The history of the Parish of St. Edmund


To mark the centenary of the Catholic Parish of St Edmund, a commemorative history was published in 1999. It was written by Bernard Polack and John Whitbourn, two parishioners. Ann Lloyd wrote a chapter on St Edmund's Church and Michael Hoad contributed the photographs. It is an excellent read (of course) and copies may be obtained for £3.00 each. If you would like to buy a copy, please email this website and we will send you details.


The first church in Godalming 1899

A small iron church was built in Croft Road and opened by Bishop Bourne of Southwark on 26 November 1899, much to the relief of local Catholics who had had to gather together on Sundays to walk to Sutton Place or take the train to Guildford or even travel by horse and trap. In 1925 the parish hall was built on this site but the land was sold in 1997 for the building of flats.

Establishment of the Godalming Mission, 1904

When it was decided by Bishop Bourne to establish Godalming as a separate mission, he appointed Fr St George-Hyland to take charge. He arrived on 1 November 1904 and stayed in lodgings at 36 Croft Road. He saw opposite a "towering bank" of hillside which was undeveloped and determined it should be the site for a new church. An anonymous benefactor gave money to start the project and work started in 1905. By 27 June 1906 work was completed on both church and presbytery and the church was opened by the Bishop. 

Fr (later Canon) Hyland, Rector of Godalming 1904

Priest and parishioners worked hard to reduce the heavy debt on the new buildings through lantern talks, rummage sales, socials and concerts. Fr Hyland set up parish guilds, clubs for the youth clubs and catechism classes. There were even summer outings such as to Southsea (3s return).

By 1910 Mass attendance was 138 with many also attending Devotions and Benediction or the Rosary on Sunday evenings. By 1923 the debt was paid off and so the church was consecrated by Bishop Amigo.

The Parish Hall

However, in 1925, a further debt was incurred when it was decided to build a parish hall. This was built by 1926 but that debt, too, was paid off by 1930 through fetes, whist drives, concerts and socials. The hall was used regularly for social activities, Advent and Passion Plays. At Christmas there would be a Christmas tree reaching to the ceiling and laden with toys for every child in the parish (all paid for by Canon Hyland). After First Communion or Confirmation services there would be a meal for the children and the Bishop. Students from the nearby St John's Seminary, Wonersh also used the hall for social activities. During the Second World War and for a few years after, it was used by the Post Office as a sorting office and then by the Ministries of Food and of Labour (as a Labour exchange).

Canon Hyland was very friendly with a curate from Godalming parish Church, Rev Harvard Jones and the two men, both short in stature and wearing the traditional "parson" style of hat, would often be seen walking along the High Street, deep in conversation.

At the age of 74, Canon Hyland died quite suddenly while on holiday in Devon. He was buried in a vault under the sanctuary of St Edmund's Church.

Canon Denis JB Hawkins DD, PhD 1950 - 64

Canon Hyland was succeeded by the second-longest serving parish priest of Godalming, Canon Denis Hawkins (known as "The Hawk" a nickname that fitted him intellectually and physically as he was, then, thin and angular. He filled out in later years as photographs show; his housekeeper, Miss Connolly, is remembered as a great cook).

Canon Hawkins was a theologian and philosopher with an international reputation. His ability to explain Catholic teaching in a clear, precise manner made him a valued and respected member of a monthly Ecumenical Dialogue between three Catholic and Anglican clergy.

The Catholic population swelled considerably after the Hungarian uprising in 1956 as many refugees were housed in the former Canadian Army Camp at Hydon Hill.

Canon Hawkins died suddenly on 17 January 1964 at the age of just 57 a great blow to the parish and to the cause of ecumenism.

Fr Maurice Pledger 1964 - 69

In 1957 a site for a church was acquired in Milford because of the growth of the villages of Milford and Witley. It had been the orchard of a parishioner, Mr Hedley. Fr Pledger determined to push forward the building of the church, which meant further fund-raising. Construction of St Joseph's Church began in 1967 and the erection of a pre-fabricated building to replace the hall in Elstead took place in 1968, the latter being named the Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption.

