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Brentwood Diocesan Archives

Brentwood Diocesan Archives


Reference code(s): GB 2322

Held at: Brentwood Diocesan Archives

Title: Brentwood Diocesan Archives

Date(s): 1791-2003

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: approximately 20 linear metres.

Name of creator(s): Diocese of Brentwood | Roman Catholic Church in England | 1917-


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brentwood was established in 1917, having formerly formed the eastern area of the Diocese of Westminster. It currently includes the County of Essex, as well as the London Boroughs of Newham, Waltham Forest, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, and Havering.

After some negotiation, Brentwood was decided on as the centre of the new diocese rather than Ilford or Chelmsford, the other suggestions. Bishop Ward was appointed Administrator of the new Diocese of Essex in March 1917 and was enthroned as Bishop of Brentwood on 7 Nov 1917, and immediately faced acute shortage of funds for the Diocese, though it did benefit from the Gillow Trust. In 1917, a new Code of Canon Law had been promulgated and Brentwood became the first diocese to effect its provisions. All the missions of the Diocese were erected into canonical parishes and the Missionary Rectors being elevated to Parish Priests, Jul 1918. The Missionary Rector of Brentwood was appointed Administrator of the Cathedral and Parish Priest, a Chapter of Canons was erected with a Provost, Jul 1918, and a Vicar General appointed, Aug 1918.

The Diocese also faced a shortage of priests - some having been released to serve as military chaplains, while and others were busy working among the many troops stationed within the borders of Essex. The Catholic population was around 26,000 in 1917. By 1919, there were an estimated 35,000 Catholics in the diocese, many of Irish deccent, with 55 Secular priests, 27 Franciscans, and 3 of other orders. There were also 30 convents of nuns including Sisters of Mercy, Franciscans, Augustinians, Ursulines and others.

In the 1920s, the chief task of Bishop Doubleday, Ward's successor, was to supervise the foundation of new parishes in the rapidly developing suburbs in the east of London, where housing estates were being built and the Ford Motor Company had located a new factory. The needs of the rural Catholic population were also growing and finding priests for all these areas was a pressing task. Doubleday was also concerned for the provision of education for Catholic children, and for adequate funding to achieve this. He founded the Diocesan Schools Commission, for the purpose of planning the development of Catholic education. New schools were opened in various parts of he diocese, but especially in conjunction with the new parishes in east London.
During World War 2, the Diocese was a centre for both evacuation and reception of evacuees from urban areas. The Diocese of Brentwood was particularly effected by air raids, and many church buildings and schools sustained substantial damage and disruption.
Following the war, London and its suburbs faced a shortage of housing, and in response local government expanded and built new housing estates, as well as establishing whole new towns. This, along with the influx of Polish refugees, expanded the Catholic population. Education underwent significant reorganistion in the wake of the Education Act 1944, and Catholic schools were not exempt from this.

Under Bishop Beck, appointed Coadjutor in 1948 and who succeeded as Bishop in 1951, the administrative and financial structures of the diocese were developed. He increased the number of students for the diocesan priesthood, and reinvigorated the clergy by moving all but a few of them to new parishes within the diocese, as well as embarking on a general visitation of the diocese himself. His foremost concern was however, the provision of new schools for growing population centres. He encouraged Catholic parents to present the problems and interests of Catholic education to the parliamentary candidates for the 1951 General Election. He also chaired the Catholic Education Council, and adopted a system for levying each parish for the financing of Catholic education. New schools were opened and existing ones expanded.

As Bishop Bernard Wall took up his post in 1956, the diocese still faced a shortage of priests, and shortage of funds. The Catholic population by this time was around 107,000 and growing. New parishes were still being formed, Bishop Wall oversaw a number of diocesan celebrations during his term of office, including a pageant in 1961 to commemorate the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, a gathering in 1961 to remember John Paine, executed in Chelmsford in 1582, and a further rally in 1962 and 1964. In 1967 the Diocese celebrated its Golden Jubilee. In the area of Catholic schooling, the provisions of the Education Act 1959 for government funding for new schools stimulated growth, and the Education Act 1967 gave further impetus. The Brentwood Diocesan Commission for Education was established in 1968 to consider the content and pattern of Catholic education in the diocese and to advise the bishop on matters of education policy. Relations between the Catholic Church and Christians of other traditions began to improved in response to the Second Vatican Council's encouraging the Church to look in friendship towards other Christian communities. Catholics began to participate in inter-denominational societies and meetings, and local Councils of Churches. In 1967, the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission was formed.


