Brief History of Our Lady of Grace


c1800:   The Parish House, originally called Highcombe, was built in Regency style. It is the sole survivor of several villas built in this style in the area. One of the first residents was Baron Sir William Congreve. He was in charge of the Royal Military Laboratories at Woolwich and an inventor. Among his inventions was the Congreve Rocket therefore he is considered the father of modern rocket technology. He also invented decimal currency and an efficient steam engine. King George IV frequently visited and partied here. The house then had a series of residents with links to the Military Academy in Woolwich, until it was bought by Sir William Barlow, an eminent railway Civil Engineer who is famous for investigating the Tay Bridge disaster and designing the replacement Tay Bridge. His research contribute to redesigning the Forth rail bridge, and completing Brunel"s Clifton Suspension bridge. He also designed and built St. Pancras station, at the time the largest spanned roof in the world, and the Midland Railway. He collapsed and died in the entrance hall of the house  on November 12th. 1902 aged 89

 

1903:   On the 18th July 1903 the Assumptionist Sisters, expelled from Bordeaux, France, bought the house as a refuge and moved in. Their first act was to set up a small chapel in the current parish office, and the first Mass was said by Fr Benedict Caron A.A on a temporary altar until a proper one arrived from Bordeaux.  The following day, with the sisters and 5 parishioners. within a few weeks over 100 attended Mass and it became clear that a proper church was needed. The priest lived at 99 Charlton Road.

 

1904:    Work begins on building the church which was designed by French architect Mons. Gervais of Bordeaux in Roman style with a nave and west aisle. Built by Jones & Sons of Erith to hold 400, it cost £5000.00

1905:    The first local girl, Ellen Noon joined the Sisters.

The foundation stone was laid on 27th August 1905 by Bishop Amigo of Southwark. 

Also in 1905 the parish school opened using the conservatory on the ground floor of the house.

 

The Foundation stone says:


O Blessed Virgin Mary fountain of Pardon

Mother of Grace, hope of the world,

Hear  your children, brothers and sister,

called Augustinians of the Assumption.

Banished from their homeland, but near to you, no longer exiles,

Eagerly desiring a new harvest.

Mary, mother of Grace

They laid the first stone of this building dedicated to you AD 1905

During the reign of His Holiness Pope Pius X

During the Episcopacy of the Most Illustrious Peter Amigo, Bishop of Southwark.

 

1906:   September 8th. Church opened and  dedicated to Our Lady of Grace, because the Sisters had discovered there was a local shrine with that dedication in pre-Reformation days. However, no trace of this shrine exists today. However, Bishop Amigo wanted the church named after St Alphege who was martyred by the Danes on Blackheath, but the Sisters wishes prevailed as they provided the funds!

One of the sisters carved a life size statue of Our Lady out of wood and plaster which was installed in the alcove above the high altar where it remained until is was moved outside in the early 1960's

October the Children of Mary Association was formed.


1907:   The Stations of the Cross were installed in the Church and the church was registered for marriages.

The school expanded and was located in the house and stables

 

1912:   The Sisters returned to Bordeaux and the Assumptionist Fathers bought the property from the Sisters and moved into the house. New Assumptionist Sisters arrived later in the year and moved into 34 Charlton Road where they started The Assumptionist Convent School. Sr Palmyre Clothier, a local convert who had joined the Sisters was the first headmistress and remained so until 1946, (32 years!)

 

1914:   Plans were approved for a proper school building on the current site to the east of the house, but building was delayed because of War and nothing happened until 1926. Meanwhile the school opened in the house, (current presbytery) until the school finally opened on 8th January 1929 with 270 pupils. 

During World War 1 local residents sheltered in the house cellars from Zeppelin bombs.

 

1922:   The current parish hall was built in 1922-23 by the parishioners for use as school and parish hall. It is still a greatly appreciated asset in the parish.

 

1925-27:   The current pulpit and pews were carved and made by Fr. Gregory Chadal A.A. Also a new organ and coke-fired heating were installed. Both altar and pulpit originally had carved wooden canopies, but these were removed in the early 1960's.

 

1929:   The Sisters open a hostel  for young ladies from France wishing to learn English.at "The Firs" 84 Victoria Road, formerly the Westcombe Park Working Mens club. 

