West Grinstead: Roman Catholicism

Pages 102-104

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 2, Bramber Rape (North-Western Part) Including Horsham. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1986.

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Only one recusant was named in the parish in the 1620s, (fn. 2) and in 1640 there were said to be none. (fn. 3) After the Caryll family acquired West Grinstead manor in the mid 17th century, however, the parish became one of five main centres of Roman Catholicism in the western half of the county. Presumably from the first the Carylls had a private chapel at West Grinstead manor house. (fn. 4) In 1671 John Caryll gave £600 to support three priests, of whom one would live at West Grinstead and serve the locality while the other two acted as 'riding missionaries' in Sussex and Hampshire. The Carylls were to have the right of nomination. (fn. 5) In the later 17th century the priest serving the local area apparently received £5 a year, (fn. 6) and in the 1750s the income of the living was c. £32 from subscriptions. (fn. 7) About 1758, after the sale of the West Grinstead manor estate, Edward Caryll, uncle of John Baptist Caryll, gave a house for the priest to live in, evidently the building called in 1985 Priest's House, and made a new endowment by which the work of the mission was restricted to the neighbourhood, and £1,300 was settled on the mission after Edward's death. (fn. 8) The priest received £42 a year in 1773. (fn. 9) In 1814 the income of the mission was c. £84 a year, including £12 received for holding services at Roffey in Horsham, (fn. 10) and in 1863 it was c. £120. (fn. 11)

Sixteen recusants were listed in the parish in 1685. (fn. 12) Peter Caryll (d. 1686), brother of Richard (d. 1701), and a Benedictine who served the mission at West Grinstead, is buried in the parish church. (fn. 13) Between 1710 and 1754 the mission was served by Jesuits. (fn. 14) In 1724 there were said to be 14 papist families in the parish out of c. 106, (fn. 15) and in 1727 fifty-one recusants were listed, including the Jesuit priest John Hodges, otherwise Massie. (fn. 16) The figure of 150 Catholics given for West Grinstead in 1741, two thirds of whom were communicants, evidently relates to the mission area, not the Anglican parish. (fn. 17) In the early 1750s it was noted that only the influence of the Carylls on the parson and in the neighbourhood generally had enabled the mission to survive as long as it had done. (fn. 18) Franciscans served it between 1758 and 1815. (fn. 19) Thirty papists were listed in West Grinstead parish in 1767, (fn. 20) but the total of 100 given in 1773 evidently again refers to the larger mission area. (fn. 21) Despite the departure of the Carylls there were still said to be 42 papists in 1781; (fn. 22) in 1814 there were 43, none of whom were of gentry rank. (fn. 23) The absence of local Catholic gentry, together with what the priest called in 1814 the 'persecuting spirit' of the local protestant gentry, caused numbers to decline thereafter. (fn. 24) In 1851, nevertheless, it was claimed that 55 on average attended the morning and 35 the afternoon services. (fn. 25)

The mission was revived under Mgr. J.-M. Denis, priest 1863-1900, who built the present church, reopened the Catholic school which had lapsed, and founded the adjacent priory. (fn. 26) At that period the area served by the mission was still large, stretching on the north towards Horsham, and including Cuckfield and Ditchling in the east and Ashington in the south-west. (fn. 27) Mgr. Denis's activities were vigorously denounced by the rector, W. Langshaw, until the latter's death in 1889. (fn. 28) From 1880 an annual July pilgrimage was made from Southwark, the head of the diocese; in the earlier 20th century it brought large crowds to the parish, (fn. 29) but it ceased after the diocese was divided in 1965, to be succeeded by separate pilgrimages made by groups and individuals. (fn. 30) The future Cardinal Bourne served as a curate at West Grinstead for two years from 1887. (fn. 31) The congregation in 1907 was said to number c. 300. (fn. 32) In 1970 there were three Sunday services, (fn. 33) and in 1982 two Sunday masses, besides other daily masses. (fn. 34) In 1983 the congregation numbered c. 100. (fn. 35)

Priest's House, (fn. 36) which stands at the corner of Park Lane and the West Grinstead to Partridge Green road, apparently incorporates a timberframed building along its west side, running northsouth; the south part is now encased in the 18thcentury south front, which is of brick on a stone base and has a pedimented Ionic porch. A small room in the north-west corner of the second floor was once used as a chapel; its roof may be 18th-century, renewed when the south front was built. Other 18th-century work comprises the casing of the west and east sides of the building with brick and the arrangement of rooms along the south front, including a staircase in the centre. In 1851 the chapel, with c. 60 sittings, was on the first floor. (fn. 37) Ornaments and silver candlesticks were mentioned in 1768. (fn. 38) A late 17th-century (fn. 39) Italianate altar of imitation marble survived in 1985, together with a small slate altar stone found beneath it, missals, and a chalice of French workmanship of c. 1600, found c. 1925. (fn. 40) Panelling in 17th-century style in two ground-floor rooms was inserted in 1913. (fn. 41)

The church of Our Lady of Consolation and St. Francis next to Priest's House is of stone and comprises a clerestoried nave and aisles with south-east tower in French Gothic style. It is not oriented. Its building was financed by money collected by Mgr. Denis on the Continent, (fn. 42) and was begun apparently c. 1875. (fn. 43) The nave was opened in 1876, (fn. 44) and the building consecrated in 1896. Transepts and a Lady chapel were planned but not built, and the tower was completed only c. 1960. (fn. 45) The statue of the Virgin over the high altar was crowned in 1893. (fn. 46)


