The following history combines two accounts: Mrs Kathleen M. Garwood’s (first printed in the parish newsletter of 22 September 1968) and Fr E. A. McGrath’s (parish priest 1973-1980)

Bishop Wall arrives for the opening of St Sabina's

Bishop Wall arrives for the

opening of St Sabina’s

About 1904, a Mrs Baldwin (grandmother of Mrs Garwood) came to live in Brightlingsea. She was upset to learn that there was neither a Catholic Church in the town nor any means of getting to Mass on a Sunday (there was no bus service and the train did not run on the Sabbath). So she went to see the parish priest of Colchester, Canon Bloomfield, who told her he was not responsible for Brightlingsea as it came under Clacton parish. Mrs Baldwin, however, persisted, requesting the Canon to supply a priest to say Mass in her front room at 73 Sydney St. He agreed and permission was asked of Archbishop Bourne of Westminster – the Diocese of Brentwood was not erected until 1917 – for the celebration of Mass in Brightlingsea. On 16 November 1904, permission was given to celebrate Mass in the town once a month. This was possible during the summer, but during the winter, it could only be once in three months, as the priest had to cycle to and from Colchester. Mass was at 8 am and the congregation varied from six to twelve. Sometimes the priest came the night before and stayed at the Royal Hotel or at the Swan Hotel. At Easter and Christmas, Catholics would have to take a taxi to Colchester.

During the First World War, Mass was held in the New Church Schoolroom, Queen Street; the priest was provided by the Army, which was stationed on the Recreation Ground and billeted in various houses. One popular army chaplain was Father Murphy of the Australian Forces. After the war, it was possible to get to Colchester by train or bus but these did not run very frequently so Mass continued to be celebrated at 73, Sydney Street until 1935. The priests who first came down were Canon Bloomfield and Father (later Canon) Clarke, and later on Father Basil Pearson and Father (later Canon) Francis Dobson.

Canon Manning, Parish Priest of St James',<br /> Colchester, celebrates the first Mass in St Sabina's.<br /> Bp Wall sits in choir

Canon Manning, Parish Priest of St James’,

Colchester, celebrates the first Mass in

St Sabina’s. Bishop Wall sits in choir


From 1935, Mass was held in various houses and following the outbreak of war in 1939, it was once more celebrated in the New Church Schoolroom which was now the Navy Club; again the Army made its chaplains available. After the club was closed down, from about 1945 to 1948, Mass was held in the old YMCA. Then for the next ten years Catholics gathered in the new YMCA on the High Street. After the war, priests once more come from Colchester though now the congregation would collect money to pay for a taxi to bring them.

After much fundraising, St Sabina’s was opened on 20 December 1958. A barrister, Mr J. Roland Adams had donated the land in 1952. He requested that it be called after his dead wife, who was named Sabina and so the church received its unusual and rare dedication. The first resident priest – Fr Christopher Nigel Collingwood – came to Brightlingsea in July 1964 and the Parish was canonically erected the same year.