- Stephen Coleman, born 1920, remembers first serving Mass at New Southgate when he was 11 years old.

I became a member of the Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, New Southgate, in Autumn 1931 after my family moved from Stamford Hill to Durnsford Road and then to 22, The Drive, Bounds Green.  My father was the Head Master of St. Paul’s Primary School in Wood Green at that time.

The Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes had been established in the Diocese of Westminster in 1923.  As the church wasn’t built until some years later, Mass was said in the Presbytery - the same house that is the Presbytery today. It was a huge house, complete with integrated coach house, stable and hay loft ( which was used later to garage the Priest’s car, and for Parish Society meetings).

The house was probably Georgian with many servants’ rooms and a separate staircase. The house was purchased with at least an acre of orchard surrounding it. In modern times this provided enough space for the church (built 1935), the Primary School (built 1975), and the extended church with car parking space (1990).

In the 1920’s children attended Sunday School from 2.00 to 3.00 p.m., followed by a service of Benediction which would end at about 4 p.m.  Our teacher was a nun from one of the many parish convents.  My older sister, Kathleen and my younger brother Peter and I would walk to Bowes Road from The Drive, crossing Pinkham Way and what is now the North Circular Road with ease.

The Parish Priest at that time was Father Sunn and he selected and trained Altar Servers on Sunday afternoons. I was taught to serve at Mass by Fr. Sunn and by Douglas Kempston (who in later life became a brother in the Missionary White Fathers).  I had learned all the Mass responses by heart in Latin before being permitted on the Sanctuary. I must have been about eleven years old when I commenced serving at Mass.

Father Sunn allocated a large front reception room on the north side of the house as his temporary church. ( This was used later as the Parish Social Club and is now the Small Hall).   Before the extensive house building in 1930’s, the Parish house was on the edge of open country and farmland, but the suburb of New Southgate grew quickly at that time, especially after the coming of the Piccadilly Line.

The enlarged congregation meant that enlargement of the church room in the Presbytery was very much needed. Father Sunn solved this by building a room onto the house, southwards, at the back, so as not to be seen from the road, thus spoiling the appearance of a fine old house.  He added a porch and an entrance door, enabling people to enter the church room without going through the front (double) doors of the Presbytery. (This side door was in place until the new Parish Hall was built recently).

I particularly remember the first Mass to be celebrated in the newly built church, designed in the Italianate style, at Easter 1935 as a wonderful, long awaited occasion.

The construction of the new church took about one and half years to reach completion. I believe the foundation stone was laid in the Autumn or Winter of 1933 and I had the honour of serving on that occasion too, supporting the heavy book open for Cardinal Bourne to read from.  The M.C. was Douglas Kempston and my companion Altar Servers were Bernard Mc Gowan and I think, Tony Rodwell.

My memory of the Foundation Stone ceremony should be alive with impressions of that important event, including the Cardinal, the Bishops, their robes and those of the assembled dignitaries; but all I felt was horror as I looked down to see my best (and carefully polished ) shoes disappearing from sight in a mass of thick squelchy yellow clay!

We all admired the light airy interior of the new church. The old St. Paul’s church in Wood Green was a dark, drab and gloomy church by comparison.  An innovation in our new church was the ‘crying room’.  The vestibule contained two huge windows through which Mass could be followed by mothers with babies and difficult infants.  Father Sunn’s sermons were well known for stopping in mid sentence at the crying of a baby!

Another innovation Father Sunn began before the new church was built was the serving of a hot cup of tea and a biscuit after the two early Masses – the 8.15 and 9.15 a.m.  In those days of fasting from midnight before receiving Communion, it was gratefully enjoyed.

With the opening of the new church in 1935, the old one in the Presbytery became the Parish Hall with an available kitchen and stock room.  Father Sunn then held a regular series of dances, whist drives and social events to enable parishioners to meet socially in comfort.

Father Sunn also had the foresight to purchase land in the vicinity of Waterfall Lane (now Road) in the valley close to Pymme’s brook where it runs through Arnos Park.  A small fee was payable and many parishioners including myself and my cousin Desmond Mullins, spent quite a few happy summers there playing tennis at the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Tennis Club.

Father Sunn flourished until his death on 11th March 1953.  The Presbytery in my years housed his aged mother; she died while I was in my teens.

During Father Haughey’s time, my father Harry Coleman and my school friend Joe Kelly became Founding Governors of the Primary School which was built in 1975. The school was built on land which had been part of the orchard surrounding the original Parish house.

Although now a parishioner of Ealing Abbey in West London since 1951, I feel that I have never completely left the Parish where I grew up, coming back many times for important family functions, including the Golden and Diamond Anniversary celebrations of my parents’ wedding, and more recently for christenings and, later on, for grandchildren’s First Holy Communion services.

Stephen Coleman
October 2001.

(Some photos of these early days of the parish can be found here. )