Ancient History *

picture of an ancient book

The town of Beeston dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, when it was called ‘Bestun’ - the village (tun) of rye grass (bes) - and would have been a settlement of wooden buildings enclosed by a wooden fence. There may have been a church, but there is no surviving evidence for one. The Doomsday Book (1086) does not mention a church at Beeston, although it does mention three Anglo-Saxon manors, those of Alfeg, Alwin and Ulchel.

If the Christian conversion of the Anglo-Saxons reached them, then it is likely that they might have built a church, usually a simple wooden structure, or erected a stone cross to worship at. The absence of evidence quite naturally raises the question: Was there a church or perhaps a stone cross where the Anglo-Saxons worshipped, and if they did, was it destroyed in the Danish Invasion during the 8th century? These details have been lost in the mists of time, and will remain so until new evidence is found.

In 1160, Lenton Priory, a Cluniac House, was granted the right to appoint a priest to the living (or benefice) of Beeston. At this time, there was a vicarage and a church, which must have been built between the compiling of the Doomsday Book and 1160. What is not certain is whether it replaced a previous structure. The only extant item which dates to the medieval building is a stone font, made during the reign of Henry III (1216-1272); it is currently in St John's Anglican Church, and is still in use. The first vicar of Beeston, John de Brademare was admitted to the benefice on 24th September 1267. The Priory appointed the subsequent vicars until the Reformation, except for a thirty seven year period between 1339 and 1376, when this was taken over by King Edward III so he could restrict the powers of foreign religious Orders.

Subsequent churches, after the medieval one, are known to have been built on this site; the first thirteenth century, during the reign of Edward III (1327 - 77), followed by a sixteenth century one during the reign of Henry VIII (1509 - 1547), and a final one in 1844. This is now the Anglican Parish Church of St John the Baptist, and the only remaining parts of the pre-Reformation church extant are the Chancel walls.

The Catholic Church of the Assumption is not the first Catholic Church in Beeston to have been built since the Reformation, but the second (built in 1954). The first, dedicated to St Peter was built in 1898 situated adjacent to the bus station, sixteen years after Bishop Bagshawe appointed a priest to the mission of Beeston-cum-Long Eaton (1884).

Beeston and the Surrounding Area, in 1884

picture of an ancient map

This section is taken from an 1884 map, available here, and gives a bird's eye view of the parish at the time of the first Catholic foundation since the Reformation. Other sources mention all of these communities as having been in existence in medieval times.

Beeston 1884 Beeston was by far the largest of the villages or townships. There were various textile mills, including lace and silk, a flour mill, a smithy, an orphanage, schools, and a train station. The cricket ground and pavilion was where Siemens (previously known as Plessey Telecommunications, GPT, Ericsons and Marconi) now has its car park and factory.

As with most communities, Beeston had a number of public houses and inns (16 in all), two malthouses and even a brewery at the bottom of Dovecote Lane, near the train station. Marked on the map are three places of worship, the (Anglican) parish church of St John's, along with its vicarage, a Methodist chapel and a Baptist chapel. There is also evidence for geological industries; depicted as a gravel pit, the other side of Wollaton Road opposite the current Sainsbury's site, and an old coal shaft near what is now the sports ground off University Boulevard. A further point of interest is the existence of Beeston Hall. It appears from the map, that Beeston was small thriving town with many and varied industries. Adjacent to Beeston, and south of the railway station was the area known as Beeston Rylands. This consisted of fields, two inns, a few cottages and Beeston Lock, at the junction of the River Trent and the canal.

Attenborough 1884 In contrast to Beeston, Attenborough is a very small village consisting of its parish church (St Mary's) and attendant vicarage, train station, possibly an inn, very few cottages and a ferry house for the ferry across to Barton-in-the-Beans (nowadays Barton-in-Fabis). The site of the current Attenborough Nature Reserve was, at the time, still an area of fields. Roughly where Barratt Lane meets Nottingham Road today, the map indicates the remains of a Lady Cross. These crosses were used in medieval times as, either wayside places of worship or to mark a safe passage across featureless or marshy land.

Bramcote 1884 Bramcote was, what one might call, the typical village. It had an Anglican parish church - St Michael's with the attendant vicarage, a Methodist chapel, two public houses (the White Lion and the Sherwin Arms), almshouses and a Manor House. In addition to these important public sites there also existed Bramcote Hall. Much of this is still extant today, although Bramcote has since spread to the north side of Derby Road.

