Our Lady of England


For some four centuries after the 16th Century Reformation Catholics in England and Wales were barred from public office and other spheres of influence.

It was only in 1829 that restraints on Catholics were relaxed in large measure.  The Emancipation Act of 1829 for the first time permitted Catholics to be elected as Members of Parliament and to enter other public offices.  Since that time a Roman Catholic diocesan hierarchy of Bishops has been permitted, which was formally set in place following a papal bull by Pope Pius IX, dated 29 September 1850.

For the four centuries after the English Reformation, the dominant Christian denomination in England was the established Church of England, whose Sunday religious services everyone for many decades was obliged to attend.  Over time other Christian groupings emerged which, apart from Catholics, were often collectively referred to as Dissenters, particularly after the Act of Uniformity of 1662, which required Anglican ordination for all clergy. This act was passed following the restoration of the English monarchy and the return to England of Charles II as king.

In populous towns throughout the country, in the course of time there was always bound to be a mix of different religious points of view, either expressed openly or quietly practised.  But in rural areas there would be many places where the only religion practised would be related to the local ecclesiastical building, namely the Anglican Parish Church – whether this was a pre-Reformation Catholic building (which had become Church of England property) or a newly built Anglican structure.

As to the history of the hamlet and later village of Storrington, as a starting point it is worth recording that it featured in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book of 1068-87, compiled as a record of property, for taxation and other purposes.  At that time Storrington was a small hamlet/village and remained so during the succeeding eight centuries.  Nevertheless, Storrington, like so many villages in Sussex, had and continues to have a substantial ancient Anglican parish church, served by an incumbent living locally.

Over the centuries the population of Storrington reflected only a gradual increase in numbers, that is until the second half of the 20th Century, as shown in the following extract of census figures:

Year  Number of peopleComment
1801  846 
18911293Decline in numbers – possibly caused by drift of population
19011016to nearby villages and towns with railway stations
20016074Combined merged Civil Parish of Storrington & Sullington

In 1861 there would have been people living in Storrington with other than Anglican religious allegiances but I have not found any hard evidence of any Catholics living in the village at that time.  However, this was to change over the following decades, as this affectionate recounting of our Catholic history is intended to reflect.

Our Lady of England Church and Priory buildings

The Norbertines come to Storrington

In France, following the ending of the reign of Napoleon III as Emperor in 1870, his subsequent death in 1873 and the country’s defeat by the Prussians, a new Third Republic constitution was adopted in 1875.  One of the consequences of all these events was an anti-religious sentiment under the influence of which the French Government decreed that many religious houses should be closed.

One of the religious houses to suffer the fate of closure was the Abbey of St Michele de Frigolet.  It was a monastery belonging to the order of the Canons Regular of Prémontré (also known as the Norbertines, White Canons or Premonstratensians), located in the Lower Rhone Valley. They had originally been founded in 1121 when the first community settled at Prémontré, 12 miles west of Laon in the northern French department of Aisne. (For those readers interested in a background history of the Norbertines throughout medieval Europe, a footnote has been included at the end of this chapter.)

After many hardships, five of the evicted Fathers from Frigolet left France and landed at Newhaven in February 1882.  They then proceeded to make their way to Storrington, where the Duke of Norfolk, a prominent Catholic, had arranged asylum for them, following pleas from the exiled Empress Eugenie of France and others.  (The Dukes of Norfolk up until 1567 had owned the Lordship of Storrington, at which time it was alienated to John Apsley, Esquire of Thakeham.  However, in 1879 the Lordship was restored to the Duke’s family).

Initially the fathers temporarily stayed at “Sand Lodge” (the second house up on the east side of School Hill, Storrington) until more suitable accommodation became available.  Before long they moved to buildings on land bordering the road now known as Monastery Lane.  These premises until then had been rented by a tenant farmer, George Battock whose own father (William Battock) farmed at nearby Spierbridge.  Subsequently the Duke transferred the ownership of the land, collection of buildings and other adjacent land to the Norbertines, following which they constructed further domestic outbuildings and workshops.

The Norbertine Canons named their site Our Lady of England Priory. The choice of name reflected their desire to establish a pilgrimage centre there, honouring the mother of Jesus, a patronage greatly favoured in England before the English Reformation.  They succeeded with the pilgrimage concept and by the late 1960s coach loads of pilgrims would arrive for a day out, augmented by spiritual devotions organised by the Norbertines.  The crowds of visitors are still well remembered by some of the older parishioners of Storrington.  (Two prints of early photographs of the masses of pilgrims appear in the following pages).

In accordance with the Norbertine structure of their order of religious priests and brothers, their Storrington buildings were duly categorised as a “Priory” with a “Priory Church”.  However, in common parlance in Storrington, their establishment has often been called by the more general term of Monastery.  That is why the road leading up to their premises from the centre of the village was renamed Monastery Lane.

By 1885 the number of Canons in Storrington had increased from five to fourteen, who then turned their attention to generating an income to enable them to finance the building of more permanent and appropriate accommodation.

At first the Fathers tried wine-making which proved to be a failure, so they turned their attention to other more successful activities including chocolate making and printing. 

East frontage of Priory – with Fr Paul’s extended and improved ground level structures

The calling of Premonstratensian Canons is, amongst other things, to serve the spiritual needs of local people in the countryside, villages and towns.  This therefore led to the Storrington Norbertine community’s desire to build a substantial church for the local Catholic community, as well as for meeting their own needs for reciting and singing their daily office of prayers, psalms and meeting other spiritual needs.

Over time the Norbertines finances improved to such an extent that by 1902 they felt confident enough to arrange for the laying of a foundation stone for an ambitious church building.  The stone was duly laid on their behalf by Cardinal Bourne, the Catholic Bishop of Southwark.  Ultimately the church building was completed, in its original form, in 1909.

The term prior, in its religious context, originates from the concept of being first among equals, with the prior normally being chosen for a fixed period (typically six years) by a vote of the members of the priory involved.  The first prior of the Storrington community of Norbertines was the scholarly Fr Francis Rieux, who served successively as prior for 18 years, in total.  He was succeeded as prior in 1912 by Fr Francis Laborde, under whose guidance much of the remaining necessary building work of the priory was completed, well before his death in 1930.  He was one of the original Frigolet pioneers of the priory, fired by zeal and self sacrifice.

For the first thirty years of its existence overall responsibility for the priory remained with priests originating from Frigolet but as a consequence of the First World War of 1914-18, Frigolet had its own needs and this resulted in some of the fathers from Storrington returning to Frigolet, such that by 1940 when the last Storrington resident Frigolet father died, there was a supply need for Storrington.  This need was met initially on a temporary basis from other European continental Norbertine communities, who provided priests as caretakers.

During this period of absence of a permanent Norbertine community in Storrington, the buildings were used to house British Army units, particularly in the later years of the Second World War.  During the army’s occupation the lack of maintenance of the buildings resulted in the need for considerable restoration of the premises before being re-occupied by the community, not least of all because of a growing problem with woodworm.  However, on the 21st of August 1952 the priory was officially re-opened by the Abbot of Tongerlo, under whose Belgian jurisdiction Storrington was adopted in those early post-war years.

The new prior of Storrington was Fr Felim Colwell, who proceeded to purchase further properties for the community, including a farm of 35 acres on land close by, Gerston Farm in Greyfriars Lane.

By 1962 the community had progressed to such an extent that the priory was raised in status by the Sacred Congregation of Religious in Rome to that of an “Independent House”, under their prior, Father Joseph Neill.  Since then the English Norbertines have been involved in establishing other priories in England or undertaken the care of other parishes from time to time, particularly in Manchester, North Yorkshire, Spalding, Crowle, Brighton and Chelmsford.

In Norbertine priories involving the running of a parish the prior, in appointing particular roles to his confreres, could decide to appoint someone other than himself as the Parish Priest, dedicated to serving the needs of the lay community.  In the case of Storrington the parish embraces those living in the surrounding villages and hamlets of West Chiltington, Ashington, Thakeham, Washington, Sullington and from time to time Greatham, Amberley, Houghton and in some instances the needs of people living further away but who choose to come to Storrington for Mass.

Pilgrim visitors to the Our Lady of England shrine

Crowds of pilgrims at Our Lady of England shrine

In the accompanying Appendices to this book I have included separate lists of the names of the priors over the years and the names of those carrying out the function of parish priest. From the listings it will be seen that one person in particular had a long uninterrupted period as parish priest, namely Fr Kevin Cassidy. Below is a little cameo of his life in Storrington followed by that of four other prominent members of the order of  recent times.

Father Kevin Cassidy

The role of a Prior of a Norbertine community is to be first among equals, in managing and looking after the spiritual welfare of the members of the Priory community and organising the individual roles of its members, the functions of the community locally as well as sometimes its wider involvements.

One of the members of the Storrington community for many decades was Father Kevin Cassidy, the name by which he was widely known throughout Storrington.  He was never elected as prior of the community but had a pivotal role appointed by successive priors as Parish Priest, looking after the spiritual life of the Catholic lay community of Storrington and district, in total for 38 years.

