«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 ...»
In order to get 'a more suitable and attractive service', the committee recommended that the boys should control it and help to conduct it (under guidance, of course). They should decide on the topics, the speakers should often be changed, and there should be 'an entire absence of stiffness and formality'. This meant in effect some form of non-Eucharistic worship. The suggestion was therefore at odds with the main thrust of the clergy's teaching.
...AND STOPS What actually was done was that an Advent Social was arranged; a Children's Corner put into the church; twelve boys were trained as servers; and the S.Luke's Guild founded for young communicants between fourteen and eighteen. The Guild met every Thursday evening. The response was so encouraging that in October 1930 a senior guild was started for those over eighteen who had not wanted to leave. Almost at once, numbers in both sections dropped. No one knew why.
The one question nobody had asked was why there had been so many youngsters around in the first place. It was assumed that it was because of the Faith. But the real reasons may have been quite different: heavy and sustained parish visiting, post-war optimism, quite a lot of success, lack of competition, good habits. The truth was that S.Luke's was beginning to level out.
But by 1923, whilst Tomkinson was still Vicar, people were beginning to ask whether S.Luke's could afford to continue its support. There was a budget of £125 a year. An interim statement of account that summer showed that there was likely to be a bad shortfall. So far, church collections had accounted for £26; subscriptions had brought in £15; a dance raised 11 guineas; and the patients themselves had paid only £8 10s 3d.
In the end there was not a deficit: but the little crisis had set people thinking. By the beginning of 1926 S.Luke's had begun to withdraw from the nursing venture. There was to be a Provident Nursing Association that would be independent of the church and spread throughout Eltham. Only subscribers would be able to use it, though for a modest 2d a week plus fees. Within a year, the parish had severed its connections altogether and the 'S.Luke's Nurse' was a thing of the past.
OVERSTRETCHINGGradually the fear was growing that the church had bitten off more than it could chew. Everard Hesketh had for a long time been a supporter of the regular giving scheme called 'Duplex'. One of his constant worries was that S.Luke's was not standing on its own feet but depending on the generosity of a few people like him. At his urging and, as he put it, 'as an act of faith', loose collections were abandoned in 1926 and the 46 congregation urged to join the envelope scheme. It never worked well. In 1928 only 158 out of an electoral roll of 708 had become Duplex contributors. Retiring collections had to be introduced to make up the shortfall. By 1931, loose collections were back for good.
Things were not generally easy in the later twenties. The hall had cost a tremendous sum: £3,766 15s 10d in the end. Paying the curate was becoming a problem —in 1930 there was a £70 shortfall on his account as well. That year the PCC books were £102 in the red. Three years later the deficit was £238. Reserves had to be drawn on. "There is no doubt,' said Langridge in 1929, 'that we are as a congregation not so well off as we were a few years ago.' The Sunday School treat had to be abandoned: the fare to Herne Bay was three shillings, but only a quarter of the scholars could afford it. From 1930 the Easter offering dropped and continued to drop. The hut was sub-let to the scouts in an attempt to cut expenses: the church had wanted to give it to the Royal Eltham Scouts Association back in 1928 in an attempt to get out of spending £250 on plumbing, but the scouts had declined. The verger resigned because his wages were reduced by ten shillings a week in consequence.
The future of a third of the parish's area was in doubt. The Government Huts had never been intended to be permanent. Gradually they were being sold off to private companies, with an eye to redevelopment. Of course, the huts would be replaced with other, better houses. No one could expect that the population would remain the same. New inhabitants might turn out to be richer, but they would certainly not be as numerous.
Most unsettling of all, some of the old stalwarts, big contributors through Duplex, were no longer in evidence: some had died, others like Hesketh were moving away. Subscribers dropped in 1931 from 186 to 160. S.Luke's was finally beginning to lose the support of the rich outsiders who had drifted to her ten and twenty years earlier.
CHURCH COMPLETION ONCE MOREEaster communicants were dropping. The pressure on seating was therefore less. The foundations of the old hall were beginning to give trouble. Yet this was the very moment at which the PCC decided to build the south aisle, at an estimated cost of £7,000. We must ask why.
There may be two answers. First, if you have approaching £4,000 in a special deposit account that has patiently been gathering interest for ten years, then it is not easy to turn it to other uses. Couple it with promised grants in the region of £2,500, and only a few hundreds of new money would have to be found.
Secondly, and perhaps more important, there was the psychology.
Numbers were not as high as they had been, but they were still very high.
In no sense did S.Luke's look 'unsuccessful'. To abandon the project of completing the church would raise eyebrows inside and outside the parish.
For the past 25 years S.Luke's had been a growing concern. That growth had raised all sorts of expectations.
Since 1904 expectations had been expressed as bricks and mortar. In February 1930, and again two years later, the final appeal was launched.
The completed church as Tolhurst intended
PLANNING THE EXTENSIONA SLIGHT hitch came to light when the PCC realised that, since the recent removal both of Mr Hesketh and of the PCC Secretary Miss Staig, no-one knew exactly what papers were where, and how much had been paid to the architect on account.
With that eventually sorted out, the business of revising plans could begin.
The new aim was to construct a south aisle. Baptistery, Lady Chapel and vestries by way of new work. The existing building was to have lavatories installed in the old downstairs vestry; and the archway between the upstairs vestry and the organ was to be blocked in. The 60 foot tower that Tolhurst, like Temple Moore before him, had originally wanted to provide, was to be left out, at an estimated saving of £2,184. This was not to the taste of some people and the plan had its opponents. But the PCC approved the revised plans in October 1932 with 17 out of 24 members in favour.
