Artefacts in Archives Series : Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart War Memorials

Barbara Vesey

England and Wales Provincial Archivist, Society of the Sacred Heart

On the campus of Digby Stuart College at the University of Roehampton there is a War Memorial that is distinctive in having been erected several months before the war ended, in May of 1918. The Memorial is also unusual in that some of those whose sacrifice is honoured are women and others who had non-combatant roles, including six Catholic chaplains.

The Memorial is comprised of over 300 individual plaques. Most commemorate those who died in the First World War, but there are also later plaques honouring those killed in the Second World War and the war in Korea. Each person was – or was related to – a student or teacher at a school run by the Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart, and/or was a friend or relation of one of the nuns. The Society of the Sacred Heart is a teaching Order of Women Religious, who in 1874 had founded what was to become Digby Stuart College.

The Sisters began raising funds for the Memorial in August of 1917, when there were already over 180 lost sons, brothers and fathers – and in one case, a daughter – whose families donated between £1 and £5 (the equivalent of £55 -£275 in 2019) for a commemorative plaque. The plaques are made of marble and attached to a Portland stone background. The names, dates and dedications are etched in lead. The wording on each plaque, written by the families and friends of those commemorated, is more evocative and detailed than is usually found on Memorials of this period. Examples include ‘killed in action in Belgium whilst leading his men, aged 19 and 11 months’, and ‘worn out by work in her hospital and heartbroken by the loss of her sons Hugh and Henry’.

Between 2014 and 2018, students and staff of the University of Roehampton began researching in the Society Archives, based in Barat House on the University campus, to learn more about the stories behind some of the names on the Memorial. The resulting exhibition at the University Library opened on 9th November 2018, marking the centenary of the end of the First World War. Display panels told the stories of those commemorated, from medical personnel and the first pilots of the Royal Flying Corps to the Irish nationalist politician Willie Redmond and the diplomat Hugh O’Beirne, who died alongside Lord Kitchener when the ship HMS Hampshire, taking them both on a diplomatic mission to Russia, sank after hitting a mine 3 kilometres off the northwest coast of Orkney in June, 1916.

In 2000 the Memorial was registered with the Imperial War Museum’s National Inventory of War Memorials, whose representative described it as ‘a magnificent war memorial, absolutely unique’. In 2017 the Memorial was given Grade II listed status. In its report, Historic England described the Memorial as ‘especially poignant for the individual tales of loss and their honest unmediated expression’.

The Memorial is open to the public. If you are interested in learning more about it, or about any of the collections held by the Society of the Sacred Heart, please contact the Provincial Archivist at

Artefacts in Archives Series: Unlocking a door to the past – The Key to St Peter’s Church, Birmingham

By Naomi Johnson : Naomi is the curator archivist for the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham, maintaining the historic collections and buildings of the diocesan seminary, St Mary’s College Oscott and the archives of the Archdiocese, housed at St Chad’s Cathedral.

I often joke to visitor’s at St Mary’s College, Oscott, that the Pugin designed ceremonial keys in the cabinet are those which once graced the hands of St Peter; they are, after all, a spitting image of the keys that adorn every statue of St Peter and are incorporated into the papal crest. However, I can now claim to truly hold the key to St Peter’s! St Peter’s Church in Birmingham that is.

Whilst packing up the reading room at the Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives recently, in order to allow the decorators to give it a much needed facelift, I came upon a key that had fallen down the back of a cabinet. It was labelled, the key of St Peter’s; an unassuming brass key that could easily have been discarded, it represents a story of struggle, hope and ultimately destruction. It literally is the key to Birmingham’s catholic past.

The Key to St Peter’s Church, Birmingham

In the late 17th century, Birmingham Catholics (as elsewhere) suffered much from prejudice. Persecuted like all their brethren since Henry VIII had broken with Rome over 150 years before, they believed, however, that a period of tolerance would follow the accession to the throne of James II in 1685.  Emboldened, and under the guidance of Brother Leo (also known as Fr Randolph) of the Franciscan order, they built the first Catholic church in Birmingham since the Reformation.

