This was still the time when only boys were allowed to serve and assist Father during Mass, or take any significant part in the celebrations other than as members of the congregation. During one of Father White-Spunner’s annual holidays there was much consternation when two ladies from the parish were encouraged by one of the priests from the Catechetical Centre on the Ashdown Forest to read the lessons - the first women to do so in a Crowborough Catholic Church.
The Centre, which is now in Crawley, was then located in a house in the grounds of a large Convent which was later taken over by Barclays Bank as one of their staff training centres and in the early 1990s became the Ashdown Park Hotel. The magnificent Chapel windows designed by Harry Clarke around 1900 are still there. These show the life of Our Lady in pure Art Nouveau style and are well worth a visit.
In 1972 the rewiring of the church to what were then modern standards was undertaken at a cost shown in Parish records of £363. Three years later the entire interior of the church was redecorated by a team of willing parishioners, thereby keeping costs down to materials only - total cost £63.
In 1976 Natural Gas came to Crowborough.
1981 saw the repositioning of the Sanctuary to turn the altar to face the congregation as required by the Second Vatican Council. It is thought that Crowborough was possibly the last parish in this diocese to undertake this work - at the huge cost then of £1,920 - since Fr White-Spunner the Parish Priest was not keen on change, no matter from whence the ideas came!
There was a Convent Primary School along the Queens Road, on the site of what is now Rumsey Court. This was run by the Canadian Holy Child nun’s who also ran the secondary school in Lingfield. The nuns later returned to Canada and in common with many former convents the school was sold. The house had for a short time been the home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - writer of the Sherlock Homes stories – before he purchased Windlesham Manor (again in Crowborough). Parishioners still tell of the nuns talking about various occult statues that they had found in the building when they first arrived! The nuns also held grand Summer Fêtes in the grounds of the school which provided for a great annual Parish gathering.
St Mary’s Crowborough was originally a parish within the Diocese of Southwark – Arundel and Brighton as a Diocese not yet having been created. Before it moved to Wonersh, the diocesan Seminary was then at Mark Cross, just a few miles from Crowborough. At their enormous Summer Fête the First Prize was one of the earliest bright blue Mini cars. When the move to Wonersh took place, the buildings were taken over by the Legat Ballet School. They subsequently moved to Wadhurst and were merged into what is now Bellamy’s College and the former seminary property is now used by the Muslim community.
Graham Greene attended the funeral held at St. Mary's for Dorothy Craigie who lived with her mother and their rowdy parrot in Beeches Road. Dorothy had been his secretary at one point, and had also illustrated some of his early children's books.
If you have or know the whereabouts of images of St Mary's during this period we would love to here from you.