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Pauline Gurning - memories of St. Peter's Catholic Church

When my family arrived in Higham in June 1937 Father O’Gorman had just come from a parish from the San Francisco area. As the Mommerstegs, Moores and Murrays had only been in Higham two or three years it is doubtful if there had been more than one Catholic living there before. In fact the church, which had seating for 60 people, was never full at the early Mass and rarely full at 10.30. Evening devotions was on Sunday and Wednesday nights. My father joined the choir immediately and it was mainly composed of the Horners who lived at Irthlingborough and walked or cycled to Mass every Sunday. First, Steven Horner played the organ and when the war came, Mrs. Fursey.

There was a wooden building in the grounds where whist drives had taken place in Father Nutt’s time but Father O’Gorman soon stopped that when he found that there was still a £50 debt on the hall. The organ was pumped by Ted Harvey, a disabled man who walked from Raunds each Sunday (there was a bus by the time he went home). Father O’Gorman started a Sunday School class and taught us himself (very good).

The parish stretched from Irthlingborough to Sharnbrook and from Kimbolton to Irchester. Father O’Gorman made his visits by the Thursday bus to Kimbolton. Miss Fitzhugh Dalton spent the weekend at the Victoria Hotel at the beginning of the month so that she could make the first Friday Communion and Sunday Mass, she arrived from Tilbrook by taxi. The confessional folded away when it was not in use. As many confessions were heard immediately before Mass for many years it must have been difficult for the choir who had to stay in the church until the Mass started.

When the evacuees arrived things changed. One Sunday in 1939 the church was crowded with people standing everywhere. Soon after, we moved to the hall which continued to be dusty for many years. The floor was bare wooden planks and it was heated by a solitary closed stove. We learnt of the start of the war there – during the sermon. St. Patrick’s School arrived from Walthamstow accompanied by Sister Mary Gertrude and (Sister Magdelen ?). I think they, the nuns, were billeted at Harrowden Hall. After a time the second Sister had to teach in another school in the town as the children dribbled back to London. It left Sister Mary Gertrude to teach a mixed group of children up to the age of 11. I went there for the Assembly and Scripture period at 9 – 9.45 am as I was attending the school next to the church. I did not learn anything as by the time Sister had fetched the boys from their games of football in the park it was nearly time for us to return to our own school. It was so cold in the winter that the pupils were told to jump up and down and beat their arms from time to time.

The Mass was said there until the new church was built in about 1945/6. I was married in there. It was very bleak (the hall). The little church continued to be used until then on weekdays. Christmas Midnight Mass was at 4.30 on Christmas Eve while the war continued. In 1944 The Legion of Mary was introduced mainly so that there could be a junior branch for those of us who were too old for Catechism. This was very hard for inexperienced 13 – 14 year olds because it involved knocking on stranger’s doors every week and finding out why they didn’t go to Mass. Once a month Father read out a notice saying, that mixed marriages were unlawful and pernicious. He married many local girls to American and Canadian airmen and soldiers stationed in the area but not before many of them had been received into the Church. There were no other organisations in the Parish although Father tried unsuccessfully to form a Children of Mary we met for a short time only.

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