1: THE FIRST CHURCH, 1926-1958


On Sunday 26 April 1958, fifty years ago this weekend, Mass was served for the last time in the “old tin hut”, as it was affectionately called. Behind the timber and corrugated-iron church a new concrete replacement was nearing completion. For parishioners, anticipation was mingled with sadness at the passing of a much loved little church.

Loughton’s parish was established in 1926 when Bishop Arthur Doubleday of Brentwood was persuaded that the number of Catholics was strong enough to justify a Sunday Mass. The Claretian Fathers, a Spanish order new to England, offered to take on the parish, and sent Fr Albert Lopez from Hayes every weekend to serve Mass — for the first few months in the Lopping Hall. Events moved quickly, however, and in March 1927, on the feast of St Joseph, the Church of St Edmund Rich of Canterbury was opened and dedicated. The building, thought to be “temporary”, was the gift of Charles Diamond, the publisher and editor of The Catholic Herald.

It was lovingly fitted out. Probably its most important feature was the altar, carved and painted by Br Raymond Tous at Hayes. To be destroyed, alas, in September 1934 when the entire building was accidentally burned out by a thief raiding the poor box. But the following February, a replacement building, identical to the first, was opened, and work started on the presbytery. Both church and presbytery were again damaged in 1944, when a German bomb fell on the cricket field opposite.

After the war, the growth of the new Debden estate made a second church vital. St Thomas More opened in 1953, and had the honour the following year of hosting the ordination of three Claretian missionaries. In the 1950s a flurry of activity shook St Edmund’s: St John Fisher School was founded, as well as several Catholic organisations including a Youth Club, the Women’s Guild, a branch of the Legion of Mary, the Scouts, Cubs and Girl Guides, and the Knights of St Columba. A thriving Football Team was set up, and for several years the St Edmund’s Players put on popular drama productions.

Above all, however, the parish dreamt of a new church building. And so, after a service of remembrance on that special Sunday fifty years ago, the Blessed Sacrament was removed, and the little corrugated-iron church at last fated to demolition. Soon, the building which had been the parish’s ambition from the first day of Charles Diamond’s “temporary” structure of 1927 would be ready.