To Love and Serve the Lord. The Story of St Thomas' Lancaster, 1841-2010


To Love and Serve the Lord

The Story of St Thomas’ Lancaster, 1841-2010


Copyright 2015 Chris Park




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Table of Contents



1. Pre-history: the roots of St Thomas

2. Origins: why St Thomas’ was built

3. Beginnings: the building of St Thomas’

4. Joseph Armytage (1841-1845)

5. Colin Campbell (1845-1856)

6. William Ogden (1856-1858)

7. Colin Campbell Junior (1858-1871)

8. Joseph Armytage (1871-1873)

9. John Bone (1873-1906)

10. Stanley Hersee (1906-1914)

11. Robert Finlay (1915-1924)

12. Edwin Towndrow (1924-1929)

13. Samuel Latham (1929-1948)

14. Harold Wallwork (1948-1957)

15. Stanley Duthie (1958-1973)

16. Cyril Ashton (1974-1991)

17. Peter Guinness (1991-2010)

18. The seasonally changing vine

Sources and references



The life and identity of every local church is bound up with its past, as well as its present. … churches with an informed understanding of their own history [have] a stronger and healthier sense of identity and shared purpose.” Neil Evans and John Maiden (2012, p.4)


The title of this book – To love and serve the Lord – is borrowed from the blessing said at the close of a service, where we are called upon to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, in the name of Christ, amen.” The text comes from Deuteronomy 10: 12-13 and it captures the essence of why St Thomas’ exists, and what each of us is called to do as we walk out of church after each service and into the world outside.

This is the first time the history of the church has been written, and it gives us an opportunity to see where we have come from and how we have got to where we are today. The story is very much one of adapting to changing times and changing needs and opportunities, as a community of believers have taken seriously the calling “to love and serve the Lord” in this particular place.

The church celebrates its 175th anniversary in 2016, and the original idea was to tell the story up to that date. But the natural cut-off point is the end of Peter Guinness’s time as Vicar, because the arrival of Jon Scamman in 2010 marks a new season – a new chapter, literally – in the life of the church. It would make little sense to write the first part of that chapter without being able to say what happened next within Jon’s time. So, with some regrets, I’ll leave Jon’s chapter to form the opening one for whoever writes the next volume of the St Thomas’ story, hopefully less than 170 years from now.

The book is about the church in its widest sense. It explores both “who we are” (the people) as church and “where we go” (the building), and it looks at both “what we do” (the services) and “where we belong” (the congregations). It describes the lengthy and fruitful heritage of this particular church, as well as the inevitable trials and tribulations it has coped with. As we shall see, it is a story of dedication, hard work, and sacrifice by many people over many generations.

It seemed sensible to structure the chapters by Vicar rather than by theme because each Vicar has stamped his personality and left his mark on the church, some with greater strength, clarity and durability than others. I have tried to let each Vicar speak for himself – up to now they have all been men – which is why I have included so many quotations from 19thcentury local newspapers and more recent minutes of PCC meetings and Annual Church Meetings; this allows them to speak in their own voices.

I have drawn heavily on four particular sources – back copies of the Lancaster Gazette between 1801 and 1894, from the British Library Newspapers online archive which can be accessed via the Lancashire Libraries’ On-line Reference Library; minutes of Vestry Meeting and PCC meetings between 1841 and 1970, which are archived in the County Record Office at Preston; PCC minutes since 1970 which are kept on file in the church office; and the St Thomas’ Parish Box, which is archived in the office of the Diocesan Registrar in Blackburn.

At the outset this choice of sources gave me a decision rule to keep the coverage as objective as possible – if something appears in these sources it can be included in the book, if it doesn’t then it can’t. Of course the history of a church is much more than the history of its meetings, but I intentionally avoided including recollections and reminiscences from individual people because they can be patchy, selective and partisan, and they don’t take us very far back through the 170 year history of the church.

All Bible verses quoted in this book are from the New International Version (UKNIV), rather than the Bible translation in use at the time, which often was the King James Version. This makes it more consistent and easier to follow, because it is written in the language of today.

Where sums of money are mentioned in the text – such as the cost of building the church, amounts raised through various means, and money given to good causes – I have included both the amount at the time, and [in square brackets] an estimate of what that would have been in 2010. There are at least five different ways of computing the relative value of a UK pound at different points in time, so to keep the conversion consistent I have used one source throughout (http://www.measuringworth.com/ukcompare), based on real price commodity values updated to 2010, taking the most conservative of a range of relative values in each case. Sums of money before decimalisation was introduced in February 1971 are usually rounded to the nearest shilling (20s = £1).


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1. Pre-history: the roots of St Thomas’

Late in 1835 a new clergyman arrived in Lancaster, with high hopes and a strong sense of God’s calling. He had crossed the Pennines from Yorkshire to take up the post of Curate at St Mary’s, Lancaster’s parish church that dominated both the skyline and the church life of the town.

Within six years he would be standing inside St Thomas’ Church, newly built at the southern edge of the town as it then was, taking part in the opening ceremony as its first Vicar. What happened to bring this about? To understand this, we need to understand three things – who this man was and what was important to him, what Lancaster was like at that time, and what was then happening in the Church of England. We’ll look at the first two in this chapter, and then explore the third in Chapter 2.


New kid on the block

Joseph North Green Armytage was born on the 2nd of April 1805 in Wasbro dale in Yorkshire. He attended Leeds Grammar School, graduated from St John’s College at Cambridge University with a BA degree in 1830 and an MA in 1834, and was ordained deacon in 1831 and priest in 1832. For the next two years he served as a Curate in Almondbury and two other villages near Holmfirth just outside Huddersfield, back in his home county.

He arrived in Lancaster as a thirty year old bachelor and lived near the parish church in a house in Castle Park, between a lady of independent means and an elderly shoemaker and his wife. Less than two years later, on the 6th of December 1837 he married a local lady, Harriet Dodson, a spinster then living in St Leonardsgate, at St Mary’s. Their family would grow with the birth of three children during his time at St Mary’s – a son, North Green (1839), and two daughters, Josephine (1840) and Harriet (1841).

Joseph wasted no time getting down to work after he arrived in Lancaster. He was full of energy and enthusiasm, and soon got involved in local church groups, meetings and activities. He was very much a man on a mission. A key role of the Curate in those days was to share with the Vicar and a team of voluntary (almost entirely female) District Visitors the task of visiting all of the people who lived within the parish (not just the church-goers), in their houses, at least once each year, and reporting to the Vicar cases of sickness, poverty and distress. The new Curate would have walked many miles through the streets of Lancaster fulfilling this duty, and would have developed a good sense of the diversity of people living within his patch.

He preached his first sermon at St Mary’s on the morning of Sunday the 17th of January 1836, based on Micah 4: 5: “All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (NIV) He got off to a good start; a report in the Lancaster Gazette the following Saturday gave the sermon a ringing endorsement, announcing “a more powerful, more eloquent, or more scriptural discourse, we never heard.” The same reporter looked forward to more great things from the new Curate, writing that “from the opportunities already afforded us, we have thus early our best hopes awakened, that he will carry on the good works as actively pursued and supported by his excellent predecessor; and most heartily do we congratulate our fellow-townsmen on the prospect.”

Joseph Armytage was pinning his colours firmly to the mast with that choice of text for his first sermon at St Mary’s, declaring confidently his faith in God even as others put their trust in different gods. It was a theme that would underpin and colour all he did during his time in Lancaster. We learn some important things about him from contemporary reports in the Lancaster Gazette.

Like many other Anglican clergy at that time, he saw himself as a defender of the faith, a fighter in the ongoing spiritual and intellectual battle with the ‘enemy without’ (the rise of Nonconformism and Catholicism) and the ‘enemy within’ (adoption of Catholic values and practices within the Church of England). He was a staunch defender of the faith, and worked hard to protect and promote the cause of Protestantism against what he called “Romish clergy” (Roman Catholic priests). In January 1841, for example, he “delivered an admirable lecture” to members of the Lancaster Protestant Association, “based upon the five fundamental rules of the society”.

Armytage took a strong stand on the matter of ‘observance of the Lord’s Day’, speaking with passion at a meeting held in April 1836 “for the purpose of forming a society to promote the due observation of the Sabbath”. He felt compelled to act by “so indecent an outrage on public morality as the running of railway trains, and public travelling on the Lord’s Day.” He put forward the resolution, which was unanimously carried, in the form of a pledge – “that we will abstain, and endeavour that our families will abstain, from all employments on the Lord’s Day, which are inconsistent with its sacred character.” He was more than a little disappointed that the Roman Catholic clergy in Lancaster refused to engage with him in a public discussion about the Lord’s Day, concluding in writing to the Lancaster Gazette (13th February 1841) “it is the policy of the Romish Clergy … to shun the field of open controversy.”

By all accounts he was a very able and popular preacher. For example, in April 1836 he preached “an eloquent sermon” in the Parish Church. The following month, at the Whit Monday service in the same place, he “preached a most powerful sermon” on Acts 10: 33, “it being evident from the attentive demeanour of his auditors [those who heard him] that they were greatly impressed with what they heard.” In October 1836 he preached “an eloquent sermon” from Psalm 1: 1-2 in the Parish Church.

Armytage was also committed to evangelism. He apparently spoke with great passion on Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28: 16-20) at a service for clergy in St Mary’s on Monday the 1st of May 1837. There he urged his listeners to

obtain, by believing, prayerful meditation, joined with humble, diligent perusal of the divine word, a clearer acquaintance with his all-sufficiency, supremacy, and love. … Being thus made personally sensible of our own necessity, and having personally partaken of the riches of his grace, we shall speak of him to others, with the persuasive power of sympathy, and the convincing clearness of experience.”

Like many other churchmen of the day, he took seriously the need to help the poor, both spiritually and materially. Whilst he applauded those who gave generously to the sick and the poor, he was particularly concerned about fairness and justice. This comes through in a letter he wrote to the Lancaster Gazette in February 1838 bemoaning the cheating and corruption of some people, as a result of which “the money thus thoughtlessly bestowed, not only encourages the idle and dishonest, which is itself a great evil, but actually deprives, so far, the truly needy and unobtrusive poor, of that assistance which they would otherwise obtain.”

He was also a great supporter of the cause of education. For example, in November 1836 he preached sermons at St Luke’s, Skerton, and St Anne’s in town, in aid of the funds for building a Sunday School for St Luke’s. He spoke at the Boy’s National School (June 1836) and on behalf of the National Schools in Lancaster (October 1836).

Whilst we can see that he was clearly a very articulate, passionate and persuasive churchman, it is not so easy to discern his churchmanship from the few fragments of evidence that we have about him. But there is one important pointer to his sympathy with and support of the evangelical wing of the Anglican Church, even whilst he served in the relatively high Parish Church. It comes in an advert on the front page of the Lancaster Gazette on Saturday the 24th of February 1838, for the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS) a national evangelical body that had been established almost exactly two years earlier. The advert is seeking subscriptions “to render aid to those Clergymen who are anxious to bring the entire population of their respective Parishes under religious culture, but who have not the means of efficiently attaining their wish”; the subscriptions “will be thankfully received” by the Rev O’Neil of St Anne’s and the Rev Armytage of St Mary’s.

St Anne’s was the only evangelical Anglican church in Lancaster at that time, and Armytage was clearly comfortable ‘coming out’ in support of the evangelicals. Interestingly, CPAS was to re-appear in the story of St Thomas’ a number of times over the following 170 or so years, as we shall see.

These examples paint a picture of a man with a deep personal faith and a willingness to share it with others, a strong commitment to help those in need, and a sense of duty to protect what he saw as the ‘true’ Church of England.


Local economy

Joseph Armytage arrived in Lancaster at a critical point in the town’s history, as the Georgian era (1714-1830) gave way to the Victorian era (1837-1901). Behind lay Lancaster’s Golden Age of prosperity, around him the town’s economy was starting to recover after a serious slump during the 1820s, and ahead lay a new season for the town as a centre of manufacturing (particularly through cotton).

The Georgian era, when Lancaster was one of the wealthiest towns in England, had left an indelible mark on the town and its people. When Daniel Defoe visited Lancaster in the 1720s, he found a town that (after much destruction during the Civil War and a major fire in 1698) “lies, as it were, in its own ruins and has little to recommend it but a decayed castle and a more decayed port. … here is little or no trade, and few people.” Fifty years later, in 1770, the traveller Arthur Young was able to describe “a town increasing its buildings, having many new piles [buildings] superior to the old.”

The engine of this economic growth was Lancaster’s booming shipping trade as the British Empire expanded. Furniture and general merchandise (including hardware, cutlery, provisions, saddlery, woollen and linen cloths, stationery, shoes, boots, hats, candles, and soaps) were exported to the colonies in West Africa, North America and the West Indies. Sugar, coffee, cotton, rum, hides, and timber (particularly mahogany) were imported from the West Indies.

The lucrative slave trade - highly controversial today, and abolished in 1807, but accepted in the 18 th century as a legitimate business activity – also played its part, mainly between 1750 and 1767. Lancaster’s share of the trade was small (4 ships in 1771) compared with ports like Liverpool (107 ships). The ships sailed the ‘slave triangle’ – from England to West Africa (carrying manufactured goods, guns and ammunition), from there across the Atlantic to the Caribbean (transporting captured slaves), then back to England (with goods such as sugar, rum and exotic woods). Interestingly, the Gillow furniture-making business – which was to grow into a key part of the Lancaster economy – was established in 1728, using mahogany which arrived from the West Indies as packing material around other cargoes.

The canal between Lancaster and Preston was opened in 1792 and allowed the transport of imported produce to the growing towns further south.

Lancaster declined rapidly as a port after about 1807, facing strong competition from Liverpool and struggling with silting up; Glasson Dock was opened in 1787. This caused the closure of other local businesses like sail-cloth making, rope making, and ship-building.  By the 1820s Lancaster’s economy was stagnating, and this continued into the 1840s.

Armytage arrived in Lancaster to find a struggling economy but a rich legacy of Georgian architecture. By the river there was St George’s Quay and its warehouses (1750-55) and the old Customs House (1764). In the town it included Penny’s Hospital (almshouses) (1720) and the nearby Assembly Rooms (1759); Thomas Marton built The Music Room in Sun Street (1730s) as a summer house; the Old Town Hall was rebuilt (1781-83); a Girls’ School on Middle Street (1772, rebuilt in 1849), Gillison’s Hospital (almshouses) (1790) on Common Garden Street; the Dispensary on Castle Hill (1781); the workhouse (Poor House) on Lancaster Moor (1788); the Grand Theatre (1781), originally called the Athenæum; the old Town Hall (1783), replacing an earlier one 1671); and Dalton Square, which was laid out in 1784.

The cotton industry in Lancaster began in 1802 when the White Cross Mill was opened beside the canal near Penny Street Bridge. It remained the only mill on the canal until 1819, but after that a belt of industry and low-cost housing for workers developed between Queen Street and Ridge Lane (in what after 1841 was to become St Thomas’ neighbourhood).

Seven canal-side mills were built – Moor Lane Mill in 1819, originally for worsted spinning, converted to cotton spinning in 1828; Albion Mill in 1824-25, for cotton spinning then from 1848 cotton and silk spinning; Moor Lane Mill in 1825-31, for cotton spinning and weaving; Queens Mill in 1837-40, for cotton spinning and weaving; Ridge Lane Mill in 1836-37, for silk spinning; Bath Mill in 1837, for cotton spinning and weaving; and Lune Mill on New Quay in 1870, for the spinning and weaving of oilcloth. Later the Storey brothers bought the White Cross, Queen’s and Moor Lane Mills, and James Williamson bought the Bath and Greenfield mills for the manufacture of Grey Cotton that was used as a backing for oilcloth.

The spinning and weaving of cotton, and the manufacture of oilcloth and linoleum, became major activities that helped to drive economic recovery in the town, particularly after the 1840s.


The town

Lancaster in the 1840s was a much smaller place than it is today, with no development beyond the canal to the south and east, or west of the Castle and Parish Church. Skerton and Scotforth were separate townships (villages), and the housing estates on the Marsh, Primrose, Ridge and Freehold, Bowerham, Greaves, Scotforth, and Hala had yet to be built. In fact the 1848 Ordnance Survey map looked little different to one drawn in 1778 by Stephen Makreth and, although there had been much infilling the overall layout of the town had changed little from John Speed’s map of 1610. Expansion was restricted by the river to the north, the canal to the south, the canal and Lancaster Moor to the east, and the Marsh to the west.

The 1841 census – the first national census in England – lists the total population of Lancaster as 14,075 (compared with an estimated 8,500 in 1784), including 558 people imprisoned in the castle, 611 inmates in the asylum, and 134 poor people in the workhouse 134. There were 2,301 houses inhabited, 61 uninhabited and 11 then being built. The second half of the 19th century was to see a marked increase in the town’s population (and footprint); in the 1901 census the total was 40,329 people.


Life in Lancaster

We can learn something about life in Lancaster in the late 1830s and early 40s from contemporary reports in the Lancaster Gazette.

Despite its maritime past Lancaster also served as a market town, surrounded by and servicing the needs of farms and country estates. Not surprisingly, therefore, the annual calendar contained numerous traditional rural activities, such as the annual Lancaster Fair, an annual Horse Fair in Green Ayre, and well-attended markets for the sale of cattle, sheep, and cheese.

There was culture, for those who could afford it. In 1841 alone, for example, the Assembly Rooms hosted a concert of sacred music, and evenings of Parisian-style dancing; Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet played at the theatre; and there were Astronomical Lectures “on the sublime science of astronomy” and “some of the wonders that that science has unfolded”.

It was clearly a man’s world, judging from the traditional pursuits and pastimes they could take part in. There was hare coursing at Cockerham, sparrow shooting on Lancaster Moor, field days of the John O’Gaunt’s bowmen, regattas on the River Lune, wrestling matches, and horse racing on the Race Course at Lancaster Moor.

By today’s standards the town housed a population divided by differences in wealth, status, influence and opportunity. There were a few wealthy gentry with fine country houses and estates, and a greater number of prosperous and increasingly influential middle class merchants and mill owners. But most people in the town were very poor and lived in cramped unsanitary multi-family housing, struggling to survive. Many were mill workers and factory workers.

A large number of people depended on the ‘outdoor relief’ that was given only to the elderly and sick poor in their own homes, and the ‘indoor relief’ (the Workhouse) open to the able-bodied poor.

Many of the poor, sick and elderly were greatly helped by local charity and philanthropy, including support from the churches and the goodness of individual wealthy benefactors. For example, in January 1840 Thomas Greene “presented the poor of Whittington and the neighborhood with a supply of food and clothing; and the poor in the vicinity of Capernwray Hall have had similar kindly gifts dispensed to them by George Marton, Esq.” At Christmas 1841, “by means of a subscription set on foot by the overseers, the inmates of the workhouse were supplied with a dinner of roast beef and plum pudding. Ale was also provided, but they were forbidden to drink it.”

In Lancaster, as elsewhere, Friendly Societies – like the Oddfellows, which opened their Lancaster Hall in Mary Street in July 1844 – were set up to protect and care for their members and communities at a time when there was no welfare state, trade unions or National Health Service. The Freemasons were another group that engaged in charitable work in their local communities; the Lancaster Lodge of Fortitude met regularly at different inns in the town.

Law and order was taken very seriously. Men and women found guilty of murder were hanged. Those found guilty of theft and violence faced long sentences to transportation to Australia, some for life. For example, in 1838 a local man was transported for seven years for stealing some hay; the same year a local woman was sent for ten years for stealing a watch; in 1841 a man was sent for ten years for stealing some cheese from a shop in St Nicholas Street.

Local politics was largely right wing, dominated by Tories (Whiggs). This is perhaps not surprising given that only land-owners and the middle class could vote; working class people and women had not yet been given the vote. Little wonder, too, there was widespread support, both nationally and locally, for the working class Chartist Movement for political reform in Britain, between 1838 and 1848. In July 1838 “a Chartist meeting was held on the Green Area, but owing to the presence of a strong body of the police force, no disturbance took place.” In August 1842 “great Chartist riots took place throughout the county and a number of rioters visited Lancaster, turning the hands out of the different mills, and breaking the doors and windows. The disturbance continued till Friday, when a detachment of the 60th rifles arrived, and in the evening all was quiet.”


Church and chapel

The religious landscape in Lancaster at this time, when religion and church were much more tightly woven into the fabric of society than they are today, was both lively and varied. It contained a mixture of church (for the upper and middle classes) and chapel (for the working class), and included a range of heritage and new buildings. There was growing competition for members from the 1820s onwards, as the town’s population was beginning to increase again after a static spell early in the century.

The dominant church, physically and spiritually, was St Mary’s, where Armytage was Curate. It occupied a prominent site beside the castle, atop a hill by the river, overlooking the town to the east. It was built on the remains of a priory (religious house) dedicated to St. Mary, which had been founded by Benedictine monks after the Norman Conquest on the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon church dating back to 630. It became the parish church of Lancaster in 1430 and the ‘Established’ Church of England after the Reformation in 1539. Although the church was probably built around 1380 and the tower was rebuilt in 1754, most of the building Armytage worked in and we see today dates from 15th century. As Lancaster’s Parish Church, it was the ‘mother church’ in town, and its Vicar also nominated the Vicars of the three other Anglican churches in Lancaster that were built before 1840.

St John the Evangelist Church - St John’s - had been built in 1755 (the tower was added in 1784) on Chapel Street near the river in Green Ayre, to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population. In today’s language it was a church plant; it served as a chapel of ease - a church built within the parish of a parish church, in a more convenient and accessible location for the people living around it - until 1842, when a parish was assigned to it.

St Anne’s was another plant from the Priory. It was built in 1796 on Moor Lane to meet the needs of people who moved into the newly built St Leonardsgate area, a more working-class part of town than those served by St Mary’s or St John’s. It broke new ground as Lancaster’s first evangelical Anglican Church, whose members were then known as ‘enthusiasts’. St Anne’s was built with approval of the Bishop of Chester, partly to help stem the exodus of working-class people from St Mary’s and St John’s to the growing number of non-conformist chapels then springing up in Lancaster. It also had a parish assigned to it in 1842.

St Luke’s was built in Skerton in 1833, to provide more accommodation for the growing working class population there. It was also intended to be a civilising influence on an unruly people. Local historian Haythornthwaite (1875, p.93) describes how the church was founded “when disorder was rife in the village, and the constables and the stocks played an important part in daily life. … Side by side with education and the compulsion of law, religion has been quietly extending her spiritual influence around, and … the work of the ministry has not been unprofitable in the parish.”

But Anglican churches were not the only religious buildings in town by 1840. The Quakers (Society of Friends) were long established, their original Meeting House having been built in 1677, rebuilt in 1709 and extended in 1741, 1779 and 1790. Other groups of dissenters also had deep roots in Lancaster. The Presbyterians had built a chapel in Moor Lane in 1678 and another in St Nicholas’ in 1726, which was rebuilt and enlarged in 1786. The Congregationalists had built their Independent Chapel in High Street in 1773 (which was redeveloped and enlarged in 1851 and further developed in 1873), and Centenary Chapel in St Leonardsgate (which in 1873 became the Centenary Congregational Church).

The first Baptists met in a meeting-room in Friar Street from 1819 to 1840, and others attended the Congregational Church until 1862 after which they held their own services in the Assembly Rooms. The first Baptist Church was built in White Cross Street in 1872, but that was replaced in 1896 by the current one in Nelson Street.

Methodism – the ‘New Dissent’ – first appeared in Lancaster at the end of the 18th century. It quickly took root, with a number of chapels springing up to serve the different branches of Methodism. The first, a small Wesleyan chapel, was built in 1806 on Sulyard Street, near the Catholic chapel in Dalton Square; it was rebuilt there in 1874 to a design by Paley and Austin. By 1823 the Primitive Methodists had a meeting-place in Damside, where they built a chapel in 1836 before moving in 1862 to Ebenezer Chapel on Moor Lane, which was rebuilt in 1895. In 1829 the Independent Methodists built a chapel on Nelson Street, by the canal. The United Methodist Free Church was built in Brock Street in 1869, and a small Methodist chapel was built in Skerton in the early 1870s.

The Roman Catholics were also quite well established in Lancaster by the late 1830s. In 1799 they had built a chapel (the building is now Palatine Hall) in Dalton Square, which was the first purpose-built Catholic chapel in Lancaster since the Reformation. It continued in use until St Peter’s Church was built beyond the canal in 1859.


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2. Origins: why St Thomas’ was built

To help us understand why St Thomas’ Church was built, we looked in Chapter 1 at the arrival of Joseph Armytage in Lancaster 1835, and at the condition of the town and its people at that time. In this chapter we’ll focus on the state of the Church of England, and how it coped with a series of major challenges it was then facing.


Challenges facing the Church of England

As the 19th century dawned the Church of England faced serious challenges, from both without and within.


External challenges

There were two main external challenges, which were closely inter-linked. One was how best to cope with the huge growth of the population at that time, particularly in towns, and with the social and economic changes then under way. The other was growing competition, partly as a result of the resurgence of Catholicism (which was emancipated in the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829), which led to a growth in the number of Roman Catholic people and churches through the 19th century. Even stronger competition came from the great expansion of nonconformist chapels by Protestant dissenting groups such as the Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists.

The Established church was fast losing members, particularly working class people, and particularly to the dissenting groups, which better met their needs. As church historian J.H. Bettey (1987) points out, Anglican church services at that time were based rigidly on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and were widely viewed as dull and predictable; sermons were long, theological and tedious; and the strictly hierarchical nature of the church left the congregation as observers rather than participants. He describes (p.138) how such services

offered little to miners, fishermen, farm labourers, railway navvies or dockers when set against the fellowship, liveliness, hymn-singing and warmth of the chapel, where they could find an outlet for the emotions, food for the imagination and an opportunity to take part in the services and in the running of the chapel.”

The popularity of the Church of England was also seriously undermined by “the divisive issue of church rates … compulsory levies imposed on rate-payers, whether Anglican or not, for the maintenance of parish churches [which] were strongly opposed by nonconformists who had also to maintain their own places of worship.” (Austin 2001 p.132)



The church responded in two main ways. First, it embarked on a major programme of church building. Between 1801 and 1810 a total of 43 Anglican churches were built or rebuilt across the country. That number doubled to 96 the next decade (1811-20); it trebled to 308 the next decade (1821-30); doubled again to 600 between 1831 and 1840; and increased by a further 50 percent to 929 (759 new and 170 rebuilt) between 1841 and 1850. So St Thomas’, which opened in 1841, should be viewed as part of a huge growth phase for the Church of England, which continued through the following two decades (a total of 820 in 1851-60, and a further 1,100 in 1861-70).

The ambitious building programme was not just designed to increase the church’s capacity to cope with the population increase, it also served the government’s ambition of helping “to check the violence and lawlessness among the lower classes in the crowded slums, and reduce the danger of civil disorder and rebellion.” (Bettey 1987 p.129) A local example of the latter is St Luke’s Church in Skerton, built in 1833, as we saw in Chapter 1.

But there was also a third reason for church-building, which was to meet the needs of changes in churchmanship within the Anglican Church brought about by the Evangelical Revival and the Oxford Movement, which we will look at shortly.

The second response to increasing competition from Nonconformist chapels was a renewed vitality in the life of the Anglican Church. This is reflected, for example, in the greater energy devoted to parish activities such as Sunday Schools and Day Schools, adult classes, youth groups, missions, clubs and parish magazines, all designed to better engage the local community and help in meeting their needs. It is reflected also in the move to make church services brighter and livelier, as a result of the Catholic Revival (discussed below).

The challenges facing the Church of England were clearly spelled out by the Archdeacon of Richmond who visited Lancaster in July 1836 and spoke at St Mary’s about “the duty of the clergy to watch the signs of the times, comfort and support each other, pray for God’s grace, and firmly contend the faith.” Joseph Armytage read the prayers. According to the Lancaster Gazette (16th July 1836) Rev. J. Headlam, the Archdeacon of Richmond, noted that

with regard to doctrinal matters, he did not apprehend there was much to be feared. … The three classes of assailants were the unbelievers, Papists and Dissenters. … With respect to the third class of opponents, the Protestant Dissenters, it was to be observed, there was no material difference between them and the church on points of doctrine, and yet, he regretted to say, how many there were who separated themselves from the church. … Separation, except on conscientious scruples, was a leaning to heresy and that was displeasing to God; therefore, if for any private or personal consideration, a man forsook the church, he did great injury to the general cause of religion, and took upon himself a heavy responsibility.”


Internal challenges

The Church of England also faced major internal challenges as it struggled to cope with a clash between two religious revival movements that erupted within it in the early 19th century. Each was a response to the growing competition from Nonconformism and Catholicism, as well as part of a battle for the soul of Anglicanism.


The Catholic Revival

The first revival movement in the Church of England started in 1833 in Oxford, which is why it is also known as the Oxford Movement. Its supporters are often referred to as Tractarians, after the ninety Tracts for the Times which were published between 1833 and 1841 by John Keble, John Henry Newman, and others, which spelled out the essence of their thinking. It was a movement of High Church Anglicans that triggered the revival of Anglo-Catholicism. Some of the prominent High-Churchmen (such as Newman in 1845) would eventually convert to Roman Catholicism.

It was a reaction against state intervention in Church affairs and liberalism in theology and sought to recall the church to its original catholic doctrines and revive more traditional forms of worship and liturgy, including more symbolism and ceremony. This included elaborate rituals and processions, priests robed in elaborate vestments, surpliced choirs sitting in chancels, statues and lit candles on altars, swinging thuribles containing incense, organs, and great congregational participation through hymn-singing. Mass was said daily for the first time in the Church of England since the Reformation, and priests heard confessions. The Eucharist (Holy Communion), in which the bread and wine were believed to be literally the body and blood of Christ, became the central act of worship; during the 17th  and 18th centuries it had only been celebrated three or four times a year in most parishes.

These changes caused bitter controversy in many churches during the 1840s and 50s, and even triggered rioting in some parts of the country. The Oxford Movement was widely denounced for being a ‘Romanising’ tendency, suspected of heralding a drift towards reconciliation with the Catholic Church.


The Evangelical Revival

A strong reaction to the Oxford Movement by many people within the Church of England, coupled with a desire to more genuinely re-engage the attention of former Anglicans who had left to join the nonconformist chapels and stem the exodus, together created suitable conditions for a revival of the Low Church evangelical wing of the church.

The so-called ‘Evangelical Party’ of the Church of England was descended from the 17th century Puritans and flourished between 1789 and 1850. The term ‘evangelical’ means “of or according to the teaching of the Gospel”, and its primary emphasis was and is the doctrine of salvation by faith in the death of Christ, which atoned (paid the price) for people’s sins.

Evangelicals today share the same beliefs as their 19th century predecessors; they/we -

p<>{color:#000;}. recognise the sinfulness and fallenness of humanity;

p<>{color:#000;}. emphasise personal conversion and faith rather than good works, church rituals or the sacraments (seen as symbolic only) as a means to salvation;

p<>{color:#000;}. stress the importance of a personal relationship with God;

p<>{color:#000;}. believe in the authority of the Bible in matter of doctrine; and

p<>{color:#000;}. unlike the Tractarians, deny that ordination to the priesthood imparts any supernatural gifts or sets priests apart as intermediaries between God and humans (hence the priesthood of all believers).

Converted believers were expected to serve others, so the evangelicals threw themselves into missionary work at home and overseas. They were strong supporters of the Bible societies, and played prominent roles in social movements like the abolition of slavery, child welfare legislation, the prohibition of alcohol, the Temperance Movement, and the development of public health and public education.

Critics accused evangelicals of being ‘enthusiasts’ who preferred emotion to intellect and had a puritanical disapproval of social pleasures. They were looked down on by those of a more High Church disposition, who saw themselves as superior, both spiritually and intellectually. Criticism rarely came more forcefully than from the pen of George Nye (1899), who dismissed evangelicalism in the Church of England as

the inspiration of detached units, not of the mass. For corporate action, the Evangelical system offered no scope. It was a purely subjective religion; one based on feelings, to the exclusion of creeds and means of grace. … Naturally the services continued as slovenly, and the fabric as uncared for, as during the period of religious apathy.”


Reactions in Lancaster

How did all this play out in Lancaster? Here, as in many other places, views and attitudes were polarised between the two revival movements, which pulled in directly opposing directions. Supporters and critics of both could find little common ground to meet on.

St Mary’s, the parish church in Lancaster, doubtless embraced the Catholic Revival and changed its services, values and activities accordingly. St John’s (1755) almost inevitably had a similar churchmanship. St Anne’s (1796) was evangelical and was looked down upon by members of the High Church. Local historian Haythornthwaite (1875, p.60) described it as “dangerously close to the boundary-line of Episcopacy and Dissent”, where “it was not reason but sentiment that gave rise to the congregation, so we do not in all cases discover the elements of sound mental progress in their body.”

The distinction that Haythornthwaite draws between the two types of Anglican church in Lancaster in 1840 shows clearly where his sympathies lay:

On the one side [the High Church St Mary’s and St John’s], we behold the highest intellectual qualities, the most striking spirituality of life, and a near approach to the utmost Christian perfection of which mortal man is capable; on the other [the Low Church St Anne’s] side we may notice a comparatively low order of intelligence, a preference for slovenly and even in ecclesiastical modes of procedure, and a great inclination to indulge in the excitements of revivalism and tea-parties.”


Reasons for building St Thomas’

Against this background, why was a decision taken to build another new Anglican church – St Thomas’ – in Lancaster? Whilst it would provide more capacity for the Established church, and thus serve more people, this seems to have been a secondary consideration.

Unlike St John’s, St Thomas’ was not established to meet the needs of people already living in a particular part of Lancaster at the time, because it was built at the edge of town as it then was, still largely undeveloped at that time. Unlike several later Anglican churches in Lancaster (Christ Church and St Paul’s Scotforth) it was not built specifically to meet the needs of a new and rapidly growing part of the town; growth occurred later. Unlike St Luke’s in Skerton, it was not set up to civilize an unruly part of the town.

The main reason for building St Thomas’ appears to have been a desire by at least some people in Lancaster for a more evangelical churchmanship within the Church of England, as a positive response to the Evangelical Revival and a reaction against the Catholic Revival. Such a church would also serve the growing working class population in town and thus help to stem the exodus of people towards the Nonconformist chapels that were growing in number and strength at that time.

The group that pushed for the building of the new church and brought it into life was led by Joseph Armytage. So why did he ‘jump ship’ from a church (and a secure and well-respected position) that he had presumably been happy to sign up to only a few years earlier?

It seems that he left St Mary’s because of a falling out with the Vicar over the style of worship there. Although it is difficult to find solid proof that it was because the parish church was adopting more Catholic practices, the clues point in that direction. Haythornthwaite (1875, pp.69-70) describes bluntly how

St Thomas’ Church arose, we believe we are right in saying, from a small disagreement in connection with St Mary’s. The Rev J.N. Green Armytage had made himself obnoxious to the Vicar by proposing an alteration in the order of the service, and having his circle of admirers he became the centre of a new movement and the head of another congregation. Probably the feeling had existed in the town that another Church would not be out of place, and no doubt the scheme had plenty of supporters independent of the former dispute, but without the small knot of dissentients at the Parish Church the progress of the undertaking, we are informed, would have been by no means certain.”

Joseph Armytage resigned his post as Curate in the parish church to lead the establishment of St Thomas’, probably with the Archdeacon’s July 1836 words of warning about separation ringing in his ears. He took with him a small group of like-minded people (including members of the Salisbury family, who we will meet in Chapter 3) who were committed to remaining within the Church of England but determined to establish a new evangelical church in town.

Thus St Thomas’ started life in 1841 as a break-away from the Parish Church, a split rather than a plant. Whilst the split doubtless caused much soul-searching within those who left and those who stayed behind, the separation appears to have been amicable. The new church was fully supported by the Bishop of Chester, who preached at the opening ceremony. The Bishop’s support is not surprising given that he was John Bird Sumner, a prominent evangelical at that time, who after serving as Bishop of Chester (1828-48) was promoted to Archbishop of Canterbury (1848-62).

There is no evidence that Joseph Armytage was subsequently shunned by his fellow clergy in Lancaster. He regularly attended other Church of England events and was invited to preach in other churches and speak at religious meetings.


– o0o –

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3. Beginnings: the building of St Thomas’

You know not what you have done in building this church. Some who are now here are single men, who in a few short years may be the heads of families. Your children will probably come to this house of prayer to receive their elementary instruction, when they will be taught to distinguish between good and evil, and have the way pointed out to them to obtain a blessed eternity.”


These words were spoken by Rev David James from Liverpool who preached at the opening service of St Thomas’ Church on Wednesday the 14th of April 1841. He was looking to a golden future for this new church, and fully expected it to meet the spiritual needs of its people for many generations to come. It turns out his faith in the future was well placed.

St Thomas’ has so far outlived St John’s and St Anne’s, and it remains as well supported and active as ever. Nobody thought it would be an easy journey, and history has proved them right.


Planning to build

There is no denying the importance of Armytage’s fall-out with St Mary’s over the matter of church services (which we looked at in Chapter 2) as a catalyst for his decision to leave the Parish Church and set up a new one with an evangelical flavour.

But other forces were at work too, some of which are touched upon in a letter that Edward Salisbury (Chairman of the organising committee for the new church) sent to the Chester Diocesan Society in 1840. The letter, written in fine copperplate handwriting, survives in the County Record Office in Preston.

Salisbury’s letter summarises the arguments for the new church, including the growing population of Lancaster (which rose from just under 10,000 in 1821 to around 16,000 in 1840), caused in part by increasing job opportunities; by then there were seven mills, employing up to 2,000 people. He voiced concern over the limited number of additional ‘free sittings’ in the Parish Church (100) and the other two Anglican churches (200 between them) for those who could not afford to pay hefty annual pew rents, and he pointed out that “dissent has not neglected the opportunity, and thus two Methodist Chapels have been erected and the Independent Chapel has been enlarged since 1820.” His key point was that

the erection of a church towards the southern extremity of the town has long been contemplated by certain parties, who have been for some years engaged in promoting Church extension in this neighbourhood, the result of whose exertions has been the erection of no less than 4 new churches [of different denominations] in different parts of this extensive parish. The views of these parties were met in an unexpected manner by the liberality of a resident Lady who offered to provide an endowment and repairing fund for such a purpose.”

The ‘resident Lady’ in question was Edward’s mother Elizabeth Salisbury, who had donated £1,000 to the project, worth about £74,000 today.


Why built it there?

The choice of site was dictated by the availability of land and the means to buy it. An area of land, shown on the 1807 town map as “intended building ground”, was available for development on the southern edge of the town as it then was, near the canal. It was just to the north of Dalton Square, which was then (1807) being developed and built. That part of town had not yet been fully built up, but the growth of the cotton mills along this part of the canal would soon prompt the building of housing for low-income workers and their families beyond the canal to the south

George Marton of Capernwray Hall kindly donated a plot of land at the southern end of Penny Street as a site for the new church, valued at £350 [around £25,000 today]. He served as the Member of Parliament for Lancaster between 1837 and 1847, must have been sympathetic to the evangelical cause, and was quite probably a friend of the Salisbury family. Marton Street, which was created after St Thomas’ was built, is named after him.

A parchment manuscript now archived in the Blackburn Diocesan Registry, signed by George Marton and dated the 24th of March 1840, records the sale of a small parcel of land (roughly 160 feet by 80 feet) by him to Her Majesty’s Commissioners for Building of New Churches, for which they paid £81 and eighteen shillings [£5,700]. This must be the extra land that made the extended church plan (see below) possible.


