THE HISTORY OF ST MARY’S CHURCH, POOLE
The roots of St Mary's Church, Poole, can be traced back to the French revolution. The end of the 18th Century was a turbulent time in Europe, and especially in France where the power of the state was unleashed against religious institutions
The roots of St Mary's Church, Poole, can be traced back to the French revolution. The end of the 18th Century was a turbulent time in Europe, and especially in France where the power of the state was unleashed against religious institutions. Official ‘atheism’ was introduced, Pope Pius VI was imprisoned in Valence and thousands of priests and religious were martyred. However, many escaped and came to England. One of these priests was Abbé Pierre Languetint who arrived in Poole in 1803, rented a farmhouse in Longfleet and offered French lessons. To attend Mass, Catholics living in the area had to travel to Staplehill or Lulworth - where the first church in England had been built following the Reformation. In 1820 Abbé Jean Coupe came to Poole, purchased land in Wimborne Road, Longfleet and built a small house with a chapel at the rear. The parish thrived under a succession of dedicated priests which continues today.
In 1828 Edward Titchborne and his wife Kathryne bought Upton House. He changed his name to Doughty when he was left a sizeable estate by his cousin. Tragedy loomed when their daughter Catherine became seriously ill and in gratitude for her recovery, Edward and Kathryne had the first Catholic Church in Poole built in West Quay Road and which could be seen from Upton House. It was opened in 1839 and dedicated to St Mary and S. Philomena. Built in the plain, mid Victorian Gothic style, North and South aisles were added later, followed by a presbytery and school.
Many people of Poole thought the figure of Mary holding the baby Jesus represented Queen Victoria holding Prince Edward and they were delighted by the loyalty shown by the Catholics of Poole. This statue is now located in the memorial garden. When there were high tides in the harbour and the strong winds were from the south-east, water could often be seen under the timber floor of the church.
In 1850 a new school was built, with major contributions from the Doughty family of Upton House and the Weld family of Lulworth Castle. Its early pupils paid 1p per week to attend the school. The school was replaced in 1967 by a new and larger building in Devon Road.
The church eventually became too small for the growing congregation and the structure began to deteriorate. In the 1960s the Royal National Lifeboat Institution required a site for their new headquarters. Poole was one of the ports being considered and the Borough Council, being very keen to have the RNLI in Poole, approached Canon James Buckley to discuss how to acquire the church site. After valuations a proposal was made to the Diocese; approval was given to sell the site in West Quay Road and build a new church at 211a Wimborne Road. The building contract was awarded to Burt and Vick of Poole. Work commenced in 1972 and the new St Mary's was opened by Bishop Cyril Restieaux on 25th February 1973 and consecrated three years later.
Many items from the first church can be seen in the new St Mary's - the bell; two painted glass windows of Mary and St. John together with a piece of stone moulding in the Narthex; the large crucifix behind the main altar; three small quatrefoil windows in the Sacred Heart recess, the statues of the Sacred Heart, Mary as Queen of Heaven holding the infant Jesus and St Anthony; the statue of Mary in the Memorial garden; and several sacred vessels that are still used today in the Liturgies.