Gloucester: Roman Catholicism

Pages 317-319

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.

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In (fn. 1) 1577 William Meredith, who lived in the cathedral precincts, was suspected of supporting and visiting Roman Catholics abroad. Of the handful of other Gloucester people described as recusant in 1577 (fn. 2) Thomas Alfield, the most not-able, had visited the English seminary at Douai in 1576 (fn. 3) and Lewis Vaughan, the wealthiest, was removed in 1581 from the post of physician to St. Bartholomew's Hospital for being a Roman Catholic. (fn. 4) Alfield, son of a former master of the College school, returned in 1580 to the seminary, by then at Rheims, with his relative Thomas Evans. Alfield, whose brother Robert was servant to the Jesuit Robert Parsons, became a priest in 1581 and joined the mission to England. In the latter part of 1583 he was sheltered at Hasfield Court by John Pauncefoot, and he also visited the Gloucester area in 1584. In 1585 he was convicted of importing and distributing seditious books and was hanged at Tyburn. His accomplice Thomas Webley of London came from a Gloucester family. (fn. 5) In the mid 1580s two Roman Catholic priests arrested in Gloucestershire were hanged, drawn, and quartered in Gloucester. William Lampley, a Gloucester glover, apparently met a similar end in 1588 for proselytizing some relatives. (fn. 6)

In the late 16th and early 17th century Catholic recusancy in Gloucester almost, if not completely, disappeared (fn. 7) and in 1676 there was said to be one papist in the city. (fn. 8) James II sent a priest to the city (fn. 9) but the mission gained few converts. One was Alderman John Hill, who became mayor in 1686. He opened a chapel in the Tolsey, (fn. 10) which James attended on his visit to Gloucester in 1687. (fn. 11) Other adherents were Anselm Fowler, who succeeded Hill as mayor in 1688, and John Wagstaffe, a former mayor, to whom James entrusted the protection of the priest and his chapel later that year. (fn. 12) In the turmoil in the city following William of Orange's invasion the chapel was ransacked, the priest was imprisoned for a time, and Catholic houses, including that of Sir William Compton at nearby Hartpury, were attacked. (fn. 13) The mission was ended by those events in 1688, and in 1735 only two papists were recorded at Gloucester. (fn. 14)

Mary Webb (d. 1787), daughter of Sir John Webb of Hatherop, left 1,000 guineas to found a mission to the city, and a priest arrived there in late 1788 or early 1789. (fn. 15) Tradition states that in the early 1790s mass was said in a house in Berkeley Street used for a Catholic school. From 1790 the mission was undertaken by John Greenway (d. 1800), who bought a house in the later London Road and built a small brick chapel behind it. The chapel was registered in 1792 and had a congregation of 40 in 1813. (fn. 16) The mission had close links with a convent established at Hartpury in the mid 1790s, and Robert Canning, who became lord of the manor of Hartpury in the early 19th century, was the mission's principal benefactor. (fn. 17) In 1851 the chapel, which was dedicated to St. Peter ad Vincula, had morning and evening congregations of 110 and 130 respectively. (fn. 18) In 1857 Frances Canning gave £1,000 for building a larger church and in 1859 the chapel was demolished and the new church, which was not oriented, was erected in an early 14th-century style to a design by Gilbert Blount. It was not completed until after 1867 when the presbytery was pulled down and the aisled and clerestoried nave was extended southwards by two bays to the street and a south-west tower and spire were built. A new presbytery was built in 1880. (fn. 19) On a Sunday in 1881 St. Peter's church had morning and evening congregations of 192 and 248 respectively. (fn. 20) From the late 1920s the number of Roman Catholics in the Gloucester area increased, and in the mid 20th century mass centres were established in Brockworth, Churchdown, Matson, and Tuffley. (fn. 21) St. Peter's church continued as the parish church for much of the city and the area to the south and west in 1981 when Sunday masses were attended by as many as 1750 people. (fn. 22)

In 1862 the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary opened a convent school in London Road. (fn. 23) It was at Greyfriars in 1870 (fn. 24) and has not been traced after 1871. (fn. 25) In 1940 the Poor Servants of the Mother of God opened a convent in Barnwood Road. They moved it in 1946 or 1947 to a house in Denmark Road. The convent, dedicated to St. Michael, performed educational work in 1981. (fn. 26)

At Tuffley mass was said regularly from 1943, at first in a public house and then in an hotel in Southfield Road. In 1946 a hut was purchased and erected elsewhere in Southfield Road for use as a chapel. The chapel, dedicated to the English Martyrs, opened in 1947 (fn. 27) and was replaced by another building opened there in 1966. In 1968 a mass centre was established at Lower Tuffley, (fn. 28) which became the focus for Catholic worship in the south part of the parish. In 1980, when mass was said in the Anglican church of St. George, a chapel was built in Tuffley Lane. (fn. 29) The Southfield Road chapel, which it replaced, was sold and demolished. The Tuffley Lane chapel, designed as a hall, was served by a priest from St. Peter's church and had a congregation of 200 in 1981. (fn. 30)

