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History


The Latin Rite of the Catholic Church was re-established in Chingford in 1914 after 400 years, Mass being celebrated in 'The Lodge', 'Sunnyside' and an outbuilding of the Royal Forest Hotel.  The Church of Our Lady of Grace and St Teresa of Avila was founded in 1919 and the present building erected in 1931 using second hand bricks in the foundations from the original railway bridge over King's Road, which was then being demolished.  The beautiful English oak south porch was carved by Don Porter, who was also responsible for carvings at Gilwell Park.  The inscription commemorates G W Martyn, who built the church.

The Mass returns to Chingford

On Sunday, 25 October 1914 Monsignor O'Grady, the parish priest of St George's, Walthamstow, celebrated Mass at a house on Chingford Green for the Belgian refugees who were billetted on Chingford Plains.  This was the first Mass celebrated in Chingford since the excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I in 1570.

A priest came to Chingford every Sunday from Walthamstow.  Mass was celebrated at The Lodge from October 1914 until April 1915.  It then moved to a house called Sunnyside behind the police station at the top of King's Head Hill.

In June of the following year Mr Brille, licensee of the Royal Forest Hotel, lent the burgeoning congregation an outbuilding free of charge.  Fr Howell writes: 'the people repaired the doors and broken windows and white-washed the walls to improve this "Bethlehem" poverty.  One Sunday morning there was an air-raid warning and the police turned back the people, who nonetheless by devious ways still arrived for Mass.'

In November 1917 Mass moved to Bolte's Café (later the Coronet Café, and now flats) on the corner of Beresford Road and Forest Avenue.  Rent was five shillings per Sunday.

The Mass on this site

In early 1919 a site was found for a permanent church.  Purchase was made possible by a substantial donation of £1,650 from Miss Claire Coemans, daughter of a professor of Ghent.

The temporary church, which became known as the School Hall, was built in time for the Christmas Day Mass of 1919.

On Sunday, 21 November 1920 the church was officially opened by Bishop Ward.  It continued to be served by priests from Walthamstow until Saturday, 6 October 1923, when Fr John Howell was appointed resident priest.  He took up lodgings at 10 (now 24) Mount View Road until the presbytery was completed in December 1925.

Fr Howell wrote that, when the Belgian refugees returned home after the war, 'a local builder named Allen commented... "That's the finish of the Catholic Church here."'

During building, Monsignor O'Grady asked two of the lady benefactors to suggest a name.  Claire Coemans was devoted to St Teresa of Avila and Mrs E M Dunne proposed Our Lady of Grace as she had been received into the Faith at a church of that name in Hammersmith.

The permanent church

By May 1926 the debt on the presbytery was paid off and the church building fund started immediately.  Four years later, Fr Howell and G W Martyn started work.

'I set out the site with pegs and levels, Mr M. with the theodolite and I, the boy, with pegs and string and hammers. Great joy!' wrote Fr Howell.

On Saturday, 4 October 1930 Bishop Doubleday laid the foundation stone.

Fr Howell had designed the church himself, in the style of the pre-Reformation churches and on the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement.  He showed the drawing to local builder G.W. Martyn (a recent convert to Catholicism) who promised to build the church for the cost of labour and materials.

The railway bridge over King's Road was being demolished and Fr Howell scavenged twelve lorry-loads of bricks from there for the cost of cartage only.  He cleaned them, with help, saving around £100.

F C White, a timber importer, provided Austrian oak for the roof principals at cost price.

The stonework was cut in Cambridge by chief mason W Topper, who was very proud of "his church" and supervised Fr Howell in making up the Lady Altar from leftover pieces of the Weldon stone.  It was originally located under the tower base.

Despite Fr Howell's thrift, the church could not be built to the planned width, the Sanctuary and transepts were left to be added later and only the base of the tower was built.  The roof was extended to cover it, forming a temporary sacristy.

On Friday, 5 June 1931 the Blessed Sacrament was carried in solemn procession from the Hall to the church and on the following day the nave and temporary sanctuary were solemnly opened by the bishop.