How was it paid for?

Elizabeth Salisbury’s generous donation started the ball rolling on fund-raising, or as Edward Salisbury put it in his letter, “in consequence of this impulse, subscriptions were set on foot.” £1,200 [£85,000] was raised to build a church with seating for 1,000 people.

A revised plan was drawn up shortly afterwards to provide seating for 1,177, and extra land was purchased. A building contract was agreed, at a total cost of £2,597 [£184,000] excluding the cost of levelling and enclosing the site.

Fund-raising continued, producing a total of £1,962 [£135,000] by December 1839. This was made up of the £1,000 [£68,000] endowment from Elizabeth Salisbury, £200 [£14,000] from Queen Anne’s Bounty (a fund established in 1704 to supplement the incomes of the poorer clergy of the Church of England), a donation of £150 [£10,000] from Queen Victoria as Duchess of Lancaster, £150 [£10,000] from the proceeds of the Lancaster Exhibition of Arts and Manufacturing held in the summer of 1840, and numerous small donations.

This left a shortfall of £635 [£45,000], which the Committee “feel themselves totally unable to raise”. Edward felt compelled to point out that “the new Churches lately built at Poulton, Wray, Glasson, and Capernwray, have been erected mainly from the subscriptions of persons resident in Lancaster and the neighbourhood, and within the present year, thus interfering materially with those resources from which the Committee would have otherwise doubtless benefitted.”

He urged the Diocese of Chester to help close the funding gap, and by February 1841 – when the building was nearing completion – the Committee had received a £200 [£14,000] contribution from them. As Edward Salisbury noted, “though less than the Committee had been led to expect, it is a handsome sum.” This left a shortfall of just over £400 [£28,000].

The shortfall was a planned overspend rather than a cost overrun, because the Committee had committed to that level of expenditure, and signed the contract, without any guarantee of having the money to cover it. It was to exercise the leadership of St Thomas’ for many years, as we shall see in the next two chapters.

Elizabeth Salisbury later also gave £100 [£7,000] towards the cost of buying a ‘parsonage house’ (Vicarage).


The Salisbury family

Elizabeth Salisbury played a prominent role in the establishment of St Thomas’. Born Elizabeth Dodson in Ulverston in 1766, she married Edward Salisbury at St Mary’s in Lancaster in 1794 and together they had seven children. The Salisburys were upwardly mobile middle-class entrepreneurs.

Edward was described on his marriage certificate as a “merchant of Lancaster”. He owned and directed a thriving shipping business, and like other ship-owners in that era was involved in the lucrative trade in the ‘slave triangle’ between England, West Africa and the West Indies. He co-owned a number of wooden ships, many of which were built at Brockbanks Shipbuilders in Lancaster. Among them were Tom and Hope, both of which are known to have engaged in the slave trade.

After Edward died in January 1830 at Wennington Hall near Melling his estate passed to Elizabeth. The 1841 census lists her, then aged 70 and ‘independent’, living in Queen Street in town. Elizabeth died in Middleton Tower, Heysham, in March 1851, aged 84.

Edward Junior (Edward Dodson Salisbury) was born in Lancaster in May 1801. He married Mary Park from Ulverston and they had three daughters and three sons. Mary died in Lancaster in November 1839, and in 1841 Edward (then aged 40) was living with his six children at his mother’s house in Queen Street. Edward shared his mother’s commitment to building St Thomas – he chaired the committee that oversaw the project, laid the foundation stone, and appears at all major events relating to the church over the next ten years or so.

During the 1840s Edward was a well respected and influential person in Lancaster – he was Borough Treasurer (1841), Borough Magistrate (1842), County Magistrate (1846), and was elected an Alderman (1847) and Mayor of Lancaster (1844). In 1851 he was living at Middleton Tower in Heysham, and by 1871 he had moved to Holborn, London. He died in Torquay, Devon, in November 1875, at the age of 74.


Building the church


Laying the Foundation Stone

The Foundation Stone of St Thomas’ Church was laid on Shrove Tuesday the 3rd of March 1840, less than three weeks after Queen Victoria married her beloved Alfred, two years into her reign.

The event was a grand civic affair, judging from how it was reported in the Lancaster Gazette. It began with a colourful procession through the streets from the (old) Town Hall in Market Street, involving “the Charity School girls, the girls of the National School, boys of the same school, [stone] masons, contractors, … Mr. Wheeler’s pupils, wearing white rosettes, and presenting a peculiarly neat and orderly appearance.”

The local Lodge of Freemasons - members of the Lodge of Fortitude, No 350 - played a prominent role; the Brethren processed in full gear (“Black Clothes, and White Gloves and Handkerchiefs”) and the “ceremony was carried out with full Masonic honours.” This link between the church and the Masons has caused some unease amongst more recent members of the church, but it needs to be seen in context and kept in perspective.

The Lodge of Fortitude was established in Lancaster in 1789. Whilst the Masons are not a Christian organization per se, one past Master of the Lancaster Lodge was an Anglican Vicar (Rev J. Rowley, in 1829), and the Masons engaged in charitable and humanitarian work to help the poor and needy. James Williamson and William Storey were both members. Although the Masons have a reputation for secrecy, they often paraded through the town in full gear on civic occasions (such as the Coronation of Queen Victoria on the 28th of June 1838), clearly feeling no need to hide their identities.

The Diocesan Bishop was clearly comfortable with them taking part in the procession and assisting with the laying of the Foundation Stone. It is not known whether Edward Salisbury was a Mason or whether his father had been, but the members of the Lodge were there by invitation. An entry in the Lodge’s Minute Book dated the 29th of January 1840 records “A letter from the Secretary of the Sub-Committee appointed for the management of the building of St. Thomas’ Church was read, wherein it was wished that the W.M. and Brothers of the Lodge of Fortitude should assist in laying the Foundation Stone of the Church on the day of the Queen’s Marriage. This wish was complied with and a committee appointed.”

The Foundation Stone was laid by Edward Salisbury, assisted by J. Drinkwater (Master of the Freemason’s Lodge). The newspaper reported that “weather was very fine. The Rev. J.N.G. Armytage made an excellent speech after the laying of the stone.” Among the dignitaries present were the Bishop of Chester (John Bird Sumner), the Vicar of Lancaster (Rev John Manby), the Rural Dean (Rev Thomas Mackreth), the Mayor (Joseph Dockray), and the architect (Edmund Sharpe).


Design and construction

The church was designed by local architect Edmund Sharpe, to seat up to 1,000 people.

Edmund Sharpe (1809-77) was born in Knutsford, Cheshire, and after graduating from Cambridge University he studied architecture in Germany and southern France. In 1835 he opened his own practice in Lancaster, specializing in designing church. In 1845 he joined forces with Edward Paley, a former pupil, and the pair designed many churches. Local churches designed by Sharpe include Christ Church, Glasson (1839-40), Holy Trinity, Wray (1839-40), Holy Trinity, Morecambe (1840-41), and St Paul’s, Scotforth (1874-76). After an early career as an architect and architectural historian, he was Mayor of Lancaster in 1848-49, championed the building of Lancaster’s waterworks and sewer system, and after 1851 worked as a railway engineer.

It took a year to build St Thomas’ Church – the Foundation Stone was laid on 3rd of March 1840 and the church opened on the 14th of April 1841 – but we have no record of who the builders were.

Sharpe was a great enthusiast of neoclassical churches built in the Gothic Revival style, which is clearly displayed in his design for St Thomas. Rigbye (1891 p.351) described the church as “a fine spacious edifice, having a cheerful appearance”, and Bulmer’s History and Directory of Lancaster & District, 1912 noted that it is “a handsome stone building, in the Early English style of architecture”. Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner (2002) was impressed by the “lancets [tall, narrow windows with a pointed arch at the top] in stepped triplets along the sides, a stepped group of five between two starved turrets [small projections] on the front.”

When the church opened it looked on the outside much as it does today, with two notable exceptions – the steeple and spire (designed by Sharpe and Paley, and part of the original design but omitted on cost grounds) were added in 1852-53 when funding was available, and the front doors were not such a striking colour!

There was no space to include a graveyard beside the church, and those who had passed away were buried in the Parish Churchyard at St Mary’s until legislation made burial in town illegal on health grounds, and new town cemeteries were opened at Scotforth (1890) and Skerton (1904).

There were originally no buildings behind the church. Marton Street, Upper Robert Street and several other new streets in the area around St Thomas were laid out, surfaced and adopted in September 1847, six years after the church was opened.



The layout of the original 1841 interior is clearly marked out on a detailed plan of the time that is archived in the County Record Office in Preston.

On the ground floor, the main body of the church is open. Unlike today, there is no downstairs lounge or toilets (indeed, there are no toilets in the church at all at this stage), and no partition beneath the upstairs gallery; you could walk in through the front doors, through the porch and straight into the church. Just past the porch there were stairs on both sides of the west wall of the church, leading up to the gallery above. Upstairs above the porch was a Children’s Gallery, just past the stairs coming up.

Haythornthwaite (1875, p.73) describes the nave – the main body of the church – as it was in the 1870s, little altered in appearance from the 1840s:

There are six elegantly-proportioned windows of the usual triple formation on each side of the Church, separated by buttresses, which at the western corners are surmounted by pinnacles. The interior galleries are supported by light iron pillars, which convey the idea of strength without occupying much space; and the cross-beams of the roof, unconcealed in their arrangement above present a more pleasing appearance than a bare ceiling.”

There are no separate chapels within the church, and never have been, nor any grand marble plaques or statues in memory of generous benefactors. The decoration is plain and simple.

The chancel – the area or sanctuary near the altar, which in those days was reserved for the clergy and choir – was and remains on the east end of the church, raised up from the nave by three steps. In the centre of the chancel was a large, raised pulpit that Haythornthwaite (1875, p.73) describes as “a plain erection of stone”; it was reached by stairs on the south side. Ribgye (1891 p.353) tells us that the text of Psalm 89:15 (King James Version – “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance”) was carved around the lower portion of the pulpit. In front of the pulpit was the wooden altar, with the reading desk close to it on the floor of the nave, near the central aisle.

Behind the chancel, hidden from sight behind a tall wooden screen, was the original Vestry. Here the clergy and choir could change into their ceremonial robes (vestments), and meetings of parishioners could be held to deal with parish business.

Although the interior of the church remains largely the same shape and layout as it was when the church opened in 1841. By modern standards it has little real architectural merit, and is sometimes described as “a Victorian preaching barn” because of its plain character and spacious size.

The interior would be altered slightly in the 1850s, with installation of a large organ upstairs in the West Gallery and the hanging of a painted Royal Arms on the woodwork in front of it in 1852, and what is now the Vicar’s Vestry was added when the steeple was built in 1853.


Pews and pew rents

The nave was filled with wooden pews, most of which were rented out but some towards the back were free. At the front of church there were two box pews (with cushions) for wealthy families. An aisle ran down the centre, and there were aisles on the outsides of the normal pews. Free wooden benches stretched along both sides and the back, for those who couldn’t afford the pew rents. Upstairs, the galleries that run along both sides and the back of church each contained three rows of pews, and there were a further two rows at the West End in front of where the stairs came up.

Pew rents provided the core income stream for Anglican churches in those days, but this naturally created a highly visible two-class system. There were those who could afford to pay and thus ‘buy’ their dedicated debenture seats in church, and those who couldn’t. The latter had to sit on the free pews and benches.

As Michael Austin (2001 p.146) points out, “the appropriation of pews was seen as a symbol of privilege and social exclusiveness and, often, of inherited wealth. … Although you could not buy yourself into heaven, your material wealth on earth might hopefully provide some indication that you were on your way.” He adds (p.138) that “pews could be owned by people who rarely, if ever, went to church, used by them as private property” and bought and sold the ownership of them.

In an attempt to reduce the open display of differences in wealth within the congregation, as Haythornthwaite (1875 p.81) points out, “the sixteen free pews on the ground floor of St Thomas’s were originally open seats, but in order to remove any appearance of invidious distinction, their occupants were allowed the privilege of closed doors like their betters at the east end.”

As the opening of the new church drew close, the ‘great and the good’ were eager to make sure they got good seats. They would not have missed the advert on the front page of the Lancaster Gazette on the 20thof March 1841 that said “St Thomas’ Church. Persons desirous of taking pews in this church may obtain them on application to the Vestry, on Thursday afternoon next, between the hours of two and four o’clock; or afterwards on application to Mr. S. Simpson, Secretary to the Committee. Lancaster, 17th March 1841.”


Opening Service

Two weeks later an advert on the front page of the Lancaster Gazette (3rdApril 1841) announced that the church would be opened on the 14th of April -

It is proposed, Providence permitting, to OPEN this CHURCH with Divine Service, on the Evening of Wednesday, the 14th inst, when A SERMON will be preached by the Rev David James, Incumbent of Kirkdale, Liverpool. Service to commence at half-past six precisely.”

The funding shortfall was clearly a continuing concern for the church leaders, because the advert continues

A Collection after the Sermon will be made in aid of the Building Fund. The Committee, having provided sittings in this church for more than 1100 persons, of which considerably above one third are free, earnestly hope that the public will assist them in defraying a debt exceeding £500 [£35,500] which still remains upon the building. Lancaster, April 2nd, 1841.”

Inside the same edition of the paper an article about the opening emphasised that “one great point has happily been accomplished: the pulpit being so arranged that the preacher will be visible to every person in the church.” According to Austin (2001 p.120) it was not uncommon in those days for the free seats to be placed either “behind the door” … or “out of sight and hearing” or behind the pulpit in the chancel “where they [the poor] cannot hear”.

The first service in the new church was held on the evening of Wednesday the 14th of April 1841. This was effectively the opening ceremony, although the formal Consecration Service was held two months later on the 14th of June. Joseph Armytage conducted the service and read the prayers, and Rev D James of Liverpool preached the sermon.

By all accounts Rev James delivered a marathon sermon, lasting an hour and a half. A printed copy of it is archived in the local studies collection of Lancaster City Library. He took as his text Isaiah 28: 16 – “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.” He first emphasized Jesus as the foundation of the Christian Church, then spoke at length about spiritual warfare which “originated with him who is the prince of darkness” and is designed to “overturn … the faith of the people”, unashamedly attacking the Catholic Church. He warned that, as Catholicism spread far and wide, “Satan then rejoiced, though the Church of Rome did not deny that Christ was the Son of God; yet they mixed up in their works for the sake of filthy gain.”

He pulled no punches, and argued that Martin Luther and the Reformation had purified the church from the corruption and “abominations” that had taken root within the Catholic Church, “so that it may return to its primitive character.” He welcomed the birth of the Protestant Church as a result of the Reformation, and its firm belief that “Jesus Christ and him crucified was the rock on which they built their salvation – that they looked to him, and him alone, as being able to lead them through the grim passage of death to the light of the only true God.”

He defined the Church of England as a “visible Church … a congregation of men [sic] bound together by the same spirit”, bound together by Luther’s Thirty Nine Articles, and he emphasised the importance of the Sixth Article (“Holy Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation”). He saw the hand of Satan at work again in the Catholic Revival, and stressed that “to be a Christian Church, they must be scriptural, a wholly scriptural church, and upon those grounds the Established Church of England took its stand. … Every doctrine was to be proved by the Scriptures, and them alone.”

As he finally drew towards a close, Rev James applauded the establishment of St Thomas’, and “prayed that others might catch the spirit which had inspired them to found the sacred edifice wherein they had assembled, and that the Church ministry might be so provided for, that every man, woman, and child might by visited by their respective ministers, in their pastoral walks, to enquire after the spiritual welfare of their souls.” He added that “he never thought that the Established Church was perfect, but he thought it the best and the nearest to the truth, and he hoped that through Jesus Christ it would be regenerated and made worthy of bearing his holy name. As those present had added one Church more to the ministry of Christ, they were entitled to all praise, yet would they do well to contribute further to liquidate the debt still owing – £500.”

The collection amounted to £32 15s [£2,300], which was a sizeable sum but barely scratched the surface of the £500 [£35,500] outstanding debt.

The following Saturday’s Lancaster Gazette (17th April 1841) reported that “the beautiful building was well filled on the occasion, and its opening may be said to have been most auspicious. An admirable choir, under the superintendence of Mr. Evans, attended, and executed all the musical parts of the service delightfully.” Apparently the church opening service was blamed for the low turnout of people at the town theatre [now the Grand Theatre] that night, where Hamlet was playing.


Consecration Service

Two months after the first service in St Thomas’ the Lancaster Gazette (12th June 1841) carried an advert on its front page for the Consecration Service -

St Thomas’s Church, Lancaster. The Public are respectfully informed that this Church will be CONSECRATED in the Afternoon of Monday, the 14thinstant, and a SERMON preached by the Lord Bishop of the Diocese. A Collection will be made after the Sermon towards Liquidating the Debt still remaining. Service to commence at half-past five p.m.”

The Bishop began that afternoon in Lancaster by holding a confirmation service at the Parish Church for 137 males and 197 females. That evening he moved across town to consecrate St Thomas’.

The following Saturday the Lancaster Gazette (19th June 1841) included a report on “this interesting ceremony” -

The church was filled on the occasion, and the Mayor attended … The Lord Bishop of the Diocese arrived just around six o’clock, and immediately took his seat within the communion rails on the right. On the left was the Rev. [Raikes], the Chancellor of the Diocese, who at once read aloud the deed of consecration. This done, his Lordship proceeded round the interior of the church, down the north aisle, and returning up the middle, followed by the Rev. the Vicar of the parish, Chancellor Raikes, E.D. Salisbury Esq., as trustee, and all the clergy present, who with the bishop read, as they proceeded, verse and verse of the 23rd psalm. His lordship having returned to the altar, and all the clergy and others having resumed their places, he offered up the usual prayers. Then commenced the evening service, which was read by the minister of the church, the Rev. J.N.G. Armytage. A most delightful choir was present, and the appointed hymns and psalms were all admirably sung. At the conclusion of the service, his lordship ascended the pulpit, and delivered an appropriate sermon from the last verse of the concluding chapter of the gospel of St. Matthew – ‘And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.’ After the sermon a collection was made, and the sum of forty six pounds [£3,300] received. His lordship and the chancellor retired afterwards to Mrs. Salisbury’s residence in Queen Street, and partook of that lady’s hospitality. Thus the last stroke of the good work has been struck, and we trust the Almighty blessing will abundantly descend upon it.”

The parchment Sentence of Consecration, dated the 14th of June 1841, which was read out at the service, is archived in the Blackburn Diocesan Registry.

Elizabeth Salisbury, whose generosity had kick-started the fund-raising for the building of the church, donated a full suite of Communion Plate at the time of the Consecration.

The Lancaster Gazette noted, “with pleasure … that a very large number of the pews are taken, and what makes this pleasure an unalloyed one is the circumstance that this large congregation has been thus formed without, in any degree worth the mention, abridging the flocks of other places of worship belonging to the establishment.” There were no signs of large-scale “sheep-stealing” of members from other churches in town, other than the group led by Joseph Armytage which left St Mary’s to establish St Thomas’.



In English church law, the right of a patron to recommend a member of the Anglican clergy as Vicar in a vacant benefice (church) is known as the advowson. This right was often originally held by the lord of the principal manor within the parish.

In Lancaster, the Vicar at St Mary’s - the Parish Church - held this right at the time when St Thomas’ was established, and he regularly exercised it in selecting Vicars for both St John’s and St Anne’s. But St Thomas’ was different; it was the first Anglican church in Lancaster to be established independent of the Parish Church. Elizabeth Salisbury, its founding and primary benefactor, became its patron from day one and so had the right to select its Vicar, with the approval of the Bishop of the Diocese.

After Elizabeth’s death in March 1851, the advowson right was bought from her estate for £1,280 [about £110,000] by Colin Campbell, who had succeeded Joseph Armytage as Vicar. He passed it on to his son Colin when he died in 1856. In 1896 Colin Campbell Junior gave the patronage to the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS), who have retained it ever since.



St Thomas’ was established in the Diocese of Chester which it remained part of until it was transferred to the new Diocese of Manchester when that was founded in 1847. It later transferred to the new Diocese of Blackburn when that was founded in 1926, and it has remained so ever since.


District or parish

The Church of England is territorial, in the sense that it assigns a patch – the parish, which in the 19th century was called its district - to each church.

In rural areas, where people are thinly scattered across a wide area, parishes can be very extensive, but in densely packed towns and cities parishes can be small. No part of England lies outside a parish; they cover the whole land surface like a patchwork quilt, with no gaps or overlaps. Each parish belongs to a diocese, and dioceses similarly inter-lock (like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle) to cover the whole land surface. The district or parish is formally assigned to a church by its diocese.

The link between church and parish is two-way, because the church both serves and it served by its parish, which supplies it with both people and money, both essential to its life and survival. Vicars are charged with ‘the cure of souls’ throughout their parish, and they have traditionally regularly engaged in pastoral visits throughout their parish.

If the population of a parish grows through time, a new church might be built within it and the parish may be sub-divided between the two churches. This, indeed, is how St John’s, St Anne’s and St Thomas’ came into being. Conversely, if the population of a parish declines the church can become unviable and unsustainable and it may end up being closed, as has happened in Lancaster with both St Anne’s (1957) and St John’s (1981).

A church might also end up being relocated within a redefined parish, if population changes make this a viable proposition. As we shall see in later chapters, the threat of this happening to St Thomas’ has arisen twice over the past century.

The district of St Thomas was assigned in 1844, having been carved out of the territory that belonged to St Mary’s, so it meant a loss of revenue to the Parish Church and its Vicar. The establishment of St Thomas in 1841 must have been the catalyst for assigning districts to St John’s (1755) and St Anne’s (1796), which was done in 1842.

The original parchment document, dated the 13th of February 1844, survives in the Blackburn Diocesan Registrar’s Office. It defines the boundary of the parish of St Thomas’ as -

commencing on the East side and at the extreme end of Nelson Street from thence through Sydney Street and along the South side thence passing in an oblique direction across King Street, up Middle Street, then turning to the left through High Street along the top Walk of Hargreaves Garden, from thence by an imaginary straight line to the Canal Bridge in Aldcliffe Lane (nearest to Lancaster), and from thence along the Towing Path to the extreme end of Nelson Street aforesaid.”

The original parish boundary was defined by the canal on the east and south, and by Common Garden Street, Brock, Sidney, and Nelson Streets on the North.

At that time there was hardly any development including housing east of the canal or west of the Castle and Parish Church. The residential area covered by the current parish of St Thomas’ simply did not exist, it was fields. As local historian Andrew White (2000 p.69) has pointed out -

south of the town development was very sporadic and had to wait until the middle of the nineteenth century. Hardly any buildings stood between Penny Street and Scotforth, which was then a separate village. Among the few houses were Springfield Hall, a house of c.1790, its site now occupied by the hospital, and Bowerham House, which still stands, an ancient manorial site.”

According to the census returns, within this district in 1851 there were 3,285 people (1,553 males and 1,732 females) living in 617 houses. Three houses were then being built, and there were also 35 uninhabited houses.

With population changes in Lancaster since the 1840s, and particularly with the growth of suburbs and new housing to the south of the town centre, the parish boundaries have been revised several times (in 1933 and 1963), as we shall see in later chapters.



Whilst many of those who worship at St Thomas’ today live beyond the parish boundary, and when the church opened in 1841 it would have been well within reach for most people in Lancaster, its original congregation was doubtless heavily shaped by its district or parish.

Several clues suggest that St Thomas’ then had a larger proportion of working class and poor members than the other Anglican Churches in Lancaster -

p<>{color:#000;}. Its location defined its catchment area – by the canal, adjacent to the mills and warehouses, with working class and poor families living tightly packed together in cramped, often multi-family houses.

p<>{color:#000;}. Its churchmanship determined who it would most appeal to – evangelical churches of all denominations (Anglican and Nonconformist) were attracting working class people, while Anglo-Catholic churches attracted the better educated and better off.

p<>{color:#000;}. Its relatively high proportion of free seats (pews and benches), certainly compared with St Mary’s and St John’s, is a strong indicator.

p<>{color:#000;}. Its overall level of income also speaks volumes. The church had a relatively large number of people living within its district but income and giving were relatively low. In 1854, for example, there were 3,285 people living within the district of St Thomas’, and income from pew rents amounted to £130 [£9,500] a year; St Mary’s, the town’s parish church, had a population of 9,284 (nearly three times as many) and income of £1,709 [£125,000] … more than twelve times as much.

The struggle to pay off the outstanding debt on the building fund also points to relatively limited spare money within the congregation, with those who could afford to contribute quite possibly have stretched themselves to the limit in doing so. But the people of St Thomas’ also often gave generously to appeals for other charitable causes, such as towards the National Schools and helping the poor and needy.


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4. Joseph Armytage (1841-1845)

It is no surprise that Joseph Armytage, who had led the walkout from the parish church and the building of St Thomas’, became its first incumbent. Recall that Elizabeth Salisbury was patron as well as major benefactor of the new church, and as one of his strongest supporters she would have been keen to have him in charge.


First Vicar of St Thomas’

Naturally, Armytage was the same character with the same views, values and priorities, as he was when he served as Curate at St Mary’s; he even lived in the same house as he did then. He was probably now emboldened by having left the safety and security of his post in the parish church and started this new venture, with more than a little help from his friends, particularly the Salisbury family. He could now speak with greater freedom and authority, having pinned his evangelical colours to the mast and come out very publicly against the Catholic Revival.

By the time he started at St Thomas’ Joseph was already a family man, with a wife, a son (North) and two daughters (Josephine and Harriet). He and Harriet would have two more daughters during his time at St Thomas – Marian (born in 1842) and Matilda (1845). The Lancaster Gazette announced the birth of a son on 16th of December 1843 who appears to have died young; there is no trace of him in the 1851 census.

Details of Joseph’s time as Vicar at St Thomas are scarce because, whilst the Minute Book of the Vestry Meetings (forerunner of the PCC) held annually between 1842 and 1934 is archived in the Public Record Office in Preston, it contains little information for the early years other than the names of the Vicar and Churchwardens. There are no minutes of what was discussed or decided. We can find some information about him in the local newspaper, the Lancaster Gazette, which in those days included detailed reports of church activities and meetings.


Preacher and evangelist

Armytage’s effectiveness as a preacher was well established during his time as Curate at St Mary’s, and it served him well at St Thomas’. We learn, for example, that he preached at the parish church on the 26th of July 1843. His sermon was based on Hebrews 13: 16 – “do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” – and the Lancaster Gazette reported that he

raised a discourse of surpassing eloquence which touched the hearts of all hearers, and which, if the church had been well attended as it ought to have been, would, we are sure, have secured many new friends to the society. And considerably increased its means.”

Although there is little evidence of him personally engaging in direct evangelism, except perhaps through his preaching, Armytage was a great supporter of national societies devoted to evangelism. For example, he preached “an appropriate sermon” on behalf of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in St Thomas’ on the 6th of May 1842.

On the 3rd of June 1845 he spoke at the annual meeting of the Lancaster branch of the Church Missionary Society in the Music Hall. The Lancaster Gazette reports that he “addressed the meeting at considerable length”, starting by tracing the apostolic origins of missionary meetings, arguing that “a very great improvement had taken place in English society concurrently with the institution of religious meetings”, and insisting that “all who did not attend those meetings were deficient in the grace of God”.

He went on to spell out the benefits of missionary meetings, such as the conversion of non-believers, and opportunities “to hear interesting accounts from eye witnesses of the manners of heathen life – of the folly, the cruelty, and the superstitions of those dark places of the earth”. Sharing of testimonies at such meetings “afforded striking instances of the subduing of the carnal mind by the power of the gospel” and challenged the non-believer. He noted that “from time to time, at these meetings, those persons might hear of examples of the most blind being brought to the light; and so they were led on to further enquiry, till they also partook of the hope which they before believed not to be theirs.” “Above all,” he concluded, “beyond the interest or personal benefit of these meetings, they tended to the glory of God.”


Supporter of local causes

Like many clergymen in those days, Armytage had little time for the attitude of their 18th century forebears who, as church historian J H Bettey (1987 p.141) puts it, “thought it one of their principal duties to instil into the laity that calm acceptance of the established social order which is imposed by the Catechism: ‘To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters … to do my duty in that state of life, unto which it shall please God to call me.’”

Armytage and many of his colleagues, of both High Church and Low Church persuasions, were active in trying to promote the social and economic welfare of their parishioners, as well as caring for their spiritual needs. On the 12th of September 1841, for example, he preached a sermon at St Thomas’ in aid of the Lancaster Dispensary and House of Recovery on Castle Hill. His text was Luke 16: 9, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” The Lancaster Gazette reports that “he delivered an eloquent and impressive discourse … [and] the attendance on this occasion was both numerous and respectable, as the Dispensary is a charity which merits the support of all classes and denominations of the inhabitants.” The collection raised £15 [£1,000] for the Dispensary.

In May 1845, after he had resigned his post at St Thomas’ and just before he left Lancaster, Joseph Armytage and Edward Salisbury attended a “meeting of apprentices and shopmen … in the large room under the Assembly Room, to take into consideration the best means of obtaining the closing of shops at seven o’clock throughout the year.” He spoke in support of the motion that “so long as shops are kept open after than hour, those employed therein are debarred from taking sufficient outdoor exercise, as well as attending in reading rooms, and other institutions of an instructive nature.”


St Thomas’ School

Armytage was also very supportive of efforts to improve the lot of the many poor families who lived within the St Thomas’ district, through education.

By today’s standards the school system in the 1840s looks basic and under-resourced. Most schools were church-based (usually Anglican), and they served families living within the parish. Education was available for children up to the age of ten.

Attendance by pupils was not compulsory, and levels of absenteeism were high. Education was not free, but parents were expected to pay small amounts to have their children educated in school. Teachers received no formal education; they had no qualifications, received little pay, and worked hard with meagre resources. Pupil-teachers were common, with older children teaching the younger ones. Most children left school before the age of eleven, with no qualifications, few skills and little prospect of bettering themselves.

In 1843 a single-storey day school was built behind the church, forming the ground floor of what today is the Church Centre. It was funded and erected by S Simpson in memory of his mother Maria, as recorded on a stone tablet over the door, which read (Ribgye 1891, p.353) -

In memory of Maria Simpson who through divine grace sought to bring up herself in the nurture and admonition of the Lord by instruction in His revealed word and attention on His appointed ordinances, this scheme for the education of youth in the Holy Scriptures and in the principles of the Church of England is erected as the most suitable monument of such a parent by a grateful son, 1843.”

The Sunday School was opened in the same building on the 6th of August 1843.


Defender of the faith

Within months of the opening of St Thomas’ we find Joseph Armytage once again on the attack against the rise in support for Catholicism, both within and beyond the Church of England.

At the beginning of August 1841 he addressed a meeting the Lancaster branch of the Protestant Association, held at the National School on Green Ayre, where he announced that -

in the course of the year they proposed to hold another public meeting, when it was intended to reserve a large bench for the especial accommodation of Romish priests – to whom a special invitation would be sent – and if they ventured to contradict one word advanced from the platform, they were prepared to make it good to their faces. … he loved the Papist, but he hated Popery.”

He addressed the same group again in February 1842, this time on ‘The Perfidy of the Church of Rome.’ During his two-hour talk he spoke about “the gradual decline of the Church of Christ and of Rome especially, from primitive purity of doctrine, discipline, and practice, until Christendom was over-run with vice and clouded with ignorance” and suggested “proofs that the Church of Rome was as truly unchangeable in her principles and practices as she professed to be – intriguing and rebellious when in subjection; bloody and tyrannical when in power; always acting on the principle that no faith is to be kept with heretics …” According to the Lancaster Gazette the lecture “seemed to be received with general interest and approbation.”

Just over a year later, in May 1843, we read of Armytage speaking at a meeting of the Church Missionary Association in the New Music Hall. He believed there was evidence of

the approach of that spiritual earthquake foretold in the prophecies of the Scripture. It was to be seen in the tremulous motion that agitated the minds of men – in the increase of Popery, the spread of infidelity, the spread of democratic principles, and that impatience with authority which every where prevailed. The contemplation of these things suggested the idea of a dark and gloomy ocean awaiting some mighty blast to arise in mountain waves, and overwhelm.”

Talking about the Church of England, he pointed out that

there were enemies without, whose hostility was daily manifested in the cry of ‘down with her,’ whilst there were those within her walls [supporters of the Oxford Movement], who though bound by solemn vows to resist the introduction of doctrines or practices not conformable to her principles, those who ate her bread, lifting up their hands against her, and would take away that foundation of her existence, justification by faith, and substitute for it justification by works; and thus assaults were made from without and from within for the purpose of pulling down what he solemnly believed to be the best bulwark of Christianity.”

Six months later, in early November 1843, Joseph Armytage led a service in St Thomas’ at which Rev Hugh Stowell from Manchester preached on ‘The venerable church and the Thirty Nine Articles’. Stowell based his talk on Nehemiah 10: 39 (“We will not neglect the house of our God”). The Lancaster Gazette reported that his

address was a fine specimen of persuasive and fervent eloquence, well adapted for the occasion, and … [he] proved, beyond all doubt, that ours, the Protestant Church, is the true and real apostolic church of Christ – from which the papist form of religion was a corrupt, profligate, and idolatrous off-shoot. The faith, as contained in the thirty-nine articles of the Church, was that which Christ preached, which his disciples taught, and which Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer, suffered martyrdom at the stake to defend, and in defiance of all the attacks of our Church’s open enemies, and the still more dangerous designs of her pretended friends.”

One year on, in late October 1844, Edward Salisbury chaired a meeting in the Boys’ National School of the British Society for Promoting the Religious Principles of the Reformation, attended by Armytage and many other local clergy.

The purpose of the meeting was to give information “on the present state of the modern Romish church in this country, as well as the various means resorted to by the agents of the Papacy to pervert to the pale of that communion.” The Lancaster Gazette reported that, despite “the chilly bleakness of the evening, several hundreds of persons were assembled in the room – comprising … men both in the highest and most humble walks of society, and of every grade of religious and political feeling.”



The Lancaster Gazette for the 29th of July 1843 reported that “The Rev Edward Pedder, BA, of Brazenose, Oxford, has been appointed Curate of St Thomas’s, in this town.” This was the church’s first Curate, and no doubt his arrival was a great benefit to the Vicar.

Pedder was born in Preston in 1819 and graduated from Brasenose College, part of Oxford University, with a BA in 1842 and an MA in 1845. He was ordained deacon in 1843, arrived in Lancaster the same year, and in 1844 was ordained priest by the Bishop of Chester. He never married or had children, and remained in Lancaster throughout his clerical career, living at 15 Castle Hill with his three older sisters.

It is not clear exactly when he left St Thomas’, but he is not listed in the Baptism Register after 1845. In the 1851 census he is listed as Curate at St Anne’s; in 1861 he is listed as Curate at St Mary’s, the Parish Church; and from 1862 to 1880 he was Vicar of St John’s. He was made an Honorary Canon of Manchester Cathedral in 1870. His career path was quite unusual because he must have been comfortable moving back and forth between the Low Church (St Thomas’ and St Anne’s) and High Church (St Mary’s and St John’s) wings of the Church of England. His tie to Lancaster was clearly stronger than his tie to any particular form of churchmanship!

Edward Pedder died in Lancaster on the 21st of March 1881, aged 61. Probate records show that he left a personal estate valued at under £6,000 [£436,000] in a will that was proved by his two brothers, Thomas (“a Gentleman from Manchester”) and John (a clergyman from Bath).



Armytage’s strengths lay in preaching and teaching, and in shepherding his flock, and he was not very successful at clearing the debt from the building programme, despite his best efforts.

Some of the church services and collections during his time at St Thomas’ were directed towards fund-raising. In early April 1842 a Rev W McGrath was guest speaker at one such service. He preached on Psalm 122: 8-9 (“For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’ For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity.”) The appeal raised £28 [£2,000] towards the debt that had by then risen to £700 [£51,000].  In October 1843 Hugh Stowell preached at the church “in aid of the fund collecting for the liquidation of the debt still owing for the erection of the church. We need say no more [urged the Lancaster Gazette]; except to express an earnest hope that the labours of the gifted preacher will be rewarded by an abundant collection.”

Fund-raising on this scale must have seemed like an uphill struggle for Armytage, particularly given that it was usually the same people – the members of his congregation – who were being asked to give generously. The challenge must have been particularly big given the generally impoverished nature of his parish. It must also have been a worrying time, as well as a deep embarrassment, for the trustees of St Thomas’, who were responsible for servicing and repaying the debt.


Resignation and departure

Joseph Armytage left St Thomas’ and Lancaster and headed south in May 1845, after four years as Vicar. He resigned to become Secretary of the Church Pastoral Aid Society at Walthamstow in Essex. He is listed in the 1851 edition of Crockford’s Clerical Directory as Association Secretary of the South Eastern branch of CPAS, based at the Society’s offices at Temple Chambers in Fleet Street, London.

This CPAS appointment was to be the first link in a chain that runs unbroken through to the present day – his successor (Colin Campbell) would gave the patronage of St Thomas’ to CPAS shortly before he died in 1856, and CPAS has remained patron ever since. More than a century later, Cyril Ashton had also served on the staff of CPAS before being appointed Vicar of St Thomas’ in 1974.

According to reports in the Lancaster Gazette, in his final days in Lancaster Joseph Armytage attended the annual meeting of the Lancaster Auxiliary Bible Society, in the Music Hall. He and his wife also attended a meeting of the Church Sunday School Teachers at the Boy’s National School on Green Area “for the purpose of taking tea, and hearing addresses from the several clergymen of this town, on the subject of Sunday Schools.” As the Lancaster Gazette (28th June 1845) rather gushingly put it

we are truly pleased to hear that the reverend gentleman has not taken leave of us without carrying with him some gratifying testimonials of the sense entertained of his ministry by those best able to appreciate it.”

Amongst the leaving presents he received were “seventeen volumes of valuable works [given by members of the Bible classes at St Thomas’], beautifully bound in vellum, richly gilt, the presentation stamped in gold on each volume, and the names of the presenters on the fly leaves”; “a very beautiful pocket communion service” given by some of the District Visitors based at the church; a bible and prayer book presented by one gentleman; and “from his flock at large, the rev. gentleman has received farewell blessings accompanied by expressions of the most heartfelt regret, and in some cases the silent tribute of many tears.” He had clearly made a good impression during his four years as Vicar, and would be greatly missed

However, this was not the last the people of St Thomas’ would see or hear of Joseph Armytage. As we shall see in Chapter 8, nearly three decades later he would return to St Thomas’ to take over again as Vicar in 1871. Sadly, his stay that second time would be short-lived and would end rather abruptly and unexpectedly.


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5. Colin Campbell (1845-1856)

Clerical Appointment – The Rev. Colin Campbell M.A., of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Curate of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, to the incumbency of St. Thomas’ Church, in this town, vacant by the resignation of the Rev. J.N. Green Armytage, M.A.” Report in the Lancaster Gazette on the 3rd of May 1845


Colin Campbell was born in Liverpool on the 30th of September 1805. He attended the Royal Liverpool Institution and graduated from Trinity College at the University of Cambridge with a BA in 1829 and an MA in 1832. He was ordained deacon in 1830, served as a Curate at Chippenham with Tytherton Lucas during 1830-31, and was ordained priest in 1831. That same year he was appointed Curate of Richmond, Surrey, and the next year (1832) he married Harriet Hume from Warwickshire. Their first child, a son they named Colin, was born in Richmond in 1834.

