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This is from a Birmingham parish magazine that his father sent to Martin Parsons, with a message that it should be given to David, in case David was interested in the grandfather he would never know. He was living in Weston-super-Mare, in poor health, and David was in Warsaw. He died at the age of 72 in July 1937, 4½ months after David was born.
SOME MEMORIES OF S. JUDE'S FORTY-SEVEN YEARS AGO.The Vicar has very kindly invited me to write for the magazine something about S. Jude's as I remember it forty-seven years ago.
The Vicar at that time was the Rev. T. G. Watton, to whom I was introduced by the Rev. F. S. Webster, then Rector of S. Thomas", Bath Row.
Towards the end of the year 1889 I was nearing the close of my college life, and was looking out for a curacy. I still have the letter from Mr. Webster, dated October 31st, 1889, in which he wrote, "I am glad to say I have met with a first-rate opening for you as Curate. The Rev. T. G. Watton, of S. Jude's, Birmingham, is as good a Vicar as could be had. He has a full church of working and middle-class people, and he is one of the most beloved clergy in Birmingham."
By the same post came a letter from Mr. Watton, asking me if I would like to come to Birmingham. A day was fixed for an interview, and the curacy was offered, and accepted. I have never regretted the decision. [He doesn't mention that he later married the Vicar's daughter Evelyn!]
I was ordained in Worcester Cathedral by Bishop Philpott, on March 2nd, 1890. The service was doubly interesting to me, as my Vicar had been chosen by the Bishop to preach the Ordination sermom. The following day I began my parochial duties by giving the address and the Mothers' Meeting at the Inge Street Mission Hall.
I remained at S. Jude's until Mr. Watton left for Richard's Castle in 1892, and was in charge of the parish for three months until the new Vicar arrived. I then became Curate of S. Martin's under Dr. Wilkinson.
I can truthfully say that the two-and-a-half years spent at S. Jude's were among the happiest days of my life.
[St Jude's was in Hill St, opposite Hinckley Street. It was consecrated in 1846, designed by Orford & Nash. In 1943 the population of the parish was 2385. It was demolished in 1971.]
Parts of the parish were rather slummy, and some of the courts were certainly unsavoury. Many of the houses in Hurst Street, Inge Street and Thorp Street were occupied by foreign Jews. There was much poverty, for old-age pensions and widows' pensions were then unknown. I knew poor widows who made matchboxes at home, and others who sewed buttons on cards, and had to work twelve hours a day to make a bare living. It is good to know that such conditions do not exist to-day.
The congregation on Sundays consisted largely of non-parishioners, some of whom came long distances, from Moseley, Small Heath, Sparkbrook, Selly Oak and Edgbaston. The Vicar was himself a Birmingham man, and thoroughly understood his people, and there was a family feeling such as I have not known in any other parish. The service was very simple in all its details. A mixed choir sat by the organ at the West end. The reading desk faced the people. In many churches to-day there are two distinct congregations, one in the morning and one in the evening; but at S. Jude's the great majority were in the habit of coming twice every Sunday.
I was given charge of a Men's Bible Class, and had about fifty men every Sunday afternoon. Mr. Fred. Roberts had a Bible Class for young men, and his brother, Mr. William Roberts, was Superintendent of the Boys' Sunday School. The Vicar had a Bible Class for men and women every Monday evening, and had a wonderful attendance. We had a service in church on Wednesday evenings and a Mission Service at Inge Street, on Thursday evenings. A fortnightly working party was held in the Mission Hall at which the clergy usually looked in for tea. Once a year a Sale of Work was held on behalf of the upkeep of the Mission Hall. We had a large staff of devoted Sunday School teachers, both at Hill Street and at Inge Street. The Infant School was held at Inge Street, and the numbers were over 300. A Girls' Sewing Class was held at Inge Street on Tuesday evenings, and a Mothers' Meeting on Monday afternoons.
