A Brief History

This is a very short summary of over 100 years of the history of our parish. A longer version, including the story of our Vowles organ, can be found here in the sidebar.

In addition, a “Guide to St Benet’s”, describing the structure of our church, its layout, statues and windows, can be found at the rear of the Church. 

St Benet’s Minster

In the early years of the parish, towards the end of the 19th century, Downside was still a priory and Beccles was on the edge of a large rural district.

The area had been served from a Benedictine ‘mission’, which was first located at Flixton Hall and then at St Edmund’s, Bungay.

The beginnings of St Benet’s Parish (‘Benet’ being the anglicised version of Benedict) is usually dated to the year 1889.  The building of the Parish Hall (for the use of a new Catholic School) preceded the construction of the church.

The Parish Church was designated a Minster to indicate service to a community.  Downside had been elevated to the status of an Abbey in 1900; and St Benet’s was planned to be a priory with a community of monks – which never materialised.

However, there were successive communities of sisters serving the parish from new houses in Grange Road, including an orphanage (now St Elizabeth House) as well as convent buildings.

The land for the church and school, on the outskirts of Beccles, had been purchased and donated to the Benedictines by the owner of the Gillingham Estate, John George Kenyon.  Thanks to the great generosity of several other donors, the Minster was largely complete within ten years of the laying of the foundation stone in 1898 and consecrated in 1908.

The Parish was part of the Diocese of Northampton until 1976, when our Diocese of East Anglia was established;  the division of responsibilities continued, with the Bishop overseeing our Spiritual Activities and the Abbot owning the land and the properties, and supplying our Priests.

In 2021, faced with a fall in vocations, the Downside community decided they could no longer maintain the supply of priests to their two Suffolk parishes.  They therefore agreed to transfer all the property and parochial responsibilities to the Diocese of East Anglia.  At the time of writing, (2021/2022) we are awaiting the completion of the legal affairs relating to the properties and the various Trust Deeds that are in existence.

Our Priest (Fr Martin Gowman) is a member of the Downside community and he will remain with us, at least until the transfer is completed.

For those interested in the history of the Benedictine Order, the Benedictine web site is at http://www.downside.co.uk/benedictine-monastery/

Our Lady of Perpetual Succour

This small church at Gillingham is part of St Benet’s Parish.  It was built on John George Kenyon’s estate, in the Italian style.

It is still in use for 08:00 Mass on Sundays and Holy Days – and for certain other services.

It is well worth a visit and a full history of this wonderful church can be found on their own web site –  https://ourladyofperpetualsuccourgillingham.wordpress.com

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