By 1939 the family had moved to Birmingham, where Colin served as Curate at St Paul’s. Their second child, a daughter called Harriet Hume, was born in Birmingham in 1839. They moved again, this time to Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, where Colin served another Curacy.



In early July 1845 Colin and Harriet moved north with their children to Lancaster, where they would spend the rest of their days. Their third child, a daughter called Jane, was born in Lancaster in 1848. It is not known where the family lived when they first arrived in Lancaster; quite possibly the house in Castle Park where Armytage had lived. But in the 1851 census they are listed as living at 30 Queen Street, with an account and a solicitor as next-door neighbours.

Colin was appointed Perpetual Curate (effectively Vicar) of St Thomas’ Church. He was inducted into the church on the 27th of April 1845 when, according to the Lancaster Gazette, he “went through the usual formalities, and read the thirty nine articles”.

That evening he also preached in church, on 2 Corinthians 12: 14 (“I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you.”) The Lancaster Gazette described it as a “very eloquent and faithful sermon, in which he traced out clearly, and marked distinctly, that line he should feel it his duty to pursue, as minister of the district over which he had been called to preside.” Here was Colin Campbell setting out his stall, pledging to do his best in the things he felt called to focus on during his time at St Thomas’.

We discover even less about Colin Campbell from the Minute Book of the Annual Vestry Meetings 1842-1934 than we did about Joseph Armytage, because there are no minutes recorded between April 1844 and March 1855, when Campbell was Vicar. Thankfully there are a number of reports in the Lancaster Gazette covering his time at St Thomas’, which allow us to see just how important he was to the successful establishment and consolidation of the church in its early days.

One interesting thing about Colin Campbell during his time at St Thomas’ was that he edited and published a book entitled Confirmation: its nature and ends, being extracts from a work on that subject by Richard Baxter, London, 1658. An advert for it, on the front page of the Lancaster Gazette (5th August 1848), informs readers that

The Trade supplied by M. Newton, Cheapside, Lancaster, who sells this work at One Shilling, to each such persons as bring a written recommendation from any Parochial Clergyman.”

It’s easier to find evidence of his generosity and determination to complete the building project than evidence of his churchmanship or clerical priorities and practices. In many ways the spirit of Colin Campbell matched the spirit of the day because he was prepared to let actions speak louder than words, and he invested a good part of the family wealth into St Thomas’.


Lancaster during his time

The period between 1845 and 1856 was to be transformational for Lancaster in a number of important ways. It was a time of growth in the town.

The local economy was recovering after the slump in previous decades, with the extension of the Lancaster and Preston Railway (1837-40) further north to Carlisle (1846), growth in the manufacture of railway carriages in the town, development and expansion of the Williamson and Storey Brothers firms (in 1856, for example, the Storeys bought the cotton mills at White Cross and converted them for making oilcloth and table baise), two new breweries opening in town, and continued success of the two local foundries. The militia barracks at White Cross were built in 1854.

More employment meant more people, which increased demand for housing. During the 1850s terraces of housing intended for the working classes were built south of St Leonardsgate (along Edward Street, Lodge Street and Alfred Street), along St George’s Quay, and on the Highfield (Freehold) estate east of the canal. Growth of the town, coupled with the shortage of space in churchyards in town for burying the dead, led to the opening of a municipal cemetery on Lancaster Moor in 1855, near the County Asylum (1816).

Growth also increased demand for better facilities, such as the establishment of a piped water supply in Lancaster (1853). The Poor House (1787, also known as the Work House) on Lancaster Moor was enlarged in 1845; the covered market was moved to an open space behind Market Street in 1846; the Boy’s Grammar School moved to a new site on East Road in 1851; Ripley Hospital was built in 1856 on the Cockerham Road as an orphanage and school for boys and girls; and the Mechanics Institute on Meeting House Lane (1825, later replaced by the Storey Institute) was rebuilt in 1856.

Large numbers of poor working-class people living in over-crowded and unsanitary conditions created serious health risks, such as the cholera which spread through parts of the town in September 1849, killing seventeen people in one week alone. The Lancaster Gazette reported that the 12th of September “was set apart for humiliation and supplication, in consequence of the prevalence of cholera in the town.”

In 1846 Richard Owen, a Lancaster-born scientist who coined the term dinosaur and founded the Natural History Museum in London, wrote a Report on the State of Lancaster for the Health of Towns Commission. This showed that half of the deaths in working class families occurred before the age of ten, compared with fifteen percent for the gentry, and it pointed to the town’s inadequate sewer system and overcrowded churchyards, which polluted local water and air, as major culprits.


Census of Religious Worship 1851

A national census (the first and last) of religious worship in England and Wales was carried out in 1851, which collected information on average attendances at churches and chapels for the previous 12 months and the number present at services on the 30th of March 1851.

Amongst other things the census it showed how many places of worship of different denominations existed in 1851, and revealed “what the more perceptive of churchmen had realised for several years – that church attendance in any denomination was generally a middle-class activity and reflected middle-class attitudes and aspirations.” (Austin 2001 p.145) As Bettey (1987 p.136) points out

the results of the census came as a shock to many churchmen, for they revealed in cold statistics the extent to which the Church of England had lost the loyalty of working people, and how few attended any form of religious worship. The census showed that only about 21 percent of the population attended an Anglican church, and that the proportion in many of the larger towns was pitifully small.”

The figures for Lancaster are interesting. Around 13.5 percent of the population of Lancaster declared themselves as having no religion, compared with nearly 15 percent across England and Wales as a whole.

Anglicanism was relatively strong in Lancaster – 62 percent of all “attendances” in Lancaster were to Church of England churches, compared with 50 percent nationally – as was Roman Catholicism (8.5 percent in Lancaster, 3.5 percent nationally).

Wesleyan Methodism was strong relative to other denominations but relatively weak nationally (12 percent in Lancaster, 15.2 percent nationally). Calvinistic Methodism had no presence in Lancaster (2.6 percent nationally), and there were few Baptists (0.5 percent in Lancaster, 8.6 percent nationally).


Who was St Thomas’ Church serving at that time?

We can get a sense of who St Thomas’ was serving in those early days by taking a look at the baptism and marriage registers. Then as now, people were only allowed to marry in an Anglican church if at least one of them lived within the district (parish), or were only allowed to have their children baptised there if the family lived in the district. So the profile of adults listed in each register should be a fair reflection of the people living within the district.


The Baptism Register records the very first baptism in St Thomas’ as having taken place on the 27th of April 1845. On the day he was inducted into St Thomas’, Colin Campbell baptised three week old William Simpson, son of Edmund (an upholsterer and cabinet maker) and Susannah Simpson of Wood Street, in church.

A quick analysis of the first ten baptisms conducted in St Thomas (April 1845-Jan 1846) shows that the families were mainly working-class people living in streets very close to the church – the heads of household were an upholsterer and cabinet maker, a spinner, a single woman, a builder, an excavator, a yarn dresser, a shoe maker, a stone mason, a clerk, and a cotton spinner.

We can dig a little deeper and look at the range of jobs held by parents of children baptized in the church between April 1845 and February 1856, during Colin Campbell’s time as Vicar. The Baptism Register lists a total of 395 children baptized over that period; the figures are the number of children not the number of families, because some families would have had more than one child baptized over that period. Thirty of the children (one in thirteen) were of unmarried women, some of whom lived in the Work House. The remaining 365 children were of married couples.

The vast majority of the men were low-paid manual workers; 129 (one third) of them were listed as labourers. Nearly a fifth (79 men) were in trade and manufacturing, representing a wide variety of activities – there were 33 carpenters, joiners and cabinet makers; 7 upholsterers; 1 French polisher; 2 coach builders; 8 blacksmiths; 1 iron moulder; 3 silversmiths; 2 whitesmiths (tinplate workers); 4 painters; 1 plumber; 1 twine spinner; 3 brush makers; 3 mechanics; 4 printers; 2 pipe makers; 3 warehouse men; and 1 ginger beer maker.

Not surprisingly, many of the fathers – 39 men, a tenth of the total – were employed in the mills along the canal near to church. Others (29 men) were employed in building – there were 2 quarrymen; 17 stonemasons; 1 excavator; 9 builders; 1 miner. A good number served the town’s population, either in retail (14 men) – there were 8 butchers, 2 ironmongers, 1 baker, 1 chemist, 1 stationer and 1 wine merchant – or in clothing (25 men), with 16 shoe makers, 8 tailors and 1 clogger.

Eight of the men were employed on the railways – 3 as excavators (navigators or navvys), 1 as a surveyor, 2 as clerks, 1 as a porter, and 1 as a fireman (coalman on the steam trains) – and another 8 worked in transport and hospitality, 3 as coal carters, 2 as carters, 1 as a chaise driver, 1 as a publican and 1 as an ostler (inn stableman).

Only two men were listed with maritime professions; 1 was a pilot and the other a mariner. Five men were in service, 2 as servants, 2 as gardeners and 1 as a huntsman. Three of the fathers were soldiers.

Just under a quarter of the fathers (23 men) who had children baptized in St Thomas’ over that period were listed as gentlemen (2) or had professions (21). There were 2 surgeons, 3 solicitors, 3 book keepers, 1 goods agent, 1 Monitor to the Castle, 1 Vicar (Colin Campbell), 2 Schoolmasters, 3 clerks, 1 accountant and 4 policemen.



St Thomas’ was licensed for the solemnization of marriages on the 20th of April 1847. Colin Campbell took the first wedding in the church two months later on the 20th of June, between George Bannerman (a lithographer living in Penny Street) and Sarah Warbrick. The profile of the first ten marriages shows a similar pattern to that of the baptisms; mainly low-paid men and at least either the husband or wife living almost within the shadow of St Thomas’ at the time of the marriage. The heads of household were a lithographer, a sawyer, a cattle dealer, a warehouseman, a schoolmaster, a cabinet-maker, a huntsman, a carrier, a butcher, and a labourer.



Colin Campbell was assisted in his ministry at St Thomas by a series of Curates, some of who were in their first Curacy. Three out of the four stayed only a very short time before moving on.

The first was Edmund Clay, a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, who was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Chester in March 1847. He first appears in the Baptism Register as Curate of St Thomas’ the same month, and early the next month he gave his first sermon in church. The Lancaster Gazette (17th April 1847) noted that his “excellent beginning gives promise of much future usefulness, and leads us to hope for great things, from the combined energies of incumbent and Curate.” He did go on to deliver great things, but not at St Thomas’.

In July that same year he was appointed Perpetual Curate (Vicar) of St Luke’s in Skerton. Indeed, 1847 was a busy year for Edmund Clay – on the 27th of August he married Sarah Howes Lucas of Cambridgeshire at St George’s, Hanover Square in London; in October he was ordained priest; and sadly his wife Sarah died on the 20th of December, aged 23. Eight months later, in August 1848, he remarried (Elizabeth Dodson, a widow of Bolton-le-Sands) at Holy Trinity Church in Bolton-le-Sands, and the same month he resigned from St Luke’s.

In February 1853 we find him listed as Minister of St Luke’s, Leamington, and author of a book Song of Solomon: Expository lectures on, published by Davies of London. In February 1856 he moved to St Margaret’s Chapel, Brighton, where he caused a stir by campaigning against the rise of Catholic practices within that Diocese of the Church of England. In March 1861 his book Doctrine, Parable and Prophecy was published by Witts of Brighton. He wrote or co-wrote a total of 12 books between 1852 and 1872 and continued to fight very publicly against Ritualism within the Church of England and against the exodus of Anglican clergymen to the Roman Catholic Church. The Birmingham Daily Post (10th August 1872) announced the death of Edmund Clay, “through weakness of the lungs”, aged 50, on the 6th of August 1872. He died at home in Brighton “where he stood in the front rank of its Evangelical clergy.”

Less than nine months after Edmund Clay left St Thomas’ he was replaced as Curate by David Stevenson, a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge. In March 1848 Stevenson was appointed deacon at St Thomas’, in the first group ordained by the Bishop of the new Diocese of Manchester, which had been founded on the 1st of September 1847, when St Thomas’ was transferred into it from the Diocese of Chester.

David Stevenson arrived in Lancaster in April 1848 and first appears in the Baptism Register as Curate of St Thomas’ in May. But like his predecessor his stay in Lancaster was short-lived. His entries in the Baptism Register stop in August 1850, and the Lancaster Gazette for the 26th of April 1851 contains an advert for sale or letting of two dwelling houses “lately in the occupation of the Rev David Stevenson, numbers 18 and 19 Brock Street, along with a stable adjoining number 18 in Mary Street”. It is not known where he went after he left Lancaster or how his career progressed afterwards.

A third short-lasting Curate at St Thomas was Thomas Wade, who graduated from Exeter College, Oxford, with a BA (1850) and MA (1853). In January 1853 he was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Manchester and licensed to the Curacy of St Thomas’. He was ordained priest in December 1853 and appears on the Baptism Register as Curate at St Thomas’ between May 1853 and September 1854. According to Crockford’s Clerical Directory he became Second Master of Wakefield Grammar School then Headmaster of the Lower Proprietary School in Blackheath, London (1857) and served as Assistant Curate at St Andrews’ in Marylebone (1863).

William Ogden arrived at St Thomas’ early in 1856. He first appears in the Baptism Register as Curate on the 12th of February, but within three months he is listed as Vicar. We will look at his story in the next chapter.


Clearing the debt

Generations of members of St Thomas’ after Colin Campbell’s time owed him a debt of gratitude for two particular ways in which he consolidated the establishment of the church, which was still in its infancy when he became Vicar in April 1845. First he cleared the outstanding debt from the original building programme. Secondly, he completed that programme which had been constrained by shortage of funds, and added significantly to the buildings and thus the work that the church was able to do.

When Campbell took charge of St Thomas’ the debt stood at around £7,000 [£540,000]. As local historian Haythornthwaite (1875, p.69) put it, “a considerable debt might have been handed down to posterity, if the energy and beneficence of a former incumbent [Colin Campbell] had not risen superior to all difficulties.” Thanks to Campbell’s commitment and generosity, “the church then arose from the debt and confusion, which mismanagement [poor financial planning, not corruption] had occasioned, though it was not without assiduous efforts extended over a long period of time that ‘the consummation devoutly to be wished’ was finally attained.” Campbell cleared the debts of the church, largely from his own pocket.

Where had Campbell’s money come from? His father had worked in a bank in Kendal but moved to Liverpool where, according to Haythornthwaite (1875 p.78), he “prospered as a merchant and became a great authority, everywhere recognised, on statistics relating to the cotton trade”. It was ‘new money’, there was plenty of it, and much if not all of it came Colin’s way before or on his father’s death. It is not known whether Colin had any brothers or sisters, or what proportion of his father’s wealth he received. It must have been a substantial sum, because – again according to Haythornthwaite (1875 p.76) – he invested at least “£11,000 [£1 million], or a third part of his entire fortune” in St Thomas’.


Funding improvements

Colin Campbell was extremely generous in using the money he inherited to fund a range of improvements to St Thomas’ church. Among these the most visible and important were:

p<>{color:#000;}. Building the steeple;

p<>{color:#000;}. Building St Thomas’ Schools;

p<>{color:#000;}. Replacing the fence around the northern (Marton Street) edge of the church site with a low stone wall and iron railings (the railings we see today are replacements put up after World War II);

p<>{color:#000;}. Buying a house in Queen Street which he enlarged then donated to the church for use as a Vicarage;

p<>{color:#000;}. Buying houses beside the church for the Schoolmaster and the Organist; and

p<>{color:#000;}. Installing an organ and improving the interior of the church.

As we saw earlier, he also bought the patronage of St Thomas’ from the estate of Elizabeth Salisbury before in turn handing it on to the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS).

To help fund these improvements the Vicar had offered £759 [£59,000] of his own money and promised to raise a further £250 [£20,000] from his friends elsewhere. The Lancaster Gazette (3rd April 1852) reported that -

this liberal offer on behalf of a District, where the inhabitants are, mainly, poor people, is coupled with the condition that we are able to raise £500 [£39,000] amongst our friends and fellow towns-people, for carrying out of a part of the original design of the building, which was reluctantly abandoned at the time, for want of funds, namely, the addition of a Tower and Spire.”

The paper reminded its readers that such a project would provide employment for the builders and add to the Lancaster townscape and skyline.



The original plans for St Thomas’ had included a steeple (tower and spire), but this had had to be abandoned when the church was built through lack of funds.

Things were to change when, on the 14th of February 1852, the Lancaster Gazette announced that

St Thomas’s Church – This sacred edifice, one of the highest architectural ornaments of the town … is about to have its attractions increased by a very striking addition: the Rev. Colin Campbell having … determined on the erection of a beautifully proportioned spire at the north-east corner of the church.”

The spire was designed by Sharpe and Paley and the team of masons was led by Christopher Baynes. The Lancaster Gazette (1st May 1852) pointed out that, “placed as it will be, on rather an elevated site, the spire will be seen from a considerable distance, and cannot fail to add very greatly to the beauty of the old town, which, with the exception of our magnificent castle and church, is not overburdened with buildings.”

The foundation stone for the spire was laid on the afternoon of Monday the 26th of April 1852. The ceremony was scheduled to begin at 3.30 pm but, rather embarrassingly, it was delayed by half an hour because the Vicar had a meeting in the School Room which over-ran. It opened with the singing of Psalm 100 after which the Vicar read a very long prayer, beginning

O Lord, heavenly Father, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service, vouchsafe thy presence and blessing unto us, who are here assembled in thy name. … make us to be cheerful givers by causing us first of all to give up ourselves to thy service … we pray thee to throw the shield of thy protecting care over those who’s labour and toil will have to complete the work to which our hopes look forward. … We would also pray that thy grace may influence all their hearts, and grant that the earnings thus acquired … may not be worse than wasted upon wicked self-indulgence, but be carefully expended upon the reasonable wants of their families and their own comfort.”

The Vicar then invited Mr Paley, the architect, to place in the foundation a bottle that contained a note of those who supported the project, a drawing of the adjacent schools, and a list of the Mayors of Lancaster over the previous 25 years (at least three of whom had been part of the congregation over the past four years). Colin Campbell then spread the mortar, the foundation stone was lowered into place, and the Vicar said, “I lay this stone in the name of the Holy Trinity and devote this building to the honour of the one living and true God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and may his blessing rest upon us now and forever.” The ceremony ended with the singing of the national anthem.

The Vicar gave the men working on the steeple, and their employers, a special New Year’s treat in the form of a meal of roast beef and plum pudding, with beer. The Lancaster Gazette (8th January 1853) noted that he “delivered an appropriate address of very considerable length” during which he talked about “the spirit of fairness and the liberality that animates the different tradesmen engaged in the work, and the good conduct of the workpeople, [and] he addressed himself in an especial manner to the latter, pointing out to them the course of life that can alone insure for them the respect of their fellow men of all grades, and obtain for them an hereafter of eternal happiness.”

The steeple is just over 17 feet square at the base, about 120 feet high, and constructed of dressed stone. Haythornthwaite (1875, p.75) gives a description of it that was published in the Church of England Magazine -

although not an exact copy of any medieval example, [it] harmonise[s] most happily with the general character of the building. The ground-floor of the tower is appropriated to a vestry, entered by a priest’s door on the north side of the chancel. The belfry, with its peal of six bells, weighing about thirty-five cwt [hundredweight], in B flat, and founded by Warner and Son of London, is approached by an external turret of singular beauty. … For two stages the tower is about sixteen feet square, and then becomes octagonal; and from the octagon, which is about twenty-four feet high, rises a spire sixty feet, ornamented at the angles by a roll-moulding, with two tiers of lucarnes [a type of dormer window], surmounted by a metal cross and weather-vane to the height of 125 feet from the ground, and visible to a considerable distance in all directions, forming no unsuitable contrast for the massive towers and battlements which distinguish the castle of ‘time-honoured’ Lancaster.”

The building work took just over a year. It started in April 1852 and during the last week in May 1853 the cross and a weather vane were being fixed on to the top.

The Lancaster Gazette for the 28th of May proudly proclaimed “the spire is the most conspicuous architectural erection in the town, and from the approach on the south [canal] side commands attention in an especial degree.” Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner (2002) adds, somewhat caustically, that the steeple “shows what ten years had done in making architects aware of the duties of antiquarian accuracy.”


St Thomas’ Schools

By 1845 Lancaster was, for a town of its size, relatively well provided for in terms of schools, with nine day schools.

Some were long established; the Grammar School had been founded in 1500, and the Friends’ School on Meeting House Lane had opened in 1690. Others had been established since 1800 to provide an elementary education for pupils up to the age of ten. These included a Boys’ National School at Green Ayre (1817), a Girls’ National School on Cawthorpe Street (1820), a Girls’ Charity School (by 1845) nearby on High Street, schools attached to the Roman Catholic chapel in Dalton Square (1805), St Luke’s in Skerton (1836), and St Thomas’ (1843), and the Lancastrian School on Aldcliffe Street and an infants’ school near Bulk Street (both opened before 1845).

In 1845 Colin Campbell bought the day school at St Thomas’ that Simpson had erected two years earlier, enlarged it and donated it to the church. In 1846 he bought extra land (including the Victoria Hotel) adjacent to the church and school, in Victoria Place, adjoining the Prince William Henry Field. The purchase, which cost £300 [£22,500], included a house that was made available to the School Master, and the land was used as a playground (now the car park) for the school.

The ‘Agreement of Sale’ for the land and premises, dated the 18th of November 1846, is archived in the County Record Office in Preston. It covers -

“[_all that newly built Dwellinghouse situate in Victoria Place in Lancaster … With the Garden in front … And piece of building ground thereto adjoining … Together with the ground and soil … Also the right of drawing and obtaining water from the pump situate behind the Hotel called the Victoria Hotel situate in Victoria Place.” _]

It also granted permission for a flight of steps to be built “for the purpose of communicating with an Upper Story intended to be erected on the Schools either at present or thereafter to be attached to Saint Thomas’s Church …”.

This allowed Campbell to add a second floor to the school, and a bridge and tunnel linking the school building and the playground, paid for by means of grants from the Duchy, the Privy Council, the National Society, and other voluntary contributions.

As Haythornthwaite (1875, p.71) explains, “about £2,500 [£178,000] was expended in building and fitting up the schools, and of this amount only £1,300 [£93,000] was subscribed, when the Rev. C. Campbell manfully undertook the responsibility of ownership on behalf of the Church.” Once again, Campbell met the financial shortfall from his own pocket.

The St Thomas’ Schools - now separate school rooms for boys, girls and infants - were re-opened on the 16 th of July 1847. The Lancaster Gazette (17th July 1847) described how they had been

enlarged to a size equal to the accommodation of the populous and daily increasing district, in the midst of which they are planted … The street front of the building, now raised an additional story in height, presents a very neat appearance, displaying in the centre a well-engraved stone tablet, the inscription on which explains the circumstances under which the enlargement has taken place. On entering the building, we find on the ground floor a commodious school-room for boys, and two adult class-rooms, each suitably fitted up. On the second floor we find a school-room for girls, of noble dimensions, and also an excellent infant school. By admirable contrivance, all possible communication between the male and female schools is entirely cut off. There is no internal staircase, the upper, or girls’ school, being entered by a gallery from without, and to which access is gained by an avenue separated from that through which boys have ingress and egress to their school.”

Colin Campbell not only invested in the school buildings, he also introduced a new approach to schooling into Lancaster. Like a number of other enlightened people at that time, including William Wordsworth, he was a firm believer that universal education was the way for children to escape from poverty and ignorance.

In an article entitled ‘Government Education’ the Lancaster Gazette (1stJuly 1848) reported that

We are happy to hear that Lancaster is soon to have an opportunity of testing the merits of this great experiment. St Thomas’ Schools, which obtained last year so large a slice of the government grant of money – are now to possess the advantage of a master who was duly trained for three years at Chester, and has recently obtained a certificate of merit, with the attached annuity from the government examiner. From this we anticipate great good to the boys under his (Mr Addison’s) care; and as the parents ascertain the efficiency of these excellent schools … we feel confident that the scholars will quickly increase in numbers – and the whole establishment prove, what from the first we were sure it would prove, an eminent blessing to the town at large.”

The St Thomas’ Schools were re-opened as a National School, partly funded by annual grants by the government. The National Schools were established and run by members of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, which had been founded in 1811 to provide a school in every parish.

The Vicar led a service in church in aid of the schools on the evening of Thursday the 2nd of December 1847, which attracted the great and the good from the town. The Lancaster Gazette (4th December 1847) noted that “amongst the numerous congregation assembled, we observed most of the respectable families of the town, and an attendance of clergy larger than we ever saw collected on any similar occasion.” Rev Hugh McNeile gave a sermon on “the important necessity of providing a sound religious education for the children of our poorer classes”, which was “superb, and was listened to from beginning to end with breathless attention.”

One important benefit of the new type of school at St Thomas’ was that pupils could be admitted from any part of the town, not just the parish. Within a year of opening the Boys’ School had 292 boys on its books and the Girls’ and Infants’ Schools had 226. As the Lancaster Gazette reported on the 26th of August 1848

not quite one half of these may now be said to be in regular daily attendance; the actual number rarely falling short of 300 – but more generally exceeding that number. Of the remainder, many scarcely ever attend – several have left the town – some have gone into service – while the parents of not a few are unable to pay a single penny a week – to say nothing of those who are so heathenized as not to be willing to spare even that small sum from confessedly scant earnings.”

Part of Colin Campbell’s vision for the schools was to broaden the children’s understanding of the wider world. This is well illustrated in a series of talks given in the school at the end of December 1847 by a visiting New Zealand chief called Pahe-a-Range. The Lancaster Gazette (1st January 1848) reported how “the chief, who is beautifully tattoed, and appeared before the audience in the costume of the natives, entered into the progress of missionary labour in the colony, and the account he gave was highly interesting.”

There was great hope that the consolidation of St Thomas’ Church and the expansion and development of its schools would serve as catalysts for the improvement of  a run down and impoverished part of the town. The Lancaster Gazette (17th April 1847) wrote “the alterations now in progress with regard to the schools, and the achievements already attained, within a short two years, for the district, include the hope that that end of the town will ere long be visibly improved.”



Another tangible sign of Colin Campbell’s commitment to St Thomas’, and his generosity of spirit, was the purchase of a house for himself and his family in 1851, which two years later he gifted to the church as a Vicarage.

The Vicar bought 30 Queen Street for £1,000 [£85,000]. He later bought more land adjacent to the house for £500 [£42,500] in order to extend the garden to an acre, and he extended the house with a conservatory and vinery. It was all done to a very high standard; Haythornthwaite (1875, p.72) commented on how, “in accordance with Mr. Campbell’s invariable rule of ‘doing everything handsomely’, the house and garden became models of order and elegance.”

The Campbells lived there with their children Colin (aged sixteen in 1851), Harriet (eleven) and Jane (two), supported by three live-in servants (a nurse, a cook and a house maid). All respectable families in those days had live-in servants, most commonly maids; their accountant neighbor (a batchelor) had two, and on the other side their solicitor neighbour (a married man with two small children) had three.


Improving the interior of the church

Colin Campbell funded a series of changes inside the church. These included extending the chancel, removing the East Gallery, converting the West Gallery into an Organ Gallery, installing a gas heating system, and altering the stone staircases to what we have today.



Inside the church one of the biggest improvements was the installation of a magnificent organ, built by a Mr Banfield of Birmingham in what had originally been the West Gallery, above the main entrance lobby. It was completed in December 1852, while the steeple was still being constructed.

By all accounts the organ was beautifully designed, made of the very best materials, and crafted with great workmanship. It was also rather innovative for the time; amongst other things, it had a new type of German pedal, and the keyboard was made of ebony inlaid with mother-of-pearl and engraved with illuminated Old English capitals. It had plate glass doors to the keyboard, and the organ was enclosed in a beautiful solid oak case made by James Hatch (one of the Churchwardens) to a design by Sharpe and Paley.

The Lancaster Gazette (18th December 1852) reported that the organ gave “a tone of devotional grandeur to the choral parts of our Liturgy which cannot otherwise be realised.” Its arrival might not have been welcomed by everyone associated with the church, some of who were probably anxious about the services becoming more ritualistic (hence more Catholic) in flavour. Perhaps this is why the newspaper added

we would ask those who object to the elaboration of the musical parts of Divine worship, what can be more pleasing and acceptable to Him whom we worship than the ascription of praise and thanksgiving by a devout congregation, aided and refined by the sublime and beautiful, both in science and art, which are thus consecrated to His service?”


Church interior

Other additions and improvements costing more than £4,000 [£293,000] were made to the interior of the church between 1852 and 1854.

The layout of the interior is clearly shown on an 1852 plan of the church that is archived in the County Record Office in Preston. On the ground floor the plan shows the porch at the west end, with stairs running up from centre on both sides, by the west wall. There is a central aisle in the nave, with four box pews at the front, two on each side of the aisle, then on each side sixteen rows of allocated pews and three rows of free pews behind them, and wooden benches or children along the two outer walls. At the front of the nave are the font and a reading desk, in front of the five steps leading up to a wooden screen with the chancel behind. To the left of the altar was a door into the Vestry, the ground floor of the spire.

Above the Vestry was the [Bell] Ringers’ Room, reached by a spiral staircase within the Vestry. There was no vestry on the south side of the church at that time, just a porch with doors through to the chancel and the church.

Upstairs the organ occupied most of West Gallery, with Choristers’ seats in front, free pews at the back, and free benches along the outer walls. The North and South Galleries each had three rows of pews with the passage way at the back.

In February 1852 there was seating for 1,007 people in the church, 612 in reserved pew seats and 395 in free pews and on benches. The reserved pews were closest to the front, had the best views of the service, and could hear what was going on; they marked out those who could afford the annual rentals from those who couldn’t, who were consigned to the free pews at the back and packed benches against the walls.

A report in the Church of England Magazine for June 1854 (reprinted in Haythornthwaite 1875, p.73) gives a vivid description of the inside of the church after the work was completed:

A beautiful chancel has been thrown open, and enlarged very materially. It is now twenty-four feet by seventeen, and separated from the nave by an elegantly moulded arch. Its rich eastern window is a triplet, having a scionson or inner arch, supported by detached shafts with elaborately carved capitals. Its painted glass, by Warrington, is tastefully disposed in geometry figures, having St. Thomas’s exclamation, ‘My Lord and my God,’ in old English characters, at the foot of the centre compartment; while on one side appear the words, ‘Be not faithless, but believing’; and on the other side, ‘Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believed.’ In the south wall of the chancel are two lancet windows, by the same artist, which are much admired for their chaste simplicity; and opposite to them, on the north side, are four emblazoned tablets, containing the creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, in workmanship that reflects equal credit upon the same artist. The floor of the chancel and the remedies are composed of appropriate tiles from the manufactory of H. Minton and Co.; while from a handsome roof is suspended a truly magnificent ‘corona lucid’ [light in the shape of a crown] (the gift of the Campbell’s), by Skidmore of Coventry, with its forty-eight jets, yielding a singularly subdued and pleasant light. The font is an octagon, cut in Caen stone, exquisitely carved, and ornamented with eight shafts of polished marble. The pulpit, desk, and chancel stalls are more beautifully executed in oak, with ornaments superbly carved by Rattee of Cambridge; the whole being strictly in keeping with the general architectural design, and giving us some idea of what is due to the house of God. The reading desk is open on both sides, after the manner of a stall, and stands on the north side. The pulpit is on the south side of the church, having this appropriate text carved in raised letters upon its hexagonal plinth, ‘Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance’.” (Psalm 89: 15, King James Version)


Supporting local people

Colin Campbell’s contribution to the life of poor people in Lancaster is in many ways overshadowed by the great work he did in completing the church and expanding the St Thomas’ Schools. But he was still active in the local community, and supported some of the causes that Joseph Armytage had done before him.

He was concerned about working conditions for local people and campaigned in favour of closing shops in the town at 7 pm rather than later, which was more common. He addressed a meeting held at the Oddfellows Hall to discuss this late in July 1845, chaired by Edward Salisbury who was then Mayor of Lancaster, and spoke with great passion. According to the Lancaster Gazette (26th July 1845) Campbell argued that

there was much heavy labour going on after the shutters were put up. Much toil was endured by those who provided the luxuries and comforts of their fellow beings. When the shutters were closed, he should be happy to know that the needle and pin also had a holiday; the work which dress-makers had to perform was straining to the eyes, and injurious to the constitution. … It was covetousness on the part of the sellers, and a guilty indifference on that of buyers, which was the root of the evil.”

The Vicar insisted that

he was the last to be the advocate of idleness. … [and] The mind was to be properly occupied, for if left to the workings of idleness, it was sure to fall back upon evil. … [but] Man was not to look upon himself to perform that which was only mechanical. He had other duties to look to – duties of high importance, which he was to endeavour to reach through feelings of devotion and with a Christian spirit.”

Five years later, in May 1850, Colin Campbell was one of a number of local clergy to address a public meeting of The Lancaster Association for Improving the Condition of the Working Classes, held in the Town Hall and chaired by the Vicar of Lancaster, Rev J Turner. Once again he spoke with great conviction and concern about improving the physical and social conditions of the working classes, arguing that

one half of the good which might be effected by them as ministers was frustrated by the total absence of that cleanliness and order in the houses of the working classes, which were indispensable for man as a social creature. … He deprecated such a large number of persons residing in small houses herding together like sheep, and parties taking in lodgers even when their houses were insufficient for the domestic comfort of their own families, which was the means of driving children from their parental roofs, and destroying that feeling which ought to exist between parents and children. Many young men were induced to leave their homes for want of accommodation which ought to be afforded to them. There were a number of houses which he would desire to be razed to the ground in Lucy Court, Spring Garden, and Henry-streets. To look at these made one’s blood run cold, to think that human beings were compelled to reside in such miserable situations.” (Lancaster Gazette, 11th May 1850).


Supporting national church societies

Like Joseph Armytage, Colin Campbell was also eager to demonstrate his support for national church societies, particularly those which stressed the importance of evangelism, mission and the gospel.

In late February 1847, for example, he invited a Rev Irwin to preach at St Thomas’ in aid of the Church Pastoral Aid Society. The speaker pointed to “the vast amount of spiritual destitution existing in the town of Lancaster” and noted “how large was the proportion of the people who never attended any place of worship, or how many of the rising generation were growing up in ignorance.” (Lancaster Gazette, 20th February 1847)

Campbell also supported the Church Missionary Society, and spoke at the annual meeting of the Lancaster branch held in the Music Room in late April 1847. He pointed out to his fellow clergy that

it was their duty to do all they could, leaving the result in the hands of God. … It was … a gratifying fact that … Christian England showed herself so anxious to extend to other lands the blessings she enjoyed, and he could not but think that the more we did for home objects, the more we should do for foreign countries …”. (Lancaster Gazette, 1st May 1847)

A third society that he lent support to was the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which also engaged in missionary work. Speaking at its annual meeting in the Music Hall at the end of July 1855

he rejoiced in having long been one of its humble supporters, and though since its inception other kindred associations had sprung up to engage their sympathies, yet would he not have these latter supported at the expense of the older and equally useful institution.” (Lancaster Gazette, 4th August 1855)


Decline and fall

On Monday the 30th of April 1855, a group of about seventy people met in the St Thomas’ Boys’ School room, at the invitation of Colin Campbell, for a dinner to celebrate the coming of age of his only son, also called Colin. Colin Junior was unavoidably absent, he was probably away studying in Cambridge at the time, but according to the Lancaster Gazette (5th May 1855)

the company were amused by the performances of a number of musical gentlemen, professional and amateur, whose vocal and instrumental performances were loudly applauded. After grace had been sung and the usual patriotic toasts responded to, the Rev. Canon Turner [Vicar of Lancaster] proposed the toast of the evening, the health and happiness of Mr. Colin Campbell, junior, and feelingly expressed a hope that he … might become a comfort to the declining years of his parents and a blessing to the world at large.”

Turner’s words were to be particularly poignant because neither of the young Colin’s parents would reach old age, and he would indeed become “a blessing to the world at large”. Those who sat down to eat that evening, perhaps most importantly his parents, would scarcely have believed that within two years Colin Junior would be standing in St Thomas’ Church as its Vicar, as we shall see in Chapter 7.

Colin’s wife Harriet died on the 10th of November 1855, at the Parsonage, aged forty-nine. Haythornthwaite (1875, p.76) described her as “an estimable lady much beloved and respected by the congregation and all who knew her”, and her death as “the will of Providence”. A stained glass window in her memory was installed at the eastern end of the south gallery, inscribed with the words “Rejoice and be glad with her, all he that love her”.

Colin’s last entry in the Baptism Register as Vicar of St Thomas’ is dated the 5th of February 1856. He must have been ill or perhaps overcome with grief at the loss of his wife, because the Curate (William Ogden) appears to have been left in charge; Ogden is listed as having officiated at all of the baptisms over the next two months.

Colin Campbell died at home in the Parsonage on Sunday the 30th of March 1856, aged 49, after eleven very fruitful years of service at St Thomas’. He had outlived his wife by little more than four months, and was buried four days later in the churchyard at St Mary’s, the Parish Church on the hill. The cause of death in both cases is not recorded, although two deaths so close together perhaps hint at some contagious condition.

Haythornthwaite (1875, p.76) tells us “a project was started for erecting a corresponding window to his memory in the North Gallery, but in consequence of the architectural difficulty presented by the basement [ground floor] of the spire it was resolved to erect a memorial tablet in the Church.”

Colin Campbell’s legacy is clear and very tangible. Not only did he pay off the debts, he built the steeple, improved the church building and facilities, enlarged and improved the school, and added the playground. In many ways he shaped the church we see today, although over the years it has undergone several phases of renovation, restoration and improvement.


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6. William Ogden (1856-1858)

St Thomas’ Church – On Tuesday the Lord Bishop of the Diocese licensed the Rev William Ogden, B.A., to the perpetual curacy of St Thomas’, in this town, on the nomination of the Rev. Colin Campbell.” Lancaster Gazette (3rd May 1856)


William Ogden was born in 1830 at Elland in Yorkshire, the son of John Edward Ogden, a grocer and milliner. He attended Queen Elizabeth’s School in Halifax and graduated from St John’s College, University of Cambridge, with a BA in 1853 and an MA in 1856. He was ordained deacon in 1853 and priest in December 1854.

After a short spell during 1855 as Curate of Isham in Northamptonshire, he was appointed Curate at St Thomas’ in 1856, shortly before Colin Campbell’s death, and on Campbell’s death he was promoted to Perpetual Curate (Vicar). He arrived in Lancaster a bachelor and remained that way through his time in the town.


Appointment and arrival

William Ogden first appears in the Baptism Register as Curate at St Thomas’ on the 12th of February 1856. Colin Campbell’s last entry as Vicar is dated the 5th of February and Ogden’s first is dated the 7th of May 1856.

The clock was ticking on his incumbency from the start, because as Haythornthwaite (1875, p.78) put it, he was “permitted to succeed Mr. Campbell in the incumbency … on condition that he would resign the living, if Mr. Colin Campbell, junior, who was then studying at Trinity College, Cambridge, should think fit to claim his complete patrimony, on becoming duly qualified.”


Lancaster during his time

Ogden’s time at St Thomas’ might have been short but the town did not stand still. In 1857 the Primitive Methodists opened a new chapel on Moor Lane, but of greater importance that year was the opening of Christ Church on a hill to the east of the town, near the Freehold and Moorland estates which were then being built. This imposing Tractarian (High) Church, modelled on a church with twin turrets near Regent’s Park in London, was sponsored by Samuel Gregson MP who lived close by, and built to serve the people of the nearby Workhouse and the Lancaster Royal Grammar School, which had moved to East Road in 1851. It had a small mission church (now the Gregson Community Centre) connected with it, and a parish was assigned to it in 1874.

