26 September 2022

Two Oxford war heroes with
many interesting family
connections with Ireland

Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse is commemorated by a paving stone depicting a pair of Victoria Crosses outside Saint Peter’s College, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

As I was wandering around Oxford almost aimlessly earlier this month, I stumbled unexpectedly upon a plaque to Noel Chavasse that reminded me of the connections between a distinguished Oxford clerical family and a family with an interesting role in life in Ireland.

Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse (1884 -1917) was a medical doctor, an Olympic athlete, a war hero, and one of only three people to be awarded the Victoria Cross twice – indeed, the only man to be awarded the VC twice during World War I.

During the Battle of Guillemont in 1916, he was hit by shell splinters while rescuing men in no-man’s land, but continued in his heroic throughout the night under a constant rain of sniper bullets and bombing. He carried similar heroic acts at Passchendaele in 1917, becoming the most highly decorated British officer in World War I, although he died of his wounds on 4 August 1917.

Noel Chavasse was the younger of identical twin sons of the Rev Francis Chavasse, later Bishop of Liverpool and founder of Saint Peter's College, Oxford. His twin brother, the Revd Christopher Maude Chavasse (1884-1962), was also an Olympic athlete, was decorated with the Military Cross (MC) during World War I, and later became Bishop of Rochester.

Christopher and Noel Chavasse were born at Saint Peter-le-Bailey Rectory on New Inn Hall Street, Oxford, where their father was Rector. They both attended Magdalen College School in Oxford, followed by Liverpool College, before going on to Trinity College Oxford.

During his medical training, Noel Chavase had a placement at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin. He is commemorated by more war memorials in the United Kingdom than any other individual: 16 have currently recorded by the National Inventory of War Memorials, including two paving stones in Oxford, each depicting a pair of crosses: one outside Saint Peter’s College and one near Magdalen College School.

Christopher and Noel Chavasse were born at Saint Peter-le-Bailey Rectory on New Inn Hall Street, Oxford, now part of Saint Peter’s College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The twin’s father, Francis James Chavasse (1846-1928), was the Rector of Saint Peter-le-Bailey in Oxford when they were born at the Rectory. Later, after being Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and Bishop of Liverpool, Bishop Chavasse returned to Oxford in 1923, and moved back into the vacant rectory of Saint Peter-le-Bailey on New Inn Hall Street.

He was instrumental in founding Saint Peter’s Hall in 1928, and church took on the combined role of the parish church and a college chapel. The first master of Saint Peter’s Hall was the Revd Christopher Chavasse. Saint Peter’s Hall became a full Oxford University college in 1961, the parish was merged with Saint Ebbe’s and the church became the college chapel.

The Chavasse family was rooted in the West Midlands but originally came from south-east France in the 17th century. The family was close, and the twins were closely related to the Chavasse families in Ireland.

Claude Chavasse (1886-1971), who was just two years younger than the twins, was also born in Oxford and was one of the Irish nationalists rounded up in the aftermath of the Easter Rising in 1916.

Brendan Behan is said to have based the character ‘Monsewer’ in The Hostage on Claude Chavasse.

Claude first came to the attention of the authorities when he was stopped by a police sergeant in Co Cork in February 1916 and gave his name in Irish. He was arrested and spent two nights in prison in Macroom, where he alleged he was beaten for refusing to speak English.

He was arrested again after the Easter Rising and took part in a hunger strike in the prison. He took the Republican side in the civil war, taught at Scoil Acla on Achill Island, and remained active in the Irish language movement until his death in 1971. His sister Marguerite also attended Scoil Acla and through her friendship with the Trench family persuaded Switzer’s in Dublin to sell Achill knitting produce.

Colonel Kendal George Fleming Chavasse (1904-2001) from Co Waterford, played a distinguished role in Tunisia and Italy in World War II, and commanded the Royal Irish Fusiliers 2nd Battalion in Italy, Egypt and Palestine.

I remember him from my childhood in Co Waterford, when he was an innovative farmer, a founder member of the Irish Farmers’ Association and was involved in West Waterford Hunt and the Dungarvan Show. He was the longest-serving lay reader in the Church of Ireland and a member of the General Synod.

His son, Henry Perceval Kendal (Hal) Chavasse (1933-2022) of Cappagh House, between Cappoquin and Dungarvan, was once the British military attaché in Mexico and Panama, and then in Columbia. When he retired and returned to west Waterford, he was the forestry manager at Lismore Castle and a farmer, and for many years he was the treasurer and ‘the voice’ of the annual Dungarvan Show. He died earlier this year on 21 February 2022.

