«GROWTH IN A PARISH SAINT LUKE ELTHAM PARK 1904—1940 J.C. Thewlis BA PHD Walter Rowley Herbert Tomkinson MA Walter Langridge MA Frederick Bacheldor ...»
Walter Osborn Langridge Frederick Bacheldor Walter Pountney Rowley as temple Moore wanted it as it was built Vicar, first churchwardens and sidesmen Vyvyan is on the Vicar's right, Hesketh is fourth from the left This was an age when Temperance principles were still very general. The Band of Hope was the junior branch, and it met 50 strong in the hall on Tuesday evenings. Numbers seem to have fluctuated quite seriously. Modem youth-workers should take heart from the fact that the leader in 1909 wrote in the parish magazine that he could not be held responsible for the bad behaviour of his boy members in the street!
Less obviously religious was the Young Men's Social Club, which opened in November 1909 for church members of fifteen years and over, and which started off with 25 members. There was a Mothers' Meeting every Monday afternoon: in 1911 it became a branch of the Mothers Union. A Ladies' Working Party met every Wednesday afternoon. The needs of the wider church were tackled through a thriving Missionary Association.
Of more general interest were the lectures on the outlines of English history, given in 1905 on alternate Wednesdays by Lieutenant Chamberlain RN;
some talks on the Zulu War; and in May 1912 an 'Entertainment in Aid of the Titanic Disaster Fund', which raised £12 9s.
The sole venture into the realm of politics came with Lloyd George's proposals to disestablish the Church of Wales. The Vicar wrote vehemently against the measure and he organised several meetings.
OVERWORK Rowley worked extremely hard. He had the ability to attract talented people and to inspire an immense amount of love and loyalty. Photographs show him to be white-haired and serious. Memories after 70 years are not always reliable, but certainly towards the end of his ministry here he was less than light-hearted.
He did not work alone, and he could always depend upon his district visitors. By 1912 there were nine of them, covering Grange Hill, Deansfield, Dumbreck, Elibank, Craigton and Dairsie roads. Fr Gill during his brief ministry in 1914 said that he had never come across 'such a splendid band of willing workers' as he had found at S.Luke's.
From April 1909 until May 1913, Deaconess Mary of the Rochester and Southwark Order of Deaconesses helped the Vicar. According to the rules of the time, that help had to be pastoral and not liturgical. Rowley was responsible for finding £20 of her annual stipend: in 1913 he was driven to organising a Jumble Sale to raise the sum.
The heavy burden of all the preaching, catechising and worship therefore fell upon the Vicar. We should remember that he belonged to a generation that set a high value on pulpit eloquence —and eloquence takes a good deal of preparation. Shortly before his resignation he is to be found complaining in the parish magazine that he really should not have to be going round to seek out confirmation candidates: the parents of candidates should be seeking him.
In February 1911 he felt the work was getting too much for one man, and he appealed to the parish for £40 a year towards the cost of an assistant priest.
The parish found the money readily enough, but neither the Ecclesiastical Commissioners nor the Additional Curates Society could at that time give any grants. Rowley was left to carry on as before.
His health was quite obviously breaking down. The parish registers show several unexplained patches of erratic handwriting. Each year he took the month of August as a holiday, and went off to Ireland or Austria. But first Mrs Rowley began to stay away for an extra month or so; and then in 1913 the Vicar himself had to prolong his holiday. By December of that year he had become so ill that he had to take six months' sick leave.
FR ROWLEY'S DEPARTURE
When in 1915 the population of the parish doubled and tripled within the space of a few months, Rowley quickly realised that he was no longer the man for the job. Fields where the Royal Artillery had exercised and manoeuvred their gun carriages were about to be built over. The Progress Estate and the Government huts were a vast new challenge that called for a much younger man. The screen, a particular project for both him and his wife, had been installed. It was time to move. He had been offered the rectory of West Heslerton in the archdiocese of York, and he decided to accept it. Harvest Festival on 25 September 1915 was his last Sunday in Eltham.
Though he never used the tide, W.P. Rowley deserves to be called Father more than most. S.Luke's owes more to him, perhaps, than to anyone else.
