Parish History

The Roman Catholic Parish of

Our Lady the Immaculate Conception,

Devizes, Wiltshire

The Roman Catholic Parish of

Our Lady the Immaculate Conception,

Devizes, Wiltshire

Parish History

sanctuary new joseph3 Parish Website







While using the warehouse as a temporary chapel, Father Larive looked for a suitable piece of land on which to build a church.  In 1862 the land upon which the current church now stands and some land around it was purchased. In 1864 a small temporary chapel was built. This building now forms part of St Joseph's Primary School.



Also in 1864, on July 16th, the foundation stone of the present church was laid by Bishop Clifford.  On Wednesday January 25th 1865, the present church, dedicated to Our Lady the Immaculate Conception, was opened.  At that time the church ended where the present altar rails are.


The church was designed by Joseph Aloysius Hansom - of Hansom Cab fame.  He also designed Arundel Cathedral, Plymouth Cathedral, Portsmouth RC Cathedral, Oxford Oratory, Birmingham Town Hall and Leicester Central Library, among many others.


In January 1909 the first stone for the new sanctuary was laid.  On June 16th, the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales presented the parish with the church bell, named Josephine.  The bell, which weighs 3½ cwt, was cast in France and bears the inscription:


Laudo Deum verum plebo voco congrego clerum.

Defunctos ploro, nubem fugo, festra decoro.


[I praise the True God and call the people to assemble with the priest.

I weep for the dead, banish sorrow and celebrate feasts.]



There have been three churches at West Lavington and Littleton Pannell.


In October 1945, Fr Louis Valluet wrote a letter to enquire about the purchase of an army hut to be erected at Littleton Pannell.  After much correspondence, a timber-framed asbestos hut 37 feet by 19 feet, was purchased in January 1947, for the sum of £40 and subsequently dismantled and rebuilt in the garden of the Sainsbury family, just a short distance from the present Church of St Joseph.  The costs for dismantling, transporting and rebuilding came to £194.



In the late 1950s Fr Nobes wanted a church at the eastern end of the town to serve the growing population there.  In 1960, the Church of St Francis de Sales was opened in Brickley Lane opposite the end of Eastleigh Road. The church served the eastern end of the town well for many years.  Then there were calls to close it.  The debate rumbled on for many years and finally, in 2006, the church was closed.  The final Mass was on the Feast of Christ the King, November 26th.


The building was subsequently sold to the Cornerstones Community Centre which provides a day service for adults with learning difficulties. In 2021 the building was demolished and four houses were built on the site.



In 1963, under the supervision of Father Nobes, plans were made to build a church at Pewsey. Land was found on a residential estate to the east of the village and in 1964, the Church of the Holy Family was opened. The design was a radical one and it is said that on seeing it completed, the Bishop asked, "Did I give permission for that?"


This church is now part of the Marlborough parish.



In 1936, Sir Eric and Lady Phipps allowed a building on their land at West Stowell to be used as a chapel. The thatched building served the area around Pewsey for nearly thirty years until, in 1964, the Church of the Holy Family was opened in Pewsey. Subsequently the chapel was converted into a residence, and remains so to this day.

In 1979, the sanctuary was reordered to include a permanent altar at which the priest could say Mass facing the people.  In the fifteen or so years up to then there had been a series of temporary altars.


Following this, the church was consecrated by the Bishop of Clifton, The Right Reverend Mervyn Alexander on Saturday September 29th.

There were two interesting ceremonies by the Bishop of Clifton at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, St. Joseph's Place, on Saturday afternoon and evening – in the afternoon the blessing of the Angelus bell which now hangs in the bell turret erected for its reception, and in the evening the blessing of the new sanctuary.


There was a good congregation to witness the blessing of the Angelus bell, a ceremony which very few present had ever witnessed previously. ... It was an interesting ceremony. The Bishop entered the nave by a side door, wearing his mitre and several of his pontifical vestments, though he was not in full canonicals; his pastoral staff was carried behind him. Attending him was Father Browne, D.D., of Chippenham, as deacon, and Father Pelletan, of Frome, as sub-deacon, both in rich vestments. Other priests present were Father Valluet (Devizes), Father Morrin (Devizes), and Father Allard (Yeovil). Six brothers from the community of missionaries of St. Francis of Sales at Yeovil formed the choir. All these grouped themselves in front of the chancel, the Bishop in the centre, with the bell in front.


