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A History - Part 1

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19th Century

At the beginning of the 19th century, the few Catholics in Basingstoke looked towards Woolhampton for Mass. With the building of the London-Southern Railway (1840/1850), there was a large influx of Irish Catholics. Among these was a young couple called Flynn who left Ireland during the potato famine. He got work on the railhead. They lived in a small cottage in Elbow Corner, near St Michael’s Church. When children were born, they were taken to Woolhampton for Baptism as this was the nearest Catholic Church.

Soon afterwards, Dr Crookall came to say Mass in the Flynn household for the family and a handful of Catholics. Among these was James or William Gibbons who was a gardener to John Burgess Soper. Dr Crookall let it be known to the small community that he was looking for land on which to build a church in Basingstoke. Apparently, he had great difficulty because nobody would sell land to Catholics in those days.

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John Burgess Soper, who was not a Catholic, heard about this from his gardener. Being a man who did not tolerate injustice of any kind, he sought out Dr Crookall and offered him, at a reasonable price, various sites between St Thomas’ Home in Darlington Road and South View Cemetery. Dr Crookall opted for the site on the corner of Burgess Road and Sherborne Road.

Canon Crookall of Woolhampton, Parish Priest of Woolhampton 1855-1886, and his curate at Woolhampton , 1869-1886, are considered to be the founders of the Basingstoke Mission. In 1869 Mass was said once a month.

In 1874, Fr Charles Paul came to live in the Parish. He lived in a house afterwards known as "Shirley Cottage" in Burgess Road??? The kitchen became the Chapel. Prior to this he may well have said Mass regularly in Jasmine Cottage, Sarum Hill, also in the "Wagon and Horses" in Reading Road.

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Fr Charles Paul began the task of building a Chapel and this was opened in 1878. Dr James Danell, as the Bishop of Southwark, performed the opening ceremony and consecrated the Holy Ghost Chapel.

On January 23rd, 1992, Pat Scannelli, the current housekeeper, discovered the following information concerning those involved in what has now become known as the "Burgess Road Hall".

"January 13th Erected 1877-1878
England not yet engaged in war with Russia
but daily expectations of it.
Joseph Tigwell
W. Moses, H. Hunt, L. Redgrove, A. Watson
E. Purdue, G. Purdue, A. Phillis, S. Carroll
Drew & Co.
R. Coom, G. Cowdrey, Waldron, W. Bourne
Rev’d Father Paul, Priest."

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Fr Paul left the Parish in 1878 and retired to Bournemouth where he died at a great age. In 1882, the new Diocese of Portsmouth was formed and the new Bishop, Dr Virtue, celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation on 12th December 1883.

Fr Paul was succeeded by Fr Emmanuel Morgan who stayed for only one year. Next came Fr James Daly who opened a Catholic elementary school behind the new Church. At one time the school had seventy-five children on the roll, most of whom were not Catholic. The school closed after sixteen years. When Fr Daly left Basingstoke he was presented with a silver snuff box. He later became Canon of Lyndhurst and died on October 25th 1925.

In 1885, Fr Joseph Val d’Eremao became Parish Priest. He came from Goa and was formerly Rector of the Seminary in Feerozepore. He was a distinguished oriental scholar, author of "Serpent of Eden" and other books. He was very keen on whist and he became a well known character in the Town. He left Basingstoke in 1887 to teach Sanskrit in London where he died (date unknown). [ ** Patrick Pontet-Piccolomini - in the course of his research into the history of St John the Baptist Parish, Andover - notified us that this last sentence is inaccurate; instead we learn that:

"The Rev Dr Joseph Val D’EREMAO, parish priest of Basingstoke, opened the mission in Andover on 5 January 1886. Mass was initially celebrated in the sitting room of the MOUNTFORD residence, but afterwards temporary premises was rented. About twenty persons assembled for Mass on the first day. Soon the numbers swelled, with Catholics coming from outlying districts; in 1887 mass was at 3 West Street, near the Town Hall. Fr D’EREMAO, after hearing confessions at Basingstoke on Saturday, used to go down to Andover by the last train, and on Sunday morning said Mass at 8.15am, returning to Basingstoke to say his second Mass at 11am. He died not in 1890 but on 6th June 1896 at the Oriental Institute in Maybury, near Woking in Surrey, on the record of which he is named as Joseph Peter Val d’EREMAO, aged 55 (therefore born about 1841), a Doctor of Divinity, and died of cirrhosis (consequence of chronic liver disease) over five months and syncope (temporary loss of consciousness and posture) for two days. Whether he is buried in Andover or not cannot be verified."

We are indebted to Patrick for this correction received on 8 February 2008.]