Elsewhere in town the new oilcloth industry was developing apace. From late 1855 James Williamson was building the St George’s Works near the quay and (as we saw earlier) in 1856 the Storey Brothers bought White Cross Mill and converted it for the manufacture of oilcloth.


Ogden’s time at St Thomas’

We can find out relatively little about William Ogden during his time at St Thomas’ because there are no minutes in the Vestry Minute Book and little coverage about him in the Lancaster Gazette.

The records show that over his two years as Vicar he baptised 63 children and married 15 couples in church.

Newspaper reports tell us that he was amongst the clergy present at the opening of the Poulton-le-Sands National Schools in Morecambe in July 1856. He was also in the platform party at a meeting in support of the Irish Church Missions, held in the Music Hall in late September that same year, “for the purpose of promoting the knowledge of God’s word amongst the [Roman Catholic] natives of Ireland”.

The biggest event associated with Ogden appears to have been the mass confirmation held in St Thomas’ on the 23rd of September 1857, presided over by the Bishop of Manchester, when 540 people (203 males and 337 females) had their baptismal vows confirmed. The Lancaster Gazette (26thSept 1857) reported that -

at no time … has that handsome edifice presented a more pleasing, or we may say, imposing spectacle. … The body of the fabric was reserved entirely for the accommodation of the confirmants. The galleries were thrown open to the public, and long ere the service commenced they were in every part filled with the inhabitants, comprising most of our respectable families. Outside the church the greatest interest appeared to be felt. All that portion of Penny Street, adjacent to the church, was occupied by a crowd of curious spectators all anxious to see the young people going and coming.”

Most of the Anglican clergy from Lancaster attended.

Colin Campbell Junior was also there, then a deacon but not yet priested, to all intents and purposes Vicar-in-waiting of St Thomas’. No church affiliation was given for him in the newspaper report, and it is not known whether he was living in Lancaster at the time. But his presence there, as well as on the 17th of March that year when he had officiated at three marriage ceremonies at St Thomas, must have made the Vicar feel more than a little uncomfortable, with the shadow of Colin Campbell Senior sitting over him.


Resignation and departure

William Ogden’s last entry as Vicar in the Baptism Register is dated the 19th of September 1858.

Ironically, we hear his voice most clearly in the speech he gave at the testimonial meeting held at the end of his incumbency, in early October 1858. A gathering of members of his congregation and Sunday School Teachers was held to thank him for his service at St Thomas’. They presented him with an elegant silver tea service that cost £50 [£4,000], spoke warmly of how much they appreciated his work among them, and wished him well for the future. The previous day children from the Sunday School had presented him with a handsome Bible.

According to a report in the Lancaster Gazette (9th October 1858), in replying to the gathering the Vicar spoke about how -

it is the duty of a clergyman to strive, in every legitimate way, to gain the goodwill and the affections of his congregation, and, when he does succeed, it is to him not only a source of the highest satisfaction, but also of renewed zeal, inciting him to greater exertions and to a more earnest endeavour to do his duty in his sacred calling.”

He reminded them of how, when he arrived at St Thomas’ three years earlier,

I did not throw myself into the tide of popular religious feeling: I simply spoke the truth among you as I found it in the Bible, and went quietly about my daily work. In my preaching I have endeavoured to address you in such plain and simple language, that the poorest might understand those blessed truths of the Gospel, of which ‘Jesus Christ, and him crucified’ is the foundation, and I trust and hope that, through God’s grace, some seeds may have fallen on good ground, and may produce fruit unto everlasting life … Apart from vain glory, may I not say there are abundant proofs that the blessing of God has rested both on my preaching and on my ministry.”

Poignantly, he addressed the nature of his going, commenting that “you are also acquainted with the reason of my resigning the charge: the change and my departure are, on my own part, unsought and unwished for”. But he lightened the sense of disappointment by adding

you know, and are glad to know, that I am appointed to the curacy of St John’s in this town; and this to me is a source of comfort, for most of you I shall be able to see again.” In closing, he thanked them that “many prayers will be sent to the throne of grace on my behalf,” but noting “I feel my littleness and insufficiency: but … I have a firm confidence that strength will be given me to walk in the steps of our Divine Master.”

After leaving St Thomas’ he remained in Lancaster for two more years, serving as Curate at St John’s. In 1860 he moved south to Ashton-under Lyme in Manchester, where he spent the next 22 years at St Peter’s Church, the first five (1860-65) as Curate (he married Jane Darwell from Runcorn, in 1861) and the next seventeen (1865-82) as Vicar. He was appointed Perpetual Curate at Holy Trinity in Birkenhead in 1882, but what he did after that is not known.


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7. Colin Campbell Junior (1858-1871)

We observe it is announced in the Manchester papers that the Rev. Colin Campbell has been licensed to the perpetual curacy of St. Thomas’ Church, in this town, vacated by the Rev. W. Ogden, now Curate of St. John’s. Mr. Campbell commenced his duties on Sunday week.” Lancaster Gazette (23rd October 1858)


St Thomas’ fourth Vicar arrived in Lancaster in 1858. It was none other than Colin Campbell Junior, son of Colin Campbell who had played such an important role in the early days of the church. He had spent his teenage years in Lancaster, living in the Vicarage in Queen Street, and would have known the town and its people well. He was in a privileged position, having been promised the incumbency – effectively ‘the family business’ – by his father (who was patron as well as Vicar of St Thomas’) after he had completed his training for the ministry.

Colin Campbell Junior was born in 1834 in Richmond, Surrey, the only son of Colin and Harriet Campbell. He graduated from Trinity College, University of Cambridge with a BA in 1857 and an MA in 1860, and was ordained deacon in 1857 and priest in 1858.


Appointment and arrival

Colin Junior first appears in the Baptism Register for St Thomas’ on the 17th of March 1857, as Officiating Minister; he also officiated that day at three marriage ceremonies in church. William Ogden was still Vicar at the time – his last entry is dated the 19th of September 1858 – so his successor must have been paying a flying visit to Lancaster, probably shortly after he was priested. Campbell’s first entry as Vicar is dated the 5th of October 1858

In the 1861 census Colin Campbell, aged 26, is listed as Incumbent of St Thomas’, living at the Parsonage at 30 Queen Street along with his sisters Harriet (born in Birmingham in 1840) and Jane (born in Lancaster in 1849), and three domestic servants (a nurse, a housemaid and a kitchen maid).

By the time of the 1871 census his personal circumstances had changed a great deal. He was then 36 years old and still living at 30 Queen Street, but with his wife Mary (31 years old) and their four children – Colin (born in 1864), Mary Evelyn (1865), William Hume (1867) and Florence (1869), who were all born in Lancaster – and four domestic servants (a cook, a housemaid, a nurse and a kitchen and nursery maid).

Colin had married his Curate’s sister Mary, who also played the organ at St Thomas’, at St Matthew’s Church in Ipswich, on the 6th of May 1863. It was a close family affair; the ceremony was led by George Head, his Curate, assisted by C J Hume, his uncle.

Six weeks later, after they returned from honeymoon, the couple’s marriage was celebrated in the Girls’ Schoolroom by the presentation of a silver tea service. J S Burrell spoke at the meeting, emphasising that

in the town itself there was no one more respected and beloved than Mr. Campbell. … He hoped the Divine blessing would rest upon Mrs. Campbell, and trusted they would long be spared among them, and that he might be the means of bringing many souls to the Saviour for whom he had so long and faithfully laboured.”

The Vicar thanked them and added

You have welcomed tonight my dear wife among you, and I trust that she will now feel she is one of us … I ask you to help her with your prayers and to help me also that we may both be examples to our flock – me to be a true pastor and she to be a true pastor’s wife. Ask for large blessings upon her in visiting the houses of the congregation and of the poor, and upon her labours in the school.” (Lancaster Gazette 27th June 1863)

There are few minutes on record of meetings held during Colin Campbell’s time at St Thomas’, but we can discover some interesting things about his work and ministry from reports in the Lancaster Gazette.


Lancaster during his time

Lancaster’s economy continued to recover and the town continued to grow during Colin Campbell’s time at St Thomas’. A branch railway line between Lancaster and Morecambe was opened in 1861, and between 1863 and 1866 the Lancaster Carriage and Wagon Works (which produced railway carriages and tramcars) was built beside the river Lune and Caton Road. It was extended in the 1880s and closed in 1908.

James Williamson was by then becoming a successful entrepreneur and wealthy manufacturer. In 1864 he built Greenfield Mill, in 1870 he bought Bath Mill on Moor Lane, and the following year he bought the riverside site of the Lune Shipbuilding Company to expand production of grey cotton, linoleum and table baize. Local stained glass manufacturers Shrigley and Hunt moved to new premises on Castle Hill in 1870.

Lancaster’s religious landscape was also changing. In 1859 the new St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, designed by Edmund Paley in the Gothic style, was opened on the road heading up the hill eastwards towards Lancaster Moor. The new church, which in 1924 would become a cathedral, replaced the Catholic chapel in Dalton Square. That was sold to the Lancaster Total Abstinence Society, who renamed the building The Palatine Hall and Temperance Institute, and used it for meetings, lectures and musical concerts. In 1862 the Lancaster Baptists separated from the Congregational Church and began their own services in the Assembly Rooms. In 1869 the United Methodists built a chapel in Brock Street and the 1869 Wesleyan Methodists opened a chapel across the river in Skerton.

The 1860s also saw major improvements in the facilities available to people in Lancaster. For example, the first Co-operative Society store in Lancaster was opened in Penny Street in 1860 in response to the growing spending power of the large number of working-class families in the town. Public baths with wash houses were opened in Cable Street in 1863 to serve those families who lived in the growing number of small terraced houses throughout the town.

In 1862 James Williamson funded the initial landscaping of part of Lancaster Moor which had been a stone quarry, as a job-creation scheme to help relieve the distress caused by the Cotton Famine (cotton was not exported from North America during the Civil War, 1861-65).

The Ripley Hospital, an orphanage for fatherless children, named after its benefactor Thomas Ripley (a Lancaster man who had been a successful merchant in Liverpool), was opened in 1864 in Greaves, south of the canal.

Lancaster’s role as a regional centre for the treatment of mental illness also developed at this time, building on the success of the County Lunatic Asylum which was built on Lancaster Moor in1816, greatly enlarged in the 1820s to designs by Edmund Sharpe, and further extended in the 1880s. A second asylum, The Royal Albert Asylum for Idiots and Imbeciles in the Northern Counties – more commonly known as the Royal Albert Hospital – was built in 1867 in Greaves, to a design by Edward Paley. The Lancaster Gazette for the 17th of September 1870 reports that Colin Campbell was one of a large number of local people who attended “the anniversary festival of the beneficent institution [the Royal Albert Asylum] which will soon be devoted to the care, and we hope, cure of the unhappy idiot class located in the northern counties of England.”

We get a sense of what Lancaster was like in 1870 from a description of the town by John Marius Wilson (1872) in his Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales

The streets, for the most part, are narrow and dingy; but the newer ones are spacious and neat; the market-place is large and pleasing; the houses generally are built of free-stone and roofed with slate; and the outskirts contain many handsome villas. The manufacture of cabinet-work and upholstery, chiefly for exportation, has long been carried on; the manufacture of oil-cloth table covers, in fancy imitations, is carried on in two establishments; the spinning of silk, and the spinning and manufacturing of cotton, are carried on in several mills; ship-building and railway-wagon-making are carried on by two limited companies; and there are extensive marble works, and iron foundries. The town is a head-port; but, in consequence of shifting sands in the channel of the Lune, it is itself reached by lighters, and has its main quay or dock at Glasson, 5 miles down the river [which opened in 1787].”



Colin Junior continued his father’s tradition of appointing Curates, both to help train future incumbents but also to share the heavy load of parish visiting that a Vicar in those days was responsible for. None had been appointed during William Ogden’s brief tenure as Vicar, and Colin had to wait nearly three years before he was able to secure his first.

Campbell’s first Curate was George Head, who was born in Ipswich in August 1836, graduated from Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge with a BA (1860) and MA (1864) and was ordained deacon in 1861 and priest in 1862. He came to St Thomas’ in 1861 and is listed as Curate in the Baptism Register between the 19th of February 1861 and the 14th of March 1865, and is recorded in the 1861 census as lodging at 12 Queen Square in Lancaster, aged 25; there is no mention of any wife or family. After his four year spell at St Thomas’ he served as Curate in St Helen’s, Ipswich (1865-67) before moving north again as Priest in Charge at St John’s in Carlisle (1867-73). He is listed in the 1871 census as Vicar of St John’s, married to Mary, with a daughter Annie (born 1868) and son George (1870). After that he served as Vicar of St Mary’s in Islington (1873-78), Vicar of Charles in Plymouth (1878-85) and Vicar of Clifton in Bristol (1885-97), and he is listed in the 1901 and 1922 censuses as a clergyman living in Bristol.

There appears to have been a gap of little more than about six months before a second Curate was appointed to succeed George Head. This one lasted much longer.

William Armitage was born in 1840. He graduated from Emanuel College, Cambridge, in 1861 and was ordained deacon in 1861 and priest in 1862. He arrived in Lancaster in 1866 after two curacies in Liverpool, at St Mark’s (1861-65) and at St Bride’s (1865-66). He is listed in the Baptism Register as Curate of St Thomas’ between the 21st of January 1866 and the 9th of July 1873. William Armitage served a total period of seven years, the last two acting as caretaker manager – as William Ogden had done fifteen years earlier – after the resignation of the Vicar. After leaving St Thomas’ he remained in Lancaster for the rest of his days, serving as Curate of St John’s between 1873 and 1876, then he moved south across the canal to become Vicar of the new St Paul’s Church in Scotforth from 1876 until his death in 1913 at the age of 73.


Campbell’s strengths as Vicar


Preacher and teacher

Like his father before him, Colin proved to be a very effective preacher. On the 30th of October 1858, for example, the Lancaster Gazette reported how, on the previous Sunday, he had “preached a most impressive sermon at St Thomas’ Church, on behalf of the expenses incurred by the Churchwardens for diverse purposes connected with the comfort and convenience of the congregation, and the due performance of divine service. There was a full attendance, and the sum of £7 [£550] was collected.”

Twelve years later (15th October 1870) the paper reported that he preached at the Harvest Thanksgiving Services at the Parish Church in Lancaster and St Margaret’s Church in High Bentham, where “the congregations were very large, and his earnest, eloquent, and soul-striving discourses were listened to with deep attention.”

Campbell’s skills as a teacher were also displayed when he gave a lecture on ‘The Life of Martin Luther’ at the St Thomas’ Girls’ National School in October 1862. According to the Lancaster Gazette (1st November 1862) he spoke about the factors that led Luther “at the hazard of his life, to protest, as he did, wherever he went, against Popish superstition and corruption – reminding his hearers that those who adhered to the views of Luther were ever after called Protestants.” The reporter was impressed that

during the whole of the interesting lecture the rev. gentleman studiously avoided introducing his own opinions – simply confining himself to the facts which may be found recorded in the history of the life of the Reformers – thus rendering the lecture instructive to his hearers, without provoking objections from those who differ from the church in reference to certain important points of doctrine.”


Church manager

Colin had clearly also inherited his father’s abilities as a manager, as is evident for example in his effective handling of the sensitive matter of bell ringing.

Perhaps surprisingly the first item of church business recorded in the Vestry Minute book (other than the date of the meeting and who the Vicar and Churchwardens were) is dated twenty years after St Thomas’ opened. At a meeting of parishioners held on Easter Monday (21st April) 1862, chaired by Colin Campbell Junior, the minutes record that “it was agreed that in future the bell should only be tolled on the day of the death and the day of the burial of any Parishioner, and not as hitherto on the intervening days.” There is no record of why the change was deemed appropriate or who had raised the matter in the first place.

At another meeting of the parishioners five years later, on the 13th of April 1867, a wish was expressed “that the bells should be rung again if the Wardens could come to satisfactory terms with ringers.” Again no clues are offered about what lay behind the wish, although it does hint that the bell-ringers were perhaps withholding their labour in a fight for better wages.

The Vicar’s diplomatic skills were also demonstrated in the agreement reached at the Easter 1862 meeting of parishioners that “the number of collections in the course of the year should be limited to nine Sundays, excepting when any special case may organise one additional collection.”

Pastoral care

Colin shared his father’s commitment to the pastoral care of his flock, and amongst other things he provided opportunities for them to spend time together socially as well as in church services and formal parishioners’ meetings.

An interesting illustration of this is the outing of the church choir to the Lake District which was led by the Curate William Armitage in August 1870. The Lancaster Gazette (20th August 1870) reports how they travelled to Windermere where Colin Campbell met them. They probably went by train; the line from Kendal had opened in 1847, despite strong opposition from William Wordsworth. After lunch “the party had a pleasant perambulation about the most picturesque parts of Windermere, and then betook themselves to boats, previously hired for the occasion, for the purpose of proceeding leisurely to Low Wood.”

The men rowed, the weather was fine. The party enjoyed “an excellent dinner” at the Low Wood Hotel, hosted by the Vicar and his wife, the latter winning much praise for “her affable manner and the style in which she fulfilled her duties as hostess.” After dinner they took to the boats again, rowed round “the most attractive places on the lake” then picked a shaded spot on the lakeside where they played “various games of a very interesting character to all Englishmen.” Before setting off for home they were treated to tea “at Mr. Campbell’s residence” (probably a holiday home inherited from his parents) in Windermere. They got back to Lancaster at 10.30 pm, “highly delighted with their day’s entertainment.”

The Vicar also instituted an annual tea party for the congregation. The first one reported in the Lancaster Gazette (6th April 1861) was on the 31st of March 1861, when 300 people gathered in the school room behind church. “The room … looked remarkably neat, the work of the fair sex being plainly discernible in the style of the decorations.” After tea the younger ones “amused themselves for some time with an examination of various books of prints … while the adult portion engaged in conversation … [before] the intellectual part of the evening’s entertainment commenced by singing the beautiful hymn ‘Lord of heaven, and earth, and ocean’”. The Vicar, ever on duty, then gave a stirring address in which he emphasised that

it was most important that they should make up their minds as to the truths of God’s word, and be sure that nothing could shake their confidence in it. … He hoped his congregation would attend divine service as often as they could. Their prayers were heard and answered, they were going on in the right way. They had given more to God during the past year than ever they had given before, and nothing was ever lost that was given in that way. … They wanted a few more District Visitors and several more teachers in the Sunday schools, both male and female, and he hoped the vacancies would be filled up that night.”

Another tea party was reported two years later (Lancaster Gazette, 3rdJanuary 1863), with many fewer present, probably because of “the [unexplained] distress existing in the district, and which would very effectually prevent many from joining in the usual festivities of the season.” Those who did attend were treated to “some excellent musical selections upon the bells” by “a company of hand-bell ringers”, and entertained by a choir of boys and girls from the schools which “sang several very pretty pieces in an excellent manner.”


Issues of justice

Colin Campbell Junior was a man of principles and like many other evangelical churchmen of the day he took matters of justice and fairness seriously. As Bettey (1987 p.142) explains, “all over the country there were countless … concerned and caring clergymen actively trying to promote the social and economic welfare of their parishioners as well as caring for their spiritual needs.” Thus, for example, we find Colin Campbell lecturing in the Palatine Hall to working men of the town. In November 1869 he gave “a very able address [which] was most attentively listened to” about ‘The battle of life and how to win it’ (Lancaster Gazette, 27th November 1869). The following year he spoke on behalf of the Working Men’s Unsectarian Bible Class on ‘Whiter than snow’ (Lancaster Gazette, 12th November 1870).

Nearly a decade earlier (May 1860) he had also addressed the local troop of soldiers – the First Duke of Lancaster’s Own Militia – at the Palatine Hall, then recently opened (Lancaster Gazette, 19th May 1860). He said

he knew he was speaking to brave men … [who] were ready, he was aware, to march up to the cannon’s mouth and meet death face to face, but had they the courage, when temptation stood in their way, to utter that little word ‘no?’ Had they the courage to withstand the jibes and ribald laughter of bad companions when they were convinced it was their duty to leave off doing evil?”

In particular he “implored his hearers to leave off the debasing sin of drunkenness.”

In October 1861 Campbell also chaired a meeting in the Palatine Hall about slavery. A Mr J C Thompson, “an escaped slave from the Southern States of America”, gave a talk on ‘The horrors of slavery unveiled’ based on his own experiences (Lancaster Gazette, 12th October 1861).


Defending the faith

The Vicar saved some of his energy for fighting the growth of Ritualism and ‘Romanism’ within the Church of England. In this he was following in the footsteps of Joseph Armytage, his father Colin, and many other Anglican clergymen during the 19th century. He was not an activist in terms of taking direct action but he did not shy away from talking openly about the threat or from rallying supporters to the cause.

An early sign of his commitment came in April 1861 when he allowed several members of the church to speak at the congregational tea party about forces that were then threatening to pull the Anglican Church apart. The Lancaster Gazette (6th April 1861) quotes Mr Burrell (a Churchwarden) as saying that the Church of England “had enemies within and without”. The “enemies within” included sympathisers of Unitarian doctrines and men who were theologians (particularly those who had studied German theology) not pastors, “who were not sincere believers in the Bible … They were mere theorists and never had to apply a cure to a heart-broken soul, as the ministers of congregations had to do …”. The “enemies without” included leading Nonconformists who were vocally advocating the separation of Church and State.

By today’s standards these widespread concerns, and particularly the defence against Catholicism, seem uncharitable and ill-founded, paranoid even, but at the time they were taken very seriously and were regarded as a matter both of personal conscience and collective responsibility. With the benefit of hindsight the Church of England might have been better served by addressing the rapid growth of secularisation, especially in the big towns and cities, in an era when modern scientific ideas – particularly Darwin’s theory of evolution, published in 1859 in The Origin of Species- were leading many people to question the whole foundation of their religious beliefs.

Later in the 1860s Colin Campbell started to pin his colours even more firmly to the mast. In late June 1865, for example, we find him chairing a meeting in the Music Hall in aid of the Protestant Reform Society [later the Protestant Reform Association] and Church Missions to Roman Catholics in Great Britain (Lancaster Gazette, 1st July 1865). The Society had been recently formed “for the purposes of countering the influence of Romanism in this country, and preventing the spread of the insidious doctrines of Rome amongst the Protestant community.” Rev William Clementson from Liverpool talked about the advance of ‘Romanism’ in England since Catholic emancipation in 1829, including receiving government money for schools and reformatories and permission to have Catholic chaplains in prisons, and the prospect of Catholic priests attached to the Workhouses. He pointed out the next big danger was the Catholic aim -

to get the children of the protestants to attend their Schools, where although they professed not to teach them the doctrines of the Roman Catholic faith, they contrived to instil their principles. They did not care for the adults, but by getting the children into their power they hoped to secure the next generation.”

One solution, he thought, was for the Church of England to raise its game in challenging the forward march of the Catholic Church, because “wherever the Roman Catholics found there was a Protestant Missionary scanning their actions, they ceased the efforts at conversion and confined themselves to their own flock.”

By the late 1860s the campaign against Ritualism in the Church of England was gathering pace in Lancaster and elsewhere. Colin Campbell once again took a lead in Lancaster, opening in prayer a meeting in October 1867 of the Protestant Reform Association. The Lancaster Gazette (19thOctober 1867) described the well-attended meeting in the Music Hall as “a very practical demonstration condemnatory of the detestable Ritualistic practices which in so many places are defacing the legitimate services of the Church of England.”

The meeting was addressed by a Rev Taylor, who described Ritualism in the Church of England as

a histrionic performance of Divine worship … an appeal to the senses in the gorgeously lighted altar, the gorgeous vestments, the incense which arises, processions, turnings, bowings … of the character of theatrical performances … such as had not been seen for 300 years in a truly Protestant church. What a descent to the superstitions of the Church of Rome!”

He portrayed it as a battle for the heart and soul of the Anglican Church and the minds and spirits of Anglican people. He was concerned about the spectacle of such services, asking rhetorically

How was it possible for the minister or priest to be occupied in spiritual worship while attending to this minute ceremonial, and how could the congregation attend to spiritual matters when their attentions were engaged in the ceremonial?”

He was particularly concerned about three doctrines behind the spectacle – transubstantiation (the belief that the real person of Christ’s body and blood entered into the bread and wine), absolution (forgiveness on confession of sins) by the priest, and the saying of prayers for the dead. He said “in common with all the reformers of the Church, he believed the Church of Rome was the great apostasy of the faith”, and he urged his listeners to do all they could to check the growth of the movement because

there was something of an attractiveness and seductiveness about it for young people which was highly dangerous … [because] It was not the worship of God, or the search of truth, which was the aim in its truest sense; it was simply a gorgeous display.”

Colin Campbell, responding to Rev Taylor at the end of the meeting, said that he “was satisfied that Lancaster was resolved to do its utmost to remove the noisome plague and pestilence which had come upon the church.”

The challenge of Ritualism within the Church of England seems to have triggered bursts of uncharacteristically intemperate language from Colin Campbell, a man who otherwise comes across as mild-mannered and quiet spoken. He took the challenge very seriously, and sought to address it head on.

Campbell took the lead in an anti-Ritualism meeting held in the Music Hall in February 1868, which had met to form “an association similar to those which are being formed in other parts of the country for the purpose of preserving to England the blessings of our Scriptural and Protestant Church.” He stressed that

there is a real necessity for rallying round our parent church at this crisis in our history … [and reported that] every one of the clergy whom I have spoken to in the town and neighbourhood [including the Vicar of Lancaster] … joined us heart and soul in our opposition to Ritualism, though they don’t all agree as to the best mode of dealing with it.” (Lancaster Gazette, 15th February 1868)

In February 1870, he chaired a meeting of the Church Association in the Music Hall. He spoke of how “our good old ship, the Church of England, is in a state of mutiny and, more than that, her chief officers seem unable or unwilling to control at least a portion of her crew that are transgressing the ship’s rules and regulations.” (Lancaster Gazette, 5th February 1870) He commented that the more he looked into the “real doctrines of the church … the more satisfied I am our church is intensely and essentially evangelical … to the very back bone.”

A year later he gave the vote of thanks at another meeting of the same Association in the same place, at which Joseph Armytage (then working with the Church Pastoral Aid Society) spoke on the subject of ‘The character and the present circumstances of the Church of Rome and our consequent duties.’ (Lancaster Gazette, 21st January 1871) Armytage spoke about

the spread of infidelity, which he said was making rapid progress all over Europe, as well as in our own country. It was taking the varied forms of Atheism, Deism, Materialism, Secularism, and Spiritualism, and he had no hesitation on characterising it as the work of the devil.”

He drew particular attention to the Ritualist clergymen in the Church of England -

who thought its services so plain that it would enhance it to introduce a little more music and to make a little more show, with fancy dresses and bright colours. By and by they introduced just a little popish doctrine and a little more was added time after time until they became downright popish priests.”

Commenting on how church members should respond to “the infection” of “Infidelity, Popery and Republicanism” that was “spreading to an alarming degree”, he pointed out that “their first duty was to observe the signs of the times, then next to read the book of Revelation with intelligence.” Whenever they found these Ritualists “he exhorted his listeners to shun them – to keep them at arm’s length.”


Mission and outreach

Colin Campbell was also following in his father’s footsteps as a supporter of missionary work in the UK and overseas. He was a regular participant in Lancaster meetings of some of the most active national missionary societies and organisations.

He said the opening prayer and spoke at a meeting of the Irish Church Missions in October 1860, noting that

already the efforts of the mission had been abundantly blessed. He knew that he nor any other human being could of themselves bring one sinner home to God – it was the grace and mercy of God alone that could do that – but they ought to be the humble means of grace, and the success that had attended their efforts encouraged them to believe that God was with them, and so encouraged they were determined, with God’s blessing, to persevere.” (Lancaster Gazette, 6th October 1860)

The newspaper lists him among the platform party at meetings of that mission society in December 1867 and October 1970.

Campbell was also a strong supporter of the Church Missionary Society. For example, he chaired the annual meeting of the Lancaster branch in February 1862 in the Palatine Hall, at which his Curate George Head (who the following year would become his brother-in-law) spoke “at considerable length … and concluded a lively and instructive address with a few admonitory remarks on the duty incumbent on all Christians to promote the propagation of the good tidings of salvation.” (Lancaster Gazette, 3rd May 1862) Reflecting on “the perishing condition of so vast an aggregate of living souls” Head urged the Christians in Britain “to go out to the distant parts of the east and endeavour to uproot the mass of ignorance and idolatry festering in those far off regions.”

Campbell preached in aid of the Church Missionary Society at the parish church in Bolton-le-Sands late in 1864 (Lancaster Gazette, 3rd December 1864) and presented the financial report at the Society’s May 1871 meeting in Lancaster (Lancaster Gazette, 20th May 1871).

The Vicar was also active in the Lancaster branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society. He opened in prayer the 1866 annual meeting in Palatine Hall, was elected branch Secretary at the 1868 meeting, and read the report of the local association at the 1870 meeting (Lancaster Gazette, 12th May 1866; 23rd May 1868; 4th June 1870). He also supported the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews, chairing the annual meetings of the Lancaster branch held in the Music Hall in 1868, 1869 and 1871 (Lancaster Gazette 28th March 1868; 27th March 1869; 2nd September 1871). In June 1871 he was one of a small number of people to attend a meeting of London City Mission held in the Music Hall (Lancaster Gazette, 10th June 1871).

Campbell seems to have been particularly committed to the work of the Religious Tract Society and attended every annual meeting of its Lancaster branch between 1866 and 1870, either as chair or a member of the platform party (Lancaster Gazette, 8th December 1866; 30th November 1867; 24th October 1868; 9th October 1869; 5th November 1870). He addressed the 1869 meeting, noting that

if religious belief was simply the result of man’s speculation and human research, then one man’s opinion was as good as that of another, but it was not so, for they had the truth as spoken by God himself [in the Bible], and they were not left to their own opinions to be tossed about on the waves of confusion and to drift away from the rock of truth.”

He was even more direct in 1870, when he told members that

they were living in sad and perilous times, and though he did not want them to take a gloomy view of things and did not fear the ultimate triumph of the Word of God, still it was necessary that they, as Christians, should apply themselves with all their might to combat the superstitious idolatries, on the one hand, which sought to supersede them, and the infidel attempts, on the other, to annihilate that glorious truth, so precious to them. … Evil agencies were at work amongst them, and they trembled for many that might be drawn into the snares set for them, but with the assistance of such societies as they were met to support, he did not fear but that they would be able to stem the torrent of infidelity, ungodliness, and superstition which surrounded them.”

The Vicar also supported the work of the Church Pastoral Aid Society, for which Armytage was then working and of which his father had been a strong supporter. He presided at a poorly attended meeting of the Society held in the Musical Hall on the 20th of April 1869, at which Rev John Bardsley, Vicar of St John’s, Bootle, gave a challenging talk. Bardsley defended the Society against three charges -

first, that the existence of such a society as the Church Pastoral Aid Society was in itself proof that the parochial system had failed; second, that the society was merely intended as a kind of help for lazy clergymen who would not do their own work, and must therefore have some assistance to do it; and third, that it was not a Church Society, because it set aside the bishops.” (Lancaster Gazette, 27th April 1869)


St Thomas’ National Schools

The number of people living within the St Thomas’ district had grown through the 1850s. They were mostly poor working class families, often living in cramped and over-crowded conditions. As the Lancaster Gazette noted on the 1st of January 1859, by then this was “a thickly populated district which has, as it were, grown up around the church with unexpected rapidity.” There were many young children living practically on the doorstep of St Thomas’.

Colin Campbell Senior had played a key role in funding the buildings and establishing the schools, and thanks to “the personal exertions and liberal aid afforded by some few friends” the schools had survived the threat of closure, and by 1859 were “amongst the largest and most replete with convenience, that are to be found in any part of the kingdom. … [they have] become an important institution in the town.” The newspaper hoped that

with the kindly support of all who can afford to give it, it will gradually extend its sphere of usefulness, and eventually rescue the populous portion of Lancaster, in the midst of which it is situate, from the state of scholastic destitution in which too many of its youth must still be immersed.”

Some years later the paper described the school buildings as “of the most commodious description, of modern erection, and adapted to their high purpose in every respect.” (Lancaster Gazette, 22nd December 1866)

In 1859 the schools had 137 boys on the register, with between 110 and 120 attending in a typical day. By December 1860 around 400 children were being taught, with an additional 115 on the Night School Register, of whom between 60 and 70 attended regularly.

Robert Gregson was appointed Master of the Boys’ National School in 1865 and in his first four years average attendance more than doubled from 70 to 170. On one particular day in December 1867 around 200 of the scholars were present (Lancaster Gazette, 8th February 1868). The Vicar had the pleasure of marrying Robert Gregson and Mary Ann Hawthornthwaite in church on the 1st of February 1868, after which the Master was presented with a wedding gift of “a handsome timepiece” by the church. (Lancaster Gazette, 8th February 1868)

The schools were well run and producing good results, judging from results of the annual public examination which covered reading and recitations, grammar, slate arithmetic, mental arithmetic, dictation, geography, history, and scripture. The Lancaster Gazette (22nd December 1860) proudly reported that the annual public examination and distribution of prizes in 1860, presided over as usual by the Vicar, was “one of the most interesting and satisfactory scholastic exhibitions we ever had the pleasure to attend.” At the public examination two years later the paper noted that “the rooms were beautifully decorated with evergreens, mottoes, and banners, and presented a very seasonable and cheerful appearance.” (Lancaster Gazette, 20th December 1862)

The Government Inspector who visited the schools in May 1860 submitted a very positive report, writing

The instruction in this school does great credit to the care and attention of the master, who appears strictly to superintend the instruction of every division. The boys are quick at answering. The writing and arithmetic of the first class are very superior. The whole school is in a flourishing condition. The discipline also is very good.” (Lancaster Gazette, 22ndDecember 1860)

The Inspector’s report for 1870 was equally positive -

This school is one of the most thoroughly efficient and satisfactory in the district. Attendance is large, and considerably more than half of the boys are in the higher standard. Discipline, attainments, general intelligence, tone, and manners, are alike excellent. Religious knowledge, geography, grammar, maps, higher arithmetic, and mental arithmetic, are exceedingly well taught. The papers and teaching of the pupil teachers deserve special praise. A good playground [used for drill exercises as well as recreation] has been added since last year.” (Lancaster Gazette, 24th December 1870)

The Vicar took a keen interest in the schools and regularly preached sermons in church to support them both financially and spiritually. In October 1866, for example, “before a full and attentive congregation” which included the Mayor and members of the corporation in their full regalia, Colin Campbell preached on Ecclesiastes 4: 13 (“Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king”). (Lancaster Gazette, 24th October 1866)

Colin Campbell Junior was a keen supporter of the church school system, not just his own school. Speaking at a thanksgiving service for St John’s National Schools the day after they opened in February 1869, he said he was

pleased to find that such provision was being made for the rising generation of that neighbourhood, and that they would receive instruction of a sound and solid character having a spiritual basis. … There could not be too many schools, for he believed the supply created the demand, and if it should happen that some of his own scholars of that neighbourhood should leave St. Thomas’s to go to St. John’s he would feel that Mr. Pedder [former Curate at St Thomas’, now Vicar of St John’s] had more right to them because they were of his own parish.” (Lancaster Gazette, 6th February 1869)


Resignation and departure

The details are rather patchy, but it seems that after late 1868 Colin Campbell’s activities were restricted by ill health.

The first clue comes in a report in the Lancaster Gazette on the 19th of December 1868 that “in the absence of the Rev. Colin Campbell, who was unavoidably detained by illness, the Rev. Mr. Armitage presided” at a lecture for The Church Association to Rome?’. Armitage, the Curate, officiated at all of the baptisms in St Thomas’ between the 6th of October 1868 and the 31st of July 1869, clearly standing in for the Vicar.

Campbell’s last entry in the Baptism Register as Vicar of St Thomas’ is dated the 4th of March 1871, and the Lancaster Gazette on the 14th of September 1871 noted that “the Rev. Colin Campbell, Vicar of St Thomas’, is expected to return to Lancaster on or about the 30th of this month.” The nature of his health problems remain shrouded in mystery, but we do know that he spent time recouperating on the continent – possibly somewhere like the Alps, where there were many sanitariums (health spas).

He did return to Lancaster as expected on the 30th of September, and the church bells were rung to welcome him back. But he brought the unexpected news that he would be leaving St Thomas’ for good, having accepted the post of Vicar of Ambleside. The Lancaster Gazette reported on the 5th of October 1871 that “the announcement has caused great regret amongst the members of his congregation, who were confidently looking forward to his return amongst them to resume his duties, after his long absence on the Continent, where he has been residing for the benefit of his health.”

The report explains that he decided to leave because “he does not feel equal to the duties of so large a charge, and prefers the comparative retirement of the living he has accepted.” He was 37 years old and it would be understandable if he wanted a better work-life balance with less responsibility and stress. After all, he had seen his father die in post at St Thomas’ sixteen years earlier, at the age of forty-nine, and might well have feared his work was driving him into an early grave too.

Colin Campbell preached for the last time to a packed St Thomas’ on the 17th of November 1871. He spoke on 1 Thessalonians 5: 23 (“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”) As well as giving what the Lancaster Gazette (23rdNovember 1871) described as “a very eloquent and impressing sermon”, he announced that his successor would be none other than Joseph Armytage, the first Vicar of St Thomas’ and his father’s predecessor. The paper declared that “there were many who remembered the late Mr. Campbell with deep respect, who felt that the son had worthily occupied and improved his birthright, and whose hearts deeply responses to their excellent pastor’s affectionate farewell.”

Colin Campbell left Lancaster in November 1872, after fourteen years of faithful ministry as what the Lancaster Gazette described on the 22nd of December 1866 as “the estimable and much-loved incumbent” of St Thomas’. Before he left the teachers and scholars presented him with “a handsome moderator lamp and a gold pencil case” at a gathering in the Boys’ School room, and the congregation said their farewells to “a faithful, affectionate, zealous, and self-denying minister of Christ.” (Lancaster Gazette, 23rd November 1871)

Fortunately William Armitage remained at St Thomas’ as Curate over this period and was able to oversee the interregnum. Amongst other things, he chaired the annual Meeting of the Parishioners in April 1872, when the Vicar was once again away, and he officiated at all baptisms after the 5thof March 1871. After Campbell’s departure he chaired the April 1873 Meeting of the Parishioners and continued to officiate at all baptisms up to the 9th of July 1873.

Colin Campbell was Vicar of Ambleside from 1872 to 1875, after which he served as Perpetual Curate of St Mary’s at Hatfield in Hertfordshire (1875-80) and Vicar of Christ Church in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset (1880-1906). He died on the 17th of June 1906, at Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, aged 72.

What about his legacy? He had helped build a vibrant and stable church, consolidated what his father had done some years before, continued the church’s commitment to mission at home and away, and contributed to preserving the Protestant church – particularly the Established Church of England – against Roman Catholic influences and practices. J. Wane (1909), who knew him personally, described him rather enigmatically as

a striking personality … a somewhat delicate man, but an earnest and faithful preacher. His sermons were of the direct and personal order, and though tinged with a certain pathetic melancholy, were, I am sure, of great value, and conducive of much good! Who can tell?”