THE PROBLEM OF A VICARAGETo complicate matters, at this very moment another long-deferred problem raised its untimely head. Like his two predecessors, Langridge had not got a permanent vicarage. He had to find his own accommodation: first in two rooms at 173 Westmount Road, and later at 141. By 1933 he was a married man with two small daughters. He felt that he wanted somewhere more suitable to live.
The original intention at S.Luke's had been for the vicarage to be next to the church, but this was an idea abandoned almost at once. Instead, in 1914 the plot of land on the corner of Crookston Road and Westmount Road had been bought for £400. It is ironic that, with so many estate agents connected with the church, the land should have turned out to be badly waterlogged and therefore unsuitable for building.
In March 1933 the pre-Corbett Park House came on to the market and an inspection was made. The Diocesan Surveyor was quite impressed with it, but the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were not. It was old and it was huge.
More promising was 44 Westmount Road, which had come on the market for £1500. Doing anything at all on the vicarage site would cost over twice as much as that. Both the Commissioners and the Bishop of Southwark thought that the purchase of 44 Westmount Road should go ahead.
The Vicar called a special PCC meeting in July and put the matter before them. He said that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners would provide £400;
another £400 might possibly come from the sale of the site. There was only £25 in the vicarage fund, but there was another £340 in a contingency fund.
The parish would have to find only another £300. There was £120 over in the church extension fund: this could become the new contingency fund.
When it came to the vote, the PCC could not agree. For the first time there was a tie. Six days later eleven dissatisfied members called a second special meeting. This time the vote was much clearer. Not only was it emphatically against buying a vicarage: it was almost as emphatically against the Vicar.
Too much was being asked of everyone. Not even the remonstrations of the Bishop of Woolwich two months later could sway them. It is very obvious that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, S.Luke's was not only running out of money, she was running out of steam.
… AND OF THE OLD HALL Whilst not jerrybuilt, the Hall of 1904 had not been meant as a great permanent structure. The foundations were scanty, and by this same summer of 1933 they had been causing problems for three years, though the PCC had constantly put off coming to a decision.
Suddenly, big cracks began to appear in the east wall, and the keystone over the east door had to be shored up. The architect could see that underpinning would be of no real use and that the whole east wall would have to be reconstructed on a bed of ferrous concrete. It would cost £394. The PCC felt this was more than they could afford.
The District Surveyor, who had got wind of the situation, forced their hand.
He wrote on September 22nd to say that unless work began within four days, he would serve a dangerous structure notice.
With the vicarage business on the one hand and the south aisle on the other, this indignity was nearly the last straw. Somehow the money was found, and three-quarters of the old hall survives to this day.
THE SOUTH AISLE COMPLETEBut by this time people's reserves were getting low. In an increasingly frantic effort to cut costs, PCC made their most inconvenient decision ever, and abandoned the plan to put a lavatory in the old lower vestry and reposition the stairs: a modest £60 was saved. It has taken us sixty years and £10,000 to remedy it. On the other hand, a new font was needed for £70, and that was purchased.
Mansells of Croydon won the tender, and undertook to provide everything including furniture for £6,076 10s —£900 less than anyone had expected.
Whether this affected the quality of workmanship is a moot point. There is no doubt that, whatever the reasons, over the past 60 years the south aisle and vestries have caused more structural problems than the rest of the church.
The faculty (which included permission for lavatories) was duly applied for, and work started in August 1933. By 17 February 1934, the whole thing was finished and the Dedication Service held, with friends old and new filling the church. S.Luke's was 'completed' after 30 years and could now seat
700. The church and hall complex was the biggest of any Anglican Church in the area.
GREAT CHANGESAll that was wanted now was people to fill it. The area was on the brink of yet another enormous change. The government hutments were coming down, and Bilton and Morrell houses were going up. The process was to go on throughout the thirties. The parish registers suggest that the new arrivals came from slightly higher up the social spectrum: white and blue collar instead of manual workers. The big point was, however, that the population of the parish was now between 9,000 and 10,000 —two-thirds of what it had been in 1920.
It is both sad and ironic that church completion had come just at this moment. S.Luke's had been planned by Victorians; she had expanded under the special pressures of war; now she was entering a completely new era. There were fewer adults and fewer children. No longer could you assume that people would want to come to church as a matter of course. Adapting to these new conditions was to prove the greatest challenge of all.
A 'NORMAL' PARISH With the building of the south aisle, the great days of S.Luke's were over.
PCC meetings now became rather mundane affairs: there were few major decisions to be made. The wealthier and able outsiders, who had contributed so much in the past, had begun to fall away and were not replaced. S.Luke's was quickly becoming an 'normal' parish.
Within the year Fr Langridge himself was on the move. He was a tired man.
For nearly a decade he had tried to meet expectations that were becoming less and less realistic. His task cannot have been made any easier by the fact that he clearly shared those expectations himself.
His achievement was considerable: he had been the one to put the original
vision into bricks and mortar. His failure was that of virtually everyone else:
he did not read the signs of the times. Yet how could he have done? He had no way of knowing that he and his people were at the beginning of a new, and some would say a downward, trend.
He did not wait for preferment. Instead he arranged to exchange livings
with the Reverend Frederick Bacheldor AKC, the Vicar of Par in Cornwall:
significantly a quieter spot.
ANTICLIMAX PRE-WAR FATHER Bacheldor's biggest problem was that he came to a parish that was feeling a little blank and more than a little tired. Everything that they had worked for they had now achieved. Adjusting to this was not easy for anyone, least of all for the new priest.