The service opened with the recitation of seven Psalms (the 50th, 53rd, 56th, 66th, 69th, 85th, and 129th). These concluded, came a series of versicles and prayers which were interspersed with ceremonial acts. Salt and water, which were contained in vessels standing on a small table at the Bishop's right hand, were blessed separately, and then the two being mixed a further blessing was invoked upon them. With this mixture the Bishop commenced the washing of the bell, that duty, however, being almost immediately taken up by the deacon and sub-deacon. Then followed the recital of six more Psalms (145th to 150th, which concluded, the Bishop proceeded to anoint the bell with the holy oil for the sick. With the thumb of his right hand he made the sign of the cross with the oil on the outside of the bell, and recited a prayer, in Latin.


The cross thus made was then wiped with a cloth, and the choir sang an antiphon commencing “Vox Domini super aquas multas” (“The voice of the Lord is upon many waters”). Psalm 28 followed, the antiphon was repeated, and the Bishop then walked round the bell, making with the oil seven crosses outside and four crosses with chrism on its inner surface, with an appropriate sentence each time he made the holy symbol. Another prayer followed, and the last ceremonial act was to place a thurible underneath the bell, that the smoke might ascend into it. Another antiphon was sung, another Psalm chanted (76th), and the Bishop once more offered prayer.

The bell is the gift to the church of the missionaries of St. Francis of Sales, and was cast by Messrs. George and Francis Paccard, bell founders, of Annecy, who cast the largest bell now hung in Europe, “La Savoyarde,” at the Church of the Sacred Heart at Montmartre, Paris, a bell which weighs 19 tons. The weight of the bell is 3½ cwt. It bears the image of Christ and the image of Our Lady, help of Christians, the emblems of Faith, Hope, and Charity, also the arms of Pope Pius X, the present Pontiff.


The bell was soon afterward, hoisted to the turret and rang for the first time.  It has a melodious sound. ... The bell will sound every morning at seven o'clock for mass, for all the Sunday services, at the elevation of the mass on Sundays, and also during the blessing at the service of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, which is held twice a week.


The blessing of the sanctuary took place later in the day, in the evening, in the presence of a smaller number. It was a brief ceremony, and associated with it was the carrying of the Blessed Sacrament to the altar for the first time in its new position.


The Bishop of Clifton remained in Devizes on Sunday and the greater part of Monday. On Sunday morning his lordship said the first mass at 7.30, assisted by Father Valluet. The late mass was sung by Father Valluet, at 10.30, in the presence of the Bishop, to Mitra's setting. The offertory piece was the Veni Sanctus Spiritus sung to a setting composed by Miss Scott, the organist. The Bishop preached, his discourse, delivered with his accustomed facility and elegance of diction, being an exposition of God in His sanctuary of the clouds as revealed throughout Holy Scripture. Towards the close he referred to the self-denying efforts by which the members, of the Roman Catholic community centring there had assisted to rear that sanctuary, and he admonished them not to forgot those who had gone before – Father Larive, Father Bouvard, and others – and helped to make that church what it is to-day. In the evening his lordship conducted a confirmation service, and addressed the confirmees and the general congregation.


With acknowlegements to Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette.

The second was an old sports pavilion situated on land where the residential road, Holmfield, now is. The photographs below were taken during and after the opening ceremony, which was conducted by Canon Leahy from Swindon.

The third is the present church, a redundant Methodist Chapel, that was purchased around 1980.



In 1911 a chapel was built at Ogbourne Maizey, within the civil parish of Ogbourne St Andrew, by a Mr George Edwardes.  It served the area until being demolished in the early 1970s.  A house now stands on the site.

Photographs: Chris Henley



In addition to the churches and chapels above, which all - except for Holy Family, West Stowell - belong to or have belonged to the parish, the parish has also served Roundway Hospital in Devizes, where there were two successive chapels; and RAF Upavon, where there was a small chapel dedicated to St Thomas More. The parish continues to serve HMP Erlestoke in the chapel there.

Photograph: Chris Henley

The bell was blessed and the sanctuary opened on Saturday July 24th 1909.

The Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette of Thursday July 29th devoted around 2,300 words to a detailed report of the event, extracts from which are below.