A brief history of the Church of God the Holy Spirit in Newtown
The Church in Newtown at its present site at the end of the Longbridge over the river Severn was established by Father Roscoe Vaughan Minton Beddoes, from a family of squires of Minton and Cheney Longville just over the border in Shropshire. He was connected to the place, as his father had inherited a large estate from a Welsh relative in Dolfor area, not far from Newtown. In 1942 when Fr. Beddoes was appointed priest of St. Frances’s Chapel at Newtown Hall, it served as the only place of worship for servicemen and children evacuated from Rock Ferry, Birkenhead, he became the first Catholic priest in Newtown since the Reformation in 1534.
St. Frances’ Chapel (dedicated to St. Frances of Rome) was a private arrangement built behind Newtown Hall (presently, Council Offices) by a certain Arbuthnot-Brisco family from Reading, which had a supply priest from Welshpool, that accommodated a handful of Catholics in the town. The sudden influx of the floating Catholic population necessitated a larger place than at the Chapel.
In spring of 1942, Fr. Beddoes met a young newly converted Catholic officer Roger Bevan in the Royal Artillery who was stationed though officially at Dolerw Hall, but camped in the field with other officers camped in the fields surrounding Dolerw Hall. Both were zealous for the spread of the faith, and they soon planned that the priest would build a church, and the latter would establish a Catholic school, with the aim of providing choristers for the church.
The young officer soon got posted out abroad, but left his wife to work as a housekeeper for
Fr. Beddoes, and for the establishment of a Church choir. While the work for the school was
on hold, Fr. Beddoes looked around for a suitable building in Newtown to convert into a church. Meanwhile after the Arbuthnot-Briscos left Newtown Hall, it was purchased by the local Urban District Council for use as council offices and a public park. Eventually Fr. Beddoes was able to purchase some buildings at the end of the Long Bridge, the biggest of which was formerly Syar’s Mill, the first handloom weaving factory to be built on the Llanllwchaiarn side of the river. It ceased to be a mill by the end of the 18th century, then turned into a warehouse, and eventually became derelict. Fr. Beddoes purchased it for £300. Between the warehouse and the LongBridge there were a few shops, cottages and what had once been the Bridgend Inn which had ceased to be licensed premises in 1931. Fr. Beddoes bought these buildings for £330, and thus began to build on his plan for the Church.
After the war, Roger Bevan returned in 1946, and with the help of his wife’s money bought a building just across the road, called the Crescent House ( opposite the mini roundabout ) for his dream of a Catholic school. The building had gone through various phases; first a private school in 1860s, then private residence of a local brewer, then sergeant’s mess, and then the Bevans’ school and residence. The present St. Mary’s Primary School, has its origin in Bevans’ effort; their school was named St. Mary’s School. Their efforts has since been long forgotten, but imagine what zeal the couple must have had as they struggled to survive heroically on Roger’s meagre earnings from private piano tuitions to a few pupils.
Meanwhile Fr. Beddoes set about working on the present building to make a church and a presbytery with the help of a local builder who seemed not very happy at being paid in delayed instalments. It could only be the priest’s persistent requests to the builder’s wife, that work was finally completed, and on 29 May 1947, the present Church was given the name as it is known, and consecrated by Bishop Petit who came from Wrexham ( but the Diocese was then known as the ‘Menevia Diocese’) in a grand public ceremony beginning with a procession from St. Mary’s School at the Crescent House, and a solemn Mass concelebrated by clergy in the Diocese and from other parts of England and Wales. By the time Fr. Beddoes died in 1970, it was reported he had ‘sunk every bit of his money’ to build a Church for the greater glory of God. Not much appreciation is there today for the heroic efforts of Fr. Beddoes, and the Bevans (including Mrs. Bevan’s brother’s contribution of a considerable sum) for the establishment of the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Primary School despite every opposition that can be imagined due the extreme prejudice of the officials in the local County offices. Fr. Beddoes has left us much more than a choir. May their untiring and shining examples guide the faithful today in building on the tradition they have left behind.