History of SS Peter & Paul Church
The Augustinian Canons of the priory of St Mary Overie, Southwark, had a grange farm in Mitcham (on the current Canons site) and from at least 1291 served the local population from the parish church in Church Road. From 1535, when the Priory was dissolved at the Reformation, until 1853, there was no recognised Roman Catholic church in Mitcham.
Mitcham became a Mass Centre in 1853 when William Simpson (Jr) and his wife Winifred invited the chaplain of the Faithful Virgin Convent, Upper Norwood, which had been established some five years earlier, to ride over to their house each Sunday to celebrate Mass. At that time they lived in one of the houses at the Cricket Green, probably Elm Lodge.
The history of the Parish in its early days is closely tied in with the story of the Simpson family. The family were all members of the Church of England, but when William (Jr), the eldest son, went off to Trinity College, Cambridge, he became interested in the Catholic faith and was received into the Church in 1843. The second son, Richard, went to Oriel College, Oxford and after graduation in 1843 took Anglican Holy Orders in 1844. He too converted to Catholicism in 1846. The youngest son, Robert, attended St John’s College, Oxford and in 1845 converted to Catholicism and joined the seminary at Oscott, near Sutton Coldfield, being ordained in 1849. The only daughter, Emily, converted in 1848 and four years later entered a Franciscan Convent as a religious sister.
From early in 1853 regular Sunday Mass was offered in the drawing room of William and Winifred’s home, Elm Lodge. After a few years they moved to The Manor House, a substantial property on the East side of London Road – approximately half way between the Cricket Green and Mitcham Station. Mass was said in an out-building of their house and this was probably also used as a school room, for whilst at Elm Lodge Winifred Simpson had started a small school class and had obtained some equipment from the Sisters at Norwood.
The numbers at the 10am Mass on Sundays grew steadily, with people coming from miles around to hear Mass since the nearest adjacent missions were at Croydon, Norwood, Clapham, Wandsworth and Surbiton.
In 1862 a small brick chapel and a wooden school-room were erected at William Simpsons’s expense on land owned by him and facing the Cricket Green. The first resident priest of the parish was his brother, Robert. The site now forms part of the playground of SS Peter and Paul Catholic Primary School.
The congregation outgrew the chapel and the present church was opened on 2nd July 1889 on land given by Winifred Simpson amid great celebrations, and was a major event in the history of the Parish. The church as built in 1889 had its rear wall in line with the present sanctuary arch and steps, and the altar was set against this wall. The priest celebrated Mass with his back to the congregation. The sanctuary was defined by an altar rail, which was in line with the second window down the church.
As time passed, improvements were made to the church. Probably the first was the installation of electric lighting in 1933 to replace the gas lights. The church was significantly enlarged by building the present sanctuary and Our Lady’s chapel in 1938.
A high quality Walker electric powered pipe organ was fitted in the choir loft in 1953, replacing the old manual harmonium. In the late 1960s, consequential to the changes in the liturgy brought in by the Second Vatican Council (1967), the altar was completely rebuilt as the current free-standing stone structure and the pulpit was dismantled. Some of the stone was used to make the present stone lectern and its surround. More recently, in 1989, to commemorate the Centenary of the present church building, a new door was opened up and a porch was built at the sanctuary end of the church. This Centenary Porch is now the usual entrance to the church on weekdays when Mass is not taking place.
Planning Permission was received in March 2017 to enable a large new hall to be built. This is a project that has been planned by the Church over a couple of years. Construction of the new hall will enable both adult and children’s catechesis to take place in more suitable accommodation with modern facilities.
This information was provided by Dr. R.A.M. (Tony) Scott, a long-time Parishioner, who has made a study of Mitcham and the Wandle Valley in which Mitcham is located.