The first Catholics in the area came to Backwell in 1938 – a Mr Whittard and his housekeeper, Miss Steane - and with their arrival ‘the parish’ came under the care of the Franciscan friars at Clevedon. Mass was celebrated in various local pubs (and at one point in the home of Lady Tweedie) over the years and by 1950 the Scout Hut on Clevedon Road was used. At this point there were about 30 parishioners in what was known by the Franciscans as the ‘Nailsea Mission’; land was bought in Nailsea by the Franciscans for a church to be built but, as the Franciscans did not want to have a debt, the parishioners opted for a wooden church as an interim measure – with a brick building promised within two years.
A C.W.L. was established, but this was really a fundraising committee to raise the money to build the church with, in addition, each family giving an extra shilling a week towards the cost and the church was built by a Mr Tappenden of Barrow Court Farm, Tickenham. By the early 1960’s a car park was also needed, so each family then gave another two shillings per week to enable this to become a reality.When St Francis’ Primary School was built in 1979, serving the parishes of both Nailsea and Clevedon, Mass was said in the school hall. In 1982 St Francis’ became a parish in its own right and its first parish priest appointed, living in a house a few hundred yards from the church.
Within a few years the parishioners had built their permanent brick church and presbytery (the one originally promised within two years of the building of the hut) and this was opened by Bishop Mervyn in 1986, though it was not until 1998 that the debt was paid off and the church dedicated.
A Parish Hall and meeting room was built adjoining the church and presbytery in 2000 and we are privileged to be able to share that facility with many groups in the local community such as AA, Al Anon, Dancing Groups, WI groups, Nailsea Ramblers meetings, children’s parties etc. The facility is also used as a polling station for local and general elections (thus ensuring that the P.P. didn’t have far to go to cast his vote!).
As well as providing some funding towards the cost of running the hall this brings many people into contact with the church buildings who would not otherwise darken the doors.The layout is such that the entrance to the hall is directly opposite the entrance to the church, across a paved courtyard (which can be used at ‘overspill’ for social events in good weather) and the hope is that some of the purely ‘social’ users might venture into the church, if only out of curiosity!
From our initial two Catholics in 1938 our parish has now grown to over 600, many of whom play an active part in the life of the church community.