St Mary's Knighton
My ministry began at St Mary’s, Knighton where I was appointed an Assistant Curate in 1960. Knighton was an exciting parish where there was a strong and active laity. During my curacy I lived with my colleague and his wife, John and Irene Lyner. We became great friends and our friendship continued until their deaths many years later.
In August 1962 I received a telephone call from the Reverend Anthony Rouse saying that shortly I would receive a letter, which would change my life. The letter, which arrived a few days later, came from the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Reverend Joost de Blank in which he said he was looking for a domestic chaplain. My name had been suggested to him and he invited me to meet him. We met at Leamington Spa and following that meeting I was offered the post as the Archbishop’s domestic chaplain. My last Sunday was All Saints’ tide and I sailed to South Africa on the Edinburgh Castle on the 22 November 1962.
I remained in South Africa until 1964 when, on my return to England, I became Assistant Curate at St Nicholas, Kenilworth, Warwickshire. Finding another post was not as easy as some people might think even though at that time I was on the Crown list. In 1967 Bishop Joost de Blank suggested my name to the Bishop of Peterborough, Dr Cyril Eastaugh. He had two Livings available at the time, Irthlingborough and Burton Latimer. I had never heard of either. I drove to Irthlingborough to have a look round the parish but did not officially meet anyone. The Bishop told me that he wished to offer Irthlingborough to a priest returning from abroad and invited me to look at Burton Latimer. Eric Turnbull, Vicar of Kings Lynn accompanied me on a private visit just to drive around the town and see the parish church. I well remember my reaction on walking into the building. Plaster was coming off the walls, the wall paintings were dirty and needed to be restored, there was dark brown paint from the floor rising to about three feet on the walls, the floors were covered with coconut matting. It looked run down. I turned to Eric and said, ‘I can’t come here’. To which he replied, ‘But think what you can do to it!’ The Rectory was enormous but I had to wait before I could see inside it.
I returned to Kenilworth and was invited back to meet the Churchwardens and members of the Standing Committee at ‘Fernbank’, the home of Mr Richard Loake, who had been Churchwarden since 1937. The parish was looking for a young, energetic priest, following the long ministry of the Reverend Ronald Sharpley. He had exchanged livings in 1937 with the Reverend Theobald Augustus Edwards. I well remember that meeting. I asked if the churchyard was full and the Treasurer, Mr Morley said ‘There’s room for the Rector!’ As to the Rectory itself, it was far too large with a garden of four acres. Mr Sharpley, a priest of means, had filled the house with antiques and would open the Rectory to the public once a year and the money raised helped to pay the Diocesan Quota. The Rectory was too large for a young incumbent who had very little furniture to bring with him nor the money to furnish it. I remember the drawing room was 35 feet long. There were six bedrooms on the first floor and seven on the floor above. In any case, the Diocese wanted to sell it and build a new Rectory on one third of an acre of the garden. I was very happy about it. As Rector, I would own a cottage immediately opposite the church, which was literally two up and two down. That suited me and also enabled me to save some money to furnish the new Rectory when it had been built. Becoming a Rector meant that the Church had once owned land. Up until some time in the 40’s the Rector of Burton Latimer had a lot of Glebe, which included a farm. The Rector employed a farm manager. I was told the farm consisted of about 500 acres.
At Burton Latimer there was a connection with my curacy at St Mary’s, Knighton. My colleague at Knighton was the Reverend John Lyner, married to Irene, whose mother-in-law, Mrs Neale, was a cousin of Mr W Downing and was brought up in the cottage at 63 Church Street. Whilst Irene had been brought up in Leicester, her mother came from Burton Latimer where they still had relatives. Her uncle Charles who lived in Victoria Street was the Rector’s Farm Manager before the War. Charles lived to a great age and died in his 90’s. Of course both John and Irene and Irene’s mother were delighted when I was offered the Living and Irene, who had spent many holidays with the family at Burton Latimer was able to tell me a lot about the parish and her family who were staunch members of the Church. When I arrived in 1967 all that was left of the glebe were the allotments near the Preston Hall and a field somewhere on the road to Kettering. I remember the rent for the field was £2 an acre and had not been increased for many years. I put it up to £8 an acre and the farmer did not argue! As to the allotments, following my collation and induction, those who had allotments would come to the Rectory every quarter and pay their rents. It all contributed to my income.
