Hampstead: Roman Catholicism

Pages 152-153

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



Recusants were mentioned in the 16th and 17th centuries: John Phillips in 1583 and 1588; (fn. 1) John Sappton in 1592; (fn. 2) Francis Holt in 1610; members of the Raynes family and John Woodgate or Widgett in 1613 and 1617; (fn. 3) the wife of Anthony Hancock in 1636; (fn. 4) John Needham and Thomas Tidd in 1663. (fn. 5) No Roman Catholics were reported thereafter until the 1770s, when there were enough to justify the appointment of the Revd. Gerard Robinson in 1778 to serve them. Between 1784 and 1790 at least 12 other priests celebrated mass in Hampstead. (fn. 6) The main mass centre was apparently the house of Lucy Nihell or Nihill, member of a well known Roman Catholic family, at Ladywell Court, East Heath Road, in the mid 1780s and at Rosslyn Lodge (later no. 19 Lyndhurst Road) by 1788. Presumably it was the school which she was running by 1790, said to be in the Grove facing Pond Street, Haverstock Hill. From 1789 services included a sung high mass. Some Catholics also attended mass at the house of Thomas Hussey, later bishop of Waterford and Lismore, who lived in Hampstead by 1784 and kept a house there until 1789. There were also said to have been chapels in houses belonging to Thomas Cockburn and Henry Cooke. (fn. 7)

Lucy Nihell's school, under Felicity Nihell by 1791, continued to be used for mass in the 1790s. In 1796 Abbé Jean-Jacques Morel, a French emigré, settled in Hampstead and ministered to compatriots, converting into a chapel a room in Oriel House, Little Church Row (later the southern end of Heath Street). It may have been the public chapel 'lately opened' by 1796, with c. 100 worshippers, mentioned in a report to Rome, although its address was not published in the Laity's Directory until 1806. (fn. 8) More than 200 French people were said to have stayed in Hampstead at the height of the emigration. (fn. 9) In 1814 the congregation was said to number 150, (fn. 10) by that time mainly or solely English, who paid for a purpose-built chapel, St. Mary's, Holly Place, which was opened in 1816. Abbé Morel continued as its priest, remaining in Hampstead until his death in 1852. (fn. 11)

Apart from a few short-lived chapels in religious houses, it was 50 years before a second mass centre was set up. In 1865 the Oblates of Mary Immaculate came to Kilburn and founded a religious house, with a small temporary church. (fn. 12) The area was being rapidly built up and by 1900 the permanent church of the Sacred Heart had a congregation four times the size of St. Mary's, although the total number of Roman Catholic attendances in 1903, 1,599, was less than that of either Congregationalists or Methodists. The Sacred Heart was also well placed to serve the influx of Irish into Kilburn after the Second World War. (fn. 13) The small church of St. Mary was not replaced: the south-east part of Hampstead from 1867 was served by St. Dominic's, Haverstock Hill, just outside the boundary, and Swiss Cottage from the 1930s by St. Thomas More's, Maresfield Gardens. (fn. 14) The attractions of Hampstead for schools, nursing homes, and other institutions brought many religious orders, several of whose convents are noticed below. (fn. 15)

St. Mary's, Holly Pl., originated in congregation of Abbé Morel at Oriel Ho. in 1796. (fn. 16) Chapel built as part of small terr. in Holly Walk, at expense of congregation, and dedic. 1816, one of earliest surviving Rom. Cath. chs. in Lond. (fn. 17) Seated 300 in 1851; average attendance 500 a.m.; 70 p.m.; 250 evg. (fn. 18) Attendance 1886: 206 a.m.; 65 evg.; 1903: 247 a.m. (fn. 19) Nave copied from Morel's former ch. at Verneuil, Normandy; stuccoed front with Tuscan doorway 1830; statue over entrance 1850; interior altered and 2 side altars built 1878. Highly decorated sanctuary in Byzantine style by G. L. Simpson and 2 side chapels and sacristies added 1907.

Oblates of Mary Immaculate first held mass in Kilburn 1865 at no. 1 Greville Rd. Temp. ch. soon built nearby and reg. 1868. (fn. 20) Perm. ch. of Sacred Heart of Jesus, Quex Rd., of light brick with stone dressings in Early Eng. style by Pugin & Pugin 1878-9: high roofed, no tower; long wide nave straight into deep chancel. Sanctuary built 1898-9 and ch. consecrated 1909. Priory bldgs. attached; new bldgs. on NE. side of ch. 1965. Attendance 1886: 220 a.m.; 203 evg.; 1903: 1,095 a.m.; 257 p.m. (fn. 21) Name changed to Sacred Heart ch. 1970. (fn. 22) Former Unitarian ch. in Quex Rd. also reg. by Rom. Caths. 1971. (fn. 23)

Temp. ch. of St. Thos. More opened 1938 in Maresfield Gdns. Perm. ch. built beside it 1953, rebuilt in red brick and concrete by Gerard Goalen 1968-9: (fn. 24) elliptical plan with ambulatory around, lit by clerestory, with coloured glass over sanctuary and with gallery half way round.

