‘Beautiful’ Holy Ghost built thanks to 18th hole

A brand new Holy Ghost Church in 1915

A brand new Holy Ghost Church in 1915 - Credit: Archant

A year of celebrations reached a climax this week as parishioners of the Holy Ghost Catholic Church marked its centenary.

A brand new Holy Ghost Church in 1915

A brand new Holy Ghost Church in 1915 - Credit: Archant

And legend has it that it was all down to a round of golf between a parish priest and Lord Clinton.

In 1900, 45 Catholics lived in Exmouth, but there was no dedicated church, no furniture in the presbytery and no priest.

Mass was taken in a makeshift shed of wood and corrugated iron.

Then, in 1901, Father Bernard Palmer came to Exmouth with a vision for the beautiful Gothic Revival church we know today.

A brand new Holy Ghost Church in 1915

A brand new Holy Ghost Church in 1915 - Credit: Archant

He proved an adept fundraiser, and he raised the necessary funds, about £5,000, in a fairly short time, partly through the aid of a whirlwind campaign in the United States and thanks to the generous help of parishioners.

The architect was Canon Alexander Joseph Cory Scoles, of Basingstoke, who was responsible for building churches in Dawlish, St Ives, Sherborne and Swanage and he favoured a distinctive Gothic Revival style.

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The Holy Ghost Church closely resembles that of the Holy Ghost in Basingstoke, although Exmouth is larger.

In its search for a suitable site, the parish had considered, and rejected, the site of the current Bastin Hall, in Elm Grove, because, at £400, it was considered too expensive. So, by 1911, still no site had been found. According to Father Bernard’s address to parishioners, as reported in The Tablet, one day he was playing a round of golf with Lord Clinton, and said at the 18th hole: “If I win this hole, I win the game.”

Lord Clinton replied: “True but you haven’t struck the ball yet.”

“But if I do” persisted Father Bernard, “will you help us? We need some land on which to build a church – a proper one.”

‘Lord Clinton gazed thoughtfully down the fairway. It was true that the current Catholic church, was woefully inadequate for the needs of a growing parish, and the Clinton Estate was extensive.’

“I might” he said cautiously. ‘Father Bernard offered up a silent prayer and bent to address the ball.’

There is, sadly, no documentary evidence that this conversation ever took place.

What is certain is that Father Bernard was a keen golfer and Lord Clinton, although not himself a Roman Catholic, gave the land ‘freely with a spirit of generosity worthy of the fine tradition of his family’.

Work began in 1912. For a short period, from October 1912 to February 1913, Mass was celebrated in the recreation room of the Holy Family Convent as the ‘tin church’ had been sold. It served as the Girl Guide Headquarters, until it burned down in 1920.

In 1913, the foundation stone was laid by the Bishop of Plymouth, and the Presbytery, Sanctuary and Lady Chapel were completed.

A year later, the main Chancel and Nave were completed. The original design allowed for a central nave and two aisles, but funds did not initially stretch to meet that ambition. The High Altar, incorporating the alabaster tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is kept, was gifted by Father Bernard in memory of his mother, Mrs Julia Maria Palmer.

On April 15, 1914, the Holy Ghost was registered for solemnising marriage, and the first marriage to be celebrated there took place on August 1, 1914 – just days before Britain entered World War One.

February 1915 saw the formal opening of the church, deemed one of the most beautiful in the diocese. According to the report in The Tablet: “The church was packed to utmost capacity despite a deluge of rain, scores having to be turned away.”