As I pushed my way through the crowds in the market today I passed a few African types proffering leaflets. These were regarding their recently established church. I pondered when they first arrives a while ago quite what made them settle in this town. For a start I found when I came here some time back that this was a very 'white' English town, a surprise to me after twenty years in Notting Hill! Why did a small group of Africans begin a church here? Today there in fact two 'African' dominated churches, and one of them at least contained several illegal immigrants. This was exposed at a social evening when a young lady indicated in mid conversation that she worked for the Customs people, turning around she noticed half the crowd that were behind her had disappeared! The churches no doubt are genuine enough, but some amongst them may have a different view of their 'social' role. Possibly that is why they began their own church rather than do the obvious an check out those already up and running. The point I am aiming for is almost here so yawn with your mouth shut.
Churches begin for a variety of reasons. English churches often began on pagan spots when the Romans were around, wooden churches were raised under the Saxons, the Normans altered those with stone, later many Lords decided to build their own, to stop them mixing with the lower orders I suppose. A variety of reasons saw 'parish' churches and non conformist churches to develop. Theological differences and Pride often split churches causing new ones to emerge, as indeed did personal ambition. In Victorian days 'Livings' as they were called, were often controlled by the most powerful man, or organisation, in the district. Anthony Trollope wrote about the infighting of the Mid Victorian Anglicans in his delightful book 'The Warden,' and several others that followed. We have reached the point at last, sip coffee, sit up straight and listen. St Peter's Church came into being because a rich woman fell out with the vicar of the parish church. That is why the building stands there, in what was once a field on the edge of town! That is the crux of this tale.
Miss Frances Wakeham was the daughter of the Rev Perryman Wakeham, most probably vicar of St Michael's the parish church. Certainly the house in which she resided, 'Marshall's' was very large, with an extension added in 1850 that was bigger than most houses in the area at the time, and vicars in those days were very well off indeed. The vicarage opposite the church, mentioned some time back, possibly arose when this lady moved into her Big House, set in the mid century in pleasant gardens of some size. This lady, as was common in that age, most likely knew her social importance. Indeed she also was a granddaughter of a man who had once been Dean no less! However there came a time long after her father had gone the way of all vicars when a dispute arose. The residing vicar of St Michael's wished to 'move tombs' for reasons not stated, possibly hygienic or to improve the grounds, although this is unclear. Whatever the disagreement it appears she lost out, and possibly revealed the reason she remained a spinster all her life, her personality, her attitude. Maybe she was indeed to be found in a 'Trollope' novel? It was said she claimed she would 'Pay the vicar back,' and her Christian commitment was such that when she died she indeed did do this!
The blessed lady left £4500 (and this is 1893 we talk about) to the church. However she did not give it to the parish but ensured it went elsewhere. Now this town actually is two separate towns joined as one in the 19th century. The Roman road that runs through the town separates the two halves and the parish to the north came under an Anglican 'peculiar.' A what? It appears the way Anglicans run their organisation means that a church is tied to a local cathedral, the home of a 'Bishop.' However for historical reasons that are two complicated to understand the northern parish, under St Mary's, belongs to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and is described as a 'peculiar,' as indeed are many Archbishops. Quite what he wishes to do with it is not made clear. However the money was provided specifically to establish a new church.
Now spiteful Frances, (Can I call you 'Fanny?' What.....Oh!) realised that St Mary's is some distance from the Roman road and the parishioners required a new church nearer the road, especially as the town was growing apace. The English way was to have people attend a local parish church rather than the nearest. To prevent some slipping over the border into St Mikes parish she arranged for a new building close by. By insisting the church was built within two years or the cash went elsewhere she ensured a rapid building process would follow. The first service took place in 1897, in a building designed for growth. Holding some three hundred seated, but designed for alteration to 600 when the time came, St Peter's now has a strange, indeed ugly, look. The interior they say is excellent, but I have to take their word for that. An effort has been made to ensure the grounds are neat, and the rain has enabled the plants at least to flourish. Much of the land once given (half an acre 'given' by one Mrs Southcott) has been sold for housing, and that of a decent quality.
As with all things life changes in ways not expected. The church continued but the growth did not. The population stopped growing, War arrived and changed attitudes to all things, the cash to add the tower, let alone the expansion, never materialised. The church was left with a stunted look on the outside, somewhat similar to many houses I noted built in the thirties back home. Nowadays this 'Anglo Catholic' church attempts to play its part in the town. The bells ring when folks get married, services are held, and a vicar has been appointed once again. The crowds however do not come. A church cannot be established unless the good Lord sets it up himself. Man's ambition, personal desire, theological debates, and pride, as here, are not good grounds for God's Kingdom. He himself must inspire the creation of a church, not a dispute regarding tombs.
The Dean who laid that must have been strong!