Sawston has a special significance for the Catholic Church in England. From the 1300s to the 1970s, it was the home of the Huddlestone family who remained loyal to the faith throughout the dreadful persecutions in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Because of this repression, no written records were kept and the parish history has been handed down by word of mouth.
Sawston Hall, the Huddlestone’s home, had a chapel which was said to have served five counties and, indeed, until the Catholic Emancipation Act, Sawston was the mother church for Cambridge. Priests from the Hall served the districts around Sawston. It was said that, in the 1600s, there were usually three priests in hiding in the Hall. They and the family were constantly in fear of discovery and death if they were found by the ‘pursuivants’ who were the Queen’s secret police of those days. The priests took cover in the various hiding holes at Sawston Hall and went to other houses in the area to say Mass, stopping at those houses which had their own priest holes.
One of the English martyrs, canonised in 1970, was Saint Nicholas Owen, a carpenter famous for creating priest hiding holes, several of which can be seen in Sawston Hall. Another martyr associated with Sawston was Saint John Rigby, who was in service with the Huddlestones. Lady Huddlestone was summoned to London to explain why she did not attend the Protestant Church, but, being ill, she asked Rigby to go as her representative. He went and, having been revealed as a practising Catholic himself, was arrested and hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.
Saint Edmund Campion was another of the many English Martyrs known to have sought refuge in Sawston Hall but their names were not written down for fear of discovery. When King James I succeeded Elizabeth, Catholic prisoners were released.
In more modern times, the Huddlestones faced constant financial difficulties to keep the Hall and its Chapel going. The roof fell into disrepair more than once and the Hall was in danger of collapse. In 1920 Captain Huddlestone tried to start up the chapel again; it had previously always had its own chaplain. Now the priests came out from Cambridge to say Mass, usually monthly. By 1930, Sawston once again had its own chaplain. Through the Thirties parish activities grew steadily until World War II when Sawston Hall was taken over by the War Department; it was used by the US Eighth Air Force and security required that the public could not use the Chapel while the forces were in residence.
When the Huddlestones were allowed back, the Catholic population had grown so much that the Chapel was now too small; the family then gave some land from their estate for the present church to be built. With voluntary labour from parishioners, Father Roberts completed the building in 1958. The church is a simple, prefabricated structure which had a design life of 25 years but it is still standing today, over 50 years later!
In the mid-2000s, plans for a brand-new Church were drawn up under the guidance of Father David Hennesey. The project would see the Church Hall demolished to be replaced by a new building at the rear of the site. The existing Church would become an upgraded Hall and the car park landscaped and improved. Despite the community raising around £100,000 the cost and planning permissions proved prohibitive and the designs were dropped.
When Father Raf Esteban took over as priest, he galvanised the community and work was done on the site. In 2010, the Church and Hall buildings switched uses with each other so that the Church could accomodate up to 180 seated persons. Both buildings were upgraded throughout and a new dark blue and light blue colour scheme was introduced. In June 2012, the asbestos cement roofs covering both buildings were replaced. At the same time, the wood panelling on the front of the hall was renewed and a covered entrance was added to the Church. There are plans in development to demolish an old bungalow on the site, replace it with a Day Chapel attached to the hall and upgrade the car park at the same time.
In February 2017, Father Raf left the Sawston community and we welcomed Canon John Minh who has taken over responsibility for OLOL and the catholic community in Cambourne. We gave Father Raf a special send off with a party in the Hall, see photos.