St Peters Gloucester

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After the Reformation, the practice of the Faith became more and more difficult, mainly because there were few priests. Amongst the gentry, there were a few families in the County who clung to the Faith in spite of fines and imprisonment. When priests visited these families, the Catholics of the surrounding area were able to hear Mass and receive the Sacraments. For two hundred years or more there was no resident priest in the City.

In 1788, Abbe Gildart came to Gloucester. He was able to do so as the result of a generous gift of - 1,000 from Miss Mary Webb for the establishment of a Catholic Mission in the City. It is likely that the Abbe Gildart ministered from premises in Berkeley Street. Ill health caused him to resign and he was succeeded for a short time by Fr. John Jones. In 1790 Fr. John Greenaway was appointed to Gloucester and he also served the Catholics of Cheltenham. It was Fr. Greenaway who bought the land in London Road and who had the first public Catholic chapel erected there. It was described as: "a small building, situated in a garden behind a house in London Road". The chapel 'Was dedicated to St. Peter ad vincula. Fr. Greenaway died in 1800 and was buried in his chapel. He was succeeded briefly again by Fr. Jones, and then in 1804 by Abbe Duchemin.

By 1813 the Catholic population in Gloucester was 40: there were no more than five missions throughout the whole of Gloucestershire. Hartpury had a community of Dominican Nuns (forced to leave the Continent and sheltered by the Canning family); Cheltenham had few Catholics whilst Beckford claimed 50. In 1816, Abbe Duchemin was succeeded by Abbe Giraud, who remained until his death in 1825. In considering the number of Catholics in the City at this time it should be remembered that in 1801 the total population of the City was just over 8,000. Abbe Giraud was followed first by Fr. John Burke and then in 1828 by Abbe Josse who remained at Gloucester until he died in 1841. Both Abbe Giraud and Abbe Josse are buried in St. John's Churchyard (St. John's Lane). It was Abbe Josse who opened a school to meet the needs of the children in the parish. By 1840 the number of Catholics had grown to 250 and the City's population was also expanding. In 1851, it was over 17,000.

The next Parish Priest was Fr. Peter Hartley. He worked quietly and diligently for six years and died in 1847 from an illness contracted while attending a sick parishioner in "the fever dens of Gloucester". He, too, was buried in St. John's Churchyard. Four priests followed Fr. Hartley in quick succession. These were Frs. Henry Godwin, Michael Carroll, Thomas McDonnell and Henry Jones.

The period 1850 to 1876 marked a dramatic development in the life and growth of the City, owing to the advent of railways. The same period was to mark development for the slowly increasing Catholic community also. In 1850, the year of the restoration of the Hierarchy, Fr. Leonard Calderbank became Parish Priest of St. Peter's. His first care was for the children. He moved the little private school from a room over the Sacristy to larger premises in Northgate Street. Later he gave up part of his garden as a site for a new school. In 1859, with the aid of a generous gift of £1,000 from Miss Frances Canning of Hartpury, he began the building of St. Peter's Church. He completed the sanctuary, the altar, the side chapels and four bays of the nave. Miss Canning also presented the pulpit and added to the stock of sacred vessels and vestments. The association of the Canning family with St. Peter's which began in the second half of the eighteenth century was to continue until the middle of this century and ended with the death of Mrs. Gwynne Holford (nee Canning).

Canon Calderbank died in 1864 and was buried in Gloucester Cemetery. He was succeeded by Dr. George Case but for a brief interim period, the Bishop of Clifton, Dr. Clifford himself came to Gloucester to look after the parish. Dr. Case immediately set about completing the church. The old Presbytery was pulled down and the nave of the church extended to the street. Dr. Case also built the tower and crowned it with the spire. A new sacristy was added, also the baptistry. The sanctuary was redesigned and the arches and pillars added. To complete the work, the floor was re-tiled, new seating supplied and the organ erected. (The latter was replaced in 1937 and the seating in 1964).

On October 8th, 1868, the church was solemnly consecrated by the Bishop of Clifton, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Clifford.

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