Before we begin about the life of St Peter’s Bourne we need to go back in time to 1883 when a young woman, Cecile Isherwood, set sail for South Africa and Grahamstown, in the company of Bishop Webb bishop of Grahamstown, and ten others.
In 1883 on the 25th April, St Mark’s day, this young woman of 21yrs was clothed as a novice and so began the Community of the Resurrection of our Lord Grahamstown; her Profession was made on her 25th birthday. This Community was founded in 1883 by Bishop Allan Becher Webb and Cecile Isherwood to undertake pastoral and educational work in Grahamstown. These two types of work, and later Social Welfare work, have predominated in the Community’s undertakings throughout its history.
The regular life of monastic Offices and personal prayer and intercession has always been maintained, both in the Mother House (Grahamstown) and all branch houses, wherever situated. It is still maintained in Grahamstown, the only centre where the Community life continues, our numbers being now much reduced, with a high proportion of elderly and infirm members.
Two Retreat Centres established by this Community have been taken over by other Communities: St Peter’s Bourne in North London; and Hillandale, near Grahamstown, which has been taken over by the Order of the Holy Cross, an Anglican Benedictine community for men, based in the USA.
Two schools, staffed entirely by lay teachers, remain under the management of the Grahamstown Community, the Bethlehem Pre-School being the Community’s Centenary Project. In 1898 the Mother House and Novitiate moved to Forres in Scotland because, on his retirement, the Bishop of Grahamstown wished to continue as Warden of the Community – by this time Cecile was Mother Cecile. And so the first house in Britain came into being. Due to the distances involved and the difficulties of communication this proved to be impracticable and after the outbreak of the Boer War, the Mother House returned to St Peter’s Home, Grahamstown.
In 1901 a small house was taken in Halifax, Yorkshire, to provide a branch house in England; three years later it was closed down as the sisters who lived there were recalled to Grahamstown. 1929 saw them back in England sharing a house, No 2 Lupton St., with the Sisters of the Church in Kilburn. In 1933 they were the sole residents of the house which fulfilled a long felt need for a community house in England. The sisters celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the Community in their English house on St Mark’s Day 1934; also in that same year the English helpers of the Community became the ‘Fellowship of the Resurrection of our Lord’. Work at the house continued to grow steadily with individuals coming for retreats and Quiet Days.
Amongst the Associates and friends who supported the work of the Community were a group of ladies in Croydon, led by Miss Fladgate and Miss Bingham. In 1947 they proposed that, if a large house could be found, they join forces with the Community and live and work with the Sisters. This suggestion was taken up and in 1948 the move to a house called ‘Blanefield’ at No 30 Oakleigh Park South, Whetsone, (the earliest record of the house site is on an OS map of 1897 – a private family house with coach house/stables and gardeners cottage) . The acquisition of Blanefield as it was then called, was made possible by the generosity of Miss Bingham who purchased the property, vested it with a substantial endowment, in a Board of Trustees.
The house was eventually re-named St Peter’s Bourne; this continued the link with St Peter’s Eaton Square, the church were Mother Cecile first had her called to embark on that mission to South Africa with the Bishop of Grahamstown. The Link with St Peter’s Eaton Square continued during the time at Whetstone until about the year 1990.
At the end of 1995, after 47 years, the sisters of the Community of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Grahamstown, reluctantly withdrew from St Peter’s Bourne. The St Peter’s Bourne Trust then had to find someone or body to run the house in accordance with the Trust’s Deeds.
The house was then run by the Community of St Mary the Virgin, Wantage. That lasted for about 4 years when they too withdrew. The Trust had to begin again to look for new tenants. Meanwhile some of the parishes in the area got together to make representations to the Area Bishop of Edmonton to see if they could acquire the house as a resource for the local church and beyond. In 2002 a committee was set up with representatives of the interested parishes and area church officers with the Bishop of Edmonton, the Rt Rev’d Peter Wheatley, in the chair.
In November 2002 a Warden was appointed to the house, and in December of that year the St Peter’s Bourne Management Company was constituted and the St Peter’s Bourne Christian Education and Spirituality Centre was registered at Companies House. The Warden was licensed and inducted on the 1st May, and by the August of 2003 Charitable status was attained.
The House continues its ministry as a place of retreat and spiritual refreshment, serving a large section of the North London area and beyond, and not only for Anglicans – its work is ecumenical, the house being used by all the major denominations. It also serves Educational and Social / Health groups.
[ * gleaned from publications of CR of our L, Grahamstown: ‘Mother Cecile’ and ‘A swiftly flowing river….’]