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ST CHAD’S, EVINGTON, LEICESTER, THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS 1922 – 1972

FIFTY YEARS AT ST. CHAD’S

On a fine and lovely afternoon, 21st May 1922 (Rogation Sunday), clergy and robed choirs from neighbouring Anglican Churches met together on the land adjoining a tiny, recently erected church to announce to the people living round about that at 8. 0’clock the following day, Monday, 22nd May 1922, the new church would be dedicated, and the first Conventional District in the Deanery of Leicester formed – to be known as the Ecclesiastical District of St. Chad, Coleman Road.

The original building (which we now know as the Iron Room) was the small ‘tin’ chapel from the Base Hospital, on the site of the present Wyggeston Boys Grammar School.

By seven o’clock on the Monday evening excitement was rife, and amid scenes of great activity a char-a-banc arrived with clergy, choir and congregation from the Parish of Saint John the Baptist, Clarendon Park for it was their Curate, the Reverend C.G.Thornton, who was to be admitted as Priest-in-Charge of Saint Chad’s. That great soldier of Christ, Bishop Theodore Wood (then Bishop of Peterborough) officiated. The small church was packed to capacity, and the service was very impressive. One felt honoured and fortunate to have been present at the first service ever to be held at Saint Chad’s, Coleman Road.

There were no cups of tea afterwards, because there was neither room nor convenience for such hospitality, but the atmosphere was charged with something so inspiring that it can never be entirely forgotten by those who took part in that service of dedication.

Holy communion was celebrated for the first time at Saint Chad’s on the following Thursday, which was Ascension Day, at 6am. Six people were present to receive the Sacrament.

Originally, Sunday Services were:

8.00 am   Holy Communion

11.00am Sung Eucharist

6.30pm   Evensong.

All were well attended. As there were only 52 chairs for congregation and choir, it was essential to arrive at Church very early on Sunday evenings, in order to get a seat. Often and often chairs had to be borrowed from friendly houses and returned after the service. To introduce a lighter note . . . no water was laid on at that time, and when Christenings came along, a small utensil, round, with a handle at either side, placed on a table at the back of the little church, had to do duty as a font. Mr. Thornton confessed to having ‘frivolous’ thoughts sometimes!

What pioneering days they were!

The first Church wardens were Mr. Colin Howitt and Mr. Bertie Bland.

The first organist was a young man named Louis Higginson. At one time he installed his own organ, the church harmonium went wrong! But in due course he went to college and the Church acquired an organ on its own.

During the early months a choir was recruited, and it appeared robed for the first time on Palm Sunday 1923.

Servers were trained and robed.

The first Verger was a Mr. Rood, who lived opposite the church in Coleman Road, and whose family became Sunday School Teachers, Superintendants and Choristers, playing a prominent part in the life of the young St. Chad’s. I can remember that Mr. Reed very fruitfully visited every house in the District with an invitation to come to Church. Be it noted that he wore his verger’s gown for services.

The Parochial Church Council first met in 1923.

About that time we bought a further hundred wooden chairs at 7/6d. each, and the Churchwardens’ Staves. Many were the gifts gratefully accepted by the new Church, among them being a silver Processional Cross, given by personal friends of Mr. Thornton in token of their engagement. (Their initials can be seen on the back). This cross was carried for the first time on Palm Sunday 1923, and it is still in use today. A Sanctuary Lamp was also presented, this hung in the chancel for many years, reminding worshippers of the love and faith of the original donors. One can go on recounting gifts of beauty. Mrs. Stokes, a beloved member of the Church, made a congregational banner, which was carried reverently in procession for several decades. But time took its toll, and eventually the banner proved beyond repair.

It soon became obvious that more space was needed for an expanding congregation, and so on October 13th of that first year, 1922, the foundation stone of the Church Hall was laid by Major Freer – another milestone in the history of St. Chad’s. It was a delightful Sunday afternoon, and a large crowd had forgathered. Unfortunately, the occasion was slightly marred by a protest (from a member of The Lord’s Day Observance Society). “I protest at the laying of a foundation stone on the Sabbath,” he cried. Herbert Howitt, standing near him, quietly told him that it was a religious ceremony, and asked him to go away – which he did. Nothing more was said or done in the matter.

