THE ORIGINS OF OUR CHURCH
Guardian Angels Catholic church was opened on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception 9th December 1868, 143 years ago, by Archbishop Cardinal Manning. It was originally on the site of a Congregationalist church, called the Salem church whose pastor was a Mr Adams.
Much to Mr Adams’ shock the church and the land was brought literally form under his feet, when his congregation could not raise sufficient money to buy the church and land and the landlord, decided that he would look for a buyer elsewhere.
Up to 1791 the Penal Laws made it illegal to celebrate Catholic Mass in England, but once these Penal Laws ended new Catholic missions began to be opened in the East End. The land for the church was purchased by a wealthy man called Charles Walker.
With a genius for spotting suitable sites for schools and churches, he quietly went about buying up properties and acquiring them for the church. He decided to buy the Mile End site when he was lost one day and could not find a nearby church. He died at the age of 72 of small pox and was buried from the church of St Charles Borromeo, Ogle Street.
The following list of churches were entirely or partially paid for by the Charles Walker.
SS Peter and Paul, Rosoman Street; St Bridget’s, Baldwin’s Gardens; The holy Family, Saffron Hill; Notre Dame de France, Leicester Square; St Charles Borromeo Ogle Street; The Sacred Heart, Holloway Road; St Monica’s Hoxton Square; The English Martyrs , Tower Hill.
Quite a list ! By the end of his life he had spent between £40-60,000 on charitable works, quite sum 150 years ago.
So our parish started on the site of a former Congregationalist church who could not pay the rent! When acquired it served a Catholic population of approximately 4,000.
In the 1900’s the original building was condemned, and a notice served by the local council that the church could not continue in its current state. With the external walls bulging and threatening to fall down, crushing the congregation under a pile of rubble, the decision was made to knock down the old church and build a new church on the existing site.
With no money in the bank, and none offered by the diocese or Archbishop, the parish priest Fr Donleavy turned to prayer. About 6000£ was required. There was tradition of the 40 hours devotion to the Blessed Sacrament at the time and at the beginning of the 40 hours devotion, the priest invited the parishioners to pray for the appeal fund, by the end of the 40 hours, during the mass of deposition, a cheque was in the post for £8,000 from a Lady Mary Howard who offered to build a church in memory of her sister!
The architect Frederick A. Walters who was commissioned to design the church is also noted for other London churches particular St. Anslem and St Cecilia in Kingsway, and especially the huge Benedictine Ealing abbey. Have a look you will notice some similarities.
The new church was opened on another Marian Feast, the Feast of the Annunciation Wednesday 25th March 1903. Due to be opened by Cardinal Vaughan, who was dying at the time, it was actually opened by a Bishop Bridle who came from Nottingham.
Today as we celebrate the parish feast we remember all our benefactors and pray for the repose of their souls, for the Walker family, and the Howard family, and all those who have worshipped here over the past two centuries.
In a same spirit of faith, we look to the future of our parish praying that God will help us to understand his will and the mission which he has in mind for our parish.