The church had a loyal but small congregation. There was a Baptist and Methodist Church in the Parish of about 5,000 people. It was an ideal parish to cut your teeth on as a new incumbent. I received a very warm welcome at my collation and induction on the 27 June, 1967. My parents drove up from Plymouth to support me as did many people from Kenilworth. Amongst the clergy who attended were the Archdeacon of Oakham, the Venerable Frank Noel Towndrow, and the Vicar of Isham, Canon Geoffrey Carnell. All three of us were, during the course of our ministry, to become Chaplains to The Queen. The Church had a small choir and the organist was Mr Arthur Miller. Included in the Collation were two hymns with tunes not known by the Church and choir.
My predecessor, Mr Sharpley, had written a very nice letter of welcome to the parish in which he said that his legacy to me was the Churchwarden, Richard Loake, who had been Churchwarden since 1937. He also wrote that following my appointment, he would not be able to return to the parish. In my reply, I wrote that he was welcome to come into the parish whenever he wished to visit his friends. In fact we became very good friends and I had coffee with him every Thursday until he was taken ill and died of lung cancer in 1969. I well remember taking the sacrament to him accompanied by Mr Loake on Easter Day and he died hours later. He was buried in the Churchyard.
I settled very easily into the Rectory Cottage and enjoyed the eighteen months I lived there until the new Rectory was built immediately behind the cottages that faced Church Street. The Rectory met all the specifications then applicable to a new home for the incumbent.
Apart from being faced with major restoration and, at the same time, reordering of the interior of the Parish Church, the first thing was to get to know the people of the Church and community, and reorder the liturgy. The question of the Mission Room was something I knew I had to face and did so later in the same year. The Bishop said it had to be done and ‘you have to take the flack’.
The Parish had asked for a young incumbent. I was 33 and certainly had the goodwill of the Standing Committee of the Church. The other Churchwarden was Douglas Ashby, whose knowledge of the history of Burton Latimer and its people was second to none. He too was supportive and a great asset to have around. The congregation at services was small, and there was little point in waiting for people to come to me. I had to go to them. I well remember visiting all the Clubs in the Town on a Friday evening the Conservative Club, The Band Club and the Working Mens’ Club and the public houses where I could stand at the bar meet and talk to people. I like to think that I soon became a familiar figure in the town. Baptisms, weddings and funerals gave pastoral opportunities of meeting people. I visited many members of the congregation in their homes and the people looked to the Rector for leadership.
Services and Changes
The pattern of services I inherited were Holy Communion at 8 am, Matins at 10.30 am, a sung celebration of Holy Communion once a month at 10.30 am, and Evensong at 6 pm.
I well remember a letter, which I think I still have, from Richard Loake welcoming me as the new Rector and adding that he hoped I would maintain the tradition I had inherited! The Forsyte Saga was all the rage on television and many Churches had to change the time of Evensong. However, having inherited the Service at 6 pm we were not affected. At the other end of the town was the Mission Room where Sunday School was held in the morning and Evensong was held each week at 6.30 pm. But I could not be in two places at once and soon found this situation very frustrating. I concentrated on building up the congregation at the Parish Church. Whilst I was brought up as a boy at Crownhill, Plymouth on the same pattern of Services, there had been a move to the Parish Communion being the central act of worship and the main focal point of the coming together of the people of God each week. Within a short space of time, the Parish Communion became the main act of worship on Sunday morning. It was not long before I introduced a weekly leaflet giving details of the Services on a Sunday and what was happening during the week. In this the Secretary to the Parochial Church Council proved to be a very great help. Ralph Aveling and his wife Phyllis were amongst the pillars of the Church and were totally reliable and supportive. Ralph worked at the Offices of Peter Wilson the solicitor, and had access to a duplicating machine. He produced the leaflet each week. The Church had no office and I was living in very small accommodation, so space was limited. Nothing was too much trouble for Ralph in the support he gave me during the whole of the time I was Rector of the Parish.