A large group of Catholics and Protestants turned up to watch the laying of the first stone on March 23, 1687. Sadly, just 18 months later, the church of St Mary Magdalene was razed to the ground, its materials were taken for other buildings until nothing remained. The event is recorded at the time by Brother Leo: The church was first defaced and most of it burned within, to near the value of £400 by ye Lord Dellamere’s order, upon ye 2nd November 1688 and ye day sevenight following, ye rabble of Birmingham began to pull ye church down and seased not until they had pulled up the foundations

 All that now recalls the existence of the church is the name of Masshouse Lane.

Almost 100 years later, the local Catholic families tried once more to build a place of public worship. Led by another Franciscan, Father J Nutt, and by Dr Johnson and Mr Lewin, they raised £312 to buy land on the emerging area of Broad Street, an area that was still very much on the outskirts of the emerging city.  Upon this plot, the new chapel of St Peter’s was constructed. Yet Catholics had to remain wary of narrow minds, knowing that if the building looked too much like a church it might draw unwanted attention and so it was built to look like a factory.

Image from Postcard Series – BAA:PC/P2

Slowly the congregation grew and with financial support of more open minded Protestants, as well as Catholics, the chapel was extended. When Fr Nutt died in 1799, he must have been immensely proud all that had been achieved.

Twenty-five years later, the Franciscan’s gave up their care of St Peter’s and, according to the clear wishes of the congregation, Bishop John Milner (Vicar Apostolic 1803-1826) appointed Fr Thomas McDonnell as the first secular priest. McDonnell was a remarkable man who spent his life battling religious and class bigotry and was widely held in high esteem by all the people of Birmingham, regardless of their denomination (or none). He was the first Irish priest in Birmingham and a powerful speaker who challenged Protestant preachers on several occasions, who sought to stir up trouble.

A staunch supporter of Daniel O’Connell and the campaign for Catholic emancipation, McDonnell also fought to help the poor whatever their background and campaigned and backed the call for Parliamentary reform. He was so popular that in 1831, he became the only Roman Catholic on the council of the Birmingham Political Union – which a year later played a crucial role in achieving an extension of the vote nationally.

However, McDonnell’s forceful approach was not always appreciated by his superiors and in 1841 he was transferred to the south-west of England. Within three days of his departure, over 7000 people – many of whom were Protestants – had signed a petition asking for his return. It was not to happen. Nevertheless, his active and praiseworthy involvement in public life made things much easier for Catholic’s in general and paved the way for those who followed him; and his care and devotion to the Irish poor ensured that St Peter’s would always be seen as their church.

Under one of his successors, Canon Bernard Ivers, the chapel underwent much needed renovation work; originally planned as a total rebuild, the work finally was reduced to a reordering, expansion and redecoration project, including the addition of two gothic windows, a lady chapel and embellishment to the sanctuary. It was reopened on Saturday 8th July 1871 and Saint John Henry Newman preached the sermon from the text ‘Whatever you do, do for the glory of God’. Canon Ivers remained at St Peter’s from 1849 until his death in 1880; he built on the work Fr McDonnell and the church continued to draw in Irish immigrants and those who had come to the city to find work. It became fondly known as the Mother Church of Birmingham.

Images from Postcard Series – BAA:PC/P2

The next eighty years of the church’s history tell tales of mixed fortune, changing congregation sizes, fewer Irish Catholics -as they set up a community in Digbeth- and more Italian immigrants trying to start a new life. The construction of a catholic school and a burial ground all reflected the changing needs and diversity of the city. On 13th July 1933 the church was finally consecrated, having rid itself of debt and after installing a fixed altar, a gift of the Hardman family. Having fought religious bigotry, waning congregation numbers and financial ruin for one hundred and fifty years, it was a glorious day in the church’s history. A three-hour long mass and celebration recognising the past whilst looking to a future which seemed full of hope. Unfortunately, thirty six years later, the church was to close its doors for the last time as structural damage and local redevelopment left it to be a victim of chance and change once more.


