A History of St. Michael's Catholic Church

From Early Times until 1997

Compiled and Written by Monica McAllister

Chapter 9: Sadness and a Necessary Change of Plans

As soon as he knew that the Appeal had been successful the architect requested the diocesan solicitors to set to work on the removing of the Restrictive Covenants, on the two original properties of Mawmead Shaw and Rushmere. Negotiations were made with the Ashtead Land Co., which held the Covenants and the Deeds of Release were issued at the end of May 1965.

It was in that year that Father Maxwell celebrated his Silver Jubilee as a priest and on May Sth he thanked the parish for making his Jubilee such a happy one and for their gift of £288:12:6 which was to buy a statue of St. Michael for the new church.

It seemed to Father Maxwell that his dream of building the new church was, at long last, about to be fulfilled. The parishioners too were eager to have a proper church at last. They were concerned however about the cost and, having seen one set of plans and heard of changes to these, they were anxious to see the final plans. Consequently Father Maxwell arranged for Mr. French to come and talk to the members of the Parish Council at their AGM on July 7th. Sadly on June 15th, after an illness of only tbree weeks. Father Maxwell died.

Father Bogan, assisted by Father Coleman coped with the immediate emergencies of the parish but no further progress could be made until the appointment of a new permanent priest. This was a time of great change for the new Diocese of Arundel and Brighton was to be separated from the Archdiocese of Southwark. Father Maxwell's funeral actually took place on the day that the new Diocese came into existence. The first bishop of this new Diocese was the Right Rev. David Cashman D.D.

To care for the spiritual needs of the people of Ashtead and to ensure the speedy building of a proper church Bishop Cashman chose to appoint Father Bernard McGrath. Father McGrath had been parish priest in Crawley and had been responsible for the building of a new church in that parish. This experience was to stand him in good stead when he came to Ashtead.

Immediately after coming to Ashtead Father McGrath sent for the architect and asked him to cost the proposed plans for the building of the new church. In an interview, shortly before the Silver Jubilee of the church, he said that the estimated cost was in the region of £80,000. This was 1965 and he knew that there was no way in which a parish of this size could take on such a large debt. Consequently he asked Mr. French to produce plans for a simpler building which would be less expensive and also more in keeping with the new liturgical requirements which were the result of decisions taken by the Second Vatican Council.

On November 14th 1965 Father McGrath explained to the parish the reasons, financial and liturgical, for the change of plans and promised the people that there would be a new church and presbytery by St. Michael's Day, 1967. He also arranged for a memorial Foundation Mass to be offered up annually for Father Maxwell. In the December a new electronic organ to be used in the new church was delivered.

By March of 1966 the working drawings had been approved and were in the hands of the quantity surveyors. On March 9th the architect's fees of £1075 17s 6d were paid. The quantity surveyors prepared a Bill of Quantities and this was put out to tender. In the August Messrs Gaze Ltd. of Walton on Thames had their estimate, to build a church and presbytery for the sum of £65,799, accepted. On September 25th Father McGrath celebrated an evening Mass in thanksgiving for the start of the building of the new church. Actual building commenced on October lOth 1966. By November 6th of that year 95 parishioners had responded to an appeal to donate specific items for the new church. The weekly Mass attendance that month was 504.

On January 27th, 1967, the first certificate indicating building had progressed to a certain stage was issued and payment was made to the contrators for the work which had been completed. On January 31st Father McGrath met the architect and discussed, with him, the details of the church furnishings. On February 20th a copy of the electrical layout was sent to Father McGrath and he was also given the information that the builders were two months behind schedule and that the contractors price was likely to be increased by some £250. A letter from the architect, written on March 6th, reveals that he is very aware of Father McGrath's concern over the rate of progress on the building.

Father McGrath's reply to Mr. French on March 9th included a report on a recent meeting he had had with the Bishop. He stated that the Bishop wished the statue of St. Michael to be designed to match that of St. Joseph and that he also wanted the Altar Crucifix to be a double-sided one which would be suspended from the ceiling. He also gave the date of July 1st as being the day arranged for the Bishop to lay the Foundation Stone.

Fr Maxwell's Memorial