NEWTOWN is a town of churches.

Around many town centre corners a temple of worship still stands, built centuries ago during a more religious time and, more often than not, each a branch of the Protestant Church.

However Newtown also has a Catholic history.

This is in part down to the devout ancestral owners of Newtown Hall, the Brisco’s, and its patriarch, Wastel, who bequeathed in his will that the hall could only be inherited by a Catholic.

His niece, Sarah, inherited the hall in 1891 and was one of few Catholics in the town to meet at a room in Wesley Street.

Upon her death in 1912 the hall was passed to her niece Frances Arbuthnot who had erected a private chapel at the rear of the hall which was dedicated to St Frances of Rome.

County Times: Newtown's old Catholic Church.

Newtown's old Catholic Church, the St Frances Chapel.

The family invited the town’s few Catholics to hear Mass at the chapel until the outbreak of World War Two in 1939 when the makeup of the town’s religions were impacted by the arrival of child evacuees from Merseyside and the Royal Irish Fusiliers.

Students of St Anselm’s Roman Catholic College in Birkenhead were evacuated to the vacant Dolerw Hall, further swelling the congregation at the tiny St Frances of Rome Chapel.

The Catholics relocated to the town’s Regent Cinema during the war whose manager, George Black, had been among their congregation while the chapel had been reserved for weddings and funerals.

At this time the town welcomed a fellow newcomer, Father Vaughan Roscoe Minton Beddoes, the son of an Anglican Shropshire squire with lands in Dolfor and grandson of the late William Pugh of Brynllywarch.


Father Beddoes had converted to Catholicism and arrived in Newtown in 1942 as the town’s first Catholic priest since the Reformation in 1534 and became well known for his long black cloak.

The arrival of the Royal Artillery in Newtown had seen Father Beddoes meet another Catholic convert, Officer Roger Bevan, who had been stationed at Dolerw

Hall and camped on its adjoining fields.

The two became friends and developed a plan to build a new Catholic church and school in the town which would be established with the intention of providing choristers.

After all, times were once again changing.

The death of the last Brisco’s had seen Newtown Hall and St Frances Chapel purchased by the Newtown and Llanllwchaiarn Urban District Council to be used as offices and public park.

Father Beddoes had instead crossed the river.

County Times: Newtown Catholic Church.

Newtown Catholic Church.

The former Syers’ Mill on Long Bridge Street had been the first handloom weaving factory to be built on the Llanllwchaiarn side of the Severn river but had stood derelict since the end of the 19th century.

Father Beddoes purchased the building and several nearby properties, including a shop and the Bridgend Inn which had ceased trading in 1931, and set about building a church.

Meanwhile the end of war had seen his friend, Roger Bevan, return to Newtown where he purchased a former schoolhouse, Crescent House, which had once been known as Miss Pryce’s School.

County Times: Crescent House. Picture by Gavin Grosvenor.

Crescent House.

It had been used as a sergeant’s mess during the war but by 1947 it had become St Mary’s Catholic School.

The construction of the church had seen Newtown’s skyline change forever as the top three floors of the giant mill were demolished while converting the bottom two floors into the crypt.

The Welsh oak altar was brought from St Frances Chapel to its new home which was consecrated in September 1947 following a procession from Crescent House and complete with ceremonial cross, Benedictine monks, chanters and clergy from across Wales.

Soon the school relocated to a new home, Dolerw Hall, another site which would have been familiar to Bevan from his war years and where he and Father Beddoes had first met.

The hall had been built in 1826 and enlarged upon becoming the home of Sir Pryce Pryce-Jones in 1879, remaining in the Royal Welsh Warehouse dynasty’s family until 1948 having been used by the military throughout the war.

County Times: Dolerw Hall.

Dolerw Hall.

However efforts to purchase the building from Sir Victor Pryce-Jones had been challenged by Montgomeryshire County Council which had placed a compulsory purchase order on the hall.

However the Welsh Board of Health refused the council’s order following a public inquiry in 1949 and to celebrate children had been led from Crescent House to Dolerw Hall for Mass when Father Beddoes sprinkled blessed water on the old building.

Roger and his wife Molly departed Newtown in 1953 and would go on to form the Bevan Choir with 13 of their children while Father Beddoes handed control of the school to the nuns of Holy Child Jesus in 1958.

The choir performed at Father Beddoes’ funeral in 1971 when a large procession followed the coffin from Newtown to his final resting place at Llanllwchaiarn churchyard.

However his legacy remains in the church and school he dreamt of and dedicated his life to their building.

With thanks to the Newtown Local History group.