St Peter & St John Church

History of the Church of SS Peter and John, Old Dean, Camberley North

Following the Second World War the town of Camberley in Surrey changed from being a small borough largely dependent on the education of Army officers and cadets,
to a medium-sized town.  Among the areas identified for council housing development by Frimley and Camberley Urban District Council were the Old Dean and Barossa Commons to the north of the borough. The Old Dean housing estate was built in the 1950s on the "Old Dean Common" for residents of heavily bombed Surrey-area's homeless after World War II. By 1953, a total of 616 houses had been built to meet local needs. It was in October 1955 that proposals were announced to rehouse 6000 tenants from the metropolitan Surrey boroughs and in the next two years 680 new houses were built. More were to be built as Old Dean which was recognised as an ‘overspill’ estate.

During the Second WorldWar, the Old Dean common had been used as an instruction camp of the Free French Forces. Many of the roads on that half of the Old Dean are named after areas of London, with the others named after places on the common.

The existing Catholic War Memorial Church of St Tarcisius, Camberley (whose history is elsewhere on this website), had strong links with the Army and a sizeable congregation of some hundreds. Its priest Canon Quinlan arrived in 1953 and saw the problem of accommodating the relocated families within his existing church.The first official inklings of a new church to serve the needs of the Catholics in the new Old Dean ‘village’ are to be found in a letter of 15 March 1955 from Bishop’s House in Southwark (the new Diocese of Arundel & Brighton was not formed till 1965). The Diocesan Chancellor wrote ‘we should get a site at Old Dean Common and I have asked the Surrey Churches Committee to get one allocated.’ Within three years the Archbishop of Southwark had agreed to the purchase of land.

By 1958 local architect Robert Cole had been engaged and later that year several old barns were inspected, one of which was purchased at a cost of £250 to provide the structural framework of the new church. Within a few months, former Crown land on the south west side of Caesar’s Camp Road was transferred from the UDC to Southwark Diocese. Initially, there was land sufficient to build a church and presbytery but in February 1963 more land was acquired at the back of the site (the present garden) to be used for a church hall. The orientation of the church lies, unusually, from west to east with the afternoon sun coming through the sanctuary window at the west end and with its entrance on Caesar’s Camp Road.

Local builders Spear and King began work in August 1961, building on piled foundations as the site was described by the architect as ‘a pit filled with loose materials and brushwood’. This was then topped with hundreds of cubic yards of earth provided free of charge by builders George Wimpey, still at work on the estate. The church was in use by April 1963 and the house occupied in May.  Money for the new church, which is said to have cost £26,000, came from a number of sources. Inevitably there was a loan from Barclays Bank but Canon Quinlan was a magnificent fundraiser and the project benefited from gifts, legacies and covenanted loans.

The Church was consecrated on the feast of Corpus Christi, Wednesday 19 June 1963 by Bishop Cyril Cowdroy then Bishop and later Archbishop of Southwark. Photographs of the occasion show a very splendid celebration. Its Parish Priest was Canon Walter Quinlan, transferred ‘up the hill’ from St Tarcisius to watch over the beginnings of this new parish.

Within months the interior of the church had been fitted out. A young silversmith, George Grant, designed and made altar rails at a cost of £360 together with a nickel and bronze tabernacle, sanctuary lamp and 6 matching candlesticks, costing £245. The needlework department of the Convent of the Good Shepherd, Windlesham supplied altar cloths. There is a bill for the making of 24 oak pews at a cost of £1152 in the workshop of Spear and King. An interesting account from a craftsman involved in their construction follows this history. The alabaster altar and 4 mosaics of Our Lady, the Sacred Heart, and Saints Peter and John came from the chapel at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh in Surrey during a chapel refurbishment programme in the late 50s and early
60s. The bell, costing £297, and fitted in 1964 was cast at the Whitechapel
Bell Foundry. The Stations of the Cross in stained glass were designed and made
in the workshop of Geoffrey Harper, whose bill came to £200.  Planting and landscaping of the garden was £241.

Before leaving the parish, Canon Quinlan, in 1965, set up a covenant scheme in the parish to clear the remaining £10,000 debt. Canon Quinlan’s successor, Father Michael Lane, set about building a ‘parish committee room’, not as originally intended at the back of the church but adjoining the presbytery. It was a single storey building to provide facilities for the activities of a parish which by 1971 had a Mass attendance of 398. In the same year, the parish return noted a Mass attendance of 680 at St Tarcisius. The need for this new church was clearly obvious.

Father Victor Cook arrived at SS Peter and John in 1974. Post Vatican 11 these were times of renewal for the Catholic Church and there is much correspondence in the archive about the reordering of the sanctuary in accordance with the liturgical changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council. The architects for this enterprise, costing £2,765.65 and completed in January 1976, were Scott, Brownrigg and Turner. There was much discussion about the retention of the altar rails. Father Cook commented in a
letter to Bishop’s House that he had consulted his parishioners about receiving
Holy Communion standing and ‘so far it has gone off very smoothly’. Even the elderly don’t object as they often have difficulty getting up and down’. In the end, Father Cook had the rails removed ‘as I could not see them fulfilling any useful role’. The gates, with symbolic wheat sheaves and grapes found a place below the altar.

