Roman Catholic Church in Surrey

 Image: Roman Catholic Church of the Archangel Raphael, Surbiton (Surrey History Centre Ref PX/89/2)

Image: Roman Catholic Church of the Archangel Raphael, Surbiton (Surrey History Centre Ref PX/89/2)

Probably the richest source for the study of Roman Catholicism in Surrey in the 16th and 17th centuries, is the Loseley manuscripts, particularly the correspondence which includes many references to recusants (the statutory offence of not complying with and conforming to the Church of England) in Surrey (see also Victoria History of the County Of Surrey (London, 1902-1912), Vol II, pages 25-30).

References to attitudes towards Catholics in Surrey often have to be gleaned from a variety of sources. Although the Compton census of 1676 reveals only 132 Papists in Surrey, it would appear from the papers of George Benbricks Charity (Surrey History Centre Ref 6871/2/5/-) that there was still a certain amount of wariness among the population regarding Catholics. Benbrick, a Guildford feltmaker, left a will proved 12 January 1682 whereby the profits on the rental of a piece of land were to be divided among 8 needy individuals of Guildford. However, it was also stipulated in the will that no person “…who shall bee a Papist [Roman Catholic]…shall at any time receive any p[ar]te of this Charity”.

Following the Jacobite invasion of 1715 all Roman Catholics were required to register their names and real estates with the Clerk of the Peace who was to record the names in a parchment book. Although this does not seem to have survived (for Surrey), there are two documents relating to this in the Quarter Sessions papers (Surrey History Centre Ref QS6/12/-), 1717-1718.

After the Catholic Relief Act of 1791, the Clerk of the Peace had to register Roman Catholic places of worship and priests (Surrey History Centre Ref QS6/13/-) and the gradual licensing of mission chapels and churches helps to pin-point the areas of Catholic settlement within the county. See also David Robinsons The 1851 Religious Census: Surrey (Surrey Records Society 1997) for a snapshot of the state of Roman Catholicism in the 19th century.

Reactions to the various emancipation acts for Roman Catholics can often be gauged through comments made in correspondence (see for example the letters from George Capel Coningsby, 5th Earl of Essex, Surrey History Centre Ref 3677/3, and an interesting letter by Edward Sugden of Boyle Farm to Henry Drummond (1786-1860), MP for West Surrey, dated 24 Dec 1850, Surrey History Centre Ref 4629/1). Both supported the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, which, on 1 Aug 1851, became the Act to Prevent the Assumption of Certain Ecclesiastical Titles in Respect of Places in the United Kingdom. The measure was directed against the Roman Catholic church which had re-established a territorial hierarchy in Britain. Sugden moved a resolution protesting against the alleged papal aggression at a county meeting at Epsom, on 17 Dec 1850.

The most detailed account of a specific Catholic church held in Surrey History Centre can be found in The Church of St Edward King and Confessor by Dr G C Williamson and the Rev Bernard Kelly. This gives an in depth study of the oldest (consistent) place of Catholic worship in Surrey, St Edwards chapel at Sutton Place, and includes transcripts from the registers of the church from 1867 and a list of incumbents from the 18th century. There is also an account of one of the first Catholic schools in Surrey, The Firs, in Worplesdon.

Suspicion of popery and Romish practices continued throughout the 19th and well into the 20th century. Henry Peak, borough surveyor and Mayor of Guildford in the latter half of the 19th century, was an enthusiastic remembrancer, and his diaries and scrapbooks constitute a remarkable source for social and political history in Surrey. His vitriolic attack on the papacy can be found in volume A of his diaries (Surrey History Centre Ref 6517/1) on pages 52-69, and seems fairly representative of public opinion at the time. Joseph Fernandez, headmaster of the Guildford College in Quarry Street, advertised his pamphlet Popery Tottering to its Fall in 1866 in the Surrey Advertiser of 4 February 1865, a comment on the Popes encyclical letter of that year ‘…shewing what Popery has been, is, and will be to its end’.