Scope and content/abstract:

Archives of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brentwood comprising:

papers relating to the foundation of the Diocese including correspondence files concerning foundation, February-November 1917; Canon Burton's notes on the history of individual parishes in the diocese, 1917; general files relating to diocesan history, 1917-2003; files relating to Causes of Martyrs (beatification and canonization of local martyrs), 1917-2003;

Diocesan administrative papers relating to the Holy See, arranged by Vatican 'departments' including Propaganda Fide, Secretariat of State, Holy Office (Doctrine of the Faith), Congregation of the Council, Apostolic Penitentiary, Seminaries and Education, Bishops, Clergy, Religious, Liturgy (Rites), Sacraments, Saints, Varia (non-Christians, Christian unity, migrants, congresses/jubilees, communications, laity, miscellaneous) , and printed Papal documents, Apostolic Delegate/Nuncio (from 1938-), Bishops' Roman Agency/Dataria, Papal blessings, and Ad Limina Visits (regular visits of the Diocesan Bishop to Rome), 1917-2003;

general correspondence of the Bishops of Brentwood, and some biographical information, including Bernard Nicholas Ward, Apostolic Administrator 1917, Bishop 1917-1920; Arthur Doubleday, 1920-1951; George Andrew Beck, Coadjutor, 1948-1951, Bishop, 1951-1955 includes papers relating his work on Catholic education; Bernard Patrick Wall, Bishop 1956-1969, includes material relating to Vatican II; Patrick J Casey, Bishop 1970-1980; and Thomas McMahon, Bishop 1980-present;

administrative papers relating to Hierarchies, (national and international) including the Synods of Bishops; English and Welsh Bishops, 1917- present; other Bishops, 1917- present; military ordinary and chaplains, 1917-present; Hierarchy meetings (includes some printed minutes from 1867, but is mainly 1917-present); Hierarchy Commissions and Committees; Jubilees and celebrations; National Pastoral Congress, 1980; Papal visit, 1982;

papers relating to the Episcopal and Curial administration, including finance and property, Trust funds, Episcopal Registers/Bishop's House/Diocesan Offices, Chancery and Vicar General, Ad Clerum and circulars, 1917-present; Pastoral letters to clergy and peoples, 1917-present; Diocesan Synods, 1950s, and Synods of other Dioceses; Council of Priests and National Conference of Priests, 1960s-present; Diocesan Pastoral councils, 1980s-present; Deanery Conferences (including some minutes) 1980s-present; Diocesan publications including Brentwood Diocesan Magazine, 1920-1921, Diocesan Newsletters, 1970s-1980s; Diocesan Newspapers, 1980s-present; Diocesan Year Book, 1952-present; press cuttings, 1910-present;

files relating to clergy serving within the Diocese Pre-1917 Clergy; Diocesan Clergy: General; and Diocesan Clergy - deceased; non-Diocesan Clergy, on loan, Chaplaincies, temporary faculties and applications refused; Clergy Funds and Associations; [1875]-present; among the priests of the diocese were John Carmel Heenan (Bishop of Leeds 1951-1957, Archbishop of Liverpool 1957-1963, Archbishop of Westminster 1963-1975, Cardinal 1965), John Petit (Bishop of Menevia 1947-1972), Brian Foley (Bishop of Lancaster 1962-1985), and Alfred Gilby (1901-1998) (Catholic Chaplain to Cambridge University, 1932-1965);

papers relating to the Chapter of Canons, advisors to the Bishop, 1917-1984;

files relating to individual parishes within the Diocese including official documents such as reports and visitation returns, [1910]-present; general parish files; and history and correspondence, 1917-present;

administrative papers relating to other Diocesan Officials and Commissions including Diocesan Travelling Mission (to remote areas) and Private Chapels, 1952-1969; justice and peace, 1970s-present; ecumenism, 1970s-present; liturgy and music, 1970s-present; art and architecture/Historic Churches Commissions; pilgrimages, 1950s-present; Pastoral, Social Welfare and Youth, 1970s-present;

