History of the Catholic Church of Christ the King, Headley

Source: newspaper report on the occasion of the dedication of the organ and new extension (undated, but post-1965 – Rev. Derek Head was Rector of All Saints at the time)

Part I: The Garage

For the few practising Catholics in Headley, Mass at the parish church of Grayshott became increasingly difficult with the introduction of petrol rationing during the Second World War.

One afternoon Mrs Alex Johnston of Leighswood, calling upon Mrs Hendry, discussed this difficulty, and the idea of starting a Mass centre at Headley was …

Since so much was due to the faith and perseverance of Mr Alex Johnston, readers might be interested to know a little about him.  He was the brother of Sir Harry Johnston, the explorer, and wrote an account of his brother’s expeditions, which is by way of being a classic in this field.

[Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston (1858-1927) English explorer and writer, born in Kennington, London.  From 1879 he travelled in Africa, led the Royal Society’s expedition to Kilimanjaro in 1884, and as commissioner for South Central Africa made possible British acquisition of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.  He wrote books on the Congo and zoology, five novels and ‘The Story of My Life’ (1923) – Chambers Biographical Dictionary]

At Leighswood, Mr Johnston lived in semi-retirement, growing fruit, keeping poultry and looking forward to the weekends and holidays when his wife, who was headmistress of Queens Gate School, came home from London.

When he heard of the proposed project, he at once offered the use of his garage.  Permission was readily obtained from Fr. Harvey, and Mr Johnston set to work with a will to furnish …

His first act was to put a wooden cross over the garage door and then to make seats and kneelers for the congregation.  His talents as a carpenter in no way matched the extent of his zeal, and the accommodation was of a somewhat penitential nature.  He had the idea of covering planks of wood with strips of old carpet (it was the era of ‘make do and mend’).  At either end of the planks were blocks of wood, some short, some taller.  The former were kneelers and the latter benches.

There was a feeling of great friendliness in those early days.  The number of the faithful gradually increased.  People crowded into the village to escape the London bombing and soon it was realised that the church was going to grow.

Opposite Leighswood was a piece of land upon which the present church now stands.  The first objective was to raise £90 for the purchase price.  various sales of work were held, and it says much for the changing value of money in that a sum of £35 raised by one effort was thought to be highly successful, as indeed it was.

Having bought the piece of land, fund-raising efforts were continued so that a building could be erected upon it.

Part II: The Hut

Shortly after the war, a number of huts came up for sale in the district.  These had been used mainly by the military to house a number of Canadian soldiers posted in the area.

Fr. Harvey was successful in acquiring a very suitable hut for the site in Headley.  Sufficient funds had been raised to meet the cost, and a Canadian padre offered an altar, chairs and kneelers, together with candlesticks and a chalice.  There was also a consignment of hymn books.

A member of the congregation was able to provide an American organ.  The playing of this instrument required some dexterity on the part of the organist for in damp weather some of the notes would stick and continue to sound, making an unfortunate cacophony.  However, with the help of her son who stood by to pull up the notes as they became wedged, the organist managed to overcome this difficulty, causing a certain amount of amusement to those who could see the manoeuvre.

Hymn singing, together with the chanting of the ‘Gloria’ and the ‘Credo’ became such a feature of the Headley Mass that one of the curates referred to his flock as "Headley songbirds".

The men of the parish painted the inside of the little chapel and Our Lady’s Club was formed among the women to see to the floor and the flowers among other things.  Mass in the morning and Benediction in the afternoon established its regular Sunday pattern and there was a wonderful spirit of devotion, which priests and friends staying in the village all noticed and remarked upon with appreciation.

It was soon realised that the Headley children needed Catechism classes.  A member of the congregation had recently completed the correspondence course of Our Lady’s Catechists and was able to devote some time to this work.  She found the village schoolmaster very cooperative.  He compiled a list of some 20 children entered in his books as baptised Catholics and a number of lapsed families were thus discovered.

With the years the numbers of the faithful grew, and sometimes the little chapel was packed to overflowing.  It became evident that a larger church was necessary.  The matter was discussed at a meeting held in the house of one of the parishioners presided over by Fr. Hartnett.  At this meeting an energetic young man appeared.  He was Mr Dennis Thorne.  It was largely due to his enterprise and hard work together with the help of a number of men parishioners that the present church was built.

[The hut was moved to Beech Hill Road and became the Scout Hut, according to David Sulman who helped move it.  It later burnt down, and the present brick Scout Centre built there in its place].

Part III: The Church of Today

Shortly after the decision had been made to replace the hut with a permanent building, Mr Dennis Thorne obtained a plan from an architect friend of his.  It had been agreed that a simple structure, in keeping with the site, and which would not incur too large a debt, should be the aim.  The plan complied excellently with these two provisions.

Some of the men parishioners gave up their weekends and summer evenings to dig out the foundations, lay the concrete footings, erect the walls and the roof.  Loans of equipment, tools and mechanical aids appeared when needed.  A skilled carpenter gave his services and the stone porch was erected by another craftsman.  It was a magnificent team effort, and all those who took part deserve high praise.

Whilst the men were busy with the building, Our Lady’s Club was occupied in raising funds to help with some of the furnishings.  Among other items, they were able to buy the candlesticks, and vestments for the altar boys.  When it came to the choice of the altar, lectern and beautiful Stations of the Cross, parishioners were happy to rely on the good taste of Fr. Hartnett.

The first mass in the new Church was celebrated on the Feast of the Assumption 1965.  To those who remembered the humble beginnings, it was a wonderful moment to see the size of the congregation and to realise that the dream of a permanent church had at last come true.

Since 1965 the church has been able to purchase a piece of land adjoining the original plot.  The new piece of land has been cleared of its trees and bushes to enlarge the car park.  The brides and bridegrooms who have plighted their troth in the little church – marriages are permitted – now have a baptismal font and the minute sacristy has been enlarged so that in addition to its original purpose it can serve as a meeting place for clubs and committees.

The Church is to close on 1st April 1994.


December 2016

An A4-size illustrated booklet of 40 pages has been produced by Carl Tantum documenting the history of both St Joseph's Grayshott and Christ the King Headley.

A copy is in the Headley Archives.