The Roman Catholic Parish of Clacton-On-Sea History

In the early 18th century, St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, came on the people of La Chez in Brittany, praying around the statue of Our Lady. He gave the statue the name “Our Lady of Light”. A title which refers to the union between Mary and the Holy Spirit, that union from which Jesus Christ was conceived.

Sir Henry Trelawny, seventh baronet of Trelawne in Cornwall, a clergymen of the Church of England, lived with his family for some time in Brittany. There they were influenced by the “True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin” of St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort. His two daughters became Catholics, and later in Cornwall, Sir Henry himself not only became a Catholic, but was ordained a Catholic Priest at the age of 74, in the year 1834. Near their home in Brittany, in France, there was a shrine to “Our Lady of Light”. To this shrine and several other shrines to “Our Lady of Light” in Brittany, many people came suffering from blindness and troubles of sight, both physical and spiritual. The Trelawnys decided to do for Cornwall what had been done for the people of Brittany, so they re-named the estate of Trelawne “Sclerder”, which is the name in Cornwall and in Brittany for “Light”, and built a chapel on the estate dedicated to “Our Lady of Light”.

Gradually the Trelawnys died out and the shrine seemed doomed to die out too. Mr. Richard de Bary with his wife and family came to Cornwall with the intention of furthering the Faith there. De Bary did not live long, but his wife Pauline was attracted to the devotion to “Our Lady of Light”. She restored the chapel, got a new wooden carving of the statue and got permission to form an Association. Rome granted the permission in May 1883, under the title “Our Lady of Light, Spouse of the Holy Ghost”, the feast

being kept on the Sunday within the octave of the Ascension. As time went on difficulties arose, and finally it was decided by Mrs de Bary and Mrs. St. John, to find another site for the shrine.

They consulted Cardinal Vaughan, and he suggested Clacton -on-Sea. They purchased the plot of land at the junction of Church Road and Holland Road for £2,400 and the house standing on it. The house was re-named “Montfort”. This was in 1895.

There was no resident priest in Clacton and no church. The ladies approached the Oblates of St. Charles, of Bayswater, in October 1895, to take care of the Shrine. The Oblates approached the Cardinal and on November 4th 1895 it was announced that the Cardinal had given his consent to the mission in Clacton being given to the Oblates. Mass was offered in “Montfort” until the congregation grew too large.

‘OPENING OF A NEW CHAPEL AT CLACTON-ON-SEA. – The wide-spread progress of the Catholic Church in England, so emphasized by the great ceremony at Westminster on Saturday last, is proved also by the frequency with which new churches and chapels are opened in what appear most unlikely places for the growth of our religion. On Thursday, the 27th ult., a most interesting function of the kind took place in a part of the country where you may travel for miles in almost any direction from a given centre without a sign of anything Catholic; in the county of Essex, to wit. Clacton-on-Sea, about two miles from Great Clacton, is a new town pleasantly situated between Harwich and Meldon, within two hours of the metropolis and having daily communication with London, Ipswich, and Harwich by steamer. Long before thefoundation, Mass was said once a month in a Martello tower, still standing, for the coastguards and their families living there and in neighbouring stations.

Extract from the Tablet, Saturday, July 6, 1895.

For three years Father King, of Colchester, used to walk over (18 miles), say Mass and return next day.

Then the coastguards were drafted to other places, and the practice necessarily ceased. In later years Mgr. Gilbert, V.G., went occasionally and said Mass in a room of the Royal Hotel, at Great Clacton. In 1884 Father Beale, of Colchester, took, during a short period, the Town Hall for Sunday Mass. But this soon came to an end.

Not many months since a gentleman in some public employment suggested that as the town was rising and likely to become a popular resort, # timely provision should be made for the convenience of Catholics who might wish to visit that part of the coast. Almost at the same moment two ladies from Cornwall generously came forward and proposed to the Cardinal to found on the east coast a mission, under the patronage of Our Lady of Light, Spouse of the Holy Ghost. Father Lucas was asked to go over from Witham to survey the place and report upon its probable capabilities. This he did, and was able to give so favourable an account that no time was lost: the ladies went down and, by what was nothing less than a providential concurrence of circumstances, were enabled, in the very nick of time, to secure possession of a house and a piece of ground suitable for a church in the best and most convenient part of the town. Meantime, and pending their erection of the church, they have added to their own dwelling a large room well able to hold 120 persons outside the sanctuary. It is this which was opened as above-named. No pains have been spared in the fittings and decoration of the chapel. The tabernacle, candelabra, etc., are very handsome. One of the most striking features is the statue of Our Lady of Light over the altar dedicated to her. On the alter itself was a profusion of flowers arranged with exquisite taste. High Mass was celebrated by Father Beale, with Fathers Bellord and Lucas as deacon and subdeacon respectively, and Mozart’s No. 12 was admirably rendered by the organist and choir of Colchester. Father Bellord was the preacher. In an impressive discourse he compared the erection of churches, great and small, in this country after the long desolation of 300 years, to the rebuilding of the temple and walls of Jerusalem, looking forward to the no distant date when we may see England return from the captivity of heresy and schism.

