A History of St. Michael's Catholic Church

From Early Times until 1997

Compiled and Written by Monica McAllister

Chapter 7: Plans do not go smoothly

Mr. Dodds was soon to find that he did not have total freedom in planning this new church. He had, first of all, to be constrained by Father Maxwell's changes of ideas. Father Maxwell had decided to visit several new churches in the Diocese and as a result of these visits he issued requests, at different times, for alterations or additions to be made to the plans. Having visited the new church at Esher, he wrote, on January 22nd 1962, to ask Mr. Dodds to design the church to seat only 300 and not the 350 originally planned. He also did not want a balcony and mentioned that he was very taken with the narthex and portico at Esher and would prefer only one door to the church. He would also like the Lady Altar on the Epistle side to be enclosed. Perhaps he envisaged this as a 'crying room!

By February 4th he had visited the church in New Addington and was in great admiration for the way they had included a committee room and so that was another possible inclusion. Then on May Ist he asked for a repository store to be included in the porch. It is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Dodds did not produce his first set of drawings until June 1962. On the 22nd of that month he wrote to Father Maxwell, thanking him for another excellent lunch, during which they had discussed the plans in detail. With his letter he enclosed design drawings , a coloured perspective and a sketch of the Sanctuary. These are all still preserved in the parish archives. He also included an itemised list of the procedures which would lead to the commencement of building in 1963 but this was not to happen.

Soon after this visit Mr. Dodds became very ill and had to go into hopital for an operation. This caused a delay but his assistant, Mr. Peter French, took over his work and in September 1962 copies of the plans were sent to Canon Callanan at Bishop's House. These were submitted to the Bishop and on the 22nd of that month Canon Callanan wrote to Father Maxwell, stating that the Bishop did not approve of the plans and he requested a fresh design. He felt certain features were grotesque and out of proportion. He objected to the Cross outside, the design of the organ gallery (he foresaw the possibility of its occupants falling over into the main body of the church!), the roof lights over the Lady Chapel and the Baptistry and the small area taken up by the benches compared to that taken up by the Sanctuary and the sacristies.

Mr. Dodds being in slightly better health, plans were redrawn and again sent up to Bishop's House. A reply, dated December 18th, 1962 and written by Father Tripp (now Bishop Tripp) stated that the Bishop was still not happy and that the  new design was very much like the old one. Father Maxwell was requested to come up to Bishop's House and discuss the plans with Canon Callanan.

In April 1963, revised plans were sent to the Bishop. The reply, dated May 2nd, stated that the Bishop was more inclined to approve these plans but was not wholly satisfied. Canon Callanan suggested that Mr. Dodds be asked to prepare a model of the new church. He thought that if, after presumably the Bishop had seen and approved the model, it was placed at the back of the temporary church it might bring in some more money towards the building costs.

On May 3rd Mr. Dodds, having also been told of the Bishop's request for a model, wrote to Father Maxwell and expressed the hope that he had a model maker in his parish! An appointment was made for June 7th for a meeting between Father Maxwell, Mr. Dodds and a friend (name unknown) of Father Maxwell's, who was to make a model. There are no records to show if this meeting actually took place but it would seem unlikely. No model was ever made and it is quite probable that Mr. Dodds had become ill again. On July 29th Mr. Peter French wrote to Father Maxwell and informed him that Mr. Dodds had died. He indicated his willingness to carry on with the work of designing the new church.

In his enthusiastic desire to see the building and opening of his church, Father Maxwell had already gone ahead with certain projects. He had invited Michael Clark, a well known sculptor to design and make the Stations of the Cross. The first one was brought over for the parishioners to see in May 1963. It was crafted in bronze fibre glass and each Station was to cost £60. Father Maxwell was hoping that fourteen families would come forward and each sponsor an individual Station. Indeed this is what happened. All the Stations were paid for by parishioners, each family being allocated a Station. They did not choose.

Never considered though, either by Father Maxwell or by Mr. Dodds, was the possibility that the planning permission, granted in 1944 after the purchase of Mawmead Shaw, was no longer valid. By early April Father Maxwell began to worry about this and wrote to Mr. Dodds on that point. Mr. Peter French raised the question at the end of May and also expressed concern about the necessity to have restrictive covenants removed from the properties, entitled Mawmead Shaw and Rushmere. These covenants meant that the properties and the land appertaining to them could be used for residential purposes only.

Initially a verbal approach was made to Leatherhead Urban District Council. The planning officer, Mr. de Lara stated that in his opinion, taking into account the Acts of 1947 and 1953, the planning permission granted in 1944 would no longer be valid. He was furthermore certain that planning permission

would be contested by the local authority, as the building of a church would not be in accordance with the plans shown on the town map, where the area facing Woodfield Lane was specifically designated for houses. This was an unforeseen problem and the building of the new church seemed as far away as ever.

Fr Maxwell's Memorial