Catholic Worship in Barwick Back to the Main Historical Society page
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Catholic Worship in Barwick

from The Barwicker No.52

The history of Catholicism in Barwick-in-Elmet is one of a small but faithful congregation who have, since the Reformation, endured various degrees of hardship to attend Sunday mass and to receive the sacraments. Their history is closely intertwined with that of Catholics in the neighbouring villages of Aberford and Scholes.

The Gascoigne family at Parlington, always a deeply religious family, had remained Catholic during and after the Reformation. Two members of the family joined the Benedictine order of monks in the seventeenth century and the Benedictines provided chaplains at Parlington until 1780, when Sir Thomas Gascoigne, perhaps with a view to social and political advancement, renounced the faith. To ensure that the Catholics of Aberford, Barwick Micklefield and the surrounding areas could attend Sunday mass, he did however build St. Wilfred's church at Aberford. But he saw to it that the church was located outside the village and slightly off the road, this being at a time when tolerance of other religious faiths was not high.

St. Wilfrid's from the Almshouses (early 1900's)

The number of Catholics in Barwick in the nineteenth century was probably small and it has been very difficult to acquire information about these activities since many of the records from that time were accidentally destroyed or mislaid when St. Wilfred's was recently deconsecrated. We do know, however, that in the first part of the twentieth century leading up to World War II, and prior to the expansion of housing in Barwick in the 1960s, there were just four Catholic families. They were never set apart, but joined in the usual social activities of the village.

The Interior, St. Wilfred's.

Although there was a limited bus service between Barwick and Aberford from 1931, run by the West Yorkshire Bus Company, as I am informed by Mr Trevor Leach, the Editor of West Yorkshire Information Services, most of the journeys to and from Sunday mass were undertaken on foot. Occasionally however, a Mr Rowe, a local pig farmer, did provide his pig wagon (thoroughly scrubbed out) as a means of transport for the Barwick faithful.

Mrs Pat Rhodes, who was Miss Pat Murphy, told me that she and her three brothers owned a bike which they took it in turns to ride to Aberford and that her younger brother was wont to make his way there on roller skates! She also recalls that there was a pipe organ at St Wilfred's, which her brother Edward used to play occasionally from the age of about 13 while his mother, Mrs Elsie Murphy, blew the bellows.

For a short period in the 1950s, because of the difficulties of reaching Aberford from Barwick, a coach was hired to take the Catholic families of Barwick and Scholes to Seacroft village hall. However the arrangement did not continue for long and the Barwick families resumed their Sunday morning journeys to Aberford by whatever means, orthodox or otherwise, were necessary.

23 priests served at St. Wilfred's between 1786 and 1967 and it was during the incumbency of the last, Father Alban Rimmer, that Bishop Wheeler decided that a larger church should be built at Garforth, which would be the main parish church of the Garforth, Aberford and Barwick area, although an early Sunday mass would continue to be said at St Wilfred's until the church was sadly deconsecrated in 1991. It is now a private house.

Accordingly, St Benedict's church at Garforth was built and completed in 1964. Unfortunately, just before the official opening, the roof of the church collapsed, a design defect having caused it to cave in under the strain of winter snow. No one was injured thankfully as the unhappy event occurred at night, for which Father Rimmer gave prayers of thanksgiving. This was a great setback; however three years later, building work was completed on the new St Benedict's church. During the period between the collapse of the old church and the building of its replacement, Catholics could either attend the 8.30 mass at Aberford or go to the service at St Joseph's Priory, Garforth.

The siting of the new church was primarily intended to accommodate the rapidly expanding population of Garforth. However, it was disadvantageous to Catholics in Barwick as there was no Sunday bus service at all between the villages and so, in 1968, Bishop Wheeler ordered a Diocesan reorganisation and Barwick was taken into the parish of St. Gregory's at Swarcliffe.

It was decided to have services in the Miners' Institute in Barwick and mass was said there in May 1968 for the first time by the parish priest Father McKay. Many Scholes Catholics now came to Barwick for mass on Sundays and the congregation usually numbered between 40 and 60. The Institute was a somewhat Spartan venue - there were no kneelers, so worshippers were obliged to kneel on the dusty uncarpeted floor. Wearing ones "Sunday best" wasn't really appropriate.

In the winter, heating was provided by two coal fires kindly lit in advance by the caretaker. Hymn singing was accompanied by a piano. An altar was contrived out of a kitchen table standing on wooden blocks and covered by a thick white cloth with a lacy altar cloth draped over it. The arduous task of putting the "altar" together was done on a rota basis by members of the congregation. The cloth and vessels then had to be arranged on the altar and hymn books, which were stored in the Institute, distributed among worshippers. The altar cloths, the priest's vestments and the vessels were stored week by week by members of the congregation who also took responsibility for washing and pressing the vestments. In the early days, before St. Gregory's parish itself increased in size, the priest would arrive early in Barwick and hear confessions upstairs in the billiards room of the Institute.

The services at the Miners' Institute were often lively affairs. The baby boom was at its height in the 1970s and on one occasion, twins were baptised and welcomed into the congregation before mass. Many children made their first communions at the Miners' Institute - on one particular Saturday, ten children at once did so in the same ceremony, with a party at the Institute, organised by the Mums and Dads, following afterwards.

The increase in the population of Barwick led to Father McKay suggesting that a church be built in the village. The proposed site was to be the land on Leeds Road opposite the corner shop. However the plans were eventually abandoned because, it seems, of the difficulties of providing car parking at that spot.

In addition to Sunday services, evening masses were always held at the Miners' Institute on holy days of obligation when they occurred on a weekday as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day mass. Holy days of obligation are so called because they are important festivals and Catholics are obliged to attend mass. It was on one of these occasions, the feast of Corpus Christi, that the priest and congregation arrived at 6.30pm to find the Institute double-booked and another meeting taking place there. One of the ladies of the congregation suggested that it would be a good idea to ask the Rector of Barwick's All Saints C of E church, the Reverend Roger Wild, if it would be possible for mass to be said in the Parish Church. The Reverend Wild agreed, discussions followed and in a very short space of time, this was settled and, as a very hospitable gesture, the congregation of All Saints held a welcoming cheese and wine party for the Catholics in the church at the first mass in November 1994. All Saints regular church organist provided the accompaniment to the hymns.

In the late 1990s, relationships between Catholics in Barwick and their fellow Christians, always good, have never been better. Three or four times a year, ecumenical services are held at the Village Hall - Catholics, Church of England and Methodists take it in turns to be host. Tea and cakes usually follow and these events are invariably very well attended, whatever the weather.

Catholicism in Barwick, which has existed since the building of All Saints Church and maybe before, is probably more secure in the village now than it has been for many years. The sharing of the parish church with the Church of England for Sunday services and the good relations that exist between the three congregations, contribute to this. Let us hope that this happy situation continues into the next century and beyond. I would like to thank all those kind people whose cooperation enabled me to write this article.


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