History of the Parish
The former Church was opened on Wednesday 11th May 1842, at a time when catholics were less numerous and comprised approximately only 1% of the total population of England and Wales. Only 13 years previously, the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 had removed many of the disabilities suffered by catholics for centuries. And a further nine years would have to pass before the re-establishment of the Hierarchy in 1851. In the meantime, the catholic community was cared for by the Vicars Apostolic of the different districts into which the country was divided. The Vicars Apostolic were ably assisted by priests both secular and regular.
The Applegarths of Crayford
It would appear that for some time prior to 1840, a priest came from Woolwich to Crayford once a month to celebrate Mass for the catholics of the locality. He used ‘Shenstone’ the nearby manor house owned by Augustus Applegarth, who was not a Roman Catholic, but his son (of the same name) was certainly one by 1836. Mr. Applegarth senior had moved to Crayford in the early 1830’s. He was an inventor and involved with printing. In 1818 he constructed machines for the Bank of England for printing bank notes in several colours and in perfect register. In the early 1820’s he was appointed engineer to ‘The Times’ and designed a printing machine whose output was double that of any machine then available. It was Augustus Applegarth who first leased the land and established the silk printing works which has subsequently become known as David Evans & Co. Ltd. The original lease and title deeds to this transaction are today kept in the Library Department at Hall Place, Bourne Road, Bexley.
The future Father Applegarth (son of the owner of Shenstone) became a catholic at Oxford. We know he was a student at St. Edmund’s College, Old Hall Green, Ware on 1st July, 1836, where he studied for the priesthood. He was raised to the order of Sub-Deacon on 3rd September, 1837, ordained Deacon a year later (22nd September, 1838), and on 27th April, 1839 was ordained priest. The following month he joined the catholic community in Southampton, but did not stay long. By 1840 Father Applegarth was ministering to catholics in Brighton, and later that year he came to Crayford, where he cared for the catholic community which in the main was very poor.
The Old Baptismal Register
Between the period of Father Applegarth’s arrival as a priest in Crayford, and the opening of the new church, thirteen baptisms are recorded. The first two entries in the first Baptismal Register read:
‘Die 6 Aprilis 1840 natus, et die 6 Septembris ejusdem anni baptizatus fuit Johannes Thomas Flanagan, filius Johannis et Catherinae Flanagan (olim Turner) conjugum. Sponsores fueruent Jacobus et Margaritta Yates A me Augustus Applegarth. Mifs. Apos.’
‘Die 23 Maii 1837 natus, et die 26 Novembris 1840 baptizatus fuit sub conditione, Gulielmus Reynolds, filius Thomas et Ellenae Reynolds (olim Connor) Conjugum. A me A. Applegarth. Mjfs. Ap.’
The new church of 1842
Soon after Father Applegarth arrived, arrangements were made to build a church on land adjoining Shenstone, the home of Augustus Applegarth, senior. Whether or not the building was paid for by Augustus Applegarth is uncertain, but it would appear that by 1842, due to financial embarassment, Augustus Applegarth was unable to meet the full costs. Nevertheless, the new church was opened on 11th May, 1842. On the 1st December, 1844, Bishops Griffiths, Vicar Apostolic of the London District, visited Crayford and 28 people received the Sacrament of Confirmation.
St. Joseph’s School
Apart from building the church, Father Applegarth was most anxious to provide some form of catholic education. So he decided to erect a building which would serve as a Presbytery, as a Schoolhouse, and as a residence for the Schoolmaster. This building was partially completed in 1851. For such a small community this was a gigantic task, but it laid the foundations of our present St. Joseph’s School.
After Father Applegarth
Father Applegarth left Crayford in 1854 to minister in Windsor and Brighton. He died on the 18th February 1896, a Canon of the Diocese of Portsmouth.
Father Daniel Donovan succeeded Father Applegarth as the Pastor of the catholics in Crayford. Although he stayed eight years, little is known of him.
Father Donovan’s successor was Father Joseph Alberry, who moved from East Bergholt, Essex to Crayford in 1858. Some of Father Alberry’s letters to his Bishop, Bishop Grant of Southwark, are extant and reveal many of the pressures and problems of the Mission at Crayford. Examples of these letters are reproduced later in this brochure.