He was first appointed Parish Priest in 1952, ultimately retiring from that role in 1990 but remained with the priory community until his death in 2003.  He was buried in the Catholic parish cemetery.

Father Cassidy was born in County Cavan in Ireland, was trained as a priest in the Norbertine community at Tongerlo in Belgium and came to Storrington in 1947.  He was a people-person well known throughout the village, taking daily walks down to the High Street, talking to all and everyone who would care to have a chat with him.  As a mark of regard and respect for him in the village, a road was named after him, Cassidy Place, off Newtown Road.

Father George Joye

Father Joye had successive terms of office as prior (1971-1986), during which he encouraged the creation of a Norbertine “Third Order” of parishioner helpers.  He also oversaw the development of Gerston Farm which at that time was owned by the priory, into a more economic unit.

The farm buildings were converted for the raising of calves for a short time in their lives, for the purposes of being sold-on for processing by the veal industry, particularly that on the Continent.  The whole process was managed and run by the likeable and capable couple placed in charge of the farm, Luigi Ruggiero and his wife Nora.

Having run the project for the raising of veal cattle for a number of years, the farm suddenly became the focus of violent protests from animal rights organisations who objected to the confining of calves to farm buildings on a milk diet. Ultimately Fr Joye decided that the veal cattle project should be closed down, as the protesters were causing such disruption in the district, to church services and church life in general as to make the veal farming project untenable.

Father Andrew Smith

Father Andrew, within a short time of his election as prior, broke with what had become something of a tradition in Storrington insofar as he appointed himself as Parish Priest.  In the course of time the parish would become greatly indebted to him, as he infused great life into all that he did, including opening up the use of the ground floor of the priory premises to the parishioners, whereas previously it had been very much “out of bounds”.

The life of the parish blossomed, not least of all with more social and formal functions, aided by an active parish church council under strong leadership. The priory community fully took part, including allowing the use of the priory kitchen, the large dining room, the library (which happened to house a full sized snooker table which became well used by older members of the parish on a regular basis), plus availability of rooms and offices for private consultation by way of spiritual and other guidance.

Father Andrew’s up-front personality exerted considerable influence in encouraging the active life of the Parish both spiritually and socially.  It was not beyond him to bring in fireworks to celebrate the occasion after the completion of the Easter Vigil protracted service, nor was it beyond him on occasions to celebrate events with a fair measure of alcoholic refreshment.

It was he who drove the Renew project very successfully leading to the creation of a number of religious discussion groups, in accordance with a programme instituted at diocesan level, by the Bishop of Arundel & Brighton, Cormac Murphy O’Connor. (Bishop Cormac later became the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, head of the Catholic hierarchy of England & Wales.). 

Father Andrew was open to adopting laity led parish initiatives. These included specialist prayer groups, Alpha courses with café evenings and an occasional Sunday Mass with guitars.  He also acceded to the suggestion of employing a local builder (John Wolfe) to install a lightweight rope controlled gantry system (still in place) for the hanging of liturgical drapes and symbols.  The drapes and symbols were prepared by a group of enthusiastic ladies of the parish seasonally, particularly for Christmas and Pentecost.  Another parishioner-inspired initiative to which he agreed was the recording on audio tape of the Sunday 10 am sung Mass for the benefit of the house and hospital bound parishioners, who desired to listen to a weekly (tape) delivery, thereby enriching their involvement with the parish.

In 1994/1995 Father Andrew (with expert guidance and help from a parishioner, Philip Orpwood and others) embarked on an ambitious project to re-order and improve a number of aspects of the church building itself.   He trebled the size of the entrance porch so that it became a very functional vestibule; he removed the old altar and brought in a simple (recycled) stone altar which was placed in the middle of the sanctuary area; he removed the parallel choir stalls from their original position and had them reconstructed to be attached to the apsidal walling of the sanctuary area with a further parallel line of seating inside and below that arrangement; the side chapel was extended (which at a later date Fr Paul improved with etched plate glass between the pillars on the nave side of the chapel). 

These changes to the building were a considerable improvement on the appearance and functionality of the church, which is evident when comparing old and new photographs. These works were largely carried out by the parishes gifted handyman, Luigi Ruggiero and his Italian builder friends.

Father Andrew was also keen to enhance and develop the music side of the parish’s church liturgy, which was a separate function from the Norbertines’ sung daily office.  In the early days the public worship music had been led by Miss Vesey conducting the congregation, after whom by Leo Carroll organised a small music group, singing the psalms himself. 

Ultimately when Father Paul MacMahon became a full member of the priory community he had a strong hand in leading the music group.  The parish was also very fortunate in having

the services of Mary Sherlock as organist and later as the driving force and inspiration behind the “music group” – a term that she preferred, as the purpose of the group was and continues to be to encourage full parish participation in the sung liturgy, rather than leaving it mainly to the parish priest and a choir.  This tradition continues to the present day even though personalities have necessarily changed to some extent with the passage of time.

During Fr Andrew’s time as prior, Colin Bailey and his musical family, well supported by other accomplished individuals in the parish set in train well organised and enjoyable musical evenings, which continued until relatively recent times.  Things on this score came to an end with  the sad death of Colin in January 2019 and thereafter parish life became further subdued by the restrictions imposed country-wide to cope with the Covid -19 Pandemic, which started in March 2019.

Father Paul MacMahon

During the time of Father Paul’s influence on the parish’s sung liturgy his enthusiasm was such that he commissioned a well known American religious composer, Marty Haugan, to create a work for our parish.  Although Marty came from a Lutheran background, he was a gifted musician with a great facility for adapting his compositions to the traditions of the various religious groups for whom he was asked to compose.

The “Storrington Mass” was composed by Marty initially in draft form, after which he visited Storrington to rehearse and discuss the music group’s thoughts on the composition, in the light of which the work was “fine tuned” and published for the Parish’s use and subsequently for its wider ongoing use, internationally.

In the fullness of time Father Paul was elected prior and continued with Fr Andrew’s open house approach to the parish’s occasional use of the ground floor of the priory premises.  Furthermore, he enhanced the premises and revived the idea of a Norbertine Third Order.

Fr Paul was responsible for removing the wooden ground floor building extension which had served as a dining room, replacing it with a new brick-built structure which blended in with the east front of the building.  He also arranged for the adjacent patio to be enhanced and for the installation of an open veranda frontage with a lean-to tiled roof with glass roof-light windows.  It was at this point that Fr Paul arranged for the side chapel to be sealed off with plate-glass etched windows between the pillars and walling on the side facing the nave.

Additionally, Fr Paul and two parishioners were instrumental in converting the sheep grazing field to the south of the Priory buildings for other purposes.  It was planted out with a great variety of trees to become a quiet retreat area, open to the public.  To this was added the statue of Our Lady which had acted as a focus for outdoor gatherings of pilgrims in the open area opposite the entrance porch to the church.  The statue was sand blasted and treated for preservation purposes and placed at a high point in the field near to where open air Masses were to take place, particularly during the time of Covid restrictions in 2000/2021.

This field is now known as Matt’s field and lies along the south side of School Lane.  Apart from its use by the public, it continues to be used from time to time for open air Masses.  One of the parishioners involved in the conversion project was Philip Orpwood who over the years has provided considerable help to the community with regard to planning, design and property matters.  The other parishioner involved was the mother of Matt, who died prematurely, in whose memory the field was named.

Father Paul further developed another field lying to the south of Matt’s Wood into a small-scale vineyard which, with the help of parishioners and professional processors, which produced high quality sparkling white wine and a limited quantity of red wine.  The first harvest from the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes was in 2009 but this field has been sold on now to the owners of St Joseph’s Hall and continues as part of Wiston’s wine production process.

Father Dominic Kirkham

Father Dominic Kirkham was a member of the Storrington Norbertines for some twelve years in the 1970s and 1980s who, in addition to his function as one of the priests of the community, was also a teacher for a time at the local private St Joseph’s Convent school.

Whilst in Storrington Fr Dominic had time to reflect on many issues relating to the Catholic Church, not least of all the life and treatment by the Catholic Church of Father George Tyrrell, who in the course of time was treated as an outcast by the church because of his “Modernist” views.  This isexplained in more detail under the heading of Father George Tyrrell in the chapter entitled “Catholic Residents and Visitors – worthy of note”.

After some twelve years in Storrington Fr Dominic decided to leave the Storrington Norbertines and join the Norbertine community in his native Manchester, following which, in time, he took the opportunity to care for his father in the final years of his life.  In Manchester Fr Dominic became immersed in ecumenical projects, including a home improvement agency which provides services for older people, for whom it carries out household repairs and the running of DIY courses.

With an active mind and the views he espoused close to those of the “Modernist” George Tyrrell, Fr Dominic has become a frequently published letter writer in the highly respected The Tablet magazine, a Catholic weekly periodical with a heritage going back over 180 years to its first issue on 16th May 1840.