Chilwell 1884 Chilwell, now little more than an extension of Beeston, was probably more of a distinct village at some time prior to the 1880's. It had a Methodist chapel, a brickyard, a school, two public houses, a few cottages and Chilwell Hall, all concentrated around what is now Chilwell High Road. As Chilwell fell within the parish of Attenborough, there was no Anglican Parish Church.

Toton 1884 Toton was much the same size as Attenborough. It consisted of a Manor House, a school, a smithy, a few cottages and a disused flour mill. By contrast, there are no places of worship indicated on the map at this time. The reason for this was that Toton fell within the parish of Attenborough. The residents of Toton would have travelled to Attenborough to worship.

Beeston 2008 Today Beeston and its environs are very different from 1884, and they have developed from, what could have been described as an idyllic group of villages, surrounded by various farms in between, to suburbia, where the boundaries between the various villages have merged. It can be confusing where one area ends and another begins. Various industries have sprung up: Boots, Siemens and others. There is now an army base (Chetwynd Barracks) on the border between Chilwell and Toton, and various roads have been laid through what were once green fields. All this is an inevitable as part of 'progress'. Whether you view this is a positive or negative step, I leave to your own judgement. We now go from a bird's eye view of the area and concentrate on Beeston itself, looking more specifically on worship within the area, starting with its origins in Anglo-Saxon times.

Modern History - The Old Church **

The first foundation at Beeston [since the Reformation] seems to have been an act of hope on the part of Bishop Bagshawe. In 1884, he appointed Fr P F Elkins as missionary priest of Beeston-cum-Long Eaton. A temporary chapel had been built at Long Eaton in the previous year. Beeston, where the priest resided, was the weaker centre. Mass was said in the billiards room of the Rising Sun public house in Middle Street, and the attendance was at first no more than ten. With some logic, therefore, the priest's residence was moved after one year to Long Eaton.

Less logical was the attempt made in 1887 to establish Beeston as an independent mission. Fr G V Bull, newly ordained, was appointed as the first missionary priest. There were, however, no resources to maintain a priest, and after a short time, probably a matter of a few months, Fr Bull was withdrawn. For one year more, Beeston was served as a Mass centre from the Cathedral. It would seem that there was some sort of a temporary chapel in existence at this time, for there is a tradition that the priest had once to fight off a gang of youths who demanded to know what was in the tabernacle. This incident, and the legal proceedings which followed, is said to have led to the closure of the centre.

For the next eight years Beeston was left without the Mass. Two young women, a Mrs Blagburn and a Miss Robinson, took the initiative in keeping the faith alive. From about 1888 they collected the children together and gave them religious instruction in the front room of a private house. Towards 1896, they were able to interest Canon Douglass in the needs of the dormant mission. The Canon was at that time Administrator of the Cathedral and Bishop's Secretary, but he also took Beeston under his own personal care. Two rooms in a small factory near Styring Street were rented and Mass was once more said in 1896.

Beeston was apparently erected at this time as an independent mission, for the Canon is found signing the Lenten Returns of 1895 as Rector of the Mission. Only seven adults had at first attended Mass, but when the centre was removed shortly afterwards, to an upper room at the old Humber Works, the congregation began to overflow and the permanence of the mission was assured.

view of St Peter's Church shortly before its demolition in 2005

A site in Styring Street was bought in 1897 from Robert Styring (410 square yards at 5/- per square yard). Plans were drawn up by Mr G Hart, the building contract was awarded to Mr Turner of Styring Street, and the completed church was opened by Bishop Bagshawe on Whitsunday, 1898. It was an aisleless brick Gothic oblong of no pretensions, but served its purpose well enough for more than half a century. A year or two before the First World War the numbers of the congregation were depleted by the removal of the Humber Works to Coventry. It was, however, quickly filled up again by the opening of the Chilwell Ordnance Depot after the outbreak of war in 1914.

Efforts to raise funds for a more worthy church were made sporadically from the first years of the 20th century.

St Peter's Church shortly before its demolition in 2005

The New Church in Beeston

When the parish outgrew the old Church of St Peter, situated on Styring Street (later the Age Concern building, and demolished in 2005), plans were drawn up for a new, larger church to be situated on Foster Avenue. The land was bought by the parish priest Fr. F.C. Hayes in 1939 and building began. However, with the outbreak of the Second World War, progress was halted . At the end of the war, new plans were drawn up by the architect, Mr Reynolds but initially were rejected by the local authority as too elaborate and costly.

At the fourth attempt approval was granted and work began on the current Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The work was undertaken by the Nottingham company, Messrs. Sweeney and Palmer and began on 1st March 1952. The foundations laid down in 1939 had to be cleared as time and weather had taken their toll, however, progress was such that on 29th May 1952 Bishop Edward Ellis visited the site to lay the foundation stone.