He started his ministry in a bedroom and ended up in a fine church. Easter communicants had numbered 85 in 1905 and 252 in 1913. There was a soundly based congregation and a lot of outside help and support. He had taught the Faith and begun a sacramental tradition that his successors have under God been able to develop and strengthen.
Above all he loved his people and his people loved and valued him. At a farewell ceremony he was presented not only with a silver salver but also a cheque for 100 guineas —equivalent to a year's income for some of his parishioners. Both gifts, according to the press report, caused him very great emotion. If he was leaving his successor an enormous task, he was also leaving him a good inheritance.
The expanded parish in 1916
A NEW CHALLENGE
THE NEW VICARWITHIN a very few weeks of Fr Rowley's departure his successor had been appointed and inducted. Herbert Frederick Tomkinson MA began his ministry at S.Luke's on 25 November 1915. Ordained in 1906 and previously curate at the big parish churches in Croydon and Lambeth, he came to his first living with all the enthusiasm of an energetic and eligible bachelor in his very early thirties.
He was also, as they used to say, 'better connected' than his predecessor. He seems to have had an income of his own (his father was a successful stockbroker). His mother was for a time the honorary president of the Mothers
Union, and her 'fireside chats' in the parish magazine show a grand and condescending lady. He himself was a Cambridge graduate in classics and theology, and the author of the popular confirmation manual My Prayer Book:
for Men and Boys. To modem eyes it seems a very dated work that speaks of scout camps and army barracks. But it is firmly sacramental. In this respect the tradition of the parish was not going to alter very much.
AN ORGANIZERHis letters in the parish magazine show an important difference. Where Rowley had exhorted, Tomkinson gave statistics. He was a gifted organiser with clear ideas of what needed to be done. He was going to be in his element as the population of the parish expanded.
Like his predecessor, he worked very hard. He was a busy man and intended to be at the head of a busy parish. In Easter week 1917 he wrote 78 letters, made nineteen visits, gave eleven interviews, attended three meetings, performed two weddings and two baptisms, gave one confirmation class, attended the choir practice, was present at six services and entertained a total of seventeen guests at mealtimes. Unlike his predecessor, he said so in the magazine.
NEW RESOURCESAnd also unlike his predecessor he did not work alone. He brought with him to the parish his friend and fellow-curate at Croydon, Maitland T. Dodds MA. They set up house at 13 Elderslie Road and afterwards at 59 Glenesk Road, and shared the work of the parish between them. Dodds had spent a year as an army chaplain, and knew at first hand much of what was being suffered by the men who had been called away from home. He also had a vast popularity with the young men and boys of the parish, notoriously one of the most difficult areas of ministry.
Because the war had meant that missionaries on furlough could not very easily return to their duties abroad, S.Luke's had the benefit of three women workers, one for the Progress Estate and two for the huts. For the same reason, funds were available for yet another assistant priest. The Reverend H.M. Hadrill MA joined the staff in the autumn of 1917. Deaconess Grace had arrived the previous year. There were now two licensed lay readers as well. Teaching and visiting were still the two foundations of parish work, and Tomkinson was very fortunate that there was now a large enough staff to cope.
MORE HELP FROM OUTSIDEWe tend to think of lay ministry as a recent invention, but this is not the case. As well as his team of six professionals, Tomkinson had the services of a great army of visitors, helpers, teachers, scouters, monitors and church officers. The number of district visitors increased dramatically. Their name was changed, perhaps significantly, to Lady Visitors. Armed with copies of the parish magazine they put a human face on S.Luke's by visiting the houses in their areas. By August 1917 the circulation of the parish magazine had risen from 370 to over 1,000.
But it is just as obvious that the Lady Visitors very rarely lived in the roads for which they were responsible. The Vicar was still finding so many of his key people from outside the parish.