Job Advert: Project Archivist – Methodist Missionary Society Archive

Fixed term to 31 August 2022 

£27,000 pa 

The Methodist Church is seeking a Project Archivist to help the existing Archivist leading the project to complete the appraisal of an archive of largely, but not exclusively, twentieth-century missionary records and other items. Applicants should have a postgraduate archive qualification and preferably experience in the context of religious archives. However, recent graduates are very welcome to apply.  

You will need to be able to appraise the records and remove material inappropriate for deposit, and prepare for relocation those records and other items appropriate for permanent preservation and suitable for research purposes. The archive will mostly be deposited with the SOAS Library, University of London (or occasionally another Methodist archive or museum collection).  

A passion for archives and their value, and excellent communication and team-working skills are essential. COVID restrictions allowing, we hope the Project Archivist will be able to help to recruit and supervise a small group of volunteers to allow this work to progress in a timely manner. The Methodist Church is committed to making its archives accessible as part of mission and outreach, and you will need to be sympathetic to the ethos of the Methodist Church. Knowledge of missionary and or Methodist history would be an advantage.  This work will be based in the Methodist Church’s offices in Marylebone, London. As an inclusive organisation, we welcome and encourage applications from people of all backgrounds. We particularly welcome applications from people of Black, Asian and other ethnic groups consider as minority in the UK (BAME), as they are currently under-represented within the Team. 

For more information about Methodist heritage and mission, and especially how we care for and seek to use our archive collections, please visit: Archives | Methodist Heritage 

For more details of the of the Methodist Missionary Society collections at the SOAS Library, please visit: Missionary Collections | Special Collections | SOAS Library | SOAS University of London 

Closing date 12 noon on 2 August  

Interviews on Thursday 12 August  

For more details and to apply for this role, please visit our jobs website: Project Archivist – Methodist Church ( 

New Journal Editor

We are delighted to announce that Isabel Keating, archivist at Society of the Holy Child Jesus, has taken on the role of editor for the The Journal of the Catholic Archive Society.

We are indebted to the hard work of former editor and current chair of the society, Dr Jonathan Bush, for all his hard work over the last 7 years. Handing over the reigns to Isabel will allow him to focus more time on the work of Chair and we are extremely grateful for his ongoing dedication to the society.

If you would like to submit an article for the next edition of the journal, please check out our guidance notes, which can be found here, or email us at

Re-Opening Details

Below you will find the dates of re-opening of Catholic Archives and Institutions. Please check with the organisation directly if pre-booking or restrictions apply.

If you would like your details added to the list, please email us at

Downside Abbey Church – Monday 17th May; Details can be found here

Downside Abbey Archives – Friday 21st June; Details can be found here

Ushaw Historic House, Chapel and Gardens – Thursday 20th May; Details can be found here

The Bar Convent – Monday 17th May; Details can be found here

Westminster Diocesan Archives – Open ; Details can be found here

Harvington Hall – Grounds Open, Tours from Friday 21st May; Details can be found here

Central Congregational Archive of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God (SMG)

The primary function of the SMG archive service is to preserve the central heritage collections, library and archives of the congregation, as the memory of the congregation and its works, guided by the norms and standards of the archival profession and other approved standards and international guidelines where they are applicable; to facilitate access to the archives and heritage collections by the congregation, its employees, associates and clients; and in a wider context to serve as part of the cultural heritage of world Catholicism, and hence to encourage a wider research use, in accord with the views of the Roman Catholic Church as expressed in documents such as The Pastoral Function of Church Archives, (February 1997).

