of Our Lady in Heaven. Above the altar table are the words 'Altara Privilegium' a term once used for an altar other than the main altar at which the Mass might be offered to gain a plenary indulgence for the Holy Souls. St Joseph stands guard at the entrance to the chapel. Of the two stained glass windows in this chapel one shows 'Our Lady Queen of Heaven' and the other shows the 14th century Franciscan Friar Duns Scorns kneeling before Our Lady. He was an early advocate of the belief in the immaculate conception and Our Lady's claim to this title is confirmed by the inscription 'I am the Immaculate Conception'. 

We now approach the main altar, which was refurbished to accord with the precepts of the Second Vatican Council in 1976. The stained glasses however go back to the time when the church was first built. A large plane at the back of the sanctuary shows the crucifixion with Saint Mary Magdalen kneeling at the foot of the cross and Our Blessed Lady and Saint John on either side of the cross. Below them reading from left to right we see Saint Francis receiving the stigmata. Saint Thomas of Canterbury being slain by the Kings' knights and Saint Bonaventure writing (probably one of the early accounts of the life of Saint Francis). In the side walls of the sanctuary are four rose windows each depicting a Franciscan saint. The first of these Blessed Agnellus of Pisa was sent to England in 1224 by Saint Francis himself. The picture shows him holding a document signed by the saint ordering him to come to England and exercise the office of Minister General. The second window is of Saint John Forrest, the Minister Provincial of the English province at the time of the Reformation. He was the confessor of Catherine of Aragon; he opposed the actions of Henry VIII incurred the Kings' wrath, and in 1538 at the age of 70 he was burned over a slow fire.

His martyrdom is shown in the window. The third window depicts St Leonard of Port Maurice who has no obvious connection with England but lived in Italy. He was strongly associated with pastoral missions and is therefore probably regarded as a patron of local missions of the Franciscan order. The fourth window is of St Bernardine who was a very famous preacher in his time.

When the sanctuary was re-ordered in the 1970's, the original main altar, which stood by the central glass partition at the back of the sanctuary, was removed. Originally this replicated the style of the two side altars but was clearly much larger. It was replaced by a new altar facing the congregation and made of Westmorland slate and Clipsham stone. The ambo, from which the readings are given is built in the same style and stone as the altar. On the front of the ambo is an eagle carving. This is the symbol of St John the evangelist. It also shows the words 'Im principio erat Verbum' - 'In the beginning was The Word'.

On the front of the main altar is a Franciscan symbol showing the Greek Tau and pair of crossed hands. According to ancient custom the original altar contained relics of two early martyrs, St Constantia and St Domitilla. These relics were removed and placed in the new altar together with a relic of Pope St Pius X. Details of these three saints appear later in this account.
Before the refurbishment of the church in the 1970's there was a private chapel behind the high altar reserved for the reciting of the office and for quiet reflection by the brothers of the Franciscan order. At the refurbishment the chapel was opened up behind the altar and can be seen through three glazed screens, two of which are doors into the chapel. These doors can be used by members of the congregation who wish to go into the chapel for private prayer. The chapel is also the place where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. The morning office is recited by parishioners and the Holy Mass is celebrated in the chapel every week-day of the year.

The bronze door of the tabernacle has a golden grille with the lettering 'Ecce Agnus Dei' - 'behold the lamb of god' inscribed within the grille. Around the door is a mosaic pattern containing symbols of five Barley loaves and two fishes an obvious reference to the eucharist. Above the door on each side of the cross are two peacocks symbolizing immortality.

The chapel contains six windows, each with a Franciscan saint. The two centre windows are of St Francis and St Clare. Francis holds a book showing the words 'if you wish to be perfect take all you have and give it to the poor'. Rounded heads of nails can be seen in Francis' feet signifying the stigmata. St Clare holds the monstrance recalling the occasion in 1215 when she repelled the Saracens who were besieging Assisi.

The four other windows, from right to left, portray Sts Didacus, John Capistrano, Bonaventure and Pascal Baylon.

Didacus is the patron saint of Franciscan brothers. Born in Spain in 1400 he lived in the Friary of Aracoeli in Rome. He was renowned for his generosity and incurred the wrath of other members of the community by holding this high reputation. On one occasion he was seen carrying a basket of bread from the kitchen to some beggars outside the friary. When questioned by his brothers he said that he had a basket of flowers. When they looked inside they saw - a basket of flowers. Didacus is shown in the window holding a basket of loaves in his left arm.

