Saffron Walden

Our Lady of Compassion



Our Lady of Compassion - a brief history

Fr. Chase

Our church in Saffron Walden was established in 1906. Five years earlier Charles Rose Chase (picture left), an Anglican clergyman, had been received into the Catholic Church and ordained a Catholic priest. He founded the Catholic Missionary Society at Willesden, and in 1905 came with priests from that Society to set up a base in Saffron Walden. In 1906 he bought the 15th/16th century property in Saffron Walden, known as "The Close", at the corner of Castle Street and High Street. The 16th century barn of this property, which had been used as a stable (and may also at some time have been a tithe barn for the nearby parish church of St Mary), was converted into the present church with funds provided by Father Chase and by the Missionary Society. It opened for worship in late 1906. Until then the nearest Catholic churches had been in Bishop’s Stortford and Cambridge. Father Charles’ interest in the area arose from the fact that he had been received into the Church by the Redemptorist Fathers at Bishops Stortford.

Father Charles continued his close connection with the new parish until he died in 1908. The Missionary Society provided priests until 1918, when the newly-formed Diocese of Brentwood took over. In 1930 the Spanish Vincentian Fathers took charge. They remained in Saffron Walden until 1948. During the time of the Vincentians the existing presbytery was built. Meanwhile "The Close" had been sold, and an old laundry building in its grounds, which had been used as a parish hall in the days of Father Chase, was later sold by new owners to the Pentecostal Church, which used it for their worship. However, in 1999 history, turned full circle when the Pentecostalists moved to a larger site and, under the present parish priest, Father John Garrett, we reacquired the building which has once again become our Parish Hall. During 2004/5 a major restoration of the church was carried out.

Whilst over the years, every effort has been made to retain the original character of this ancient building (a Grade 2 listed barn), it is first and foremost, a vibrant living church.

The above brief history is based on Margaret Dornan's splendid book "A Short History of the Catholic Parish Church of Our Lady of Compassion Saffron Walden" and on an article by Beatrice Goldie published in the Newport News in 1981. A much more detailed account of the parish's history can be found in Charles Goldie's recent booklet published in 2008 "Our Lady of Compassion Saffron Walden: The first hundred years". A copy can be purchased from the church porch at a cost of £4.

Photographs showing how the church has changed over the years