administrative papers relating to Roman Catholic education including the Director of Vocations, Ecclesiastical Education Fund; and students files for Students for the priesthood, 1917-present; dimissorials (non-diocesan subjects); Senior Seminaries, 1917-present; Junior Seminaries 1917-present; other institutions, 1917-present; administrative papers of the Schools Commission / Director of Education, 1930s-present; papers relating to primary, secondary and independent schools in London Boroughs and Essex, mainly 1917-present; and administration of the Brentwood Religious Education Services (BRES) and catechetics, 1974-present;

papers relating to Catholic societies, non-Catholic societies and social issues such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Catholic Women's League, Knights of St Columba, Legion of Mary etc, 1917-present;

papers relating to Religious orders within the Diocese, and their members, including men religious and women religious; secular institutes, religious: general, and abortive foundations;

papers relating to Diocesan buildings and architecture, including general files; files relating to the Cathedral; and files relating to war damage, 1940s-1950s;

maps and plans, mainly of the local area and diocesan buildings, [1900]-present;

photographs, 19th and 20th century, including portraits of clergy, and church and chapel buildings interior and exteriors;

video and audio recordings of ceremonies and events;

miscellaneous papers including manuscript writings of William Joseph Petre (1847-1893), 13th Baron Petre (Monsignor Lord Petre), priest, peer and educationalist;

published works including Catholic Directory, 1850s-present; Brentwood Diocesan Directory, 1952-present; Catholic Who's Who, 1915-1952; and copies of published histories of parishes of the diocese; and volumes from the libraries of the Bishops of Brentwood;

some material deposited with the Diocese by parishes includes of Harwich Roman Catholic Parish registers of Baptisms, 1864-1955; Confirmations, 1881-1947; Marriages, 1865-1952; deaths, 1864-1879; and parish notice books; Thorndon Park Roman Catholic Parish, (closed in 1946) registers including baptisms, 1791-1816, 1856-1882; and church marriages, 1857-1941; Witham Roman Catholic Parish register including baptisms, 1839-1957 and church marriages, 1841.


Language/scripts of material: English, Latin, Italian, French

System of arrangement:

Arranged as outlined above.

Conditions governing access:

By appointment only. Contact the Diocesan Archivist, Cathedral House, Ingrave Road, Brentwood CM15 8AT
The archive is made available at the discretion of the Archivist. Material less than 30 years old, or containing sensitive information is not available.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopies available at the discretion of the Archivist

Physical characteristics:

Finding aids:

Brief handlist


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:


Archival history:

The main part of the collection has been created and kept in situ.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Some material has been transferred at various times from local parishes to the Diocesan centre.


Existence and location of originals:

The archive contains copies of some material from the Westminster Diocesan Archive and other archives relating to the establishment of the Brentwood Diocese and the pre-existing parishes.

Existence and location of copies:

Related material:

Essex Record Office, Chelmsford, holds a variety of material relating to Catholic parishes and schools, as so some London borough archives and libraries, and the London Metropolitan Archive;
Material relating to William Joseph Petre (1847-1893) 13 Baron Petre, correspondence and papers, 1872-1882, held at Downside Abbey Archives, Bath; and personal accounts and papers (Ref D/DP) held at the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford;
Essex Recusant Library, located at the Ursuline Convent, Brentwood, contains published volumes relating to Catholicism in the UK and Essex, general histories of Essex and East London, available by appointment, contact the Brentwood Diocesan Archivist.

Publication note:

A history of the Diocese of Brentwood 1917-1992, Stewart M Foster OSM, The Diocese of Brentwood, 1992.



Archivist's note: Sources: Historical Manuscripts Commission's On-Line National Register of Archives; A history of the Diocese of Brentwood 1917-1992, Stewart M Foster OSM, The Diocese of Brentwood, 1992; 'The Brentwood Diocesan Archives', Rev Stewart Foster OSM; Compiled by Alison Field as part of the London Signpost Survey Project.

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: November 2003

Christianity | Ancient religions | Religions
Clergy | Religious groups
Denominational schools | Schools | Educational institutions
Educational policy

Personal names
Beck | George Andrew | 1904-1978 | Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood 1951-1955
Casey | Patrick | 1913- | Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood 1969-1980
Doubleday | Arthur | 1865-1951 | Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood 1920-1951
McMahon | Thomas | 1936- | Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood 1980-
Wall | Bernard | 1894-1976 | Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood 1955-1969
Ward | Bernard Nicholas | 1857-1920 | Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood 1917-1920

Corporate names
Diocese of Brentwood | Roman Catholic Church in England | 1917-

East London | London | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe
Essex | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe