We were very excited to find even more evidence of Refugees in our area, this time in Talacre.
Before Talacre Abbey was home to the Benedictine Sisters (who were there from 1921 until 1988) it was home to the Mostyn Baronets of Talacre, and was called Talacre Hall. It was built in 1829, and was sold by auction in 1919. The main hall is Grade II* listed, and is now in private ownership.
To this family belonged Francis Mostyn (1860 – 1939), the fourth son of the 8th baronet. He became Vicar Apostolic of Wales in 1895 , Bishop of Menevia in 1898, and from 1921 until his death on the 25th of October 1939 was Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff.
In the Tablet Archive from April 17th 1915 we found this report:
“Sunday last (Low Sunday) the Bishop of Menevia visited Talacre Hall, Flintshire. On his arrival he was met by the Right Rev. Abbot LeBeau, the Very Rev. Father Prior, and the Benedictine Community. The aged Abbot, who is slowly recovering from a dangerous illness, warmly welcomed Bishop Mostyn to the home of his ancestors, where, as a child, a boy, and a young man, he still had many happy recollections.
These Benedictine religious are Belgian refugees from the ruined Abbey of Termonde [Dendermonde].
On arrival in England they were the guests of their British brethren at St. Augustine’s Abbey, Ramsgate, for some ten weeks, and on New Year’s Eve they came to Talacre Hall to take up their abode as guests of Lady Mostyn of Talacre.
The Bishop said the 10 o’clock Mass, during which he ordained the Rev. Dom Damian Frelinx, to the Diaconate, in the presence of a large congregation, including many Protestants. In the afternoon his lordship bestowed the sacrament of Confirmation on several children, the sponsors being Mrs. P. Haddon Cave (Prestatyn) for the girls, and Mr. Anthony Browne (Prestatyn) for the boys. Pontifical Benediction was then given by his lordship, who was assisted by the Rev. Dom Damian (deacon) and the Rev. Father Augustine, (subdeacon).”
In 1914 the abbey in Dendermonde and most of the city was destroyed by fire as the German army advanced through Belgium.
Only a few old paintings and silverware (Saint Bernard Staff, monstrance, chalices, etc.) were spared. The church roof and spires perished but the strong vault resisted so that the actual church building was protected. However, some of the stalls caught fire, along with the sacristy.
In 1919 a start was made with the repairs to the church and build a new abbey: wider and grander in the Flemish Renaissance style to plans by the Ghent architect Valentin Vaerwijck. The first two wings were inaugurated in 1924, the other two were completed later.
We now have more information about the Refugee Monks who came to Talacre Hall.
Abbot Henri LeBeau and 15 of his brethren from Dendermonde (Termonde) Abbey first arrived at St. Augustine’s Abbey in Ramsgate after the total destruction of their own Abbey in Dendermonde by the invading German forces. They stayed at Ramsgate for ten weeks before arriving at Talacre Hall on New Year’s Eve 1914 as guests of Lord & Lady Mostyn.
The Manchester Evening News of Monday, February 1st 1915 gives a small indication of the flight of these Benedictine Brothers from Belgium:
HOME FOR BENEDICTINE MONKS
“At the rent-dinner of the estate of Lady Mostyn, of Talacre held at Holywell, in acknowledging the toast of her ladyship’s health the agent of the estate, Mr. P. Haddon Cave, said Lady Mostyn had lent the best part of Talacre Hall (near Rhyl), the family seat, for the accommodation of the Benedictine Monks from the Abbey of Termonde. He had had a conversation with the abbot, who told them they were kicked out of the place within six hours of hearing the guns firing, and they lost all they had in the world. They had to clear out or be captured or slaughtered.”
In the Flintshire Observer, the situation at Dendermonde Abbey was explained in a little more detail:
February 4th, 1915
“…they (the monks) were not treated respectfully. The Abbot was washed over with petrol and set fire to. “
Whist at Talacre, the monks held several masses daily, and were very much involved in the religious life of the community, becoming involved (along with Bishop Mostyn) in the confirmation of local children.
Lady Mostyn herself, in a letter to “The Tablet”, explained about the services held at Talacre Hall by the monks, and made mention of the poor condition of the Abbot:
“…since last year the Very Rev. Abbot LeBeau and his Benedictine monks from Termonde are my guests till April 2, 1916, and have arranged with me daily to say Mass for my dear husband, another each day for my friends whom I mention to them, both dead and living, and another for those who have been killed in battle, for the wounded, for our fighting and living soldiers. All these are daily remembered in their Masses by these holy suffering exiles, and I am very anxious to make it known that any who may send offerings to me, inscribed “Re Prayers,” will have their names and the names of those they wish to be prayed for inscribed in a Register for the purpose; also that the monks gladly accept an offering of 2s. 6d. for any special Masses to be said for the donor’s intention, which I shall be pleased to hand them. Any offerings in clothing (Benedictine habits, or secular clerical coats, shoes, and underclothing) they will be most deeply grateful for. There is an altar in our front hall, another in our private chapel, another in the tribune, and I love to see those who have suffered so much powerfully helping us all in peace and calm here by their Masses, and helping the poor refugees in other places. Anyway, the dead are not ever forgotten here.