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8. Joseph Armytage (1871-1873)

We have the great pleasure to announce that the living of St Thomas’s, which is in the gift of the Rev. Colin Campbell, has been accepted by the Rev. J.N.G. Armytage.” Lancaster Gazette (26th October 1871)


Joseph North Green Armytage was Colin Campbell’s choice to succeed him as Vicar of St Thomas’. We saw in Chapter 2 how Armytage had been behind the movement to establish St Thomas’ and in Chapter 4 how he had served as its first Vicar between 1841 and 1845. He had left St Thomas’ in 1845 to work for the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS) in London. After further clergy appointments at two other churches – in Painswick, Gloucester, and in Cheltenham – he served as Rector of Flax-Bourton in Somerset between 1866 and 1870, and retired in 1870, aged 65, to live at 9 Victoria Square in Bristol.

Colin Campbell’s choice of successor is an intriguing one, particularly given Armytage’s age and the fact that he was by then retired. Recall that the first Colin Campbell had secured the patronage of St Thomas’ from the estate of Elizabeth Salisbury, and had selected his son Colin Campbell to succeed him as Vicar when he had finished his training. Colin Campbell Junior must have inherited the patronage on his father’s death, so it was within his gift to choose who would come after him.

The decision to bring Armytage back to St Thomas’ for a second spell as Vicar hints at a desire to make sure that St Thomas’ did not fall into the wrong hands. We shall never know why Colin Junior was so protective and what he feared in opening up the post to other possible incumbents, but there must have been no shortage of well trained and experienced people to choose from, including his own loyal Curate William Armitage.

A year had elapsed between Campbell’s announcement that he was leaving and his departure for Ambleside, which left plenty of time for him to select his successor. The Lancaster Gazette (22nd February 1873) advised its readers that Joseph Armytage had accepted the offer of the living “with the understanding that [he] could not by reason of a prior engagement take actual charge for a few months … [and] that the new Vicar came over to Lancaster and formally read himself in.”

Curate William Armitage ‘looked after the shop’ during the interregnum, just as he had during Campbell’s long period of absence towards the end of his time as Vicar. According to the Baptism Register the Curate took care of all baptisms between November 1872 and July 1873, and the new Vicar is not listed at all. The only evidence that Armytage even visited Lancaster around this time is a report in the Lancaster Gazette on the 13thof April 1872 noting that he was present at a tea party for the Sunday school teachers and friends of St Thomas’ Schools, held in the school in early April 1872, when “after tea a pleasant evening was spent, some of the members of the choir singing glees. … The room was very chastely decorated for the occasion.”


Failing health

The first hint we get that the re-appointment of Armytage as Vicar might not work out as hoped comes in a newspaper report of the 1873 annual meeting in aid of the Church Pastoral Aid Society in the Music Hall on the 13th of February. Colin Campbell Junior, then Vicar of Ambleside, chaired the meeting and Joseph Armytage had been invited to attend. Campbell had to pass on Armytage’s apologies because he was “still on a sick bed, and unable to fulfil his engagement” (Lancaster Gazette, 15th February 1873).

Within days the news had got much worse, and it fell once again to Colin Campbell announce it. Shortly before the start of the morning service in St Thomas’ on Sunday the 16th of February, the Curate received an urgent telegram announcing that Joseph Armytage had died of bronchitis at home in Bristol about an hour earlier. Colin Campbell had been spending some time in Lancaster that week, and had agreed to lead the morning service in church. According to the Lancaster Gazette (22nd February 1873) -

at the conclusion of his duties in the pulpit he disclosed the sad intelligence [of Armytage’s death] under the influence of deep emotion and a lively sense of the mournful mission he had undertaken. Pathetic and most considerate for the feelings of his numerous hearers was the language in which the melancholy tidings were made known; but no care or caution could entirely break the force of the shock. Tears were the only relief, and it was saddening to see men and women, old and young, alike affected, burying involuntary grief in the folds of their handkerchiefs. No spectacle could be more touching and impressive. After an appropriate prayer by the former Vicar and the customary benediction, the congregation, which was a full one, took their way slowly and mournfully beyond the precincts of the sacred edifice, passing on to their several habitations with heavy hearts and subdued comments on the sad event which had occupied every mind.”

The news clearly came as a surprise and a shock. The Lancaster Gazette, reporting the following Saturday, emphasised that “it was known that the rev. gentleman was indeed much indisposed – even seriously – but no idea was entertained of the malady [bronchitis] with which he was afflicted proving fatal.” Joseph Armytage was 67 when he died.


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9. John Bone (1873-1906)

We have the satisfaction to announce that the Rev. J. Bone, from North Meols, Curate with the Rev. C. Hesketh, by whom he is spoken most highly of, has been presented by the Rev. C. Campbell to the living of St Thomas’ in this town. (Lancaster Gazette, 12th April 1873)


John Bone was born in Newington, Surrey, in about 1835 to John (a linen and woollen draper) and Mary Bone. He was the first non-Oxbridge Vicar of St Thomas, having trained at King’s College, London, where he qualified as a Theological Associate (TA).

He was ordained in Rochdale in 1861, and served his first Curacy at Poulton-le-Fylde Parish Church, living with his wife Eliza (born in Camberwell in 1837) and young son Douglas (1865, Preston) at East View in Preston. Between 1866 and 1872 he was Curate at St Cuthbert’s, near Southport, where they had three more children – Jessica Eliza (1866), Amy Maria (1869) and Bertram (1872).

The family moved to Lancaster in 1873 when he was appointed Vicar at St Thomas’. They lived in the Vicarage at 30 Queen Street, where another two children were born – Cecil (1873) and Ella Amelia (1876). The busy household was supported by two domestic servants.

The key sources of information about the church change over the 33 years that John Bone served as Vicar of St Thomas’. Publication of the Lancaster Gazette ceased in 1894, but from about 1875 another valuable source opens up. This comes in the form of minutes of the Vestry Meetings (fore-runner of the PCC), Meetings of Parishioners and Pewholders (fore-runner of the Annual Church Meeting), and Meetings of Churchwardens and Sidesmen, the original hand-written minutes of which are archived in the Public Records Office in Preston.

Appointment and arrival

On Sunday the 29th of May 1873, according to the Lancaster Gazette (4thJune 1873),

the Rev. John Bone, M.A., the new Vicar, read himself into St Thomas’ Church, and in the evening preached his introductory sermon to his new congregation from the 2nd epistle to the Corinthians, 4th chapter, 7th verse [“we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us”]. A very attentive audience listened to the rev. gentleman’s exposition of a minister’s duties and responsibilities to his charge, and also the duties a Christian congregation owed to its minister. The members of the church were dismissed to their homes feeling satisfied that a God-fearing, zealous Pastor had been appointed to watch over them.”

The Vicar quickly settled into his new role, officiating at his first marriage in church on the 14th of July. The next day his wife gave birth to their second son, Cecil. But joy quickly turned to sorrow when their four year old daughter Amy Maria died at the Vicarage on the 24th of August.

Bone first appears in the Baptism Register as Vicar of St Thomas on the 14th of August 1873. His first few months were not the easiest for him. The Lancaster Gazette (25th October 1873) reported that he was unable to attend the October meeting of the Lancaster branch of the Religious Tract Society in the Palatine Hall, having been chosen to succeed Colin Campbell as President, “by severe personal affliction” (cause unknown, but possibly still mourning the recent loss of his daughter). The members were asked to “earnestly pray that he may be speedily restored to health, and able to enter fully upon his public duties in Lancaster.”


The Vicar and his church

It’s not immediately obvious why Colin Campbell selected John Bone to succeed him as Vicar of St Thomas’. He was a very different character to Joseph Armytage or either of the Campbells; he came from a different mould. Haythornthwaite (1875, p.83), who knew him personally, wrote that

though a staunch member of the evangelical party he professes broader views than the generality of that school would venture to hold. … he certainly has the appearance of being at ease both with himself and the congregation. We were very much pleased with the charitable manner in which he in his sermon spoke of those Christians who might differ with him as to the advisability of holding week-day services throughout Passion Week.”



Unlike his predecessors, John Bone actively engaged in some prominent non-church activities in Lancaster. Thus we find him playing a leading role in “a meeting of ladies and gentlemen interested in the formation of a Philosophical Society for Lancaster, held in the Amicable Society’s room, Church-street, for the purpose of establishing the proposed society, and for the adoption of rules for its guidance.” (Lancaster Gazette, 10thJanuary 1885). He was elected joint secretary of the Society and read a paper at its February 1888 meeting on ‘Some recent Spectroscopic Investigations of Stars’ (Lancaster Gazette, 25th February 1888). Three years later he read a paper “illustrated by photographs and diagrams … exhibited by means of the lime-light lantern” on ‘Physical Selonography’, about the formation of the surface of the moon (Lancaster Gazette, 21stMarch 1891).

Farrer and Brownbill (1914) wrote rather enigmatically that “the Rev. John Bone … did something to promote scientific studies in the town.” As a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, he had a long-standing scientific interest in stars and planets that complemented his religious interest in heaven and eternity. In 1890 he took the lead in setting up an Astronomical Society in Lancaster, the objects of which were “The association of observers, especially the possessors of small telescopes, for mutual help, and their organisation in the work of astronomical observation. The circulation of current astronomical information. The encouragement of a popular interest in astronomy.” (Lancaster Gazette, 23rd August 1890)

Two years later John Bone was appointed Honorary Director of the astronomical section of the town’s public Greg Observatory which was opened in Williamson Park on the 27th of July 1892 by the Astronomer Royal of Scotland (Lancaster Gazette, 2nd July 1892).

In May 1903 he was the main speaker at the inaugural meeting of the Lancaster Astronomical and Meteorological Association, where he gave a talk on ‘The possible extent of amateur astronomical observation’. His ambition was to raise public interest in astronomy and the Observatory, regretting that “these privileges … are absolutely neglected by the townspeople at large.” (Wade 2003).

It is worth noting that, at a time when science was seriously challenging religious faith, John Bone was something of a Renaissance man, able successfully to bridge the two worldviews or intellectual universes, publicly, both in his preaching and his hobbies and interests.


Safe haven

Whatever the primary reason for the establishment of St Thomas’s Church in 1841, three decades later Haythornthwaite (1875, p.79) was able to describe it as

now pre-eminently the anti-papal Church of the town. … There is a Protestant quartet of Churchmen in Lancaster, who always appear together on platforms when ‘the errors of Popery’ are discussed; and three out of the four are regular frequenters of St. Thomas’s.”

For all his personal breadth of interest and outlook, John Bone still had within his congregation a group of active and vocal local opponents of Catholicism in Lancaster. Haythornthwaite (1875, p.79) also pointed out that

the attendance at St. Thomas’s seems to be larger and more regular than at St. John’s or St. Anne’s. It is difficult to account for this circumstance, though possibly it arises from the additions that have been made at different times from other congregations. St. Thomas’s has indeed been a … refuge of the disaffected members of Lancaster Churches. Whenever anything went wrong either at St. Mary’s or at St. Anne’s the final result was usually an accession of strength to St. Thomas’s.”

This reputation that St Thomas’ had earned as a safe haven for Anglicans who had fallen out with other local Anglican churches in Lancaster can be traced right back to the establishment of the church in the late 1830s, under the Joseph Armytage who led the exodus from the Parish Church.


Lancaster during his time


Religious landscape

The closing decades of the 19th century witnessed continued change in the religious landscape of the town, as the Nonconformist churches and the Established church continued to compete for the souls of men and women.

Methodism was expanding at this time, and in 1873 the Wesleyan Methodists replaced their small chapel in Sulyard Street near Dalton Square with a grand new building with seats for 1,400 people (which is now housing), to serve the dense population that had recently grown up in this part of the town. Round the corner on Moor Lane the Primitive Methodists built a Gothic chapel (now part of the Dukes Theatre) in 1893. The Wesleyans had built a chapel in Skerton in 1858 and a separate Primitive Methodist congregation also worshipped on Main Street in Skerton by 1875. In 1870 the United Methodist Free Church, also known as the New Connection, had built a stone chapel on Brock Street (now an Indian restaurant).

The Baptists were also taking root in Lancaster. Earlier in the century a number of Baptists were attending the High Street (Independent) Chapel and others held services in a room in Nicholas Street, and in 1862 a congregation started to meet for worship  in the Assembly Rooms. As numbers and funds increased they were able to build a Baptist chapel (now Christian’s Alive church) in White Cross Street, between the Militia Barracks and White Cross Mill, in 1872. It was replaced in 1896 by the present chapel in Nelson Street.

The Congregationalists opened a mission in a house in St Leonardsgate in 1872, and after they outgrew that they met in the Palatine Hall. In the 1870s the Congregationalists split over the issue of abstinence from strong alcohol; the stricter group left High Street and built the Centenary Church [now a pub] in Stonewell in 1879. In the late 1870s the Presbyterians left their chapel in St Nicholas Street, which was taken over by the Unitarians, and moved to a larger one on Queen Street.

In 1905 the Congregationalists opened a mission chapel in Bowerham (now a United Reformed Church). It was built at the corner of Bowerham Road and Ulster Road to serve the army barracks and the new housing estates being built in that suburb to the south of the canal, with access assisted by the town’s tram system.

Smaller church groups also had a presence in town at this time. A Church of Christ (founded in 1889) met in Balmoral Road, in a building opened in 1897; the Presbyterian Church of England (founded in 1899) had a temporary place of worship; and the Jubilee Town Mission (established in 1887) had several mission rooms in town. A group that called itself the Catholic Apostolic Church, or Irvingites, began meeting in a room in Friar’s Passage in about 1871, and from 1875 they met regularly for services in the former Sunday School room of the Wesleyan Methodists in Edward Street.

The Roman Catholic Church was also extending its reach, building a school and chapel (1896) and later a church – St Joseph’s (1901), in the Gothic style with pulpit and furnishing by Gillow – on the main road in Skerton.

The Church of England was also in building mode, putting up St Paul’s in Scotforth in 1876 to serve the growing population there. Fund-raising for the project was championed by a group of middle-class supporters including Edmund Sharpe, who designed the new church in the round-arched Romanesque style, clad in baked terracotta not carved stone, with a tall thin tower. Nicolaus Pevsner described it as “an anachronism almost beyond belief”, contrasting as it did with the Gothic style which was so popular and fashionable by the 1850s.



By the late 19th century Lancaster’s reputation as a manufacturing centre was in decline, but its reputation in cabinet making continued to grow. Gillows remained on Castle Hill until they moved their operations into a larger new showroom and factory (now a furniture shop and night club) on North Road in 1881.

Gillows was the best known but there were 18 other cabinet-makers in Lancaster at that time. The largest after Gillow was James Hatch & Sons, which was founded in 1841 and moved to a one acre site in Queens Square in 1848, where they made extensive use of steam engines. The Hatch family was part of the congregation of St Thomas’ and for many years James Hatch served as Churchwarden.


Facilities in the town

The face of Lancaster was transformed a great deal from the 1870s on.

James Williamson, who had begun landscaping the former stone quarry overlooking Lancaster, up on Lancaster Moor, died in 1879, but the project was completed by his son James Williamson (later Lord Ashton) who presented it to the town in 1881. A small astronomical observatory was opened in the park in 1892, with which John Bone was closely associated.

In 1880 a Victorian army barracks was built in Bowerham as a base for the King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster).

The centre of Lancaster saw changes too. The King’s Arms Hotel was built in 1882 on the site of an old coaching inn dating back to 1664 that had been demolished in 1879. Five years later, in 1887, the Storey Institute was built nearby on Meeting House Lane, on the site of the former Mechanics Institute (1856). It contained a Public Free Library and reading rooms, a School of Art and a Technical School, and was funded by Sir Thomas Storey who presented to the town in 1893.

In 1892 the Corporation built a coal-fired electricity generating plant close to the canal near the Town Hall in Dalton Square, initially to provide power for street lighting and public and commercial premises. Close by were other important utilities including the fire station at the back of the Town Hall, and the cattle market at the top of Penny Street. One of Lancaster’s best-known landmarks, The Queen Victoria monument, paid for by Lord Ashton, was built in Dalton Square in 1906.

Other facilities were built outside the town centre, including an isolation hospital on the Marsh in 1890 (which was closed in 1910 and the Lune Mill linoleum works built on the site), and a public cemetery was laid out in Scotforth in 1890 and enlarged in 1908, after Scotforth township had been incorporated into the borough. Another public cemetery was opened north of the river Lune in Skerton in 1904. In 1896 a new town hospital, the Royal Infirmary, was opened on the site of the former Springfield Hall on Ashton Road, just south of the canal. It was funded by public subscriptions and built to replace the Dispensary (1833) on Thurnham Street whose premises were by then proving inadequate. Access to the Royal Infirmary and the south was greatly improved by the building in 1900 of Penny Street Bridge over the canal.

The Corporation introduced a tram system in Lancaster in 1905, using twelve electric tramcars built at the Wagon Works down by the river. The original tram depot was built by Dalton Square in 1903, but five years later it had to be relocated to the top of Thurnham Street [now a vehicle tyre business] to create space for the new Town Hall. The double-decker trams were originally open-topped but in 1911 they had roofs fitted; in 1920 many of them were converted to single-deckers. The tram service was discontinued in 1930, having proved unviable; people had often complained about over-crowding on the trams, but the system was simply too small, and it was operated in two separate services which never joined up, one running from Dalton Square and the other from Stonewell.


New housing estates

The most visible change in the townscape of Lancaster during John Bone’s time at St Thomas’ was the rapid increase in population and the spread of new housing to accommodate the growth. The population had grown relatively little between 1801 and 1871, from just over 6,000 to 9,713, but over the next three decades it more than doubled, to around 25,000, partly due to boundary changes.

Most of the new housing was built after 1870 and large estates were laid out during the 1880s on Primrose Hill, the Marsh and parts of Skerton. Development continued in Skerton through the 1890s and into the early 20th century, and the Bowerham and Greaves parts of Scotforth also grew rapidly at that time, both assisted by the tram system that increased access between the town centre and these suburbs.

Most of the new housing was terraced, to keep costs down and make best use of the available space. Some of the terraces – for example along Greaves Road, Regent Street, Dale Street, Dallas Road, Blades Street and Westbourne Road – were designed for lower middle class families, with small front gardens and rear plots. Most – such as those along De Vitre Street, Lune Street and Shaw Street – were smaller two-up, two-down terraced houses for working class families.

Althea Woof and James Price (2004) describe the growth of Bowerham, which would turn out to be very important for the future development of St Thomas’. They point out that by 1900

Bowerham was one of the fastest growing parts of the town with a population drawn from the lower middle and respectable working classes … As late as 1860 this area had been a small collection of houses on Bowerham Lane, a country road leading to the Quernmore Valley. … The first development was the erection of Bowerham Barracks by the War Office between 1873 and 1880. … Between 1880 and 1900 streets of terraced houses were erected outside the barracks off Bowerham Road viz. Havelock Street and Adelphi Street. Some of these homes provided accommodation for soldiers’ families, others for people who worked in the factories, shops and services in the town, and others for workers on the LNW Railway. … Further growth was aided by the opening of the tram line in 1903 from Dalton Square via Bowerham Road and Coulston Road to its terminus at Williamson Park. … It is after 1903 that Bowerham developed rapidly, as a ‘Tramway Suburb’, in all directions from the Primrose Estate to Barton Road.”



William Armitage moved on from his post as Curate in July 1873 and John Bone arrived as Vicar the following month, so they didn’t overlap. The Vicar would have to manage without the assistance of a Curate over the next 18 years, although one (John Dufour Ellenbergher) had been selected and ordained, and was due to start in September 1875, “but abruptly afterwards he died, without ever having entered upon his duties as Curate.” (Lancaster Gazette, 17th June 1891)

Lack of funding seems to have been the main reason for the long delay in securing the services of a Curate. At the Easter Vestry Meeting in 1881 the Churchwarden Mr Hatch explained that “an effort was made two years ago to secure a Curate, but so little support was promised that the Churchwardens did not feel justified in undertaking the responsibility in that respect. No resolution was come to, but a general feeling was expressed that it would be very desirable to obtain a Curate if arrangements could be made for meeting the extra expense which would thereby be incurred.”

At the Vestry Meeting the following year the Vicar reported that “a fund was being established for the employment of a Curate, which during the past year had received liberal support.” Wheels were set in motion but another nine years would pass before a Curate was eventually appointed.

Doubtless with much relief all round the church was eventually able to appoint a new Curate in 1891. After graduating from the University of Oxford (BA 1889, MA 1892), Benjamin Lund Carr was ordained deacon in 1891 and took up his first Curacy at St Thomas’ the same year. We first hear of him reading the lesson at the Jubilee Thanksgiving Service on the 14th of June (Lancaster Gazette, 20th June 1891). He was ordained priest in 1893 and disappears from the Baptism Register for St Thomas’ in October that year. The local newspaper reported that “his services at St Thomas’ have been so thoroughly appreciated”, and when he resigned in November 1893 to become Curate of Newlands in Keswick the St Thomas’ Schools presented him with “a purse of gold and other presents” (Lancaster Gazette, 22nd November 1893). At Newlands he served as Curate (1893-94) and then Vicar (1894-1913), before moving south on being appointed Rector of Waterstock, near Thame in Oxfordshire (1913 to at least 1920).

John Bone was once again left without a Curate, but this time only for six months. Providing a reliable funding stream for a Curate must have been a continuing challenge, because a meeting of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen in March 1894 agreed that a Committee for the Collection of St Thomas’ Curate Sustentation Fund should be set up, with four members, to be chaired by Schoolmaster John Hatch.

Within a few months Hugh Brady Brew arrived as the next Curate. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a BA in 1891 and was ordained deacon in 1894. Like Benjamin Carr this was his first Curacy. He only stayed for one year; his first appearance in the St Thomas’ Baptism Register is on the 27th of May 1894, and his last is on the 10th of November 1895. He was ordained priest in 1895, and after leaving Lancaster held a number of Curate posts in Newbury (1895-97), Buckingham (1897-99), Holy Trinity Ryde in the Isle of Wight (1899-1907), and Frimley Surrey (1907-12), then Rector of Elstead in Surrey (1912-28) and of Ampthill in St Albans (1928 to at least 1932).

Finance remained a problem, and in April 1896 the Vicar announced at a meeting of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen that “the Curate Sustentation Fund was too low to allow the appointment of a successor to Hugh Brew who had left last November, and he could not take steps to appoint a successor until after Easter.” Six months later, at a meeting of the same group in November, there was discussion about whether to appoint an Assistant Curate as soon as possible, or wait for the available funding to increase because “it would be most desirable that the Curate be in full orders, and with some experience in pastoral visitation, and the superintendence of religious education in the Day and Sunday Schools.” The decision seems to have been taken to appoint without delay but hope to secure the services of a more experienced Curate than the first two had been.

The new Curate was W. J. Haire. There is some uncertainty over exactly when he started at St Thomas’ because he first appears in the Baptism Register as Curate in February 1896, but that is before the meetings of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen. He was certainly in post by April 1897, when the Vicar described him in a Vestry Meeting as “a very zealous and valued colleague”. There is also uncertainty over when he finished, because his last entry in the Baptism Register was a month earlier, on the 14th of March 1897. At a meeting of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen on the 2nd of June, the Vicar reported that because of ill-health the Curate “had been compelled to retire, upon medical advice”, having only been licensed as Curate at St Thomas’ four months earlier. The Churchwardens and Sidesmen agreed a motion put by the Vicar expressing their appreciation of the Curate’s “Ministerial services … and regret that the failure of his health has necessitated his retirement. They hope that with due rest and change, his health may be fully re-established, and that he may be prepared for future usefulness in the service of the Church.” Haire is not listed in Crockford’s Clerical Directory for 1920 so we can only assume that he had died before then.

The Vicar was clearly unfortunate in his choice of Curates, having had one die before taking up the post, two leave after a year, and one retire on health ground after only four months. He was more successful with the next appointment.

Llewellyn David Amer Rees had graduated from the Schola Episcopi, a clergy training college in Manchester, and from Owens College (later to become Manchester University). He was ordained deacon in 1895 and priest in 1896, and served as Curate of St Bartholomew’s in Salford from 1895 to 1897. Like his predecessor, the precise timing of his arrival in St Thomas’ is a little uncertain. He is first listed as Curate in the Baptism Register on the 10th of October 1897, but the Vicar reported to a meeting of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen two months later (December 1897) that “he had taken steps to secure a successor to W.J. Haire, and had succeeded in obtaining the services of the Rev Llewellyn D.R. Rees.” His last entry in the Baptism Register is dated the 20th of May 1900, so he spent just under three years at St Thomas’. From here he moved on to become Vicar at St James’ in Oldham (1901-03), Blackley in Manchester (1903-05), Burbage in Hinckley (1908-11), St Barnabas’ in Derby (1911-14), All Saints in Bromsgrove (1915-18), and Kegworth in Leicester (1918-19). He is listed in Crockford’s Clerical Directory for 1920 as living at Cathcart, Park Road, Torquay, presumably retired.

A few months after Rees left St Thomas’ he was replaced by Charles Crowther Browitt, a graduate of Queen’s College Birmingham (1897) and the University of Durham (1905) who was ordained deacon in 1900 and priest in 1901. St Thomas’ was his first Curacy and he is first listed in the Baptism Register on the 27th of January 1901. His last baptism at St Thomas was on the 16th of September 1906. He was incumbent of St Bartholomew’s in Blackburn from 1906 to at least 1940, but he is not listed in Crockford’s Clerical Directory for 1947 so must have died by then.


Church governance

As the church approached the close of the 19th century, the Vicar saw fit to update some important aspects of its governance to make them more suitable for the needs of the day.

One major change was in the patronage of the church. As we have seen Colin Campbell bought the advowson from Elizabeth Salisbury on her death, and passed it on to his son Colin who still held it at the time John Bone was appointed. John Bone announced to the Easter Vestry Meeting in April 1896 that “some years ago he urged the patron, Rev Colin Campbell, to take the step of associating with himself other persons in the responsibilities of the advowson, in such a way as to make the patronage public.”

Making the patronage more public and transparent would increase the church’s eligibility to receive funding from public or ecclesiastical sources, because up to then its income had come entirely from pew rents. In recent years the Vicar had not received more than £140 [£12,500] a year from pew rents, which the congregation kindly supplemented with Free Will Offerings at Easter of around £19 [£1,700] each year.

Early in 1896 Colin Campbell had met with John Bone to consider “what would be best for the future of the parish”, as a result of which he had transferred the patronage to a public body of trustees, the trustees of the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS). This move would benefit all future incumbents, as well as encouraging the Diocese and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to provide grant support “in aid of the endowment of the living”.

Some other governance issues had been dealt with ten years earlier. In 1878 the name of the annual meeting of parishioners (the equivalent of the Annual Parochial Church Meeting today) was changed from the Seatholders’ Meeting to the Vestry Meeting, although the name change failed to make the meeting more appealing to potential attenders. For example, the minutes of the Easter Vestry Meeting in March 1891 record only seven people present – the Vicar in the chair, four other men including one Churchwarden, and two newspaper reporters (it was common practice in those days for journalists to sit in church meetings and report on what was discussed).

At the Easter 1888 Vestry Meeting the Vicar spoke in favour of “some such body as a parochial council being appointed”, including the Churchwardens and “some members of the congregation … who possessed the confidence and esteem of the parishioners. He thought it quite right that such persons should be recognised by the Vestry, but [recognised that] in a parish like St Thomas’s, which was created by Act of Parliament, they had no power to elect officers having a legal status except those created by the Act – the Churchwardens.”

From 1892 onwards there were regular meetings of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen, like a Church Council as the Vicar had suggested four years earlier. It would be a further twenty years before new legislation was introduced which created the Parochial Church Councils that we know today, made up of elected members and officers such as the Treasurer and Churchwardens.



The Churchwardens played a key role in the life of the church in those days, as today, as the only lay leaders recognised in church law and the Vicar’s right-hand men … for men they always were. Two were appointed each year, one selected by the Vicar and the other by the parishioners, and there was no limit on how long any one individual could stay in the role.

At the 1892 Easter Vestry Meeting Mr Hatch announced his intention to stand down as Churchwarden after 33 years of service due to pressure of other commitments (both as an Alderman and head of the family cabinet making business). His son, also an Alderman, continued the family tradition and served as Churchwarden for 20 years, between 1894 and 1914.

The Vicar relied heavily on his Churchwardens, as well as one his Curates, and they provided continuity in the running of the church, including through changes of incumbents and Curates. They had wide-ranging responsibilities, key ones being the collection of pew rents (the Vicar’s main form of income) and the regular payment of expenses to the organist, choir, bell-ringers and other staff. Their work could often be taken for granted by the congregation, prompting the Vicar to tell the Easter Vestry Meeting in 1889 that he “really wished the congregation would recognise the Churchwardens’ services in undertaking to come here and sit for 2½ hours at the end of each half year to receive the rents.”

The Vicar and Churchwardens usually got along well together and formed close and productive working relationships. Thus, for example, we read in the minutes of the 1882 Easter Vestry Meeting of the Vicar thanking Mr Hatch for his long service as Churchwarden, having “always exercised the greatest vigilance over the expenditure the parishioners might well trust the disbursement of funds to his hands”, but he added that “he would like to see him more lavish in the expenditure of money and have greater faith in getting it afterwards.”

But peace and harmony between Vicar and Churchwardens was not guaranteed, because the wardens had a duty to protect the interests of the church when they had reason to believe the Vicar was acting in a way contrary to that. Occasionally the Vicar would have to remind his wardens that he had ultimate responsibility for all matters relating to the church, and he would have the final word in any serious disagreement.

One disagreement became very public and very embarrassing for the church. It occurred in April 1882 and is described at length in the Lancaster Gazette (10th and 15th April 1882) under the headline ‘The Little Storm at St Thomas’ Church Vestry Meeting’. It centred on “‘Innovations’ [that] have been introduced which have caused great pain to the Vicar’s Churchwarden [Mr Hatch], and which the parishioners’ warden [Mr Baynes] characterises as ‘childish frivolities.’”

What were these ‘innovations’, and why did they cause such a falling out? It turns out that Mr Hatch was objecting to some changes in the interior of the church that were designed to brighten it up, particularly new carpets and cushions for the pulpit and reading desk, and a new Prayer Book, all paid for by members of the congregation, and the decoration of the church with flowers at festive seasons. He was particularly incensed that some nails had been hammered into the wooden pulpit on which to hang the floral decorations.

Mr Hatch argued that the Vicar had introduced these changes – which the Vicar described as “innocent decorations” but he thought smacked of “Popery” – without the approval of the Churchwardens, although the newspaper report challenged the accusation, insisting that “this special work was not undertaken without the sanction of at least one of the wardens [presumably Mr Baynes] who actually subscribed to the fund.” The reporter wrote rhetorically “let us know what Romish doctrine is to be found underneath beds of moss and bunches of primroses, like a snake in the grass, that we may be made aware of the dangers we are in when we look admiringly and innocently upon spring flowers at Eastertide.”

Although the paper thought that his language was too intemperate, it did agree with Mr Hatch that “to hammer nails into the pulpit of a church for the purpose of temporary decoration is an ‘innovation’ which no Churchwarden would be justified in tolerating, and he did quite right in expressing his determination to put a stop to the practice in future.”

The paper came down firmly on the side of the Vicar, who “displayed a spirit of forbearance in the course he took. Ministers are too frequently arbitrary and self-willed in their dealings with their parishioners, but on this occasion Mr. Bone’s attitude was most commendable.”

The debate hinged on who had ultimate authority for looking after the church. Mr Hatch said that while he and Baynes were Churchwardens they “would insist … in prohibiting Mr Bone or anyone else from injuring the church property.” The Vicar responded that Mr Hatch “must clearly understand that the incumbent of the church was the freeholder of the church, and that he must not be dictated to in that spirit of autocracy which would indicate to him that he was to make himself the servant of the Churchwardens.”

The paper reported that, shortly after this exchange, “the Chairman [the Vicar] declined to continue to discussion, and the meeting came to a somewhat abrupt termination.”

This was not St Thomas’ finest hour and doubtless both sides in the dispute over-reacted over the ‘innocent decorations’. Although the fall-out was very public and acrimonious, it seems that the hatchet was quickly buried because no further reference to it can be found in the minutes of church meetings or in the Lancaster Gazette.

John Bone was ahead of his time in calling for greater lay involvement in the life and work of the church, though he was envisaging lay members offering more assistance rather than exercising genuinely shared leadership. At the 1905 Easter Vestry Meeting he thanked the Churchwardens and Sidesmen and added that

their duties were important, and they were growing in importance from year to year. Sidesmen might be much more useful than merely assisting in collecting the offertories. They might be constituted as a permanent committee of church workers, to further the interests and organisations of the parish. In certain cases they did read the lessons, with advantage to the congregations and relief to the clergy. They needed more of the right kind of Congregationalism in the Church of England, and he would like to see the laity taking a more active interest in the work of the Church, giving active assistance to all the organisations. The weakness of the Church of England was that too much was left to the individual judgment and energy of the clergyman, and if he failed in the discharge of his duty – as he was apt to do in consequence of advancing age [John Bone was then about 65] or through his capacity not being equal to the strain – the parish suffered.”



Minutes of the Vestry Meetings and Meetings of Parishioners and Seat-holders start in 1875 and they offer us an insight into the financial workings of St Thomas’ which was simply not possible through the Lancaster Gazette reports we had to rely on for information about earlier years. For the first time in the history of the church it is possible to look at details of the budget, not only in terms of overall annual income and expenditure but where the money came from and what it was spent on. Perhaps not surprisingly balancing the books was a major challenge most years, but the story has some interesting twists and turns during John Bone’s time as Vicar.

The main costs most years were the stipends (salaries) of the Vicar and Curate, and the upkeep and improvement of the buildings and facilities.

The incumbent’s stipend was paid from pew rents collected by the Churchwardens twice a year from the pewholders, supplemented by a special collection taken up during the Easter services (which in 1895, for example, amounted to nearly £79 [£7,900]). The church had a fixed number of seats – it was built with a total of 1,100 sittings (pews and spaces on benches), more than a third of which were free – and no control over what could be charged for each seat, so the maximum income from pew rents was fixed. Pew rents could raise no more than £130 [£11,700] a year, and the income from this source was often much lower because not all pewholders paid up every year.

Money was also raised from donations (for example, in memory of a member of the congregation who had died), and from quarterly free will collections taken up in the services, usually in support of outside bodies (like missionary groups), support of the sick and the poor, and the work of the Churchwardens in maintaining and improving the buildings and facilities. Not all pewholders – including the wealthier individuals – attended services in church on a regular basis, so their contribution to the special collections was unpredictable.

Raising money to support a Curate was a perennial challenge, because during Bone’s time the Church Pastoral Aid Society gave a grant as patron to cover half the cost (£60 a year [£4,400]) and the church was responsible for the other half. In August 1875 the Vicar explained to a Meeting of Parishioners and Seat-holders that “the excess of the offertory funds after providing for the sick and poor had hitherto been required to supplement the expense of Divine Worship incurred by the Churchwardens”, and the best way of raising the £60 for a Curate was by means of a weekly offering. His suggestion was supported unanimously, and “the members present expressed themselves willing to hold themselves responsible for the deficiency if such there should be.”

The Churchwardens’ expenses tended to increase through time, partly because of increasing costs but also because a number of items of expenditure were passed from the Vicar to the wardens. Mr Hatch reported to the 1881 Easter Vestry Meeting that the Churchwardens’ expenses had risen from nearly £35 [£2,700] in 1859, when he was first appointed, to nearly £104 [£8,000] in 1880. The Churchwardens were now responsible for various payments the Vicar had originally made, particularly the organist’s salary (£25 [£1,900]), the cost of tuning the organ (£7 [£540]), the bell-ringers’ fees (£12 [£930]), and payments to the choir boys (just over £5 [£390]) each year. They also paid the verger (£20 [£1,600]), which was previously covered from collections from the pewholders.

Income in most years through the 1880s was between about £115 [£9,000] and £125 [£9,700]), but expenses doubled between 1879 and 1882, from £98 [£7,800] to £204 [£16,000], so little wonder balancing the books was such a challenge. Much of the increased spend went on essential repairs and cleaning of the church, the purchase of a much larger gas meter, and repairs to the central heating system (Easter Vestry Meeting, March 1883).

Maintaining the organ was also proving difficult and costly, and in 1883 a committee was set up and collections started to fund a thorough restoration of it. At the Vestry Meeting the following April (1884) the Vicar reported that just under £223 [£18,000] had been donated to cover various costs of improving the church. £130 [£11,000] was spent on restoring the organ, a further £24 [£2,000] on lighting up the organ pipes, and £38 [£3,000] on extending the hot water radiators to the galleries and installing two ventilators in the roof of the church. Mr Baynes, one of the Churchwardens, had generously donated money to cover the cost of improving the church grounds, including “new lamps at the entrance gates, enclosing the land adjoining, and planting with shrubs.”

With expenditure running higher than income in many years and no reserves to fall back on, the financial situation of the church remained precarious throughout most of John Bone’s incumbency. Reading this today one might question the budgeting skills and money management of the people involved, but the Vicar remained firmly of the view that “God will provide”. He said as much at the 1885 Vestry Meeting, where he announced that “he had never any doubt that the congregation would always find means sufficient for maintaining the worship of God in the church in a decent and solemn manner.” One solution proposed at the May 1892 Meeting of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen was to take up a collection at each service, rather than four times a year.

Financial problems continued through much of the 1890s. In 1894, for example, the income was just under £236 [£21,000] and expenditure was £255 [£22,600], resulting in an overspend of £19 [£1,700]. How the books were balanced is not recorded in minutes of the Vestry Meetings … but this was becoming a regular pattern, and it must have exercised the minds and tested the resilience of the Vicar and Churchwardens.

At the Easter Vestry Meeting in 1894 the Vicar voiced his belief that there were a number of “well-to-do residents” living within the parish who were “Church people” but did not attend St Thomas’. As he put it

it seemed to him that, if the parochial principle of the Church of England was to be maintained, and if parishioners were to maintain a church for divine worship for the benefit of the parish, residents in that parish should recognise a responsibility in that matter, and contribute in some measure towards the support of divine worship and the maintenance of the church in their own parish. If they attended other churches then that was an advantage which they granted to themselves, but was one which did not, he thought, do away with their responsibility or of their contributing in some measure towards the support of the church to which they professed to belong in their own parish.”

From his perspective the solution to the church’s enduring financial problems was simple – everyone who lived within the parish had a responsibility to contribute to the costs, no matter where they worshipped, if indeed they worshipped anywhere at all.

By 1898 the situation was getting serious. At the Easter Vestry Meeting that year the Vicar reported an overspend the previous year of more than £36 [£3,100], adding that “he did not see how [the heavy losses] were to be limited unless they closed the organ, or gave up ringing the bells.”

He repeated his battle cry that “if the church had to be maintained in the parish, if it was lighted, warmed, cleaned, and the services to be maintained in it, they had a right to expect that the parishioners should themselves do something towards it.” He excused Nonconformists who supported their own chapels as “altogether different” but insisted that -

people who were Church people [by which he meant Church of England people], they were ignoring one of the plainest duties of Church people, and that was to do their best to support the church which existed in their own parish, not only for their own welfare, but for the spiritual good of their neighbours, and especially their poorer neighbours.”

One parishioner at the meeting, a Mr Sattertwaite, suggested that they adopt “a more systematic way of giving”, arguing that “if they had a method of giving so much every time there was a church expenses collection, he was sure their collections would increase.” Unbeknowns to Mr Satterthwaite, these are the first suggestions on record of a move towards planned giving and the first hint of the need for a church stewardship campaign.

