History of the Parish

The Old Church in 1973

The old church in 1973

The parish of the Sacred Heart and Mary Immaculate can trace its origins back more than 120 years to 1889, when the Catholics of Mill Hill started to attend Mass in the chapel of the Sisters of Charity on the Ridgeway in what is now known as 'Mill Hill Village'. In 1905 the chapel became the parish church and was served by the Vincentian priests on the Ridgeway.

By 1920 Mill Hill was still surrounded by open country, but it was undergoing a transition from village to suburb. The population had grown by 44 percent in ten years, and the need for a Catholic centre was very clear. So three priests, Fr Simon Hegarty CM. (the Parish Priest of St. Vincent's), Fr Joseph Walshe CM., and Fr Charles Bagnall CM. began discussions for a hall that would seat 300 people. Two parishioners, Mr. and Mrs. Stallard, had already been offered a parcel of land between Flower Lane and what is now the Broadway for £1000; but, being unable to accept the offer, they buried Miraculous Medals in the ground, on the spot where the church now stands. This act of faith was fully justified, for only one year later the site was purchased by the Vincentian Fathers, and by June 1922 Fr Hegarty was instructing the architects, Fr Benedict Williamson and J.H. Beart Foss, to design, not a hall, but a church to seat 300. Within two months the plan was expanded to provide seating for 350, and to allow for extensions in due course. The architectural style was clearly inspired by the discovery in the previous year of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Constructing the old church in 1923

1923 - A helping hand on the site from the Sisters of St. Vincent's.

From the moment the plans were agreed, progress was swift. The first turf was cut by Fr. Walshe and the Sister Provincial on December 10th 1922. On January 25th 1923, the contract was signed for £7,233 with the building contractors, and work began on January 29th. Cardinal Bourne visited the site on February 6th to lay the foundation stone, and again exactly ten months later on December 6th 1923 to open the church, which was blessed by Fr Walshe. The Solemn High Mass, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, was sung by the Very Rev. Francis Verdier, superior General of the Vincentian Congregation from Paris.

Old Church Interior in 1923The interior of the old church in 1923 before the side aisles were added

At around the same time, two other churches were built around the Broadway: Union Church, which in time became affiliated to the United Reformed Church, and St. Michael and all Angels Anglican Church in Flower Lane. Within twelve years the extensions which had been allowed for in the original plans were carried out. The building was extended on both sides by the addition of side aisles, and an organ loft was added at the back.

The Sanctuary in 1935The Sanctuary in 1935

Further structural improvements were made by Fr Bannigan. A new floor was laid, and new seating increased capacity to 600 people. The windows behind the side altars were filled in, and in 1958 three murals were painted by the young artist Anthony Baines. One of their most endearing features was the way in which the artist had included features of the church - the altar rails, for instance - in the paintings. Re-modelling and painting of the church interior in 1973 resulted in the murals being hidden, but one was uncovered briefly by some enthusiastic parishioners just before the church was demolished in 1994. Some extracts from parish bulletins of 1972 are available on another page.

Old Church Interior in 1973Interior of the old church in 1973

The 1973 alterations opened up the area of the High Altar and brought it to one level. The communion rails were removed, bringing the sanctuary and the congregation together in line with the new Liturgy instigated by the Second Vatican Council.

Statue of the Risen Christ

The wall behind the High Altar was dominated by the seven foot high figure of the Risen Christ, which was carved in the studios of Vincenzo Demetz Figlii of Ortiesi, in the Italian Tyrol. This figure was installed behind the High Altar of the new church on April 1st 1995.

The original church was very different to the new church that stands on the same site today. The story of the demolition of the old church and the construction of the new can be found elsewhere on this web site.

The CalvaryThe Calvary which now stands overlooking the Broadway was not installed until 1932-33. It was designed and carved by Miss Carol Wood with the help of her pupils at the Besford Catholic Mental Welfare Hospital in Worcestershire, and presented to the church by Sister Martha Wells. The teak in which the figures are carved came from Plymouth. Inside the church there were originally four paintings - "The Annunciation"; "The Descent of the Holy Ghost" (presented by Mrs. Pope of Flower Lane); "The Last Supper"; and "The Crucifixion". The latter, which was presented to the church by the Convent of the Sisters of Charity in Surbiton, hung above the High Altar.

The AltarThe first altar was a simple wooden table, but a second altar was installed in 1926. This altar came from the chapel of St. Mary's Training College when the college moved from Hammersmith to Strawberry Hill. Sister Hannazo, Visitatrice of the Sisters of Charity, paid for its removal and installation. The altar rails were erected in 1926 in memory of Sister Vincent O'Keefe, district visitor in the Parish for 19 years. Fr. Bagnall obtained the wrought iron sections from a Catholic builder friend in Sheffield, who had rescued them as scrap from the windows of the local bank. The high altar itself was subscribed to by parishioners as a memorial to Fr. John Conran who died in 1954. With additional contributions from Fr. John Conran's family, a new tabernacle, crucifix, candlesticks and pulpit were also purchased. The altar and pulpit were designed by H.S. Goodhart-Rendel P.P., RIBA. This altar was re-modelled and moved to the new church in 1996.

DoveThe Sanctuary Lamp was bought from priests in Hayes. The Dove from which the lamp hung (and which now hangs over the font in the new church) was used to hold a pyx containing the Blessed Sacrament before the Reformation. The list of contributors to it was placed inside when it was hung in the church.

The FontThe original Pulpit and the Font were purchased from the Southwark Rescue Society. Sister Hannazo again helped financially, and Fr Bagnall gave the Font in memory of his own family. The cover of the Font was carved by Carol Wood, who also designed the Calvary.

Station of the CrossThere have been three sets of Stations of the Cross in the church. The first set was presented by the Sisters of Charity, Redhill, Sheffield, and were erected in 1924. The next set, purchased by parishioners, were sepia photographs which had originally hung in the Catholic chapel at the Wembley Exhibition of 1924. The present stations were presented to Fr. Delaney in 1947 by an anonymous donor. They were carefully cleaned and repainted in 1996 before being installed in the new church.

Organist in the new churchThe present church organ is the fourth to have been installed. The first was lent by the Sisters of Charity at the Italian Hospital. The second was presented by the Sisters at Brentwood, the third was bought by the choirmaster, Mr. Simpson, in 1937, after it had proved acoustically unsuitable for St. Patrick's, Soho, for which it was originally designed. When this organ proved to be too large for the new church, it was sold and the proceeds used to purchase a sophisticated electronic organ.

The original presbytery was at 16 Flower Lane. It was bought by Fr Bagnall in 1923, and he recalls how it was made ready for him to take it over by Elsie Rockhill and Sarah Spiller. The present presbytery was built in the church grounds in 1964.

The first Parish Hall was wooden building which had previously seen service as the woodwork classroom at St. Vincent's. The parishioners themselves dug the foundations, laid the drains, and erected the building at a total cost of £1000. It was replaced by a new Social Centre which was opened on March 25th, 1968 by Bishop Casey, having been built at a cost of £39,000. In its turn, it was demolished in 1995 to make way for the present Parish Hall which is joined on to the new church building.

In November 1993 the parish embarked on a project to build the new church that now stands on the site.