The collection, augmented by the proceeds of various happy house parties, amounted to £13.00 (quite a sum in those days!), and with this the original bell, cast at Loughborough Bell Foundry, was bought. At first the Verger had to stand outside to ring the bell for services, and he said it was truly amazing how the sound travelled and resounded throughout the district – particularly on frosty mornings. Later the bell was moved and a bell tower added.

The weeks and months passed quickly by, and soon the new building was ready for use. The hall was divided into three sections, which could be used for various functions, but the central section formed an extension to the church in the Iron Room. (Indeed, for a time, this same accommodation was used again after the Hall was damaged during the Second World War).

For quite a while in those early days there were lights only in the Iron Room, so it was common to see members of the congregation, seated in the overspill, holding candles during evening service.

Later the ‘chancel’ section was added to the Church Hall at a cost of over £1000. This was dedicated by Bishop Bardsley then Bishop of Peterborough, in 1925.

The Sunday School dates from the first Sunday of the new Church’s life – in May 1922. Children and eager workers arrived at 2.30pm that afternoon to discuss plans for a Sunday School.

Sunday School Treats always delighted both young and old. I can well remember one such treat!!! Travelling by the old Tramcar, we joined St. Alban’s Sunday School at the Great Central Railway Station. (It should be explained that Mrs. Thornton was sister to Canon Fawkes who was at that time Vicar of St. Alban’s). The train took us to “Quorn and Woodhouse” station, from where we all walked, children and adults alike to Woodhouse Eaves. Everyone enjoyed tea, fun and games during the afternoon, and returned in the evening to Leicester very happy, but Oh so tired! In later years the treats were held in fields nearer home, but the children’s races and general fun were just as pleasurable. Cine records were made, and the films shown in a number of homes for a small charge – all proceeds going to Church funds.

The social side was really very flourishing. At Christmas time, apart from all the customary services in church, enthusiastic carolers took the glad tidings of the Saviour’s birth to the people in the district, accompanied by a portable harmonium and fiddles. The, one Lent, we organized four out-door magic lantern shows. The screen was set up on the outside of the house visited, and the lantern or projector was plugged into the electricity supply through an upstairs window. Besides slides of the Gospel story, we sang a hymn or two and there was a very short address from the Vicar (although he was not entitled to be called a ‘Vicar’ in those days). Afterwards the small crowd which had collected adjourned to the church for a final hymn and prayer. It was remarkable that every one of those Wednesday nights was fine and dry. And of course traffic was no problem.

Outings by char-a-banc, and even by bicycle, took place in the summer months to neighbouring places of interest, and at Harvest time a procession of witnesses around the parish was a highlight of the year. Incidentally, The Rev. Hugh Casson in his time introduced the Beating of the Bounds at Rogation-Tide, but this was not persisted with beyond one or two years.

The last entertainment before Easter was the Shrove Tuesday Fancy Dress Dance for Adults. The children’s turn came at the Christmas Party, when members of the current Pantomime at the Opera House were invited to act as judges. The Annual Sale of Work was a three day event . . . Thursday Friday and Saturday, the middle day being reserved for the children.

What worthwhile days they were – and what willing hands kept the wheels turning!!! How we worked and looked forward to the time when Saint Chad’s would have a REAL church! And, after 46 years, our hopes were fulfilled.

But before that happened, the war came, bringing sadness to St. Chad’s. An air raid on the 20th November 1940 damaged our much loved Church Hall, and services had to be suspended for a while. It was at that time that Hugh Casson became our Priest-in-Charge . . . . not a very auspicious beginning to his ministry. Because of blackout difficulties, Evensong during wartime winter months took place in the afternoon. At this time Mr. A.L.Herbert was Churchwarden and his tireless efforts and devotion was an example to us all.

By reason of its being ‘local’ the social side of Saint Chad’s was very active during the war. The blackout was not conducive to people slipping into town each evening; in fact, many who lived in the parish never left the district after dark. Accordingly, the Church nobly rose to the occasion. There were Whist Drives, Concerts, Get-togethers, Neighbours League meetings, all safely held behind the blacked-out windows, and it was amazing how, in spite of rationing, food and extras appeared for these social gatherings. Scouts and Cubs were started for the boys; Guides and the Girls Friendly Society for the girls. The girls attempting all sorts of activities – folk dancing, competition singing, drama, quizzes handicrafts (in a small way), debates, etc. But when the lights went up again, the young people ventured to new adventures further afield, and the G. F. S. was disbanded. It had served its purpose. Youth Clubs became fashionable.

