St Wilfrids History
In 1599, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, James Thatcher of Priesthawes, a Catholic in the parish of Westham, Sussex, obtained an interest in the manor of Michelham Priory. This included an area of 24 acres which was bequeathed to the church by his son, John, who died in 1649. James Thatcher had also concealed within his will and in instructions issued to his executors prior to his death the establishment of a charity called the Triple Trust, which managed his affairs and continued into the 20th century. At a time when Catholics were not permitted to own property he was thus able to protect the ownership of this land, part of which is the plot on which were built, in succession, our 3 churches and the Priest’s House.
- 1778 The first Catholic Relief Act was passed – cancelling the persecution of clergy and allowing Catholics to inherit and purchase land.
- 1791 The second Catholic Relief Act legalised the Mass, Catholic chapels and schools and re-opened the professions of law and medicine to Catholics.
- 1798 A Catholic Mission was established in Brighton under Fr. William Barnes, with the help of Mrs. Fitzherbert, the morganic wife of the Prince Regent, later George IV (neither she nor any children from this union would benefit from titles, etc accorded to royalty). This was the first permanent centre for the celebration of Mass since the closure of Firle Place and Battle Abbey
- 1829 The Catholic Emancipation Act enabled Catholics to enter Parliament.
- 1850 The English Hierarchy was restored by Pope Pius 1X – the so-called Papal aggression.
- 1851 The new Diocese of Southwark was created comprising London south of the Thames, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Berkshire and the Channel Islands. The administrator for the time being was Cardinal Wiseman,Archbishop of Westminster. On July 6th the RT. Rev. Thomas Grant was consecrated as the first Bishop of Southwark and Hailsham was under his jurisdiction. The Catholic faith slowly revived but at the end of the 19th century there were only 3 known Catholics in the Hailsham area.
- 1904 The first recorded Catholic family to move into Hailsham were named Pelling (the husband was not a Catholic). A son William, one of four sons and two daughters, was born in 1904.
- 1915 Mrs. Florence Livesey who had moved from the French convent in Newhaven succeeded in obtaining permission from Bishop Amigo for mass to be celebrated in her home, a room holding five or six people, but also offered her garage as a chapel if the landlord would agree. The Bishop noted that there was 'no hope of founding a Mission at Hailsham’. Fr. Lynch offered the first Mass with four persons attending and said he would come once a quarter. Eleven people attended the second Mass on 27th October and Fr. Lynch promised a mass every two months. The third mass on14th December was attended by eight people. New members were Mrs. and Masters Fairchild. By now an altar stone and other necessary requisites had been donated and a shelved fixed for an altar.
- 1916 In succeeding masses the congregation continue to grow. Altar linen and a gold vestment were donated by the Rev. J. Upton. Fr. Bertram McFadden, a visiting priest recovering from a road accident, had been introduced by Mr. Read-Lewis. Fr. McFadden promised to say two Lenten Masses. At the first Mass on 2nd April the epistle and gospel were read in English for the first time. The second Mass on 9th April had a congregation of 13 and three Pelling children attended for the first time. The mass on 29th April was the occasion for the First Communion of Master Leo Fairchild. The Rev. Mother from the Sacred Heart Convent in Roehampton presented an amice and alb.
- 1917 Nurse Lilian Thompson, who became Sister Assumption of the Esperance Convent in Eastbourne, was on the staff of Hellingly Hospital for six years. She remembers attending Mass at Upper Dicker for the first time on the first Saturday of February, 1917. The last Mass celebrated in Upper Dicker was on 27th May, 1917.
(Excerpts from ‘ST. WILFRID’S, HAILSHAM,’ by Rev. L. E. Whatmore, MA, F.R. HIST.S.)