Teampol na mBocht or the Church of the Poor, at Altar or Toormore, west of Schull, Co Cork … Canon Claude Lionel Chavasse was rector in 1934-1940 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Canon Claude Lionel Chavasse (1897-1983) also fought in World War I before graduating from Exeter College, Oxford, Oxfordshire, and studied for ordination at Saint Stephen’s House, Oxford. He was ordained in 1929, and was the Rector of Teampol-na-mBocht, west of Schull, Co Cork (1934-1940), of Mallow, Co Cork (1940-1944), and Baltinglass, Co Wicklow (1957-1967). In retirement, he lived in Lemybrien, outside Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

I have fond memories of his daughter, Judith Mary Chavasse (1933-2018), who was an encouraging parishioner in Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan, when I did regular Sunday duty in the Holmpatrick and Balbriggan Group of Parishes.

She trained as a nurse at Saint Thomas’s in London, and returned to Ireland, becoming head of nursing in University College Dublin. Judith was a visionary and a great thinker. She led the development of nursing towards its recognition as a profession and academic discipline in Ireland, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by TCD.

After her retirement in 1996, she moved to Balbriggan, where was an active parishioner in Saint George’s, securing heritage grants for its restoration.

Earlier this year, a special service on 19 June 2022 marked the opening of the Judith Chavasse Centre – formerly Saint George’s School – in Hampton Street, Balbriggan. The guest preacher was a former parishioner, the Revd Trevor Sargent, now Rector of Bunclody, Co Wexford and a trustee of the Anglican mission agency USPG.

When Saint Peter’s parish was merged with Saint Ebbe’s, Saint Peter’s Church became the chapel of Saint Peter’s College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Monday 26 September 2022

The Oratory Church of Saint Wilfrid in York, also known as York Oratory, is considered to be one of the most perfectly finished Roman Catholic churches in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Rosh Hashanah or New Year’s Day in the Jewish Calendar, the beginning of a New Year and the first of the ten High Holy Days. In the Calendar of Common Worship today [26 September], the Church of England commemorates William Carlile (1942), founder of the Church Army.

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This morning, and for these two weeks, I am reflecting each morning on a church, chapel, or place of worship in York, where I stayed earlier this month after a surgical procedure in Sheffield.

In my prayer diary this week I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a church, chapel or place of worship in York;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The design of the tower creates an optical illusion, so that the Oratory appears to be taller than York Minster in the background (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Wilson Carlile (1847-1942) was born in Brixton. He suffered from a spinal weakness all his life, which hampered his education. After a serious illness, he began to treat his religion more seriously and was confirmed in the Church of England. He acted as organist to Ira D Sankey during the Moody and Sankey missions and, in 1881, was ordained priest, serving his curacy at Saint Mary Abbots in Kensington, with a dozen other curates.

The lack of contact between the Church and the working classes was a cause of real concern to him and he began outdoor preaching. He resigned his curacy in 1882 and founded the Church Army, four years after the founding of the Salvation Army. Under his influence it thrived and he continued to take part in its administration until a few weeks before his death on this day 80 years ago, in 1942.

Luke 9: 46-50:

46 An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, 48 and said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’

49 John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ 50 But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’

The arch above the main door of Saint Wilfrid’s Church has the most detailed Victorian carving in York (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Oratory Church of Saint Wilfrid, York:

The Oratory Church of Saint Wilfrid in York is also known as York Oratory. The Gothic Revival church was completed in 1864 and it is considered to be one of the most perfectly finished Catholic churches in England, rich in sculptures, paintings and stained glass.

The original Saint Wilfrid’s Parish was once a mediaeval advowson of the Benedictine Saint Mary’s Abbey, York. The original site of the church was on land now occupied by the Judges Lodgings in Lendal and part of the Assembly Rooms behind it in Blake Street.

But the parish could not support itself, the church fell into disuse and became redundant, and was demolished. It was eventually built over and the parish was united with Saint Michael le Belfry. Part of the porch way, believed to belong to the original Saint Wilfrid’s Church, was found under the floor of the Assembly Rooms during 19th century renovations. Two of us had dinner recently in the Assembly Rooms, now Ask Italian.

Saint Wilfrid’s parish was revived by Catholics in York in 1742, when they established a mission in Little Blake Street. The mission was founded by Bishop Edward Dicconson (1670-1752), Vicar Apostolic of the Northern District of England.

A priest’s house, known as Chapel House, was established at No 7 Little Blake Street, now Duncombe Place. The first public place of worship for Catholics in York opened in 1760. The chapel continued until 1802 when another chapel was built on the opposite side of the street, on the present site. The chapel was hidden from the street by its presbytery, but could hold up to 700 people.

Plans were drawn up in 1848 to build a new church. However, the funds were diverted to build a much needed church in the Walmgate area for the large number of Irish Catholics who settled there. Saint George’s Church was built and became the Pro-Cathedral of the Catholic Diocese of Beverley.