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He was followed by Fr Denis Greene who came to the Diocese on loan from the Diocese of Cloyne. He was blessed with good looks, charm and a great devotion to Parish life. He was keen on horse riding and all kinds of sports. In 1892 he was called back to his home diocese when he became a curate at Clondroid, near Macroom, Co. Cork. Later, he became a Parish Priest in Cloyne but he died at a comparatively young age of tuberculosis. Fr Green’s father and his twelve brothers were all horse dealers and apparently the whole family gathered in Fermoy for the Annual Horse Fair.

In 1892, Fr Michael Barry took up residence in the Parish. It is thought that number 2 Burgess Road had by then become the Presbytery. Although he suffered bad health, he served the Parish until 1896. In 1896 he became Parish Priest of St Edmund’s, Southampton. In 1903 he retired to a home in Clifton where he died many years later.

In 1897, the care of the parish reverted back to Woolhampton. Obviously, the school was closed at this time. Fr James Doran from Farnborough was in charge from 1898-1901 and it is assumed from what follows that there was no resident priest in Basingstoke.

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1901-1920 ~ Canon A. J. Scoles

But the London-Southern Railway came to the rescue again in 1901. Canon Alexander Joseph Scoles was on his way to London by train and, when the train stopped at Basingstoke Station, fortuitously glancing through the window, he could not but notice (as one does to this day) the impressive ruins of the Holy Ghost Chapel. Canon Scoles was fascinated, especially in the light of the fact that he had just completed a new church, dedicated to the Holy Ghost, in Yeovil in Somerset.

Bishop Cahill who had just become the second Bishop of Portsmouth wrote in the "ad clerum" on October 21st 1900 - "I have to communicate to you another mercy of God, which will be, I am sure, as great a consolation to you as it has been to me. You are aware that for some time past the Mission of Basingstoke has had no resident priest, because the Diocese could no longer afford the heavy expense of his almost entire support. Now a good priest of another Diocese taking pity on the place, and moved by his lifelong desire to raise up shrines in honour of the Holy Ghost, has offered to undertake the Mission of Basingstoke (a town anciently dedicated to the Holy Ghost), and to build a suitable church and presbytery, and, if possible, endow the Mission sufficiently to enable its priest to remain there always. The Very Rev. Canon Scoles, who has already built and endowed two churches in his own Diocese of Clifton (spending some £13,000) - one of them being the very beautiful church of the Holy Ghost at Yeovil - has determined to leave his perfect presbytery at Yeovil, resigning his Rectorship, his Canonry, and his office of Vicar Forane, in order to devote himself to Basingstoke, on which he proposes to spend at least £4,000."

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When Canon Scoles came to live in Basingstoke on 30th May 1901, work had already begun on the presbytery during the previous March and he was able to move into the new house before Christmas of the same year.

On 14th May 1902, Bishop Cahill blessed the foundation stone of the new Church, and in his sermon, praised the generosity of Canon Scoles because he was not only the architect but also the provider of the funds for the church; rarely does a Bishop not have to plead for funds for a new building. He did, however, plead that the building might soon be filled with worshippers.

Sixteen months later, on September 9th 1903, the church was indeed full for the solemn consecration ceremony, which coincided with the Silver Jubilee of its founder who was ordained priest in 1878. The Church was formally opened five days later on Tuesday 15th September. Dr Burton as the Bishop of Clifton and 60 priests from all over the South of England took part in the ceremony, together with the Mayor of Basingstoke and a large number of laity. Bishop Cahill gave a long sermon on the meaning and influence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Unfortunately, Canon Scoles, who was suffering from ill-health, took no part in the ceremony but was seated near the entrance to the sacristy.

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Canon Scole’s influence in architecture went further than Basingstoke and Yeovil. He was the architect of St Swithun’s Church, Southsea (1901) and St Joseph’s, Copnor (1913). He also designed later additions to St John’s Cathedral, Portsmouth.

Besides building churches, Canon Scoles had many other interests. He was skilled in lace making and embroidery. He had a keen interest in underprivileged children, and many young people owed him a proper upbringing. While the church was heated by a furnace in the presbytery cellar, he had a small engine which produced electricity for the hall. At the time, all the establishments in Basingstoke had gas and paraffin heating, while Burgess Road Hall had the luxury of electricity.

There are numerous stories about the Canon, who is reputed to have had a powerful voice which he used to full effect to show his disapproval of latecomers to Mass. Ladies with new hats came in for special attention during the "Asperges".

During the 1914-1918 War, the Belgian Royal Family were evacuated to Hackwood House. King Albert and Queen Elizabeth, with Prince Leopold, Prince Charles and Prince Marie Jose often attended Mass in the Holy Ghost. On one occasion they were accompanied by Queen Annelie of Portugal. While the Canon was putting incense in the thurible, he whispered to Charlie Smallbone, who was the Altar Server, "Skinny, before you incense the congregation, go down and incense the two Queens first."

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Another time he was asked why he built such a big church for such a small congregation. He bellowed in reply, "I built the church, my successors will fill it".

When Canon Scoles died in 1920 he was buried in the church grounds. His memorial headstone is well preserved and can be seen on the north side of the church.

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