The Romanesque design of the church was executed using Ibstock brick and the sanctuary floor was marble. Decoration of the Altar and old pulpit was terrazzo work. To the left of the Sanctuary was placed a side altar dedicated to Our Lady, which was adorned with a carved Italian statue representing the Assumption. Above the door was a stained glass window depicting the same mystery.

view of The Assumption from the car park

Two years later, on 21st March 1954, the church was opened by Bishop Ellis. It was at this time that the old dedication to St Peter was replaced by the current one to Our Lady of the Assumption. The new title was recorded as commemorating personal favours granted to the then Parish Priest, Father Timothy Shanahan on the Feast of the Assumption. At the same time a new priest's house was constructed and was also opened in 1954.

The opening of our new parish church saw the end of fifteen long years in construction (interrupted by World War II) and around fifty years of fundraising effort - though more was still to come!

view of The Assumption from the carpark

The Early Years

Prior to the official opening of the church, Father Shanahan officiated at what proved to be a most unusual wedding. On 16th January 1954 the Nuptials of Michael O'Dwyer and Mary Reddington were due to take place. This would have been the first wedding in the new church building, however, there was some delay in the issuing of a licence to permit marriage on these premises. As all arrangements had been made Father Shanahan made the decision for the couple to make their vows in the presence of their witnesses in the old church on Styring Street while their guests waited in the new church, unaware of the drama of the occasion. The bride and groom then proceeded to the new church for the Nuptial Mass with their guests. This gave the couple the distinction of not only being the last couple to be married in the old church, but also the first to have a Nuptial Mass in the New one!

view of the sanctuary from the pews

One of the first couples to be married in the new church after its official opening were Des and Nancy Burrows who are still happily active parishioners today.

We believe the first baptism was that of Patricia Eileen Lydell, the daughter of Mr George and Mrs Catherine Lydell and it took place on 4th April 1954.

Father Shanahan remained as the parish priest until 1960, when Father Bernard Kevill took over. As with all our Parish Priests, he worked tirelessly to maintain and improve not just the church but the parish as well.

Catholic education for the children of the parish remained an issue. Sadly plans in Father Shanahan's day to build a Catholic primary school off Field Lane, and later, similar plans by Father Kevill for a site off Bramcote Lane, near the Current Alderman White School, both foundered. However, there was better news for Catholic Secondary education when, after negotiations over expenses were concluded, over-elevens were able to attend school, first in Ilkeston, then later to the then Corpus Christi School, at West Bridgford. This was made possible by the construction of the Clifton Bridge over the River Trent which made the journey feasible from the Beeston area.

Changes to the church under Father Kevill included the sacristy, and as a result of that, the opening of the Sacred Heart Chapel to the right of the Sanctuary, forming a pleasing balance with the Mary Chapel to the left.

Thanks to the generosity of the Kitch sisters, it was possible to purchase No. 4 Cavendish Place at a more than reasonable price.

Although it is something which was not visible to its Parishioners, Father Kevill felt that his great achievement for the structure of the church was the re-organisation of the drains which apparently were causing problems.

The 1970s

This particular period in the history of our parish was overseen by Father Thomas McMahon, who arrived to take over from Father Kevill in 1969, and remained with us throughout the seventies until 1982. This was a period of great change for all within the church following the Second Vatican Council and 1971 saw the remodelling of the Sanctuary and changes in the liturgy. The burgeoning population of practising Catholics and early indications of a future shortage of priests made the need to extend the church necessary. Consequently in 1976 the lawns in front of the church entrance disappeared to make way for a large extension, at the cost of £30,000. In the next few years the closure of the Church at Chilwell Depot and a reduction in the number of masses at Beeston proved that the extension had been a wise decision to cope with the increased numbers at the remaining masses.

Education remained at the forefront of those involved with bringing up children. Secondary Modern and Grammar Schools were being phased out in favour of Comprehensive education. As a result of this, the Becket School in West Bridgford and the Corpus Christi School in Wilford combined to become the Becket Comprehensive School. Both sites remained open with the younger pupils being educated mainly at the old Corpus Christi site while the older pupils studied at the Becket site.

Attempts continued to provide a Catholic Primary School in the area, and, for a while it appeared that Mgr. McLean, the diocesan representative with the education authorities, had achieved this. Sadly however, hopes were dashed when cut-backs on spending on education were introduced and plans were shelved once again.