A new window, representing the Trinity, at the sanctuary end of the church was installed by Father Albert Van Der Most soon after his arrival in 1981.The re-consecration of the Church in May 1982 in the presence of Bishop Cormac Murphy O’Connor was an event of great joy for the parish.

Parish activities had increased significantly in the 1980s, growing out of the ‘Renew’ movement and its highly successful youth spin-off, the parish R-Club. The existing parish room was obviously too small. More seriously, however, there was a problem of subsidence which needed to be dealt with urgently. Father Cyril Cravos arrived in 1987 and recognised that a presbytery built in the 1960s to house perhaps two priests and a housekeeper was no longer practical. Generously, he proposed vacating the ground floor and moving upstairs. In this way two problems could be solved. In addition to the usual fundraising activities, 37 families pledged a total of £31,502 enabling the
project to go ahead, providing a larger meeting space, bar area, kitchen and
wheelchair access. To save a little money, a small team of parishioners undertook the painting of the walls.

This remodelling of the presbytery was indeed farsighted, for times were changing. By the time Father Cravos left in 1999, priest numbers had fallen and there was nobody to fill the vacancy at the neighbouring parish of Christ the King in Bagshot. The two parishes were therefore asked to share a single priest. Father Richard Biggerstaff arrived with the task of encouraging the two communities to work together in harmony.

As part of the continuing improvement to the church at Camberley North a narthex was proposed to create a lighter more welcoming and cheerful entrance space. The existing confessional at the front of the church would be replaced with a small counselling room in the narthex. There was to be an area for display clear of the main axis of entry and a repository.  This project was completed in 2002 just a year before the fortieth anniversary of the church. Bishop Kieran Conry celebrated this important anniversary Mass on 18th June 2003, the Vigil of Corpus Christi, followed by one of the socials for which the parish had become renowned.

Father Niven Richardson came to the two parishes in 2005 departing in 2007. He will be remembered for his ecumenical and inter-faith work, including a personal friendship with the local Imam. With the death in January 2007 of Father Michael Reynolds the parish priest of St Tarcisius further changes were required. ‘Gapped’ for nearly nine months the St Tarcisius parish was supplied by many priests from the immediate area and beyond.

In October 2007 Bishop Kieran Conry decided to merge the three parishes of St. Tarcisius, SS Peter & John, Old Dean and Christ the King, Bagshot under the single banner of the Camberley & Bagshot Catholic Parish. Mgr. Richard Madders was
appointed as Parish Priest of the newly united parish. The story of the St
Peter and St John vibrant community with its rich liturgical & musical tradition
continues as it approaches its Golden Jubilee celebrations in June 2013. 

List of Parish Priests Parish of SS Peter & John

Canon Walter Quinlan                         1963-1967              (died 23 April 1975)

Father Michael Lane                            1967-1974              (died 7 November 1994)

Father Victor Cook                              1974-981                (died 26 December 2011)

Father Albert van der Most                 1981-1987

Father Cyril Cravos                             1987-1999                (died 22 March 2009)         
(died 22 March 2009)

Father Richard Biggerstaff                 1999-2005

Father Niven Richardson                     2005-2007

List of Parish Priests Camberley & Bagshot Catholic Parish

Monsignor Richard Madders              2007- 2016

Reverend Andrew Moss JCL               2016 - 2017

Reverend Paul Turner

Church Pews
Mr Malcolm Taylor kindly contacted the parish and wrote:

Thank you for allowing my wife and I permission to visit your lovely Church and to inspect & photograph the 'Oak Pews' that I manufactured for it, some 50 years ago, whilst working for the Builders, Spear & King. I was a fourth year Apprentice and in conjunction with my colleague Ian Ovenden ( a newly Qualified Joiner) we together carried out the bulk of the work. I recall the Oak was the 'best seasoned' obtainable from the Timber Merchants, cut to size & planed to shape, in our machine shop, with the end panels containing 'raised & fielded mouldings'. The quality of the seasoning I believe is born out by the fact that the Pews on last weeks inspection bore little or no wear or damage, splintering, cracking or crazing. Credit must also be given to your Parishioners for treating them with respect & keeping them polished with their posteriors for 50 years!!. Apart from the natural darkening of the timber they look as good as when they left the workshop. I further recall the many hours spent mallet & chiselling the return sections of the 'raised & fielded' panels and the dreaded polishing!!!. The Architect insisted on only a natural finish, to which Beeswax was selected. Ian & I used rolls of mutton cloth & tins of wax, all applied and polished by hand. As quick as we completed one section & polished it, the wax had dried into the bare timber, requiring us to recommence again & again. All this to what I thought was 30 Pews (although there are only 26 of ours in the Church now - 4 @ the rear are foreign) perhaps my memory was incorrect. The visit also reminded me that I had constructed the 8 number triangulated windows situated in the roof. Originally cords would have been connected to them to hold them open & when released they would close shut by the use of automatic tilt & turn hinges. I assume maintenance or security issues may have curtailed their use. On visiting your neighbouring Church's 50 year celebrations, their history board had newspaper articles showing your Church in construction by us, in the snow, showing the original barn frame, from which it is constructed around. This had been obtained from the Reading area.