Catholicism in Thaxted

Up until the second world war, Catholics had to go to Dunmow, Saffron Walden or Bishop's Stortford to attend Mass. From about 1942 Debden airfield was run by the Americans and Mass was celebrated there every Sunday. Civilians were allowed on the airfield to attend Mass.

At the end of the war the Americans left Debden and, with their going, Mass was no longer available. At this point it was then decided by the Catholic families in Thaxted to celebrate Mass in the living room of Park Farm. Mrs. Ann Latham, a stauch convert to Catholiciscm, was the leading figure in organising these arrangements.

In 1950, a Holy Year was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII. Mrs. Latham, Molly Herbert and Dinah Perry decided to drive to Rome in a Standard Vanguard to join in the celebrations. This was a pretty perilous journey for three unaccompanied women to undertake! After several adventures, they reached Rome and somehow got themselves a private audience with the Pope. What was discussed has never been revealed, but the result of the trip was the decision to build a church in Thaxted.

Tom Latham donated the land (part of a 2-acre chicken run, hence the nickname 'The Chicken Hut'!) and the building was begun. All the Catholic families helped in one way or another and the church was completed in early 1952.

The date of the opening was 4th May 1952. It was Mrs. Latham's birthday and the feast of the English Martyrs, to whom the church was dedicated. Bishop Andrew Beck, Bishop of Brentwood, led the dedication service. Simon Latham and Michael Hughes are the two surviving servers from that ceremony.

The church is now in its 65th year - bent, bowed, but unbroken. The construction is brick wall to 4/5 ft. with an American Nissen hut sides and roof. It must be the last Nissen hut of this kind still in use!

A few years later, Bardfield church was created thanks to the generosity of the Osborne family. In the beginning, the Parish consisted of Dunmow, Thaxted, Bardfield and Hatfield Broad Oak, but in the 1970s - 1980s the Parish was split and Thaxted and Great Bardfield became a separate Parish as it is now.

Simon Latham, February 2017