Our parish sprang from the vision of Father Michael O’Learey and the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart at our mother church, St Alban and St Stephen. In the 1950s, when our part of St Albans had very few houses, Fr O’Learey saw that there would be major developments here, and a parish would be needed. He bought land for our school, St Adrians, and then for the Church.
On 21 October 1959 Fr Joseph Gardner arrived as the first parish priest, saying Mass in the front hall of Iona House, a part of St Columba’s College. Once the school was built Mass was celebrated there.
On September 30 1962 the foundation stone was laid for the Church, and the first worship was at Easter 1964. From a worshipping community of a few dozen we have grown to an attendance of about 700.
A refuge for lepers was founded by Geoffrey, Abbot of St Albans (1119 – 1146). He bought a piece of land called Kingeshu, by the side of Watling Street, and already dedicated to St Julian, in what is now the area adjoining St Bartholomew’s Catholic Church.
King Henry II, whose reign began in 1154, agreed to pay the Hospice one penny per day for the care of the inmates, and by 1470 it had become a hospice of priests and lepers, following the rule of life set up at Pre, on the north side of St Albans and also on Watling Street.
By 1501 the Hospice had fallen into some disrepair and under use, and by 1507 it seems almost completely to have disappeared.
With the Reformation the land and any remaining buildings would have been sold to a local layman. The names of some of the owners over the years are known – Sir Richard Le of Sopwell, Evarad Digby, the Ellis family and then Admiral Killigrew in 1693. The admiral died in 1712, and the property passed through various hands until sold to a Mr Wilshire in 1820. His descendents were still owning the land in 1880, when Mr Gibbs published his History of Leper Hospices in St Albans.
Mr Gibbs tells us that the property then became St Julians Farm. While most of the original buildings disappeared and were replaced from time to time, the farm and hospice stood on what is now Tithe Barn Close and Robert Avenue.
The church for the Hospice stood some distance away, on the side of Watling Street, as Mr Gibbs’ book states, “by the side of the path from Watling Street to the gas works”. This path is now Vesta Avenue and Wilshire Avenue. But on which side of Watling Street did the church stand? The annals of the Hospice state that from time to time the lepers used to linger about on Watling Street, while crossing from their cells to the church, causing offence to passers-by (begging, one assumes). This caused strict rules as to dress and behaviour to be laid down in an attempt to curb the offence. This information puts the Leper Hospice Church on the same site as the current Catholic Church of St Bartholomew.
This can give rise to the speculation that, after a gap of four hundred years, a Catholic church has been built on a original site. All the available maps show the site was vacant until St Bartholomew’s church was built.
Owing to the habit of using all pre-Reformation sites as an easy quarry, all trace of he original building has vanished. But the suspected subsidence on the west side of the church could be due to being partly filled-in ancient trenches or a hedge line.
Tithe Barn Close gets it name from the Hospice’s tithe barn, which was pulled down only a few years ago.
The evidence linked to the subsidence could also mean that the old grave yard attached to the church for the lepers might have stretched as far as our present site. Hence the poor ground.
There is further information about the leper hospice here: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol4/pp464-467
(Researched and written by Tony Pratt)
Further information about the Church is available here: http://taking-stock.org.uk/Home/Dioceses/Archdiocese-of-Westminster/St-Albans-South-St-Bartholomew