Steven Haws CR celebrates 125 years of Community life at Mirfield
Carved into the stone above the door of the main entrance of the 19th century Victorian domicile are the words ‘Domus Resurrectionis’ – House of the Resurrection, the name given to this mansion previously known as ‘Hall Croft’. The 4th May this year sees the commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the formal blessing and opening of ‘HR’ aka House of the Resurrection which has been the Mother House of the Community of the Resurrection since its official opening.
CR moved from Radley to Mirfield in January 1898. The original proposal was to go to Manchester but the Bishop of Manchester turned down the plans because ‘CR’ were ‘too High Church’. William Walsham How, the first Bishop of Wakefield, was delighted to welcome the brethren to his diocese but died the year before they arrived.
On 4th September, 1897, James Nash CR was requested to give notice of our move from Radley in Oxfordshire to Mirfield, the Chapter having been encouraged by the Bishop of Wakefield in a move to Yorkshire. During its November Chapter meeting, the brethren resolved that the tenancy of ‘Hall Croft’ would begin at Christmas. A committee was appointed to arrange the removal from Radley, to deal with the tenants and housekeepers at Hall Croft, to buy the necessary furniture, and to arrange for the fittings of the chapel. In addition, it resolved that the altar should be of a medieval type, that a list of desiderata for the chapel be circulated among any who wish to give, and that the house be called the House of the Resurrection.
‘Hall Croft’ was built in 1875 for Thomas Hague Cook who was a landowner and woollen manufacturer at Dewsbury Mills. He lived in the family mansion in Stocks Bank Road, Mirfield, with his wife and three children including the servants. The estate, located in some nineteen acres, included ornamental gardens, shrubberies and grounds, extensive greenhouses, vineries, conservatories, kitchen garden, and two stone-built Lodges, together with valuable parklike meadow and pastureland. The interior of the house contained an entrance hall, five reception rooms, billiard and smoking rooms, servants’ hall, kitchens, ten principle bedrooms, three dressing rooms, bathroom, linen room, two housemaid’s rooms and six servants’ bedrooms.
After only two years living at ‘Hall Croft’ Thomas Hague Cook sadly died in 1877 at the age of forty-six and was buried in the churchyard of the Church of the Holy Innocents, Thornhill Lees, Dewsbury. His grave is opposite the south porch of the church. Cook’s widow, along with her children and servants remained in the house for another ten years before moving to Tunbridge Wells in 1887.
The main house stood empty for a decade for lack of a buyer, although it had a few tenants and housekeepers remaining who lived on the estate until the Community negotiated plans for securing a lease. Compared with the living conditions at Radley, the sheer size of ‘Hall Croft’ gave scope for the Community with plenty of room to expand.
Yet it was not until a cold January in 1898 that George Longridge CR and Gerard Sampson CR were the first brethren to arrive at ‘Hall Croft’ in Mirfield, spending the first four nights on the wooden floor since the furniture from Radley had not yet arrived. Four months later, the blessing of the House of the Resurrection took place on 4th May, 1898. Matins was said at 7.30am. At 8.00am the Bishop of Wakefield, George Eden, celebrated the mass and consecrated the altar, saying the prayer of consecration after the Creed. The service was sung in the usual manner, but in accordance with the Bishop’s wish, incense was not used. After Terce at 9.45, the bishop gave a short address. Sext was at 12.45pm followed by dinner, which was joined by the Revd E. Hoskyns and brothers (local clergy) Seaton, Bright, Love—making a total of nineteen.
After dinner, on leaving the Refectory, everyone gathered in the Hall and formed a procession which was led by the crucifer, followed by brethren of the Society of the Resurrection in surplices, laymen, clergy, the Community, the Superior (Gore),the Revd B. Browning, the Bishop’s chaplain, then the Bishop and the Revd W. O. Burrows (Leeds Clergy School) as they all then proceeded around the House to the Upper Landing, Parlour, Library and Refectory with the brethren singing appointed Psalms interspersed with Collects led by the bishop.
Towards 3.00pm other guests began to arrive and at twenty minutes past joined the procession which was led outside the House into the small chapel where the service concluded with the dedication by the bishop, having occupied altogether about 35 minutes. After the service, tea was provided to all in attendance in the Refectory. Lord Halifax stayed over until the following morning.