Fr Pledger introduced the first two lay readers in the parish Bill Wheeler and Bill Stammers, who were both trained by Fr Bell, an assistant priest who spent a short time in Godalming. Fr Pledger died suddenly on 3 June 1969 the third consecutive parish priest to die "in harness".

Fr John McSheehy 1969 - 1979

Two significant events in Fr McSheehy's time were the opening of St Edmund's School and the start of a very successful ecumenical co-operation whereby we are able to celebrate Mass each Sunday morning in the Anglican church of St John the Evangelist in Farncombe. The first Mass was celebrated there in 1974 and the arrangement is still going strong. (For more details, you'll have to buy the book!)

Fr James Anthony (Tony) Clarke 1980 - 1990

It was while Fr Tony was Parish Priest that Godalming had its first Catholic Mayor, Mrs Peggy Macfarlane (1984). Her Civic Service was held in St Edmund's Church, with a guard of honour of Knights of St Columbus lining the steps.

In 1984 plans to relocate the Church to the west side of St Edmund's School came to nothing, the first of several attempts to build a new Church with space for car-parking. In 1985 the decision was made to cease the celebration of Sunday Mass at Elstead and the building remained unused until its sale in 1992.

In Advent 1988 the parish saw the beginning of the Diocesan Renew process. This was a scheme to promote the spiritual renewal of the Diocese and of the faithful, focussing on three main themes:

1. sharing and experiencing the word of God

2. developing a greater sense of parish community

3. helping people to connect their faith to concern for social justice

The process took place over five 6-week seasons with small and large group meetings. There is no doubt that more parishioners, especially newcomers, got to know each other during this process.

Fr (now Canon) Clarke left in 1990 to become parish priest of St Mary of the Angels, Worthing.

Fr Bernard Rowley 1990 - 1994

After an interval during which the parish was served by Fr Andrew Brenninckmeyer OSB, Fr Rowley arrived as parish priest. He had the dream of building one, central church large enough to serve the whole parish with a hall and presbytery on the same site. Various sites were considered but none proved suitable.

He soon set about reorganising the running of parish affairs. The previous Parish Council was replaced by a Finance & General Purposes Committee, and Co-ordinators were appointed in such areas as ecumenism, marriage and family life, pastoral renewal, social concerns and justice and peace.

Fr Rowley was a table-tennis coach of national renown. He had St Edmund's Hall redecorated and started a table-tennis club for parishioners and others. He left in 1994 to become, after a period of sabbatical leave, parish priest of Forest Row.

Fr Mario Sanderson Curate 1992- 95

Fr Mario came to the parish at the invitation of Fr Bernard. He is included here because he was such a popular priest ! He had spent 31 years as a Xavierian Brother teaching but then decided to become a Benedictine. His sermons were wonderful and his series of talks on the history of the Church broke all records for attendance ! He is now Parish Priest in Hove.

Fr Michael Perry 1994 - now

Fr Michael arrived, in his quiet way, in September 1994 having been Parish priest in Claygate, Esher. He has been content to consolidate and develop the existing parish structures. With his backing, St Edmund's and St Joseph's churches have been completely redecorated and the roof is being restored at St Joseph's (at considerable expense!) The Presbytery has been adapted to provide a Parish room downstairs and a very smart flat upstairs. St Edmund's Hall was sold in 1997 to help pay for all this work.

On 8 October 1995, the 90th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of St Edmund's was celebrated with a special Mass attended by 4 priests who had worked in the parish - Frs. P. Chick, G. McDermott, J.A. Clarke and C. Ingle.

Rev Jim Lawler, Deacon 1984

The parish was blessed in having a permanent Deacon from 1984 until he retired a few years ago. So far no replacement has been found. As Deacon, he could do everything a priest can do except say Mass and hear Confessions. He was a tireless support to parish life. He was responsible for all liturgical matters and said that about 120 people were involved in the celebration of the liturgy eg. as Special Ministers, flower arrangers etc.

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