By a C.A. Reporter In a little Gothic church, built within the ruins of an ancient castle, set high upon a steep hill overlooking the green fields of Staffordshire, there was celebrated last week-end a centenary which is a teminder of a Catholic revival that started, last century, before the Oxford Movement-4 reminder of the Catholic England which has existed through the centuries. A reminder that the Second Sexing dawned upon an England which still had rich pockets of Catholic soil in which the Faith flourished.
It was the centenary of St. John the Baptist's Church, Alton, Stoke-on1 rent. Pugin built this church under the patronage of the sixteenth Earl of Shrewsbury. It was completed before the conversion of Cardinal Newman and it was and is peculiarly an expression of the ancient faith of England. or English manners and English ways,
THE SHREWSBURY HOSPICE The Earl, like all his ante-stars. was Catholic — one of the holders of the
title had been a Jesuit Father, Before this church was built the villagers of Alton had performed their religious duties in the private chapel at Alton Towers. The Towers were the work of Pugin, Under the influence of the convert, Ambrose Phillips, founder of "Mount St, Bernard's Abbey, the Earl decided to round a " hospital " or hospice to. be run on the charitable lines of the great monastic establishments of medieval England, As Fr. S. J. Gosling, present rector of Alton, has written, the Earl was eminently practical and " in accord with the humanitarian thought of his day" in his approach to the project. The monks, in the Earl's own words. would " unite . . within an establishment of Christian instruction," There would be almshouses for " poor old people • . . the new system of Poor Laws makes it once more highly desirable to have almshouses where the forlorn poor may find a comfortable asylum with the benefits of religion, instead of those horrid haunts, the cornmon workhouses."
The accompanying sketch by Pugin was altered considerably in the building of St. John's. but substantially the church is exactly as he designed it. The large doors which separated the original school for " poor scholars " have been removed and the school and church are now one. A contempwary account, published in 1E151, gives a description of the work in progress and the completion of the buildings: " Within the castle precincts the End also erected, in 184(1, an Hospital for aged people. dedicated to St. Joint the Baptist, Adjoining this building the Earl ha.s also erected a School for about 60 girls; a Prestbylery for the residence of the priests; and a Guild-. hall. The latter was built in 1847, and is used by the Mechanics' Institution. and as a boys' school, and has a large lecture room and a good library. These modern buildings form three sides of a square, and are in the Tudor Gothic style. A small, neat Catholic chapel is connected with the Hospital and Girls' School by a cloister. The Boys' School has about 80 pupils, and is under Government inspection; but both schools are liberally supported by the Earl."
LATER HISTORY Various orders of nuns have carried on the work of the establishment until the present day, when the Sisters of Mercy carry on a preparatory school For young boys and teach in the village school.
During the first World War the Alton estates of the Earl of Shrewsbury came into the market and the freehold of the whole of the Church property was purchased by parishioners and friends of the parish, notably Mr. W. O. Turnbull, K.S.G.. and became the property of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, free of all debt. The culminating act of dedication was performed by Archbishop Williams of Birmingham, who also presided at last week's celebrations, on July 5, 1930.
There is an air of titnelessness about Alton. Last Sunday's celebrations carried out by the villagers, their Archbishop, their parish priest, Fr. S. J. Gosling, the present Earl of Shrewsbury, a grandson of Pugin, and priests from neighbouring parishes, were bathed in sunshine. Beyond the walls of church and village, which seem to merge in the integrity of the old Catholic communities, the fields were green and quiet, as they were before the Reformation, before Newman, as they always will he as the seasons pass over Catholic Alton. The idea of a Second Spring seemed far away. Alton is a reminder that Spring is always stirring in the Church in England, stirring and ever ready to flower magnificently.