CANON JOHN WARMOLL, OUR APOSTLE OF BEDFORD
by Marguerite Cook
It was a crisp winter morning when two black horses; their beautiful coats gleaming; pulled the hearse through the red brick entrance lodge into Bedford cemetery. The horses pulled a light load, a coffin containing the body of Johnny aged nine years. Later in the day, the horses would pull the coffin of his best friend Tom, aged eight.
It was the year of 1855 in Bedford’s first municipal cemetery. The families of Johnny and Tom would have liked these friends to be buried side by side; but it was not to be. In the attractive Victorian chapel on the cemetery hill, the chapel was divided into two sections. Johnny’s service was held on one side, and Tom’s service was held on the other side. The two young bodies were then removed to separate sections of the cemetery for burial. Johnny was buried in the section of the cemetery reserved for people of the Church of England religion, while later little Tom was buried in the part of the cemetery kept for dissenters.
Bedford cemetery has become one of the prettiest cemeteries in England. The cemetery is set on a sloping hillside with lovely views over the adjoining Bedford Park, and the surrounding Bedford town centre and the Great Ouse Valley. Bedford cemetery covers 37 acres, and is beautifully cared for, with winding paths going between one of the finest examples of urban woodland, of which many are evergreen trees.
The Victorian people who opened the cemetery in June 1855, had a very different attitude to death from us; as many people died at a younger age; and the risk of dying before adulthood was very high. Thankfully it has been many years since the burials of the Church of England religion were interred in a separate part of the cemetery.
Lying among the dissenters of this beautiful cemetery is Canon John Warmoll, who was the restorer of the Catholic religion to Bedford. For the two centuries after the Reformation, Masses were offered throughout the country secretly by a few heroic priests. It was the Catholic Relief Act of 1829 that allowed Canon John Warmoll to re-establish the Catholic Church once again in Bedford.
At the bottom of the hill in Bedford cemetery is the grave of Daniel O’Connell Jnr, who was an Irish MP. Daniel O’Connell Jnr died in Bedford in 1897, aged 80, and following a Requiem Mass was laid to rest near the grave of his little daughter. The gravestone of Daniel O’Connell Jnr proudly states he was the youngest son of “The Liberator”.
The Liberator was Daniel O’Connell Snr (1775-1847), and he was a famous Catholic politician who was born in Co. Kerry, Ireland. The Liberator campaigned for the removal of discrimination against Catholics. He was one of Ireland’s greatest politicians, and as a brilliant orator he became famous for speaking to huge gatherings of people. His campaign was one of non-violent agitation.
Fired by his deep love of the Catholic Church he strove for Catholic emancipation, and helped towards the passing of the 1829 Catholic Relief Act. It was this act that enabled him, as an MP for Co. Clare in Ireland, to take his seat in Parliament.The Liberator, as a Catholic MP, fought for the rights of Jewish people and played a leading role in condemning the evil of American Slavery.
When the Liberator was dying it was his son Daniel O’Connell Jnr, who now lies in Bedford cemetery, who accompanied his father to Rome. The Liberator never reached the Eternal City, and died in Genoa, in northern Italy in 1847, aged 71. Daniel Jnr, with filial love, fulfilled his father’s dying wishes by giving his heart to the Irish College in Rome, and returned his body to be buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
There are many monuments to Daniel O’Connell Snr; the Liberator; an Irish hero who helped lead a victorious struggle for Catholic emancipation. However, the very finest monument must be the very beautiful Catholic church in his home town of Cahersiveen. The church is named the Daniel O’Connell Church of the Holy Cross, which is the only Catholic church in Ireland named after a layman !
After the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, came the resurrection of the Catholic faith. In Advent, 1863, Bishop Amherst sent Father John Warmoll; a Catholic priest born in Norwich in 1830; to restore the Catholic religion to Bedford. Virtually penniless, he arrived at the home of two Catholic ladies, mother and daughter Eleanor and Ellen Tandy.
There was no Catholic church in the town of Bedford, and so on Christmas Day, 1863, Father Warmoll said Mass in the Tandy’s front parlour. Fourteen Catholics attended that first Mass.
Anti-Catholic hostility persisted for many years. It was in Bedford cemetery; March 1865; that Father Warmoll, while presiding over the first traditional Catholic burial, was surrounded by a hostile crowd who tried to disrupt and stop the service. Father Warmoll overcame huge problems, and became loved and respected by all. He started the building of Bedford’s Catholic Church, which he named The Holy Child and St. Joseph in memory of that Christmas Day 1863.
When Canon Warmoll (as he became) died exhausted aged 55, it was said three thousand mourners packed Bedford cemetery. Canon John Warmoll, had worked tirelessly to return Catholicism to Bedford. Holy Mass was celebrated; Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was held, and there was love for Our Lady Queen of England.
On Sunday afternoon, 24th November 2013, the grave of Canon John Warmoll was again surrounded by a large gathering of parishioners, this time for a lovely service of re-dedication and blessing.
At the re-dedication of Canon John Warmoll’s grave the winter sun shone. It was a lovely day. The large gathering of people stood on the pretty hillside of Bedford cemetery. The congregation sang with loud voices a famous hymn written by Father Faber in 1849. It was a hymn written to remind Catholics of the suffering and martyrdom their forefathers endured during the reign of King Henry VIII and the Penal Times. Voices filled the sky singing:
Faith Of Our Fathers Holy Faith!
We Will Be True To Thee Till Death
Canon John Warmoll