Among the invited guests to the House blessing were: the Archdeacons of Halifax and Wakefield; the Bishop’s Chaplain; the Vicar of Leeds, Canon Chadwick, Canon Grenside, Canon H. Lowther Clarke, the Revd H. Walsham How, Viscount Halifax, and Mr T. W. Brooke. Others attending were The Revd V. S. S. Coles (Principal of Pusey House, Oxford), the Revd Canon Rawdon from Preston, the Revd E. Hoskyns (Vicar of Bolton), The Hon. Revd Arthur Lyttleton, the Revd James Seaton (Leeds Clergy School) and Father Page, Superior-General, SSJE, Cowley.
The service for the blessing of the House, written by Walter Frere CR who was Precentor, and with James, John and Gerard sung the antiphons, the rest of the brethren joining in the Psalms. The weather had been stormy and showering but fortunately the rain held off so that they were able to proceed outside from the front door to the door of the chapel that was at the rear of the house located on the ground floor where the present Superior and Secretary’s offices are. The procession was very long, 75 persons in all, but managed to follow the order of the service without a hitch.
So it was, with the ceremonies being concluded, our House was formally opened. George Longridge, John Carter, Walter Frere and Gerard Sampson had formed the Committee for taking the lease and arranging for the removal from Radley. George and Gerard did the unpacking, while Walter was responsible for the furnishing both of the house and the chapel. The altar, vestment chest and cupboards were given as gifts from the Sisters of the Community of the Holy Family.
The arrangements for the day and the blessing, which was most successful, were made by Gerard, who had been made Deputy Bursar and House-keeper for the new house. He found great help in having secured the services of Mr & Mrs Gaunt as gardener and housekeeper. When the House of the Resurrection opened, there were five brethren in residence: George Longridge, John Carter, Cyril Bickersteth, Paul Bull, and Gerard Sampson. Canon Gore, James Nash, Walter Frere and Richard Rackham were living at Westminster until 4th January 1902 when the Westminster house closed and in September ‘Hall Croft’ was purchased by the Community.
Since our move to Mirfield 125 years ago, many changes have taken place. With growth in numbers, the House of the Resurrection needed to expand its accommodation. The first addition made was the extension of the Refectory in 1905 followed by the North Wing in 1906. The first chapel had been on the ground floor of the House and in 1902 was re-located to the first floor where the current Upper Library is.
Building a new chapel detached from the House was phase one. The Chapel of the Resurrection built in 1912 with subsequent additions in 1914 and 1924 culminating in the final phase of the completed community church dedicated in 1938. Both laymen and clergy have been welcomed to share part of our monastic life since we established a CR presence at Mirfield in 1898, as guests and retreatants of the Community. Retreats and Quiet Days were gaining popular momentum but there was limited space for those wanting to share our life for even a short period. It became a matter of necessity that there needed to be suitable accommodation and in 1914 the Retreat House was completed. As more and more people found their way to Mirfield, an extension to include additional bedrooms, a Common Room and upper sitting room was added in 1926.
The Annexe, built at the same time as the Retreat House and partly used as a Staff House until 2013, underwent extensive refurbishment with additional guest rooms. In order to supplement income for our guest and retreat accommodation, we embarked on a new arrangement by using the Annexe as a B&B including en-suite rooms and a breakfast room. For those wanting to make a private retreat, we also converted an old Victorian coalhouse into a small Hermitage that has self-catering facilities.
In 2003, our London house closed and in 2006 our residential presence in South Africa came to an end after more than a century. The number of brethren at the Mother House over the past three decades has diminished in contrast to over fifty CR Fathers and Brothers in the early 1970s when novices were living in part of the Retreat House.
During this 125th year of CR at Mirfield, the fourteen current brethren are committed to ensure the future of our work and ministry in this place, provided we are able to raise the necessary funds for major refurbishment and renovation of our historic buildings, where others may share in our monastic life, and a home where more young men might respond to God’s call to test their vocation with us as sons of the Resurrection.
Br Steven CR is a professed member of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.