Parish history

Catholic church in tadworth sign

Pre-history 1885-1965

The Lord Chief Justice of England Baron Russell of Killowen who lived at Tadworth Court now the Children’s Trust) would arrange for Mass to be said for his family and staff whenever he was in residence from the time he acquired the property in 1885 until his death in 1900. He was succeeded by the Baron Russell, who continued to maintain a chapel there, until he and his widowed mother moved to the estate at Lane End, Chuck’s Lane in Walton on-the-Hill in 1910, and built an oratory (dedicated to St Charles) where Mass was said from 1914 onwards at intervals by arrangement with the Jesuits from Farm Street. In 1953 a new arrangement was made and the chapel came into the Epsom deanery as a chapel-of-ease served by the curates of St Joseph’s Epsom, where Canon Robert Christail, was parish priest there. During all these years, money had been collected with the idea that, one day, a church for the district would be built to replace the private chapel, and indeed it was — in 1965 Canon Moriarty said the final Mass there after the new church had been brought into use and had been blessed. It had truly served its purpose.

Finding a home

During the later years of the Russell chapel of St Charles, the family had given a site for the new church in Motts Hill Lane, but this — and various other sites which were also selected at one time or another (for example Sandlands Road, Walton and Shelvers Hill, Tadworth) — were turned down for a variety of reasons, including objections from the Local Authority. However, in 1957, a great step forward in the planning was able to be taken as a result of a large gift from Mr. John Heagerty, who bought and donated the present site of King’s Lodge and its grounds for use as a future church and preparatory school.Accompanying him was his friend, John Graham, who also provided some of the original financing.

john hegartyHe succeeded with the church, only partly with the ‘children playing’, but not at all with the ‘nuns praying’ — there would be no permanent convent. John Heagerty had been educated at St Edmund’s College, Ware, and joined the Royal Flying Corps during the Great War, where he succumbed to the fighting ability of Baron von Richtofen, was shot down and badly injured, but miraculously survived. He eventually came to see this as an impulse to think deeply about his Catholic faith and to pursue what became his dream to have a local church ‘with playing children and praying nuns.’

With King’s Lodge and grounds now available, Fr John Chatterton, parish priest of Epsom could work with Heagerty in the preparatory planning process for the new church. From March 1958, the house on the site of King’s Lodge was used for Mass — up to 200 people would attend on Sundays. In preparing for the advent of a school, the Sacred Heart nuns of Epsom were invited to start a mixed preparatory school alongside the house.john graham and john heagarty The house itself was first extended to provide two classrooms, and the first Mass was said there on Sunday, 9th March, 1958. (Priests served from Epsom until, in February 1960, Fr Edmund O’Shea from John Fisher School, Purley took over those duties on a temporary basis.) In 1958, the nuns built a hail on the site of King’s Lodge and opened a nursery and junior school. They also planned to build a convent on the site but, after some years, this was eventually abandoned, being overtaken by the building of the convent at Epsom in 1974/75. And the land at Tadworth was then sold by the nuns for building development. Despite this setback to John Heagerty’s dream, the idea of a church itself was very much to the fore. By 1961 the real work to get a church built was under way — although many pitfalls would be encountered before that new church would finally be finished, blessed and brought into use.

First resident priest

A sturdy step forward in the process occurred in May 1958 with the appointment of a priest-in-charge of Tadworth parish — Fr John Proctor — who took over from the temporary Fr O’Shea.

john proctorPlans were now afoot to appoint an architect and make a start with the design of the church. Most of the money needed, it was felt, was already in existence in the gifts of money from John Heagerty and John Graham, as well as what had been collected down the years from the Russell chapel masses.The first architect was Sir Philip Goodhart-Rendel, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a man who, twenty-five years before, had designed Prinknash Abbey (although, with the advent of the War and the inevitably long delay afterwards before any building could begin, a very much slimmed-down version had to be agreed, and another architect involved). By coincidence this other architect of Prinknash was also the final one used by Tadworth parish (Frank Broadbend of Broadbent & Partners, Manchester)! On the Tadworth project Goodhart Rendel bowed out early on, and afterwards there were other architects, too, who were dispensed with — an indication that there was no easy path to the design and contract for the church.

