Kelvedon Hatch: Roman catholicism

Page 70

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.

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In 1854 J. F. Wright of Kelvedon Hall wrote to Dr. Tavarez, the Roman Catholic priest at Brentwood, in reply to a request to furnish information concerning the history of Roman Catholic worship in the Kelvedon Hatch area. 'At Kelvedon Hall, where my family have resided for upwards of 300 years I have little doubt (though I have no positive proof of the fact) that a priest was maintained during the greater part of that time, though possibly only at intervals during times of persecution. The inscription on the ciborium belonging to Kelvedon Hall chapel (Ora pro Eugenia Wright 1710) is pretty good proof of there having been a priest and chapel then.' (fn. 1) The family tradition here stated was probably well founded. In 1605, when William Byrd of Stondon Massey (q.v.) was presented to the archdeacon as a Popish recusant, it was also urged against him that he had led astray John Wright of Kelvedon, the son of the then lord of the manor and later to become lord himself, and his sister Anne, into the same heresy. (fn. 2) This may be evidence that the Wrights were not Roman Catholics between the time when they acquired the manor and the end of the 16th century. It has not been definitely established that they were Roman Catholics throughout the 17th century; Bishop Compton's census (1676) lists no Roman Catholics in Kelvedon Hatch. (fn. 3) But for the 18th century there is confirmation of J. F. Wright's statements. John Wright of Kelvedon Hall was registered at quarter sessions in 1717 as a papist, and so also was his son John Wright the younger. (fn. 4) Eugenia, widow of John Wright of Kelvedon Hall, was similarly registered in 1731 and another John Wright in 1761. (fn. 5) In the 17th and 18th centuries the Wrights, although they held the advowson of Kelvedon Hatch, do not appear to have presented to the rectory themselves except in 1607. (fn. 6) Priests from the Jesuit College of the Holy Apostles also appear to have visited Kelvedon Hall regularly in the middle of the 18th century. (fn. 7) Continuing his letter to Dr. Tavarez, J. F. Wright stated that his family left Kelvedon Hall in 1788 for a few years. 'In consequence a small chapel was fitted up in a room in a farm-house on Kelvedon Common and the Revd. Richard Antrobus, then the priest at Wealdside (in South Weald), used to attend there at Indulgences, for the accommodation of the Catholics about here.' (fn. 8) J. F. Wright went on to describe the return of his family to Kelvedon Hall in 1799 and gave the names of three Roman Catholic priests who lived there as chaplains between 1799 and 1813, when his grandfather again left the hall. (fn. 9) There was no resident priest there after 1813. The few Roman Catholics in Kelvedon Hatch were served by the priest at Ingatestone Hall and later by the priest in charge of the church at Brentwood, opened in 1837. In J. F. Wright's own time the private chapel at Kelvedon Hall was again in use for Catholic worship. In 1857 he was again corresponding with Dr. Tavarez, this time about the proposal to install a confessional in the chapel. He told Tavarez that he considered that the chapel was too small for the secrecy of the confessional to be maintained-'and where the confessor is at all hard of hearing the danger is still greater'. And he was further unwilling to obey an order by Archbishop Errington to destroy some old altar stones in the chapel. (fn. 10) 'I beg to say that they will never be used and that they take up very little room. As for saying "cui bono" do they remain, that, I submit concerns me alone and I do not hesitate to say that ... they have acquired an interest from the fact of their having been here for several generations.... It is I think no improbable supposition that over some of them mass has been celebrated in times of persecution by priests who subsequently became martyrs.' Wright concluded his letter with a dignified reproach: 'Into these feelings, however, I cannot expect you to enter, as you cannot feel as we English Catholics do on these subjects, who know with how much trouble and difficulty our religion was kept alive in England in former days.' (fn. 11)

Roman Catholic worship no doubt continued to be held at Kelvedon Hall during J. F. Wright's life-time and while his nephew and successor, E. C. Wright, lived at the hall. The chapel at the hall, which was dedicated to St. Joseph, became disused during the occupation of Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Jones, but was again taken into use and was restored during the years when the hall was occupied by St. Michael's School. (fn. 12)


  • 1. R.C. Parish of Brentwood, MSS. Book. Inf. supplied by Revd. B. C. Foley.
  • 2. E.R.O., D/AEA 23, quoted in A. C. Edwards, English History from Essex Sources, 1550-1750, 13.
  • 3. See Table on p. 311.
  • 4. E.R.O., Q/RRp 1/12, 21.
  • 5. Ibid. 3/4, 4/6.
  • 6. Newcourt, Repert. ii, 352. And see above, Church.
  • 7. E.R. xxvii, 73-76.
  • 8. R.C. Parish of Brentwood, MSS.Book.
  • 9. As to the first chaplain, John Clarkson, J. F. Wright's statement is confirmed by the Register of Papists' Meeting Places: E.R.O., Q/RRw 3.
  • 10. George Errington (1804-86), Archbishop of Trebizond in partibus (1855), was co-adjutor to Cardinal Wiseman,1855-62: D.N.B.
  • 11. R.C. Parish of Brentwood, MSS. Book.
  • 12. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1914 f. and 1933). And see Manors.