Dominic has had an increasing interest in the Sea of Faith network (SOF), who invited him to write a book setting out his views on religion in a book published in 2015 entitled “From Monk to Modernity”.  In the Preface to the book Dominic has set out in some detail his life’s journey so far.

Dominic’s most recent book is entitled Horror & Hope, which was published in 2021.


For many readers not living in Storrington, the name of the Norbertines or the Premonstratensian order of monks may be something relatively new or largely unknown to them, compared to their awareness of other monastic institutions which also have a long and distinguished past in medieval Europe.  For those wishing at this stage to put the Norbertines’ history in context I have included below a few paragraphs by way of an additional footnote.

Brief history of the significant role of the Norbertines in medieval Europe.

Although originating from Gennep near Cologne in Germany, St Norbert in 1121 founded at Prémontré, near Lyon in France the order of Canons Regular of Prémontré, following the Rule of St Augustine.  The concept was for the order to be eclectic in its objectives rather than being limited by specialisms – compared with the objectives of other religious orders over time, for example, the Benedictines became noted for learning, the Dominicans preaching, the Franciscans care of the poor, the Carthusians solitude, the Carmelites contemplation and asceticism, the Capuchins poverty, the Trappists agriculture, the Jesuits education.

The Norbertines first came to England in 1147 and in a relatively short time had founded over thirty religious houses, adding a further ten by the time of the English Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. The distribution of Norbertine abbeys and priories ranged from Alnwick in Northumberland to Titchfield in Hampshire and Torre in Devon, serving the needs of some 150 parishes. 

The range of Norbertine involvements was considerable, which included members working for the reigning monarch (England’s Treasurer in 1264 was a Norbertine) or being placed in charge of projects, such as the re-building of the medieval castle of Portchester, Fareham, Hampshire.

There has only ever been one Englishman who became pope – he was a Norbertine, Adrian IV (1154-1159).

Priory Cloister

The Norbertines leave Storrington and the Chemin Neuf Community arrives

In the course of time, some of the Norbertine fathers of Storrington opted to move to parishes in Manchester and Yorkshire, such that the numbers remaining became so diminished that a decision was taken to close down the community in Storrington, as it no longer had the quorum to be a viable religious community.  It was in 2012 that the community finally left the premises, with the remaining priests moving to their new priory in Muston, Filey in North Yorkshire where they looked after the local parish. 

Meanwhile, in our parish after short term efforts by the Norbertines of Chelmsford to become involved in the running of matters in Storrington were abandoned, arrangements were agreed for another religious organisation to be granted a 50 year lease at a peppercorn rent of the Storrington premises.  In doing so they were given a permit to sublet the church and the use of the priory’s hall to the Diocese of Arundel & Brighton on a 10 year renewable sub-lease.

The religious organisation that took up the 50 year lease was the Chemin Neuf Community, who took advantage of the permit to sub-let use of the church to the diocese.  (The cemetery was also informally put under the care of the diocese.)

The Chemin Neuf Community moved in to the priory in August 2013 and was soon well established with a resident team, comprising male and female members from a wide range of nationalities and Christian persuasions. The members of the resident community alter from time to time in accordance with the order’s philosophy and as the needs of their work and staffing throughout the world change.  The order maintains its independence from the running of the parish but participates from time to time in local activities and indeed sometimes organises religious events for the benefit of the parish and others.

Chemin Neuf, in addition to its occupation of the priory, in 2014 acquired the ongoing use of another religious house, namely Sclerder Abbey, in Cornwall.  It also runs the Catholic parish of Christ the King at Cockfosters, London and also has members in residence at Lambeth Palace at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Brief historical note :The Chemin Neuf Community was founded in France in 1973 (based at 49 Montee du Chemin Neuf, Lyon), from a charismatic prayer group, whose main founder was a Jesuit priest, Father Laurent Fabre.  By early 2022 the membership of the order throughout the world stood at 2000 permanent members in 30 countries, with 12,000 people serving in the Chemin Neuf’s missions.

Parish Life after the departure of the Norbertines

With the departure of the Norbertines from Storrington and a period of caretaker priests, arrangements proceeded for the diocese of Arundel & Brighton to take over responsibility for the church building on a 10 year renewable sub-lease and for the running of parish life in Storrington.  In due course Father Charles Howell was formally inducted as parish priest on 24 September 2013 much to the joy and relief of parishioners, who had patiently accepted the time that it took to implement the change of religious administration and the intervening temporary appointment of successive caretaker priests to run the parish.

During the period of transition, the parish’s lay based activities were a great source of continuing strength for morale.  Those involved included participants involved in the St Vincent de Paul Society (having concern for the housebound and those in need), parish welcoming, church cleaning, gardening, flower arranging, church music, children’s liturgy, ecumenical and financial matters, religious discussion and prayer groups, amongst many other activities.

With Father Charles having been warmly welcomed by the parish, it soon recognised his many talents, including his gifts as our service celebrant and in leading the sung liturgy.

In the course of his time with us so far, Father Charles has written at least two sung Mass compositions much to the benefit of the parish and also for wider publication.  The new Masses are greatly appreciated by all and have therefore been well used by the music group in making selections for the parish’s sung services.  The choice of music is naturally varied to meet the changing liturgical seasons of the year and frequently features Father Charles’ Kithurst Mass (Copyright 2014) and his Four Part Responsorial Mass (Copyright 2016).

During the process of the parish getting back to a degree of normality, the first setback the music group and parish experienced and was greatly saddened bywas the death in August 2016 of its much loved organist/pianist and lead-organiser of music, Mary Sherlock.

Following Mary’s passing, the parish was exceedingly fortunate in that her daughter, Theresa Byrne, came forward and took over her mother’s role as organist/pianist and catalyst with others in the choice of music.  Theresa was already a long term member of the Music Group and being a former school teacher with music qualifications, was the perfect successor to her mother.

Theresa has been and continues to be keen on increasing the parish’s range and variety of music and her desire for harmonised parts has been greatly helped by the fact that many of the music group’s members are gifted singers, well versed in reading sheet music.  As well as the organ and piano music accompaniment provided by Theresa, the music group is supported by a flautist who adds further colour to the liturgy.

The second major setback was the arrival of the Covid -19 Pandemic in 2020, as a result of which parish life became greatly restricted and subdued, especially whilst the church premises remained closed.  Nevertheless, whenever possible, open air Sunday gatherings took place in Matt’s Wood near to the statue of Our Lady.  Mass was said at a temporary altar under a tented canopy, with many of the congregation bringing along folding-chairs for comfort.  Fortunately the weather on nearly every occasion was free from rain, albeit somewhat crisp and cold in the Winter months.  The number of parishioners willing and able to attend was a hard core in the region of 40/60 people, who enjoyed the experience!

From 2022, with the pandemic more under control, use of the church premises returned on a cautious basis, with mask wearing, hand sanitising liquid and other sterilising products much in evidence.

Priory : Printing Workshop

 Prominent Catholic Residents and Visitors

In the early years of the Norbertines’ care of the Catholic parish of Storrington and its surrounding district, they kept a strict separation of their priory life and the use of their premises from that of the laity.  However, on occasions they would break with this isolation policy in response to the needs and desires of particular individuals when deserving circumstances arose.

Francis Thompson 1859-1907

In 1889, the poet, writer and Catholic mystic Francis Thompson, at the age of 29 years had become a near hopeless drug addict, living alone in London, where earlier he had been committed to hospital for private treatment.  Following his discharge, the Catholic propagandist and publisher Wilfrid Meynell, who knew Francis as a writer and had published some of his work, was of the opinion that although Francis was said to be cured of his addiction, he was physically weak, mentally depressed and would benefit from a long period of convalescence.

Wilfrid knew the Storrington Norbertine community and decided to ask the monks if they would be prepared to allow Francis to stay with them as a guest to aid his convalescence.

The Meynells were convinced that a prolonged stay in the peace and tranquility of the Sussex countryside would work wonders for Francis’ recuperation and to this proposal the monks agreed.

The result was that Francis stayed in Storrington for over a year during 1889-1890, which led to the release by him of a pent up flood of poetry and essays, whilst living at the Priory and roaming the countryside.  This outpouring included his poems “Ode to the Setting Sun” (inspired by itinerant musicians playing in the High Street under the setting sun), “The Song of Hours” and “Daisy” (in which he recalls his meeting with a child when walking on the South Downs).

Following his departure from the priory’s hospitality, Francis continued to receive the support, help and friendship of Wilfrid and his wife Alice Meynell throughout the remaining years of his life.

Francis died in 1907 of tuberculosis and is buried in the Catholic cemetery at Kensal Green, London.

Hilaire Belloc 1870-1953

Another writer and poet who found solace by staying at the Priory, particularly in and around the early part of the 20th Century and especially in 1906, was Joseph Hilaire Pierre Rene Belloc.

Although born in France, Hilaire Belloc was brought up in nearby Slindon and later became part of the “Catholic Literary Revival”.  He spent most of his life in West Sussex which he regarded as the “Crown of England”, particularly loving the South Downs.