Mass being over, the company with no great delay sat down to a sumptuous repast, hospitably provided by the ladies and served in the dining-room, which had, till within three days, been the only Catholic chapel in Clacton. In the afternoon Father Lucas preached a short sermon, taking for his text 3 Kings viii. 18, “Whereas thou hast thought in thy heart to build a house to my name thou hast done well.” Then followed Solemn Benediction, after which the company separated highly delighted with having assisted at the dedication and opening of a public workshop and dwelling for our Lord, as the preacher had elaborately shown every church and chapel to be. This is the second sanctuary in England under the invocation of Our Lady of Light.’

In 1902 work began on the new church, and on October 15th 1903 the church was opened with Solemn High Mass – the Church of Our Lady of Light, Spouse of the Holy Ghost, and St. Osyth, with the Lady Chapel on its North side, as it remains to-day.

…in 1901, Father Swaby gave notice to the Chapter of the Oblates, that he wished to raise the subject of building a permanent church in Clacton. The Fathers approved of the idea, and it was decided to build a church, or part of one at first for about £2,000, considering that such would be enough to satisfy the needs of so small a place, and with so small a number of Catholics. However at a later date, Canon Wyndham again addressed the Community. He had been paying frequent visits to Clacton, and had formed an idea as to what was really needed, to express adequately the notion of a shrine to Our Lady of Light, as also the dignity of the Faith. He spoke, therefore, as follows: “The building of a small church or a cheap one does not seem practical. For a place as isolated as Clacton, the building itself should be expressive of the Holy Catholic Faith.” Meaning, presumably, her strong and sure foundation, and her ability to weather all storms. “Nor,” he continued, “should they consider building only part of a church, because it had been presented to him. that to provide a temporary closure at the end, would be very expensive, and that there was always the danger that the old part would be found to have shrunk. when the new came to be added.” In consequence, with that generosity which so many experienced, he himself offered to give a considerable sum to augment the money already received from subscriptions. Father Richards then offered a further sum. However as a loan would still be needed, the Oblates promised to guarantee the interest, should the people of Clacton be unable to meet it. An architect, Mr. F. W. Tasker, was approached, and in April 1902 work began on the new church.

Continued extract from the history of the shrine by Rev C Wilson O.S.C

The foundation stone was blessed and laid by Canon Wyndham, acting as delegate for Cardinal Vaughan (who was ill) on September 4th of the same year. Speaking on this occasion, Canon Wyndham said : “We see rising up from the ground what promises to be a stately and beautiful building. But the beauty is not principally for our own satisfaction. Our aim is that this beauty shall be expressive of the honour and devotion which we desire to pay to Almighty God….. We have laid this stone that true faith may flourish here, together with the fear of God and true brotherly love, and that this place may be devoted to prayer, and to the invocation and praise of the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We shall also honour Our Blessed Lady and Saint Osyth, the patron saints of this church, asking them to help us with their prayers before the throne of grace. And we shall especially ask of the Blessed Virgin, under the title of “Our Lady of Light, Spouse of the Holy Ghost,” to obtain for us abundant graces from God the Holy Ghost.”

We can well imagine the joy and pride of the Catholics of Clacton on that day. From such lowly beginnings, from a mere handful, fortunate to get Mass occasionally and in any odd room, to the possessors of a church, which promised to be one of great beauty. But undoubtedly there was deep In their hearts an even greater joy and pride that Our Lady had chosen them to care for her shrine and to foster devotion to her. For it was the seeming accident of the bringing of her statue to the town that had been the occasion of their good fortune.

The stones arose quickly, as pillar and arch were formed before the interest and admiration of the people of Clacton, and the Clacton masons and builders who worked on it, until on October 15th 1903 the beautiful church was opened with Solemn High Mass, in the presence of many distinguished visitors, including members and officials of the Clacton Urban District Council.

The Church of Our Lady of Light, Spouse of the Holy Ghost, and Saint Osyth. is cruciform in plan, and consists of a nave of five bays with transepts to the north and south, and a choir with two side chapels east of the transepts. The north chapel is the Lady Chapel and contains the statue of Our Lady of Light. The nave is carried through to the choir and is surmounted at the intersection with the transepts by a square tower carried on tour massive stone piers. The choir has an arcade of even arches similar to the nave arcade, and the aisles continue round the choir. The aisles, the tower at the intersection of nave and transepts, the west entrance, the north and south porches and the baptistry are vaulted in stone. The nave, transepts and choir are all carried to the same level, finished with a plain barrel roof in unvarnished red wood. The church is built of Kentish rag stone backed up with brick plastered on the inside. Ketton stone is used for the freestone dressings on the outside, and Stamford stone for the internal stonework, vaulting etc. The extreme length of the church is 118 feet, and the width over the transepts 64 feet, and over the nave and aisles 46 feet. The tower rises to a height of 8o feet. The style adopted is English of the earlier half of the 12th century, and is modelled on the famous pre-fire London church of Saint Bartholomew, Smithfield. At the same time that the Church in Clacton was rising, the Oblates of Saint Charles were giving up their Boy’s School in London, Saint Charles’ College. From there many furnishings were brought to Clacton, books, vestments and most valuable of all the four bells, which were raised to the tower while it was being built.