Discrimination against Roman Catholics was not restricted to the 19th century. Surrey History Centre holds a small bundle of letters and copy letters, dating from March 1951, relating to the removal of a teacher from her post in a Church of England school in England, as she had recently converted to Catholicism (Surrey History Centre Ref 6746/8/2/7).

Probably the bulk of 20th century Catholic records Surrey History Centre holds relate to Catholic education, and consist mainly of managers’ and governors’ minutes and a few admission registers for Catholic Schools. However under the Data Protection Act (1998) these may be subject to some closures.

One fascinating collection (Surrey History Centre Ref 6990/-) serves to illustrate the tensions within the Catholic Church following the changes made by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Miss Kathleen Mary Hobbs (1904-c.1995) was a strong supporter of the Society of Saint Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in opposition to liberalising changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council , which included allowing Mass to be celebrated in local languages, instead of Latin. She ran a small college in Guildford (St Mary’s Tutorial College) for about 50 students from at least 1947 to 1988, which seems to have offered tutoring to ‘A’ level students and for the Oxbridge entrance examinations. Miss Hobbs’ intentions to set up a seminary in the area were ultimately thwarted, but the correspondence that is included within the collection does show how opinions within the Catholic church were split following the reforms by Vatican II.

The Catholic Family History Society have launched an index to the names and details of over 250,000 Catholics and their friends in England, 1680-1840, the period when Catholicism was effectively outlawed. Records of Catholics are scattered in civil record offices, in Catholic and in Anglican Church archives throughout the country hence the database is a hugely valuable resource for church, social, political, local and family historians. Included in the index are men, women and children from all walks of life, including priests and foreigners living in England. Where available there are details of age, of occupation and of location. See for more details.

The Catholic Heritage website links Catholic archives organisations around the country and beyond and is a useful means of identifying archive sources

Bibliography (all available at Surrey History Centre)

  • Charles Fitzgerald Lombard English and Welsh Priests, 1801-1914 (Downside, 1993)
  • Victoria History of the County Of Surrey 4 vols (London, 1902-1912)
  • Cliff Webb & D Robinson The 1851 religious census: Surrey (Surrey Record Society, 1997)
  • Michael C Questier Catholicism and community in early modern England: politics, aristocratic patronage and religion, c.1550-1640 (CUP 2006)
  • Hugh Bowler Recusant roll No.2 (1593-1594): an abstract in English Series (Catholic Record Society publications, Vol 57, 1965)
  • Hugh Bowler Recusant roll No.3 (1594-1595) and recusant roll No.4 (1595-1596): an abstract in English (Catholic Record Society Vol 61, 1970)
  • Michael Gandy Catholic family history: a bibliography of general sources (M Gandy, 1996)
  • Michael Gandy Pocket guides to family history: Catholic records (Public Record Office, 2001)

3 thoughts on “Roman Catholic Church in Surrey”

  1. Diane Maxfield says:

    I worked for Miss Hobbs as her secretary from January 1978 to April 1981 and again from April 1983 to June 1986. She died in June 1998, a few days short of her 94th birthday. The college continued until, I guess, the end of the academic year in 1988. St Marys Tutorial College offered tuition in the old-style ‘O’ levels, ‘A’ levels and the Oxford and Cambridge entrance exams. Students were mostly entered for examinations in the old Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations board, because Miss Hobbs was an Oxford graduate. Miss Hobbs always said she hoped “the good Lord would take her, just like that, … ” when she was 94. I sometimes used to help set up the chapel. She had acquired some very lovely vestments and other items over the years.

    1. Richard Doubtfire says:

      I was a student of Miss Hobbs around 1984 and popped in to see her at her home, although by then her memory had gone. Did she have any family? I once stayed for a little time when she did boarding and every evening dinner with her was an education in itself.

  2. Mary j Peto says:

    My father Alexander Stanislaw Tenderowicz was living in Woking sometime during WW2. I have mislaid his Polish papers for staying in England and know very little about his life in the army. He was a Roman Catholic. Please can you help me.

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