St Paul's - History

St Paul's church Highfield

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. This new church was dedicated by the Bishop of St Albans on 19 November 1960 and was the first stop for Princess Margaret in her visit to Hemel Hempstead the following 6 April. It was to be the new Anglican Church serving a rapidly expanding population, although its anticipated design life was seen to be only quarter of a century. Nearly 60 years 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, which closed in 1959, a contentious decision by the Church of England necessitated by finance and changes in local demography.

Many of the furnishings and fittings of this former St Paul’s, such as pews, three 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. The three stained glass windows, professionally judged recently (2019) ‘to be very fine’ feature the Saints, Alban, George and Michael. In Memory of William Radwell Bailey Churchwarden of this Parish who died 20 May 1930 aged 70.

Stained glass windows behind the alter

In due course, with the closure of All Saints in Piccotts End the church also gained an organ and the closure of St Peter’s in Gadebridge saw the transfer of an external wooden cross.

In 1960 St Paul’s immediately, in addition to a place of worship, became a vital social and service centre whilst the local infrastructure developed, for example in the early days serving both as a doctor’s surgery and dental practice.  Boys and Girls Brigades, Sunday Schools and ‘Tiny Tots’ were important to children and parents in this rapidly, growing young community. These activities no longer exist, but St Paul’s remains a focus for worship and is a much - used facility for social events and caring groups. The very lively contribution made by St Paul’s to the community, and interesting reflections on and by the people involved, feature in ‘A History of St Paul’s Highfield, 50th Anniversary Edition’ by Geoff Lawrence. Copies are available from the Parish Office (phone 253977).

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 its 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 twenty years. Additionally, for nearly four decades St Paul’s had an important and friendly sharing agreement with the Roman Catholics. This was honoured in 1995 on the 25th Anniversary of sharing the building at a Vespers Service with Cardinal Hume and Christopher Herbert, the Bishop of St Albans.

The Venerable Peggy Jackson (St Paul’s vicar at that time), Bishop Christopher Herbert, Cardinal Hume, The Venerable Malcolm Lesiter (first long-term St Paul’s Vicar) and Father Roger Kirinich (St Paul's Roman Catholic priest at that time)

From left to right, The Venerable Peggy Jackson (St Paul’s vicar at that time), Bishop Christopher Herbert, Cardinal Hume, The Venerable Malcolm Lesiter (first long-term St Paul’s Vicar) and Father Roger Kirinich (St Paul's Roman Catholic priest at that time).

Regrettably this agreement ended in 2010, when the RC Church reduced the number of clergy in Hemel Hempstead.  Such changes also were to affect St Paul’ s when, merging into one parish with St Mary’s in the High Street, the Solway church in stages lost the post of full-time Vicar. Now, within the Parish of St Mary and St Paul, the church is led by the Team Rector for Hemel Hempstead, who is our Vicar, and the supporting clergy Parish team.

Winter fair

The Congregation over the years has been very involved with outreach. This is best illustrated by three continuing contributions. DENS, the local initiative for the homeless started as an idea in 1997 and later, for four winters, seven churches provided in daily rotation supper and a bed and breakfast. St Paul’s was one of those churches and since then it has continued to give support to this highly successful operation to support the homeless.  Secondly, 21 years ago St Paul’s decided to give financial support to the Christian Aid projects in Nicaragua, following two years of support for nursing missionary support in Bali. Since then the collections have totalled £12000. Finally, in July 2011, 42 people attended in the church hall the foundation meeting of the UK Langa Township Pre-School Trust, which now is supporting 500 children in six pre-schools in Cape Town. This Trust is located and driven within the Parish and its growth would have been impossible without the support of people from St Paul’s and St Mary’s. One of its two Patrons is the Bishop of St Albans, The Rt Rev Bishop Alan.

The particularly unique contribution of St Paul’s to support the mission of women’s ministry in the Anglican church is recognisable below in the list of priests who have served this church over a 60-year period, particularly with emphasis on the critical period from 1990 to 2017.

Rev Dennis Howard Cooper

1960 - 1961

Curate in Charge at St Paul’s

Rev Brian Henry Hawker AKC

1962 - 1966

Priest in Charge

Rev Malcolm Henry Lesiter MA

1966 - 1973

Vicar

Rev Mervyn LH Banting MA

1973 - 1979

Vicar

Rev Gareth Lewis Jones BD, AKC

1979 - 1986

Vicar

Rev Robert Gough

1986 - 1989

Vicar

Rev Frances A Jackson MA, FCA

1990 - 1998

Vicar (Peggy)

Rev Gwendoline R Patchell

1998 - 2005

Vicar (Wendy)

Rev Deirdre Mackrill

2004 - 2009

Pastoral Assistant, then Assistant Curate

Rev Chandrika Perera

2006 - 2014

Vicar (Chandy)

Rev Jenny Hill

2014 - 2017

Vicar, St Mary’s and St Paul’s

Rev Canon John Williams

2018 -

Vicar, St Mary’s and St Paul’s