In 1906 Hilaire bought Shipley Mill as a home in which to live.  He arranged for the mill to continue to operate commercially, using the services of the former miller, Ernest Powell.  By 1926 the commercial side of the mill ceased to be viable.  (See further comment in the note at the top of the next page.)

As well as composing poetry, Hilaire’s writings ranged across history, politics, economics and religion.  He died in 1953 and was buried not far away in the graveyard of the Catholic Church at West Grinstead.

 Further note re: Shipley Mill

The mill still remains under the ownership of the Belloc family who opened it to visitors in 1958.

Following expensive restoration works with West Sussex County Council’s involvement, the mill is now managed by a charitable trust, enabling it to be open to visitors.

Wilfrid Meynell CBE 1852-1948

Wilfred Meynell’s connection with Storrington began when he and his wife Alice purchased a country farmhouse retreat, Humphry’s Homestead with its 80 acres of land, which lies alongside the road to nearby Greatham.

Wilfrid was born in 1852 to parents of long Quaker heritage, particularly on his mother’s side with its connection to the Tuke family.  However at the age of 18 years he converted to Catholicism, largely under the guidance of Hilary Pepling, a member of the well known Ditchling art & craft community.

Wilfrid was a poet, essayist and journalist.  Whilst editing periodicals, he also wrote stories, verse and articles not only under his own name but sometimes anonymously or as “John Oldcastle” or “Francis Phillimore”.

Amongst his other activities, for a while from 1881 to 1899 he was the editor of a regular Catholic publication, The Weekly Register. He also founded and edited from 1883 to 1894 the magazine Merry England in connection with which he discovered and sponsored the poet Francis Thompson to whom he gave much encouragement and support.

Wilfrid contributed to a wide range of periodicals including The Contemporary Review, The Art Journal, The Magazine of Art, Athenaeum, The Academy, The Saturday Review, the Pall Mall Gazette, the Illustrated London News, the Daily Chronicle and The Nineteenth Century.  He wrote many biographies particularly of Benjamin Disraeli, Cardinal Manning, John Henry Newman and Pope Leo XIII. 

Meanwhile, throughout much of the busiest part of his life his wife Alice was equally active, so much so that her own life-story merits a separate section in this book, which appears further on below.

By the 1920s Wilfrid had decided to reduce his commitments, concentrating on the Dublin Review and to the current longstanding and highly respected weekly magazine The Tablet.  From this point onwards Wilfrid spent the remainder of his life based in their Greatham home.

In 1943 Wilfrid was awarded the distinction of a CBE for services to literature in the Birthday Honours List. He died at the age of 96 years in 1948 and is buried in the cemetery attached to the Storrington Catholic church.

Wilfrid and Alice had eight children, including the writer and biographer Viola Meynell and their son Francis Meynell, a co-founder of Nonsuch Press.

Historical note re: Humphrys Homestead

The family home, Humphrys Homestead and its extended buildings and land remain very much part of the family’s property and is still in use by their descendants. Many well known people have stayed there over the years including D H Lawrence for six months, Eleanor Farjeon (who wrote the words to the hymn “Morning has broken”) and Alice’s sister, Elizabeth Butler RA.

Alice Meynell 1847-1922

Alice Christiana Thompson was born on 22nd September 1847 and was the second of two daughters born to Thomas James Thompson and his wife Christiana.  Christiana Thompson was an accomplished pianist who retired from the concert platform following her marriage. 

Alice’s father Thomas originated from Cambridge.  He was a close friend of Charles Dickens and by the time of his marriage to Christiana had inherited a fortune, which enabled him to have no need of paid employment.  He therefore proceeded to devote his energies to educating his two young daughters. Initially the family lived in the English countryside but later they were to spend much of their time in Italy.

Alice’s sister Elizabeth (1846–1933) in due course became the prominent Royal Academy artist Elizabeth Butler (later Lady Butler).  She was particularly known for her 19th Century war scenes which included The Roll Call, The Defence of Rork’s Drift, Scotland Forever, Remnants of an Army, The 28th Regiment of Quatre Bras.

Alice, with other members of her parent’s families, converted to Catholicism between 1868 and 1880 under the influence of the well known Jesuit priest and director of retreats, Father Augustus Dignam SJ (1833-1894).

Alice enjoyed reading poetry from the age of seven years and subsequently started writing poems herself but in her early years was reluctant to publish her compositions.  However, in 1877 Alice married Wilfrid Meynell, already an established writer and publisher, who greatly admired her poetry.  In time, with his encouragement, Alice published a number of her poems, many of which were those written by her during her teenage years.

When in 1911 Wilfrid and Alice purchased a farmhouse in Greatham, near Storrington, it was there that Alice composed her well known poem “The Shepherdess”.  As well as writing poetry, Alice herself in time became a respected writer, editor, critic and suffragette.  It has been said she was twice considered for the position of Poet Laureate, in 1892 on the death of Lord Alfred Tennyson and again in 1913 but such an honour was the remotest of possibilities for a woman at that time.

Wilfrid and Alice became the proprietors and editors of such magazines as The Pen, the Weekly Register and Merry England amongst others.

Alice wrote regularly for The World, The Spectator, The Magazine of Art, the Scots Observer, The Tablet, The Art Journal, The Pall Mall Gazette and The Saturday Review, amongst other publications.

Like many outspoken people towards the end of the 19th Century, Alice began to question Europe’s colonial imperialism, which led to the Meynells and their circle of friends speaking up for the oppressed.  Alice became the vice-president of the Women Writers Suffragette League and joined a number of Catholic suffragette organisations.

Alice died at the age of 75 years in 1922 and is buried in Kensal Green Catholic Cemetery in London. There is now a London County Council blue plaque on the front wall of 47, Palace Court, Bayswater, where Wilfrid and Alice once lived.

Father George Tyrrell 1861-1909

Another well-known figure who stayed at the priory, in 1907, was Father George Tyrrell.  He spent his last years in Storrington, first temporarily with the Norbertines after which he moved to accommodation in the grounds of the home of his long term friend and advocate, Miss Maude Petre. 

In the grounds of Mulberry House in The Square, High Street, Storrington, there was a hay-store and garden-room which Maude turned into living accommodation for George.  There he continued his avantgarde writings including his last book, “Christianity at the Crossroads”.  (This small living accommodation has since been enlarged and is now called “Malt Cottage”.)

Father Tyrrell was born in Ireland in 1861.  He was of Protestant origin but influenced by the writings of Cardinal John Henry Newman, he was received into the Catholic Church at the age of 18. He joined the religious order of the Society of Jesus, otherwise known as the Jesuits and was ordained as a priest in 1891.  Initially he was assigned to teach philosophy in the Jesuit college of Stonyhurst in Lancashire but his progressive Modernist views caused him to come up against his more traditionalist superiors.

He was a deep thinker but the fearless expression of his views resulted in conflict with the both the Catholic hierarchy and with his own religious order, from which he was expelled in 1906.  He was subsequently excommunicated from the Catholic Church but nevertheless persisted with his adherence to the church right up to the time of his death in 1909.

George Tyrrell became part of the Liberal Catholic tradition of the Catholic Church as exemplified by Cardinal John Henry Newman, arguing that each age had the right to adjust its expression of Christianity in the light of current scientific knowledge.  His own early liberal views were optimistic about the ability of Catholic theology to take into account scientific findings.  However, his views brought him into conflict with Pope Leo XIII (papacy 1878-1903) and Pius X (papacy 1903-1914), both of whom adhered to very a conservative interpretation of the Bible and of Catholic Church dogma.

George’s books, such as Religion as a Factor of Life (1902) and The Church and the Future (1903), in which he criticised religious authoritarianism, accelerated his fall from favour.  In 1907 Pius X issued his crucial encyclical PascendiDominiciGregis (Feeding the Lord’s Flock), in which he condemned the widespread views of Modernism which were shared by Fr Tyrrell as well as others on the Continent, declaring them to be the very essence of heresy.  Fr Tyrrell, rather than submit to papal authority, published a letter denouncing the encyclical. It was then that George Tyrrell, in a state of despondency, settled in Storrington still determined to remain a Catholic, where he benefited from the intellectual and practical support of Miss Maude Petre until his death in 1909.

Having been denied burial in the Storrington Catholic Church’s cemetery, Father Tyrell’s remains are buried in the Anglican parish churchyard, in a grave that still attracts pilgrims, for it is generally accepted that, far from being mistaken in his outlook and beliefs, he was merely many years ahead of his time.  There is still a hope that his good name with the Catholic Church will stand a chance of being restored, as well as his standing with the Society of Jesus, not least of all as the current Pope (Francis) is a Jesuit, and hopefully as a member of the Society of Jesus, the Pope could bring his influence to bear on the issue.

Father Tyrrell’s headstone (and those of Maude Petre and Arthur F Bell beside it) are examples of the early stone work carving and letter inscriptions of Eric Gill of the Ditchling Arts & Crafts Movement.  Eric Gill went on to be well known for his work on the League of Nations palace at Geneva, the New Museum in Jerusalem, Westminster Cathedral and Broadcasting House.

