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Summary:

The present "Our Lady of Lourdes" Catholic Church in Priory Road was built in 2013-14, and its first service was held on Sunday 13 Apr 2014.

It replaced the original Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church which was built in 1939.

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- The new Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, on the day of its first service, 13 Apr 2014

- Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church c1945

- Interior of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, c1945

- Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Aug 1981

- Architect's sketch of proposed new church

- Putting up the steel frame Jun 2013 (thanks to Chris Carlon)

- Constructing the roof Aug 2013 (thanks to Chris Carlon)

- The completed church Aug 2014 (thanks to Chris Carlon)

- Interior of the church Feb 2016 with organ (thanks to Chris Carlon)

- The Hanging Crucifix with shadows Apr 2014 (thanks to Chris Carlon)

- The console of the Škrabl organ, Mar 2016.

The early history of Catholicism in Hungerford:

The history of Catholicism in Hungerford goes back much further.

One particular Catholic family was the Curr family, who held land at Sanden Fee (Sanham), Charnham Street, Kintbury and Shalbourne. They were noted in local records as recusants right through the 17th century. See also: The Currs - a Roman Catholic family (from Norman Hidden's "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford").

Catholicism in Hungerford in the early 20th century:

Much later, in March 1907 a new sanitary inspector was appointed in Hungerford – Mr William Strickland, who was a devout Catholic. At that time there was no Catholic church in Hungerford, and he (and others) had to travel to attend mass in Newbury, or occasionally in the chapel at Inglewood House, the home of Mr & Mrs H F Walmesley and their family. For Sunday mass, however, Mr Strickland and others had to travel by rail to Newbury, and in doing so became friendly with the parish priest, Canon Seaunell.

A room above the garage of 14 Bridge Street (Willow Lodge) was said to have been consecrated for use as a Catholic Chapel after the property was bought by Major Sir Gerald Burrard (1918).

In 1939-40 (Blacket's Directory) it is recorded that a Catholic Church was held in the old Wesleyan (Ebenezer) Chapel in Church Street.

Over the years a parish community built up, with mass being said in a variety of locations, being supplied by the priest at St. Joseph's, Newbury. Rrequests were made to the bishop to have a proper church built.

Plans were made for building a Catholic Church in Hungerford:

The opportunity finally came in June 1939, when a pre-fabricated building in London became available. A Mr W Lacey, a Public Works Contractor, offered Canon Green, the then Parish Priest at St Joseph's, and existing and suitable building which could be made into a temporary church for Hungerford.

The site of the building in London was needed, and the old building had to be dismantled quickly.

Mr Lacey offered the building as a gift, and would arrange to have it transported to Hungerford, adapted as a Church and erected free of cost, provided a suitable site could be found.

There was something of a panic to quickly find a site, as this was a gift not to be missed.

The building of "Our Lady of Lourdes Church":

Three sites for the church were considered: land opposite Hungerfod Hospital in Park Street; land on the north side of the cinema in Church Way; and allotment land on Priory Road. The first was considered too expensive to acquire; the second too exposed, difficult to access and too expensive, leaving the third which, for various reasons, was considered eminently suitable by both Canon Green and Mr Lacey, when they reviewed the options and discussed them with the parish. The 3.5 acre site was actually owned by Mr. Strickland, who agreed the sale of the land for £350. The necessary plans were submitted to the local authority and the Town and Country Planning Authority, compensation was paid to the allotment tenants affected by the subsequent construction, and a volunteer group was set up to supervise the erection of the building.

The building arrived on a lorry from London in July 1939 and erection commenced immediately. The construction work was completed in November and on Sunday 26 Nov 1939 at a mass said by Bishop Cotter of Portsmouth Diocese, the new "temporary" Catholic Church was officially blessed and dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes.

The NWN reported on 30 November 1939 "Hungerford Catholics have a new church this week - courtesy of an anonymous donor who rang up the local priest to offer a building in London. The building was dismantled and brought to Hungerford where it was erected on Hungerford fields".