The other person who held office in the Church was the Treasurer, Mr Albert Morley. There were those who thought we might not get on from the word go. How wrong they were! We hit it off immediately and I got on extremely well with Mrs Morley. Our friendship continued until both Mr and Mrs Morley died. They were great servants of the Church.
By October of 1967 I felt that the two Anglican congregations in the town, worshipping at the Parish Church and at the Mission Room, should become one. The first thing was to talk to the Parochial Church Council and spell out what I felt the future should be for the Church in Burton Latimer. It must be said that over the years a lot of good work had been done at the Mission Room serving the southern end of the town. It had been a small, but lively group of people who worshipped there with an enthusiastic choir led by organist and choir master Philip Mason and a lively Sunday School led by Mrs Winifred Holyoake. They had a good social life with parties and pantomimes, Harvest Suppers etc. For many years the Church Army Officers’ had centred their ministry at the Mission Room. I wished to preserve the work with young people and had no intention to do anything about the work of Mrs Holyoake and the Sunday School. But I felt that there should be one Evensong in the Parish and that should be at the Parish Church. Having explained what I felt to the Parochial Church Council I received one hundred percent support. They backed me to the hilt. What I felt at the time is expressed in a letter which is already on the Burton Latimer website. I shall always be remembered for that decision which, I still believe, was the right one. I certainly made life easier for my successors.
Meanwhile, there was much to done to the Parish Church building itself and I got stuck into this with great enthusiasm and had the encouragement and support of the Parochial Church Council, particularly my good friend Mr Morley who later paid me the greatest of compliments when he said one day, ‘Rector, it is good to be working with a chum’!
The priorities were building up a congregation, making myself known throughout the town. By virtue of being Rector I was Chairman of the Governors of the Church of England Primary School where Mr Pringle was the Headmaster. That gave me contact with many young parents. My visits to the Clubs in the town began to bear fruit. I well remember one Friday evening at the Conservative Club I met the Chairman of the Urban District Council, Dick Cooper. He had just been given a Chain of Office to wear as Chairman. He asked me if I would be prepared to dedicate it at a service at the Parish Church. Of course I was delighted to do so and so began a link with the Urban District Council and an Annual Civic Service. I was very thrilled about this. It was one of the turning points of my ministry as Rector.
Reordering of the Parish Church
Having made the decision over the Mission Room I then turned my energies to the reordering of the Parish Church as the Parish Communion became the central act of worship on a Sunday morning. ‘Where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them’. It made sense for the Altar to be in front of the screen. Moving the screen was out of the question and never entertained, but having an altar in front made a great deal of sense. But the Parochial Church Council and people generally had to be convinced. The idea of a nave altar was something entirely new to the people of Burton Latimer. A faculty was applied for and received and work began. Mr Maurice Patrick provided all the wood for the platform and dais on which the altar stood. He was able to use a quantity of wood from the seats taken from the north aisle. The altar was given to the Church by Canon Roger Davison, Vicar of Higham Ferrers. The carpet was to be green. Altar frontals had to be made and Weetabix very kindly gave these to the Church. They were designed and made by Colin Shrewing, The frontal for the High Altar was an abstract of creation and at the Nave Altar there was a green background, overlaid by brown shaped like the leather hide before cut for shoes with the clicker knife and wheat across the middle. together representing the boot and shoe industry, the farming community and Weetabix itself. Standing at the back of the Church and looking east the two frontals blended one into the other. The Nave Altar was first used in August 1969.
With a lot of work to be done, money had to be found. There was the cost of the reordering and equally important was the restoration of the interior, which was also a priority. So we had a Stewardship Campaign. The Diocese had a Stewardship Director who led it and gave us a lot of help. Much to Mr Morley’s delight as a result of the Campaign we were getting the finances in order, paying our Parish Share, and putting money into the Fabric Fund.
