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History of St Augustine’s

In the beginning…

The first phase of Downside Estate was built – Mountview Avenue and Southwood Road, London Road end. The Rector of Dunstable was Canon Orton and he foresaw that the growing estate would be an ideal location for a ‘daughter’ church of the Priory. During one of his visits to Dunstable Grammar School (now Ashton Middle) he asked a bright looking lad named David where he lived and learned that it was in one of the new houses in Southwood Road with his parents and sister. As a result Canon Orton called on Arthur and Elsie Buck at No. 3 and asked their opinion about a church being built to serve the new estate. Elsie agreed to make enquiries from the people who lived nearby and several meetings were held with the Rector and later with the Bishop of St. Albans, Rev’d Gresford-Jones, to explain the processes of setting up a new church, as the response had been good. It was agreed that when a certain amount of money had been raised locally the Diocese would give the remainder of what was required.

So began the building fund… there would be stamps priced 6d or 1/- which could be bought and fixed on cards! Elsie and friend Muriel Ward agreed to make weekly calls at houses on the estate as they became occupied mostly by young families and Barbara Darvill’s home-made coconut ice was very popular – these and other ways of raising money continued for almost three years and were a way of forming interested people into a nucleus church family.

But where were they to meet?

HighfieldsThe conservatory of a large house in London Road Highfields (now The Highwayman public house) was offered but it was dilapidated, not having been in use. However a working party of men and women quickly cleaned it up, installed lighting, polished, even to the red tiled fireplace hearth, borrowed chairs from the Parish Hall and set up an Altar and declared it ready for use.

At the first Service there were so many people they sat anywhere and one poor soul sat down on the newly polished red tiles with dire consequences to her clothing! By this time a Priest had been appointed, the estate was growing rapidly and there were soon regular services on Sunday afternoons – the church family was growing. A baby girl was baptised by Rev’d Harry Bamber one Sunday in May 1957, a large mixing bowl stood in for a font and the ‘church’ was filled with parents and children coming to see Gillian Townsend baptised

‘Highfields’ was demolished as Mr and Mrs Beaumont moved away and the site was used to build The Highwayman pub. This meant the church needed a new venue and a works canteen (Headley’s) in Southfields Road was offered and used each Sunday morning for a said Communion Service until September 1959 when the first St Augustines Church in Oakwood Avenue was completed. Several members of the Priory congregation who lived at this end of the town gave valuable help and support at this time, culminating in the consecration of the site by the Bishop of Bedford and the erection of a large wooden cross in May 1959 – a timely reminder of St. Augustine of Canterbury.

St Augustines 1959

Chapter Two: 1959-1991

The site of the future St Augustines Church, having been hallowed in May, was ready for building. Plans were quickly agreed and work began by Messrs. W. Watson & Son (a local builder) on the brick and pre-fabricated building which was completed by September. The building fund already in place was growing and everyone was encouraged to “Buy a Brick for £1”: this was quite an amount of money then. The building comprised a large hall with a sanctuary screened off at the eastern end, two cloakrooms, a kitchen, choir vestry and priest’s vestry. It was dedicated to St. Augustine on 29th September 1959 by the Bishop of St. Albans at the time- Bishop Gresford Jones.

The church was a daughter church of the Priory which meant it was supported financially and administratively, the Priest-in-Charge taking services at the Priory as well as at the new church. The church committee included two very helpful, experienced men from the Priory who lived at this end of the town – I believe they became the first secretary and treasurer and I recall being told that if they banked £10 that was a good week!

Regular Sunday services were the Eucharist and Evensong and a mid-week Holy Communion. A choir of boy choristers was soon formed and they sang at both services.

1960s and early 70s
Downside Estate was expanding rapidly mainly with young families and the main hall was soon in demand. Brownies, Guides, Cubs and Scouts flourished, all being affiliated to St Augustines, and monthly Parade Services meant a full church with young people looking smart in uniforms and with their respective flags. Many of them also attended the Sunday School which had been started. Confirmation classes were held and adults, one of whom was Elsie Matthews (who is still here!), as well as young people were confirmed.

