Formal Roman Catholic worship returned to Maidenhead in 1867. William Wilberforce (eldest son of the Abolitionist William Wilberforce) had bought the manor of Ives Place, where the present library / town hall are situated. Being a convert to Catholicism, he allowed his study to be used for the celebration of Mass. The first priest was Fr John C Robertson and the Mission was dedicated to St Mary the Immaculate. Later in the year Wilberforce converted the Old Bull Inn into a Chapel and Priest’s House. The inn was part of his estate and stood on the High Street, where St Ives Road is now.
The next development, in 1871, was the erection of the Catholic School at the corner of Forlease Road and Bridge Street. This was made possible by the energy and foresight of the town’s fourth Catholic priest, Fr Richard G Davis, and the continuing generosity of William Wilberforce who donated the site and contributed to the costs. The school was a Gothic design with accommodation for 96 children in two rooms with the usual ‘out offices’ and a playground behind. For some years the schoolroom served as the town’s Catholic Chapel.
In 1879 Canon John Scannell acquired a ‘finely situate’ acre of land as the site for a Parish Church and set about raising funds to erect a building to accommodate the town’s growing Catholic population. The eminent architect Leonard Stokes was appointed and the builders were Messrs Silver and Sons and Filewood. Fearful of incurring large debts, only part of the original design was initially built and that at a cost of £3,018. The opening ceremony and dedication of the church to St Joseph was performed by the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Right Rev Dr Virtue, on 18th December 1884.
Within 30 years the congregation had outgrown the modified church and gained some affluent benefactors, particularly the Coleman and Outram families. Leonard Stokes was again approached and re-worked his original design. This time the building was entrusted to the firm of Messrs J.K. Cooper & Sons and cost nearly £5,000. The result was a church with a longer nave, two transepts and a raised sanctuary. Altars dedicated to Our Lady and the Sacred Heart were placed in the transepts with stained glass windows above. Stained glass also filled the windows of the Sanctuary and nave. The stained glass is of exception quality, with those on the west side of the church being made by the renown company of Hardman of Birmingham. The font, Stations of the Cross, bell and pews all date from this time. Externally the most dramatic change was the addition of the tower and spire. Bishop William Cotter officially ‘re-opened’ the church on 26th May 1914.
Following the tragedy of the Great War, a Memorial Hall was added to the side of the church in 1920. The same team of Leonard Stokes and Messrs Cooper & Sons were contracted again. The beautiful reredos and altar by R S Bolton of Cheltenham were installed as a gift from (the late) Edmund and Marie Coleman in 1928. After Vatican II in the 1960s, major changes were made to the Liturgy. To accommodate these changes the altar was moved forward to its present position.
St Joseph’s was again extended in 1965, this time at the southern end. A balcony with seating was added, with additional seating on the ground floor. A Baptistery was built and an entrance created for access to both church and hall.
In 1891 a Presbytery and a new building for St Mary’s School had been built to the north of the church, the school standing where the car park is now. The school moved to its present position, further along the Cookham Road in 1974. In 1985, the parishioners were in need of additional facilities and the old presbytery was felt to be unsuitable for the needs of today’s priests. It was therefore demolished and a Parish Centre with a number and variety of rooms was built. A new house for the priest was constructed to the rear of the site.
To celebrate the Millennium, parishioners raised funds for a number of projects and changes are still being made, with the necessary approval of the Historic Churches Committee. The 1960’s Baptistery had not been used for some years as it was too small. The font donated by Louisa Coleman in 1914 was moved to a more prominent place at the foot of the Sanctuary. The former Baptistery was converted to a ‘gathering space’ and better position for the Repository. The brass altar rails were positioned in front of the side altars. The doorway to the Baptistery was blocked up and in this position now stands the beautiful carved statue of St Joseph that was unveiled and blessed in 2008.
With the aid of a grant, floodlighting has been installed, lighting the church tower as a symbol to the town of the presence of our faith. The Presbytery has also been extended, providing more suitable accommodation for the priests and for the first time providing an office for a Parish Secretary and a small meeting room.
St Joseph’s Parish originally covered the town of Maidenhead and a lot of the surrounding area. From 1942 to 1967 our priests served the parish at Wargrave, the church - Our Lady of Peace - being built in 1964. The same year (and in a similar style) St Elizabeth’s Church in Cookham was opened. This latter continues as part of the Parish. A second primary school for Maidenhead was built on Altwood Road in 1963. This was originally called St Joseph’s and also served as a Mass Centre. Bishop Worlock formally created another parish covering the west of Maidenhead in 1970. The church was built and the school re-dedicated to St Edmund Campion in 1982. Mass has been said in various other centres in the area, including Woolley Hall (1884-1912) and Cox Green Victory Hall (1962-1969). As with parishes throughout the country, St Joseph’s is a living community, which has seen many changes, and will no doubt witness many more.