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St Augustine's Catholic Priests

10 Catholic Priests buried in the cemetery

In the Catholic sections of the cemetery are the graves of ten priests who served the Catholic parish of St. Augustine’s in Tunbridge Wells. Most of the graves are in a large plot in the middle of section A16, at the centre of which is a 10 foot tall intricately carved marble Celtic cross.

Canon Joseph Searle (1825-1899) A16.228 was the first parish priest of St. Augustine’s, taking over in 1867. Until that point the parish had been run by the Jesuits, who had built the church in 1838. The son of a London lawyer, he converted to Catholicism at the age of 27 and was ordained to the priesthood seven years later. He served as parish priest at St. Augustine’s for 32 years. Although he was not popular with all parishioners due to his, ‘fiery no-holds-barred tongue’, he worked hard for the parish, and at the end of his life it was discovered that he had been subsidising the parish out of his own pocket. He conducted the first burial service at the cemetery, that of Isabella Burrowes in 1873.

Father Charles Stapley (1853-1906) A16.227 was parish priest from 1900 until his death in 1906, having arrived in the parish in 1897 to assist the ailing Canon Searle. Like Canon Searle he had converted to Catholicism from the Anglican church. He was born in Bexhill, the oldest of nine children. His father was a veterinary surgeon, and Charles followed him into this profession, setting up a practice in Eastbourne. He passed the practice into the hands of one of his younger brothers before studying for the priesthood in Paris and Valladolid, and was ordained in England. He was a curate at the Church of Our Lady and St. Philip in Arundel. While there he became friends with the Duke of Norfolk, becoming his unofficial chaplain, and he spent his summer holidays at Arundel Castle. An extrovert who enjoyed a glass of whisky and a cigar, his time as parish priest was dogged by the financial difficulties that were a feature of the early days of the parish. He apparently gave excellent sermons, becoming so emotionally involved that occasionally he would burst into tears while speaking. His death was unexpected and premature, at the age of 52.

Canon James Keatinge (1854-1923) A16.229, Father Stapley’s successor, came from a comfortably off Catholic family whose three sons and one daughter all entered religious life. Under his leadership the church’s debt was eliminated, meaning that it could be consecrated. This was carried out by Bishop Peter Amigo of Southwark in 1906, and to mark the occasion the church was redecorated, electric lighting was installed to replace the gas lamps, and new heating was installed. The following year Canon Keatinge oversaw the building of a new school next to the church in Hanover Road, the original school in the crypt having been condemned. During the years of the First World War the parish was involved in welcoming and helping to house the occupants of a Belgian village who had escaped to England and who settled temporarily in Tunbridge Wells. Canon Keatinge’s health deteriorated during the last five years of his life, but his request to be relieved of his duties was denied by the Bishop. Instead a succession of six priests took charge of the parish temporarily.

Canon Keatinge’s younger brother, Father Charles Keatinge (1857-1906) A16.230 was ordained in 1885 and became a military chaplain. He died in Tunbridge Wells in 1906 at the age of 49 while serving as a curate at St. Augustine’s. Another brother, William, was also a military chaplain, and during the First World War he became the most senior Catholic chaplain, with the rank of Chaplain-General.

Another of Canon Keatinge’s curates was Father Charles Trapp (1871-1922) B6.37. He too converted to the Catholic faith. He was ordained in 1916, and St. Augustine’s was his first parish. Before becoming a priest he had been a member of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. He died unexpectedly at the age of just 51.
One of the priests who stood in for Canon Keatinge during his years of illness was Father Herbert Evans ( -1923) A16.122. Sadly he himself was in very poor health, and died just two months after his arrival at St. Augustine’s. He too was a convert and was said to be, ‘a gentleman, a fine no-nonsense type who knew his own mind’. His uncompromising attitude was said to have resulted in him being at loggerheads with many of his wealthier parishioners. Such was the bad feeling, that when his beloved Irish wolfhound was found dead in the garden of the presbytery shortly after his arrival, he suggested that it had been poisoned by a parishioner. His sister Eleanor Evans ( -1928) A16.123 is buried next to him.

