Thame Local History
Roman Catholicism at Thame Park

There had been post-Reformation Roman Catholic worship at Thame Park in the early seventeenth century, when Lady Agnes Wenman, wife of Sir Richard Wenman, later the first Viscount Wenman, had been a Roman Catholic and had engaged in communication with one or two individuals on the fringes of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

From 1766 onwards, however, another lady of the house celebrated the Roman Catholic mass in the chapel at Thame Park. Philip, the seventh and last Viscount Wenman, then aged 24, married Eleanor Bertie in 1766 and the new Lady Eleanor Wenman was a Roman Catholic.

Eleanor was one of the daughters of Willoughby Bertie, the third Earl of Abingdon. Willoughby was not a Roman Catholic, but his wife was and he had allowed her to bring up their daughters in the Roman Catholic faith.

Similarly, Philip Viscount Wenman allowed his new wife to celebrate the Roman Catholic mass at the ancient chapel within Thame Park.

There was a census of Roman Catholics in 1767, and the Roman Catholic population of Thame, or at least those confident enough to declare their faith, consisted of Lady Eleanor Wenman, her sister, her two servants and a hatter's widow.

Eleanor supported a number of Jesuit chaplains at Thame Park. One of them, Jesuit Father Bernard Cassidy, also known as Bernard Stafford, was formerly Superior of the Oxford District.

Father Cassidy/Stafford was buried in the chapel at Thame Park in 1788, and the monument above his grave is still there today, telling us that Bernard Stafford died on July 11th 1788, aged 76.

Philip, the sixth Viscount Wenman, had died in 1760, six years before the marriage of his son to Eleanor Bertie, and he is buried in the chapel at Thame Park.

His wife, Sophia, Viscountess Wenman, died in 1787, aged 72. She is also buried inside the chapel at Thame Park, alongside her husband, and the monument to Father Bernard Stafford, who died a year later, is very close by.

Philip Wenman the seventh Viscount died in 1800. He and Eleanor had no children, and so Thame Park passed to his 10 year old niece Sophia Elizabeth Wykeham, later to become Baroness Wenman.

The date of the last Roman Catholic mass at Thame Park chapel is not known.

In 1799 the last chaplain at Thame Park, Father William Hothersoll, left to join a fellow Jesuit priest at St Clement's, after the Catholic mission at Waterperry had been moved there.

The chapel at Thame Park was substantially renovated and enlarged in 1836 by Baroness Wenman, and became a place of Anglican worship.

The post-Reformation Roman Catholic period in the chapel's long history is however now and forever marked by the stone in the chapel floor covering the grave of a prominent Jesuit priest alongside those of the sixth Viscount Wenman and his wife, the people who built Thame Park House as we see it today.

Information here is taken from the book "Thames Valley Papists, From Reformation to Emancipation, 1534 - 1829" by Tony Hadland, available online here, from the VCH, page 211 and from fieldwork at Thame Park chapel.
(It is assumed that the memorial flagstones in the floor of the chapel are where they were originally placed.)

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