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History of the Parish 

The Mission of St. Anne’s, Vauxhall, now a Parish, was established on 24th March, 1892, when Rev. William F. Brown was sent there by Bishop John Butt of Southwark. Its territory was all formerly in St. George’s Cathedral District, and comprised quite a large area. This, in turn, was considerably reduced when, in 1903, a new Mission was opened, call St. Francis, Larkhall Lane, S. W. 4. Another portion abutting on the Brixton Road and Camberwell New Road was taken over by the Parish of the Sacred Heart, Camberwell, a few years later.
Vauxhall as a small Catholic Centre dates back to the early 1860s, when a retired teacher opened a small school in a disused shop in Vauxhall Walk near the Wesleyan Chapel. Not long afterwards the Order of Notre Dame of Namur, established at St. George’s Road, near the Cathedral, built a school for girls and infants in Vauxhall Walk opposite what are now Guinness Buildings. The money for this was provided by Sister May Frances, the Hon. Mrs. Petre, who became a nun when she was widows and was a great benefactress to the Institute of Notre Dame.
In 1871, a small single-storey school was built by St. George’s Cathedral, for boys, the site being a portion of the playground of the girls and infants. It was all very cramped, but school accommodation of any kind was very scarce in those days. The girls and infants’ building still stands, it is part of the premises of a metal merchant. The property was sold in 1894.
In 1891 the Diocese acquired a fine site for a Church and school in Upper Kennington Lane, now Kennington Lane. Its area was almost an acre in extent and it had a frontage also in Harleyford Road, near Kennington Oval, a very important consideration. On it, on the Kennington Lane side, there were four houses, the rest of the land being in use as a builder’s yard.
The cost was £7,000, a small price for what was really a valuable site in a built-up area. On or two factors helped to keep the cost down. Although there were two frontages, the width was not enough under the London Building Act for a new street with houses on both sides. Also, it was not long after the notorious failure of Jabez Balfour and the Liberator Society, in which many Building Societies lost large sums of money, with the result that there was little money for speculative purchases. One house became the Clergy House, the builder rented another, together with a large yard, while the remaining two houses were let to tenants. Providentially, No. 173 was vacant and it was possible for the Clergy to occupy it without delay. As there was no separate building for a Church, Mass was said on Sundays in the boys’ school and on weekdays in the Priest’s House. Confessions were heard there and Baptism was administered.
In May the new school site became available and a fine three-storey building for infants, boys and girls, really three schools, was begun, the Diocese raising the money, £4,250, as in the site purchase, by loan. The interest on the large debt was almost entirely met by the rents of the houses and the builder’s yard.
The school was finished in time for use as a Church just before Christmas, 1892. This was a great relief as a much larger building in a main road was now available next to the Clergy House. There were certain drawbacks, it is true. The first floor had to be used and the Blessed Sacrament had still to be reserved in the Clergy House. Marriages could only take place on Saturdays or Sundays, and during the holidays, and the same applied to funerals, which, however, do not take place in London on Sundays.
Early in January, 1893, the new school in Harleyford Road was opened, and soon had a large roll. The school buildings in Vauxhall Walk were sold, but not for much, and the proceeds helped to reduce the debt on the Mission. The congregation increased after the move to the new school, but was still small, and the income quite inadequate, particularly as Bishop Butt had decided there should be two priests. For two years the Diocese made a grant of £100 a year, which was a great help.
People kept asking when we could expect to have a Church, but, unfortunately, that was a long way off. When the builder who rented the house next to that of the Clergy, as well as the large yard, gave up part of the land for the school, he was granted a lease of twenty-one years with breaks after seven years, as it was not expected, with all its burdens, Vauxhall could hope for a Church for many years.
It was hard, but otherwise St. Anne’s Mission could never have been started, as the site was essential to any plans for the future. But it meant, in the event, waiting till 1903 for a Church.
It was a long and trying period of waiting, but, in the end, patience and perseverance won the day, as we shall see.
In 1896 something happened which was a great encouragement.
