23 June 2009

Hoddesdon’s churches and parishes

The Clock Tower in Hoddesdon Town Centre stands on the site of the former Saint Katharine’s Chapel, with the parish church in the background to the left (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The annual conference and council meeting of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG – Anglicans in World Mission) – continues today at the High Leigh Conference Centre, in the beautiful English countryside of Hertfordshire. Yesterday, I had an opportunity to stroll around the town, and a few of the Irish delegates went back into Hoddesdon last night.

The parish church of Saint Catherine and Saint Paul in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

High Leigh is on the fringes of the commuter town of Hoddesdon, where the parish church of Saint Catherine and Saint Paul in Paul’s Lane has a thriving congregation, with the Revd Jeremy Brooks as its vicar. There are 220 people on the electoral roll, and each week between 120 and 150 adults and children take part in the main Sunday morning service.

Jeremy has been the Vicar of Hoddesdon for the last eight years. A former solicitor, he is the author of a number of collections of children’s prayers, the latest of which, Let there be Peace, was published earlier this year. His wife, the Revd Dorothy Moore Brooks, was ordained 10 years ago. She is the associate minister, chaplain at Isabel Hospice, and oversees the Bereavement Support Group. The Revd Vanessa Parr joined the parish of Saint Catherine and Saint Paul as curate a year ago. She has worked for Crisis, the homelessness charity, and Christian Aid, as a fundraiser.

The East Window in Hoddesdon Parish Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The parish is in the Diocese of St Alban’s, where the Right Revd Dr Alan Gregory Clayton Smith is due to be enthroned as bishop on 19 September next. Bishop Smith is a former Bishop of Shrewsbury and Diocesan Missioner for the Diocese of Lichfield. Saint Alban’s feastday fell yesterday, and we remembered the martyr in our prayers during the USPG conference.

Saint Katharine’s ... before it was demolished

At one time, Hoddesdon was divided between the parishes of Broxbourne and Great Amwell, with the boundary between the two parishes running through an archway in the High Street. The first church in the town was a chapel of ease built by William de la Marche in 1336. Saint Katharine’s Chapel, which was used by pilgrims to Walsingham, survived until it was demolished in the 17th century, and the tower survived until 1836. A more recent clock tower stands on the site.

Meanwhile, a chapel of ease, dedicated to Saint Paul, was built in 1732 by Robert Plomer, a local businessman. Some say Plomer only built the chapel to annoy the Vicar of Broxbourne. However, it appears his church was never used as a place of worship and it soon fell into disrepair.

The Revd Thomas Pickthall was the first priest appointed to the parish – as late as 1823. With Pickthall’s appointment, Hodesdon became a parish in its own right. The new parish grew as the population of the town grew in the 19th century. To match this period of growth in the Victorian era, the church was extended to include two transepts and a chancel at the eastern end.

In 1976, a further reordering the church was carried out under the Revd Percy Gandon, blending together the Georgian and Victorian parts of the building.

Meanwhile, the archway through which the old parish dividing line once ran was demolished in the 1960s. A specially inscribed stone was set into the pavement marking the boundary, and a new clock house was built on the site of Saint Katharine’s Chapel. The present name of the parish church also keeps alive the memory of the old chapel.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin

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