The situation seems to have improved somewhat over that year because although the church’s running costs had risen they had all been met. The 1899 Easter Vestry Meeting heard that collections had raised £17 [£1,500] for the schools, £4 [£350] for the Sunday School, and more than £9 [£790] for the Curate’s Sustentation Fund, and the Easter offerings to the Vicar came to £4 [£350]. Other collections for the Lancaster Infirmary, the Schoolmaster and Schoolmistress’s Benevolent Fund, the Church Missionary Society, the Society for Waifs and Strays, Workhouse Chaplain’s Fund, and others totalled just over £40 [£3,500]. It is heartening to read that, even when the financial situation was far from buoyant, the church continued its charitable giving to worthy causes, local and national.

The recovery was to be short-lived, however. Dr Forsythe, one of the Churchwardens, told the Easter Vestry Meeting in 1900 that the debt had been wiped out, books had balanced, and there was now a small surplus (less than eight shillings [£34]), but the coming year would require a sizeable expenditure on repairs and redecoration of the church. A report on the meeting in the Lancaster Observer noted that

The church finances are in a bad way and some drastic step needs to be taken. Exactly what should be done is not clear, but when it is seriously suggested that if things did not mend the organ might be abandoned in the interests of economy it will readily be allowed that matters are reaching an acute crisis. St Thomas’ is not a wealthy parish, yet it is not one of the poorest. Its Vicar is a hard-working and zealous parson, and the record both of the church and schools is one to be proud of. The matter ought to be faced by the whole Churchfolk of the town, it seems to us, and Mr Bone should ask and expect assistance from others than those in his own parish. The present state of things at St Thomas’ is a reproach to the energy and enthusiasm of the Church life of Lancaster.”

Further to the Vicar’s plea that ‘Church people’ living within the parish should help financially, here was a local newspaper suggesting that other Anglican churches in Lancaster should also be helping out St Thomas’. There is no evidence that any of them responded positively to the call.

As predicted, the 1901 Easter Vestry Meeting heard that the accounts were back in deficit to the tune of £15 [£1,300], on a total income of £121 [£10,300] and expenditure of £136 [£11,500]. Churchwarden Hatch underlined the point that

if they were to carry on the services of that church in the way they had been doing by payments to organists, bell-ringers, etc., they must have a larger income. Payments on such things as the organ, the choir boys, and music, bell-ringing and bells amounted to no less than £69 8s [£5,900], or rather more than half their expenditure. These things could not continue unless more support was forthcoming.”

There are no signs of any serious efforts to balance the books sustainably other than by once again asking the congregation to dig deeper into their pockets in order to keep the church solvent. The Vicar suggested that “they must make more frequent appeals to the worshippers. Their old system of quarterly church collections had become obsolete. They must have more frequent collections in the church so that those who worshipped there as well as the seat holders might have an opportunity of contributing to the necessary expenses of Divine worship.”

As well as the age-old challenge of raising enough funds to have a Curate (Browett was by then in post), the church was being asked by the Bishop to contribute to the Queen Victoria Clergy Fund (which sought to increase the income of poor parishes like St Thomas’ to £200 [£17,000] a year) and to a scheme called the Twentieth Century Million Shilling Fund which sought to raise £50,000 [£4.2 million] towards the endowment of a State orchestra).

The same month the question of finances dominated a meeting of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen. Churchwarden Mr Hatch Junior gave an update on the estimated cost of essential work on the church, including repairs to the fabric (£35 [£3,000]), cleaning the church (£63 [£5,300]), some replacement windows (£17 [£1,400]) and work on the bells (£20 [£1,700]) and organ (£20 [£1,700]). He suggested that “a Bazaar or Sale of Work should be held in order to raise the amount of money necessary for these repairs”, and the Vicar agreed to “call a meeting of the Ladies of the congregation for Wednesday next, for the purpose of forming a Ladies Committee.”

The accounts presented at the 1902 Easter Vestry Meeting show where the money came from and what it was used for. That year the total income was £159 [£13,500], made up from collections for church expenses (£61 [£5,200]), offertories (£40 [£3,400]), donations (£20 [£1,700]), interest from the Bazaar Fund (£12 [£1,000]), profits from the Sale of Work (£5 [£420]), Vicar’s rental of pews (£4 [£340]), alms box (18s [£76]), rent of Church House [4 Marton Street] (£17 [£1,400]), and special offertories including £16 [£1,400] for St Thomas’ Schools  £5 6s. [£450] for the Sunday School, £6 12s [£560] for the Curates’ Sustentation Fund, £37 14s [£3,200] for the Easter Clergy Fund, and £44 [£3,700] for other projects.

Expenditure more or less balanced income but projected costs for “the resuscitation of the church” included sizeable sums required for work on the organ (around £250 [£21,200]), bells (£50 [£4,200]), church fabric (£50 [£4,200]), and the installation of electric lighting (£110 [£9,300]). The “resuscitation” work was expensive but enough money was raised to fund it, allowing Mr Hatch to report at the 1905 Easter Vestry Meeting that the electric lighting of the church was complete, the bells had been re-hung, the heating system had been repaired, but repairs to the organ had been put on hold.

Financial matters continued to occupy church meetings through the early years of the 20th century, with the budget ending in deficit most years. If the church was a company it would have been declared unviable by this stage.

The money raised from Bazaars or Sales of Work from 1899 onwards was becoming critical in keeping the church afloat and for funding particular projects for many years to come. For example, the Bazaar held on the 29thof October 1901 raised a total of £913 [£77,300] through the sale of work (£514 [£43,500]), tickets and entertainments (£111 [£9,400]) and donations (£288; [£24,400]). Costs were just over £85 [£7,200], leaving a net income of just under £828 [£70,100].

As well as raising much-needed cash, the Bazaars helped the church to keep its books in the black, making it possible to apply for grant support to outside bodies like the Diocesan Society and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (fore-runner of the Church Commissioners). Thus the Vicar was able to report to the January 1902 Meeting of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen that he had successfully applied for grants of £200 [£17,000] from the Church Building Society, £50 [£4,200] from Mrs Fraser’s Funds, and £250 [£21,200] from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. On the strength of this, Mr Hatch’s proposal that there should be “an Annual sale of work, or of old properties commonly called ‘a jumble sale’, in aid of the Church Expenses” was adopted with great enthusiasm.

It was not just a question of balancing the books, because matters of shared responsibility often reared their head. This was the case, for example, when Mr Hatch reminded the 1904 Easter Vestry Meeting that “when they considered the average amount of the collections – and he knew for a fact that three-fourths of it came from very few pockets – it did not place the congregation in a very pleasant light.”


Silver Jubilee (1891)

1891 was a special year in the life of St Thomas’ because it marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the church. Special celebrations and thanksgiving services were organised in the third week of June.

The special Jubilee Services in church began on the morning of Sunday the 14th of June 1891. The Vicar read the prayers and the second lesson, Curate Benjamin Carr read the first lesson (Isaiah 12: 4), and Colin Campbell (visiting from Weston-super-Mare where he was now Vicar of Christ Church) gave the sermon, based on Psalm 127: 1 (‘Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that built it.’).

Campbell spoke for some time, reminding those present of how the church had been established by Armytage after he resigned as Curate in the Parish Church, “grasping beyond most men of his time the pure evangelical truth, and the prophetic unfolding of the things which should be thereafter.” He reminded them of Elizabeth Salisbury’s generosity in giving the church a £1,000 endowment, and his father’s commitment to clearing the debt, building the schools, buying the Vicarage, and funding the spire, organ and church bells. Few of the original members of the congregation were still alive, but he was pleased to note that Mr Hatch, who had helped to build the church, was still giving faithfull service as a Churchwarden.

He believed that St Thomas’ “had been a great blessing to those who lived in the neighbourhood”, but reminded those listening that “the building of the material house of God was only a parable upon the construction of the parable of the spiritual church of God.” He developed this theme by

comparing each individual soul in this latter church with the stones of which the material church was built, [and] he pointed out that these souls were so to speak gathered from many quarries in all parts of the earth, that they had to be built upon a solid foundation from which all deposit of worldliness and sin had been cleared away, that as solid walls were essential to the construction of the building they were worshipping in that morning, union was of essential importance in the church of God, and he trusted that they would one and all do all they could to bring each member of that church, scattered as they were, into living union and communion with each other.”

The service closed with the National Anthem “and the bells sent forth joyous peals.” (Lancaster Gazette 17th June 1891)

The following evening (Monday) there was a congregational gathering at the Vicarage, hosted by the Vicar and his wife and attended by up to 300 members of the congregation. The weather was good, games were organised in the garden, and songs were sung by various people including one of the Vicar’s sons. As the newspaper reported (Lancaster Gazette, 20th June 1891),

a few of the gentlemen present were much interested and gratified in examining and having lucidly explained to them the uses of Mr. Bone’s astronomical instruments … One of the telescopes was mounted, and although the sun was considerably obscured by clouds, some of the spots on it could be seen at intervals.”

An organ recital was given in the church on the Tuesday evening, followed by a full choral evening service which included choirs from other Lancaster churches (St Mary’s, St Anne’s, Christ Church, St Luke’s Skerton and St Paul’s Scotforth) and members of the Lancaster Choral Society. “All the pieces were well played and highly appreciated by those present.” (Lancaster Gazette, 20th June 1891) The Rev Canon Cross from Southport preached to a crowded church.

A congregational trip to Grange had been organised for the Wednesday afternoon, and despite dull weather between 600 and 700 people joined in

and on the whole [it] was enjoyable. Some of the party remained to enjoy the beauties of Grange – and where arrangements had been made for tea – whilst others made their way to Cartmel – some in waggonettes and other vehicles, and some on foot – where a short service was announced to be held in the Priory Church. … At the conclusion of the service a good number partook of tea at Shaftesbury House, which had been kindly lent for the occasion by Miss Coward … The choir and others had tea in the school-room, ample provision having been made for all. After a stroll around Cartmel the party returned to Grange, where the train was again taken, and Lancaster reached shortly before ten.” (Lancaster Gazette, 20thJune 1891)

The final formal part of the celebrations was a Children’s Flower Service in church on the Thursday evening, at which a Rev C. Riley preached. It “was largely attended. The scholars of the day and Sunday schools occupied the pews at each side of the nave, and brought with them offerings of flowers and fruits which they presented at the altar after the prayers had been read. … [after the service] The fruit and flowers will be given to the Lancaster Infirmary.” (Lancaster Gazette, 20th June 1891)

The success of the Jubilee celebration was commented on at the Easter Vestry Meeting the following year (1892), where the Vicar reported that

the jubilee of St Thomas’ last year was an event which was celebrated with the greatest satisfaction by the congregation, and the earnest attendance and the liberal efforts they bestowed upon that occasion testified to the great interest which was still felt, and had been felt for the last fifty years, in the welfare and progress of St Thomas’ Church. The jubilee offertories realised upwards of £50 [£4,200], of which £22 [£1,900] was devoted to St Thomas’ Schools and the other portion to the Curate’s Sustentation Fund.”


Church fabric

When John Bone took over as Vicar in 1873 the church was pretty much as Colin Campbell Senior had left it nearly twenty years earlier. Little had been invested in the fabric, other than essential repairs and maintenance work.

It fell to him to launch a major restoration and improvement project, which would occupy him and the Churchwardens for some years. The first phase was modest but started the ball rolling; the April 1876 Meeting of the Parishioners asked the Churchwardens “to undertake the thorough cleaning of the church and decoration of the chancel, desiring that the font should be removed to the West-end and [Mr Howett] making the handsome offer of a Lectern if that were done.” The 1878 Easter Vestry Meeting considered “some means to preserve the ground in front of the church more orderly” and the matter was left in the hands of the Churchwardens.

Momentum started to gather at the Congregational Tea Party in April 1882, at which Mr S. Harris (a former Mayor) spoke about the poor state the church organ was in and why a thorough restoration was necessary, and about “the present beastly and disgusting old seats” and his hope that “pews of a more modern description would be provided.” In response the Vicar said he looked forward to the time when new church pews might be installed, noting that he

wanted to see the large luxurious pews compressed into smaller dimensions, and he wanted to see the nasty old sheep pens done away with. He also wanted to see the red merinos [coverings] stripped off and converted into flags if it was good enough for that purpose, and if not it should go into the ragbag. He should like to see good seats introduced, and he thought that seats (especially in a church like St Thomas’s) might very well be appropriated, but seats ought always to be at the service of every individual who came to church to worship God. He held that no individual, whatever he paid for his seat, had any vested right in that seat to prevent any other person using it if there was room to spare, and when the service had once begin ought to be available for any person who felt inclined to come and worship. … He hoped that day would soon come when a change could be effected.” (Lancaster Gazette, 30th April 1882)


Restoration and improvement

It took some years for the need for major restoration work to be seen as a priority. At the 1887 Easter Vestry Meeting a number of parishioners agreed that “no one could help feeling that the church required a complete renovation” and the general view was that the congregation should be willing to cover the costs. One church member said “it was absolutely necessary for the decent performance of divine worship and to be in decent keeping with the house of God.”

The last renovation had been done five years earlier and cost £40 [£3,100]; the likely cost of renovation this time was estimated at around £100 [£8,700]. The following year the Vicar was able to tell the Vestry Meeting that the work of “thoroughly cleaning and so far as possible beautifying the church” had been done, for which “money had been cheerfully and liberally subscribed … [and] the church put into a fit condition for the purposes of Divine worship.”

Despite such progress, the Churchwardens were determined not to rest on their laurels. They told the 1895 Easter Vestry Meeting that “they should endeavour to make the Church what it could easily be made – one of the best so far as cleanliness and stability of the fabric was concerned”. Six months later Churchwarden John Hatch presented a plan to the Meeting of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen (22nd October 1895) for improving the West Gallery “for the purpose of better accommodating the choir and promoting the efficiency of the singing”.  His proposals were unanimously approved. Further improvements were agreed at the July 1902 Vestry Meeting, including installing electric lighting in the church, particularly in the Organ Gallery.



Mr Harris’s concern about the church organ was acted upon, and it was taken out of use in March 1883 “in consequence of being very much out of order”.

The organ was dismantled, cleaned and rebuilt by a Mr Rubb of Liverpool. About 7,000 new parts were added and all the original wires and nobs were replaced. It was recommissioned at a service in church in September 1883, led by the Vicar, at which the guest organist was Dr Spark from Leeds and the preacher was Rev Cross from Southport who spoke on 1 Chronicles 16:42 (“Hemun and Jeduthun were responsible for the sounding of the trumpets and cymbals and for the playing of the other instruments for sacred song.”).

Cross reminded those present that “in the possession of an improved instrument worshippers were called upon for a greater dedication of themselves to God, a purer purity of heart, and a holier holiness of life.” An appeal on behalf of the Organ Fund raised £20 14s [£1,600]. (Lancaster Gazette, 1st September 1883)



The matter of seating within the church had been challenging the Vicar and Churchwardens for some years. One issue was the need to increase the number of people who could be seated in the church. The 1878 Easter Vestry Meeting agreed that “it was considered advisable to provide more seat accommodation for the poor and the placing of some chairs in front of the pulpit and reading desk was sanctioned should the Churchwardens think it desirable.” The Sidesmen played an important role in seating the congregation before services, for which the Vicar thanked them at the November 1896 and 1898 Meetings of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen.

A second important issue was making sure that pew rents were paid in full and on time, in order to maximise the church’s income. At the 1876 Easter Meeting of the Parishioners Churchwarden Hatch “mentioned that as some of the seats had been let for less than the amount prescribed by the last schedule it was desirous that the proper amounts should be paid.”

That was agreed in principle but not followed through in practice. Three years later at the 1879 Easter Vestry Meeting Mr Hatch once again “called the attention of the Vestry to the fact that some seat-holders had been hitherto charged less than that authorised by the Bishop’s schedule, and wished the Vestry to express an opinion upon it. The Vestry was of the opinion that all seat rents should be collected by the Churchwardens according to the rate prescribed by the Bishop’s schedule.”

Over the next two decades income from pew rentals declined as more and more holders stopped making regular payments. This led the Vicar to declare, at the 1901 Easter Vestry Meeting, that St Thomas’

was becoming what he might call a free Church. The seat payments were fewer, yet it did not mean that the congregation was less. They provided a great amount of accommodation for those who came to worship there, and they were glad to do so. He was afraid that the opinion had gone out in past times that seat rents were not legal. There was not the slightest doubt, however, and he said it in the presence of a legal gentleman, that under the recent Acts of Parliament seat rents were the provision made for the stipend of the incumbent.”

A third issue, raised by a parishioner at the 1886 Easter Vestry Meeting, was “whether non-parishioners has any locus standi (right to appear) at that meeting? Had a seat-holder who was a non-parishioner any voice? It was a matter of fact that they did not follow the law strictly in that respect, because Mr Hatch was not a parishioner.”

The Vicar replied that, if the appointment of Churchwardens “were a contested matter – which he did not at all anticipate – it would probably be his duty to take the votes only of parishioners.” Today only the votes of people listed on the church’s Electoral Roll can be counted, but it sounds as though that was not a requirement at the end of the 19th century.



We hear more about the physical state of the church than its spiritual state during John Bone’s time, but we do get glimpses of the services and worship.

Haythornthwaite (1875, p.82) visited St Thomas’ on several Sundays in the mid-1870s, and describes what he thought of the service. He opens by noting that

the choir at St. Thomas’s is still in its first twelve months of practice, and has not therefore developed the utmost perfection of which its members are capable. It consists, we are told, of about a dozen ladies, the same number of boys and about eight men, but the average attendance is under thirty.”

He then tells us what he thought of the music -

we were considerably astonished at first with the compound performance of the organ and choir, which was of a somewhat irregular and thunderous character. The effect upon delicate nerves must have been painful. Each broken note would shoot magnetically along the spine, and the full effect of the chorus would then fly off through the hands and feet in a series of electric shocks.”

He was clearly not impressed. He might have caught the church at a bad time, before the choir found its voice and before the organ had been fully restored.

He might have come away a more positive attitude had he attended one of the annual Harvest Festival services in church which began in 1880. As with the Annual Congregational Tea Parties, great efforts were made to decorate the premises for the Harvest Festival thanksgiving services. The Lancaster Gazette (9th October 1880) describes how the church was decorated in 1880 -

The ledge of the painted east window was covered with a number of choice plants and ferns, and immediately under these and behind the altar was placed the text ‘Thou visitest the earth and blessest it,’ the letters being formed of grains of wheat on grass-green ground with a border of wheat and oats in the ear and autumn berries. Immediately under this text was another, ‘Honour the Lord with thy first fruits, so shall thy barns be filled with plenty’, worked in gold letters of a blue ground. The chancel stalls and chandeliers were decorated with ears of grain and dahlias, with a devise at the end, consisting of white everlastings on velvet ground, each being surmounted by a few ears of corn. The pulpit was very tastefully decorated, the edge round the top being hung with a fringe of oats in the ear and autumn berries; the pillars being covered with ivy and coloured flowers consisting of asters, etc, which gave it a very brilliant aspect, the panels being implanted with a miniature sheaf of grain, the central one having a similar device with a large bunch of grapes in the centre; and the base being arranged with a number of choice plants and flowers. The reading desk was surmounted with a fringe of oats in the ear and autumn berries; the panels having similar arrangements as the pulpit, with a bunch of grapes in the central panel, the base being strewn with a varied collection of ripe fruit and vegetables, the chief amongst them being a beautiful ornamental gourd. The font, the most beautiful of the whole of the decorations, and which showed to great advantage, was surrounded at its summit with a wreath of cotoneasters interspersed with geraniums, etc, below which was a succession of ivy and autumn berries, the steps being covered with moss; on its base next the ground was the text ’The Bread of Life’; and around it again was a number of choice plants neatly arranged; from the summit of the font was a beautiful hexagonal prismal construction, surmounted by a miniature sheaf of wheat, and between the sides of this construction in the inside were a few choice flowers neatly arranged. The organ was hung with the text, beautifully executed in coloured letters on a white ground, ‘Sing ye praises with understanding.’ The choir stalls or pews were also neatly decorated with corn and flowers. Above the principal entrance door in the porch was the text ‘Enter his gates with thanksgiving,’ neatly executed in coloured letters on a white ground.”

The Vicar was generally happy with the services and the number of people who turned up for them. He told the 1885 Easter Vestry Meeting that “the services had been well maintained, the congregations had been good.”

Not everyone in the congregation had such a positive view, however. One parishioner announced at the Vestry Meeting two years later that

he would like in the church a little more lively service in the shape of singing. Churches seemed to degenerate if the congregation sat too quietly … Instead of a choir of the present size, they might, he thought, obtain one five times as large in point of numbers. There ought also to be more congregational singing. … People did not always attend the church of the parish in which they lived. They hunted up and down for the very best singing and service they could find. He thought they might very much improve the services at St Thomas’. … He was quite sure they must all feel that their church was devoid of congregational singing. An occasional sermon on the value of singing as an aid to the services might be useful.”

The Vicar responded by saying that “he had long wished to see the services brighter and the singing more of a congregational character.” He thought the choir was very good, but not in the best place upstairs in the West Gallery near the organ. He reminded his listeners that several years earlier, when the organ was being repaired, the choir was moved to the chancel in front of church, and “he thought that they then sang with a great deal more effect.”

The Vicar also looked ahead to a time, probably after he had left, “when the organ must be brought down, when the choir must be placed in the chancel, and when the church must be re-seated.” That turned out to be very prophetic, as we shall see in later chapters.

Discussions about where the choir sat and how well they sang were not allowed to overshadow the good news that, overall, the services were well received and attracted new people into the church. The Vicar told the 1899 Easter Vestry Meeting that “the services had … been well maintained and attended, and an increasing number of strangers [visitors] had been observed at the services, and he was sure the Churchwardens would be glad to give accommodation to any newcomers.”

In 1902 the Bishop wrote a letter to all clergy in the Diocese encouraging them to give serious thought to the adoption of a new hymn book. At that time St Thomas’, like many Anglican Churches, was using the Hymnal (Companion to the Book of Common Prayer), which contained few of the well known hymns and modern tunes that appeared in Hymns Ancient and Modern. The Churchwardens and Sidesmen, who discussed the matter at a meeting on the 10th of July 1902, were unanimously in favour of adopting the new hymn book; five days later, at a Vestry Meeting, it was agreed that the Vicar should write to the Bishop “asking what hymnal he should recommend, in case any change were made.”



The curious incident of the “innocent decorations” in April 1882 came from nowhere, with no hint beforehand that trouble was brewing. It may have been dramatic at the time, and the fact that it was played out in public certainly didn’t help, but it appears to have caused no lasting damage. Good working relationships between the Vicar and Churchwardens were soon restored, and the Vicar’s standing with his congregation remained undiminished.

Fourteen years later, in 1896, we get the first glimpse of an issue that was to sit like a dark cloud over St Thomas’ for much of the next century, which was the prospect of having to relocate the church to another part of town because of declining congregations and precarious funding.

The first trace of this in any minutes of church meetings can be found in the 1896 Easter Vestry Meeting, when Churchwarden Hatch is reported to have said “it would be his pleasure to keep St Thomas’ not only in its present position, but to see it filled with a hearty congregation, and to make it one of the best-going churches in this part of the country. They had a good church in every way …”.

The church leadership appears to have kept calm and carried on. At the 1899 Vestry Meeting the Vicar reported that “in a time when there were so many unhappy dissensions in some parishes, it was a pleasure to know they were at peace, for it was nothing short of wickedness and folly to allow God’s work to be hindered and frustrated by matters which were of altogether secondary importance.”

It’s not clear what the “unhappy dissentions in some parishes” were over (possibly continuing concerns over Catholic practices in the Anglican church), but it does seem that the Vicar was determined to keep his focus fixed firmly on the pastoral and missional ministries of St Thomas’. In that he appears to have been successful; in April 1902 one local newspaper (the Lancaster Observer) wrote of

The cordial relationship existing between the Vicar and his flock [which] was emphasised [at the Easter Vestry Meeting], and it is no small thing, as the Rev J. Bone hinted, for a clergyman, after a ministry of thirty years, to be able to look his people in the face with the consciousness that he has done his duty, and that they recognised it. Clergymen have their peculiarities … [but] the exercise of tact and common sense, and the recognition of the rights as well as the responsibilities of the laity, should remove – rather should they prevent – grave misunderstandings.”

One way in which John Bone tried to build good relationships with his parishioners was through organising social occasions at which they could spend time getting to know one another.

Pride of place went to the annual Congregational Tea Parties that were held on a mid-week evening in the Boys’ School room behind church. Great efforts were made to make the place look nice. We read in the Lancaster Gazette, for example, that for the January 1875 party

the decorations were very neat, and appropriate to the season of the year. The cross-beams were dressed with festoons of evergreens, whilst the side walls were adorned with wreaths of evergreens and paper flowers, the central parts displaying a variety of suitable mottoes. … Not the least important feature of attraction in the body of the room was a pretty Christmas Tree, upon which were arranged Chinese lanterns, and a variety of ornaments.”

Often between 200 and 250 people attended the Tea Parties, and they were treated to a variety of types of entertainment. Reports in the Lancaster Gazette give a flavor – at the September 1883 party “an hour was devoted  to a series of conjuring tricks, ventriloquist sketches, and illustrations of spiritualism”; at the January 1885 party the Temperance Choir sang several songs, and Mrs Bone (the Vicar’s wife) sang ‘Tell her I love her so’ accompanied on the flute by her husband, and their son sang ‘The Grey Mare’; at the March 1892 party a Mr Whiteman gave a two hour set called ‘Merriment’ “which consisted of original musical sketches of the company met with at an evening party; clever impersonations; and a burlesque conjuring séance, or an exposure of modern magic.”

The Congregational Tea Parties also provided an opportunity to address the church members on important matters of the day. Thus, for example, in January 1875 the guest of honour William Armitage (former Curate at St Thomas’ and now Vicar of St Paul’s, Scotforth) announced that “parochial visiting had given him more pleasure than any other part of his work”, proposed a vote of thanks to the District Visitors of St Thomas’, and encouraged them not to be discouraged by “the misery and filth” they often encountered in their work (Lancaster Gazette, 9th January 1875).

In September 1883 the Vicar spoke about the need “to bind congregations together” and for every church to “be united and strong in its congregation”. He emphasised the need for the members of St Thomas’ to “be united one with another, if they were to carry on works of Christian usefulness with full vigour and effect.” (Lancaster Gazette, 29th September 1883).

Armitage returned in January 1885 and, taking as his theme local churches working together, compared individual churches to the carriages of a railway, which were parts of one train – the Church. He noted (Lancaster Gazette, 10th January 1885) that

it was well that they should have them hooked well and fastened properly, in order that they might run well and safely together at a good speed … They all worked for one Master and one end; and if one carriage was heavily laden, the carriage behind or in front might not be; and so they as churches could help those that were heavily worked, and give support where it was needed.”

For reasons that remain unclear there appear to have been no annual Tea Parties for about four years in the late 1880s, but the next reported one held in February 1891 was attended by around 250 people. The Vicar was heartened to see among them many “who zealously took part in all good works connected with their parish, and who inspired them with courage and zeal for their duties by the regular attendance at the services of the church, and by their piety, zeal, and liberality.”.

He touched on the sensitive question of the sustainability of the church, commenting that “a short time ago some laments seemed to have been uttered upon the state of St Thomas’s, but he thought the present gathering was sufficient proof that there was a great deal of vitality in the old Church yet.”

The Vicar took the large turn-out at the Tea Party, the congregation’s generous giving towards the cost of a Curate, and the promise of further assistance from Lancaster’s two largest employers (James Williamson and the Storey Brothers), as encouraging signs of support rallying around the church in its time of need. He said he was willing to learn lessons from the local Nonconformist chapels about how they engaged their supporters, and he thought that “what they needed in the Church of England was a more thorough and vigorous lay co-operation.” He stressed in particular his belief that they

wanted amongst church people more realisation [that] religion … was a thing to live by and live in. … He did not think they wanted more religion in the sense of talking about it, or more affectation of it. They wanted more sanctification and as little sanctimoniousness as possible; they wanted that religion which would help them to discharge their various duties with an eye to justice between man and man, and by which they would be sure to please God and fulfil the law of Christ.” (Lancaster Gazette, 14thFebruary 1891)

Without using the phrase, the Vicar was hoping for a time of spiritual renewal in St Thomas’, which did eventually come more than seventy years later, as we shall see in Chapter 16.

The following year he highlighted “the social aspect of the Christian life”, noting that “when they came together that night they came together to meet as friends and spend a social evening, and give way to those feelings of sociableness, of mirth, of happiness, and of innocent enjoyment which were strictly consonant with the spirit of the gospel.” He bemoaned those who failed to attend church regularly without good reason, emphasising (Lancaster Gazette, 9th March 1892) that

the happiness and blessings to be obtained from the ministrations in the house of God were by no means inconsiderable, as it enabled them to undertake better the various duties of life, they were made more strong in principle, more sanguine in their efforts, and were enabled to look beyond this present life. If they only looked to the things of this life they were most miserable, for there was something more for men and women to do than live for the wages they earned, or the bread they put into their mouths. Man was possessed of an underlying soul, and that soul has aspirations; the aspirations of that soul were worth satisfying, and nowhere could it be more efficiently satisfied than by constant ministrations in the sanctuary which God himself had provided.”


Outreach and mission

Outreach during John Bone’s time at St Thomas’ took various forms.

Like his predecessors, the Vicar was keep to improve the lives of people living within the parish, and one way of doing this was by providing some relief the poor, particularly at Christmas time. The proceeds of the Bradshaw Bequest (a charity funded by a Mr Bradshaw who gave capital to the Vicar and Churchwardens of St Thomas’ for the provision of bread, meat or fuel at Christmas to the poor connected to the parish; it finally closed in 1996) were used to buy food and gifts for two hundred poor people, who were each given 2 lbs of beef, a stone of potatoes and two ounces of tea from the fund, and a 4 lb loaf of bread donated by parishioners. (Meeting of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen, 15thDecember 1897; Vestry Meeting, 19th April 1900)

Unlike his predecessors, the Vicar was sympathetic to working with his Nonconformist colleagues. For example, in May 1892 he assisted in a Sunday afternoon service at the Wesleyan Chapel, in connection with an Adult Bible Class. There he “gave an excellent address, taking for his subject ‘Dogs and Crumbs’. There was a good congregation, and much interest was displayed.” (Blackburn Standard, 28th May 1892)

We find the first record of a local mission being organised in Lancaster by St Thomas’ during John Bone’s time. The week long mission took place early in December 1875, beginning with a short service in church on the Saturday evening followed by services held every night that week.

On the Tuesday the missioner, Rev T J Clarke from York, gave a talk to about 100 workmen employed by Messrs Baynes and Hatch (the Churchwardens). The Lancaster Gazette reported on the 4th of December 1875 that “the address was a very earnest and practical one, specially appropriate to the occasion, and was well listened to with respectful attention by those present.”

On Wednesday the missioner spoke at a meeting in church of about 150 business men, basing his remarks on Luke 10: 42 (“few things are needed”) and “endeavoured to impress upon his hearers the importance and necessity of first seeking ‘the kingdom of God and His righteousness’.” During the week he also spoke to the workers at Queen Street Mill and to groups of mothers and children.

The evening meetings in church were well attended “and represent nearly every religious denomination in the town; the interest displayed in the services, and the devout feeling which has pervaded those present, being of a remarkable nature. The sermon each evening has been followed by an ‘after meeting’, for the benefit of those who felt specially anxious in regard to religious matters.”

John Bone followed in the footsteps of previous Vicars at St Thomas’ by taking an active interest in the Temperance Movement, accepting it as part of his duty to help the poor. Thus, for example, we find him addressing a ‘Rescue’ Tea Party held in the Palatine Hall in late December 1873, at which 320 working class people enjoyed ‘Special Christmas Fare’. He spoke about

his testimony as a minister of the gospel to the enormous evils of the drink system and the drinking customs of our country. He believed that this was a most important matter at the present time … [when] artisans were receiving an unparalleled amount of wages – yet he feared they were living in times when a larger amount than ever of those wages was being spent on drink; and … if the working men were besotted with drink, England must go down and her prosperity must fail.”

He commented that, when he first arrived in Lancaster “it grieved him very much to see the number of boys from the country (and girls too) wandering about the streets, the greater part of whom were half-tipsy … They well knew that if a young man came and took a sip of drink which made him half tipsy he had taken the Devil into him – he had learnt the maddening influence of drink and that lad was soon on the road to drunkenness.” (Lancaster Gazette, 21st December 1873)

The Vicar also spoke on temperance at the Ruri-Decanal [Deanery Synod] Conference in Lancaster in April 1875, declaring that

he had known men become sober and maintain their position for a time, but when the temptation came they fell back again. Very often the first glass did it, and the demon, the love of drink, became rampant once more, and the man fell lower and lower. … He thought the homes of the working classes had something to do with their drinking habits. Their homes in many instances were untidy, or they breathed the vitiated air of their close confined dwellings, and felt when morning came quite unrefreshed for the labours of the day, and in order to stimulate himself a man often took a drop at the dram-shop on the way to his work, and that frequently led to a day’s drinking.”

He said he looked to Parliament to “deal with the subject, and give increased facilities for better dwellings for the working classes”, but he also recognised the importance of better education and the role of the church. He put it all down to the matter of self-respect, concluding that “there had been a great improvement in the upper classes of late years, for now no gentleman would think of leaving the dinner table the worse for the wine he had drunk; and surely the same kind of feeling might be induced amongst the working classes.” (Lancaster Gazette 24th April 1875)

Six months later he preached a special sermon on temperance at St Thomas’, one of nine church leaders in Lancaster to do so in early September 1875. He preached on Philippians 3: 17-19 (“Join together in following my example … and … keep your eyes on those who live as we do. … many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.”). He spoke of how

we in our own time, could not shut our eyes to the enormous evil of intemperance around us” and how “intemperance was a hydra-headed evil – a monster not to be destroyed by cutting off one of its heads only; it was a monster which brought degradation and ruin, and misery unto thousands and caused many to walk faithless to Christ, and worthless to the world. Intemperance did not refer to one kind of sin only; there was intemperance in eating as well as in drinking; and there was intemperance in dressing, and in spending, and in speaking – all forms of the same kind of evil.”

In concluding he “urged his hearers to look to Christ as the source from which all temperance and true sobriety will flourish.” (Lancaster Gazette, 11th September 1875)

John Bone continued the St Thomas’ tradition of supporting national missionary societies, but we find his name attached to fewer of them than his predecessors. He was president of the annual meetings of the Lancaster branch of the Church Missionary Society, certainly in 1878 (Lancaster Gazette, 22nd May 1878) and 1891 (Lancaster Gazette, 25thJuly 1891).

He also served as president and chairman of the annual meetings of the Religious Tract Society. At the October 1875 meeting in the Palatine Hall, he emphasised how small publications given away freely “had no doubt been blessed of God in the conversion of sinners, and in bringing people to a knowledge of God’s word … [and how] there was a power in the gospel of Christ found without the aid of the living voice, and awakening of the sense of religion.” (Lancaster Gazette 16th October 1875)

He told the October 1882 meeting of the Religious Tract Society, held in the Mechanics’ Hall (Lancaster Gazette, 21st October 1882), that

we could not enter our hospitals, our workhouses, or prisons, nor go amongst bodies of men, such as crews of ships, or armies in the field, without feeling that the tract was the necessary accompaniment of the Word of God – the tract which pointed out in plain, clear, and distinct terms, those truths of salvation which were to be found in the Word of God.”


Sunday Schools

We hear relatively little about the Sunday Schools during John Bone’s time; the absence of evidence to the contrary suggests that it probably ticked over quite smoothly. There was some discussion about it at the 1886 Easter Vestry Meeting, where a parishioner (Mr Bond) announced that “he did not know any better means of making a healthy spiritual church than by looking well after the Sunday school, where spiritual instruction should be given to their young people.”

The Lancaster Gazette on the 15th of August 1891 included a report of a Sunday School outing in which about a hundred pupils joined the Vicar and his wife, the Curate (Benjamin Carr), and several teachers, on a train trip to Caton:

On reaching Caton they were marched to a field which had been kindly lent for their use by Mr. Gregson. Here numerous games, races, etc. were indulged in by the younger children … At five o’clock the scholars assembled at the Victoria Institute, and partook of tea. .. On arriving back at Lancaster the children were marched to the school, and a distribution of sweets, marbles, etc., brought a pleasant afternoon to a close.”


Day (National) School

The St Thomas’ Day Schools continued to prosper under John Bone, but towards the end of his time the funding and management of all National Schools underwent significant change. The Vicar was proud of what the schools were achieving and he supported them in word and deed.

Once a year he preached on the schools in church. In October 1874, for example, he preached on Colossians 3: 17 (“whatever you do … do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”), emphasising that “there was reason to believe that religious knowledge, given earnestly, systematically, and prayerfully, would result under God’s blessing in true religion, which would hereafter be manifested in the lives and conversation of those who had been educated in our schools.” (Lancaster Gazette, 3rd October 1874)

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr Fraser, was also a strong supporter of the National School system. Preaching at St Thomas’ in February 1878 (Lancaster Gazette, 23rd February 1878), he

thought it right that there ought to be sufficient and efficient schools placed within the reach of every working man in this country, so that no person in the country should have the power to say that the parson, or the squire, or the farmer, or his employer, or any circumstance of society, prevented him from getting a suitable education for his children. … The practical upshot of it would be this – that in every place there would be good schools in which a working man’s child could get an education suitable to its station, and if it had ability, work its way up from a low to a higher grade, and eventually attain to a university.”

By the late 1880s the St Thomas’ Schools were important not only to the church but also to the whole town. In December 1888 there were 891 scholars on the books, with a daily average attendance of just under 700 (Lancaster Gazette, 15th December 1888). The Schools were certainly carrying their fair share of the educational load in Lancaster.

Major changes in the National School system were introduced after the turn of the century as a result of Government legislation. Under the 1902 Education Act newly created Local Education Authorities were given responsibility for educational matters, and Trustees were made liable for the maintenance of buildings. This led the Vicar to point out to the 1902 Easter Vestry Meeting that “it was most desirable that a Fabric Fund be established [for the school], and [he] hoped that some portion of the funds now in the Treasurer’s hands would be appropriated for that purpose.”

The 1902 Act also established a minimum age of twelve at which children could leave school and start work (usually as apprentices in the mills and factories). Before the Act there had been no lower limit, so many children left school at a very early age or split their time between school and part-time work in order to earn a wage to help the family finances.

A much bigger challenge for church schools was the ‘confiscation’ of local control which brought a significant reduction in the opportunities for religious education. The Vicar spoke about this “present crisis of affairs” at the 1906 Easter Vestry Meeting, where he pointed out that

schools built by Churchmen, on which millions of money had been spent for the purpose of carrying on national education concurrently with religious education in accordance with the principles of those who built and maintained those schools at great sacrifice, were to be taken out of the hands of the managers and trustees and carried on without any respect to the provisions of the trust deeds under which they were founded. Whatever religious teaching was permitted in them was to be carried out by teachers who might never have been instructed in or tested as to their belief in that instruction or their ability to impart it. Not so geography, arithmetic, or history.”