Meanwhile, the prominent position of Saint Wilfrid’s was made possible because of the clearing of the streets in front of the Minster and the creation of Duncombe Place. York Corporation was planning a new approach road to Lendal Bridge in 1859. This prompted Augustus Duncombe (1814-1880), Dean of York, to propose continuing the route by the chapel and towards York Minster.

The old narrow lane, known as Lop Lane or Little Blake Street, was replaced with a wide thoroughfare. The houses on the opposite side to the chapel were demolished and the road widened to create Duncombe Place.

Saint Wilfrid’s Church became the Pro-Cathedral Church of the Beverley Diocese. This was short lived as Beverley diocese was divided to make the Dioceses of Leeds, south of the River Ouse, and the Diocese of Middlesbrough, north of the river. Nevertheless, the Oratory Church of Saint Wilfrid still stands.

Saint Wilfrid’s Church was built on the site of the old chapel. The architect George Goldie (1828-1887) was a son of a prominent parishioner, Dr George Goldie, a grandson of the architect Joseph Bonomi the Elder, and was baptised in Saint Wilfrid’s chapel.

Goldie was at school in Saint Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw, County Durham, when Augustus Pugin was working on the college chapel. Goldie took such an interest that the two became friends, and Pugin advised Goldie to study with Weightman and Hadfield.

Goldie practised alone in London between 1861 and 1867. In 1867 or 1868, he formed the partnership of Goldie and Child with Charles Edwin Child (1843-1911). In 1880 or 1881, Goldie’s son, Edward Goldie, joined the firm, which practised as Goldie Child and Goldie until George Goldie died in 1887.

Goldie designed Saint Paul’s School, now Saint Paul’s Court, in Stony Stratford. The works by Goldie and Child in Ireland include Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church, Baker’s Place, Limerick, Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church, Bridge Street, Waterford, the Good Shepherd, Clare Street, Limerick, much of the interior work and decoration of Holy Trinity Church, Adare, Co Limerick, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo, and the High Altar and reredos in the Redemptorist Church at Mount Saint Alphonsus, Limerick.

Goldie designed the new church was designed as Gothic Revival church, a copy of the style of the 13th to 14th century style. The arch over the main door has the most detailed Victorian carving in the city.

The foundation stone was laid in April 1862 by Bishop Robert Cornthwaite. The church was completed in 1864 for the sum of £10,000, and was opened by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman in June 1864. It was considered to be ‘one of the most perfectly finished Catholic Churches in England, rich in sculpture, stained glass and fittings.’

Saint Wilfrid’s Church became the Cathedral of the Diocese of Beverley. This was short lived as the Diocese of Beverley was divided in 1878 to form the Diocese of Leeds, south of the River Ouse, and the Diocese of Middlesbrough, north of the river.

However, Saint Wilfrid’s Church still stands. The arch over the main door has the most detailed Victorian carving in the city. The altar rails were made in 1948 by Wilfrid Dowson, from Kirkbymoorside, who was responsible for some work at York Minster, as well as the Queen’s Gates at Saint George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. The rails were altered and temporarily removed in February 2007.

The organ by Forster and Andrews dates from 1867, and was restored by Harrison and Harrison in 1998.

The 147 ft tower is visible around much of York. The design of the tower creates an optical illusion, so that the Oratory appears to be taller than York Minster in the background. The tower holds a peal of 10 bells. One is inscribed ‘Saint Wilfrid’; another bears the inscription ‘Ringers ring with one accord. Make beautiful music to praise the Lord.’

The church became a Grade II listed building in 1968.

Bishop Terence Patrick Drainey invited the Congregation of the Oratory, founded by Saint Philip Neri, to move to Saint Wilfrid’s in 2013. The first Oratory priests arrived in October that year, and in 2019, Pope Francis permanently established the Congregation of the Oratory in York at Saint Wilfrid’s Church.

Saint Wilfrid’s Church is open every day from 8 am to 6 pm as a place of prayer and pilgrimage. The church holds sung Vespers and Benediction each Sunday afternoon or evening. Father Richard Duffield is the Provost, and Father Daniel Seward is the Parish Priest.

Inside Saint Wilfrid’s Church, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Monday 26 September 2022):

The Collect:

God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit
upon your Church in the burning fire of your love:
grant that your people may be fervent
in the fellowship of the gospel
that, always abiding in you,
they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Keep, O Lord, your Church, with your perpetual mercy;
and, because without you our human frailty cannot but fall,
keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful,
and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Celebrating 75 Years,’ which was introduced yesterday by the Revd Davidson Solanki, USPG’s Regional Manager for Asia and the Middle East.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for the Church of South India, a thriving province within the Anglican Communion. May we learn from and be inspired by their service to each other and to their communities.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The organ by Forster and Andrews dates from 1867, and was restored by Harrison and Harrison in 1998 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Ask Italian in the former Assembly Rooms is on the site of the original Saint Wilfrid’s Church in York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)