Miss Maude Petre 1863-1942

Maude Dominica Mary Petre was born and then baptized as a Catholic in 1863.  She was the daughter of the younger son of the 13th Lord Petre, who was from a wealthy old English Catholic family, living at Coptfold Hall (complete with family chapel), at Margaretting, near Chelmsford, Essex.

Having decided to study scholastic theology in Rome on the advice of her religious confessor, on completion Maude returned to England to become a religious journalist, taking up residence with a religious community, the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary.  Originally, although not intending to become a professed nun, she eventually rose to become the religious order’s superior in 1896, dedicating herself to social work and instructing in the faith new converts to Catholicism.

It was at that time that Maude Petre met with a number of prominent Catholics whose views, reflecting recent advances in science, were often rejected by those of a more traditionalist background. These traditionalists included Pope Pius IX, Pope Leo XIII and in due course Pope Pius X, who were opposed to much of the intellectual and political changes taking place in Europe.

The most prominent Catholic Modernists in England at that time were Father George Tyrrell and Baron Friedrich von Hugel, an aristocrat and scholar, whilst among those on the continent was Henri Bremond, a French Jesuit.  It was in 1896 that Maude Petre first met Father George Tyrrell, which led to a firm friendship, with him acting as her confessor for a time. 

Maude Petre in the early 20th Century wrote two books, Where Saints Have Trod (1903) and The Soul’s Orbit (1904), which were adventurous and outward looking by the standards of the time. The writings encouraged people to question their faith and seek experience of the outside world, rather than just accepting what they were told and shying away from the unfamiliar.  In time Maude Petre was contributing frequently to the Catholic press in England and America.

In 1907 Maude Petre published “Catholicism and Independence”, which made the case for the primacy of individual conscience and which brought her into conflict with Pope Pius X’s 1907 encyclical letter “Pascendi Domenici Gregis” (on the doctrine of the Modernists).  The pope proceeded to issue directives on banned reading (known as The Index) and required priests to take an oath of loyalty.  Refusal by Maude to withdraw some of her writings led to Cardinal Bourne, Archbishop of Westminster, dismissing her from the leadership of the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary.  She was also excluded by the Church authorities from receiving communion in the Catholic church in Storrington but this she circumvented by attending Mass at Catholic churches in neighbouring dioceses.

At this critical time in George Tyrrell’s life, he was dismissed from the Jesuit order and then in 1907 he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.  George having come to Storrington stayed temporarily with the Norbertines in their priory.  Maude, as a friend, then proceeded to give him living accommodation in a small dwelling in the grounds of her premises at Mulberry House, located in The Square, Storrington High Street.  By then George’s health was beginning to fail and it was there that she subsequently nursed him throughout his last illness in the months leading up to his death in 1909.

In 1910 Maude Petre published George Tyrrell’s autobiography and in 1912 a memoir of his life, filling in the gaps and adding her own and other people’s observations.

Typical of her public spirit, in 1913 she generously gave away the building behind Mulberry House, which had been occupied by George Tyrrell, to be a cottage hospital.  At that time she was chairman of the Parish Council and went on to become involved in all manner of other activities.  These involvements included taking a prominent part in the readings at the inauguration of the war memorial in the Anglican Churchyard and the inaugural meeting in 1922 of the Storrington Womens Institute, following which she presided and chaired ongoing discussions as to the kind of work and interests this new branch of the organisation should pursue.

In 1919 MaudePetre, as a member of the Parish Council, was elected as an Overseer of the Poor and acted as one of the committee members dealing with local charities. In 1921 she was elected as Chairman of the Parish Council, a position she held until 1924. 

Later that year a meeting was held at Mulberry House to form a local branch of the Labour Party, of which she was then elected Chairman.

Maude Petre died during World War II in 1942, following which her remains were placed alongside those of Father George Tyrell and another local friend, Arthur Francis Bell (a poet and soldier who died in 1918), in the Storrington Anglican parish churchyard. 

The small stone cross on her grave is dedicated to her but only with the initials “M D P” inscribed, without recording her surname.  Possibly this brevity was because the stone was so small that it could not take her full names.

Donald Attwater 1892 -1977

Donald Attwater was born in Essex on 24 December 1892 but spent the latter part of his life in Storrington, living in West Street near the premises of Stable Antiques. 

Donald’s parents were Methodists who later became Anglicans when Donald was a child.  Donald himself became a Catholic at the age of 18 years, served in the Sinai and Palestine campaign during the World War I and spent some time after the war living on Caldey Island, where he came into contact with the monks at Caldey Abbey.

Donald was a prolific author, editor, translator and was a visiting lecturer at the private Catholic University of Notre Dame of Indiana USA and London, England.

Donald Attwater was married to Rachel Attwater a fellow historian and published author on Catholic saints of the Orient.

In 1936 Donald was one of the founders of the Catholic peace movement “Pax Christi”, which at the time opposed the invasion of Abyssinia by Fascist Italy. The movement’s work was subsequently widened to embrace peace initiatives, education, supporting teachers, chaplains as well as youth initiatives.

In 1977 Donald died and was buried in the cemetery attached to Storrington Catholic Church.  His family’s gift with words lives on, not least of all in the work of his daughter Catherine Rachel John in her writings on enculturation and her books about Becket, Canterbury Cathedral (music by Laurence Bévénot OSB) and The Saints of Cornwall – 1500 years of Christian Landscape.

For details of Donald Attwater’s many writings see Appendix C.

The Lady in the Van

This is the title of a well known monologue written by the acclaimed actor and writer Alan Bennett, which is about a Catholic lady who at one time lived in Storrington but who, many years later, Alan Bennett got to know very well after she had moved back to London.

Dame Maggie Smith, who by chance lives near Storrington, had performed the monologue which was shown on British television to great acclaim in 2015. 

A short while after this performance Dame Maggie gave an interview on Graham Norton’s TV show, in which she revealed much interesting information about the background and earlier life of Miss Mary Shepherd (not her real name which Alan Bennett did not wish to disclose) who was the subject of the monologue The Lady in the Van.

It was revealed that, at one stage in her life, Mary Shepherd had taken vows as a nun in the Camden Town area of London and it was said that there was a time when she subsequently lived

at a “huge” convent in Storrington – presumably St Joseph’s Dominican Convent in Greyfriars Lane.

It was known that during World War II that Mary had been an ambulance driver and that this experience, together with having grieved the loss of her fiancé, might have led to her at some point in her life adopting a tramp-like life style, living in a succession of vans.

It is understood that Mary had been involved in a road accident with a motor cyclist from which the motor cyclist died.  Although it seems she was not at fault in the accident, Mary had failed to report matters to the police properly.  As a consequence it appears that she decided to take on a new identity in order to avoid the police pursuing her.

The monologue is all about this eccentric lady and her long term parking of the van (in which she lived) in the London crescent where Alan Bennett resided.  In time Alan Bennett allowed her to park in his front garden, which she did from 1974 until she died in 1989.


This is a brief synopsis of the story of The Lady in the Vanwas recorded by Bill Thompson, a past Chairman of Storrington Museum, who wrote a more comprehensive article than this in the museum’s Autumn/Winter 2015 magazine, Times Past, issue No 51.

William John Christopher Vassall 1924-1996

John Vassal was more well known for his spying activities at the time of the MacMillan Government (racked by a number of spying scandals including the Profumo affair) than for his Catholicism, to which he converted in 1953.

As a civil servant, in 1952 he had been appointed as a clerical officer to the staff of the Naval Attaché at the British Embassy in Moscow.  Known for mixing in homosexual circles in Moscow, in 1954 as part of a honey-trap he was invited to a party at which he became drunk and  was photographed in compromising positions, at a time when homosexuality was illegal in both Russia and Britain.  His homosexuality was used by the Russians as a leverage, to secure the passing of naval technology which was vital to the modernising of the Soviet Navy.

In 1962 he was arrested in Britain, where he had continued to work for the Russians.  He was convicted of spying and was given an eighteen year prison sentence.  He was befriended in jail by the well know Catholic Peer and prison reformer, Lord Longford.  Eventually, in 1972 he was released from prison on bail, having served ten years of his sentence.

Following his release from prison he was given hospitality by the monks of Storrington where he lived for a number of years.

Subsequent to his release from prison he changed his surname to Phillips, ultimately settling in St John’s Wood, London and worked quietly as an administrator at the British Records Association and for a firm of solicitors in Grays Inn.

He died of a heart attack on a London bus in November 1996.

Eva Mary Clare Davidson : Trust

Mrs Eva Mary Clare Davidson as at 2022 had been responsible for providing living accommodation in Storrington for single women of limited means for over 90 years.

Eva was born in 1865 in Dummer, Hampshire and at the age of 26 years married Ranald Douglas Davidson, a 39 year old a tea planter from Assam, India who had originated from Bebington in Cheshire.

According to the Bath Chronicle of 12 July 1888 Eva “the wife of R D Davidson” gave birth to her only child, a son, on 9 June 1888 in Singrimari, Mauguldai, Assam but sadly he had died young.

