History of the Holy Name parish
The inspiration to build a new catholic church in Claygate was driven by a small number of Catholics in Esher, who having attended Mass at St Raphael’s in Surbiton for some years, begun meeting in the home of George and Constance Morgan, who lived in a handsome house at the end of Arbrook Lane (now Milbourne Lodge Senior School), On the 5th of July 1922, the Morgans wrote to the Vicar General of [then Southwark] Diocese offering a site with a meadow and orchard over the road from their home to build a new small Catholic church in Esher.
The new church was a small brick building with gothic windows on the same site as the present church, with room for about 80 people. It served the community well but the growing congregation soon outgrew it and thirty years later a bigger church was built over the top of the old church to allow worship to continue while it was completed. The priest at the time chose the magnificent stained glass window which stands proudly behind the altar on the theme of the risen saviour surrounded by four biblical scenes: the three from the Gospels when Christ raises people from the dead, and the fourth from Acts 3:6, where SS Peter and John cure the lame man. The new church seats 300 and has a choir loft and a Lady Chapel.
For 13 years from the church opening until 1935, we saw visiting priests from Surbiton including Rev John Slocum. He was followed in 1937 by Rev John Franklin, who was a “Priest in charge” to serve the district as a whole. Seeing more catholics arriving in the area in the housing boom, he looked to source new sites in Hinchley Wood and Weston Green. He left in 1940 shortly after the war broke out, and was replaced by the Rev (later Canon) Dr Denis Hawkins, a writer of considerable repute by all accounts. Five of his 10 years as parish priest was during WW2. The garden was used to grow much needed vegetables and the church had to be “blacked out” during Mass. In 1941 at the height of The Blitz an incendiary bomb fell through the church roof, but thankfully damage was limited. Apparently during this time there was a long tradition of better-off parishioners renting a special pew in church. This would be at the front of the church and the less well off sat nearer the back! This tradition dwindled but had been an important source of income, bringing “£60 in 1936 when the total income was £541.19s 0d”.
Canon Hawkins was succeeded by the Rev (later Canon) Desmond Leahy in 1950 for the best part of 24 years and his arrival signalled the start of an energetic new era. Fr Leahy was looking for growth in the years after WW2. First he bought the house next door (42 Arbrook Lane) to become the presbytery. Then the new larger church was built on the site, the dedication and the opening of which took place on the 24th of September 1961. Then in 1965 he bought a plot of land in the centre of Claygate, to enable people to walk from the village centre – to be named Arbrook Hall. The hall was mainly used for a Nursery School and parish social activities. He and Fr John Gillespie worked together to plan and build a church and primary school in Thames Ditton. The division of Esher and Thames Ditton into two independent parishes in 1959 did nothing to end their cooperation and warm friendship. Fr Gillespie said his first Mass at Sandon Hall in September 1959. A few years later Sandon Hall was sold and with fundraising from parishioners and a loan from Holy Name, St Paul’s Primary School was built, opening in September 1963, followed by Our Lady of Lourdes Church and presbytery in 1965. Fr Leahy’s time as Parish priest involved much other fund raising to pay for all this expansion and this in turn resulted in many successful and sociable events. The Football Pool grew to have many members and a weekly prize of £200 (in 1961!). Bingo followed in a continued effort to get the parish overdraft down and weekly sessions were run in King George’s Hall, Esher. A garden fete became a hugely popular annual event, with a celebrity to open it each year (including Marlene Dietrich in 1955). Parish pantomimes ran for many years and in 1956 the company named themselves The Sandon Players and proceeded to put on many popular plays in the following years.
There followed in August 1974 the Rev Peter Boulding, not a well man, who in turn was succeeded two years later by the Rev Edward Holloway. Father Holloway retired due to failing eyesight in September 1986 and Father Kevin McHugh took his place, having recently returned from El Salvador where he has worked with handicapped young persons. However within a year he had been seconded by Bishop Cormac to organise the Renew movement in the Diocese. Father McHugh was succeeded in September 1987 by the Rev Michael Perry. Father Michael had been part of a resurgence in the life of the parish. In his own quiet and modest way he captured the hearts of his parishioners.
Monsignor Barry Wymes arrived in 1994 and rattled the parishioners with a plan to sell Arbrook Hall and use the proceeds to build a new hall, next to the church in Arbrook Lane. Arbrook Hall and gardens were no longer fit for purpose and the location was a prime spot for a housing development in Claygate and the revenue could be better used. Parishioners at the time were asked to vote on various proposals and building a couple of container-size rooms behind the church was the favourite option. Elmbridge Council, however, was not willing to approve that scheme. After long deliberations, the work group decided on a new hall next to the church, which the council approved with certain building regulations and an increased number of car-parking slots. This was built in 2002 on the site of the old presbytery and Fr Barry heard that the house next-door was going to be sold. He asked permission for his plan and the Diocese approved buying the house as the new presbytery, provided the whole project self-funded. The Hall in the Claygate village centre was closed in 2001 and sold to a developer. Father Barry retired in 2007.
Monsignor Benny O’Shea arrived in Esher in 2007, having just left Peru. He stayed with us until 2018. He kept the Esher flock together using his vast pastoral experience in England and Peru. He oversaw the refurbishment during his time here. He was also tasked by the Bishop to take part in the Weybridge Deanery’s study group, chaired by Fr Rob (the Dean at that time). All the churches of the deanery had to participate in the CMSG (Change Management Support Group). The main task of the group was to discuss the potential changes to come. (Reduced number of priests and less parishes). Fr Benny gave a few parishioners a book to read by Fr James Mallon: Divine Renovation. The main essence of the book is: From a Maintenance church to a Missional Parish. Fr Benny also led a wonderful parish pilgrimage to the Holy Land during his time with us.
In March 2018, Fr Benny was sent to another parish near Brighton, and we were lucky to get a new priest: Fr David King. Fr David introduced Alpha courses to the parish, through which we had an amazing development of friendships. Soon after his arrival, he joined us on the pilgrimage to Rome. He followed Fr Benny’s renewal plan and formed a vision team, who were tasked to prepare a vision statement. Our vision is “Welcoming all into the joy of Jesus”.
The vision team started with a long-term plan and identified main areas of development. They made sure that the groups identified had enthusiastic young leaders. This whole process was heavily delayed by Covid and by the Bishop’s announced changes at the beginning of 2022:. Fr Rob Esdaile (parish priest of 16 years from Our Lady of Lourdes church in Thames Ditton) would move to Woking in May 2022; Fr David King would go to Rome in September (and act as interim shared priest over the summer). Fr David was lucky to be able to concelebrate the 100 year jubilee of the Holy Name with Fr Benny before he left. Fr Sebastian Paul arrived in September 2022, and was given a massive task to bring two parishes together to one parish with two churches. In 2023 the shared parish chose the name: The Holy Family.