The 1980s

After about thirteen years in the parish, Father McMahon departed and he was replaced by Father Michael Eastwood in 1982. With only two years to prepare, the Centenary celebrations loomed in 1984. Following the sale of Numbers 2 and 4 Cavendish Place, it was possible to fulfil the dream building a church hall on land adjacent to the Church previously occupied by the rear gardens of the houses sold to finance the building project. The result was a spacious single storey building with a large main hall, a meeting room and kitchen. Much forethought was put into the design with consideration being given to ease of accessibility for disabled, and suitable toilet facilities. A small garden area to the side has been used to house a grotto to St Bernadette of Lourdes. Most appropriately, the new church hall was blessed and opened by the Bishop of Nottingham, the Right Reverend James J McGuinness, following the Centenary Mass of Thanksgiving on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Lady.

The construction of the church hall freed the parish of the need to use other venues such as the local Roundhill School and other local churches for social occasions and meetings. Thanks to monies raised by the sale of the two houses, and additional funds from the set-off account, there was no debt incurred in the construction. It has since become a popular custom for many families and friends to gather there after mass for coffee and a chat.

Over the years many parishioners joined Diocesan Pilgrimages to various destinations, one of the most popular being Lourdes in France. In addition to these, there were others arranged at parish level including Rome in 1985 and the Holy Land in 1987, the latter resulting one non Catholic member of the party making the decision to become a convert after his experiences there.

The 1990s

This period of time saw considerable changes in the internal appearance of the church. A commitment was made to introduce to our parish Perpetual Adoration of The Holy Eucharist. Initially this was housed in a temporary chapel at the rear of the church while construction of a permanent chapel was under way. This was situated in the former Boys' Sacristy, to the right of the Sacred Heart Chapel, with access from the outside of the church via a locked door with an electronic keypad. At the same time, access to the sacristy was re-routed through the Sacred Heart Chapel to the right of the sanctuary. The new chapel was opened in the early 1990's and is still well used by many parishioners, a core group of whom strive to maintain perpetual adoration.

The focal point of the Chapel of Adoration

During this decade the Sanctuary was re-ordered, with the removal of the altar rail and the widening of the steps to cover the entire width of the sanctuary, this whole area was then carpeted.

Various pilgrimages continued to take place, organised at either parish or Diocese level. The first of the decade was to Oberammergau, where a group of parishioners experienced the famous Passion Play which is re-enacted every ten years by the people of Oberammergau in thanks to Our Lord for sparing them from the plague. Later there was a pilgrimage to Rome in 1994, followed by a trip to Ireland for the ordination of Father James Earley on July 15th 1995. Father James had spent a month in our parish as a student, staying with Father Eastwood in the Presbytery. Further pilgrimages were made to Fatima, Prague and Lourdes. Of course not all the pilgrimages were to such distant destinations, regular visits were made to such sites of pilgrimage as Walsingham and Beauvale.

The focal point of the Chapel of Adoration

The New Millennium

The joyous celebrations for the new millennium were hardly out of mind when the parish was devastated by the untimely death of Monsignor Canon Christopher Fisher on 15th July. He worked tirelessly for the Catholic Children's Society and travelled widely but always came back to 'roost' at Beeston. He was part of our 'Parish Family'.

The year 2000 saw the departure of Father Eastwood from our parish, his eighteen year stay being the longest stay during the fifty years this church has been in service, and only exceeded by Father Hayes stay between 1920 and 1941 at the old church of St Peter. His place was taken by our current parish priest, Father Kevin Clark who came here from Gainsborough in Lincolnshire.

Inherited from his predecessor, Father Kevin took over the organisation of the construction of a small toilet block adjacent to and linking the church and the Perpetual Adoration Chapel. It has been a welcome addition.

Sadly the continuing shortage of new priests and the loss of serving members of the clergy due to illness, retirement or death, has led to the practise of 'Priest Sharing' between parishes. This resulted in Father Kevin taking over at St John the Evangelist, in Stapleford while continuing to run this parish.

In 2005, the deanery was reorganised. Fr Colin Taylor in Ilkeston now looks after St John's in Stapleford, and Fr Kevin now looks after St Thomas More's in Wollaton in addition to The Assumption at Beeston. This has led to the loss of several masses in the churches of the local area and not inconsiderable negotiations over such issues as the timing of services, but, after some tweaking of timetables and assistance from a band of willing helpers in all parishes, a balance has been achieved.

* Adapted from Beeston Parish Church - commemorating the 150th anniversary of the rebuilding of the [Anglican] Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Beeston

** A History of Beeston [Catholic] Parish from unpublished notes by Canon G D Sweeney, Taken from Centenary Souvenir - The Catholic Church in Beeston

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