5th November 2014: St Ambrose' Church, Wye - Diamond Jubilee 2014

Fr Rodney Schofield was Wye Historical Society's second speaker of the season. He gave a fascinating lecture to a packed audience at the Society's November meeting on the subject "St Ambrose' Church, Wye ‐ Diamond Jubilee 2014". By way of context much of the lecture concentrated on the period of the Reformation in the 16th century, both on the continent and in England. There are records relating to Wye dating to this time which Fr Schofield used, in the latter part of his lecture, to help trace the history of Catholicism in this area.

It was under Elizabeth that the reformed (Protestant) church in England became carefully regulated. It was expected that everyone would attend worship on a regular basis and a fine of 12 pence was supposed to be levied on anyone who was absent without good reason. In 1569 it was noted that there were 27 absentees in Wye, probably all of them Roman Catholic sympathisers, with the Kempe, Dryland and Clifton families prominent among them. In 1580 members of the Kempe family were still absentees. Sir Thomas Kempe, however, was discreet in his religious commitment and served as Sheriff of Kent three times as well as Commissioner for Coastal Defence at the time of the Spanish Armada. Young Thomas Clifton, however, was less fortunate. He attended various Catholic seminaries in France returning to England in 1580. He was arrested in 1581, charged for extolling the Pope's authority and sentenced to forfeit all his possessions and to be imprisoned for life. In 1593 it was reported that he had died in prison where he had suffered atrocious conditions, shackled by day and put in "a horrid and darksome dungeon" by night. Thus, in addition to its earlier Protestant martyrs, Wye has a Catholic martyr too.

Soon after the Elizabethan era the Catholic minority in Wye seems to have disappeared. During the Second World War, however, mass was held on a regular basis for Catholic troops in Wye. After the war Mrs Whatmore (who bought the Old Vicarage and whose son was a Catholic priest) was instrumental in establishing Catholic worship first in one of her rooms and then in her stable which was modified and furnished for the purpose. Worship continued here under its next owner, Mrs Canby, also a Catholic. When the retirement home that she established fell into debt Southwark Diocese bought its grounds with a view to building a church there. The first step was to construct a hall which in fact became St Ambrose' Church. It was here that the Catholic community started to worship in 1954 exactly 60 years ago.

Jenny Oram