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In 1676 no Catholics were reported as living in Leyton, but by 1766 many Irish Catholics were living in Leyton, and in 1810 many of the ‘lower class’ were described as ‘Irish Papists’ but they had no access to a Catholic priest or Mass, which remained illegal until the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. By the 1960s over half the Parish of St. Joseph was Irish or had an Irish background when the Parish was served by two Irish priests, Canon Daniel Harnett (Parish Priest 1954-1970) and Father Kieran Dodd. Canon Harnett, a keen golfer, spent the whole of his priestly life in East London, where he was known for his friendliness, dry humour, and dedication to parish visiting. The average Mass attendance on Sundays before 1939 was 600. Since 1945 the average Sunday Mass attendance has been 770.

St. Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery and Chapel, funded by London Catholics, was opened in Union – now Langthorne Road – in 1861. Sergeant Patrick Mullane (1858-1919) of the Royal Horse Artillery was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the retreat from Maiwand to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in July 1880, when he rescued a wounded man and under heavy fire entered several hostile villages to get water for the wounded. Sadly, he is buried in an unmarked grave, unlike Sergeant Patrick Burke, who served in the Papal army of Pope Pius IX and was buried in the cemetery in 1890. Father Bernard Wakeling and Father John Clifford are buried in the cemetery.

Throughout the nineteenth century, priests from St. Francis, Stratford, visited Leyton to meet the spiritual needs of Catholics. The first baptism registered in the Parish records is by Father Thomas Ryan, who baptised infant George Furnell on November 1, 1881. Although the Parish of St. Joseph was established on July 24, 1884, there was no daily celebration of the Mass in Leyton until February 1897, when Father Francis Brown was chosen to found a mission. At first, Mass was celebrated in the chapel of St. Agnes School and Orphanage in Church Road. St. Agnes Catholic ‘poor school’ was established in 1874 at Leyton House, renamed Park House. In 1882 it was a mixed school combined with an orphanage administered by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. From 1897, until the St. Agnes Orphanage moved to Brentwood in 1902, the chapel was the Mass centre for Father Brown, the first resident Catholic priest in Leyton since the Reformation. The London Electric Wire Company, which by the 1960s was Leyton’s largest employer and Europe’s largest wire manufacturer, acquired Leyton House and its extensive grounds. The site is now a trading and housing estate.

From the 1920s to the 1970s, the Corpus Christi procession started at St. Joseph Church and ended with Benediction at the Convent chapel, attended by the First Communion children and their parents. During the summer in the 1930s Belgian and French priests helped out in the Parish, and in the 1960s Swiss priests – seeking to improve their English before going out to Zimbabwe – worked in the parish.

Until the 1970s there was a considerable light industry in Leyton, with four banks in Leyton High Road, so that many parishioners and incomers worked locally. Caribonum behind Etloe House, Lea Bridge Gas Company, City Knitwear, Austinsuite, Copeland and Jenkin, Bent Marshall, Trent Cakes, Whipps Cross Hospital and Leyton’s bus and trolleybus garages were large employers. The extensive industry made Leyton a target for Zeppelin airship bombings in 1915/16 and from Gotha bombers during 1917/18. The first bomb in 1915 fell on Dunedin Road. On August 17, 1915, Zeppelin L10 bombed a route along the Midland Railway line from Leyton to Leytonstone killing ten people and injuring 48 people. By the end of 1918, 1300 houses were damaged.

In 1940 the first bomb fell on Sidmouth Road. Leyton was heavily bombed during 1940/1941, and by V1 and V2 missiles in 1944/45. Many people in Leyton were made homeless and some parishioners were killed, but the church and school escaped the bombing. Men – aged 16 to 60 – from the Parish served in both World Wars and some did not return. Their sacrifice is commemorated by a plaque in Our Lady’s chapel and on Remembrance Sunday in November.