The history of the long brown rosary used every night in the Shrine

extracts from:

A letter to the Administrator written in 1983
From Miss Gwyneth Littler
Clevedon, Avon

The History behind the long Rosary with the carved brown beads

In October 1948 I went as Parish Worker to the Parish of S. Francis of Assisi, Ewell.

There was a husband and wife, Mr and Mrs Austin, who lived in Ruxley Lane. They were both well over 90 but managed to get to the 11 am Sung Eucharist. They were cousins who had married. Both had seen better days. Large house, carriage, coachman, horses, as well as indoor servants. I do not know when or how they lost their money, but when this happened to them they moved to Ruxley Lane, she took lessons in cooking and he managed to get a part time job with the Blind in Leatherhead.

In August 1949 my parents came to spend a holiday in Ewell. I was living in one small room. My pop was due to retire in the November and when my parents saw the conditions under which I was living they were determined to find a house in Ruxley Lane, as near the church as possible. Mother found a house that brought us to become next door neighbours of the Austins.

Mother was very good and often helped me out with my visiting. People liked her and some of the elderly seemed to prefer a visit from her than a visit from me. She went in to see the old Austins most days and very often took them part of our dinner. Things were still rationed but Mother bought chickens and fish (unrationed) fairly frequently and always, when we had a chicken or fish dinner, Pop would go next door with the tray.

One afternoon when Mother went in to call on Mrs Austin, along with the cats and rubbish on the dining room table was the Rosary. Mrs Austin picked it up and said to Mother, ‘I want you to take this home with you, I very much want your daughter to have it, it was given me by the Pope when I was very young.’

She then went into the details of how she came by it. They had been visiting another cousin who was the Governor of Malta. On their way home they broke their journey in Rome. They had an audience with the Pope and during the audience the Pope gave Mrs Austin the Rosary.

I do not know if they were married then, she always said she was married very young and that she was very young when she visited Rome. She must have had the Rosary over 70 years. When she gave it to me in 1950 she was well over 90. It must have been given to her before 1880. This brings it to over 103 years at the very least. I have often wondered what would happen to it when I came to leave this earth.

Gwynet Littler May 1982When I was in Walsingham on this last Pilgrimage in August, I saw the priests taking Shrine Prayers using small rosaries and I thought this is where Mrs Austin’s Rosary should come.

When I returned home I got it out and it has been on my table in my room, I was a bit worried about posting it for fear it would get lost in the post. On Monday when I was getting ready to leave home for All Saints Clifton for the Walsingham Mass (which happened to be of Our Lady of the Rosary), I don’t know why but I picked it up and slipped it into my handbag. I had no idea that Fr. John [Brewer] was going to be at the Mass, but as soon as I saw him I knew he could convey the Rosary to Walsingham in safety.

Signed: Gwyneth Littler – 11.x.83

(I have always been sorry that I did not ask which Pope gave the Rosary)

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the long brown rosary

This rosary is used every night at Shrine Prayers, except occasionally when the leader's own is used.

In 1990 she wrote again:

Although my house and possessions are willed to Walsingham, I decided to give the Rosary when I did, to make quite sure it got there. I also think it should be known that it was a Papal gift and of a great age, probably 170 years old in 1990. I have a list of Popes somewhere so which Pope could probably be guessed.

The two Popes covering Mrs Austin's teens and early twenties must be Blessed Pius IX
and Leo XIII

Gwyneth Littler
died on 7 February 1993, and after small bequests left everything to the Shrine, as she had said

The picture (left) shows her on pilgrimage in May 1982.