The Parish of St. Edward the Confessor has gradually developed over the space of a century. Covering four churches and serving the Northamptonshire communities of Kettering, Burton Latimer, Desborough and Rothwell, there are an estimated 9000 Catholics in the local area today. This is in stark contrast with the preceding centuries when Penal Laws, in place since the Elizabethan era, punished those who followed the Catholic faith. For example, when the House of Lords Census was taken in 1767 there were only 110 acknowledged Catholics registered in the whole of Northamptonshire and only one Catholic listed in Kettering. Following the gradual repeal of these laws from the late 18th century, and culminating in the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, Catholicism slowly spread across the country.
The establishment of the Diocese of Northampton in 1850 led to the sending of “Missions” to nearby centres. In 1868-71 Wellingborough Parish was established. Practising Catholics in the area travelled to Wellingborough to hear Mass. In 1881 the prominent Catholic, Charlotte Anne, Duchess of Buccleugh (Boughton House is one of the Buccleugh estates) suggested that a mission be founded at Kettering. Unfortunately the death of the Duke in 1884 left Charlotte in reduced circumstances. She moved away to Ditton near Slough and was unable to finance the establishment of Kettering Parish as she would have liked. However she donated £2,600 to start a parish fund (worth about £130,000 at the beginning of the 21st century) and Edmund de Trafford of Hothorpe Hall, Market Harborough added £1,000 in memory of his brother Gilbert.
By 1891 enough money had been raised to begin work and Bishop Riddell asked Father Henry Stanley to move from Newmarket to establish Kettering parish. The first Mass held in Kettering since the Reformation was offered on September 20th 1891, in the billiards room of Tyrell’s Temperance Hotel (later the Albion Commercial Hotel), the Market Place, Kettering, with 34 people in attendance. Within a couple of weeks a room had been hired in the shoe factory of Loasby and Miller in Church Walk. This was fitted up as a chapel and remained in use until the Presbytery was completed in June 1892 at a cost of £1,300.
Mass took place at a chapel within the presbytery, whilst a “temporary” church was built. This church cost £650 and was opened in January 1893. The “temporary” church was to hold services for nearly 50 years until replaced by the present building. It remains in use as the parish hall.
In 1893 Father Stanley became Cathedral Administrator at Northampton and was replaced, first by Canon Allies and then Canon Fitzgerald, before Canon Tonks was appointed Parish priest in 1896. Canon Tonks stayed for 28 years and it was due to his warm personality that St. Edward’s and Catholicism became an accepted and influential part of the community. This is all the more remarkable, when you realise that in 1891 negotiations to buy the land on which the church would be built had to take place secretly through a third party, as many land owners refused to sell land to Catholics. Many people were won over by his down to earth approach. Canon Tonks once gave a talk to a Kettering club on the meaning of swear words, admitted to human failings as a cricket umpire, and a few months after his arrival offered matches to children burning a bonfire night effigy of the Pope outside his window!
In 1914 the Franciscan Sisters Minoresses opened a branch house and school in Rockingham Road. They were to remain in the parish until 1919, when the house they were renting was sold and they moved away.
Corpus Christi Procession, Kettering, 1922
During the First World War Canon Tonks served three Prisoner of War Camps that were at Glendon, Rothwell and Corby. In Kettering itself he was a chaplain for the military hospitals in the town and inaugurated the Corpus Christi procession (this was one of the first to be held in England since the Reformation). The procession attracted a large crowd of spectators and for several years Wellingborough parishioners travelled to boost numbers. The Corpus Christi procession was eventually moved to a walk in school grounds, due to traffic problems. In recent years it has been revived, and now takes place between St. Edward’s church and St. Thomas More School. The main window in the east wall of the church is dedicated to Canon Tonks on his Golden Jubilee.
When Canon Tonks moved to work in Bedford in 1924 he was succeeded by Father Lockyer. This was a time of growth for Catholicism in the area. In November 1924 the Dominican Fathers opened a Boys’ boarding school at Laxton Hall. Various other Mass centres were established in the area, for example at Fermyn Wood, Brigstock in 1932, where there was a government training camp for unemployed men. The arrival of a large contingent of men and their families from Ireland and Scotland to work for Stewart and Lloyds steel works led to the opening of Kettering’s first daughter Mission at Corby.
In 1937 the Ursuline Sisters of Liege came to Kettering, opening a preparatory school and high school for girls in the Headlands. The enlarged parish meant that in September 1937 the recently ordained Father Henry Macklin was appointed as assistant to Father Lockyer. This was the first time Kettering had had two priests. Father Lockyer began fund-raising for a new, bigger and permanent church, however he was moved to High Wycombe, Bucks in May 1938 and it was up to Canon Hunting who succeeded him to raise funds and begin building the new church. October 1938 saw the start of house-to-house collections to raise the estimated £7,000 it would cost to build the red brick, quasi-romanesque design that had been planned to seat 380 people. (In the end it cost £11,000).
Building began in May 1939 and the shell of the church was used at the end of the Corpus Christi procession in 1940, as the old church wasn’t big enough to accommodate the 450 people who took part in the service. There were no pews or organ in place and the congregation stood or knelt in the open floor space, while a Rifle band led the music from the organ loft. However it was not officially opened and blessed until October 1940, (there were difficulties obtaining the necessary building materials during the war). The Vicar Capitular, Mgr Canon Marshall, led the service, as the diocese was without a bishop at the time. After the service Mgr Canon Marshall announced that before his death in late 1939, Bishop Youens had assigned a £5,000 diocesan legacy from Canon Walmsley Carter, towards the building costs of St. Edward’s. The bishop had felt it was appropriate to use it towards St. Edward’s costs as Canon Hunting had been an assistant priest under Canon Carter. This was wonderful news for the congregation, as at this point they had raised about £2,000 (a major achievement) but had expected to be heavily in debt for at least another 12 years.
During the Second World War three Catholic schools (Bartrams, St. Aloysius and St. Dominic’s) and two attached convents (Faithful Companions of Jesus from Clarendon Square, London, and Sisters of Providence) were evacuated to Kettering. The Wellingborough News at the end of 1939 commented that there were so many Roman Catholic convent and evacuee schoolchildren amongst the Kettering congregation that an extra Mass had to be said on a Sunday to accommodate them. While one Mass was being held a large crowd queued outside the church waiting to take their place.
After the opening of the new church in 1940 the old church became a parish hall and served as a school until the end of the war. The schools made a gift of stained glass windows carrying their school badges to St. Edward’s.
Parish numbers were further increased by armed forces in the area, including American airmen at the Grafton Underwood base in 1943-45. A statue of St. Christopher was donated to St. Edward’s by the 384th (H) Bomb Squadron in 1950 in memory of all those who had served in the area. In May 1979 some of the 384th visited Grafton Underwood and presented the Parish with a silver chalice.
Canon Hunting moved on in 1945 and was replaced by Monsignor Grant. He oversaw the consecration of the church in September 1946 by Bishop Parker. It was jokingly remarked during the homily that as the church was so full, perhaps they might need to think of expansion! Indeed by the 1950s new Catholic Mass Centres were needed in nearby villages and a further period of great growth had begun. From 1945-1948 Kettering clergy took over serving the Mass Centre at Thrapston from the Dominicans of Laxton. In 1948 Thrapston moved to the responsibility of Fr. Throckmorton who also served Oundle.