History of St. Michael’s Parish
This parish is one of the oldest in the diocese. Shepton Mallet had an organised community at the end of the eighteenth century. In 1765 Fr John Brewer, a Jesuit, who served until his death in 1797, started a mission which included Wells and Ston Easton.The original chapel at Shepton Mallet was a room in the house of the Hippisley family in Market Place. (Before the arrival of Fr Brewer the Hippisleys had walked either to Bristol or to Bath; in due course, however, they were able to persuade Fr Alban Molyneux to come from Bonham every six weeks to officiate at Shepton). Fr Brewer lodged with this staunch Catholic family, paying them twenty pounds per annum.
His successor was Fr James Hussey who used his private income to buy a plot of land, part of Summerleaze Park.The chapel opened for public worship on 29 April 1804 and could seat a congregation of 200. Fr Hussey died in 1810 and was succeeded by Dr.William Coombes, a man noted for his learning and courtesy, who served the mission for thirty-nine years.
Born at Meadgate in the parish of Camerton in 1767 he had been expelled with others from the English College at Douai as a result of the French Revolution. Ironically the Revolution brought another benefit to the town.The Sisters of the Visitation, founded at Annecy in 1610, had also been driven from France and two of them eventually found their way to Draycott where in 1810 they opened a convent which they called ‘Sales House’ after their founder, the Bishop of Geneva, St Francis de Sales (1567–1622). The buildings, which included a mansion, dye houses and mill, had been purchased for the sisters at a cost of ten thousand pounds by Mrs.Tunstall of Wycliffe, Yorkshire. The community opened a ‘free school’ which served both Catholic and Protestant children in the town. Because of repeated flooding from the river Sheppey in 1831 they left and established a new foundation at Westury-on-Trym.
In 1851 the Jesuits handed over the mission to the newly formed Diocese of Clifton. Twenty years later, in 1875, Wells became a separate mission. In 1908 Mother Patricia and seven Sisters of the Saviour and the Blessed Virgin arrived and set up a convent in Paul Street, opening a boarding and day school for girls.The school was successful and in 1934 a new building was opened to accommodate the expanding numbers. Fr Hussey’s church – originally dedicated to St Nicholas – served the Catholics of Shepton Mallet until 1965. Since 1862 the church had been dedicated to St Michael.
The present church of St Michael, dedicated in 1965, was built on a site which formed the corner of Langhorne Park (latterly the Convent) and was given by the Order. Their generosity was matched by an anonymous gesture of £30,000, half of which was a gift and half an interest free loan.
The chapel of St Nicholas is still preserved as a Grade 2 listed building. After a short spell as a temporary furniture store it is now the factory site of ICI Polymers Ltd. The high pointed windows on the west side are a remainder of its 163 years service as a Catholic chapel.