Collections Held

The heritage collections consist of historical records, rare books, library items and artefacts, in a variety of formats, mainly dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. The Congregation of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God was founded in 1872 by Fanny Margaret Taylor (1832-1900), a Roman Catholic convert from Anglicanism who had served as a nurse during the Crimean War, and whose name in religion was Mother Mary Magdalen of the Sacred Heart. Archival collections comprise papers of Mother Magdalen and her family; records relating to the early years of the congregation, including correspondence with prominent Catholic clergy such as H. E. Manning and J. H. Newman; papers and literary MSS. of Mother Magdalen’s friend and supporter Lady Georgiana Fullerton; and records of the various works and institutions administered by the congregation, including hospitals, schools, hostels, refuges and care homes in Britain, Ireland,  and continental Europe, and latterly in the USA, South America and East Africa. The core of the library collections are historical editions of the literary works of Mother Magdalen and Lady Georgiana Fullerton, and they also include various partial runs of popular Catholic journals, some of which are now considered rare, including the Lamp and the Messenger of the Sacred Heart. Artefacts, artworks and temporary displays of archives relating to the history of the congregation can be viewed at the Venerable Magdalen Taylor Heritage Centre at St Mary’s Convent in Brentford, and those wishing to see the displays should please contact the archivist.  


Researchers are admitted by appointment only, on application to the archivist. The archives are generally open during ordinary office hours, but this can be negotiated with the archivist. External enquirers need to apply in writing to the archivist, and access is subject to the approval of the Generalate (governing council) of the congregation. For those doing extended research in the archives, a letter of introduction, e.g. from an academic supervisor, is generally also required. Enquiries which may require the release of potentially sensitive or confidential material relating to individuals need to be supplied in writing, by post or electronically, and the aim is to answer such enquiries within one month of their receipt. An enquirer may be required to supply documentary evidence confirming their identity before personal data can be released, as is required by data protection legislation. 

Contact Details

Enquiries to: 

Mr. Paul Shaw, Archivist, St. Mary’s Convent, 10, The Butts, Brentford, Middlesex , TW8 8BQ

Phone: 020-8568-7305


Further Reading

‘The Central Congregational Archive of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God: A Summary Overview’ by Paul Shaw in Catholic Archives 2012, No 32, pp.49-58

St Mary’s Convent, Brentford: A Brief Guide to the Mother Magdalen’s Rooms by Sr Ida Kennedy SMG and Paul Shaw (Brentford, 2015 edn)

St Mary’s Convent, Brentford: A Brief Guide to the New Heritage Centre by Paul Shaw (Brentford, 2015)

St Mary’s Convent, Brentford: A Guide to Recent Temporary Exhibitions in the Heritage Rooms by Paul Shaw (2nd edn, Brentford, 2017)

‘Mother Magdalen Taylor and her Letters Project’ by Paul Shaw in Catholic Archives 2020, No 40, pp.24-45


Job Title: Archivist
Salary: As per Archives and Records Association (ARA) recommended rates.
Length of Contract: Initial FTC contract for two years, possible permanent placement after initial contract.
Role location: MMM Beechgrove, Drogheda, Co. Louth
Hours: Negotiable

The Organisation:
The Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM) is an International Missionary Congregation of women religious founded by Mother Mary Martin in Nigeria, in 1937. Desiring to share Christ’s Healing Love, our members live within marginalised communities focusing on the care of mother and child and the fostering of family life. We go to places where the need is greatest and work in the areas of health, sustainable development and human rights. Presently, MMMs are serving in 12 countries around the world with Sisters coming from 19 countries and are trained in a variety of health-related professions In Ireland, our Motherhouse is in Drogheda Co. Louth.

Role Description:
Medical Missionaries of Mary Archive holds the records of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, a religious congregation of women founded by Mother Mary Martin in 1937. The Archivist will be responsible for managing and maintaining these records.