In 1927/28 the Sunday Mass attendance was 204.  By Lent of 1931 it had risen to 411, and to 430 by 1933.

The extension of the church

The site of the permanent church was blessed on Sunday, 12 March 1939 and the following day building work began on the sanctuary and transepts.  During the same week, Germany invaded Prague.  War with Britain was imminent but the temporary sanctuary had already been demolished; the altar stood in the nave amid the dirt and disorganisation of the building site so work had to continue.

People began to be evacuated, and the crypt was deepened and an emergency exit made so it could be used as an air raid shelter.  The Hall was used as a mortuary for air raid casualties.  This went on until 1945.  War was declared at 11.15am on Sunday, 3 September 1939; the air raid sirens sounded during Fr Conrad's Sunday morning mass.

However the church was completed and it opened on Sunday, 3 December 1939, although the solemn consecration did not occur until Thursday, 13 May 1948.

In September 1940 the bombing started, with 99 consecutive nights' air raid sirens.  A direct hit on 86 Chingford Avenue killed five Belgians whose Requiem mass was held at the church and attended by the exiled prime minister and government of Belgium.  The roof and windows of the church were damaged in the bombing.

About the church

Arts and Crafts was an international design philosophy started by local artist William Morris in 1860 and continuing its influence until the 1930s.  The philosophy was an advocacy of traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and often medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration.  Fr Howell's aim was for the craftsmen to work to adorn the church as an expression of their love of God and the glory of their art.

The church is cruciform in plan and combines the Early English and Perpendicular elements of the Gothic style, featuring pointed arches (lancets) and arcading, a large rose window and trefoil windows grouped in threes.  The foliage decorating the capitals is of great beauty and variety and the roof is timbered with vertical lines and pierced with clerestory windows.

In keeping with the natural and handmade aesthetic, the barge boards over the porch are carved with plants and creatures, and the leaded casements are executed in an informal manner with variations in plane and surface.  The whole roof is covered with hand-made tiles laid, as of old, with swept valleys and dormers.

The timber throughout is mainly Austrian oak and the stone is from quarries at Weldon, Northamptonshire, an open grained soft browny stone.  The floor tiles were chosen especially for their soft brown/grey colour and texture.

The ceilings between the roof rafters are of material chosen for its soft texture and acoustic properties. The sconces supporting the roof principals are covered with flowers, foliage and fruit.  Below these is a running pattern of vines and grapes around the whole church.

In December 1932, Fr Howell bought an organ from the church of St Edmund in South Chingford for £20.  It was over a century old then and originally came from the Old Church on the Mount. The large pulpit and confessionals were from an old Presbyterian church, as well as a number of the pews.  The altar rails were of Austrian oak with two carved and tracery panels.

The gutters and rainwater pipes are of patterned lead cast in the traditional way and the roof straps, door hinges, sanctuary lamps and iron fittings were made by Kent craftsmen.

The changing church

The electric bells, a gift from Mrs E M Dunne, were blessed by the bishop in June 1955 and in 1956 the tower was built and the porch carved by renowned sculptor Don Potter with animals, fish and plants.

On Christmas Day 1957 vandals damaged the church, setting fire to the crib, altar cloths and carpets.  A Mass was offered as an act of reparation.

The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) led to more change in the church.  In 1964 English was used at Mass for the first time and on Wednesday, 9 October 1968 Mass was said facing the people for the first time.  A temporary wooden altar was installed.

By February 1970 the Missa Normativa was standard practice.

In May 1976 Mgr Howell died and his solemn burial ceremony was held in the church.

In June 1976, directions were given for receiving Communion in hand.  Around this time Canon Horkan decided to make the temporary altar permanent.  He took care to maintain the existing architectural motifs and did extensive work on the original altar, tabernacle, oak panelling, and structure of the new altar.

By 1980 the congregation was around 1,000.

For the most recent alterations, the church closed after Easter 2001 and the new altar was consecrated by the bishop in November of the same year.