Miss Emily King of Norwood died leaving a very considerable sum to the Bishop of Southwark, to be used for providing schools in poor parts of South London. Her Executors were advised not to prove the Will on account of vagueness, so the case had to go to Court. The Bishop asked that the money should be applied to paying off the debts on the new schools at Walworth and Vauxhall; the balance to be used for a new school at Upper Norwood, where the lady had lived for a considerable time. The Judge was Mr. Justice Eve, and he apparently doubted whether it was right any of the money should be used to pay debts on existing buildings, as against building new schools. Eventually, however, he made an order allowing the application. But it certainly was a very near thing, for the late Mr. E. Fooks, the Bishop’s solicitor, told me that Counsel for the Bishop had walked away from the Law Courts with the Judge, who said he did not think he should have granted the order and if he had to decide again he would not do it.
The reduction of the large debt on Vauxhall by £4,350 was really the turning point in the hard struggle for the provision of a Church for the Mission. Till then, any prospect of a Church for many years to come was out of the question, because of the existing heavy capital debt.
The loans amounted to over £7,000 and interest had to be found every year, to say nothing of reduction of capital. The income from the property was precarious, as two of the houses on it were old and might be condemned as unfit, unless much money was spent on them; the number attending Mass at the school was small and the offerings barely enough to maintain two priests. Even had it been possible to get the Church site for building, it was obviously out of the question to incur further liabilities with such heavy burdens on the Mission.
In 1892 the Diocese had granted Mr. W. Smith, builder, a lease for twenty-one years of 171 Upper Kennington Lane, and a large yard with buildings on it.
The lease provided for a break at the end of the seventh year with six months’ notice, should the land be required for a Church, and at the end of any other year with two years’ notice. The rental was low and the builder had really got an excellent bargain.
There was just time after Miss King’s will had been proved to serve notice on the builder. But, it did not follow that, in order to build a Church, all the site would be needed, and it became necessary to negotiate with Mr. Smith about his retaining the surplus land after giving up sufficient for a Church.
As the property had frontages both in Harleyford Road and in Upper Kennington Lane, it became necessary to decide on which to build the Church. Harleyford Road had certain advantages of access, but its frontage was skew, making it very difficult to plan a satisfactory building without waste of ground. The other frontage could have a building at right angles to the street and was chosen without hesitation. This suited Mr. Smith, as he could retain nearly all the yard, only giving up No. 171 where he lived. So he took a new lease at an increased rent and, even so, got it all on very favourable terms. The debt stood at about £7,000, the interest on it being met by the yard rent.
Things had moved forward and it became possible to publish the fact that there was a fine Church site available. The three houses were pulled down and the site was ready for use, if only the financial arrangements would admit of making a beginning with a Church.
A benefactor who was interested in the Mission offered to pay for complete foundations of a Church. Mr. Frederick A. Walters was engaged as Architect and he produced plans for a commodious Church in red brick. It was decided to have a foundation stone laid, and this was done by Cardinal Bourne, then Bishop of Southwark, on 3rd November, 1901.
The foundations and heating chamber cost £1,200 which was paid mainly by the anonymous benefactor.
But there it stopped, and people began to criticise, saying the whole scheme was too ambitious and that, in any case, it would have been better to put in the foundations for a part of the Church only, as there could be little prospect of building it all at once. I felt the force of these remarks, but was buoyed up with the hope of building a fine Church for Vauxhall somehow or other.
A chance remark had made a great impression on me, and had given me a new outlook. I was a member of the London School Board from 1897 till 1904, when its work was transferred to the London County Council.
One day, during a Board Meeting, when some members were in the smoking room, Lord Morpeth said that Brown was going to build a Church. At once, Sir Ernest Flower, M.P., asked how much I expected it to cost. I said about £5,000. He said “Why don’t you go in for one that will cost £15,000, you will get the money much more easily?” He added that people like to be associated with a big scheme rather than with something small. That settled it for me and a large lofty Church was designed by Mr. F. A. Walters, and, in the end, was built without any reduction in size or height. But how to get money for it remained the problem. The interest on the £7,000 debt was met by the rent paid by the tenant, but it could not remain unreduced indefinitely. Reduction was not easy, in fact remained a problem till it was cleared off in 1911.
