The history of St. Thomas More’s Church can be traced back to 1928 when, owing to the gradual increase in the number of Catholics in Harpenden and outlying areas that were unable to attend Sunday Mass, Canon Longstaff (of Harpenden) was asked to investigate the possibility of starting new Parishes in Redbourn and Wheathampstead.
On the 9 August 1933 a piece of land (formerly a pig farm) in Wheathampstead, on Marford Road, comprising some 3.5 Acres, came up for auction following the death of the owner. The land was bought for the sum of £450.
In 1934 the freehold of the land was purchased for £33.1.4d (£33.07). In 1935 an account was opened at Lloyds Bank in Harpenden to receive the annual grazing payments. Canon Longstaff was determined “to provide facilities for the increasing number of Catholics at Wheathampstead to practice their religion as so many were unable to get to Harpenden owing to distance……I was keen to start a new parish where there had been no mass since the reformation…….my ambition was to build a church and equip it.
A detached house became available on Marford Road, which was quickly leased by the Canon at £1.5s (£1.25p) per week, in his name, for a period of 3 years. The house was furnished with donations from the parishioners of Harpenden and was thoroughly cleaned, the stairs were carpeted and one room was fitted out as a Chapel. Plans also commenced for the building of a ‘proper’, albeit temporary, church which was to be named after the other English Saint canonised at the same time as John Fisher, i.e; St Thomas More.
A freezing snowy morning, December 6th 1936, saw the first Mass in Wheathampstead since the Reformation which, despite the inclement weather, was attended by 16 persons. The weekly offertory collection at this time amounted to 1 Guinea (£1.05p). Given the size of the income it was recognised that the parish could not support a secular and would need help from either a Religious order (as had Redbourn) or a priest with independent means.
In May 1937 Canon Longstaff submitted plans for a “spacious hall” measuring 51 ft x 26 ft. This hall would be used as a (temporary) church until funds could be raised for a more permanent structure. The plans also included provision for a presbytery and car park.
The new church of St Thomas More, Wheathampstead, was consecrated on 9 February 1938 and opened formally on 13th February 1938 by Cardinal Hinsley. The Oak High Altar, Sacristy furniture, Chairs etc., were taken from Harpenden and installed in St. Thomas More. (The current Altar at St. Thomas More contains relics of St Thomas of Canterbury and St John of Southworth).
On April 28th Father Armitage moved into the new Presbytery. On October 6th Wheathampstead was ‘cut-off’ from Harpenden and became an independent parish. In later years the rural districts of Kimpton and Ayot St. Lawrence were included within the parish boundaries.
Life continued relatively uneventfully (except for the intervention of WWII). The next record of note appeared in February 1945 when Canon Longstaff proposed to build a School within the Church grounds on Marford Road. He believed that there would be no post war developments in Harpenden and that all such developments would be in Wheathampstead, Sandridge and Kimpton. His suggestion was that an Independent Catholic, all age, School be built to serve Wheathampstead, Harpenden, Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield, Kimpton and Sandridge.
There are no parish records to indicate what response, if any, Canon Longstaff received to his proposals, however it is fact that no such school was ever built. Indeed, despite his beliefs regarding Harpenden, it was there that the majority of expansion and development took place and Wheathampstead remained a ‘temporary structure’ surrounded by a substantial amount of land.
In 1971 Father Percy Fielden contracted for the building of a new Church and Presbytery (at a cost of C£51,000) on the present site. This was to be funded by the separate sales of the ‘Old Presbytery’ and the land behind the Old Presbytery, and current Church, to a property developer. These sales raised a not inconsiderable amount, most of which was distributed to other ‘needy’ parishes. This is the Church that exists today.