Donations from parishioners enabled the provision of a water supply, drainage, electricity, the construction of the road access and paths, entrance gates and fences. The essential furnishings for the Church were also provided by donors, and in 1941 a raised floor for the altar was added and oak altar rails placed across the front of the sanctuary.

In 1942, to provide storage for bicycles and coats for people travelling from outlying areas for mass, an extra building was added.

The additional parish hall building was added in the early 1990s. The seats are original.

This 'temporary' building provided excellent service for over 70 years!

Building a new Catholic Church in Hungerford:

The original church of Our Lady of Lourdes served the Roman Catholic community of Hungerford very well and far longer than anyone intended !

By 2006 the structure of the steel framed, cement panelled “pre-fab” was deteriorating and the cost of up-keep and repairs was increasing. Informal discussions among the parishioners indicated that around 98% were in favour of building a new church to better serve the local Catholic population and provide a church which would last at least another 70 years.

Initial discussions with the Diocese of Portsmouth outlined a case whereby selling around 60% of the existing land with planning consent for housing might raise enough funds to build a new church on the remaining 40%.

With Diocesan agreement and involvement, a Parish Building Committee was formed which drew up a specification for a new church which should serve the local catholic community through the 21st century. This specification was used to select and finally appoint an architect, Jeremy Bell of JBKS Architects, Thame in 2006.  Together the architect and the Parish Building Committee steered the project through feasibility in 2007; planning and detailed design in 2008, a planning application in 2009; detailed design and costing in 2010-11; tendering in 2011; land sale in 2012 and the construction of the new church in 2013-14.

The architects plans for the site involved an arc of 14 dwellings with the same “arts and crafts” design as the church, laid out as a crescent around the west and north side of the proposed church. The plans presented a complete integrated build project and were submitted to the West Berkshire Planning Committee in June 2009. A huge amount of work went into this planning application to make sure that all concerns were addressed properly with the result that the application was granted unanimously when it was presented on Wednesday 10th September 2009, 3 years into the project. The plans were considered a very innovative and architecturally uplifting development for the Priory Road area of Hungerford. 

With the project now advancing and the possibility of a new church becoming a reality plans had to be made to undertake a measured closure of the allotments which were situated on Portsmouth Diocesan land around the old church and adjacent to Priory Road. This was conducted to permit all the allotment holders to fully withdraw all produce grown from their sites with the minimum loss. The land was then fenced and kept as tidy as possible until the development stage.

The parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes then set about raising over £200,000 to demonstrate to the Diocese the resolve to build a new church. While this was underway the church design was refined by structural engineers and a quantity surveyor, and a design team began the process of detailed quantity and cost estimate forecasts. In addition during 2010 the land sale documentation for the area with planning consent for 14 dwellings was drawn up.

Into 2011 the fully costed detailed design for the church was prepared and a process to make cost reductions commenced. As time went by the potential revenues from the land sale decreased while build costs increased making it highly likely that there would be a shortfall in the funding. At this stage, some 6 years into the project, there were concerns about costs increasing too much to make the project viable. A process of reducing costs ensued to keep the church build project on track while the land sale transaction progressed.

On Sunday 19th August 2012 parishioners gathered to hear Mass for the last time in the old church which had served the parish so well since 1939 and a total of 73 years. See NWN article 23 Aug 2012 "'Temporary' church hosts last Mass". The church was then emptied and many of the old church items sold off, including the very hard and uncomfortable, original oak “chapel-chairs”. The church site was then secured awaiting completion of the land sale transaction and its demolition.

This was a very nervous period for the parish as it had no church and no “home”. However, in true Christian spirit there were several offers by other churches in the area to use their facilities and for the next 18 months the Catholic Community in Hungerford were welcomed into the United Reformed Church on Hungerford High Street. Each Sunday morning between August 2012 and April 2014 the Catholic population, which could so easily have dissipated to the churches in Newbury, Pewsey, Marlborough, Swindon and Lambourn, met together to celebrate Mass in the comfortable surroundings of the United Reformed Church and heard from time to time about the progress of the planned new church with guarded optimism and excitement.