But, before sanction to begin the Church could be asked for by the Mission, some scheme for debt reduction had to be put forward. Great efforts were made and, after substantial repayment had been made, work on the Church was allowed to begin. Tenders had been obtained from several builders, including Mr. Smith, and the lowest was accepted, the firm being Goddard & Son of Farnham and Dorking. The tenders were for three sections:- First the Nave, second the Sanctuary, Side Chapels and Sacristy, and last of all, the Tower with Mortuary Chapel and a Hall above it.
The total cost, without architect’s fees, was £13,500, something beyond our dreams it seemed.
However, money did come in, and it was decided to sign a contract for the Nave. This took quite a long time to build and, when it was finished, a doorway, one very large arch and three smaller ones were open to the weather. Obviously, they could not be left so, and it was proposed to close them with temporary brick walls, a very expensive undertaking, and most wasteful, as one day the walls in the arches would have to be taken down, brick by brick.
Then a remarkable thing happened. A friend of mine, Miss Mary Allanson of Clapham, a wealthy and charitable woman, came to see the new Church. She admired its size and height, but was surprised to see the open arches at the East End. She asked what we were going to do about it, and I replied we should have to wall them up, as we must use the Church as soon as possible.
She remarked that it was a great pity as it would mean much trouble and expense for nothing. I agreed, but said we should have to do it, or not use the new building at all.
Then she asked what it would cost to finish the Sanctuary, etc. of the Church, and I told her £2,400, the amount of Goddard & Son’s tender. At once she said I will give you that, let the work go on as soon as possible. Goddard & Son were asked to agree to consolidate the two contracts and gladly consented, all the more so because a good deal of their plant was still on the job.
I had, much against my will, to borrow some money, as there was not enough in hand for the two contracts, but, fortunately, not for long, as money came in well when there was really a building on the site; and I had considerably longer time for the completion of the instalments.
The four arches on the North Side of the Nave were boarded up and remained so till the Mortuary Chapel was built some years later.
On 31st January, 1903, we were able to use the new Church after it had been blessed. We had no solemn celebration of the event, as it was decided to have this later in the year.
There was no permanent altar in the Sanctuary, so the small wooden altar which had been so long in the two schools was brought in for another spell of temporary service.
We were able to provide the benches and confessionals, but it was our policy not to have permanent altars, a pulpit, Communion rails, font, etc., unless the money was given for them. As will be seen, this policy was amply justified.
The late Mr. William Sandford, a parishioner, who had been faithful to the Mission in its days of hard struggle, undertook to provide a High Altar if it did not cost too much for his means. A really fine design for altar and reredos was prepared by Mr. Walters. At first only a portion was erected, but it gave the Church a permanent, if incomplete, altar and made it possible to have a dignified formal opening in September, 1903. Bishop Bourne, afterwards Cardinal Bourne, Archbishop of Westminster, had been transferred to Westminster from Southwark, so that Diocese was vacant. As he had laid the foundation stone of St. Anne’s, I asked him, with the consent of Provost Moore, the Vicar Capitular, to perform the formal opening ceremony in September, 1904. Among those present were Mrs. Pearl Craigie, the writer, and her friend, Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Winston Churchill. A large and fine organ had been ordered from the well-known builders, J. W. Walker & Sons, and the firm asked if it might be lent to the Bradford Exhibition from May till October, 1905. This suited us as it gave more time for collecting its cost, £2,000, and was an excellent advertisement.
The work of erection began late in that year, and was finished early in 1906. A beautiful case was designed by Mr. F. A. Walters, our architect.
The organ is well known to musicians and many distinguished organists have played on it.
The next important event was the completion of the full plan of the Church by the addition of the Mortuary Chapel, the Hall above it and the large saddleback tower, whose weathercock is about 90 feet above ground level. It is visible from the Railway and Kennington Oval and appears in one Test Match picture.