Job Specification:
Responsibility for day-to-day archivist duties including enquiries from members of the public, researchers, and users within the MMM Congregation
• Collaborate with other MMM departments and beyond.
• Develop a clear work plan for the archives, operationalise the plan and provide progress reports at intervals, including:
o Plan and facilitate conversion of legacy catalogues for upload into archive cataloguing software, including overseeing installation and implementation of software such as AtoM or Axiell Collections
o Development and implementation of digital preservation strategy
• Ensure the preservation of the MMM collections:
o Advising on the ongoing organisation and storage of archival material
o Preparation for a possible transfer of archive to new storage site
• Maintain and review departmental systems, policies and procedures
• Advising and working with MMM colleagues in Archives Department
• Management of departmental budget
• Such other duties relating to the MMM collections as may arise

Essential Criteria:
• Qualified archivist, with an undergraduate degree and a post-graduate qualification as an archivist, awarded by a recognised third-level institution
• At least three years’ post-qualification experience in archives sector, including some leadership responsibility and/or project delivery
• Demonstrable knowledge of best practice and recent developments in archives and record management, including collections care, preservation and storage, and relevant cataloguing and preservation standards
• Ability to formulate, implement and monitor strategies, procedures and policies for day-to-day running of archive
• High level of IT competency including use of MS Office applications, particularly Word and Excel, and archive cataloguing software

Desirable skills:
• Excellent written and verbal communication skills
• Excellent administrative skills appropriate to the role, including budget management
• Attention to detail and accuracy
• Understanding of copyright and data protection in archival context
• Ability to anticipate and respond to changing professional needs and technical/digital innovations, including through a commitment to continuous professional development
• Ability to work both independently and as part of a team
• This is a stand-alone function so self-motivation is essential.

How to apply:
Letter of application and an up to date CV should be sent to 30 April 2021 to:
Closing date for application is 04 May 2021.

Forging a New Vision for Religious Archives

Thursday, May 6, 2021

9 a.m. Pacific                 12 Noon Eastern            5:00 p.m. GMT

The ARCC (Archival Resources for Catholic Collections) Educational Resources Working Group will host its first webinar to revisit the importance and enduring value of Catholic religious archival collections. Speakers will address the significance of archives for preserving community identity and religious men and women’s lasting impact on society.  

Acknowledging that many communities are consolidating or facing completion, the webinar underscores the community’s permanent legacy: its societal presence and the institutions that served people of every race and creed. Archives are important as they serve as a bridge from the past to the future, in preserving the Christian witness of committed communities and individuals.

Danielle Bonetti, CSJ, Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet. Sister Danielle served as the Congregational Leadership Liaison who worked with the archivists from the four US provinces to create the Carondelet Consolidated Archive in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her presentation will center on the planning and execution of this new archival repository.

Andrew Rea, Province Archivist of the Society of the Divine Word manages the province archives in Techny, IL. Focusing on how an archive can assist leadership, the community, and larger public, Andrew brings a valued contribution to the seminar.

Maggie McGuinness, LaSalle University, is one of the prominent historians focusing on the history of women religious.  During her career she has written about many religious communities highlighting their importance in United States history. Maggie’s use and interpretation of archival materials will broaden understanding of the significance of religious community archives. To register for this 75 minute seminar, please click this link to register.

Registration will close on Friday, April 30, 2021.  ARCC would like to thank Saint Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX for hosting this event.

Medieval Manuscripts in Ushaw College Library

The 2021 Journal is now on it’s way to our membership and we are delighted to announce that alongside our publication we are making our first open access article from its contents available to everyone, free of charge; Medieval Manuscripts in Ushaw College Library: a Fragment History by Ben Pohl and Leah Tether can be found here.

