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Newman’s London: A Pilgrim Handbook

Leigh Hatts

A book published to mark the canonisation of John Henry Newman had its launch party at the Church of the Most Precious Blood.

Newman’s London: A Pilgrim Handbook
The John Henry Newman Shrine at the Church of the Most Precious Blood
Newman’s London: A Pilgrim Handbook
Grey Court House at Ham which became home to William Beebe of Bermondsey (Drawing: Malgorzata Brykczyńska)

The recently refurbished church in O'Meara Street has a shrine to Blessed John Henry Newman who is to be canonised in October.

Newman's London: A Pilgrim Handbook is written by Joanna Bogle who is associated with The Church of the Most Precious Blood and has illustrations by Malgorzata Brykczynska of the SE1-based Confraternity of St James.

The great disappointment of Joanna's carefully researched guide is that it dismisses the long held claim that Newman celebrated his first Mass on English soil in Southwark's St George's Cathedral. This was stated with local pride during Pope Benedict's 2010 visit to Britain to beatify Newman.

However, SE1 is still part of the Newman story. His parents John and Jemima were married in 1799 at St Mary's Lambeth by the gate of Lambeth Palace. Jemima was a member of the Fourdrinier paper making family with premises in Lambeth.

John Henry was born two years later in Threadneedle Street in the City of London.

He much enjoyed the family's country home Grey Court House at Ham near Richmond where he long recalled seeing the windows lit with candles to celebrate the Battle of Trafalgar victory. After a few years Newman's father lost his money in a bank failure and the country seat soon became home to Bermondsey skin merchant William Beebe.

When Newman, once an Anglican clergyman, returned from Rome as a just-ordained Roman Catholic priest on Christmas Eve 1847 he may not have gone straight to Southwark. But Joanna says that he was soon asked to preach on Sunday evenings at St George's.

This she suggests was early in 1848 but maybe at the old St George's Chapel in London Road which had originally been the Belgian embassy chapel. The site is near the junction with Thomas Doyle Street.

St George's Cathedral as we now call it, by architect Augustus Pugin, opened later that year.

Reference is made to the earlier provoking of the sectarian Gordon Riots in St George's Fields in just a decade before Newman's birth.

John Henry Newman is unusual in becoming a cardinal without ever being a bishop but he is going to be a saint.

The book has a forward by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, who says that Newman "was a man of the modern era who can make sainthood accessible to us".

The launch was preceded by sung evensong which would have been familiar to Cardinal Newman.

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