I was a member of Kettering Rotary Club and Kettering Round Table and belonging to both these organisations gave me contact with people outside the Parish but living in the area. Some of them would come to St Mary’s Burton Latimer to one of the special services I would arrange. One special occasion I well remember was inviting our Member of Parliament, Sir Geoffrey de Freitas to speak about the proposed entry of this country into the Common Market. This must have been 1971/2. During the Service Sir Geoffrey spoke and time was provided for members of the congregation to ask questions. I remember it being a success and it brought a lot of publicity to the Church bringing the Church into the community.
In addition to the reordering of the interior of the Church there was the restoration of the building. Before we actually tackled the building I remember looking out of my study window one day and noticed that the weather vane was at an angle. That was an expensive operation but a new one was placed there in 1971. The Church itself contained unique wall paintings which had not been touched since 1933 when Professor Tristam had restored them. Now they were dirty and in danger of flaking. Single bulbs hanging from the arches lit the Church. The coconut matting on the floor was removed soon after my arrival and the floor was scrubbed.
In 1969 I moved into the new Rectory and the Bishop of Peterborough came over to Burton Latimer and dedicated my new home. Mr Morley said to me one day, ‘Rector, if you look after the people of this parish, I will help look after your garden’. I kept my part of the bargain and Mr Morley did a wonderful job in keeping the garden tidy and planted vegetables for me. Mr Richard Loake planted a beech hedge at the front of the Rectory and Mrs M O V Gardiner gave me a yucca plant, which was planted outside the dining room window.
Restoration of Church
So much happened in such a comparatively short space of time in the history of the Church. Plans were drawn up by the architect for the restoration of the interior, which included stripping the walls and restoring the paintings and installing new lighting. We were fortunate in receiving a Grant from the Pilgrim Trust and a plaque, situated on the north wall near the entrance records our gratitude to the Trust. Mrs Eve Baker came to Burton Latimer to restore the paintings and brought her husband, Professor Baker and students with her. Some paintings were cleaned on the wall, but at least two were covered with a gauze, a liquid placed on the gauze and the painting was removed. Under one painting evidence of an earlier one was found. The paintings, which had been removed were placed on a board and put back on to the wall. Slaked lime and skimmed milk were used for the repainting of the walls. Rust from central heating pipes was added to take the glare off the whiteness. The font was brought forward at the west end and a lovely memorial, which had been in the tower was placed on the south wall for everyone to see. By 1972 the whole of the interior had been cleaned, including the organ, restored and reordered and there were many events arranged over a period to celebrate all that had been achieved culminating in a Service of Rededication in September 1972. There is a recording of that Service which I hope will never be lost. We had a Year of Opportunity for Church and Community. The radio programme ‘Down Your Way’ came to Burton Latimer.
In all this I was a single-handed priest but in 1969 a school headmaster, Revd Roger Knight, moved to the town and became an Assistant Priest. I took little part in Diocesan affairs but I concentrated on the job I had been given to do, building up a congregation and restoring and reordering the Church building. One of my lasting memories was standing with Richard Loake at the back of the Church on the eve of the Service of Thanksgiving. He was such a wonderful friend and support and all that had been achieved gave him so much pleasure as it did to Mr Morley and others who had stood with me and supported me. There are many people I remember with gratitude and affection for their support whilst I was Rector and without whose help I would never have been able to achieve all that I did.
St James the Greater, Leicester
The following January the Bishop of Leicester telephoned and invited me to become Vicar of St James the Greater, Leicester. It was one of Leicester’s best-known churches, situated on the edge of the City, opposite Victoria Park. It had been threatened with closure in the 50’s but the Reverend Lawrence Jackson, a priest with great charisma who was appointed in 1959 exercised a remarkable ministry. The Church began to fill and had one of the largest congregations in the Diocese by the time Lawrence moved to Coventry in 1965. The building was a copy of Torcello Cathedral on the Venetian lagoon and had been the inspiration of Bishop Mandell Creighton, Bishop of Peterborough. I remained at the church until 1992.
Provost of Leicester Cathedral
I became Provost of Leicester Cathedral in 1992 and remained in this post until 1999 when I retired and was then appointed Provost Emeritus of the Cathedral.