Parish History-First Church

first churchSo the decision was taken to establish a permanent mission, with Mr Devany leading the way to leasing a suitable building, which had hitherto been a Salvation Army barracks. The building, which would seat 150, was in Theatre Street, the road that runs behind the large Georgian houses which face on to the Market Place. During the 18th century Swaffham had been a notable centre for the local gentry, having a ‘Season’ of its own, so the presence of a Theatre in those days is not surprising. But by the early 20th century those days had long gone, and the Theatre had gone very much downhill. There were only 8 resident Catholics at the time; but they had been joined by Protestant neighbours in order to make the building presentable, including putting in new windows on the street front.

The lease of the building had been signed on 29th September, with MrDevany himself undertaking to subsidise the running expenses as well as guaranteeing the rent of £8 per annum. He is, therefore, the first known benefactor of our Community, while the Bedingfeld family and others provided many of the items for the furnishing of the Church. Other benefactors followed, notably Miss Willis, who wrote first from Cowmangate (now Mangate Street) and later from Kensington in west London often sending quite handsome cheques for the upkeep of the Mission Priest. Later Miss Willis was joined as a benefactress by Miss Katherine Winter, who was still active in the Parish in the 1950s.

The Chapel itself, dedicated to our Lady of Pity, was opened by the Bishop of Northampton on Sunday 29th October to a Church packed with the Bedingfeld family and others from Oxburgh, some priests of the Motor Mission, the 3 Catholics of Swaffham (Mr and Mrs Devany and an Irish girl called Kate Dunne) and very many curious townspeople.

The patron of the Mission, whose Feast Day is on September 21st, seems not to have been chosen fortuitously, for Fr Goldie had found that amongst the shrines destroyed at the Reformation in the medieval Parish Church was one to our Lady of Pity, and no doubt the Bishop wished to revive the devotion to her who had stood at the foot of the Cross when her Son gave her to St John and to us.