The tower is not merely a landmark, it provides space for a heating chamber, part of a Chapel and of the Hall, as well as a ringers’ room, and a belfry, which contains a bell by Mears and Steinbank, weighing eleven hundredweight. This was given in 1923 by the late Mrs. Ada Watney, and was consecrated by Bishop William Keatings, the Army Bishop. When the Nave was built a small tenor bell, two and a quarter hundredweight, by Carr of Smethwick, was hung in the bell tower above the Sanctuary arch.
The large bell is rung at the Consecration on Sundays, and at Benediction on Sundays and weekdays. The small bell, blessed by Bishop Bourne, is used occasionally, but its sound does not travel far in the noise of road and railway traffic.
The High Altar was consecrated on 6th November, 1906, by Bishop Patrick Fenton, Auxiliary of Westminster, and the pulpit and Communion rails were given about the same time.
But the Mission was still in debt, partly for the site, and partly for the Church. If the Church was to be consecrated, the debt must be paid off.
It was therefore necessary to work vigorously and persistently to raise the money.
However, it was accomplished by various means in time, for the Silver Jubilee of Priesthood of Monsignor Brown on 20thMarch, 1911. When a Church is consecrated, part of the ceremony is the consecration of an altar, usually the High Altar. As ours was already consecrated, it was necessary to have another, so the fine Lady Altar with its reredos was provided, the gift of a generous benefactor. Bishop Amigo gave his consent and graciously allowed the ceremony to be performed by the Rt. Rev. George Ambrose Burton, Bishop of Clifton, a great friend of the Parish Priest. Everything went off splendidly and it was a beautiful spring day. High Mass was sung by Monsignor Brown, Bishop Amigo being on the throne. It was a proud day for St. Anne’s, Vauxhall.
In November, the well-known Redemptionists, Father John Bennett and Father John Burke, gave the first full Mission in the Parish. It was attended by large congregations and was blessed in many ways.
In 1911, St. Anne’s Settlement was founded by Miss Grace Gordon-Smith in a very small way, in a hired house in Kennington Lane. In 1912, a fine property was acquired in Harleyford Road, consisting of two houses with large back gardens. A hall was built and, in 1921, two more houses were added to the property, and connected internally. Thus residential quarters for a Warden and a hostel for young women were provided.
Miss G. Gordon-Smith founded the Sisters of St. Anne, who later established foundations at Plymouth and Rotherhithe.
The little Convent in Union Road, Rotherhithe, was destroyed by bombing, but a new foundation was opened after some time at South Bermondsey, near St. Gertrude’s Church.
After the Sisters of St. Anne began to attract subjects, it was evident that the Harleyford Road buildings were not suitable for a Convent and a Novitiate in various ways, and it was decided, with the consent of the Bishop of Southwark, and the Jesuit Fathers to leave Vauxhall and make a foundation at Wimbledon. A fine house with large grounds was bought and a hospital was opened in the enlarged building.
The Order has been fortunate in getting subjects and is doing important work for the sick. Their departure was a loss to Vauxhall, but, in any case, it would have had to take place when a bomb fell in the small garden and destroyed three of the four houses.
The Parish of St. Anne’s, Vauxhall, owes a great debt of gratitude to Mother Mary Agnes, as subject to certain conditions, she handed over the Settlement property and a large endowment to the Parish, conditions of continuity of work being fulfilled. All the property was bought by her, except a plot of land forming part of the garden of 46 Harleyford Road with a frontage to a side street, Vauxhall Grove. This was bought by Monsignor Brown some years before 1911.
It is a story worth telling, as shewing according to the old saying that one thing leads to another. When a street now called “Vauxhall Grove” leading from Harleyford Road was opened, there must have been an exchange of land with the owner of 46 Harleyford Road, by which an irregular plot was added to the back garden. The tenants of No. 46 were allowed the use of the land for a nominal rent so long as their tenancy might last. They were a family of two brothers and two sisters, and they supplied Messrs. Burnett, the Distillers on Albert Embankment, with certain articles used in a refining process made in a small shed next to No. 46.