In September 2012 Linden Homes purchased the Diocesan land upon which the old church sat and commenced the ground work to lay out the houses which would form a crescent around the new church.

The old church, located in the NW corner of the plot, was finally demolished in October 2012 marking the end of a significant period of history for the Catholic Community.

In December 2012 the tender process to select the builders for the new church was completed and Beard of Swindon won the contract with plans to commence building the church in March 2013. This presented an interesting logistical problem with two developers on site; Linden Homes constructing the houses and Beard preparing the site and building the church within the arc of houses.

Linden Homes gradually raised the houses on what was then known as “Belmont Crescent” but was later adopted as ”Lourdes Crescent”. The houses were occupied progressively from around October 2013 by which time Beard were well advanced with the church build.

The New Church

The church was constructed in 56 weeks between March 2013 and April 2014.

The Building:

After much discussion with the architect a very innovative design was produced for a church capable of seating between 135-150 people comfortably. It is shorter, wider, higher and about 22% larger than the old church but it looks much larger because of its height and because it sits adjacent to, not set back from, Priory Road.

The building has a total footprint area of about 360m2; is 28m (92 feet) long, about 13m (43 feet) wide and 12m (40 feet) high. Three steel frames support the main glulam roof timbers and rafters of the steep, 57degree pitched, 1m (3 feet) thick, individually nailed, red tile roof. The walls are clad with 25,000 Olde Cranleigh bricks and these are capped with Ashlar coping stones on the gables and parapets.

The building comprises the church (Nave and Sanctuary) separated by a large glass “wall” from the Foyer/Hall area located under the transept. The parish and church function rooms are located to the rear of the building, under the “Upper Room” meeting area, and comprise electrical and gas heating plant rooms (for the underfloor central heating system), a kitchen, two sacristies, a cleaning store/flower room and three toilets.

The windows are in keeping with, and support the high level of thermal efficiency in the building. There is no stained glass but white or gradational shades of yellow and blue are window films applied for colour contrast and/or increased opacity.

The Parish:

The new church was finally handed over to the parish on Wednesday 9th April, 2014 four days before Palm Sunday when the first mass was said. The following week, Easter Sunday, the church was filled with 240 people!

On Saturday 5th July, 2014, Bishop Philip Egan, assisted by Canon Peter Turbitt, 2 deacons and 11 priests, including 3 former parish priests, formally Consecrated and Dedicated the new church to Our Lady of Lourdes. After receiving the plans and keys at the entrance, Bishop Egan entered the church to bless and consecrate the building and the new altar.

The new church of Our Lady of Lourdes, is now complete after nine years of planning, fund raising and prayers. It has become a focus for increasing parish activities and you would be most welcome to call in and join us for Mass at 09.00am any Sunday or at 10am on alternate Thursdays.

[Abstracted from “A History of the Catholic Community in West Berkshire” in preparation, by kind permission of Chris J. Carlon]

In Feb 2016 an anonymous donor provided a longed-for pipe organ for the church. This amazing gift was all the more special as the organ fits perfectly into a recess in church, and is made of light coloured wood fitting perfectly with the rest of the design. The organ is by the Slovenian organ builders Škrabl, who are located near the spa town of Rogaska Slatina in eastern Slovenia. They were founded in 1990 by master organ builder Anton Škrabl, and have already (2016) made nearly 300 organs.

Parish Priests:

2011 - Canon Peter Turbitt, St John Vianney Church, Wantage.

See also:

- Catholic Recusants

- "Information on the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, H'fd", Chris Carlon, 2007

- Architect's flyer with more drawings, 2009

- NWN 3.5.2012 "Church rebuild must wait a little longer"

- NWN 23.8.2012 "'Temporary' church hosts last Mass"