Our History

A History of Roman Catholicism in East Ham

The 16th to the 18th centuries.

During the 1580s a secret Catholic printing press had been operated for a short while at Green Street, by the Jesuit missionary Robert Parsons. Parsons was probably assisted by members of the family of St. Thomas More – one of whom was charged with recusancy (i.e. being a Catholic who did not attend the services of the Church of England) in 1582, along with another member of the parish.

The ancient Catholic Hierarchy ended with Thomas Goldwell, Bishop of St. Asaph, who died in Rome on 23rd April 1585. At that point Little Ilford had already passed into non-Catholic hands. In 1598 pope Clement VIII placed the catholics of England under the charge of Archpriests, the first of whom was the Rev. George Bakewell; who died on 12th January 1613. The country was then placed under Vicars-Apostolic in Eposcopal orders. A list of those whose lands were sequestrated (i.e. removed) was drawn up in 1643, and included Lady Kempe, the lady of the manor of East Ham. “She was said to be a Papist delinquent.” (Powell, W.R. 1973, 31).

Another Roman Catholic landowner was Robert Langhorne (d. 1719). A list of Essex papists drawn up in 1767 details only the migrant Irish who visited the parish during the potato season, but in 1778 there were said to be seven Roman Catholic families presumably residing in the parish.


The 19th century.

The restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy of England came in 1850 while Pius IX was Pope. Bishop Wiseman, that last Vicar Apostolic for the London district, was translated to Westminster as Archbishop and created cardinal on 30th September 1850. With the restoration of the hierarchy, the scattered population began to erect churches to supply their spiritual needs, and to replace those of which they had been deprived of during the Reformation.

The church of St. Francis of Assisi in Stratford was built in 1868 to replace the small chapel that had been there since 1770. The church of St. Mary and St. Ethelburga at Barking was opened in 1857, and served the Greatfield and Central Wards of East Ham until 1925, and the church of St. Margaret and All Saints, Canning Town, until 1870.

The Cathoic industrial school, which was in Manor Park, opened in 1868, containing the chapel of St. Nicholas in Gladding Road. The church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Ilford, opened in 1899, and included in its parish was the northern part of East Ham (Stokes, A. 1933, 288).

The chapel of St. Nicholas was afterwards attached to Ilford until February 1918, as were the Wards of Little Ilford and Kensington, when it became the new parish of Manor Park (Stokes, A. 1933, 288). The church of St. Stephen, Church Road, was built in 1924 as a chapel to St. Nicholas. It was rebuilt in 1959 and then became the parish church for Manor Park, with St. Nicholas becoming the chapel.

In Forest Gate where a School-Chapel had served as a Chapel of Ease to Stratford for some years, the present large church dedicated to St. Antony of Padua was erected by the Fraciscan Friars in 1887. St. Antony’s also served the Plashet Ward of East Ham. St. Antony’s Pugin-designed church was completed in 1891, together with a friary and school in Khedive Road. The school was later renamed St. Antony’s.

The land for the church had been bought when the Upton House estate, which had been owned by Lord Lister, was broken up in 1882. A ‘chapel school’ set up on the land in 1884 was the first Catholic house of studies in England since the reformation. The church itself long managed the largest Catholic congregation in the metropolitan area.


The 20th century.

During 1901 a Catholic chapel at the Boleyn Castle, East Ham, was registered for public worship. This was attached to St. Edward’s industrial school, which had hitherto opened in 1870. In 1906, when St. Edward’s was closed, educational services were transferred to the new Catholic elementary school in Castle Street. 1911 saw the opening of the present church of Our Lady of Compassion, Green Street, which was then joined to the new St. Edward’s school to form the parish at Upton Park (Stokes, A. 1933, 288 – Information from Revd. J. W. Hayes).

On 22nd March 1917, the County of Essex which was hitherto part of the Archdiocese of Westminster, was made into a diocese – the Episcopal See being located in Brentwood. The Right Rev. Bernard Nicholas Ward was the first Bishop. He died on 21st January 1920. He was succeeded as bishop by the Right Rev. Mgr. Doubleday, Canon of Southwark.

The eastern part of East Ham was served from Barking until 1926, when the church of St. Michael, which was also used as a day school, was built in Tilbury Road. A larger school (i.e. the present school building) was built in 1931 and the original building (now the ‘Old Hall’) was than used as the church. During 1958-1959 the present church was built (Information from Revd. D. Petry), using the designs by the architect J. Newton.

The church of Our Lady and St. Edward, Silvertown, was opened in Bailey Street in 1887, and completed in 1892. The original building was situated in West Ham, though the adjoining school was to be found in East Ham.

In 1915, when the site of the church was required for the building of the King George V Dock, a temporary church was erected in Newland Street, East Ham. This was replaced by a permanent church in 1921.

In 1928 the church of Our Lady of Lourdes was erected at Cambridge Park, Wanstead, to serve the then new parish of Wanstead, which was previously part of the parish of St. George, Walthamstow. The area of East Ham (now Manor Park) situated north of the City of London Cemetery, is served from Wanstaed. Most of the churches named above are attached to their own primary schools. The school for the parish of Manor Park (St. Winifred’s) was built in 1909.

Pevsner, Niklaus : The buildings of England – Essex. Revised by Enid Radcliffe. Penguin Books, 1954.
Pewsey, Stephen : Newham in picture postcards. Volume 2. Zaltbommel: European Library, 1996. ISBN: 9028862242
Powell, W. R. (ed.) : A history of the County of Essex, Volume VI. Oxford: The Institute of Historical research. Oxford University Press, 1973. ISBN: 0197227198
Sokes, Alfred (Mayor of East Ham, 1921 – 1922) : East Ham: From Village to County Borough, 3rd edition. Stratford: Wilson & Whitworth, 1933.