Colliers Wood celebrates 40 years

40 years


Saint Joseph's Church
Colliers Wood


The rich history behind Saint Joseph's Anniversary

'Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.'

from Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot


The site of Merton Priory falls within the parish of Saint Joseph's, Colliers Wood. It is less than half a mile south-west of the church. In May 1117, fifteen Augustinian Canons entered the new Priory. It had been built by Gilbert, a knight of Henry I, close to where the Roman Stane Street (London - Winchester) crossed the River Wandle.

The Priory soon became an acknowledged centre of learning. Young Thomas Becket, later to be Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury and martyred in 1170, went to school there, as did Nicholas Breakspeare, later to become Adrian IV, England's only pope from 1154 until 1159.

Merton Priory saw the marriage of Henry III to Eleanor of Provence in 1236; in the same year the Great Council of the realm was held in the Chapter House drawing up the 'Statutes of Merton'; in 1437 Henry IV was crowned in the priory church.

For over four hundred years Mass was offered daily in the church and day and night the Divine Office, the praise of God, was sung by the community of Canons.

In 1538, Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and confiscated monastic properties. The stone from Merton Priory went to build Nonsuch Palace in Ewell.

The site is now a retail park, with a large Sainsbury's store. It is hard to imagine that here stood a church as large as Westminster Abbey - 110 metres in length. Nothing remains above ground except part of the precinct wall, built with dressed flint and large blocks of Kentish rag-stone, where the Pickle Ditch joins the River Wandle.

The site of the Chapter House has been excavated and preserved adjoining the walkway under Merantun Way, but is no longer open to the public.

For further information about Merton Priory visit the Merton Priory Website

Seal of Merton Priory - 1241
in The British Library


Discussions had been taking place in the parish of Saint Boniface, Tooting, since the early 1930s about the division of the parish, which was considered to be too large. Door to door collections were started and various sales were held to raise funds to build a church at Colliers Wood. All this came to a halt in 1939 at the outbreak of war, but was resumed again in 1946.

In 1961, a meeting was held in Saint Boniface Hall with Canon Thomas Clifton, Parish Priest of Tooting, to plan the future development of Colliers Wood. Singlegate School was to be used as a Mass Centre and when Canon Clifton offered the first Mass there in 1962, he reminded the congregation that this was the first Mass offered in Colliers Wood for four hundred years.

The church dedicated to Saint Joseph was built and Father Michael Byrne was appointed as the first parish priest in 1966. The church was consecrated by Archbishop Michael Bowen in 1979.


At the back of Saint Joseph's Church, there is a small shrine to Our Lady of Merton. The statue, carved by Mother Concordia of Minster Abbey, is based on the seal of Merton Priory, which in turn was based on the original medieval statue which was formerly in the Priory.

In the 1990s, when the priory site was being excavated, the graves of about three hundred people were revealed. Original stones from the building were also discovered and some of these were given to the parish of Saint Joseph by the Museum of London. They now form the base for the statue of Our Lady of Merton.

Our Lady of Merton
The plinth is of Reigate stone from the outer walls of Merton Priory and the table is a Purbeck marble block from an interior decorated feature of the Priory.

'Time present and time past
 Are both perhaps present in time future,
 And time future contained in time past.'

The Anniversary Celebrations at Saint Joseph's

Archbishop Kevin joined Father John McGrory, Parish Priest, and parishioners of Saint Joseph's, Colliers Wood, on Sunday, 15th October, to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of their parish.

Photos taken on Sunday, 15th October 2006

Archbishop Kevin with Father John