West Watford Centre and The Immigrants

West Watford Centre

The main area of population growth in the 1960’s and 70’s was West Watford, and here two major developments took place.

In 1971, a Parish Hall and Social Centre was opened in Tolpits Lane, after a great deal of discussion and controversy. At the time many Catholics in West Watford, a good distance from the church, felt the need for a Mass Centre and this was seen as the most important purpose of the Hall. As more and more people in succeeding years acquired their own transport, and the distance to the church became less of a difficulty, the importance of the Hall as a Mass Centre declined but it has remained a lively venue for social events, with a Social Club looking after the upkeep and running of the Hall.

The other major event in West Watford was the building of St. Anthony’s, another parish primary school. Again, it was quite a controversial decision. But it went ahead, and the school was opened in 1974, and has grown ever since in numbers and reputation.

The Immigrants

At the time it was opened Holy Rood was the only Catholic church in Watford. Its parish boundaries included North Watford, Garston and West Watford. As Watford grew and dormitory areas were developed away from the centre of the town, it became necessary to consider dividing the parish into new parishes. A Chapel of Ease was established for Catholics of North Watford in 1925, followed by a new church of St. Helen in 1935. The church of Our Lady and St. Michael was opened in 1954 for the new Garston parish. That part of Watford bordering on the Rickmansworth parish was served by the church of St. Bede, Croxley Green, opened in 1958. A Mass Centre for the convenience of Holy Rood parishioners living in West Watford was opened in 1971. In spite of these reductions in the geographical area of Holy Rood parish the Sunday Mass attendances increased to and remained near 1,400.

After the second World War this growth of the Catholic population of Watford was in no small way due to the influx of Irish and Italian immigrants. It has been estimated that in the 1950’s the nationally reached figure for Irish immigrants was 30,000 a year. They found plenty of work. Houses, factories, hospitals and nuclear power stations were being built, and the new motorways like the Ml and M6 were being constructed. Many others found employment in the catering industry, in hotels, clubs and cafes, particularly in the London area. The Catholic church in England and Ireland soon became aware of the many problems faring these immigrants. These included lack of accommodation, exploitation and separation from Catholic and parochial life.

At first priests in England strove to cope with the problem of those who had come to their parishes, but it was soon decided to enlist the help of the Irish bishops. As a result an Irish Immigrant Chaplaincy Scheme was set up and it was agreed that each Irish Diocese, and later certain religious orders, should send priests to live and work in England and Wales, in towns and cities which had large numbers of immigrants. These priests would visit hotels, digs, hostels and houses to discuss problems and offer spiritual and practical advice to those in need, and to assist them to integrate and become part of parish life.

This project, when finally operational, became a tremendous undertaking involving many priests and religious from Ireland, as well as lay helpers. Holy Rood, Watford, has benefited from having six priests since 1970, each serving a term in the parish. They have not only laboured for the Irish but have also greatly assisted in parish work generally, and become loved by all parishioners. The following priests have been sent to work in the parish:

T. Dillon

from Kildare

P.J. Byrne

from Kildare


from Tuan

T. Hannon

from Killaloe

P.J. McCrory

from Armagh1956

J. Clarke

from Clonfert

By the early 1960s a large influx of Italians had also emigrated to England, some 2,500 in south west Hertfordshire, many of them in Watford. They mainly found employment in farm work and local hospitals. Whilst the older ones had little knowledge of the English language, the younger generation born in this country and educated in local schools, spoke English and had little knowledge of their mother tongue.

An Italian mission was formed by the Rt. Rev. Mgr. Angelo Carminati, one of its objects being to hold after hours classes in the local schools to teach English to the older people, and also to teach Italian to the young so that they would not be lost to their native land. The expense was met by the Italian Consulate.

Mgr. Carminati came to reside in Watford in 1965, living for a time in the presbytery, but when No. 5, Percy Road, was bought and furnished by the parish in 1966 for about £5,000 he moved there. From then on Mass has been said in Italian every Sunday morning, and baptisms, weddings and funerals are also often in Italian. Mgr. Carminati had the aim of helping the Italian community to integrate. Considerable strides have now been made. Mass is still said in Italian each Sunday but there is no longer a resident chaplain.

Although not immigrants, the P.I.M.E. Fathers (Pontifical Foreign Missions Institute) came to stay in the parish at a house bought in Cassiobury Park Avenue. They came to learn English before taking up missionary work in the far east. They were not involved in the work of the parish, but from time to time they assisted the parish priest by saying Mass when asked, and frequently they have wished to take part in services in Holy Rood. The house with its chapel was blessed by Bishop Casey when the Cardinal was regretfully unable to attend. The Italian Ambassador was present as well as a number of priests and nuns. More recently P.I.M.E. seminary students have also come each summer and eagerly involved themselves in the parish.