The Origins of St Francis Church
As told by a curate who was there – Revd Alec Whye
The origins of St Francis, Cowley, lay deep in the personality of the Rev. M. H. Beauchamp, who became Vicar of Cowley in November 1928. He had had for many years a great devotion to St Francis of Assisi, inflamed by visits to Assisi itself and by much reading. When Beauchamp became Vicar of Cowley he saw the possibility of the fulfilment possible of his dreams.
There was at that time a great need for a place of worship and social occasions on the ‘Bullingdon Estate’, which was then being built: The estate fell within the Parish of Cowley, but it was at least 1 ½ miles from St James’ Church on Church Street (now Beauchamp Lane) and was completely cut off from the rest of Cowley by the golf course on one side of Hollow Way and by Cowley Barracks on the other.
Beauchamp ceased the opportunity and soon got moving. By February 1929 he had contracted architect Lawrence Dale to develop plans for a Church Hall and priest’s house for the Bullingdon Estate, dedicated to St Francis. When Mr Dale’s exciting plans for the project arrived on July 1st. It was clear that the full plan could not be implemented for many years, but that we could go ahead with a Church Hall, convertible to a Church at weekends, with a screened sanctuary which could be used for weekday services and for prayer and meditation.
One afternoon in August 1929 Father Beauchamp called a meeting on the site on which St Francis was to be built, which had been given to the Parish two months earlier by Sir William Morris, as he then was. Appropriately the first words to be uttered publicly were the Lord’s Prayer. Very few people turned up to support Father Beauchamp, others looked on from over the hedge, and some shouted ‘We want a school, not a church!’ (Father Beauchamp did take up this point with the L.E.A., but they turned down any suggestion of building a school or of using St Francis as an Infant School; it was not until the outbreak of war in 1939 that the influx of evacuee children made the use of St Francis necessary.)
During the rest of 1929 and 1930 appeals were being sent out all over the country for the £3,000 which was the final estimate for St Francis, final plans for which were approved on 15th March 1930, and the contract with Messrs Kingerlee signed on 9th August. Every batch of appeals was placed on the altar of the Parish Church and blessed before being sent out. By the end of November £2,700 had come in. About100 people had turned up on 16th August for the cutting of the first turf, the youngest being Margaret Sowden, aged 2 ½, now Mrs Stanley Jackson, mother of 4!
The Foundation Stone – still to be seen near the front entrance – was laid by Sir William Morris on 11th September 1930 in the presence of the Bishop of Oxford, Dr T. B. Strong, the Deputy Mayor of Oxford, and over 700 people.