St. Chad’s was designated as a Relief Centre for bombed-out citizens, in the event of dire emergency, and it was equipped with a bountiful supply of Crockery, Cutlery and Cooking Utensils. The Centre would have been staffed by members of the Mother’s Union (under the leadership of Mrs. F. Wilson, who was the Enrolling Member during Mr. Casson’s incumbency) had the need arisen, but thankfully, they were never required to act. The Mother’s Union, being the only women’s organization at that time, played an important part in the Church’s life. I ought to mention that our Mother’s Union Branch was formed in 1938 Mrs. Child becoming the first Enrolling Member.

It was during the war and immediate post-war period that St. Cecilia’s-tide was recognized by musical ‘events’ at St. Chad’s. We tried to get away from the concert with the audience in straight rows of chairs, so tables were introduced at which people sat in casual disarray. The observance of the Patron Saint of Musics name-day (22nd November) has continued ever since, and it is now linked with the choir festival.

After the war outings were re-started, the boys being taken to Charnwood beauty spots by kind owners in their cars. Usually we took our own ‘fodder’ there was no money in the kitty for such excursions! Several parochial outings were arranged on the same lines, but on these occasions the day was rounded off by Evensong at some appropriate church. I can well remember Lichfield, Kenilworth, Meriden, Northampton and Wellingborough.

Quite early on in the Rev. Hugh Casson’s ministry, 1942 to be precise, he introduced the Oxford Psalter the different pointing of which meant a certain amount of congregational practice. And in 1950 the Revised Hymns Ancient and Modern came into being. Againl unfamiliar words and tunes caused raised eyebrows, but what was new then is now commonplace.

For many years Mr. Casson was Chaplain to the City General Hospital, and during this time there was a fruitful liaison between Hospital and Church. For instance, at one summer fete, held in a field adjacent to the Hospital grounds the nurses provided a stall which produced the unheard of sum –for those days – of £50 odd.

In 1943 we celebrated our Twenty-first Birthday and Bishop Guy Vernon Smith came to conduct the Thanksgiving Service.

When the worst of the national restrictions had been lifted, the housing of the Priest-in-Charge developed into a matter of prime importance, and it was decided to build a Parsonage. Thus it was that in 1950 Bishop Guy Vernon Smith came again to St. Chad’s, this time officially to open and Bless the new Parsonage House at 145 Coleman Road.

With the advent of the Rev. Stephen Jerome, more ritual and colour was introduced into the services and its appeal to the young of the parish was evident. Congregations grew rapidly. Mr. Jerome concentrated his energies on Youth and continued strenuously to campaign for a new church. He put forward quite a number of controversial and maybe workable suggestions.

A remembered high spot in his ministry was on Christmas Midnight Mass, when latecomers had to be turned away from an already overcrowded church. That was the night when a choir-boy’s surplice caught fire from a candle incautiously sited in the choir stalls.

The Rev Peter Riley came next with the avowed intention of building a new church. Hopes ran high, because he had successfully undertaken a similar project in Trinidad, from whence he had come to England and St. Chad’s. Once again these hopes were not realized, and Mr. Riley returned to the sunshine of the West Indies a sadder and it could be a wiser man. Churchmanship under his aegis was disciplined and aesthetic.

We came solidly down to earth when the Rev. John Lafford was appointed – at the Church’s own request. He canvassed high and low for the promised new St. Chad’s, but it was not to be. His incumbency could be looked upon as a time of

Preparation for the great days ahead . . . only, of course not being gifted with clairvoyance we could not foresee that when the next Minister came, St. Chad’s would actually receive a proposal from the Diocese which was to result in the lovely new building which we are all so proud of today.

Death and the passing years have taken many of our loved ones, but their memories are forever with us.

This then is a personal view of St. Chad’s First Fifty Years. May the next fifty be as eventful, fruitful and happy. Yes, HAPPY, for in spite of all its ups and downs St. Chad’s has experienced, and given, a great deal of happiness.