ANNA MARIA MOSTYN.
Talacre, Prestatyn, Flintshire, August 18, 1915.
P.S.—I deeply regret to say that the saintly Abbot is slowly dying. All the horrors and unparalleled sufferings he has passed through have told on him, and he cannot recover.
Abbot LeBeau died of Tuberculosis in October 1915.
The Flintshire Observer published on Thursday, October 21st 1915 reported on the Abbot’s death and funeral:
DEATH OF A BELGIAN ABBOT
“The Venerable Benedictine Abbot of Termonde, Abbot LeBeau, whose monastery was burnt by the Germans, has died at Talacre Hall. He had suffered a long and painful illness, which he bore with heroic fortitude, and his privations and hardships which accompanied the flight from Belgium, and his anxieties for his community greatly aggravated his condition. Since the beginning of the year the Abbot and fifteen of his community have been the guests of Sir Charles Pyers Mostyn and his mother, Lady Mostyn, of Talacre, who placed the front part of the hall at his disposal.
On Saturday afternoon the funeral took place at St. David’s Franciscan Capuchin Churchyard, Pantasaph, Holywell. Prior to the removal of the coffin from Talacre, funeral mass was said by Father Arnulph of Termonde. At Pantasaph the coffin was met at the gates by the Reverend Father Paul, O.S.F.C., Pantasaph, with cross-bearer and acolytes. Father Paul read the final offices, and the monastery choir sang the Benedictus. The interment was made in a grave between the graves of two French Jesuit fathers, who died at St. David’s College, Mold, some thirty years ago. The coffin was of polished oak, with brass fittings, and on the breastplate was the inscription “Henri LeBeau, Abbot of Termonde, died October 13th, 1915, aged 67 years. R.I.P.” It is worthy of note that the Monastery of Pantasaph was founded and built by a Belgian, Father Seraphin, of Bruges.”
We set off to find the grave of Abbot LeBeau. On a lovely evening in April we arrived at Pantasaph Monastery. The monastery is quite beautiful, including the church, retreat house, magnificent Stations of the Cross leading up to Calvary and the National Shrine to Padre Pio. The churchyard has many graves, some are of the Mostyn family and quite a few are monks and priests.
After spending all evening looking, we were very disappointed not to find the Abbot’s grave. This was before we had the information that he was buried between the graves of the two French Jesuit priests from Mold.
Returning the following Tuesday morning armed with this new piece of information, we spent another two hours looking. We found the French priests, but no Abbot.
The website for Pantasaph ( www.pantasaph.org.uk ) had a fax number, so we sent a message to them asking if they knew the location of the grave. We soon received this reply from Father Delaney, the Parish Priest:
“You were enquiring about the burial plot of Abbot LeBeau.
I have a letter in the records written to the Bishop asking for his consent to the exhumation and transfer of the body of Abbot LeBeau to Dendermonde in Belgium. The monks had applied to the Home Office for permission to exhume the remains.
I have no further confirmation of this. I presume the exhumation went ahead: Abbot LeBeau’s grave is not recorded in the cemetery records.”
Looking now to find the paperwork for the exhumation in order to ascertain the date Abbot LeBeau left Pantasaph, we sent an email to Flintshire County Council Bereavement Services, who are based at Llwynegryn Hall in Mold. Andrea who works there was very helpful, telling us that as Pantasaph is not a county cemetery they do not hold records, but she did give us the details of a contact at the Ministry of Justice, who could possibly help with this information. Unfortunately, it seems that comprehensive records don’t exist for 100 years ago…
So we contacted the Abbey at Dendermonde to see if they had the body of Henri LeBeau, and received a speedy reply from Abbot Dom Gerard confirming that Abbot LeBeau is indeed buried in Dendermonde, in the City Cemetery.
Other names we found in the newspaper “L’echo de Belgique” announcing their stay at Talacre Hall:
26/3/1915: DILLEN, e pater, OSB (Order of Saint Benedict)
10/2/1916: Rev. DOM. MESTAG, OSB
and DOM. DAMIEN who is noted in the obituary of Emiel Fielinckx of Leuven on the 8th of September.
There’s more information about Pantasaph here.
Talacre is currently in the county of Flintshire. Other local towns, including Holywell, Mold, Buckley and Northop welcomed Belgian Refugees and also wounded Belgian soldiers who were being looked after at nearby Chester – but a controversy surrounded their exclusion from Connah’s Quay. Click on the link below to read some extracts from the Flintshire Observer. The Lord Mostyn featured in the press cutting was the owner of Talacre Hall, mentioned above.