St John Capistrano was a member of the Franciscan order from 1416 to 1456. He was a great speaker and at the end of his life preached a crusade against the Turks who were then invading Europe. He even joined the Christian forces as one of the victorious leaders in the battle of Belgrade. He is seen in the window carrying the standard - the flag of warrior saints.

St Bonaventure was another great Franciscan saint. When young he was very sick and his mother took him to St Francis, who prayed over him. He became a professor of theology in Paris and is known as the Seraphic Doctor because of his holiness as well as his learning. In 1256 he became Minister General of the order until his death in 1274.

St Pascal Baylon lived in the 16th century. As the windows suggests he came from a simple family of shepherds. He was greatly devoted to the Eucharistic and is the patron saint of all the Eucharistic societies and Congresses.

Sanctuary stained glass 

Crossed Hands 

The Tabernacle

St Francis 

ROLL OF HONOUR 1914-1918 & 1939-1945 


 (Version 1: Compiled in 2017 by Adrian Lee) 

Uniquely among local churches, no memorial or Roll of Honour was erected in St Thomas of Canterbury when the Great War ended. No newsletters or parish magazines were produced. The names of the dead which may have been known to members of the congregation after each world war, have simply faded away with them over the intervening years. 

This compilation is primarily extracted from the Index to the War Dead of Woodford 1914-1921. It involved trawling through assorted surviving records over some six years. Official records, war diaries, newspapers, magazines and war memorials all produced nearly 600 local names, some of whom would reveal links to our Parish, St Antony’s School or Chigwell Convent. In some instances the case for a man’s inclusion is admittedly tenuous. A few have clearly established connections - Patrick Fitzgerald was married here, and news of the death of George Bennett was read out during Intercession Sunday in 1915 when fortunately a Woodford Times reporter happened to be present. Other details in paperwork could be overlooked; Fr Raymond Briscoe OFM supported the pension claim for a widow, and some of her children went to a Catholic orphanage; the Reverend Mother of Chigwell Convent was named Next of Kin for an orphan; a rosary was listed among a dead mans possessions and the brother of another casualty became a Friar. 

What follows is a short account of each man, his life and how he met his end. Sadly there are no photographs. It is likely that some of our casualties still remain unknown, but they too have their page. Possibly more names will emerge in time and be added to the list, for example in 2017 the service files for Second World War casualties remain closed. 

In 1919 the Rector of St Mary’s Church South Woodford, Rev Henry Sanders and his Churchwardens, decided that the stone cross of sacrifice next to the High Road should be inscribed “In Memory of Woodford Men”. That would make clear that although within the church grounds, it commemorated all those who had been lost, whether they attended the parish church, other churches or none at all. A short wreath laying ceremony is held there each year at 08.45 on the Saturday of Remembrance Weekend. 

At 10.00 mass here on Remembrance Sunday, our church is crowded as each of the different Scout and Guide Units parade with their flags. The names of our parish war dead are read out during Bidding Prayers at the various masses. 

These are the men they are remembering. 

Roll of Honour
St Thomas Becket
Section 6: St Thomas Becket


The Life of St Thomas of Canterbury

Called Thomas of London by his contemporaries, Becket was born in that city about 1118. His father, Gilbert, came from the knightly class in Normandy and had become a prosperous London merchant. His mother, a native of Caen, was also of Norman stock. As a boy of 10, Thomas was sent off to school at Merton Priory in Surrey and afterwards he was educated in schools in London and Paris.

Returning from Paris at the age of 21, Becket became a notary for a wealthy kinsman in London. He continued in trade until 1142, when he joined the household of Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury. After accompanying the archbishop to Rome in 1143, Thomas was sent to study canon law at Bologna and Auxerre. A tall, lean, handsome youth with dark hair and a pale complexion, young Becket was even then noted for his vigorous temperament, remarkably keen sight and hearing, and an extraordinary memory. His strong piety and generosity to the poor are often traced to his mother, while childhood conflicts with his father have been seen as the cause of his stammer. Becket's early associates thought him generous, exceedingly charming, vain, anxious to please and very ambitious.