Father George Boniface (1874-1940) A16.232 was another priest who had been brought in by the bishop to support Canon Searle. Following the Canon’s death he was appointed parish priest, and remained in post until his own death. He was born in Hastings and was ordained in 1900. He became an Army Chaplain in April 1915, and served at Gallipoli. He was discharged from the Army on medical grounds the following April, having contracted dysentery and malaria. His war experiences prematurely aged him, and also resulted in him having an intermittent drink problem, and it seems that at times this problem became apparent while he was saying Mass. The teetotal verger, William Vinehill, was particularly offended by this, and eventually father Boniface dismissed him. The bad feeling escalated to a point where on one occasion the police were called to eject Mr. Vinehill from the church during Mass. William Vinehill was the circulation manager at the local Kent and Sussex Courier, and as a result these events at the church were reported extensively in the newspaper over several weeks. In spite of his problems, Father Boniface did a lot of good in the parish, and appears to have been a kind and generous man who was loved by the poorer parishioners in particular. He died unexpectedly at the age of 66. In 1942 a handsome granite cross, paid for by public subscription, was erected over his grave.

Father Arthur Dudley (1890-1949) A16.231 was parish priest at St. Augustine’s from 1945 until his death in 1949. He was an Anglican clergyman who converted to Catholicism. He studied for the priesthood at the Beda College in Rome, and was ordained in 1916. Before arriving at St. Augustine’s he was instrumental in setting up and running the Southwark Catholic Travelling Mission, travelling many miles each week in his car to Catholics living in remote areas who would not otherwise be unable to attend Mass, and setting up sixteen Mass Centres. After his appointment as parish priest at St. Augustine’s, he continued with the theme of Travelling Mission, setting up Mass Centres at Victoria Hall in Southborough, the Oast House at Pembury and Hamsell Manor at Eridge. Father Dudley had several periods of illness during his time at St. Augustine’s, and in April 1948 he suffered a severe stroke, and died the following year.

Father Dudley’s father, Frederick Dudley ( -1954) A16.198 lived with him at St. Augustine’s Presbytery. After his son’s death he moved to a local nursing home where he died at the age of 96. He donated to St. Augustine’s Church a beautiful chalice and paten in his son’s memory which is still in use at the church.
Father John Stephenson (1888-1967) A16.234 was sent to take charge at St. Augustine’s in 1947 due to the delicate state of Father Dudley’s health, and was appointed parish priest following his death. He was born in Durham, and was studying for the Anglican ministry when the First World War broke out. While serving as a Lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry, he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the second Battle of the Marne. His citation reads,
‘When in command of a party of details, he was holding a position on high ground, and when half of his men had been killed or wounded and the enemy had broken through on the left, he still held on and kept the enemy in check while the transport got clear of a village. He fought a skilful rearguard action with the remnants and stragglers picked up on the way. His courage and initiative at this critical period is deserving of the highest praise’.
He was later promoted to Captain. After the war he returned to his studies, and was awarded a BA by the University of London. He was ordained as an Anglican priest at Chelmsford Cathedral in 1925. Twenty years later he converted to Catholicism, and after studying at Beda College in Rome he was ordained at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, when he was 55 years old. Father Stephenson was a man of great character and charm and was loved by his parishioners, and under his leadership Mass attendance at St. Augustine’s grew considerably. Like several of his predecessors, ill health dogged the last few years of his life, causing him to step back from most of his duties. In 1964 Father William Howell, one of the curates took over the running of the Parish, although Father Stephenson remained as parish priest until his death.
Father Stephenson’s long term devoted housekeeper, nurse and friend, Lilian McGuire (1893-1976) A16.235, ‘Mrs. Mac’, lies in an adjacent grave.

Father William Howell (1925-2009) D13 was appointed Parish Priest in 1967, having served as a curate in the parish for the previous eight years. He was born in Edinkillie in Moray, and was ordained at Wonersh Seminary in 1950. He was a Royal Navy Chaplain for the five years prior to his arrival at St. Augustine’s, serving mostly with the Mediterranean fleet. Dashing, confident, hospitable and open-minded, Father Bill as he was known, was popular with the parishioners. He led the parish through the most difficult event in its history – the closure of the original much-loved church on the corner of Grosvenor Road and Hanover Road, and the eventual building of the current church on Crescent Road. This traumatic event caused great heartache among parishioners, and was brought about because the old church was no longer big enough for its growing congregation, disabled access was poor, and there were ongoing problems in keeping the church watertight. In 1995 at the age of 70 and after 28 years as parish priest, Father Howell asked to be transferred to a smaller less demanding parish. The bishop moved him to St. Anne’s at Cliftonville, where he remained for several years until health problems necessitated a move to a care home in Tunbridge Wells. He died in 2009, and his was the first burial in the newly opened D13 Catholic section of the cemetery.

This information was taken from two books, One Cog by Ted Marchant, and 175 Years of St. Augustine’s Tunbridge Wells 1838-2013 by John Cunningham. Both books can be purchased from St. Augustine’s Church.

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