They are styled as follows:-

(G) EGO SUM CATHARINA Minna Maria Norfolk Me Dedit 1873

(C) EGO SUM FAUSTINUS Susanna Marcos De Jimenez Marquesa De La Granja De San Saturnino Me Dedit In Piam Memoriam Filii Manuelis Faustini Josephi Jimenez Y Marcos Nati 15th Feb. 1860 Qui Obdormivit In Domino 14th Mart. 1875 Orate Pro Anima Ejus

(D) EGO SUM LAURENTIUS Gulielmus Henricus Manning Collegii Sancti Caroli Rector Ad Obtinendam Per Dei Misericordiam Eduardi Veaza Hujus Collegii Alumni Gravissimo Morbo Infecti Valetudinis Restitutionem Me Vovit Hac Gratia Quam Omnes Sui Condiscipuli Desideraverunt Me Dedit Ut Ad Vocem Meam Omnes In Domo De Profundis Ad Solatium Animarum In Purgatorio Patientium Quotidie Recitent

(E) EGO SUM RAPHAELI In Honorem Dei Et Piam Memoriam Gulielmi Sybullas Mariae Camdeni Stephani Et Lucae Wheeler

In 1909 the Sacristy was added to the apse on the east end, taking the place of what in a mediæval church would have been the Lady Chapel. At the same time the pulpit of Ketton stone, the gift of Mr. A. G. Swannell, was erected. Mr. Swannell was a great benefactor to the new church, giving at different times the high alter, the altar rails and the baptismal font.

During the Rectorship of Father J. Riordan the fourteen beautiful carved wood Stations of the Cross were put up, enhancing the severe beauty of the walls. And as a War Memorial, a lych gate, of oak with a red tiled roof and decorated with small carved statues of Our Lady of Light, Saint Osyth and Saint Charles; the whole surmounted by the Oblate motto “Humilitas.” This gate has so blended with the facade of the church, giving it an appearance of age and permanence, that it is impossible to think of the church without it.

This, 1953, is the Golden Jubilee year of the church. For Fifty years it has stood, a symbol of the strength of the Church of Christ “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This was the text of the first sermon preached in it, by that most renowned preacher, Monsignor Croke Robinson. It has withstood the storms of two wars, and has been spared to be the spiritual home of generations to come. For fifty years it has sheltered the faithful, as they have knelt, week by week, partaking in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It has been to them as a home, for it enshrines memories as dear to them as any; the baptisms of their children, first Holy Communions, when the Bishop came to Confirm, the great day of Marriage; and its sacred farewell to their dead. And always it has been the shrine of Our Lady of Light. Every evening, for fifty years, the Rosary has been recited before her altar. It has, without doubt, fulfilled all the promises that were made for it on the day of the laying of the foundation stone. Long may it continue so! For the rest, we ask all our friends, to join with us in thanking God and His Blessed Mother for our church, and for all the graces and mercies, both we and those who are gone, have received therein.

Parish Priests of Our Lady of Light and St. Osyth

  • 1896 Fr. J. Swaby, O.S.C.
  • 1917 Fr. J. Worsley, O.S.C.
  • 1921 Fr. J. Riordan, O.S.C.
  • 1927 Fr. J. Jacob, O.S.C.
  • 1929 Fr. B. Dyer, O.S.C.
  • 1935 Fr. W. Walton, O.S.C.
  • 1936 Fr. H. Gadsden, O.S.C.
  • 1938 Fr. H. Blake, O.S.C.
  • 1940 Fr. E. Taylor, O.S.C.
  • 1941 Fr. D. Ward, O.S.C.
  • 1945 Fr. C. Wilson, O.S.C.
  • 1952 Fr. J. Donan, O.S.C.
  • 1957 Fr. H. Tennant, O.S.C.
  • 1964 Fr. D. Ward, O.S.C.
  • 1967 Fr. E. Grady.
  • 1974 Fr. S. Shiels.
  • 1977 Fr. G. Pye.
  • 1980 Fr. J. Hawes.
  • 1981 Fr. G. Duckett.
  • 1990 Canon C. Loughran.
  • 1992 Mgr. M. Corley.
  • 1999 Fr. G. Gostling.
  • 2000 Fr. J. McCormack
  • 2015 Canon Peter Connor OFS
  • 2019 Fr. Patrick J Daly

Our Lady of Light, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, pray for us.

Saint Osyth, pray for us.