Richard Barton has posted on the internet the text of a booklet published in 1989 in which he wrote the history of Roman Catholic worship in Dursley, Gloucestershire, from 1933 to 1989. Dursley is the town next to the village of Stinchcombe where the Waughs lived at Piers Court from 1937 until 1955 when they moved to Combe Florey. Although Roman Catholic services in Dursley can be dated to 1915, regular worship began only in 1933 when Mass was conducted in the local YMCA. The Waughs began worshipping there as soon as they moved to Piers Court. As described in Barton’s history, Waugh
…was obviously not impressed by the arrangements for the celebration of Mass at Dursley. He wrote in his personal diary, ‘Mass among the cigarette stubs at the Dursley Y.M.C.A…’ A fortnight later, he attended Mass at Nympsfield and wrote, ‘afterwards, by appointment, I took Laura into the convent… We drank coffee in a group of nuns. I was reproved by Mother Superior for suggesting that the time of the Dursley Mass was inconvenient – “you should have arranged things differently”.’
Waugh is remembered by many locals for dressing flamboyantly, arriving late for Mass and voicing the thoughts of a congregation, in loud whispers, during a long sermon or a second collection.
By the time the Waughs arrived, a move was well under way to construct a church in Dursley, and this was accomplished in early 1939 with the opening of St Dominic’s Church in its own building. Waugh was by that time active in the parish. In June 1939
… Evelyn Waugh, who was also a school governor, started a debating class at St. Joseph’s School. During the summer, as the days led up to the outbreak of war, Evelyn Waugh refers, in his diary, to Father Murtagh spending the sum of £40 on plaster stations of the cross – presumably for the new church at Dursley.
The war years saw various changes to life in Dursley. Evacuees arrived from various places and Evelyn Waugh vividly describes waiting for the arrival of the evacuee children in Stinchcombe on 1st September 1939. He refers to the villagers waiting, listening to the radio in Mrs. Lister’s car, before empty buses arrived and, finally, a police officer who informed them that the children had come four hundred short and that there were now none for Stinchcombe.
Towards the end of the month Dominican nuns arrived to take up residence at Pier’s Court. According to Waugh, they planned to bring thirty children, two parents, six nuns, a mistress and a priest. The nuns remained at Piers Court until September 1945 when the Waughs returned.
During the war years, the Waughs had little contact with the Dursley parish but returned to worship there in the postwar years:
Waugh wrote in his diary, shortly after his return to Piers Court, ‘to Mass in Dursley. We expected some welcome from our neighbours but have had none.’ Molly Lister wrote to her son, during September 1947, ‘I have got petrol for Dursley and go each Sunday morning. This morning Evelyn Waugh offered me breakfast at Piers Court any Sunday morning. I would like to accept and I thought it most kind of him.’
Shortly before moving to Combe Florey, the Waughs hosted a fete at Piers Court in 1955 and enlisted the St Dominic’s parishioners in the event, as described in this letter Waugh wrote to the parish priest:
“Dear Father Collins,
An announcement at Mass on the following lines will greatly help:
‘If the weather is fine a large attendance from outside the parish is expected at the Fete at Piers Court on Sauturday next August 14th. The Catholic Women’s League and the St. Vincent de Paul Society are undertaking the bulk of the work but other helpers are urgently needed both in the morning and afternoon. Will those who are willing to give their time please leave their names at the church porch stating the hours they will be free. We also greatly need presents suitable for prizes at the various stalls, objects for the jumble sale and cracked china and glass to be used as targets for missiles.’
Barton describes the Lister family, mentioned in the quotes, as prominent local Roman Catholics and owners of several manufacturing enterprises in the Dursley area, who were active in promoting the construction of St Dominic’s Church.