The hall was hired by the local health authority for a baby clinic on Wednesday afternoons for several years and another regular booking on Saturday mornings was a dancing class- ballet and tap, which at that time were very popular with young children. Once or twice a year they would give a display in aid of the church.

A Mothers’ Union branch was formed (later becoming the Ladies Guild). Youth groups were started but leaders came and went so they too had their ups and downs.

The worship as I remember it was more formal than today, the priest taking all parts of the service so there was no input from the congregation. The evening service was discontinued as the choir outnumbered the congregation Perhaps the initial attraction of a new church wore off… Sunday School numbers dropped and there were one or two lean years…there needed to be some changes made.

1975 to 1980s
St Augustine's 60-70sThe new Priest-in-charge became the vicar when the church ‘grew up’ from being a daughter church to being a member of the Parish Team and having a District Church Council of equal status within the Parish of Dunstable. The feeling of confidence and fellowship grew and the congregation became the Church Family, with respect for the older longstanding members and a welcome for the young ones who were not chastised for making their vocal contributions at times.

Lay participation was the name of the game. Members were encouraged to read lessons, take up to the altar the bread and the wine, and eventually to administer the chalice. A portable altar was designed and built by the vicar (Bill Shin) and Bert Ward, and was consecrated on the 20th anniversary, September 1979, by the Bishop of St. Albans – Dr. Robert Runcie, soon to become the Archbishop of Canterbury. The new altar enabled the priest to come forward into the body of the church to celebrate Communion. The sanctuary and original altar being used for the weekday Communion Service and any special services.

The church began to look outward to the surrounding area of Downside and the Oldhill estates. Regular newsletters were duplicated on an ancient Gestetner and distributed. Street wardens and visitors groups were formed and a Men’s group, who were very good at the many maintenance odd jobs (usually followed by liquid refreshments…) In 1981 a Lunch Club for the over-60s was begun – a major community project between the church and Dunstable Town Council and elderly people living in south Dunstable. Social events increased… fairs and fetes (indoors or out according to the weather), with all organisations using the church taking part: carol singing became established: Tramps’ suppers, Harvest suppers, Barn dances, a Generation Game, all these and others were well-supported. A Flower Festival was held as part of the 25th Anniversary celebrations in 1984 and was most successful.

Late 80s
So the church began to grow again, so much so that extra rooms were needed. A portakabin was erected and used as an office and occasionally as an overflow of the Sunday School. An extension was built onto the west end of the church at a cost of £6000 and was known as the Canterbury Room. It could be hired separately from the main hall and was used by various small groups and committees and the Sunday School.

The church was firmly established again BUT the building was showing signs of wear and tear… The flat roofs of the kitchen and vestries had always been very tempting to some of the local youngsters. Various deterrents were tried from special anti-climb paint on the drainpipes (nasty grey stuff) and even barbed wire round the edges of the roofs, but there were regular call-outs from neighbours – “The lads are on the roof again!” This did not help the kitchen roof in particular and there were many occasions when buckets had to be placed in strategic positions in the kitchen to catch the rainwater via a very Heath Robinson arrangement of plastic guttering- this was before the days of Health and Safety!

For a ‘temporary’ building it had been well used and well cared for for over thirty years by many dedicated people and it was a sad day when the tall crane arrived to remove the portakabin and the bulldozers to demolish the main building, which took just 25 minutes! Plans had been submitted and approved for a larger building with more modern facilites and so it was that full circle had been reached and once again St. Augustine’s was without a church building. However help was at hand: the main hall of Downside School was offered as a temporary venue for Sunday services until the new church was built (again by W. Watson) and hallowed on September 29th 1992.


1956-1959 H. Bamber
1959-1963 R. Butler
1964-1966 I. Goodfellow
1967-1970 D. Bracey
1971-1974 A. Brannagan


P-i-C/Team Vicar

1975-1980 W.R. Shinn


Team Vicars

1980-1984 A. Johnson
1986-1993 P.Hughes
1994-1995 K. Burn
1997-2003 R. Watson
2003-2008 N. Jones
2008-2016 P. Draper