As parishes throughout the Diocese pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life by imploring the help of Our Lady and four holy men, at the suggestion of one of our readers, we now begin a series of short articles looking at the life of each of these men and their connection with our geographical area. This month we focus on Blessed William Richardson.
William’s father came into this area from Lancashire to find work, and settled in Waleswood, at what is now known as the far side of Rother Valley Park and long-time residents knew as the hamlet of Bedgreave (William’s birthplace). As the medieval mill still stands in the same place, it is perhaps safe to say that his father’s employment was that of a miller and that William himself received some elementary education at the hands of a parish curate.
We know from the Entry Book in the English College in Spain that William was a convert to the Catholic faith and was received into the Church by one of the clergy at Wiesloch, Germany, where at that time he was working. He was called to the priesthood, attended the English College in Spain, studying Philosophy and Theology, and was ordained priest there in 1594 and then returned to England.
Most of William’s life was spent working in London, often with the legal profession in the Inns of Court. He visited prisons as an ordinary visitor, to take Mass to Catholics imprisoned for their faith, and he was sentenced to death after being betrayed by a priest catcher. His execution took place on Tyburn Gallows, by the barbaric act of being hung, drawn and quartered on 17 February, 1603. We have no knowledge of his last resting place.
William’s death was in the reign of Elizabeth 1 and he was the last priest to be murdered at that time. Elizabeth 1 died one week later. It is said that he accepted his death with such constancy and faith, while praying for the Queen, that his executioners were deeply impressed.