For more fascinating insights and to hear about their latest work, you can follow Ben and Leah on twitter; just search for @AbbotsMedieval and @MedievalDigigirl

Archive Update: St. John’s Seminary Archive

Jo Halford: Archivist

St. John’s Seminary, Wonersh

March 2021

During this latest lockdown, I have been permitted to come to the seminary to work in the archive.  The size of the seminary buildings means that it is easy to work alone, away from others in a Covid secure manner.  The sorting and cataloguing of this extensive archive is now essential work, as St. John’s seminary will sadly cease to operate as a house of formation in July 2021.  The archive comprises over 250 boxes of records covering all areas of seminary business, from administration to recreation; from academic matters to records of the buildings.  The collection dates from the foundation of the seminary in 1889 to the present day.  Over the next eighteen months, all of this will be prepared to move to a new home.

Whilst I have been busily working my way through the boxes, the seminarians have been continuing their studies locked down in a ‘house bubble’!  A couple of weeks ago, I received an unexpected enquiry from Stephen Corrigan, a seminarian from Clifton diocese in his final year of formation at Wonersh. Stephen had always been aware that he had a relative who was a priest and had been a seminarian at Wonersh, but it had not occurred to him to find out more about his time at the seminary until recently.  All he had to go on was that his name was Fr. Gerald Gamble, and that he was his great-great uncle.

Stephen says:

“My time at Wonersh has often been busy with my focus on my studies and all the other things we do at Seminary, so there was never much of an opportunity to think about or look into a family connection at the Seminary. But when the seminary appointed an archivist, Jo Halford, it occurred to me that I really should investigate the archives and see what could be discovered about him.

I think at the human level the upcoming closure of the Seminary, and my own departure in July when I will be ordained priest and return to full-time to work in the Diocese of Clifton prompted me to finally ask Jo to look into the matter, and I am sure there was a spiritual dimension encouraging me as well”

Stephen was fascinated to discover that there are registers recording every student who has ever entered the seminary.   I was quickly able to find Gerald Gamble in these indexed registers for him. Gerald had entered the seminary on 6th September 1912 and was ordained on 12th July 1925.  The register tells us that his studies were interrupted by World War I during which he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Student Register, 1904-1918

Using the dates from the register, I moved on to consult the diaries of the Dean and Rector to see if Gerald featured in them.  These revealed that he had been a very sporty member of the Wonersh community. He was a regular member of the football team, and had been the captain of the cricket and hockey teams.  This in turn led to the sporting committee minutes and photographs. 

Here is the report of a Juniors v. Seniors hockey match played on 16th April 1924, during which ‘Mr Gamble gambly stuck to his post’!  The minutes are signed by Gerald and he appears as a proud captain of the team in the adjacent photograph.

Gerald was one of a group of seminarians who joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was posted to Salonika in Greece during World War I.  News of this group features in the wonderful ‘Wonersh Mail’, ‘An Unofficial Chronicle of all that Wonersh did while her doughty sons were absent from her on military service’. It was sent to the students ‘called up’.  It included news from the seminary and of those fighting, and was illustrated with humorous drawings by Fr Alexis Hauber, then procurator, later Parish Priest of Guildford.

An illustration from the Wonersh Mail, March 1918

Once I had located the sources, I was able to allow Stephen to consult them, after a period of quarantine for the documents and with social distancing observed.

After his time in the archive, Stephen commented:

“It was wonderful to be able to hold the primary sources in my own hands – the very books that these people had written about my great-great-uncle. I was able to see various photos of his sporting endeavours which brought the whole thing to light especially recognising where the photos were taken, and how in some ways how little the place has changed in the last 90 or so years. Sadly, my own career playing for the Wonersh football team has not been so prestigious!”

I am so grateful for the opportunity to investigate the life of my great-great uncle, and to learn more about my own family’s connection with Wonersh. By all accounts he was a good priest and a good man, and in following in his footsteps both at Wonersh, and in the priesthood, I hope and pray I can emulate him.’

Many thanks to Stephen Corrigan for bringing me this interesting enquiry and for his contribution to this piece. Let’s hope that the archive continues to receive many more such enquiries far into the future.

Gerald Gamble and the Class of 4th Divinity, 1924-1925,
pictured with Bishop Peter Amigo and the Rector, Fr.. Phillip Hallett