Mass was celebrated regularly from 1952 in a temporary building on a new housing estate at Matson. Later a community centre was used for worship (fn. 31) and then a public house. (fn. 32) In 1961 work began on a church in Matson Lane. The church, dedicated to St. Augustine, opened in 1962 and was given a parish. (fn. 33) In 1981 the average congregation was 250. (fn. 34)

From 1953 St. Peter's church also held mass according to the Eastern Rite for Ukrainian Catholics in Gloucester. (fn. 35) In 1974 they bought the church of the Good Shepherd, in Derby Road, from the Church of England (fn. 36) and after some alterations opened it for their own use in 1977. (fn. 37) In 1981, when a patriarchal dispute divided Ukrainian Catholics in Great Britain, a priest from London said mass twice a month before an average congregation of 80. (fn. 38)

An Old Roman Catholic church described as Pro-Uniate worshipped in a room in Brunswick Square for several years. The meeting place, dedicated to St. Clement, was closed in 1941. The spiritual leader of the church, Bernard Mary Williams, lived in Upton St. Leonards. (fn. 39)


  • 1. This article was written in 1981.
  • 2. Trans. B.G.A.S. V. 233–4, 236.
  • 3. Ibid. lxxxviii. 15–16.
  • 4. G.B.R., B 3/1, f. 73.
  • 5. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxxxviii. 15–17; Downside Rev. xxviii. 19–40.
  • 6. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxxxviii. 21–2; Eng. Martyrs 1584–1603 (Cath. Rec. Soc. v), 140–2.
  • 7. Cf. Eccl. Misc. 68–9.
  • 8. Compton Census, ed. Whiteman, 533–4.
  • 9. Eng. Dominican Rec. (Cath. Rec. Soc. xxv), 129 and n., 174.
  • 10. Ripley, 'Glouc. 1660–1740', 150, 187; Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 40.
  • 11. G.B.R., B 3/6, f. 159v.; F 4/7, pp. 426–7; a room in the Tolsey was known later as the masshouse: ibid. B 3/8, p. 362.
  • 12. Ripley, 'Glouc. 1660–1740', 188–90, 325; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1687–9, p. 342.
  • 13. Glouc. Jnl. 3 Sept. 1881; above, Glouc. 1660–1720, city govt. and politics; for Sir Wm. Compton, Burke, Ext. & Dorm. Baronetcies (1838), 124.
  • 14. G.D.R. vol. 285B (1), f. 25.
  • 15. Glos. R.O., D 5143/1; for the Webbs, V.C.H. Glos. vii. 89, 95.
  • 16. J. N. Langston, 'Cath. Mission in Glouc.' (1955–7, 4 vols. in Glos. Colln. 31841); G.B.R., G 3/SR, Trin 1792.
  • 17. Glos. R.O., D 5143/1; PA 165/2; Langston, 'Cath. Mission in Glouc.'
  • 18. P.R.O., HO 129/336/3/4/9.
  • 19. Langston, 'Cath. Mission in Glouc.'
  • 20. Glouc. Jnl. 19 Nov. 1881.
  • 21. Langston, 'Cath. Mission in Glouc.'
  • 22. Inf. from par. priest.
  • 23. Langston, 'Cath. Mission in Glouc.'
  • 24. Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1870), 564.
  • 25. Census, 1871.
  • 26. Langston, 'Cath. Mission in Glouc.'; cf. G.R.O. (General Register Office), Worship Reg. no. 65362.
  • 27. Langston, 'Cath. Mission in Glouc.'
  • 28. Centenary Souvenir Handbook of St. Peter's Ch. Glouc. (1968), 33: Glos. Colln. NQ 5.16.
  • 29. Inf. from Mr. B. C. Frith, of Tuffley, Glouc.
  • 30. Inf. from par. priest; Citizen, 5 Jan. 1980.
  • 31. Langston, 'Cath. Mission in Glouc.'
  • 32. Citizen, 2 Jan. 1959.
  • 33. Centenary Souvenir Handbook of St. Peter's Ch. 32; Citizen, 6 Dec. 1962.
  • 34. Inf. from par. priest of Glouc.
  • 35. Centenary Souvenir Handbook of St. Peter's Ch. 31.
  • 36. Glouc. Jnl. 19 Oct. 1974.
  • 37. Citizen, 19 Dec. 1977.
  • 38. Inf. from priest-in-charge; Cath. Dir. (1981), 446.
  • 39. Inf. from Mr. Frith; G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 59698.