Monday 12 December 1988

St. George's Catholic Church by Terence Howes


Aris & Phillips Ltd, of Teddington House, Church Street, Warminster, have now published Terence Howe's booklet, St. George's Catholic Church, Warminster, 1938-1988.

Danny Howell has written the following review:

This interesting booklet has been written and compiled by Terence Howes to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of St. George's Roman Catholic Church at Boreham Road, Warminster. The price, at just £1, is within everyone's pocket, and the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the St. George's Building and Development Fund.

The first Mass in Warminster since the Reformation was celebrated in 1900 at Torwood, 24 Boreham Road, the home of the Tisseman family. Six years later, the Ursuline Sisters came to Warminster after their expulsion from Brittany and established a convent and chapel at Yard House, East Street (now Yard Court). In 1919 the Ursuline Sisters left Warminster and returned to France. Catholic worshippers then visited Sutton Veny, attending the services of Anzac troops in camp there.

When the soldiers departed for France, Canon Lee, anxious to find a place for Catholic worship, gained permission from the War Office to use an Army hut between Fairfield Road and the Warminster Railway Station. This sufficed for a short while until Mr. Tisseman found a piece of land and a small cottage (33 Boreham Road) for sale, opposite Torwood. The authorities purchased it, Mass was said in the upstairs room of the small cottage, and work commenced on building a church.

The architect was Sir Frank Wills, who had been Lord Mayor of Bristol in 1911/1912. The Church, in red brick, was simple but functional, and it was dedicated to St. George, in the same way the Ursuline Sisters had named their Convent. The new Church was opened and dedicated by Bishop Burton on Sunday 13th August 1922. Canon Lee (later Bishop Lee) celebrated the first Mass.

Warminster was not then a Parish in its own right, and it was only a Mass Centre, served each Sunday by a priest from Frome, until 1938, when the Church was enlarged, a Presbytery was built, and a resident priest appointed.

Terence Howes tells the story of events at St. George's from 1938 onwards. Some of the text is abridged from the Very Rev. J.A. Harding's 1300 Years - A History Of The Catholic Church In Warminster. Also included are a few contributed memories.

Sybil Fuller recalls "A Notable Parishioner". She says "I remember my father going into St. George's Church one day in the 1950s, and seeing a shabbily-dressed man wandering around, seemingly inspecting everything. My father, thinking he was a tramp 'loitering with intent', waited until he went out, and then followed him into Boreham Road and bade him 'Goodnight'. The man replied in a cultured voice, and my father asked him whether he was just passing through the town, or was a new resident. 'Oh no,' said the man, 'I live at Heytesbury; my name is Sassoon'. After that, we got quite used to seeing Siegfried Sassoon worshipping in St. George's - driving up in his equally shabby old high back car."

St. George's Primary School at Woodcock Road, Warminster, which opened in February 1970 and was partly rebuilt in 1975 after a fire, is also featured, complete with a group photograph. The booklet concludes with how the children of St. George's Primary School see their patron saint.

We are all familiar with the story of St. George and the Dragon, but 10 year old Jonathan Toomey has his very own interpretation. Under the title "St. George Beats a Dragon at Cards!" he writes: "St. George, the brave knight, went to the dragon one night, who was about to have his supper. St. George, a great guy, had saved a damsel in distress, and went in for his nightly game of poker. St. George, a great player, beat the dragon again, and the dragon was really angry because he had lost a lot of money; he challenged St. George to a fight. St. George, a clever fellow, just tripped him up, and put his sword to the dragon's throat. He promised him there and then that he wouldn't kill him if he would pretend to be dead, because by now the whole world knew about the challenge. Ever since that day St. George has been thought to have killed the famous dragon; but it is only a legend. The truth is that St. George and the dragon became very good friends."

Oh well, now we know, and it just goes to show that historians do not always get it right!