Funds were available and designs approved for a new school.


1937:   With the fear of War in the spring of 1937, the RAF bought the Convent in Victoria road for £18,000 as HQ of the 34th Anti-Aircraft Battalion, Royal Engineers. The Sisters moved to temporary accommodation at 37 Charlton Road and 108 Victoria Road. 


1938:   The Sisters bought the property at the corner of Bramhope Lane and Charlton Road, formerly known as "Little Combe" to build a new school. 

 

1939:     In March Archbishop Amigo blessed and opened the newly completed school and hostel. During the war it was used as a rest centre for bombed out families as the school children were evacuated to Newton Abbot in Devon until 1944.


Sadly the parish and school did not go unscathed through the war.

 

1940: September The Convent and church were hit by bombs. 


1944:   There was a near miss from a V1 flying bomb which landed below the house in the marshland. Shortly after the children had returned and the school re-opened a V2 damaged the school roof and playground. Fortunately nobody was hurt.

 

1945:   St Joseph High School closed and the Sisters opened a girls primary school.

 

1956:     Four acres of the Highcombe land behind the House was sold by the Assumptionists to the Diocese who built St Austin's Secondary Modern School for Boys which opened in January 1957.


1958-60:   The war damage to the church was repaired and a lady chapel, baptistry and new entrance was added along the western (left) side of the building. 


1960: September 13th.  The renovated Church was finally consecrated by Archbishop Cowderoy 

 

1970:   The present organ was installed to replace the original.


1972:   The Sisters of the Assumption community left Charlton, and went to their 'mother' convent in Bethnal Green. The Assumptionist priests continued to staff the parish.

 

1985:   The Baptism font was moved to it's present position, and the parish celebrated the 80th anniversary of laying the foundation stone and the 25th anniversary of its consecration. 


1989:   Fr Michael Leach becomes the first Diocesan parish priest.


1991:     St Austins school was closed and the students transferred to St Joseph's Academy, Lee. St Austins was demolished and houses built on the site. Only the sports field remained with the Diocese.


2006:   The church celebrated it centenary.

 

2012: April.  The parish returns to the care of Religious priests. The Spiritans (Holy Ghost Fathers) who were founded in Paris in 1703, take responsibility, with Fr. Uche Njoku CSSp as parish Priest and Frs. Michael Emenike Ezenwamadu CSSp and Jude Nwachukwu  CSSp assisting. 


2013: April The Spiritan community is joined by Fr. Terry Donnelly CSSp who will reside here and assist here and in local parishes while awaiting surgery.


2014: September. Fr. Jude Nwachukwu CSSp is transferred to St Gabriel's parish, Archway in Westminster Archdiocese to serve as hospital chaplain and assistant in the Parish.


2015: January. Fr. Josephat Ezeanolue CSSp joins the community to reside while going on Mission appeals of the Spiritans. He also assists in the parish where needed.


2015: September. Fr. Michael goes to Canterbury University to study "Peace, and Conflict Resolution". Meanwhile Fr. Josephat is appointed as assistant Parish Priest.

>>>>   Fr. Terry is elected to the Provincial Council of the Spiritans UK and will be travelling frequently. He continues to reside at Our Lady of Grace and is Superior of the Spiritan Community here.

          October. Fr. Terry is elected president of the CMU (Catholic Missionary Union) the representative body of all the Missionary Congregations in England and Wales in their dealings with the Bishops Conference of England and Wales. This involves more travelling and meetings.


2016:  January: - Fr. Uche asks to leave the Spiritans and join the Archdiocese of Southwark. After a short break in his native Nigeria he returns in March and is appointed to the Parish of St John Fisher in Merton south west London.

         January:   Fr. Josephat is appointed as Priest in charge of Our Lady of Grace parish.

          April:    Fr. Damian Ozokwere CSSp arrives from Nigeria to join the Spiritan community in Charlton as assistant to Fr. Josephat. He was ordained in1998 and has served as Vocations Director, Seminary Director and Novice Master since 2003.

          November:   Fr Damian is transferred to the Spiritan parish in West Bromwich. Fr. John Abugri, a young Spiritan from North East Ghana and working in Benin joins us the Community.

2017: January: Fr. Paul Antiwi-Bosiako joins the Spiritan Community as assistant to Fr. Josephat.