There were numerous plans drawn up, discussed, and rejected. Local Authority was very pernickety. Fr Proctor wore himself out trying to get agreement from the diocese, the parish, the philanthropists, the architect and more. There were misunderstandings, plans that proved too costly, innumerable delays, some while the nuns were making up their minds about school and convent, others due to the varying opinions of those most concerned with the success of the project. Indeed, on one occasion, the three most important people concerned agreed to pause and read the epistle of Paul to the Corinthians on a certain Quinquagesima Sunday (we were still in the pre-conciliar Latin mode) beginning “Brethren, if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity …

However, all came out beautifully at the end. And Fr. Proctor saw the completion of the work when Bishop David Cashman of Arundel & Brighton performed the SolemnBlessing with Mass on Friday 14” October 1966, at which both John Heagerty and John Graham were knighted by the Pope — both became Knights commander of St Gregory (K.C.S.G.), “for their outstanding generosity.”Sadly, Fr Proctor, who had been such an important part of the whole programme, fell ill soon after the new church had been blessed. In 1967 he had a coronary thrombosis, felt to be the result of the strain of his efforts during the previous seven years (yes, it had taken that long to get the building agreed and up); he resigned and retired to the chaplaincy of Sion Convent in Findon, where he died two years later on 15 February, 1970.He was replaced on January 1968 by Canon Daniel Moriarty who before his appointment to Tadworth, had earlier had the privilege while Dean of Epsom of blessing and laying the foundation stone of the new church on 26th June 1965.

The new church

new churchPlanning permission had come in May 1964 for a building which it was decided ‘should not be wholly traditional nor yet ultra-modern’. The exterior could therefore be traditional but the interior should show a more modern aspect in its detail.Many alterations were made to each design that came forward, often on grounds of cost. The chosen builder (Adams Bros.) was asked to lower his price, but even so it always remained over £50,000 however hard they tried!There was also Diocesan approval to be obtained. During this time the parish was included in the newly formed Diocese of Arundel & Brighton from Southward, soArchbishop Cyril Cowderoy ‘became’ Bishop DavidCashman (to be succeeded later by Bishop Cormac Murphy O’Connor).Work on the site had commenced on 25 January 1965. Progress was slow, bad weather intervened and the foreman had to be replaced. And then the foundations were problematical: the sub-soil consisted of chalk, clay and sand, and test bore holes showed that chalk was much further down than had been expected. It was necessary to go down 14 feet throughout the whole of the footings. Shortly after this a further difficult problem arose with regard to the water drainage from the nuns’ property nearby — but this was overcome and the work went ahead. And it was Fr Proctor who laid the last brick — topping out the tower.

Furnishing the shell

The furnishings in the church were almost all carried out by Vanpoulles of Vauxhall Bridge Road, London. The congregation generously gave to the fund for these furnishings or purchased outright some of the particular articles. Many were the gifts received — altar cloths, stations of the cross, ciboria, credence table, sanctuary lamp, to mention just a few. Along with all this, there was the question of payment for the building itself. The substantial funds that were already available went a long way towards full payment, but until the debt was cleared the church could only be blessed but not consecrated. (The debt on the presbytery built by Canon Moriarty also needed to be repaid.) With the final portion of the debt (£12,000) having been paid off in 1978 through the hard work of fund-raising by the parish priest, Canon Moriarty, and the whole parish, it became possible for the church to be consecrated. On 10 May that year, Bishop Cormac Murphy O’Connor was able to perform the solemn consecration of the church with the parish priest in attendance and in front of a large congregation. It wasn’t long after this ( May 1981) that Canon Moriarty celebrated his golden jubilee of ordination at St John’s.

Statue of St. John

st johns statue
The statue of St John the Evangelist is the work of Mr. Michael Clark, P.R.B.S.. One of his concerns was to try to make the head and shoulders pigeon-proof. It seems hemight have succeeded. Generous contributions to the cost were made by members of the parish, the Catholic Women’s League and the Heagerty Trust.

Who Chose the name?

There seems to be no record of how the name of St John the Evangelist came to be chosen for the new church. In much of the correspondence that still exists in the archives the headings of letters vary from “Tadworth,” “King’s Lodge,” “New church,” “Proposed new Church” to no heading at all. Suddenly from the letter to Fr Proctor in September 1963 from an architect (not the one chosen) there appears the heading “Church of St John the Evangelist, Tadworth, Surrey.”, the son of Zebedee, it may be remembered, was by tradition the author of the fourth Gospel. It was lrenaeus in 180 A.D. who gives the first explicit testimony when he wrote “Last of all John, too, the disciple of the Lord who leant against is breast, himself brought out a gospel while he was in Ephesus.” A likely explanation for the naming of the church is that so many who bore the name of John had been involved in bringing the Gospel to Tadworth that St. John the Evangelist was considered appropriate.

For the record

This short history now ends with the complete list of parish priests — from those already mentioned:

  • Fr John Chatterton (1956— 1960)
  • Fr John Proctor (1960— 1968)
  • Canon Daniel Moriarty (1968— 1981)
  • to the subsequent incumbents after the new church had been built:
  • Mgr William Westlake (1981 — 1995)
  • Fr Gerald Vann (1996— 2001)
  • Fr Martin Breen (2002 -)

One can stand outside and gaze up at Michael Clark’s statue and feel that St John is benevolently helping us carry on the ethos and the great spirit of the founders as we go about our daily affairs.

James O’Connor O.B.E., K.C.S.G. May 2003 © Parish of St John the Evangelist, Tadworth