Our history


A small and plain 1830s Tudor-style building which was originally a Church of England school with school house. Acquired for Catholic use in the twentieth century, it has been completely refitted in recent times and has a clean, light interior. The building makes a positive contribution to the local conservation area. The church is built of semi-dressed local stone with ashlar dressings under a Welsh slate roof and is lit by two-light mullioned and diamond-leaded windows with hoodmoulds (three on the south, two on the north). The nave is a small, plain rectangle with a western projection into the former school house. Inside the walls are plastered and painted off-white (the finish dates from a major refurbishment in 2023). The roof structure seems original to 1836 and has tie-beams with crown-posts and struts. All the fittings are modern and of sensitive design, including a window of c.1950 by Donald Brooke, late Arts and Crafts in style. The inclusion of St Kenelm in the dedication recalls the boy-king martyr of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, the chief centre of which was Winchcombe.

Before the First World War the Catholic churches in the area were at Chipping Campden (founded 1854) and Chipping Norton (founded 1836). Then, with an influx of displaced persons from Belgium, Mass centres were set up at Moreton-in-Marsh and at Stow-on-the-Wold. They were served from Chipping Campden but Mass was discontinued in 1917 after the number of refugees dwindled. But after the First World War a young French layman, Count George de Serionne, gained permission to establish a mission at Stow and rented the disused Church of England infant school, a building of 1836 which had closed in 1908 and become a builder’s store. The first Mass was said here in 1918. In 1921 he bought it and handed it to the diocese in 1941. At first the schoolhouse was used as the presbytery but after the building of a new presbytery in 1965, the ground floor was opened up to the church to create extra seating and the upper floor turned into a hall. The church was completely refitted in 2023.



In the Sanctuary of St. Kenelm’s Church, on the north wall is a copy of THE ANNUNCIATION by Sandro Botticelli, the original of which can be found in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Andrew Gorzynski, our parish administrator, has been in touch with Michael Welch of Bonhams to discover more about the painting. Michael writes: ‘Copies of works of the great Masters were frequently acquired by those on the Grand Tour in the 18th Century and by many wealthy visitors to Italy throughout the 19th Century. Thus copy is likely to be one dating from the second half of the 19th C.’  (The Grand Tour was a term introduced by Richard Lassels in his 1670 book Voyage to Italy. Guidebooks were developed at this time to meet the needs of the wealthy. The study and collection of art was almost non optional for Grand Tourists. Many returned laden with artefacts).

The Anglican church of Saint Lawrence stands on the site of a Saxon Church, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. In his History of Bourton-on-the-Water, Harry Clifford records that: Before the reformation this aisle was a chantry, dedicated to “Our Blessed Lady”, where Mass was sung daily for the soul of the founder. This aisle is known as the Clapton Aisle. Clifford continues “After the Dissolution, Bourton Church must have presented a sorry sight.” Little then remained of the old Faith, but what there was, was held securely by some who were brave and resolute.

The Victoria History of Gloucestershire reports that in 1667 Bourton was clearly a known centre for papists, and figures for that year indicate that half the papists in Stow deanery were gathered there. When Charles Trinder, attorney-at-law and later Recorder of Gloucestershire purchased the Manor House at Bourton in 1662, he established there, despite the great peril and severe penalties incurred, a Catholic centre with resident priests. This mission, which lasted for 75 years, was served by chaplains who were mainly Benedictine monks.

Saint John Wall, the Franciscan Friar canonised as one of the Forty Martyrs, was almost certainly a visitor there as he was a close personal friend of Charles Trinder. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1679 simply for the offence of being a Catholic priest and remaining in England.    On the upper floor of the large, rambling Manor House, during the nineteenth century, a secret room was discovered when a wall paper was being removed. It is believed that this had been used as a priest’s hiding place. It was apparently part of a suite of rooms, one of which was traditionally known as “The Chapel.”

In 1927, before he married Mary Underwood of Preston (Priests’ town), Henry James Barnes was received into the Church by Father van den Biesen, who was then living in retirement at Stow and helping George de Serionne in the parish. The couple settled at Bourton. With three other practising Catholic families there, they all had to walk, cycle or beg a lift to Stow or Chipping Campden for Sunday Mass. They hoped that one day there would be a Catholic church at Bourton but in the meantime the children, on whom the future depended, must be taught the Faith.

Encouraged by George de Serionne, Mary Barnes began to teach small groups at her house. George, a frequent visitor and adviser, became a life-long friend. Mary records that in 1938, six children were taken by coach to Saint Catharine’s church at Chipping Campden in order to make their First Communions. During the second World War, with the building of the air force base at Little Rissington, and the evacuation of many people from the cities to the countryside, many Catholics came into the area. So regular Masses began, at first in the Barnes’ home and later in the front room of Dr Liston’s house. The first Mass was said at Bourton at Easter, 1940 in the Barnes’ home.

In 1942, Father John O’Donnell, the newly appointed priest at Stow-on-the-Wold, determined that a Mass centre should be provided at Bourton. The Church of England hall was rented for Sunday Mass and at first Father O’Donnell cycled from Stow to Bourton until Mrs Liston provided him with a car. As the war progressed and more people came to Bourton, the need for a church became more pressing. At this time Father O’Donnell was saying Mass every Sunday in a Nissen hut on the airfield. Bingo, Dances, Jumble Sales, Fêtes and Bazaars were held to raise funds; and so the work went on. By 1954 it was found necessary to have two classes for the growing number of children needing instruction. At last, in 1957, land in Station Road was acquired and, when in the following year Father O’Callaghan came, Stow was granted parochial status. High priority was given to the building of a church at Bourton. On 24th May in 1960, building work began. This was the Feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians (to whom the church was dedicated). On 9th October the first Mass was said in the new church and the following Thursday saw the official opening and dedication by the Bishop.

In June 2021, the decision was taken to close Our Lady, Help of Christians, because our Church at Stow is only a short distance away and with everyone having access to transport these days, there is no point in carrying the expense of two establishments. So, on Wednesday evening, June 30th, at 6 pm a final Mass was celebrated with 4 priests present, and some 60 people. So, the church of Our Lady and St. Kenelm at Stow is the main Mass centre, but since 2022 the Anglicans have permitted us to say Mass every Tuesday at 9 am at St. Lawrence’s Anglican Church, for which we are very grateful.   

Fr. Stephen 28th April, 2024