By 1914 Ranald had retired as a tea planter and he and Eva had returned to England, living at 58, Wynnstay Gardens, Middlesex.  In that year Ranald died, leaving an estate of £3353.1s.6d, with probate being granted to Eva.

Following Ranald’s death, Eva moved to Storrington, living at “St Anthony-in-the-Wilderness” in Kithurst Lane – the last house on the north side at the top of Kithurst Lane, before the bend leading into the private extension of the road.  Eva proceeded to use her house to provide holiday accommodation for gentlewomen in reduced circumstances, for which purpose she set up a charitable trust in her lifetime.

Eva continued and enhanced her charitable work to the extent that by 1929 in nearby land she had arranged for the building of two blocks of flatlets in grounds off Fern Road, for the benefit of “gentlewomen….in reduced circumstances”.

Eva Davidson died at the age of 81 years on 16 March 1946, appointing two Executrices of her estate, Miss Gladys Baynton of St Anthony-in-the-Wilderness, Storrington and her niece Miss Hester Blanche Williams of 14 Eltisley, Cambridge.

The Grant of Probate to her estate dated 4th September 1946 referred to Eva Davidson’s address as being of St Anthony-in-the-Wilderness, Storrington, Sussex, although the place of her death was 14, Church Walk, Worthing, Sussex.  Her Gross Estate was recorded for initial probate purposes as being £20,181.14s.0d, with a Net Personal Estate of £16,348.17s.9d.  Estate duty and interest of £3085.7s.0d was paid to the Inland Revenue.

Under her Will dated 3rd January 1946 Eva gave directions for her funeral and also requested burial in the Catholic cemetery.  It then proceeded to give various legacies and bequests.

Under clause 7 of her Will Eva declared “ I devise my property in Fern Lane (sic) Storrington known as St Francis and St Clare together with all the land adjoining and the buildings thereon to the trustees for the time being of the Catholic Women’s League such properties to continue as now let for the use of gentlewomen (in the Victorian sense of the word and not retired nurses or school teachers unless the above should apply strictly) in reduced circumstances the Catholic Women’s league to have absolute discretion as to who should benefit under this clause.”

The St Francis and St Clare buildings now in 2022 continue to be let in accordance with Eva’s will trusts.  Over time, the trust funds available for this purpose have been enhanced by further donations, particularly that of a substantial legacy in 1983 by Doctor Daisy Smith, which enabled a significant modernisation of the flatlets.

St Anthony-in-the-Wilderness – home of Eva Mary Clare Davidson        (The house is now under new ownership and is known as The Riddings)

St Clare’s – flatlets – part of the Eva Mary Clare Davidson charitable trust

Catholic Schools in Storrington

St Norbert’s was the first Catholic primary school in Storrington.  It was built in Kithurst Lane and opened in 1893.  It was run by the Norbertine monks, with the assistance of nuns and later on by lay staff.  Amongst its young students for a while was Bernard, the future Duke of Norfolk.

The school was intended to cater for up to 60 children but, in the circumstances of a largely agricultural community at the time, the average attendance on occasions proved to be only 15 pupils. It eventually closed in the 1950s when it had approximately 20 students, by when further provision for Catholic education in the village was under consideration.

The school building in Kithurst Lane went through subsequent uses and transformations, including its employment for what proved to be a very vibrant youths’ boxing club and training venue, with many successes at county and national level. This achievement was largely due to the expertise of Brian Ticehurst a trained boxing coach, together with the involvement of a sports enthusiast and Norbertine priest, Father Stephen Cansse.

After the cessation of youth boxing and training activities, the building was converted for domestic use as a private home for Luigi & Nora Ruggiero, with a view to the husband and wife team helping with many practical aspects relating to the running of the priory.

Pictures accompany this narrative dating back to the early years of the school as well as a recent one of the exterior of the building which following its sale, has become an enhanced domestic dwelling.  (Appendix E to this book is a copy of a 1933 school inspection report.)

The property, now known as Norbert House, is on the north side of the road, a short distance from where Kithurst Lane leads off from School Lane.

The Juniorate was another Norbertine educational establishment but this was exclusively for boys aspiring to become members of the Norbertine order.  Education and boarding was provided up until late teens, after which those still wishing to join the order would transfer to the priory for further training, for the priesthood ministry.

The education at the Juniorate was wider than just its academic aspects, as the boys were taught to care for themselves, cook, attend to washing and house cleaning, plus look after the livestock in the 12 acres of grounds (particularly the chickens).

By the early 1960s with declining numbers of young aspirants for membership of the Norbertines and in due course the need of the newly created Diocese of Arundel & Brighton for residential and office premises for successive bishops, the priory sold the premises to the diocesan authorities. 

The fuller story of these premises and their use under the care of the diocese is recorded in this book in the chapter entitled Other Storrington and District Buildings – used for Catholic religious purposes

St Joseph’s Dominican Convent School was the second general purpose Catholic school to be set up in thevillage and was located on the east side of Greyfriars Lane, a short distance from the High Street.  The buildings and grounds of what became a convent and school were purchased in 1953 from the executors of Col Ravenscroft’s estate, when the property was then known as The Abbey.  The purchasers were an order of Dominican nuns, whose main base was and still is at Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire. 

Early 20th Century pupils of St Norbert’s school

In the classroom at St Norbert’s school

At the time of the Ravenscroft planned sale of The Abbey it was intended to be disposed of by auction but it failed to reach its reserve.  However, the auctioneers were subsequently approached with a private offer on behalf of the Dominican nuns, which was accepted. 

Extracts from the auction catalogue and a selection of past and present photos appear in the pictures displayed in the following pages of this book.  They reflect extensive recycled linenfold and other wooden wall paneling, period furniture, fireplace surrounds and staircase carpentry from much older demolished properties, adding a significant touch of interest to the interior of the building.

The known past history of The Abbey reflects that the original building dates back to 1621, when it served as an Anglican rectory.  This was largely demolished and re-built in 1871-1872 to become an irregular five bay, three storey Victorian Gothic style house.  It was initially re-employed as a rectory but later used by the Rev George Faithfull as the premises for a boarding school run by him for aspirants seeking the necessary education to enable them to pursue military careers.  It was those pupils who named it “The Abbey”, even though it has never served as an abbey!

In time the premises passed into the hands of successive private owners who made further alterations to the buildings, culminating in 1930 when Colonel H V Ravenscroft (a well known benefactor of many Storrington village organisations) added a billiard room and ballroom designed by John Leonard Denman. 

The Dominican Nuns having purchased The Abbey, proceeded to then established in the premises their convent, private chapel and school for the education of children of all ages.

The fee paying school run by the Dominican sisters, with the help of lay staff, provided Catholic based education for boys and girls, either as boarders or as day pupils, up to “O” and “A” level standards.  However, in 1984 the sisters changed the status of the school to being an independent day school for boys and girls up to 11 years of age only, still providing Catholic education and being open to students of all religious persuasions.

One of the school’s most charismatic headmistresses was Sister Angela, who at the time was also the superior of the Convent, running the combined establishment of Convent and School.

She was a very warm motherly figure, well known throughout the village.  Under her influence, for large families of children the fees were sometimes adjusted to “pay what you can afford”.

With the school budget declining over a period of time, the educational side was closed in 1999 and the nuns eventually returned to their base at Bushey Heath in Hertfordshire in 2001.  The buildings used by the convent and as a school were then converted by the purchasers into up-market units of living accommodation and part of the grounds were further developed for housing.

Around the time of the school’s closure, it happened that the Norbertine monks had established contact with Norbertine nuns in far away Zsámbék, a village 30 km west of Budapest, who were developing a school project.  This was designed for the benefit of their village’s poor and discarded gypsy community who, historically in Soviet controlled times, had been herded into the village and left to their own devices, following the departure of Germans after World War II.

In 2000 three Catholic members of Storrington parish volunteered to hire a “Luton” van, fill it with the Storrington convent’s discarded school furniture, writing materials and other items, then drive it with overnight stops to Zsámbék.  This offer was accepted by all parties and so the volunteers proceeded to research and obtain the necessary transport and travel permits.

On arrival at Zsámbék, although it was out of season for the gypsy musicians of the village, they opened up their premises, provided a lavish meal with background live gypsy music and entertained the travellers with an evening of exciting gypsy dance music.  The nuns and Gypsies were very grateful for the equipment supplied, for what the drivers had done by way of financing the journey, getting permits for the transport of goods and obtaining various border permissions, including coping with the tortuous requirements and border delays by customs officials controlling what was then a very inflexible Hungarian state that had recently emerged from Soviet control.

Sister Katharin of the ZsámbékNorbertine community of nuns recounted that their project went back to 1990 when the nuns started developing their educational and social training programmes for the deprived children and youths of the village.  By 1996 they were in a position to open a modest school with 26 students providing basic education, work skills and other training needs, thereby building their social and workplace confidence.