Religious instruction “according to the principles of the founder” would be permitted twice a week, if parents demanded it and trustees were willing to pay for it. A resolution was passed, stating that “this Vestry protests against any proposals which will alienate the religious education of the non-provided schools from that of the intentions of their founders, and place obstacles in the way of children being instructed in the religious faith of their parents.” There is no evidence that the St Thomas’ Vestry protest led to any change in heart or plan by the Government.


Death of the Vicar

John Bone appears to have enjoyed good health through most of his time as Vicar of St Thomas’. The only record we have of poor health comes in the minutes of the 1904 Easter Vestry Meeting, which had to be chaired by Curate Charles Browitt in the absence of the Vicar through illness. The absence was a short one because he took part in other meetings after this date.

John Bone died in Lancaster on the 27th of May 1906, having given 33 years’ faithful service in St Thomas’. The cause of death is not know, nor how sudden it was, but we do know that he was fit enough to chair the Vestry Meeting on the 17th of April.

Like Colin Campbell Senior and Joseph Armytage before him, and John Dufour Ellenbergher his first Curate, John Bone died in post at St Thomas’. Half of the first six Vicars dying in post might not be a record, but it certainly makes St Thomas’ look like a dangerous place to be incumbent of. Armytage was old and living in retirement in Bristol when he died; Campbell worked himself into an early grave. Bone was 71 years old when he died, so natural causes look likely.

Less than three weeks after the death of John Bone the congregation received the sad news that Colin Campbell Junior had died at Weston-super-Mare in Somerset on the 17th of June at the age of 72.

A meeting of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen held on the 22nd of June 1906, chaired by Churchwarden Dr Forsyth, agreed a series of proposals: “a vote of condolence was passed to the family of our late dear Vicar; and … a similar vote to the family of the late Rev Colin Campbell. … that an early meeting be held to consider a memorial to the late Rev J. Bone. … that a letter be sent to the CPAS in connection with the vacancy in the living. … that the ladies of the congregation be asked to put flowers in the vases on the Communion Table until the new Vicar came.”

Because the Lancaster Gazette had ceased publication by this time, we are robbed of the useful reports it traditionally carried on the departure or death of incumbents, which usually included an obituary. The only testimonial we have about John Bone comes from local writer J. Wane (1909) who knew him personally, who wrote -

a more sympathetic and kindly man there could not be. Of his preaching what can one say? When he let his mind go amongst his favourite stars, when he spoke of the wonders of Nature and always of the greatness and love of the Creator, his language rose to the very height of poetical eloquence. Such sermons as rendered by these two good men [Colin Campbell Junior and John Bone] are, in my opinion, as a layman, of infinitely more value to poor suffering and sinful humanity than the learned doctrinal discourses affected by some. A reference to St. Augustine, or other saints, does not appeal to me, nor does it I am sure to human beings tired with life’s struggles.”

A memorial tablet to John Bone was erected in church in 1907 by his successor Stanley Hersee, and new pews were installed in the nave and aisles. Further details of this are given in the next chapter.

Identifying a lasting legacy left by John Bone, St Thomas’ sixth Vicar, is something of a challenge. One claim to fame he has is as the church’s longest serving Vicar to date, by some margin. He served 33 years; the next longest was Peter Guinness (20 years), closely followed by Samuel Latham (19 years) and Cyril Ashton (17 years), then Colin Campbell Junior (14 years).

Looking at the long sweep of his incumbency overall, it clearly marks the end of an era for St Thomas’ and the start of a new chapter. Gone is the fervour displayed by the early Vicars as ‘defenders of the faith’, speaking out and protesting about Ritualism and ‘Popery’ within the Church of England, and about Nonconformity within the religious landscape of the country. In this area John Bone comes across as much more of a conciliator, perhaps even an accommodator, than his predecessors.

But Bone also shared some qualities with those who had gone before him. Most prominent of these was his emphasis on maintenance rather than mission. There are few signs of any great commitment to outreach and evangelism, and his focus was clearly on keeping going rather than reaching out or building up the church.

John Bone’s time at St Thomas’ must be viewed in the context of what was happening beyond the church in Britain but having an increasingly serious impact on the Established Church. The early 20th century was a time of great change in how people looked on and thought about religion, as a result of the growing emphasis on the notion of progress, the approach and discoveries of science, and the move towards personal objectives such as the pursuit of wealth and happiness. The church at large was struggling to capture the public imagination, especially in the face of the newly acquired authority and prestige of science, as educated people in particular started to look more towards science as a way of explaining things and towards humanism as a basis for personal morality. Paradoxically, the extension of universal education only made matters worse for the church, because it increased the spread of knowledge about science, its approaches and conclusions.

The church was starting to look old-fashioned and anachronistic in the emerging culture which church historian Roger Lloyd (1966, p.64) described as a mixture of “secular humanism and scientific utopianism”. Religion was starting to engage in a struggle for survival, evidenced by declining public interest in and support for organised religion, declining church attendance and financial stability, and a decline in the power and effectiveness of the voice of the Church as the conscience of the nation.

Most people still looked to the Church to continue providing cradle-to-grave services such as baptisms, weddings and burials, but otherwise the people of Britain were starting to distance themselves from their national Church. Secularism was on the march in Britain as across mainland Europe during the first two decades of the 20th century.

But the Church was not about to roll over, admit defeat and die; it would at least try to fight back as best it could. On the last day of 1899 Canon Charles Gore had preached in Westminster Abbey, pointing out that “the 19th century was closing with a widespread sense of disappointment and anxiety among some who cared most for righteousness and truth.” But he did see dim signs of hope, noting that “the lack of rival enthusiasms gave an opportunity to the Church to appeal to every man’s conscience. They were on the eve of a fresh understanding of Christianity. The old Bible was being read afresh with new power. If there is for the moment silence, it may only be the hush before the wind of the divine spirit blows.” (Lloyd 1966 pp.69-70)

In some ways Canon Gore was anticipating revival within the Church of England, when “the wind of the spirit” would indeed blow again, but that would not come for another six decades or so. When it did it would have a powerful and lasting impact, in St Thomas’ and in many other churches across the land.

There is no evidence of any particular concern or reaction in St Thomas’ to the challenge of Darwin’s theory of evolution, as described in his ground-breaking book The Origin of Species (1857). This may be partly because the Vicar was not only sympathetic to the ideas and approaches of modern science, but also an active participant in it through his astronomical observations and explanations.


– o0o –

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10. Stanley Hersee (1906-1914)

The Rev. Stanley John Hersee, who I am thankful to say has not yet qualified as a former Vicar, is, I venture to say, a worthy successor to the line of faithful and earnest men whose voices are now mute.” (J. Wane, 1909)


Stanley John Hersee was born in Peckham, Surrey, in 1871, the second child of Alfred Hersee of Beckenham and Ellen Gibbs from Camberwell. His father had died before Stanley reached the age of twenty; in the 1891 census his mother is listed as a widow and head of the household “living on her own means” in Beckenham. Stanley attended Dulwich College and graduated from Corpus Christi at the University of Cambridge in 1894 with a BA 1894. He was ordained deacon in 1894 and started his clergy career as Curate at St Peter’s, Islington.

He served as Curate of Cromer in Norfolk between 1896 and 1898, and was Metropolitan Association Secretary of the Irish Church Mission (which previous Vicars at St Thomas’ had supported and prayed for) between 1898 and 1902, before moving north to serve as Chaplain of Smithills near Bolton in Lancashire from 1902 to 1906. By 1901, when he was living in Hornsea in Middlesex, he had married Sarah Jane from Plymouth in Devon and they had a daughter called Nora Ellen who was born in Hornsea in 1900. A second daughter, Margaret Eunice, was born in Hornsea in 1901.


Appointment and arrival

The Hersee family moved from Bolton to Lancaster in 1906 when Stanley was appointed Vicar of St Thomas’. He was the first Vicar to be selected by the Church Pastoral Aid Society; recall that ten years earlier Colin Campbell Junior had transferred the patronage from himself to CPAS at the request of John Bone.

They arrived in Lancaster a mere four months after the death of John Bone. Stanley is first listed in the Baptism Register as Vicar at St Thomas’ on the 25th of September 1906. He chaired his first Vestry Meeting the following Easter, on the 2nd of April 1907. Alongside his work as Vicar at St Thomas’ he also served as Chaplain to Lancaster Castle.

Like their predecessors the Hersees lived in the Vicarage in Queen Street, supported by three domestic servants. The family grew as Nora and Margaret were joined by two sisters, Mary Ainsworth (born in 1907) and Muriel de Hermann (1909) and a brother, Lawrence John Ambrose (1911), all of who were born in Lancaster.

Wane (1909) described Stanley Hersee as “a strong Evangelical Churchman, in sympathy with all forms of Christian work, and especially is an ardent supporter of Temperance reform and Missionary work.”

We catch a glimpse of his passion for evangelism in a colourful incident from his early days as a clergyman in London. It happened in August 1896 when Hersee, then Curate at St Peter’s in Islington, had a major falling out with the landlord of the Camden Head pub after he started holding an open air service outside the pub, including the use of loud musical instruments. In pursuit of revenge the landlord “employed employed an organ grinder for three Mondays to play in opposition to the army”, but – as the Pall Mall Gazette (28th August 1896) reported

the grinding of the grinder was as nought, being lost in the thunder of the big drum … In short, the Rev Stanley Hersee, his lutes, harps, sackbuts, psalteries, dulcimers and all kinds of musical instruments, including the big drum, appear to be an abominable nuisance; and if he be really anxious to promote religion he will, not to put too fine a point on it, hold his row.”

The story made it into The Times (7th October 1896) which reported that -

Rev Stanley Hersee … was fined 30s. [£135] including costs [at Clerkenwell Court], for causing an obstruction by holding an open air service. The defendant declined on principle to pay the money, and the magistrate said that, if he would not do so, a distress warrant [which empowers a bailiff to collect the amount by removing goods or agreeing an instalment arrangement] would be issued.”

It looks likely that in due course Hersee paid up, having made his stand.


Lancaster during his time

Stanley Hersee was only Vicar of St Thomas’ for eight years, but the face of the town was still changing over that period.

In 1906 the Palatine Hall was sold and converted into the Hippodrome Music Hall, where Gracie Fields was among many who performed. The Girls’ Grammar School was founded in 1907. Lord Ashton funded the building of a new Town Hall in Dalton Square which opened in 1909, the same year as the Ashton Memorial was opened on the highest point in Williamson Park, along with an adjacent Palm House (now a Butterfly House).

Changes in the religious landscape include the opening by the Wesleyan Methodists of a chapel in Greaves in 1909, and the relocation of their Skerton chapel from Main Street to Owen Road in 1910.

By the early 1900s housing development had spread south and eastwards from Playhouse Field and the Freehold area to cover the Greaves Estate, parts of Bowerham Hill and up Primrose and East Road. Housing had also spread as far west as the Marsh, with larger houses for the wealthy on Abraham Heights. The borough boundaries had also been extended to include Scotforth and Skerton.



Stanley Hersey had the carry the entire clergy workload on his own for most of his first two years at St Thomas’. The minutes of the Church Council meeting held on the 7th of January 1908 note that “the Vicar spoke of the desirability of securing a Curate in the near future and it was resolved that he be authorised to obtain the services of a suitable man as soon as an opportunity presented and that the Congregation be asked to subscribe the necessary funds.”

Progress was quickly made. The Vicar was able to report to the Easter Vestry Meeting that a new Curate had been found in the person of the H.C. Barrows, who “had a great deal of experience as a lay worker in the East end of London and other places” and was scheduled to be ordained on Trinity Sunday and be with them on the 14th of June. The Vicar proposed to give £50 [£4,000] of his stipend as Prison Chaplain to the Curate’s Fund “and with the kind assistance of Lord Ashton and Messrs Storey they ought to be able to raise the balance [of the Curate’s stipend] without much difficulty.”

It looks as though Barrows never arrived to take up the post. He is not listed as Curate in the Baptism Register over this period, nor is he listed in Crockford’s Clerical Directory for 1920, so by then it looks as though he had either left the Church of England or died.

Recall how, 33 years earlier in 1875, John Dufour Ellenbergher had been appointed Curate by John Bone but didn’t live long enough to take up the post. This was a pattern that Stanley Hersee and his successors would not want to see repeated too frequently.

The Vicar had better success in his search for a Curate the second time round, and by July that year Samuel Martin Johnstone had been appointed. He was born and raised in Australia, where he had trained for the ministry, was ordained deacon (1902) and priest (1904) in Sydney, and served three back-to-back Curacies – at St John’s in Parramatta, Sydney (1902-04), St Barnabas’ in Sydney (1904-07) and Dulwich Hill in New South Wales (1907-08). He first appears in the Baptism Register as Curate at St Thomas’ on the 26th of July 1908, just over three months after the Vicar had announced the imminent arrival of H.C. Barrows. He attended his first Church Council meeting at St Thomas’ on the 11th of September. He was in Lancaster just over a year; his final entry on the Baptism Register was on the 2nd of September 1909.

After Lancaster he moved back to Australia to become General Secretary of the Church Missionary Association, based in Sydney (1910-11), then Rector of St John’s in Parramatta, Sydney (1911 to 1936), where he had served his first Curacy nine years earlier. His quick return to Australia came as no surprise to the Vicar, who told the Easter 1909 Vestry Meeting that Samuel Johnstone “had proved himself an able and devoted colleague, and expressed regret that his stay in England was not likely to be long, as he hoped to resume work in Australia in a few years. His ministry had been not only appreciated, but had been made a distinct blessing to many of the congregation.” After St John’s he was Archdeacon of Camden in Sydney (1936 to at least 1947) and a Canon of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney (1944 to at least 1947). He is not listed in Crockford’s Clerical Directory for 1949, so must have died in 1948.

Once again Stanley Hersee proved quick off the mark, introducing Henry Stokes Douglas Griffiths as the new Curate at a meeting of the Church Council on the 28th of September 1909. Griffiths graduated from St Catherine’s College, University of Cambridge with a BA in 1902 and an MA in 1906, and was ordained deacon in 1903 and priest in 1904. He served his first Curacy at St Augustine’s in Broxbourne (1903-06), followed by three years as Curate of St Jude’s in East Brixton (1906-09). His stay in Lancaster was to be a short one; he is listed in the Baptism Register as Curate at St Thomas’ between the 7th of October 1909 and the 30th of June 1910. He went on to serve Curacies at Cross Stone in Todmorden, West Yorkshire (1910-11), St John’s in Macclesfield (1911-12), at Didsbury (1912-13), and Coleshill in Berkshire (1915-17), and as Vicar of Bobbington in Gloucester (from 1917 to at least 1947). He is not listed in Crockford’s Clerical Directory for 1948, so we must assume he died in 1947.

Four months later the Vicar had Griffiths’ successor, Frederick George Llewellin, sitting beside him at the April 1911 Vestry Meeting. There he

expressed his appreciation of the help he had received during the past six months from his Curate … who had been a devoted colleague, and had done valuable work beyond the bounds of St Thomas’s Parish. He had written a treatise on ‘Sunday School Teaching’ [1911], which had already obtained considerable circulation. In the Press there had been favourable comments on the value of the work, and he congratulated St Thomas’s on their association with such a Curate. They also knew that Mr Llewellin was a doughty champion against the Mormons. The latter were trembling in their shoes as to where the next thrust should come from, and where he was going to strike the next blow. They hoped he would be successful in the near future in completely clearing them out of the Lancaster district.”

Frederick Llewellin was born in Liverpool in 1879 and in 1908 graduated from Trinity College, Dublin. He was ordained deacon (1906) and priest (1907), and served his first two curacies in Wales, at Llanhilleth (1906-07) and Panteg (1907-10). He first appears in the Baptism Register as Curate of St Thomas’ on the 9th of October 1910. He left Lancaster on the 10th of October 1912 and then served as Curate of Northam in Devon (1913-16), Vicar of Clodock near Abergavenny (1916-22), Priest in Charge in Longtown (1916-20), and Vicar of Kidsgrove (from 1922 to at least 1940; he is not listed in Crockord’s Clerical Directory for 1947). Between 1917 and 1920 he restored and became patron of the 5th century British Church of Saint Clodock, 17 miles from Hereford, about whom he wrote the book St Clodock, British King and Martyr (1919). In 1919 Llewellin graduated from the University of Durham as Bachelor of Divinity, although he must have been registered there as a part-time student because Stanley Hersee mentioned at the Easter 1913 Vestry Meeting that “they wished him every success in his studies at Durham”, and he was incumbent at a number of churches between 1913 and 1919.

When Llewellin left St Thomas’ the Curacy Fund was overdrawn by about £23 [£1,800], and the Church Council agreed on the 23rd of August 1912 that a Thank Offering Sunday should be held in February 1913 in support of that Fund. That decision was rescinded five months later, at the Church Council meeting held on the 21st of January 1913, where “after full discussion it was resolved to postpone the Thank Offering Sunday until the Vicar has engaged a suitable Curate. This he was empowered to do at the earliest possible opportunity, the Council undertaking to be responsible for raising the balance of the Stipend.”

Eight months would pass before the Vicar could report to the Church Council meeting on the 18th of September that “he had secured a satisfactory Curate, the Rev F.P. [Frank Percival] Mansfield, who would take up his duties on the 1st of October.” Mansfield sat alongside Hersee at the next Church Council meeting, on the 30th of October 1913. Born in Catford, London, in March 1873, he studied at the Schola Episcopi in Manchester, where Llewellyn Rees (Curate between 1897 and 1900) had trained. He was ordained deacon in 1900 and priest in 1901, and managed to pack five curacies into the next twelve years – at St Paul’s in Hulme (1900-03), Dinting in Derbyshire (1903-05), St Stephen’s in Manchester(1905-06), Holy Trinity in Rusholme (1906-10) and St Catherine’s in Manchester (1910-13) – before being appointed Curate of St Thomas’ (1913-18). After Lancaster he moved south to take over as Priest-in-Charge of Freckleton in Manchester (from 1918 to 1920), then became Rector of St Simon’s in Salford (1920-26) and Vicar of St Stephen’s in Preston (1926-31), before retiring to live in Stockport.


Loyal to the cause

A theme resurfaces in Stanley Hersee’s time that exercised most of his predecessors other than John Bone, and that is concern at the ‘Romeward Drift’ of the Church of England.

It first appeared at the 1911 Easter Vestry Meeting, where the Vicar and Curate Llewellin voiced their concerns at the form of the prayer recommended by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York for use in church services on the Coronation of King George V in June, which included the words ‘altar’ and ‘altar of God’ 27 times during the service “in place of the words ‘Holy Table’ or ‘Communion Table’ as invariably used in the Book of Common Prayer”.

They were objecting to the High Church language and emphasis of the service. Their protest was covered in The Times (19th April 1911) which reported their view that “the suggested service could not be used by a large and important section of Churchmen without violating their conscience and nullifying their teaching, and respectfully asking that the form of the service should be altered or that the Bishops should sanction an alternative rendering.”

The theme surfaced again three years later at the 1914 Easter Vestry Meeting, where the Vicar

called attention to a petition that would be laid on the table for signature respecting Prayer Book revision. Certain proposals were before Convocation [fore-runner of Synod] that had been more or less accepted, and had taken concrete form, recommending drastic alterations connected with the ritual of the Church. … the extent of the changes … would alter the complexion of the Prayer Book and the order of the services. … They joined their own Bishop in a protest against what he defined as ‘The Romeward Drift.’”

The protest was against the adoption of Catholic vestments and practices (particularly the use of the ‘Reserved Sacrament’ and the restoration of Catholic-type Mass) in Anglican services. The Vicar urged Vestry members to be aware that

silence at such a time meant danger, and he invited all to sign the memorial, and bring to the notice of those whose duty it was to preserve the teaching of the Church of England, the resolution of its loyal sons and daughters to resist strenuously the introduction of medieval doctrine and practices which were opposed to the Holy Scriptures.”


Memorial to Rev Bone

The church had clearly appreciated the ministry of John Bone over more than three decades, and its members were keen to make sure that this was commemorated in an appropriate way.

It was agreed that a brass memorial tablet should be mounted on the north wall of the Chancel, and on the 26th of July 1907 a faculty was submitted to the diocese seeking permission to do this. The tablet was inscribed with the words “To the Glory of God and in loving memory of the Rev John Bone A.K.C. F.R.A.S for 33 years Vicar of this Parish. Born October 20th 1983 died May 27th 1906. A diligent and faithful Pastor beloved and respected by all.” The tablet was taken down during the 1990s and is now stored in the church office.

The Church Council agreed on the 11th of September 1908 that “the reseating of the nave and aisles in Oak at an approximate cost of £420 [£34,200] be adopted as the memorial scheme to the late Vicar’s memory and that it be commended to the hearty support of all friends of the late Mr Bone.” Fund-raising got under way and by mid-January 1909 a total of £322 [£26,200] had been donated or promised. Within two months that had risen to £375 [£30,500], nearly 90 percent of the estimated cost. Work on the new oak pews and choir stalls was completed during 1909.

Church Governance

The Vestry Meeting Minute Book for January 1908 recorded that the Meeting of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen became the Church Council, which for the first time included elected representatives of the church membership without specific roles. Church Council would henceforth meet monthly, with the Vicar in the chair. The creation of the Church Council at St Thomas’ in 1908 occurred four years before the Diocese had decided that “each parish should have a Parochial Church Council.” (Church Council meeting, 23rd August 1912)

Three months later, at the Vestry Meeting in late April, the Vicar raised the question of dividing the diocese, in response to a memorandum he had received on the matter from the Bishop of Manchester. The Vicar said that

the formation of new bishoprics was a very doubtful advantage. The multiplication of machinery in the Church and the corresponding increase of cathedral staffs were not at all desirable. If the Bishop was overworked and the two suffragans of Burnley and Blackburn were not sufficient to relieve him a third might be appointed, and Lancaster would be suitable both as to position and income for his locus. The Church of England, especially considering the growing influence of other sections of the Church, was already over-weighted with expense, and a number of episcopal incomes could well be reduced if their obligations were reduced accordingly.”

The views of seat-holders were canvassed at a meeting held on the 24th of May, and four days later the re-convened Vestry Meeting agreed “that the need is not sufficiently apparent for undertaking the matter at the present time, especially in view of the large expenditure which would be involved.”

That view seemed widely shared across the Diocese of Manchester, and question of division was kicked into the long grass. This would not be the end of the matter, however, because the new Diocese of Blackburn, to which St Thomas’ would be attached, was eventually created eighteen years later in 1926.



Few significant matters seem to have emerged during Stanley Hersee’s time as Vicar that proved problematic for the Churchwardens. The only item specifically about them was a local newspaper report which picked up a statement made at the 1912 Easter Vestry Meeting that

the average age of the Churchwardens and Sidesmen – who number eighteen – was seventy and a half years. The revelation was a surprise, for no one, to look at the active and vigorous lay officers of St Thomas’ would have credited them with having passed the Psalmist’s allotted span of life. A still more remarkable fact was revealed, namely, that the average age of the church officers who collected the alms of the congregation on Good Friday was over 71 years. The Vicar certainly has had the advantage of the counsel of old men, and he was frank enough to admit that he had accepted it because it was good. Probably no other church can claim so remarkable a record.”

Longevity and long service were certainly hallmarks of the St Thomas’ Churchwardens in those days. Mr Hatch Junior stood down as ‘people’s warden’ at the 1914 Easter Vestry Meeting, after serving for 21 years. His father, who he took over from, had been warden for 33 years. Between them they had clocked up more than half a century of continuous service to the church.



Balancing the books had exercised the Churchwardens through much of John Bone’s time as Vicar, and the challenge was to continue through Stanley Hersee’s time too.

Churchwarden Hatch, presenting the accounts to the 1907 Easter Vestry Meeting, reported a total income for 1906 of £153 [£12,600], an increase on the previous year of £19 [£1,600]. He emphasised that “that was a satisfactory beginning, but they had a considerable debit, he was sorry to say. This was caused by necessary church cleaning before the new Vicar came, and the purchase of new hymn books. Coals had cost more than usual, more had been paid in alms to the poor, certain fees had to be met in connection with the new Vicar’s appointment, the parish room [probably the one above a garage in Queen Street, referred to in the minutes of the Church Council meeting in September 1914] had cost more …”

The Vicar was pleased to report that “at the last rental day 40 additional sittings were let – a very satisfactory sign of improvement.”

Income the following year came to £174 [£14,100], which after expenditure of £169 [£13,800] left a net balance of £5 [£300]. It was pointed out at the 1908 Easter Vestry Meeting that “since 1888 the accounts had shown a balance in hand on five occasions, on four they had balanced, and on the remainder there had been a deficit.” The Vicar reported that this year £116 [£9,400], a greater amount than ever before, had been received in pew rents.

Income varied from year to year in ways that made financial planning very difficult. In 1909, for example, it fell to £173 [£14,000], with expenditure of £177 [£14,400], producing a loss of £3 [£400] over the year.

Most years the accounts barely broke even at best. The accounts for 1912, presented at the Easter Vestry Meeting, show a balance at the beginning of the year of £7 13s. [£600] and a balance at the end of the year of 2s. 11d. [£11].

Churchwarden Hatch told the 1911 Easter Vestry Meeting that “he had very great pleasure in presenting the accounts, because of the unusual experience of having a credit balance.” Income totalled £206 [£15,900] and expenditure came to £175 [£13,400], leaving a balance of £31 [£2,500].

The breakdown of income by source is interesting -  £128 [£10,100] was given in offertories for church expenses, £5 [£400] was donated for alms, rents raised a further £21 [£1,700], the congregational tea had a surplus of £2 [£160], £3 17s [£300] was raised from the sale of work in the school, and free will offerings in March totalled £138 [£11,000]. In addition there were special collections (included those for the School, Sunday School, Curate’s Sustentation Fund, and the Easter offering for the Vicar) which raised a total of £31 14s [£2,500].

The matter of finances was discussed at great length at the 1910 Easter Vestry Meeting. Although it remained a challenge, the Vicar reported that

the amount raised for outside projects showed that their outlook was anything but parochial. They were proud of the earnest and self-denying interest the members of the congregation took in the church, and during the year they had had substantial evidence of it in the zeal put into the restoration scheme, which had been carried out to the general satisfaction. There was still a balance of £100 [£8,000] to be raised, and that must seriously engage their attention during the next twelve months. … No one could doubt that the improvement had conduced very much to the brightness and comfort of the church.”

The Church Council Meeting held on the 7th of November 1910 agreed “that an appeal be made to the Congregation to raise this amount [the £100] by a freewill offering to be presented in Church on Sunday March 3rd.” The Thanks Offering Sunday was moved back one week to the 11thof March, and it raised a total of £138 [£11,000] (Church Council, 7thFebruary 1912).

One solution proposed to tackle the problem of fluctuating income was to increase the frequency of collections taken up during services. As the Vicar pointed out to the 1910 Easter Vestry Meeting “at present there was only one Sunday collection in the month, except where there were five Sundays in the month, when there were two, when collections were not taken. Some seat-holders had expressed regret that they had not an opportunity of contributing, and visitors were deprived of the blessing of giving and the church was deprived of the benefit. He suggested that an offering should be taken at each service for church expenses except when one was taken for outside objects. No one need feel an obligation to give, but everybody would then have an opportunity of contributing.”

It was proving difficult to balance the books with all the internal expenses at St Thomas’, but the challenge grew even bigger in 1912 when the Diocese introduced a scheme designed to significantly increase the annual Diocesan income, based largely on a levy on individual parishes.

The precise amount for each parish was to be assessed by the Ruri-Decanal [Deanery Synod] Conference, and “each parish [was to] make its own arrangements for raising the amount assessed.” The Church Council meeting held on the 23rd of August 1912 was told that “the assessed Diocesan contributions be completed on Diocesan Sunday, and that they be sent in as soon as possible after that day.” The following May the Church Council was informed that the Church Levy for St Thomas’ had been assessed at £28 2s. [£2,200].

By 1914 the Vicar was pointing out to the Easter Vestry Meeting that “the period was a [financial] crisis in the history of the church.” The extent to which this contributed to his decision to resign from St Thomas and move on to a post elsewhere remains unknown.


Grand Bazaar (1909)

The regular (annual or two-yearly) Bazaar or Sale of Work had proved very effective in John Bone’s time as a means of raising much-needed income for the church, and the sums raised had been both highly impressing and greatly welcomed. Stanley Hersee continued that tradition, and we have an unusually detailed record of the 1909 Grand Bazaar because a copy of the printed programme for it is archived in the Lancaster City Library Local Studies Collection.

Planning for it started in September 1908, when the Church Council agreed “that the ladies of the congregation be asked, under Mrs Hersee’s direction, to make preparations for a Bazaar at the earliest convenient date in the Spring with the object of raising £350 [£28,500] for this purpose (the cleaning and decorating of the Church, including the Chancel and Vestry), repairing the heating apparatus and other improvements in the Church.”

In January 1909 the Church Council agreed “to engage the Assembly Rooms for the week May 10-14 inclusive at £5 10s. [£450], exclusive of light.” But two months later the date was changed to Thursday the 13th to Saturday the 15th of May, “as it was considered that Saturday would prove a better day for sale.” (Church Council, 22nd March 1909)

The objects of the bazaar were to provide funds for the cleaning and decorating of the church, the provision of choir stalls, the creation of a new vestry entrance and offices, and other improvements in the church as part of “a larger scheme for the improvement of our church”. The latter, as we have seen, included re-seating of the nave and aisles, cleaning and repairing the organ, installing a new heating system, and repairs to the fabric.

The event was opened at 2 pm on Thursday 13th May 1909 by Miss Marton of Capernwray (whose family had donated the land on which St Thomas’ was built over 60 years earlier). It ran over three days and included a full programme of entertainments, which included -

p<>{color:#000;}. “Concerts arranged by Mr. A.E. Taylor and Mr. R.T. Goose.

p<>{color:#000;}. The Centenary Quartette.

p<>{color:#000;}. Concerts by St. Thomas’ Infants.

p<>{color:#000;}. The Noted Morris Dancers in their Songs and Dance.

p<>{color:#000;}. Professors Pert Mervyn and Genochio in their unique performances.

p<>{color:#000;}. Lantern lectures. Living pictures from the Hippodrome.

p<>{color:#000;}. Palmistry: Madame Nora Mirabilis.

p<>{color:#000;}. Phrenology: Professor Taylor.

p<>{color:#000;}. Competitions galore: hat trimming, penny polishing, wood sawing, drawing, and nail driving, etc. electric fish pond. Bran tub. Height and weight testing. … Remember! All are Instructive, Humorous, and Recreative combined, besides helping the Bazaar Fund.”

The Vicar gave a 30 minute Lantern Lecture (Tour through Lakeland) on the Thursday evening, after the Morris Dancers had performed. He was followed by the Grand Concert, which included items by a Banjo and Mandolin Band, a duet ‘Two Gay Owls’ sung by Mr Leopold Cheyne and Mr J. Leytham. The Thursday entertainments closed with ‘A humorous recital’ by Mrs Gledhill.

Another concert on the Friday evening included selections from Bizet’s Carmen, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, and Offenbach’s Barcarolle. The competitions look quaint by modern standards, and they reveal a great deal about gender stereotyping in early 20th England. The programme includes the following details -

Hat-trimming competition (for Gentlemen only), Friar’s Balsom supplied for punctured fingers. Time allowed: 15 mins.

Nail-driving Competition (Ladies only); Each lady must drive the allotted number of nails on the positions marked for them. A prize will be awarded to the lady driving the nails most accurately in the shortest time.

Wood-sawing Competition (for Ladies only); Each lady must make two cuts across floor-board, one straight and one at an angle. Two prizes awarded to the ladies making the most accurate cuts, in the shortest time.

Polishing Competition (open to both Ladies and Gentlemen); A Prize will be awarded to the Lady or Gentleman polishing the largest number of pennies in the space of five minutes.”


Church fabric

The reseating project in memory of John Bone (described below) became part of a broader restoration scheme carried out in 1909. As the Vicar reported to the Easter Vestry Meeting that year, the scheme was also designed “to increase the comfort of worshippers. He hoped it would also witness increased spiritual progress.”

The Vicar added that “the scheme included the redecoration of the church and new heating apparatus … at a cost of £70 [£5,700] and the congregation had experienced increased comfort. They hoped the forthcoming bazaar would discharge the whole of the cost. For some time a fund had been accruing for the improvement of the vestry by constructing an entrance at the east end and providing lavatory accommodation, which was seriously needed.”

According to the minutes of the Church Council Meeting held on the 22ndof March, a contract had been issued for the reseating of the nave and aisles with benches of smoked oak, and it was agreed “that a faculty for the completion of the whole scheme as presented in the plan, and including the extension of the chancel floor to provide for the erection of choir stalls, alterations in reading desk and pulpit, moving of the font to S.E. door be applied for.” This faculty, dated the 28th of May 1909, also covered the creation of “a Vestry entrance and Offices”. It was necessary to close the church while most of the work was carried out, and the Church Council agreed on the 22nd of March that a formal Re-opening be held on Sunday the 27th of June, at which Bishop Welldone (Dean of Manchester) would preach in the morning and Rev J.H. St.P. Jarrett (Vicar of Worthing) in the evening.

The September meeting of Church Council was given an update on the restoration scheme. They were told that “the reseating, choir stalls, vestry entrance, organ cleaning, decoration, repairs and new heating apparatus” were completed, and there was a cost overrun of about £137 [£11,100] which they hoped to meet by a supplementary sale in the Schools some time in November for the disposal of the goods left over from the annual Bazaar.


Steeple and bells

The church appears to have been happy with the steeple and bells, the building and installation of which Colin Campbell had funded and overseen back in 1852. The steeple had completed the outside appearance of the church and the bells were an effective way of calling people to worship and marking key moments in the life of the church.

But unhappiness with the bell-ringers surfaced at the 1908 Easter Vestry Meeting when Churchwarden Hatch “raised the question of bell-ringers and suggested for consideration that a chiming apparatus be substituted.” He argued that they were “paying men who never came inside the church £12 [£980] a year … [and proposed that] a chiming apparatus should be purchased at a cost of £40 or £50 [£3,300 to £4,000]. They could have all the bells rung against five at present, and could have them rung when they thought fit.”

His proposal appears not to have been accepted, because he made the same plea to the Vestry Meeting the following year, suggesting that “the ringing of the bells should be abolished in the interests of economy, and so effect a saving of £12 [£980] a year. They [the bells] were rather of the ‘tinny’ sort, and though they might be missed they constituted a luxury which might be done away with.”

The proposal to replace people with a machine was driven more by financial considerations than musical ones because, as Mr Hatch pointed out (Vestry Meeting, April 1909), “that was the only item on which they could save, and unless they did so the congregation must dig deeper into their pockets.”

The Vicar took a broader view, and was disappointed at the bell ringers’ stubborn refusal to attend the church services. At the 1914 Easter Vestry Meeting he pointed out that “though they invited other people to come to church they declined to come in themselves. When he invited them ‘they began with one accord to make excuse.’ In some places the bell ringers were confined to members of the congregation. They said they were too warm to come into church after ringing.”



As with the steeple and bells, the organ served the church well for over half a century, but by 1908 it was showing its age.

A report from specialists, “showing the serious and antiquated condition of the Instrument”, was discussed at the Church Council meeting in February 1908, which agreed two proposals – one “for a new Organ as the memorial to the late Vicar” and the other that a letter from the Vicar “be sent to the Congregation to ascertain their feeling and the measure of support that could be counted upon.”

The following month the Church Council agreed that “two or three Organ Builders be invited to tender for repairs.” In September that year the Church Council accepted a quotation of £51 [£4,200] for the cost of cleaning and repairing the organ.



New oak pews and benches had been installed in church in 1909 as a memorial to John Bone, but some church members felt that the cushions and covers on them should be as uniform as possible. Thus at the September 1909 Church Council meeting the Vicar was asked “to request … those seat-holders furnishing would do in crimson and in accordance with patterns to be seen at Mr Johnson’s.”

The matter clearly wasn’t resolved quickly, because seven months later, the Vicar told the 1910 Easter Vestry Meeting that “it was a little blot on the improvement scheme that the furnishing of the pews had such a ‘scratch’ appearance, and he asked the Vestry to consider whether it would not be the wisest plan to instruct the wardens to come to some decision as to a uniform pattern, and then invite the congregation to make donations as they felt disposed.”

The colour of seat coverings was not the only matter relating to the pews that exercised the Vicar. He had advised the 1909 Easter Vestry Meeting that “after reseating was completed there would probably be a decrease in pew rentals, which had already decreased since he became Vicar owing the deaths and the failure to obtain new seat-holders.”

At the Easter Vestry Meeting the following year he said he “felt very strongly that they ought to make worshippers feel that the house of God was a place where there was a welcome for everybody.” Stopping short of proposing making more seats in church free from pew rental, he noted that “the assignment of a few pews at the back of the church as free seats was no absolutely ideal … [and] The mischief was accentuated by the fact that the rental seats were practically scattered over the whole church, and no stranger could sit down without a certain feeling of anxiety.”

In conclusion, he said he “hoped the time would come when the gallery would be entirely free, and that would enable people to know that there was a part where they could sit where they liked.” This was a brave forecast because his own stipend depended directly on the income raised from pew rentals. As we shall see, pew rental would eventually be abolished in St Thomas’ 25 years later, in 1934.



We hear almost nothing about the services during Stanley Hersee’s time. In fact services are mentioned only twice in minutes of church meetings over that eight year period.

The first mention comes in the 1910 Easter Vestry Meeting when, after the 1909 restoration scheme, the Vicar said he felt that

their services were superior, as to the musical part, to two or three of the leading Manchester churches he had preached in for the Church Missionary Society, and their organist and choir deserved every credit for that.”

The second comes two years later, at the 1912 Easter Vestry Meeting, when the Vicar reported that “the number of communicants [on Easter Sunday] was 196, an increase [on last year] of 31, although many friends were from home. This showed that the spiritual as well as the monetary aspect of the work was being maintained.”



The Congregational Tea Parties that had been such a success during John Bone’s time continued, probably annually, but few details about them are recorded in the minutes of Church Council meetings.

One was held on the 29th of January 1908, with catering provided by ladies of the church, and tickets sold at 9d [£3] each; it produced a profit of £1 10s [£122] which was paid into the Churchwardens Account (Church Council minutes, 6thFebruary 1908).

The only other references in Church Council minutes to Congregational Tea Parties between 1906 and 1914 are one in November 1910 agreeing to move it from January (“being found inconvenient to many”) to Shrove Tuesday, and one in February 1912 agreeing to hold it in the Friends Hall on the 13th of February.


Parish Hall

One thing we hear about for the first time at St Thomas during Stanley Hersee’s time is the need for some form of Parish Hall. It was already becoming apparent that, blessed as the church already was in terms of its premises (the church and the school buildings), other opportunities could be opened up if there was also a more flexible space in which groups of different sizes could meet.

The Vicar told the 1911 Easter Vestry Meeting that

amongst the questions they would have to face sooner or later was that of the provision of a parish room. The matter had been ventilated before, and they knew the need. Their school was not well adapted for Church and social gatherings in the evening, and he thought they should seriously consider the question. They could not possibly have the same freedom of action in a building used as a day school.”

No action was taken to pursue this during his years as Vicar, but as we shall see neither the need nor the ambition would diminish in the years ahead.



The Vicarage in Queen Street, which Colin Campbell Senior had bought in 1851 and generously donated to St Thomas’ in 1853, is rarely mentioned in the minutes of church meetings over the following sixty years.