Becket advanced steadily in influence in Theobald's entourage. In 1148, he accompanied the archbishop to the Council of Reims. Soon he began to be entrusted with important diplomatic missions of his own and in 1152 distinguished himself by acting as the English primate's agent at the papal curia. In this venture he secured papal letters prohibiting the coronation of King Stephen's son, Eustace, as successor to the English crown. He thereby earned the gratitude of Henry of Anjou, who opposed Eustace. In 1154, when Henry ascended the throne as Henry II, Becket was ordained deacon and made archdeacon of Canterbury. The following year, King Henry appointed Becket Chancellor of England, a post he held for seven years. Becket was also tutor to Crown Prince Henry, and he exerted his personal influence and magnetism in both roles to increase the importance of the chancellorship. Finally he came to exert enormous personal and political influence on the Angevin royal family. He controlled royal writs and patronage, kept a notoriously lavish household, and gave rein to his fascination with hunting and hawking.

In 1162, upon the death of Archbishop Theobald, Becket was raised to the archbishopric of Canterbury. Still only a deacon, he had to be ordained priest before being elevated to the see. The appointment caused controversy and conflicting expectations in both religious and lay circles. Some churchmen may have seen Becket's elevation as the one hope of stemming increasing royal encroachment on clerical privileges. It has been supposed that Theobald himself had believed this and wanted Becket to succeed him. Henry II, on the other hand, apparently envisioned his chancellor as an instrument of royal control over the primary episcopate in England. The new archbishop quickly disappointed this expectation. Becket rejected the papal dispensation procured by the king that would have allowed him to retain the chancery and become as avid a servant of the Church as he had been of the crown.

Before a year had passed, Becket had opposed royal taxes at the Council of Woodstock in July 1163 and had attacked lay intervention in clerical affairs at a general council held by Pope Alexander III at Tours. Under intense pressure from both the king and his ecclesiastical colleagues, the archbishop agreed to accept the Constitutions of Clarendon (January 1164), which further restricted the clergy. The constitutions provided that appeals to Rome be limited, that royal officers be present at ecclesiastical court hearings, and that clerics, once convicted, pass immediately under civil jurisdiction. After the pope refused to approve the constitutions, Becket had a change of heart and would not sign them.

Becket's confrontation with Henry at Clarendon capped his opposition to the king, and the archbishop made two unsuccessful attempts to flee England. The king then began systematically to persecute him with a series of indictments in the royal courts and nearly had him proclaimed a traitor. With these various threats hanging over him, Becket finally made good his escape to France in the winter of 1164. Meeting the pope at Sens, he secured commendations for his resistance to Henry, although papal difficulties prevented more concrete assistance to Becket in regaining his see.

For two years he resided at the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny in Burgundy, then, under pressure from Henry, the monks expelled the archbishop. Becket spent the last four years of his exile at the Abbey of St Colombe at Sens.

In 1166, Becket used papal commissions to excommunicate Henry's royal councillors. He also began a series of denunciations of those English bishops who had supported the king. On June 4th, 1170, Henry violated the traditional rights of the see of Canterbury by having Prince Henry crowned by the Archbishop of York.

Pope Alexander III threatened England with an interdict and forced Henry to a formal reconciliation with Becket at Freteval on July 22nd. The truce was soon broken by the archbishop's insistence on publishing papal letters voiding the Constitutions of Clarendon and suspending the royalist bishops of London, Salisbury and York. Returning to England, Becket was greeted by a tumultuous popular reception. He entered triumphantly into Canterbury in early December.

When Henry, then in Normandy, heard that the archbishop had returned to Canterbury unrepentant, he is supposed to have asked angrily if no one would rid him of the traitor Becket. Four knights of his entourage - Reginald Fitzurse, William de Tracy, Hugh de Moreville and Richard le Bret - responded to this outburst and set off to England, arriving at Canterbury on December 29th 1170.

Confronting Becket with charges of treason, they found him still adamant in defence of clerical privileges and his suspension of the royalist bishops. They pursued the archbishop into his cathedral and killed him.

The murder raised a storm of protest throughout the Christian world, and together with the threat of excommunication, it halted Henry's attempts to control clerical privileges. It also led to his doing penance and humbling himself publicly at Becket's tomb in 1174. Becket's grave quickly became a shrine, the goal of pilgrimages, and the scene of many reported miracles.



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