The Vicar laid great stress on the value of visiting. Every Monday morning he met his staff, curate, lay reader and lady worker (called in those days "Bible woman") in the Vestry, when he received reports of their visiting during the past week, and arranged their work for the following week: There were always many sick to be visited, tuberculosis being very common. This was no wonder, considering the many back-to-back houses then existing. No parish was ever visited more thoroughly and systematically. I soon got to know every street and court, and most of the people.
One of the great events of the year was the Annual Congregational Tea Party in the Town Hall. There was no room in the parish large enough to hold the crowds that came. The ladies of the congregation met in the morning to prepare the tables, etc. After tea there was an entertainment and speeches, and the whole affair was marked by great enthusiasm. We had a splendid body of workers, and it is interesting to record that three of our Sunday School teachers became ordained and went to the Mission field: H. J. Smith to India, G. W. Rawlings and G. C. Niven to Japan.
Birmingham was an interesting place. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was a great personality. I heard him speak in the Town Hall on several occasions, and there also I heard Lord Rosebery and Lord Salisbury. Like most places the city has seen great changes. The old steam tram-cars that used to go puffing through the streets would look very strange to-day. The people now are better housed, better fed and better educated. When I took weddings at S. Jude's I usually had to put the question in the vestry, "Can you write ? " and frequently the answer would be "No." If you could see the registers of 1890 - 1892 you would find many crosses instead of signatures, "John Smith X his mark." These people were born before the Education Act of 1870.
We seldom saw a Bishop in Birmingham, for Bishop Philpott was old, and lived far away at Hartlebury. Confirmations were few, and hundreds of candidates were confirmed at one time. I have seen S. Martin's Church crowded for a Confirmation Service. But Bishop Perowne (who ordained me priest) changed all that. He refused to confirm more than a certain number at one service, and increased the number of services. He also came frequently to preside at meetings in the Town Hall, and he appointed Canon Bowlby, Rector of S. Philip's, to be his suffr'agan, with the title of the Bishop of Coventry. So we were made more conscious of the fact that we belonged to an Episcopal Church.
I remember one interesting baptism at S. Jude's. An infant had been found on December 21st (S. Thomas" Day) lying on the Church doorstep. Nobody claimed it, so a kind-hearted couple who had no children of their own, adopted it. They brought it to be baptised, and the name given was "Thomas S. Jude," thus commemorating the date and place of its discovery. Of the Birmingham incumbents of 1890 there are very few now living. Canon Tredennick is the only one still in active work in the same parish. Canon Mansfield Owen is now Dean of Ripon. Canon Foster Pegg is living in retirement at Bath, the Rev. Brian Weeks at Dawlish, and I believe my old friend, the Rev. R. Bren, still resides in Birmingham. Bishop Knox and the Rev. A. R. Runnels-Moss have departed quite recently. And I think of many other once well-known names :- Wilkinson, Webster, Sutton, Laporte Payne, Tirebuck, Mills, Sowter, Strange, Blissard, Waller, Ivens, Butlin, and others, who have all passed on.
The last time I saw Birmingham was in 1910, and it is improbable that I shall ever see it again. If I could walk through the old familiar streets I should see many changes and should feel an utter stranger, not knowing a single person, and passing unrecognised by all. That is the inevitable experience of all who have passed the "allotted span" of human life. "All that generation were gathered to their fathers, and there arose another generation after them." But it is pleasant to recall the memories of the past, and we should not forget what we owe to those who have gone before us. The Christian Faith has been handed down to us by our predecessors. May the present generation be kept true to the Faith of our fathers, and hand on the torch to those who come after.
I have only one other thing to say. Many Birmingham people come as visitors to Weston-super-Mare. If any reader of these lines who may remember the young" curate who came to S. Jude's in 1890 should visit Weston, I should be very glad to see him, or her, at 12, Clarence Grove Road. The young curate is now a grey-haired old man, and in feeble health, but he still thinks of S. Jude's, Birmingham, with very warm and affectionate interest.
W. H. Parsons.