A brief history of St Anne’s Catholic Church, Wappenbury, CV33 9DW
St Anne’s church sits on a large fortified Iron Age settlement dating back to approximately 700BC known as the Wappenbury camp, the river Leam forming part of its defences.
The village of Wappenbury is mentioned in the Doomsday Book. In 1086 ‘Wappenbury Manor’ was held by Geoffrey de Wirce with a total of 110 shillings. Over the years the manor appears to have remained in the hands of Catholics.
An early Catholic directory mentions a Catholic Mission at Wappenbury in 1734 and therefore this implies that there was Catholic activity in the 1600 hundreds.
The first Diocesan records of the Mission start in 1744 with a record of baptisms. The priest at this time and recorded at Wappenbury was Fr W Walmsley OSF, 1744-1768.
Prior to 1778, whenever and however it was known a priest planned to visit and celebrate Mass at Wappenbury, word was secretly passed around to the scattered faithful, as far as Rugby, Coventry, Leamington, Kenilworth and Southam. The people would make their way as best they could, most of them walking in extreme weather conditions, along wet unsurfaced primitive lanes and footpaths. The priests were members of the Franciscan order who had an association with Lord Clifford’s family, Lords of the Manor at Wappenbury, and whose family seat continues to be Ugbrook Park, Chudleigh, Devon and later whose dedication to Wappenbury was to remain for many years.
The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 finally released the Church from its legal constraints throughout the British Isles. The 1832 Reform Act allowed changes in Local Government administration where Catholic births and marriages could now be registered without obtaining the Anglican Parish vicar’s permission.
The small chapel built by Lord Clifford is reliably assumed to be the current Sanctuary. This chapel could not cope with the increasing numbers of the faithful. It had served its purpose since the old farmhouse used in part, as the church, had burnt down. Now there was urgent need for expansion. The new chapel was built and completed in 1849 extending from the north side of the old Clifford chapel.
The new chapel was opened in 1849 by Bishop Nicholas Wiseman and dedicated to the Mother of Our Lady, St Anne. The church was the first Catholic parish church to be built in the diocese since the reformation.
The incumbent priest of St Anne’s would offer Mass for the nuns at St Mary’s Priory, which is now Princethorpe College. The Priory land was purchased in 1832 by a French order of Benedictine nuns escaping the French revolution in 1792 (in the intervening years they took refuge wherever they could until they settled in Princethorpe).
The small church of St Anne’s owes a huge gratitude to its benefactors and priests who have grown the congregation to where we are today.
Great care was taken including use of old photographs to recreate the decorative order that can be seen today.
Experts in the various trades and fine artists were called upon to work on the church and towards a sensitive reordering of the church to greater effect. The restoration of this small country church will ensure that the heritage of St Anne’s will continue for generations to come.
St Anne’s was completely renovated and refurbished between January and September 2014. The re-dedication of St Anne’s took place on Saturday 18 June 2016. The celebration Mass was conducted by His Grace the Archbishop of Birmingham, Fr Bernard Longley, Fr Teddy O’Brien MSC, current Parish Priest, Fr Alan Whelan MSC, Fr John Cross Parish Priest, Leamington Spa, Fr David Gnosill, and the altar servers were Luke and Sean O’Kelly, Aoife Williams and Libby Legge.
This project had been possible through the generous contributions of the parish community, Bernard Waddoups RIP, The Parkhouse Charitable Trust, The 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust and others. We are indebted to John Warner (Builder) and Associates for their dedication to the project and for their many insightful suggestions.
Acknowledgement: With thanks to John Mitchell (RIP) from which the majority of this information is taken from his History of St Anne’s, Wappenbury, 1849 – 1999