This continued appeal to outsiders was a major factor in Tomkinson's success. There can be no doubt that his 'eligibility', and that of Dodds, helped as much as his energy... But there were other factors too. S.John's seems to have been a somewhat aloof church. Fr Hall at Holy Trinity was not to everyone's taste. Wealthier Eltham residents seemed happy to come to S.Luke's. So with such a large staff, the special conditions of a war, and Fr Rowley's legacy, it is not surprising that success bred success and numbers increased.
MORE NEW HOUSESThere was a difficult task ahead. The Progress Estate had been started in January 1915 and was finished by the end of the year. The Government huts were announced in September and completed within twelve months. The stable population of about 4.000 had doubled and tripled.
It was also a rather different sort of population. There was of course full employment —these were homes for arsenal workers. Yet certainly amongst the huts in particular there were real social problems: people uprooted from all over England, numerous children and a good deal of sickness. Rowley had never baptised more than 57 children in any year, and in 1914 there had been only 32. But in 1916 the figure had rocketed to 125 and to 208 by 1917. Adult baptisms appeared more frequently, and it was not uncommon for whole families to be baptised at once. The explanation for this sudden upsurge can only be intensive visiting perhaps backed up by the fear of war. Weddings were also more frequent: ten in 1915, 29 in 1916,42 in 1917.
On top of all this, soldiers and young women munitions workers were in billets and lodgings. There were air raids. A bomb was dropped at 215 Grangehill Road, though happily there were no casualties. Though the Gordon School was a favourite place of refuge when the alarm was sounded, the church was used as well —a matter of real importance for people living in the prefabricated huts. A military hospital was nearby. The Church's opportunity was greater than it had ever been.
FIRST STEPS Tomkinson made certain obvious changes straight away. Visiting preachers became more frequent, amongst them his brother Cyril. A War Corner was set up near the font with a list of those serving, together with a fine crucifix and lamp found in a junk shop by Mr Atkin-Berry, one of the lay readers. In June 1916 an appeal for a new organ was launched, and despite the war it was bought and installed within a year by Noterman, with the aid of Belgian refugees. Its rather eccentric construction —it was apparently made out of three other instruments— suggests that money was tight. Because the hand bellows were so heavy to use, the organist Mr Homier with great ingenuity designed and installed a hydraulic blowing device, of which traces can still be seen.
Matins and Evensong were still the most popular services. Monthly communion was what most people expected. Communicants at 8 and 12.15 increased fairly slowly and certainly not as fast as the population was rising.
Rowley's tradition of a weekday Eucharist was built upon, and by 1918 there were celebrations each Tuesday at 8 and each Thursday at 9.15, though numbers stayed low.
The new Vicar was not as 'moderate' as some of the congregation might have thought. Confessions now occasionally appeared in the register of services. The Blessed Sacrament was reserved in Temple Moore's aumbry.
What went on in the Children's Church in the hall was obviously pretty 'high'.
Above all, Tomkinson knew that Matins and Evensong did not have much appeal for the young. So in January 1916 he introduced a 'Parish Communion' at 9 o'clock once a month in place of the celebration at 8. In the same way in June 1918 Matins on the third Sunday was replaced with a Choral Eucharist. It was through these means that communicant numbers began to rise.
CHILDREN'S & YOUNG PEOPLE'S SERVICESThe biggest growth points were with the young. A small silver cross was presented to each child who could recite to a teacher the Collect of the day.
About a year after his arrival Tomkinson set up the Children's Church. It met in the hall at 10.30 every Sunday for shortened Matins (!) and once a month for a Children's Sung Eucharist. It used the sanctuary that Father Rowley and his flock had used in 1904. There was a warden, for many years Mr S.M.Home; there were organist, choir, servers, sidesmen and a registrar. There were portable lights, candlesticks, a processional cross and an altar cross, a sacring bell and several frontals. Throughout the 1920s Children's Church attracted and kept the loyal support of well over 120 worshippers of various ages.
Confirmation was at the age of thirteen. Then, of course, began the hard struggle of how to hold the youngsters afterwards. In 1919 a Young People's Service was started. It catered for the fourteen to 20 year olds, and was held in church every Sunday afternoon at 3. One Sunday a month was devoted to 'World Problems', and often a special speaker was brought in.