In time the nuns of Zsámbék had a great need to increase and enhance their training premises for the increasing numbers of students.  They therefore proceeded to acquire a large run down bus garage and convert it for the use of students, both boys and girls, installing a line of sewing machines, woodwork and engineering machinery and other equipment for training purposes. Training was also provided for agriculture and horticulture, the travel industry (waitressing) and other basic work skills.  In addition, wider help was given to the poor, deprived and needy village community, including meeting the daytime needs of the elderly, as well as those with behavioral and learning difficulties.

Storrington parish continued to provide help and funds for the Zsámbék community over many years, with individuals from Storrington parish making personal visits to Zsámbék. The rapport between Storrington and Zsámbék was such that in 2011 Sheila McGovern, one of the leading organisers from Storrington, went to live there permanently with the community of nuns at Zsámbék, where she eventually died on 13th December 2014.

In time the Storrington-Zsámbék initiative, by agreement, was relinquished by Storrington as it seemed to have run its course, not least of all in view of the further help Zsámbék was receiving from Germany and other countries.

St Joseph’s Hall – served as a “Juniorate” school for young aspirants to the Norbertines -sold in the 1960s to Diocese of Arundel & Brighton for the Bishop’s accommodation

St Norbert’s – the priory’s school– as now renovated and converted into a house


                      – used for Catholic religious purposes

Besides the Norbertine priory, church and schools, there have been other buildings in the area served by Storrington which were occupied from time to time by members of different Catholic religious orders or organisations.

St Joseph’s Hall, Greyfriars Lane Storrington

St Joseph’s Hall lies 400 yards south of Storrington High Street on the west side of Greyfriars Lane. It is a Grade II listed building in the Vernacular Revival style associated with the Ditchling arts & crafts movement, to a design by E.S Prior.  It was constructed between 1908 and 1910 for an American businessman.   In the course of time the Norbertines acquired the building and its twelve acres of land for use by them as a “Juniorate” – a place of training for young aspirants to the Norbertine Order.  Ultimately, when the number of young pupils tailed off, a decision was taken to vacate the building.

For a time St Joseph’s Hall was used by Vincent & Nona Byrne as a home for refugees flooding into the country from the Hungarian Uprising of 1956.

Subsequently St Joseph’s Hall was sold with its grounds to the newly created Catholic Diocese of Arundel & Brighton, for use as a residence for the bishop of the diocese and his staff, which included two resident Franciscan Sisters from their Littlehampton convent, office staff and visiting diocesan officials and clergy.

The succession of Bishops who resided at St Joseph’s Hall and their periods of residence were as follows:

Bishop David Cashman (died 14 March 1971)1965 – 1971
Bishop Michael George Bowen1971 – 1977
Bishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor1977 – 2000
Bishop Kieran Thomas Conry2001 – 2005

In 2014 Bishop Conry took the decision to sell St Joseph’s Hall not least of all as it was greatly in need of extensive repairs and updating, which he could not see as a justified expense by the diocese.  Accordingly he moved to smaller new premises at Pease Pottage, near Crawley with minimal staff, which seemed more appropriate for the Catholic Church in the times in which people were living.

As to the further careers of bishops who had preceded Bishop Kieran Conry as Bishop of Arundel & Brighton, Bishop Michael Bowen was promoted to become Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, whilst Bishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor became Archbishop of the Catholic diocese of Westminster and head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.  As Primate he was further elevated by Pope Paul II in 2001 to the title of “Cardinal”, which amongst other things entitled him to participate in the elections for future popes.

St Joseph’s Dominican Convent and school buildings

The Domain, Church Street, Storrington

It was the Dominican sisters in the adjacent Dominican Convent who first bought the property now known as “The Domain”, which lies immediately to the south of the buildings occupied by them in Church Street. 

At the time The Domain consisted of run down farm buildings, which the nuns wished to use to house a few cows and other farm animals, using the services of Luigi Ruggiero, an employee of the Norbertines, to milk the cows and help generally.

In 2001 the nuns left Storrington, having sold their local properties, including the The Domain. It was acquired by a single lady, Gillian Chardet who arranged for its conversion into a domestic dwelling.  From there for a number of years Gillian used to travel regularly to Ashurst, Steyning, where she was employed as secretary to the actor and director Laurence Olivier, Lord Olivier OM – arguably the most famous British actor of the 20th Century.

In more recent times a couple have now made it their home having enhanced the buildings and grounds considerably, adopting a minimalist style of architecture, décor and garden design.

Merrywood House, Merrywood Lane, Thakeham

“Merrywood House” lies within the civic parish of Thakeham, which is one of the villages served by the Catholic parish of Storrington.

At one time the property was owned by The Catholic Children’s Rescue Society, who in these premises ran a home for single parent mothers and their children.  When this home was closed in or around 1972, the property was acquired by a relatively newly formed order of nuns, the Sisters of Our Lady of Grace and Compassion.

The concept of the order had been developed in 1954 by its founder Mary Sunniva Garson when its first house was in Preston Park Avenue, Brighton.  In 1959 Archbishop Cyril Cowderoy of Southwark declared the order to be a Pious Union seeking to follow the Benedictine Rule.

In 1978 the General Chapter of the order formally adopted the rule of St Benedict.  Mary Garson became its first Prioress General.  In 1992 Bishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of the Arundel & Brighton diocese gave the order formal recognition as a Diocesan Congregation and in the same year the sisters were admitted to full association with the world-wide Benedictine Confederation.

The personal history of Mary Sunniva Garson MBE was that she was born in Scotland in 1921 to a family with a Presbyterian background.  After education at various schools Mary went to Aberdeen University where she gained an M.A. in psychology.  During the Second World War Mary served as an officer in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and later worked as an educational psychologist in Brighton. 

In 1946 under the guidance of the Jesuit priest Father Bernard Bassett, Mary decided to become a Catholic and at his suggestion joined the Cell Movement, first in London and then in Brighton. 

The Cell Movement was built around small groups of active Catholics holding weekly meetings, often in their homes.  The format of the meetings would be to pray and then read a short gospel extract, after which discussions would take place under the headings of See, Judge and Act.

In response to actions agreed upon at one of their meetings, Mary visited a semi-blind elderly lady in Brighton who was struggling to care for two needy people.  She became convinced that wider action was necessary to help infirm people to live out their lives in reasonable comfort. 

Mary decided to buy a house to form a community to help the infirm, as she was impressed and very much influenced by similar caring work being carried out by two fellow Catholics, namely Group Captain Leonard Cheshire (for injured military personnel) and Sue Ryder (helping people displaced from their homes as a result of war and, later on, people with other complex needs and conditions).

As her work increased Mary Garson’s organisation in Sussex acquired other premises for sheltered accommodation in Bognor Regis and also in the Storrington area, Merrywood House, Merrywood Lane, Thakeham, a village that lies close to Storrington.

After a number of years The Sisters of Our Lady of Grace and Compassion felt the need to re-organise the locations of their premises.  They wished to ensure that their residential homes were situated close to their other homes which would provide continuing care into old age for those who could not look after themselves.  As a consequence Merrywood House was sold in November 1990 as part of a consolidation programme along the South Coast.

In 2005 “Mother” Mary Garson retired as Prioress General and went to live in the order’s Bognor home, where she died peacefully on 8th March 2007 at the age of 85 years.  By then the order had expanded overseas to Sri Lanka, India, Kenya and Uganda, providing personal care, nursing, living accommodation, hospital treatment (dealing with blood transfusions, burns and terminal care), a crèche, a craft centre, schools and a nursery.  In some instances help is also given by the order in the running of parishes.

In England the Sisters of Our Lady of Grace and Compassion now have an extensive village at Cross-in-Hand, Heathfield, East Sussex.  Their Head Office is in Brighton, East Sussex.

Merrywood House – once run as a home by the Sisters of Our Lady of Grace and Compassion

St Edmund’s Church and Cemetery

Across the bridge and causeway in the village of Houghton on the north side of the road is the former Catholic church of St Edmund which for many years served as a Mass centre.  In later years it has been called a chapel.

In a diocesan financial return of 1928 for Quinquagesima Sunday relating to Collections for the Southwark Diocesan Orphanages it was listed as “Amberley St Edmund”.  (The return reflects Collection and Church Box Collection of £2. 2s. 3d in total, compared to the larger parish of Storrington’s contribution of  £8. 11s. 3d). 

In more recent times St Edmund’s was served by a rota of Norbertine priests from Storrington, in particular Father Cassidy, Father George Joye and Father Stephen Cansse, saying Mass at 8am on Sundays.

With the passage of time and people having their own means of transport, the need for such a Mass centre was seen as unnecessary, as it is within easy car travel distance of both the Catholic church in Storrington and the Catholic cathedral in Arundel.  Accordingly the church was sold, after which the building was initially used for the purposes of an antique business but it is now undergoing final transformation as a residence, as shown in the accompanying recent photograph. 

The cemetery across the road from the church remains in the care of the diocese of Arundel & Brighton and is still in use.  It has a small number of headstones relating to various interments over time, including that for a daughter of Wilfrid and Alice Meynell, namely Viola Dallyn (née Meynell) 1885-1956, who wrote a book about Francis Thompson and Wilfrid Meynell.  More recently it is the place of burial of the writer, journalist, translator and traveller John Howe 1938-2018.

