A History of St. Michael's Catholic Church

From Early Times until 1997

Compiled and Written by Monica McAllister

Chapter 11: Final completion and some problems solved

Although the builders had managed to complete the building of the church on time it had not been possible to do much about the surroundings and progress on these continued after the church had been opened. In February 1968 the car park was properly laid out and in March 1969 landscaping of the grounds was started. Families were asked to donate £1 each for the purchase of a shrub for the grounds and the good response is seen in the variety of mature shrubs which are growing around the boundaries of our church grounds

As with all new buildings there were "teething troubles'. On December l2th Father McGrath had to call the contractors back as there were problems about the heating of the church.In the first winter of the new church the whole building, particularly the Entrance Vestibule was bedevilled by excessive condensation running down the walls and dripping from the ceilings. Father McGrath consulted Mr. Denis Harrington, a parishioner who was an experienced contractor and a Fellow of the Institute of Building, as to the reason for this condensation and its possible cure. (Mr. Harrington had already advised Father McGrath on several occasions during the planning of the present church).

Mr Harrington inspected the two underfloor ducts which conveyed the warm air from the boiler to the various points where it was discharged into the church. These ducts were found to be almost full of water with the consequence that the warm air entering the church contained a large quantity of water vapour. This immediately began to condense as it encountered the colder atmosphere inside the church. Further investigation revealed that the heating ducts had been badly constructed and were sited below the level of the water table.

On Mr. Harrington's recommendation a land drain was laid parallel with The Marld. This ran the full length of the church and priest's house ~nd was connected to the surface water sewer in Woodfield Lane. This had the effect of eliminating the problem but it was considered that both the architect and the builders were at fault over the bad workmanship in the construction of the ducts. A claim was submitted to the Diocesan Solicitors and their subsequent action resulted in a considerable sum being deducted from the contractors final account.

In January faults arose with the construction of the priest's house. These faults were dealt with but problems with the floor of the church occurred in March 1968 and this was dealt with in May. Final maintenance work was done in August 1968 but the certificate of completion was only issued on May 20th 1969 when all the problems had finally been ironed out.

Since then there have arisen other problems connected with the construction of the church and the Priest's House. Part of the roof of the church and all that of the house were flat and covered with the usual layers of bituminous sheeting. With the passage of time these coverings deteriorated and began to let water through. They were replaced but eventually in Father Healy's time the roof of the Priest's House was replaced by a pitched and tiled roof.

From time to time a slight dripping of water occurred from the roof inside the church. Frequent inspections failed to detect any fault in the copper cladding. Finally during Father Veal's time it became so bad that an inspection of the insulation material between the copper cladding and the roof timbers showed it to be sodden. Unless something was done the roof timbers would eventually rot. It was therefore decided that, despite the cost, the whole copper covering and the insulation would have to be stripped off and replaced by a waterproof insulation and a new copper roof. The work was carried out by Robert Adlard and Co. Ltd. and no further repetition of the trouble has since occurred.

Although the new church was in use and Father McGrath was installed in the new priest's house the hut was still standing and so was the old house 'Rushmere'. The hut, which was falling to pieces, was soon demolished to make way for the car park. Rushmere continued to exist for some further time. It was hoped that an order of nuns would move in and use it as a rest home for their sisters. However this never materialised, probably because so much money would have had to be spent on repairs and modifications. Eventually, in June 1968 the decision was taken to demolish it but the site and grounds remained as part of the church property.

In 1944, when Rushmere had first been purchased it was with the idea of using the combined sites of Mawmead Shaw and Rushmere for the pupose of building the church, priest's house and a school. In 1966 Father McGrath was wholeheartedly committed to the idea of building a Catholic junior school in Ashtead and was seeking to extend the area of land, which the church owned so that such a school could be built.

The Diocese had other views and as early as 1969 the Bishop was anxious that the unused land should be sold. On 12th May Father McGrath had received a letter from Father Stonehill, who was the Diocesan Finance Secretary, to say that he had received an offer of £55,000 from property developers for the land provided that planning permission could be obtained. He stated that the Diocesan Council of Administration was in favour of accepting this offer and that His Lordship proposed, if the offer was accepted, to liquidate the parish debt and also to annul the remainder of the money owing for the diocesan debt. In return this generosity would be taken into account if the parish wished to embark on any other building projects in the future.

On 27th May Father McGrath asked permission from the parish to put forward the request that the land should be retained for a school. He had consulted Father Chatterton from the Diocesan School's Commission and Sister Curtis, the Headmistress of St. Peter's School. They both supported his view. However on July 4th Father Stonehill informed Father McGrath that an application for building 21 Georgian houses on part of the land had been made but that the section immediately behind the car park would be retained for a future church hall.

In August Father McGrath put before the Bishop the case for retaining the whole of the land as statistics foreshadowed a sharp rise in the local population. The Bishop accepted his argument and the parish council was informed by Father McGrath of the reasons for not selling the land. All consulted agreed that a school would be needed in the future and that the land would substantially increase in value. The following resolution was then sent to the Bishop:-

At an open meeting of the parishioners on September 24th 1969, the following resolution was unanimously passed:-

The parishioners have carefully considered the Bishop's suggestion that the site of 'Rushmere' might be disposed of for residential purposes, and note with satisfaction and relief the Bishop's promise that the land would not be so disposed of unless and until the parishioners of St Michael's had agreed thereto.

The parishioners of Ashtead, having considered the matter, have arrived at the inescapable conclusion that the site should not be sold but should be retained for the subsequent provision of a school, as they are of the firm conviction that a Catholic school will be required in Ashtead within a very few years. If the site were to be sold, under the present national shortage of land, it is most unlikely that another suitable site would be found.

The land was not then sold and in November 1971, when Leatherhead, Epsom and Banstead schools were extended to form Middle Schools, Father McGrath was still pushing for the building of a Catholic Primary School in Ashtead.

After the church had been built and the landscaping of the grounds had begun, the statue of Our Lady which had been donated in the early days of the hut chapel and been erected in the grounds of Rushmere was moved to the present site in the garden at the front of the church. Unfortunately in the latter part of 1970 it was destroyed by vandals and in the November of that year it was replaced by a new one. Sadly, although the replacement statue still stands it has also, on at least two occasions, been attacked by vandals. In 1972 there was a proposal to the parish council that such a statue outside the church and in that position was not in keeping and would be better moved. This proposal was strongly opposed and Our Lady's image is still there to welcome us as we approach our parish church.

By 1973 the church had been in use for nearly six years. Regular teams of volunteers had lovingly maintained its sparkling new appearance but there were many parts which could not be reached and in June of that year a firm of professional cleaners was brought in and the church had its first 'spring clean'. Of course the church was still not paid for and each year the money collected weekly, the proceeds of the Christmas Fair and various donations and covenants were mainly used up in paying the interest on the loan. The debt was only slowly diminishing.

In October 1973 Father McGrath put forward to the parish the idea of individuals lending, interest free, sums of £100 (or multiples of this) to the parish to payoff the debt. He explained to his parishioners that, if we did not have to concentrate our finances on paying the interest and reducing the capital of a bank loan, we should be able to help the less fortunate in other parts of the world. The loans would enable us to do this and would be repaid once our finances were secure. There was a very positive response and within a relatively short time the whole of the debt was removed. Once free of debt the church could be Consecrated.

Fr Maxwell's Memorial