  • 1. This section owes much to inf. and refs. provided by Miss M. Kinoulty, Worthing, and Mr. T. J. McCann, W.S.R.O.
  • 2. S.R.S. xlix. 112.
  • 3. W.S.R.O., Ep. I/22/1 (1640).
  • 4. The suggestion that the chap. was then a separate bldg. is unlikely: M. de Trenqualéon, W. Grinstead et les Caryll (1893), i. 405.
  • 5. B.L. Add. MS. 28250, f. 75; Hants Reg. iii (Cath. Rec. Soc. xliv), 2. The description of duties is specified in the doc. only for the priests' successors, but presumably applied to them too.
  • 6. G. Anstruther, Seminary Priests, ii. 56.
  • 7. Archives of Eng. Province, Friars Minor, Forest Gate, Lond., R.S. 1, f. 148 (inf. from Miss Kinoulty).
  • 8. B.L. Add. MS. 28235, ff. 410-11; cf. ibid. 28231, f. 247.
  • 9. Southwark Rec. Jan. 1957, p. 9; cf. Dallaway & Cartwright, Hist. W. Suss. ii (2), 310.
  • 10. Archives of Archdioc. of Westm., Poynter III. C. Misc., letter from Chas. McDonnell, 1814 (inf. from Miss Kinoulty); cf. Char. Digest Suss. H.C. 77, pp. 18-19 (1894), lxiii; below, Horsham, Roman Catholicism.
  • 11. Archives of Dioc. of Arundel and Brighton, Bishop's Ho., Hove, W. Grinstead par. file.
  • 12. Hist. MSS. Com. 38, 14th Rep. IX, Round, p. 275.
  • 13. Mon. in ch.; Obit. Bk. of Eng. Benedictines from 1600 to 1912, rev. H. N. Birt, 57.
  • 14. Eng. Jesuits 1650-1829 (Cath. Rec. Soc. lxx), 27, 29, 54, 123, 160, 228, 235.
  • 15. W.S.R.O., Ep. I/26/3, p. 19.
  • 16. Ibid. Ep. I/37/3.
  • 17. Archives of Archdioc. of Westm., vol. A. 40, f. 117 (inf. from Miss Kinoulty).
  • 18. B.L. Add. MS. 28231, f. 118v.
  • 19. Southwark Rec. Jan. 1957, pp. 8-11.
  • 20. H.L.R.O., papist return (inf. from Mr. T.J. McCann, W.S.R.O.).
  • 21. Archives of Archdioc. of Westm., vol. A. 41, f. 132 (inf. from Miss Kinoulty).
  • 22. H.L.R.O., papist return, 1781 (inf. from Miss Kinoulty).
  • 23. Archives of Archdioc. of Westm., Poynter III. C. Misc., letter from Chas. McDonnell, 1814.
  • 24. Ibid.; cf. de Trenqualéon, W. Grinstead, ii. 432 sqq.; W.S.R.O., QCR 1/11/W 1/150.
  • 25. P.R.O., HO 129/87/1/1/2.
  • 26. I. Hernaman, W. Grinstead and Our Suss. Forefathers, 86 sqq.; Anon., W. Grinstead Cath. Ch. Guide, 7; cf. above, introduction; below, educ.
  • 27. Archives of Dioc. of Arundel and Brighton, Bishop's Ho., Hove, W. Grinstead par. file.
  • 28. De Trenqualéon, W. Grinstead, ii. 443; B.L. Add. MS. 39334, f. 268.
  • 29. De Trenqualéon, W. Grinstead, ii. 446-7; Hernaman, W. Grinstead, 90-1; Anon., W. Grinstead Cath. Ch. Guide, 6; W.S.R.O., MP 1682, p. 10.
  • 30. Anon., W. Grinstead Cath. Ch. Guide, 7-8.
  • 31. Ibid. 9; Hernaman, W. Grinstead, 88.
  • 32. B. W. Kelly, Hist. Notes on Eng. Cath. Missions, 425.
  • 33. Arundel and Brighton Cath. Dir. (1970).
  • 34. Local inf.
  • 35. Inf. from the par. priest, Fr. T. Mulvey.
  • 36. Plan at de Trenqualéon, W. Grinstead, i. 406.
  • 37. P.R.O., HO 129/87/1/1/2.
  • 38. B.L. Add. MS. 28235, f. 410.
  • 39. Anon., W. Grinstead Cath. Ch. Guide, 8.
  • 40. Nairn & Pevsner, Suss. 371; Southwark Rec. July 1925, p. 206; illus. at de Trenqualéon, W. Grinstead, ii. 437.
  • 41. E. Oldmeadow, Francis Cardinal Bourne, i. 117. The 'hides' described in the bldg. at e.g. G. Squiers, Secret Hiding-Places, 253-4, are unlikely to be authentic, since it was not used for its present purpose before the mid 18th cent.: above.
  • 42. De Trenqualéon, W. Grinstead, ii. 445.
  • 43. Cf. Kelly's Dir. Suss. (1874).
  • 44. De Trenqualéon, W. Grinstead, ii. 445 and facing 444.
  • 45. Anon., W. Grinstead Cath. Ch. Guide, 1, 6, 7, 14.
  • 46. De Trenqualéon, W. Grinstead, ii. 447 n.; W. Suss. Times and Suss. Standard, 15 July 1893.