There was an obligation on them on giving up the house to erect a fence to separate the plot not owned by the freeholders of No. 46 from the garden of that house. Some of the Davis family died and the survivors left, but were not made to put up the stipulated fence. I was told by the rate collector, Mr. J. W. Henley, that the plot could be bought for £400, from whom I was never told. He pointed out that it held a key position as the houses in Harleyford Road with deep gardens formed an important business site, if only access could be obtained from the Vauxhall Grove return frontage of No. 46. He urged that we might need some of the houses for social work, for which they were suited, and that buildings could be put up on the site.
It seemed rather a risky transaction, but it had possibilities which turned out to be very important. However, it was a long time before anything came of it, but, fortunately, an undertaker rented it for stacking and seasoning elm planks for coffins. A very sketchy fence was put up to mark the irregular boundary line between the properties. It was a long wait but, in the end, Mr. Henley’s prediction came true. Three of the Davis family died and the last survivor gave up the lease. That set free No. 46, the corner house of the property, which comprised a row of houses in Harleyford Road.
It was obvious the position was suitable for a Residential Settlement and it was decided to buy some of the houses, if possible. But it was held by lawyer trustees, who refused all proposals to buy, and it seemed as if the plot had been bought to no purpose. Then quite accidentally Mr. Henley found out that the trustees held the property on behalf of Mrs. Catherine Boise, who lived near Barnstaple. A letter to her asking if two houses could be bought for charitable purposes secured her consent, and the Settlement secured permanent quarters.
Monsignor Brown made a present of the back plot to the Settlement and part of its Hall was built on it, the rest being added to the garden of 46. One large room was adapted for a Chapel and a small Sacristy was built adjoining.
It was now possible to have a number of people engaged in the activities of the Settlement, which can be described as corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It was a great help to the Parish in many ways.
After 40 and 42 had been bought a hostel for girls was opened and did excellent work in many ways. When the Convent of the Sisters of St. Anne was established in 1927, the hostel had to be given up as all the accommodation was needed for Novices and Sisters. The Sisters of St. Anne left Vauxhall in 1936 and made a new foundation at The Downs, Wimbledon.
In 1937 notable alterations and improvements were made in the main Hall and a small Hall and a billiard room was added.
The Settlement raised a loan of £3,000 and the Parish guaranteed the interest and repayment. It took rather a long time but the use of the Settlement buildings for St. Anne’s Catholic Club and other parochial purposes justified the expenditure.
When the bomb damage is made good, it is hoped to improve the accommodation for social work considerably; as has been mentioned, St. Anne’s school, Harleyford Road, adjoining the Church was built in 1892.
It had been crowded for a long time and, in 1926, it was decided to erect a new infants’ school, which provided three classrooms and a Head Teacher’s room. This set free three rooms on the ground floor of the main building. But it was not sufficient and a second infants’ building was put up in 1932 and the whole of the original building became available for children over seven. But, in order to make this addition, it was necessary to acquire two houses adjoining the Clergy House, which had long back gardens, at a cost of £2,000. Part of the gardens formed a site for the new building.
The infants’ school now consists of two buildings between them, providing five classrooms with cloakrooms and lavatories of modern design. The L. C. C. have installed hot and cold water services to both.
The cost of these important modern additions, including the purchase of the houses, amounted to over £8,000. The rent from one of them is a slight set-off against the expenditure. The other house is rent free to the Dames of St. Joan for a hostel for unmarried mothers.
Much effort was needed to raise this large sum of money, but, in various ways, was done and the whole of the important buildings belonging to St. Anne’s, Vauxhall, are free of debt.
24.3.1892             Mission of St. Anne’s Vauxhall established. The Rev. W. F. Brown was the first Rector and was assisted by the Rev. David Maloney.
The Mission formerly formed part of the parish of St. George.
Jan 1893               The new school in Harleyford Road was opened.
3.12.1901             Foundation stone of new church laid by the Bishop of Southwark – later Cardinal Bourne
31.1.1903             The new church was used for the first time.
Sept 1903            Formal opening of new church by Archbishop Bourne, now at Westminster.
6.11.1906             Consecration of High Altar by Bishop Fenton, Auxiliary of Westminster
20.3.1911             Parish Debt cleared and consecration of the Church.
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