Home page >
History of the church:
The Great War
King Edward died and was succeeded by King George V, and a
new era began. On 4 August 1914, war was declared between
Great Britain and Germany. The town almost immediately became
a 'prohibited area'. The situation naturally curtailed the
normal life of the town. About August, the first little fleet
of fishing boats, motorboats and almost anything that would
float arrived at the harbour. The refugees from Belgium had
begun to descend upon the town.
Every available space was taken up to house the refugees including
church halls, schools, lodging houses and an extensive block
of buildings in the Sandgate Road, It is estimated that 64,000
refugees passed through Folkestone. Some 15,000 were provided
with food and shelter during the first few weeks of hostilities.
On May 25 1917, at a time when people were still doing their
shopping and Tontine Street was a scene of bustle and activity,
a squadron of Gothas arrived from the westward, releasing
about four dozen bombs in what has been described as the biggest
and deadliest raid of the war up to that point. A man was
killed instantly when a large explosion occurred at the junction
of Bouverie Road and Cheriton Road. Other bombs fell in various
locations but it was Tontine Street that was the scene of
the greatest devastation. In all, seventy persons were killed
and over a hundred injured during the raid. The town did not
suffer any further bombing of any significance.
Many Folkestone men served in the armed forces at this time.
A former pupil of the local Catholic School particularly distinguished
himself. Acting corporal William Richard Cotter was in 6th
Battalion, East Kent Regiment (The Buffs). He had already
been blinded in one eye when, early in 1916, he was involved
in heavy crater fighting around the Hohenzellern Redoubt.
His right leg was blown off below the knee and he was wounded
in both arms. Yet, he succeeded in making his way unaided
some twenty yards to a crater where he took command of several
men of his own company. He rallied their spirits and organized
them to resist further attacks successfully. His cheery, gallant
leadership was an inspiration, even though his wounds, which
were to prove fatal, were not dressed for two hours and he
was not moved for fourteen. However, his Victoria Cross was
gazetted so swiftly that his Corps commander, Sir Herbert
Gough, was able to pin the purple medal ribbon on Cotter before
he died as he lay in his hospital bed.
After the Armistice the country started to get back to normal.
The Building of Stella Maris School
and the new church in Cheriton
In December 1925, plans for a new school on a two-acre site
near Radnor Park took shape. It was intended to provide accommodation
for 200 children. In October 1933, work began on the site,
to plans drawn by Mr. E J Walters, and little more than six
months later all was complete. On April 18 1934, his Eminence
Cardinal Francis Bourne formally opened the new school, dedicating
it to our Lady under the title of 'Stella Maris'. At the end
of 1934, the parish was reduced by over 100 due to the opening
of a new church in Cheriton. Mgr Coote sang Solemn High Mass
on the occasion.
Golden Jubilee and Consecration
of the Church, 21 June 1939
On the 01 January 1939 Fr Walters announced that, as the church
was free of debt, consecration of the building could now take
place on St. Aloysius Day.
The solemn consecration of the church took place on 21 June
1939, the ceremonies being conducted by Archbishop Amigo.
Relics of Saints Jucundina and Verecunda were sealed into
the altar table. Research has failed to reveal what the relics
were or, indeed, any details of these apparently female saints.
The singing of the Magnificat brought the four-hour service
of dedication to a close. A luncheon was provided at the Royal
Pavilion Hotel at which Fr Walters presided and to which he
welcomed the Archbishop, civic dignitaries, visiting clergy
and the many parishioners who were present. In the evening
a solemn Te Deum was sung in the first Catholic Church to
be consecrated in Folkestone since the Reformation.
The Second World War
On Sunday 3rd September 1939 the Second World War broke out.
Fr Walters announced the news from the sanctuary steps. In
anticipation of the bombing of London, schoolchildren were
sent to less populous areas and Stella Maris School and the
parish hall were taxed to the limit in accommodating children
from the Downham district of South East London.
After the landing at Dunkirk in 1940, the children from Stella
Maris School were evacuated to Wales. Folkestone emptied even
more as the government ordered the evacuation of all non-essential
persons. Houses were empty and shops closed down. There was
no school and no hospital.
In June 1940 it was proposed to the diocese that the two Folkestone
parishes of Our Lady Help of Christians and of St Joseph should
be amalgamated for the duration of the war. A fortnight later
His Grace the Archbishop made his periodic visitation and
appraised the situation at first hand. His Grace closed St
Joseph's Church at Cheriton and permitted Fr Dwyer to leave.
He noted that seventy children were evacuated to Merthyr Tydfil
and the school was occupied by the army.
War time difficulties and problems
The air offensive declined to some extent, apart from the
nightly bombing. Shelling from the French coast increased
however, most of it directed against convoys that hugged the
coast but some against the town or harbour area. The two priests
maintained two Sunday Masses and one weekday Mass at both
The New Year of 1942 found the parish barely solvent. The
United States had been drawn into the war a month earlier.
This led to the redeployment of German air power and the reduction
in air raids led to some relaxation of the evacuation regulations.
A trickle of citizens began to return to the town.
The year 1943 opened with the feeling that invasion was not
likely but the civilian population was weary and debilitated.
Archbishop Amigo visited the parish in May and was well pleased
with the work being done. News of the final expulsion of Axis
forces from Africa coincided with the Archbishop's visit and
he led the thanksgiving for those good tidings.
In addition to his priestly duties Canon Walters participated
in the life of the community and maintained a lively correspondence
with parishioners who had been evacuated or called to the
army. Sporadic air raids and shelling still occurred as activity
increased prior to the anticipated Allied landing in Europe.
A member of the congregation remembers, as an altar boy, the
special Mass said by Fr Walmsley for the paratroopers as the
day drew near. The church was packed. Weapons and accoutrements
were stacked at the rear of the church as the service proceeded.
In winter 1944, Midnight Mass was restored at Christmas and
the year ended with gratitude for survival and growing hope
for the future
As the year 1945 opened more and more people returned to the
town and Fr Walmsley set about re-establishing the school
and parish societies. Stella Maris reopened on 19 March with
Sister St John as headmistress. In July, Cheriton again became
a separate parish on the installation of Fr O'Brien.