ST PAUL’S HIGHFIELD: An Historical Note
St Paul’s Church is part of the Parish of St Mary and St Paul in the Benefice of Hemel Hempstead and is centrally located in the New Town neighbourhood of Highfield. Building commenced in1958 and the new church was dedicated in November 1960. This was to be the new Anglican Church serving a rapidly expanding population, as fields were replaced with streets, but its anticipated design life was considered to be only quarter of a century. Over half a century later St Paul’s remains proudly in its space alongside the Nicky Line cutting and is being carefully renovated. It has retained the name of the earlier Victorian St Paul’s consecrated in 1869, located in Queensway, formerly Queen’s Street, which closed in 1959, a contentious decision by the Church of England necessitated by finance and changes in the local demography. Many of the furnishings and fittings of this former St Paul’s, such as pews, stained glass windows, the processional cross, silverware, the eagle lectern and the font were transferred to the new St Paul’s. There, alongside the war memorial plaque to the First World War dead, these possessions are honoured and cared for and provide a valuable link with the past. In due course, with the closure of All Saints in Piccotts End we also gained an organ and the closure of St Peter’s in Gadebridge saw the transfer to us of an external wooden cross.
The congregation sees itself as following the liberal catholic tradition within the Anglican community and has been well served by a succession of Vicars, most serving for a minimum of seven years. Indeed, later in their careers, three of our Vicars became Archdeacons – Malcolm Lesiter for Bedford, Mervyn Banting for the Isle of Wight and Peggy Jackson for Llandaff. The congregation is proud to have played a leading role in the local movement to ordain lady priests, as confirmed by the appointment of a succession of three lady priests to be the vicar during the past twenty years. Additionally for over quarter of a century we had an important and friendly sharing agreement with the Roman Catholics, which ended as that church reduced the number of clergy in Hemel Hempstead.
St Paul’s is large and airy, the building complex including the church itself, which can be increased in size by taking in the large separate hall by moving a massive screen on tracks. In addition to the Parish Room and the Junior Church Room there is a kitchen. The current modernisation programme has replaced all the doors and windows, and the toilets will be refurbished shortly making us an increasingly attractive location for programmes and events.
The very lively contribution made by St Paul’s to the community, and some reflections on the characters involved, feature in ‘A History of St Paul’s Highfield, 50th Anniversary Edition’ by Geoff Lawrence. A short paper by Gordon Gaddes outlines the insight given by baptismal records into major population and occupational changes in Highfield over the fifty years, 1960 -2010. Copies are available from the Church Wardens.