St Edmund’s church, Houghton, Amberley  (now converted to a domestic residence)

Foreign Parishioner Arrivals

With England being a fairly cosmopolitan country it is not surprising that this is reflected in some measure in the nationality make-up of the congregation of Storrington’s Catholic Church.

After World War II families with Italian, Polish and Maltese Catholic members came to live in the Storrington area.  Then there was a significant boost to the number of people of foreign origin coming to live and work in Storrington and the villages served by Storrington parish, arising from the considerable labour needs in the mid-1950s of Linfield’s, located in Thakeham. 

This family business going back generations had originally been developed as a nursery glasshouse business in and around Worthing, where it took advantage of the mild climate and soils of the South Coast, eventually expanding north of the South Downs into Thakeham.

The ThakehamChesswood Mushrooms side of the business expanded at one point to become the largest mushroom business in Europe. On a count made at that time it was established that their employees had originated from a total of nineteen different countries.

In particular there were many Catholics working there and also in other businesses in the area who had emigrated from Ireland and Italy.  To these have been added relatives who have come to live close by, who would understandably be attracted to live near other family members, especially in such a desirable part of the country.

With the passage of time with inter-marriage between subsequent generations, as well as further people coming from abroad, there is now a greater mix of people attending Storrington Catholic church.  These include people from strife-torn countries such as Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Lebanon and most recently refugees from the Ukraine.

Long may this diverse church community continue to enjoy the benefits and support of our active parish life!

Compiler’s Acknowledgements

In writing this book I have tried to bring together as much information and as I reasonably can, drawing on my own historic knowledge as a long term parishioner with my wife Suzanne (Sue) of Storrington Catholic Church but also benefiting from the assistance of others.

I have been greatly helped by the staff of Storrington Museum in researching articles and books held by them.  For this I am greatly indebted to Mary Wilson, Julia Westgate, Stuart Duncan and others for their considerable help and enthusiasm.

Fellow parishioners and others have also been very helpful to me including our parish priest Fr Charles Howell, John Hills (a lifelong resident of the parish of Storrington and a pupil of the Norbertine schools), Frances Arter, Pat East, Carol Goodchild, Ray Hill, Michael O’Shea, Geoff & Jo Reed, Sean & Deborah Stephens, Hannah Wigg, Chris Ticehurst, Philip Orpwood, Harold Linfield and many others.

I owe a great debt to my friend Brian Burns for all the photography and photographic reproductions, with the exception of the pictures of banners and drapes which seasonally adorned the church in times past and which I retrieved from my own family archives.

I am also indebted to Lesley and Kelly of the Scribbling Shop, 10, West Street Storrington, West Sussex RH20 4EE for her enthusiasm and for her keeping the printing and binding costs for copies of this book to a minimum.

Finally I must give very strong recognition to Fr Martin Gosling, a priest with the Norbertines when in Storrington but now living with the Norbertine Community at Muston near Filey in North Yorkshire, for his considerable help and corrections with regard to the Norbertine history of Storrington.

Much of the narrative in this history is my own.  Firstly as it is based on what I have learned during my having lived and taken part in Storrington parish’s life for over half a century as well as having served two terms on the Parish Council of Storrington Catholic Church.  Secondly I wish to acknowledge that I have also drawn on the writings of many other people including the wealth of information to be found on the internet, especially Wikipedia.  I have tried to give due credit to my sources of information by listing their details in Appendix D.

This work has been a non-profit effort to draw together information of Catholic interest in one place, which I hope will be helpful to Storrington Museum and others living locally, not least of all to satisfy the interest of people who often ask me what the vast priory building is all about and who actually live there?

In time, updates or amendments to the text may be desirable, so I hope readers will please treat this effort on my part as an ongoing work in need of and capable of improvement!

Simon Mole

August 2022

Appendix A   Norbertine Priors of Storrington    
  Fr Louis de GonzagueDaras    1882-1887  
Fr Joseph Ibos1887-1890
Fr Justin Guyomard1890-1894
Fr Norbert Philibert1894-1900
Fr Godefroid B. Guigue1900-1903
Fr Xavier Rieux1903-1912
Fr Francis Laborde1912-1929
Fr Philip Beasley-Suffolk1929-1942
Fr Edward Dodds1942-1945
Fr Joseph Gerebern Neill1945-1947
Fr Felim Colwell1947-1952
Fr Hubert Mathee1954-1960
Fr Joseph Gerebern Neill1960-1970
Rt Reverend Fr George Joye1971-1986
Fr Michael Gallagher1986-1992
Fr Andrew Smith1992-2002
Fr Michael Gallagher2002
Fr Paul MacMahon2002-2004 (as Administrator)
Fr Paul MacMahon2004-2011 (as Prior)
Appendix B   Parish Priests of Storrington    
  Fr Louis de GonzagueDaras    1882-1887  
Fr Joseph Ibos1887-1890
Fr Justin Guyomard1890-1894
Fr Norbert Philibert1894-1900
Fr Godefroid B. Guigue1900-1903
Fr Xavier Rieux1903-1912
Fr Francis Laborde1912-1929
Fr Philip Beasley-Suffolk1929-1942
Fr Edward Dodds1942-1945
Fr Gerebern Neill1945-1947
Father T C Ryan1947-1952
Father Kevin Cassidy1952-1990
Fr Stephen Cansse1990-1992
Fr Andrew Smith1992-2009
Fr Martin Gosling2009-2012
Fr John Wisdom & Fr Richard Saxsons2012-2013
Fr Con Foley (Diocesan temporary appointment)2012-2013
Fr Charles Howell (Diocesan priest)2013-


A selection of the works of Donald Attwater 1892-1977

Donald Attwater was a prolific author, editor and translator. He was also a visiting lecturer at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana USA and London, England

As author his works include:

Father Ignatius of Llanthony. A Victorian (1931)

The Catholic Church in Modern Wales (1935)

The Dissident Eastern Churches (1937)

The White Fathers of Africa (1937)

The Golden Book of Eastern Saints (1938)

Life of John Chrysostom (1939)

Names and Name Days (1939)

Eastern Catholic Worship (1945)

The Christian Church of the East (1947)

Saints Westward (1953)

A Dictionary of Mary (1956)

Martyrs, From St Stephen to John Tung (1957)

Saints of the East (1963)

Dictionary of the Popes (1965)

The Cell of Good Living (1969)

As translator his works include:

God Man and the Church by Vladimir Solovyov

The End of Our Time by Nikolai Berdyaev (1933)

Christianity and Class War by Nicholai Berdyev (1933)

Dostoievsky: An Interpretation by Nicholai Berdyev (1934)

Memories of Charles de Foucauld: Explorer and Hermit

– Seen in his Letters, edited by Georges Gorée (1938)

The Legends of the Saints by Hippolyte Delehaye (1962)

Lay People in the Church by Yves Congar (1963)

Primitive Christian Symbols by Jean Daniélou (1964)

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (1974)

An Anthology of Mysticism edited by Paul de Jaegher (1977)

As editor he was involved with:

A Catholic Encyclopedic Dictionary (1931)

Dictionary of Saints (1938)

Penguin Dictionary of Saints

Butlers Lives of the Saints – 4 volumes (1956), a revision of Herbert Thurston’s edition

Modern Christian Revolutionaries (1971)

Appendix D

Printed Sources of Information

  • copies of the majority of which are held by the Storrington Museum

(i)Books, Magazines & Articles

The Internet – used extensively, including Wikipedia contributors etc  
Saint Norbert Prince, Pilgrim, Archbishop, ApostleNorbertines21, 22
Roundabout Old StorringtonFlorence Greenfield49, 51-54
Storrington Through the AgesJoan Ham425, 426, 431
Storrington in Georgian and Victorian TimesJoan Ham93, 138, 139
Storrington in Living MemoryJoan Ham118, 119
Storrington The Parish Church and Village in Earlier TimesR L Hayward40
The Guardian Article 19/4/2007 about Mary GarsonEdward RaynerInternet
Pike Directories of Sussex and Blue BookPike (publishers) 
Times Past – magazine numbers 51,57 & 64Storrington Museum 
From Monk to ModernityDominic Kirkham7-27

(ii)                       Recommended further reading or reference

Storrington in PicturesJoan HamPages 26 -31
MedievalismGeorge TyrrellPink book
Unresting Transformation The Theology and Spirituality of Maude PetreEllen Leonard 
Francis Thompson and Wilfrid MeynellViola MeynellDaughter
Selected Poems of Alice MeynellNonsuch Press – set up by the Meynell’s son Francis, his Second wife Vera and David Garnett
English Catholic Modernism Maude Petre’s way of faithClyde F Crews 
The Happy Phantom or Sussex RevisitedArthur F Bell 
The Shrine of Our Lady of EnglandH M Gillett 
Eva Mary Clare Davidson Probate and WillProbate Registry copiesCopies held by Storrington Museum