Our 'Old' Lady

©Geoff Wilkinson©Geoff Wilkinson

Our Lady of Lourdes Wanstead was opened in October 1928. As the local Catholic community celebrates the church's 90th anniversary, parishioner Maureen Brazier takes a look at the history of the Cambridge Park venue. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson.

In the early 1900s, Wanstead was a village with a small population in rural Essex, remaining so until the 1920s. However, with the building of the railways, the population of the Walthamstow and Leytonstone areas greatly increased, which impacted on Wanstead.

It is against this background that the recorded history of the Wanstead Catholic community goes further back than the building of the present church. Fr William O'Grady, the parish priest of St George's in Walthamstow, opened a mission in Wanstead after buying a small brick building seating about 100 worshippers in Hall Road, the present Gardner Close Estate. He celebrated the first mass in Wanstead since the Reformation there on Christmas Day 1910, with mass continuing there until 1918. Subsequently, Fr O'Grady invited the Sisters of Mercy to Wanstead in December 1917 and they opened their convent at 57 Cambridge Park with the outbuildings being converted into a temporary church. However, this soon became too small to accommodate the increasing numbers.

The first parish priest, Fr Basil Booker, who had been a chaplain in the First World War, was appointed in 1919 and the urgency for a permanent church was already apparent. Money was needed, and with generous donors and fundraising, he purchased a market garden in Cambridge Park for this purpose. Geoffrey Raymond of Scoles & Raymond was appointed as the architect, and building started in the spring of 1927 with the blessing of the foundation stone by Arthur Doubleday, the Bishop of Brentwood, in July that year. The centre aisle was soon completed and the church, dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, was opened on 14 October 1928. The east aisle was opened in 1934 and the west aisle in 1940, thus completing the structure of the church as seen today, at a total cost of £17,203.

There have been only four parish priests, with each incumbent making changes. Canon Hemming (in office 1952–1970) built Our Lady of Lourdes School and Monsignor Creede (1970–2000) changed the orientation of the altar to face the congregation. The present parish priest, Canon Sammon, with advice from the Parish Pastoral Council, made an application to Redbridge Council to build a much-needed and longed-for Parish Pastoral Centre. The proposed design was in keeping with the appearance of the church, being mainly of brick similar in colour to the existing structure. The Grotto of Our Lady and St Bernadette was subsequently re-sited to the western side of the church. With local authority permission received, construction commenced in the autumn of 2001, opening 10 months later. This was followed by the complete changing of the interior of the church, reflecting the vision of the 1960s Vatican Council, with the original work of many well-known sculptors and artists to be seen in the church today.

Today, both church and pastoral centre stand on Cambridge Park, a testament to our doughty, faith-filled forebears and the 100 worshippers in the Mission Chapel in 1910. With the increased Wanstead population being reflected in today's Sunday masses, there is now an average attendance of 1,600.

Our Lady of Lourdes Church is located at 51 Cambridge Park, Wanstead. For more information, call 020 8989 2074 or visit ourladyoflourdeswanstead.com

A newly written History of the Parish will be available from the parish office in late October.

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