A Brief History
This church was built through the generosity of Thomas Peter Tempest, youngest son of the Tempest family of Broughton Hall, near Skipton, in Yorkshire. At the time he was a student for the priesthood at Oscott College and eventually became Parish Priest here.
Having first bought the house which is now the Rectory, together with the neighbouring land, he himself laid the first stone on 21 February 1831 and his brother Joseph laid the “foundation” stone on 25 March. The church was consecrated to St. Mary at a solemn High Mass celebrated by Dr Walsh, Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District, on 1 May 1833.
The architect responsible for the original, Ionic style of the building was Edward James Willson of Lincoln whose elder brother, Robert William Willson, became the first Bishop of Tasmania in 1842.
Built to seat 350, the church cost £4,000, most of which was paid by Father Tempest. The dedication of the church to St. Mary the Immaculate dates from 1936.
Throughout its history the church has been subject to alterations and additions. The first of these was in 1884 when, at a cost of
£1,042, a new chancel, sanctuary, mortuary chapel and baptistery were added. Of these, little remains except that the apse which was the sanctuary now the baptistery.
In 1965, in response to the challenges of the Second Vatican Council, major alterations to the church produced the present layout. Part of the north wall was removed and a new sanctuary was constructed; and a crying corridor and sacristy were added on the south side. All the embellishments of previous generations were removed, with the exception of the stained glass window depicting the Annunciation, installed after the Great War of 1914-1918 in memory of the fallen of the Machine Gun Corps, who had been based in Belton Park and Harrowby on the eastern edge of the town.
The architect of the alterations was Gerard Goalen B. Arch., FRIBA, AMTPI. The sculptor of the fibreglass figure of Christ in Glory, behind the altar, was Willi Soukop, a Polish refugee.
In commemoration of the Holy Year of 1975 a local artist and parishioner, Vincent Wells MBE, was commissioned by the then Parish Council to produce a series of paintings depicting the Way of the Cross. Uncompromisingly modern in execution, they reflect the painter’s conviction that the Way of the Cross is trodden every day in life and was not only something which happened in the past.
In 1995, a further breach was made in the walls of the original church to provide, for the first time, a direct link between the church and the newly refurbished Parish Hall which had once been the parish school. Established a year after the church itself to provide education for the poor of Grantham, its modern replacement, St. Mary’s Primary School, built in 1928, continues to flourish on a site about a mile from the church.
Preparations for the Millennium included the cleaning of the outside stonework of the church, the recasting of one bell and retuning of the other, the restoration of the clock, the re- gilding of the orb and cross atop the cupola and a new statue of Our Lady by a local sculptor, Beauford Linley. The architects were Messrs Smith and Roper of Bakewell, Derbyshire.
In 2003, work on the re-ordering of the sanctuary, the re-modelling of the church entrance and porch, and the re-decoration of the church was completed, as part of our on-going
programme of repair, maintenance and improvement. Repainting of the exterior of all the buildings on the site and some reordering of the surrounding open areas saw the fulfilment of a series of improvements which were conceived in 1991.
This continues the process of caring for and enhancing the physical fabric of the parish which we have inherited from our forebears in the Faith and hope to hand on in good heart to our successors.