St. John Fisher, Wellington, Somerset
From the early to mid-seventeenth century a recusant* family, the Porters, lived at Old Court, Mantle Street. Through the English Mission in Rome, they secured the services of Fr. James Jenison S.J. Officially known as the gardener and handyman, if soldiers came looking for priests, he would escape via a tunnel under what is now the town's playing field, to re-emerge in Home Farm (now the Court Nursing Home). No further Catholic priests served in Wellington until 1941. Before the present church opened Mass was celebrated in the former town hall by a priest from Taunton. Taunton's Catholic community collected money for a Wellington mission from about the mid-1930S.
*recusant = a person who refused to attend the services of the Church of England, esp. a Roman Catholic; but any religious dissentient.
of St John Fisher by Bishop William Lee
In 1936 the Popham Almshouses were vacated, the residents being moved to a new site in Victoria Street. It was bought by the Catholic community and converted to form the present church. The architect responsible for the conversion, John Willman, reportedly did the work free of charge. The church was opened by Bishop Lee in March 1937 and certified as a place of meeting for religious worship 26 November 1940.
The church occupies the site of the original building planned as an almshouse by the foundation of Sir John Popham, Lord Chief Justice of England, in 1594 (Popham owned a large mansion nearby). The original almshouse was built about 1606, and rebuilt in 1833, apparently to a design inspired by old Blundells School, Tiverton. About 1964 considerable restoration work was carried out on the main buildings. These included the removal of the chimneys and the creation of the parish room. In 1990 major repairs were carried out to the roof and this was followed in 1996 by the installation of a new ceiling. The roof repairs were paid for with part of a generous bequest by a parishioner, the late Mary Morris.
From 1937-1941 St. John Fisher was served from Taunton. The parish priest at Taunton for some forty years (c. 1930 to 1967) was Mgr. Provost Richard lies.
The first priest in charge at Wellington was Fr. Ninian O'Connor, however, in the interim, visiting priests included Fr. Francis Kelly S.J. who officiated at the first marriage in the church, 25 November 1941.
No history of St. John Fisher parish would be complete without a reference to Cothay Manor, near the village of Greenham. Once described as 'the most perfect small fifteenth century house that survives in the Kingdom', it was owned from 1947 to 1972 by Mrs. Vera Astley-Rushton, whose husband was a descendant of the original feudal overlord of Cothay. She was the first Catholic to live there since the Bluetts in 1588. Mrs. Aston-Rushton opened an oratory and the first Catholic Mass since the reformation was celebrated there by Archbishop Thomas Roberts S.J. in 1953. For a number of years the house was the venue for days of recollection, and a number of well-known priests held days there including Archbishop Roberts, Mgr. Vernon Johnson, Rev. Alfonso Zulueta and others. Cothay was also the venue for the parish's annual Corpus Christi procession from 1956 until 1968.
Another notable venue in the parish was Bindon House, near the village of Langford Budville. As St. Monica's Priory, it was the Assumptionist novitiate from 1947 until about 1950. Bindon was a former grange of the pre-Reformation Minchin Buckland Priory, Durston (originally founded as an Augustinian house).