Passionist Fathers, who came to Eng. 1842, opened first Lond. ho. with 4 priests 1848 at Poplar Ho., West End Lane, through help of Bp. (later Cardinal) Wiseman, who wanted missions to Irish poor. Local priests sought help from fathers, who were assigned Rom. Caths. west of Finchley Rd. As ho. was in poor repair, community moved to Hendon 1849. (fn. 25)

Sisters of Providence of the Immaculate Conception bought part of Bartrams est. c. 1867: (fn. 26) opened private boarding sch. for 25 girls in Belle Vue ho., and orphanage and day sch. for girls in Bartram Ho. Large new block linked to Belle Vue built for 100 additional boarders 1887. Boarding sch. later closed, and day sch. became vol. aided after 1945. (fn. 27) Old hos. demol. and 4-storeyed Bartram hostel with chapel built in Rowland Hill Street c. 1967. Convent was Provincial Ho. of order 1986. (fn. 28)

Les Dames Anglaises of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Bavarian branch) opened St. Mary's convent and sch., England's Lane, by 1880. Moved to no. 47 Fitzjohn's Avenue c. 1927, where sch. continued. (fn. 29)

Sisters of Hope (Institute of the Holy Family, Bordeaux) opened nursing home for retired ladies at no. 20 Quex Road, Kilburn, by 1931 with 8 sisters. Order's Provincial Ho. opened at no. 2 Aberdare Gdns. between 1966 and 1969. Nursing home moved to Cricklewood 1974. (fn. 30)

Dominican Sisters ran sch. for young ladies in Chislett Rd. (later Compayne Gdns.), Kilburn, by 1931, until c. 1932. (fn. 31)

Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul had convent in Chislett Rd. (later no. 88 Compayne Gdns.) from c. 1933. Visited poor and taught in parochial sch., besides running small private sch. By 1949 also ran St. Cath.'s hostel, nos. 80-2 West End Lane, as probation home and hostel for business girls. Moved away late 1960s. (fn. 32)

Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross founded first ho. in Eng. 1938 at no. 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue, formerly home of Phil. de László, later also taking over nos. 5 and 7. Ran international ho. of studies for girls 1985. (fn. 33)

The Society of Jesus opened ho. of studies at Southwell Ho., no. 39 Fitzjohn's Avenue, by 1950. (fn. 34)

Sisters of St. Marcellina opened residential sch. for foreign girls c. 1956 at Hampstead Towers, no. 6 Ellerdale Rd., which R. Norman Shaw had designed for himself. Sch. survived 1985. (fn. 35)

Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary opened convent of Our Lady of Good Counsel, no. 172 Haverstock Hill, c. 1966. (fn. 36)

Sisters of St. Dorothy opened international hostel for girls at Frognal Ho., no. 99 Frognal, 1968. (fn. 37)


  • 1. Mdx. County Rec. i. 143; Cath. Rec. Soc. xxii. 123.
  • 2. Mdx. County Rec. i. 205.
  • 3. Ibid. ii. 214, 235; Mdx. Sess. Rec. i. 246; iv. 269-71; Cal. Mdx. Sess. Rec. v. 33, 136.
  • 4. Mdx. County Rec. iii. 139.
  • 5. Cath. Rec. Soc. vi. 288.
  • 6. Rest of para. based on Cath. Rec. Soc. 1, passim; Lond. Recusant, iv. 29-30; C.H.R. x. 5-6.
  • 7. Park, Hampstead, 236.
  • 8. Lond. Recusant, iv. 29-30; G.L.R.O., MR/RH 1/13.
  • 9. Park, Hampstead, 236.
  • 10. Lond. Recusant, iii. 16.
  • 11. Ibid. iv. 30, 74.
  • 12. Below.
  • 13. V.C.H. Mdx. i. 143; Mudie-Smith, Rel. Life, 133, 167.
  • 14. Below.
  • 15. The following abbreviations are used, in addition to those in the index: dedic., dedicated; demol., demolished; Eng., England or English; reg., registered.
  • 16. Above.
  • 17. Para. based on Lond. Recusant, iv. 30, 73-4; Pevsner, Lond. ii. 187; A. Rottmann, Lond. Cath. Chs. (1926), 245-7.
  • 18. P.R.O., HO 129/1/1/11.
  • 19. Brit. Weekly, 19 Nov. 1886, 4; Mudie-Smith, Rel. Life, 166.
  • 20. Para. based on Rottmann, Lond. Cath. Chs. 250-1; Pevsner, Lond. ii. 188; The Times, 4 June 1878, 8a; G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 18735.
  • 21. Brit. Weekly, 19 Nov. 1886, 4; Mudie-Smith, Rel. Life, 166.
  • 22. G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 24556.
  • 23. Ibid. no. 72674.
  • 24. Ibid. no. 58289; Cath. Dir. (1969); C.C.C., Clarke MSS. xxiii. 116.
  • 25. Para. based on Poplar Ho., West End Lane, and Passionists (Mt. Argus Historical Papers, 1977), in S.C.L.; V.C.H. Mdx. v. 38.
  • 26. G.L.R.O., MAB 1038, papers dated 1884; Potter Colln. 19/89.
  • 27. Hampstead Year Bk. 1889, 29; below, educ., pub. schs. (Rosary R.C.).
  • 28. G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 70789; Cath. Dir. (1986).
  • 29. Cath. Dir. (1880); P. F. Anson, Rel. Orders of Gt. Britain and Irel. (1949), 320; below, educ., private schs. (St. Mary's convent).
  • 30. Cath. Dir. (1931 and later edns.); V.C.H. Mdx. vii. 242; inf. from Holy Fam. convent, 1978.
  • 31. Cath. Dir. (1931 and later edns.).
  • 32. Ibid. (1933 and later edns.); Anson, Rel. Orders, 209.
  • 33. Anson, Rel. Orders, 285; Cath. Dir. (1939 and later edns.).
  • 34. Cath. Dir. (1950 and later edns.).
  • 35. Ibid. (1956 and later edns.); Service, Architects of Lond. 136-7.
  • 36. Cath. Dir. (1966 and later edns.).
  • 37. H.H.E. 8 Nov. 1968; Cath. Dir. (1970 and later edns.).