By 1913, with apparently little having been spent on its upkeep and improvement over that period, it was in need of investment. The Vicar and Churchwarden Hatch reported on the state of the Vicarage to the Church Council meeting on the 15th of May 1913, noting in particular the “serious condition of the water and sanitary arrangements”. Church Council agreed unanimously that “the house should be put into a thorough and satisfactory condition and that the cost be defrayed by the Church aided by a grant from the Queen Anne’s Bounty.” Mr Hatch updated Church Council on the 18th of September, reporting that “the Queen Anne’s Bounty Commissioners had made a grant of £100 [£7,700] towards the cost and there would remain a sum of about £125 [£9,600] for the Congregation to raise.”

Outreach and mission

J. Wane (1909) might have described Stanley Hersee as an “ardent supporter of … missionary work”, but it is difficult to evidence of any active engagement with it, either locally or wider afield.

We have the rather enigmatic minute of the 1911 Easter Vestry Meeting, which records that “the Lenten Lantern Services were a venture in order to induce more people to attend. The result was decidedly encouraging, for the attendance would be four or five times as large as they had previously had.” But we have no information about what form those services took or whether they were a one-off event.

The only record of any local mission work is the minute of the December 1907 Church Council Meeting, which notes that 165 people were chosen to receive food (2 lbs of beef, 14 lbs of potatoes and 4 oz of tea, plus a loaf of bread and 2 lbs of onions donated by parishioners) from the Bradshaw Bequest.

The Vicar also spoke in favour of Temperance reform at the 1908 Easter Vestry Meeting, noting that it “affected the national life very deeply, and appealed to the best interests of men of all [political] parties. … he moved that the question of temperance reform ought to be considered apart from party interests, and concerned the national welfare and the progress of Christian life and work …”. But talking about it and doing anything about it are two different things, and there is no evidence that he ‘walked the talk’ on Temperance reform.

One way in which Hersee contributed to the mission agenda was through the church’s charitable giving to a range of national bodies. The minutes of the 1911 Easter Vestry Meeting includes a list of such bodies which includes – the Church Pastoral Aid Society, Teachers’ Benevolent Fund, Whitehaven Colliery Disaster, Continental Church Missions, District Nursing Society, Workhouse Nursing Society, Workhouse Chaplain Fund, Church Missionary Society, C.M.S. Medical Missions, Diocesan Societies, British and Foreign Bible Society, and the Queen Victoria Clergy Fund. The minutes do not record how much money was involved in each case.


Day (National) School

The St Thomas’ Schools, like all others in England and Wales, had had to adapt to the requirements of the 1902 Education Act.

Like many of his clergy colleagues in Lancaster and elsewhere Stanley Hersee had concerns particularly about the reduced amount of religious education built into the curriculum, and at the 1908 Easter Vestry Meeting he proposed that “a conference of representatives of the Church of England, Roman Catholics and Nonconformist churches be held to try and arrive at some method for adjusting the grievances existing, and maintaining religious teaching in a national system of education.” His proposal was accepted, but there is no record about whether or how it was followed up.

The programme for the 1909 Grand Bazaar notes that Churchwarden John Hatch took charge of St Thomas’ schools in 1879 “and so (D.V.) will complete 30 year’s service in September next. During this period no less than 4,000 children have passed through Mr. Hatch’s hands. Originally there were three departments, but in July, 1900, the boys’ and girls’ departments were combined.”


Resignation and departure

With apparently little advance warning, Stanley Hersee announced at the 1914 Easter Vestry Meeting that “he was leaving St Thomas’ very shortly to proceed to another parish in Blackburn to which the Bishop had appointed him. He wished to thank the wardens, sidesmen and the people for the splendid way in which they had supported him.”

He left Lancaster shortly after Easter in 1914, having been Vicar of St Thomas’ for eight years. The Curate, Frank Mansfield, ‘looked after the shop’ during the interregnum. The new Vicar, Robert Findlay, was in post by Easter 1915 but the exact date of his arrival is not known.

Hersee went on to serve as Vicar of Christ Church in Blackburn (1914-23), was Organising Secretary of the Church Association (1923-27), then returned to parish work as Vicar of Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire (1927-28), Curate of St Paul’s in St Albans (1932-37) and Rector of Evenlode in Worcestershire (1937-39). He died at Stoke Abbotts Court in Worthing in 1941 at the age of 70.


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11. Robert Finlay (1915-1924)

Robert Alfred William Finlay was born in October 1869 at St Pancras in London. He was the first son and second child of William (a painter and decorator born in Donegal, Ireland) and Lavinia (born in Middlesex). He had two sisters, Sarah (who was five years older) and Maud (sixteen years younger) and two brothers, James (a year younger) and Robert (seven years younger).

He is the first Vicar of St Thomas’ known to have trained for the ministry after a spell in other employment. The 1891 census lists him as a bookseller’s assistant, living with his parents and siblings at 12 Rodney Residences in Clerkenwell, London. He was still a bookseller’s assistant (then living in Redhill in Surrey) in August 1894 when he married Valerie Dorothea Müller (a spinster born in Switzerland but then living in Redhill) at St Matthew’s Church in Redhill; the groom was 26 and his bride 18 years older.

Shortly after getting married he must have given up his bookselling job because they moved to Gloucester where he attended college and graduated in 1895. He was ordained deacon in 1897 and priest in 1898. Like John Bone, but unlike most of his predecessors at St Thomas’, Robert Finlay was not an Oxbridge man.

He was nearly thirty when he took up his first clergy post as Curate at St Luke’s at Barton Hill in Bristol (1897-1900). His entry in Crockford’s Clerical Directory lists him at the University of Durham in 1900, but doesn’t say what he studied or whether he graduated. In the 1901 census he is listed as a 31-year old clergyman boarding at 79 High Street, Tow Law in Durham, with his wife Valeria.

After Durham he returned to Bristol to serve as Curate of Fishponds in Bristol (1902-07), Curate of The Temple (Holy Cross) in Bristol (1907-09) and then Vicar of St Lawrence’s in Bristol (1909-14). His wife died some time between 1901 and 1911, and he is listed in the 1911 census living at the St Lawrence Vicarage in Bristol, with his parents and two domestic staff.

Three years later, in June 1914, the widowed clergyman (still living in Bristol) married Mary Selina Lewis, a spinster from South Kensington in London, at St Paul’s Church in Onslow Square, Kensington. There is no record of any children from either of his marriages.


Appointment and arrival

It’s not clear how long after his second marriage Robert Finlay resigned as Vicar of St Lawrence’s in Bristol and moved north with his new bride Mary to become the eighth Vicar of St Thomas’ (seventh if we discount Armytage’s fateful second appointment). He was certainly in post by early April 1915, when he chaired the Easter Vestry Meeting. Stanley Hersee had left soon after Easter 1914, and Frank Mansfield had overseen the interregnum.

Looking back over the previous twelve months, at the Easter Vestry Meeting in April 1915, the new Vicar reported that “the past year had been one of quiet, steady work, and nothing of an epoch-making character had occurred. The outstanding event had been the change of Vicar.” He noted that twelve months ago “the matter of the departure of Rev S.J. Hersee was referred to as ‘a crisis’ in the history of the church”, and said he “hoped to see St Thomas’ Church - which had been described as only second in importance [in Lancaster] to St Mary’s - worthily filling its part in the church life of the town.”


Lancaster during his time

Robert Finlay arrived in Lancaster after its economic and industrial heyday, but found a town still undergoing change and proud of its heritage. As Peter Gedge (2000, p.19) points out, by then the town’s great age of church-building had come to an end, finances were limited, there were no more rich benefactors, local business were often taken over, and local unemployment was rising.

Farrer and Brownbill describe the Lancaster Robert Finlay first encountered in 1914:

The urban area, originally a small portion of the northern edge of the township bordering on the Lune, has extended itself to east and west, filling the gentle hollow between the Castle Hill on the west and the higher land on the east, which was formerly the moor; it has also stretched southwards over the border into Scotforth, and to some degree across the river into Skerton. There are still fields and open lands to the south-west, while on the east side the park and the asylum grounds check the growth of streets. … The main streets of old time continue to be the leading thoroughfares, but have been widened and otherwise improved as opportunity has allowed. The entrance to the town from the south, after descending from ‘Pointer’ on the Scotforth Road and crossing the canal, is by Penny Street, which leads down to the river-side; from it King Street turns off to the left to go directly to the Castle, which may be seen rising up in front. ‘Pointer’ marks the old boundary of the town. From it a road turns east to Bowerham, which contains barracks erected in 1876-80, the depot of No.4 Regimental District and head quarters of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster regiment. On the right side of the main road, just before the canal is reached, may be seen the remains of the old militia barracks [White Cross].”

In 1920 the Palatine Hall building on Dalton Square, then the Hippodrome Music Hall, was bought by a Blackpool Company who changed its name and function to The County Cinema. This was the era of the silent movies (“talkies” came in with the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927), and Lancaster now had its very own picture palace.


Events in Europe

If Stanley Hersee’s time at St Thomas’ had been quiet and uneventful, his successor would not enjoy such tranquility, thanks largely to events in Europe. The vote was given to women in Britain in 1918, but that had little direct impact on the church.

The first four years of Finlay’s time as Vicar of St Thomas’ would be overshadowed by the First World War that started on the 28th of July 1914 (Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th of August) and ended with the Armistice on the 11th of November 1918. No family in Britain could escape being touched directly or indirectly by the Great War, ‘the war to end all wars’.

As church historian Roger Lloyd (1966 p.226) has pointed out “in the first year of the war some of the signs of a coming religious revival had undoubtedly existed. Churches were unwontedly full. In large numbers people came on weekdays to pray silently and on Sundays to worship in them.” As we shall see, the war also brought great challenges for a town-centre church like St Thomas’.


Local impacts of the war

Stephen Constantine and Alan Warde (2001) describe a number of ways in which Lancaster experienced World War I.

After military conscription was imposed early in 1916 many unmarried local men aged between the ages of 18 and 40 were called up to fight; more than a thousand of them never returned to Lancaster, according to the bronze panels in the Garden of Remembrance beside the Town Hall.

Several Lancaster firms were redirected towards serving the war effort. The craftsmen at Waring and Gillows turned their hands and equipment to making aircraft wings and propellers; Storeys made shells at White Cross; the Caton Road Wagon Works was used initially as a prisoner of war camp for captured Germans, then from 1915 onwards it made shells which were filled at White Lund as part of the National Projectile Factory.

After the war the Westfield Memorial Village, funded and built on land donated by the Storey family, was built as a garden village for disabled ex-servicemen; it opened in November 1924.

Although the war started in mid-1914, it is not mentioned in any minutes of church meetings until April 1916 when the Church Council agreed to recommend that the Churchwardens should insure the church against air-raids, to the value of £7,000 [£370,000], with an annual premium of £7 [£270]. The war in the air at this time was largely confined to the continent, and although Zeppelin airships could fly as far as North West England – one raid dropped bombs on Bolton in September 1916, killing 13 civilians, and a second dropped bombs on Widnes in April 1918 – Lancaster was never attacked this way but there was always a risk and that had to be managed. The Easter Vestry Meeting that month heard that, as well as the additional insurance, £10 [£530] had been set aside “for darkening the church” – blackening out the windows so that church lighting would not assist the enemy in navigating at night.

Whilst financial matters were important, the much bigger concern was the impact of the war on the people of St Thomas’. The Easter Vestry Meeting in 1916 was told that 26 communicant members of the church were “with the forces” and 35 parishioners had so far lost their lives in the war. The Vicar told the meeting that

he was deeply grateful for the tokens of God’s blessing which had attended the church during the year, and for the earnest efforts of the people. As they looked upon the parish they realised how much they were humbled, notwithstanding the efforts put forth by all the churches in their midst. And yet they started out again with fresh hope and prayer that the present year might see peace restored, and the home-coming of their friends.”

The minutes of the 1918 Easter Vestry Meeting record that “sympathetic reference was made to the men from the parish who were fighting, to the men who had made the supreme sacrifice, as well as to those who were missing and wounded.”

By 1916 the war was seriously constraining what Robert Finlay had hoped to do in terms of building up St Thomas’. He told the Easter Vestry Meeting that the previous three years “in some respects … had been unfortunate years, for he came to the parish with great schemes, which had, however, been checked on account of the war, and they had had to go quietly on.”

He pointed out that “the church renovation fund stood at £134 13s. [£7,100], but the scheme had been postponed until the end of the war” and noted that “the lighting restrictions had interfered with the evening work of the church organisations, and one or two had been in abeyance during the winter.”

The matter of church lighting and darkening the windows posed a challenge for all churches, particularly after a national New Lighting Order was introduced in 1916, which included fines for non-observance. The Order required that, between two hours after sunset and before sunrise, all external lights (other than those approved by the Police on public safety grounds) must be extinguished, and “all lights which are not extinguished must be reduced to the minimum intensity consistent with safety, and so shaded or obscured that direct light is cut off in all directions above the horizontal, and no more than a diffused light is cast upon the ground.”

PCC discussed the Lighting Order and its requirements in September 1916, and agreed to visit St Barnabas’ Church in Morecambe to evaluate how their approach of covering the windows with green paper “affected the daylight at morning service”. It also agreed to ask the Chief Constable (of Lancaster) if such an approach would be satisfactory for St Thomas’. The October PCC heard that “in order to use the daylight as much as possible” St Barnabas’ fixed curtains to windows beneath the galleries and paper to the upper windows; it was agreed to adopt this solution at St Thomas’.

By late 1916 hopes were quite high that the war would not last much longer, and thoughts started turning to how best to remember those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. The PCC meeting that October briefly discussed a Service of Remembrance, and approved the hanging in the church porch of a Roll of Honour “of parishioners and members of the congregation who had died in the War.”

As the war dragged on more and more clergy recognised the need for them to lead by example and volunteer for the war effort. The Vicar had told the 1916 Easter Vestry Meeting that the church had been called on to release one of its clergy for National Service, and Curate Frank Mansfield had offered his services though the offer was not taken up.

According to the minutes of the 1917 Easter Vestry Meeting, one local newspaper in Lancaster reported that some clergy

are waiting for the summons that will call them from parishes to ministerial work in the army or to some other form of national service; and others are prepared to do extra work at home in order to release the younger men for such service as the State may require of them. The Vicar of St Thomas’s put the matter quite clearly when he showed that the clergy were as eager as anyone else to undertake national work. They are men imbued with the spirit of high adventure, and it is only a strong sense of duty and recognition of the spiritual authority of the Bishops that has prevented an exodus of clergy from town and country parishes.”

The following year, at the May PCC meeting, the Vicar “alluded to the question of conscription and National Service, and reported that he had volunteered for some service, but that no Curate could be got.”

After the war finally ended in November 1918 minds could return once again to the question of remembrance. The Vicar introduced a discussion about “a Memorial to the men of the Parish who had been killed in the War” at the Church Council meeting in January 1919.

Four possible memorial schemes were considered – a new East Window, moving the organ downstairs (both thought impracticable at the time), a Parish Hall, and building a Baptistry – but no resolution was agreed to put to the congregation. The following month the PCC agreed to put three schemes before the congregation – a Parish Hall (no particulars given), alteration of the Chancel Window (estimated cost £800 [£28,700]), or erect a bronze tablet in the church (estimated cost £100 [£3,600]).

In March most members of PCC voted in favour of the window scheme, although the following month they discussed proposals to erect a tablet and agreed “that a referendum be first sent out, asking which of the three proposals the congregation would support? And to what extent in donations?” Unfortunately there is no record of what the result of the congregational “referendum” was.

The matter of a Parish Hall was pursued further in Robert Finlay’s successor’s time. There is no evidence of any changes to the Chancel Window, and if a bronze tablet was erected inside the church any trace of it has long since disappeared.

Some time after the war had ended the Vicar told the 1920 Easter Vestry Meeting that

he did not know what was the experience of his ministerial brethren, but his feeling was that since the war there had been a distinct reaction towards worldliness and indifference. Whether it arose from strain or fear, or both, there certainly was less inclination towards the things of God, but reactions had a way of spending themselves, and they must plod on in prayer and hope of a return to a state of mind in which people would see that their deepest needs were not carnal but spiritual.”

“Plod on in prayer” sounds like the words of a seriously disheartened clergyman, but Finlay’s disappointment at how the war had overshadowed and curtailed his attempts to build up St Thomas’ is understandable.

The “distinct reaction towards worldliness and indifference” was not simply a result of the war, however. At this time secularisation was on the march across Europe, doubtless assisted by changing attitudes and values triggered at least in part by the horrors and disappointments of the Great War.



Two recurring and inter-linked challenges that had exercised former Vicars at St Thomas’ continued to surface during Robert Finlay’s time, and these were finance and Curates.

Finlay was fortunate, when he arrived, to have the assistance of Frank Mansfield, the Curate who had looked after St Thomas’ during the brief interregnum. But it was only a matter of time before Mansfield would move on to his next post, and the Vicar told the Church Council in December 1917 that he would be instituted as Priest-in-Charge at Freckleton in Manchester in March the following year. We outlined the rest of Frank Mansfield’s career in the last chapter.

Eighteen months later the Vicar reminded the 1920 Easter Vestry Meeting that “there had been no collections for the Curate Fund, as the parish had been without a Curate for two years, and one of the first things the new council would have to consider was whether the parish should have a Curate.” In July 1921 he explained to PCC “the position regarding the development of church work and the necessity for help, either full-time as a Curate, or partial in the form of a Lay Reader or other occasional helper. … Owing to the financial position it was eventually … resolved that the question of the appointment of a Curate be deferred for the present.”

They probably needed no reminding, but the Vicar pointed out to the 1923 Easter Vestry Meeting that the church had been without a Curate for five years. After a discussion that September on how to raise the extra £120 [£5,400] a year needed to fund a Curate, PCC agreed “that the appointment of an Assistant Curate be not proceeded with.”


Church Governance

One minor but interesting aspect of church governance during Robert Finlay’s time was the fact that minutes of the Vestry Meetings were not formally written up in the Minute Book, as had happened under previous Vicars, but cut from local newspaper reports and pasted in the Minute Book.

This was only possible because local journalists from the Lancaster Observer and Lancaster Guardian routinely sat in on church meetings and wrote fairly comprehensive reports which the paper published the same week. This was also true of the other Anglican churches in Lancaster and it shows a desire on behalf of the churches to let local people know what was happening and why, and an appetite among locals to find out what was happening in other churches than their own (and presumably also sometimes in their own).

Much more important were the changes being introduced by the Church of England in the governance of its parish churches. They began with a 1917 Report of the Archbishop’s Committee on Church and State that proposed, amongst other things, that Parochial Church Councils (PCCs) should agree a budget for the year and keep a Register of Members. The report also discussed how to define ‘communicant’ – was baptism, or baptism with some form of declaration, a sufficient qualification?

Three years later, at the February 1920 PCC meeting, the Vicar outlined the main elements of the Parochial Church Council Enabling Act then being drafted, including the requirement to update the Church Roll each year before the Annual Parochial Meeting, and guidelines on the number of members the Church Council should have. PCC agreed that it should consist of twenty elected members (“of whom five shall be ladies”), including the two Churchwardens and the two representatives on the Diocesan Conference and the Ruri-Decanal [Deanery] Conference.

The newly created PCC met for the first time on the 15th of April 1920, with the Vicar in the chair, with its twenty members including the Vicar’s wife. This is the first mention of female representation in the church’s governing body in the history of St Thomas’. At the Easter Vestry Meeting five days later Vicar told members that

there was nothing in the Enabling Act that in any way touched the legal functions of the Easter Vestry. What the Act clearly did was to remove entirely parochial matters and matters of church business which had hitherto been brought before the vestry for lack of other opportunity. The vestry was a parish gathering, and the parochial church meeting was a distinctly church meeting.”

The Vicar updated PCC in September 1920 on the legislation that was to be discussed at the National Assembly (forerunner of General Synod) on the 15th of November. He summarised “its most important provisions, especially those relating to the gradual abolition of the Vestry Meeting, financial affairs, allocation of the collections, consultation with the Patron or Patrons about vacancies in the Vicariate, and possible representations to the Bishop before a Vicar is instituted.”  So, despite the Vicar’s assurances to the Easter Vestry Meeting, the Act would introduce fundamental changes in church governance.

The Parochial Church Council Powers Measure was passed early in 1921, and at a joint meeting of the Vestry and the Parochial Church in St Thomas’, held on the 19th of April 1922, the Vicar emphasised that the new PCC “was now the most important gathering in connection with the church. … practically all the business of the old Vestry meeting was now transferred to the Parochial Church Meeting.” The only item of business that evening was the election of Churchwardens for the following year, during which the Vicar thanked Mr W. Swainson who was standing down after 33 years service as Churchwarden.

At the August 1924 PCC meeting the Vicar reported on a series of measures which had recently been passed by the National Assembly and received Royal Assent, including the Bishop of Blackburn Measure, which required a contribution of £80 [£3,600] per church to fund the establishment of the new Diocese of Blackburn. There was also a Dilapidations Measure, which required that all Vicarages and buildings belonging to them should be properly repaired within seven years.

A measure that would turn out to have particular relevance to St Thomas’ was the Union of Benefices Measure, under which two or more benefices could be united and parish boundaries altered “by annexation or severance”.


Parish boundary

Shortly after Robert Finlay took up his post we see signs of a growing concern over population changes within Lancaster, particularly within St Thomas’ parish. There was a net movement of people from the town centre towards the growing suburbs, triggered by a combination of industrial decline, better housing standards and rising standards of living.

The Vicar spoke about this at his first Easter Vestry Meeting, in 1915. He noted that

St Thomas’ parish had its own difficulties, and one was the decreasing population. The Henry-street district [the former mill area north of the canal and west of Penny Street, where B&Q is situated today] was gradually closing down, and one side [the north side] of Common Garden-street would soon have to make way for street widening. He hoped that some day the Bishop of the diocese would set up a parochial boundaries commission in Lancaster, under which St Thomas’ boundaries would be enlarged. If any neighbouring Vicars, however, thought their parishes were larger than they could conveniently manage, he would come to their aid by accepting a slice from one or each of them.”

This situation would get more challenging after the end of the war (World War I), particularly with rapid residential development in Grieves, Primrose and Bowerham.

The Vicar noted at the 1920 Easter Vestry Meeting that “they had had some serious removals and deaths, and like other places had felt the effects of the general exodus consequent upon the closing of the great works.” At the 1924 meeting he “alluded to the gradual decrease of the population of the parish, and suggested the time was rife for the revision of the boundaries of the ecclesiastical parishes of the town.”

A report on population change within the parish, in the Lancaster Observer in April 1924, set the change in context:

From the recently published census returns, it would seem that the population of this parish continued to decrease. The figures for the last four decades were 1891, 3,153; 1901, 2,845; 1911, 2,383; and 1921, 2,169. The last return also showed that of the seven ecclesiastical parishes in the town, six have decreased in population, Scotforth being the exception. A revision of the ecclesiastical parishes of the town seemed to be therefore both urgent and advantageous.”

This theme would keep resurfacing, as we shall see in later chapters, casting a shadow over St Thomas’ for many decades, testing the patience and resilience of more than a few Vicars.



The church finances were generally in sound shape through most of Finlay’s time, judging from annual reports of the Easter Vestry Meetings. He was able to report at his first such meeting, in 1915, that the collections (£435 16s. [£27,200]) were up on last year (£268 12s. [£16,800]), total expenditure over the year had been £486 [£30,000], and there was balance of £1 [£62] in hand. The Easter offerings given to the Vicar to supplement his meagre stipend came to £43 11s. [£2,700] in 1915, up £11 [£690] on the previous year. A record Easter offering of £54 9s. [£1,900] was noted in 1921.

Over the following years the total annual income varied around the £450 to £500 mark. In 1916 it was £493 9s. [£26,000]; in 1918 it was £504 10s. [£19,200], of which £481 3s. [£18,300] came from collections in church; in 1920 it was £457 10s. [£14,300]); and in 1921 it was £471 13s. [£16,300]. Most financial years ended with a small balance in hand; in 1918 it was £3 6s. [£175]; in 1918 it was £2 15s. [£105]; in 1920 it was £7 8s. [£230]; in 1921 it was £2 12s. [£90]; and in 1922 it was £1 7s. [£58].

The church also faced sizeable expenditure. In the year ending at Easter 1920, for example, £400 [£12,500] had been spent on renovating the church, £146 [£4,600] had been given to outside organisations, and the Church Levy was £28 [£880]. The PCC meeting held in late June that year approved an increase in the church insurance from £7,000 [£219,300] to £10,000 [£313,300].

The Vicar’s salary for the 1919-20 financial year had been £378 15s. [£11,900] including the Easter offering of £46 16s. [£1,500]. In 1921-2 his stipend was £396 6s. [£16,900].

As well as covering its own running costs, like all other Anglican churches St Thomas’ was required to contribute towards the costs of running the diocese, through the Church Levy. On top of that, the Vicar told PCC in March 1922 that he had received a letter from the Bishop “announcing announcing that the National Assembly would require from each Church a sum equal to two-thirds of the Church Levy as a contribution to the Central Fund of the Church of England.”

Each year the PCC agreed a programme of Special Church Collections for particular purposes. The programme agreed in November 1921, for example, covered parish purposes and outside groups (which the PCC Minutes refer to as “Outside Objects”).

Collections for parish purposes covered the Day Schools, Sunday Schools, Choir Fund, Endowment Fund, General Purpose Fund, Easter Offering, and the Sick and Poor Fund. Collections for outside groups covered the Lancaster Infirmary, the District Nurses Association and Workhouse Chaplain Fund, the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS), the Church Missionary Society (CMS), the South American Mission Society (SAMS), the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS), as well as Diocesan Societies, the Queen Victoria Clergy Fund, the Central Fund of the Church of England, the National Society, and the Church Levy.

Although these missionary groups and organisations are listed for the first time in the accounts for 1921, St Thomas’ had long supported many of them both in prayer and financially. It remains one of the church’s great strengths that it continues to support wider mission work beyond the parish.

Finlay’s last two years at St Thomas’ were amongst the best yet, from a financial point of view, in the life of the church. The PCC report for February 1923, for example, shows a total income the previous year of £509 16s. [£22,700] – the third highest in 77 years – and expenditure of £500 05s. [£22,275], leaving a balance in the bank of £9 11s. [£425], the highest since the church opened. The Easter Offering that year (£55 14s. [£2,500]) was also the largest to date. The finances were in even better shape the following year; total income in the year ending January 1924 came to £531 14s. [£23,600] and expenditure was £506 18s. [£22,500], producing a balance in the bank of £24 16s. [£1,100]. 

Through John Bone’s and Stanley Hersee’s years the income generated by the Bazaars or Sales of Work had been vitally important in balancing the books. During Robert Finlay’s time income from collections had generally been adequate to cover expenditure, although little was spent on maintenance or improvement of the facilities.

Only one Bazaar is mentioned in the PCC minutes during Finlay’s time – in November 1923 PCC agreed to hold a Bazaar the following year to raise money for “the Endowment Fund, the Day School Fund, the Fabric Fund, and if possible funds for a better Parish Hall” (although repairs to the church bells was also mentioned in the PCC Minutes for September 1923). But within three months they agreed to abandon it.

By the mid-1920s the evidence suggests that interest in the Bazaar as a funding mechanism was on the decline. This was probably because the very people who were already giving generously to the Church would also be the ones who would have to run it!


Church fabric

At his first Easter Vestry Meeting on the 6th of April 1915 Robert Finlay, recently arrived, said he “hoped the year would see the first part of the church restoration scheme begun. … The chancel improvement seemed to be urgently needed.”

He was presumably referring to a backlog of work left undone from Stanley Hersee’s time, when the church finances had been in a precarious state. Some of the work would be quite large-scale and require major funding, but other projects would be smaller and could in some cases be funded by individuals.



One potentially expensive project, which would exercise the minds of Vicars and Churchwardens for many years to come, was the organ. It was a central part of the church services, and in regular use, but by the early 1920s it was in need of repair and a thorough cleaning.

The need was discussed by PCC in November 1921, by February 1922 estimates for the work required were been waited for, and in June 1923 “the question of repairing or removing of the Church Organ was again considered and it was decided … ‘That the matter be dropped.’” It was dropped more on financial grounds than lack of need, and to provide continuity of musical support in the services in January 1924 the PCC agreed to buy a harmonium for the church.


Other items

As ever, some families and individuals in the congregation were generous in the gifts they gave to their church. Thus, for example, the Vicar was pleased to report to PC in March 1915 the gift of “two sets of fine linen for the Communion Table. Some ladies had offered to give a new curtain for the East Door. Some other ladies – linoleum for Parish Room and staircase: cost £8. 3s [£510]. Another lady had wiped off the balance on the Parish Magazine Account.”

The following month the Vicar told PCC that an unnamed member of the congregation had offered to pay for a Reredos (an ornamental screen behind the altar) and oak panelling for the East wall of the Chancel, in memory of a relative. The faculty for the reredos (archived in the Public Record Office in Preston) was submitted to the Diocese in June 1915.

Other minor changes to the inside of church were also made during Finlay’s time. The Vicar’s wife spoke at the September 1920 PCC meeting “about the dark chancel and the dark pews upstairs, and the consequent disturbances of the services. The Churchwardens were advised to improve the lighting, and Mr Hartley promised to make enquiries about the substitution by ½ watt lamps.”

In February 1922 PCC discussed a slight modification of the reading desk, “with a view to safeguarding strange [visiting] clergy”, and left the matter in the hands of the Vicar and Churchwardens. In December 1924 PCC discussed renovating the font to strengthen the stone around its top, at an estimated cost of £4 [£180].

The grounds around church were not neglected, and PCC was told in March 1923 that a member of the congregation had offered to relay the church paths free of charge.


Church bells

The need to repair the church bells in the steeple (the first time the bells are mentioned since they were installed seventy years earlier, in 1853) presented a larger and more expensive challenge. Churchwarden James Hatch estimated that the cost of repairing all six bells would be about £16 10s. [£735]; a letter from him on the matter, dated the 1st of August 1923, is archived in the Public Record Office in Preston.

In September the PCC agreed for the work for be done after the leader of the bell-ringers had told the Churchwardens “that the Bells were in a bad state of repair”. Hatch’s estimate was accepted and PCC agreed to hold a Bazaar to raise funds to cover the costs. The work was carried out on the 1st of October at a cost of £13 13s. [£600].

The bells were a cherished part of the church, as were the bell ringers. When Mr J Rowlinson completed fifty years as a bell ringer at St Thomas’, on Christmas Eve 1924, the PCC presented him with an illuminated certificate and the proceeds of a special collection in church.



The Vicar also faced challenges in the seating department. He complained to PCC in October 1916 about the unruly behaviour – what he called “the inaffection” – of children in the South Gallery “which was not fully under the eye of the Preachers, and [he] thought that the matter should be attended to. The question of closing this Gallery was mooted, but, although none of the pews were let, various people were in the habit of sitting there, and it seemed undesirable to disturb them, if it could be avoided.” He mentioned the South Gallery again at the April 1917 meeting, “and thought some arrangement should be made for better order there.” There is no record of anything being done to tackle the problem.

It was not just a question of maintaining order in the dark recesses of the South Gallery, because PCC was told in February 1922 that “the Vicar would like members of the congregation to sit nearer the front. This brought up the possibility of closing the Gallery, but no action was taken.”

There was also the matter of pew rents, which had long been a vexed issue at St Thomas’. On the one hand, the money raised from pew rents directly paid the Vicar’s salary. On the other hand, there were concerns that some parishioners who did not or could not rent pews were put off attending church by the difficulty of getting access to seats from which they could see and hear the preacher. But the Vicar did concede, at the 1924 Easter Vestry Meeting, that

the parishioners were a wonderfully friendly lot. They knew that the church was open to them, and when they felt the need they would come. They were steadily working to set the church free of pew rents. He did not think himself that even when the church was free there would be a rush of parishioners to occupy seats. The parish would, however, be robbed of its excuse for absenteeism, but after all it was only a sense of need which would bring them to the House of God.”



While the need to repair and clean the organ remained, the services carried on much as before. But complacency hadn’t set in. The Vicar spoke at the Annual Parochial Church Meeting in April 1922 about “the desirability or otherwise of extending and brightening the musical portion of the church service. … it was only too obvious there was a strong feeling that if brighter services would retain the younger members and help to unify the church, then the end justified the means.” After further discussions PCC agreed in April 1923 “that this Council has no desire to interfere in the matter of the Services of the Church, and that it be left with the Vicar.”

Alongside the organ, the choir played a central part in the services. In September 1920 the PCC were told that a special collection had been taken up in church for a ‘Choir Treat’, and the following July they asked the Churchwardens to have a church collection for the Choir Fund.

The PCC was exercised by the location of the choir within the church, and it was suggested at their May 1922 meeting that “the accommodation of the choir be improved by bringing two seats forward, and placing them (forward) one on each side of the general choir seats.” At the next meeting, in July, “it was resolved that the Vicar [should] ask the ladies to sit in the front seats one on each side of the middle aisle.” The Vicar told the following meeting that “the Ladies of the Choir preferred to sit in their usual places rather than in the middle aisle as suggested at a former meeting.” Girl power clearly came early to St Thomas’!


Church groups and organisations

Like all other Anglican churches at the time and since, St Thomas’ ran a number of church-based groups and organisations for its members. The minutes of the April 1921 PCC meeting, for example, record the Vicar thanking “the promoters and workers in connection with the various Church organisations, viz the Women’s Bible Class, the Young People’s Union, the Band of Hope and the Mothers’ Union.”

The Young People’s Union is an interesting group. It was a Temperance organisation for children, founded in 1847; their pledge was “Because I want to be my best in every way, I promise, by God’s help, never to take Alcoholic Drinks.” The 1924 Easter Vestry Meeting noted that the Mothers’ Union had 69 members, and heard that a St Thomas’s Lawn Tennis Club was about to be opened.


Church membership

Robert Finlay found a very buoyant church when he arrived at St Thomas’, and he told the 1915 Easter Vestry Meeting that he

trusted that the signs of vigorous spiritual life would continue. The Easter-day communicants numbered 289, against 201 last year. The total communions during the year were 1,786, against 1,251 in the previous year, an increase of 535. The baptisms were 44, against 40 … He was told that the congregations were larger than formerly, and though the increased amount of collections seemed to point in that direction, he was far from satisfied. The church had over 300 free sittings, so that there was plenty of room for those who objected to pay pew rents.”

From Robert Finlay’s time onwards the minutes of church meetings include information on the scale of church membership (the Electoral Roll) and participation (the number of Easter communicants).

The “signs of vigorous spiritual life” did continue. The 1916 Easter Vestry Meeting was told that there were 254 Easter communicants, and a total of 2,041 communicants over the year, the highest ever at St Thomas’. Church membership had grown by 50 over the year, 30 by confirmation and 20 by transfer from other parishes. By 1918 the total number of communicants had risen further, to 2,134, and membership had risen over the year by 27 (34 added and 7 lost by death).

There were other encouraging signs of life, too. According to the minutes of the 1922 Annual Parochial Church Meeting, average attendance at the Women’s Monday Meeting was 62, and the Sunday School had 346 children and 35 School Workers. The number of communicants (1,651) that year was down, though the following year the number of Easter communicants (293) was a record high.


Electoral roll

Recall that the 1917 Report on the Archbishop’s Committee on Church and State had made Parochial Church Councils responsible for keeping the Register of Members (the Electoral Roll), so from this point on we have records of numbers formally registered with the church. Electoral roll numbers are available in sketchy form from 1916 and in detail after 1921. Between 1920 and 1924 the number of names on the roll rose progressively from 186 to 254, with women consistently out-numbering men by roughly 2 to 1.

The minutes of the April 1921 PCC meeting record that only 83 (35 percent) of the 234 people listed on the Electoral Roll that year lived within the parish, the other 151 (65 percent) lived beyond the parish boundary. Little wonder concerns were being voiced at that time about the viability and sustainability of the parish of St Thomas’, and the need for a review of the Anglican parish boundaries in Lancaster.


Parish Room

Although there is no record in earlier minutes of when it was acquired – by 1907, according to financial reports – when Robert Finlay arrived the church was renting a Parish Room in Victoria Yard, behind the church and school buildings. PCC discussed it in September 1914 and agreed that it was not suitable for present purposes (without saying what they were), noting that the owner would like it back.

The minutes of that meeting record that a large room was available over “the Motor House” (detached garage) of a house on Queen Street, near the Vicarage, at a rent of £5 [£370] a year, though they don’t record whether it was agreed to rent it. We hear nothing more about the matter until June 1920, when the minutes of the PCC meeting record “nothing definite to report” on the question of a site for the Parish Room.

As we shall see in the next chapter, six years later the church acquired a large detached Parish Hall in Aldcliffe Lane, which was in use for many years. In chapters 15 and 16 we’ll see how, nearly five decades later in the 1970s, the need for a Church Hall closer to the church site gave rise to a major building project in the church itself.



As well as a backlog of work needed on the church building, Robert Finlay arrived to find the Queen Street Vicarage in need of repairs.

In 1916 the May Church Council approved the re-pointing of the external stonework and a new roof, at an estimated cost of £133 [£7,000], nearly a third of which – £42 [£2,200] – it hoped to secure in the form of a grant from Queen Anne’s Bounty (a fund established in 1704 to augment the incomes of the poorer clergy in the Church of England).

The minutes of the June 1920 meeting record that the PCC “felt that the Vicarage was a source of financial embarrassment to the Church Council”, to which the September meeting agreed to add “and also to the Vicar”.


Mission and outreach

We have seen that most Vicars before Findlay were very supportive of missionary work, but that usually related to sponsoring mission work overseas rather than actually doing it on their own doorstep in Lancaster. In November 1921 PCC accepted the Vicar’s proposal that they should set up a Committee for Missionary Work, which would report to the Church Council.

Mission work within these shores, and particularly within this town, was a different thing altogether. As church historian Roger Lloyd (1966 p.226) has pointed out “the Archbishops [of Canterbury and York] accepted, that in the autumn of 1916 there should be a Mission of Witness of the whole Church to the whole people ‘to call the men and women of England to earnest and honest repentance of our sins and shortcomings as a nation and to claim that in the Living Christ, in the loyal acceptance of Him as the Lord of all life, individual and social – lies the one sure hope’.” The Mission was to take place simultaneously in every village and city across England, and each Diocese was instructed to make its own plans.

At St Thomas’ the Vicar told the 1916 Easter Vestry Meeting that the Mission would be “an earnest attempt to quicken the spiritual life of the church, and to arouse the careless.” In May he explained to the Church Council what would be involved – prayer, personal witness, and meetings in houses in the parish, and perhaps special services in church. By late summer the plans had been firmed up and the Vicar reported what had been proposed for Lancaster:

Sunday morning service should conclude early, and visitation in the parish should follow from, say, 11.45 am. An open air service in the afternoon. Shortened evening service. Visitation of Parish, from 8 pm. On week days: house to house visitation and visiting of works in the parish. On week days: from 6 to 8 pm, visiting lodging houses, and perhaps Public Houses.”

There is no mention of the national Mission in the minutes of subsequent church meetings, but we must assume it went ahead and that St Thomas’ played its part.

The topic of mission in Lancaster was resurfaced four years later when the Vicar told PCC in September 1920 that

the clergy of the town wished to hold a simultaneous mission in the autumn of 1921, each parish being responsible for its own special arrangements. As regards St Thomas’ the Vicar desired the support of the Church Council both spiritually and financially. It was [agreed] that the Vicar take the preliminary steps towards securing a Missioner and proceeding with the arrangements.”

The timetable must have slipped because most of the planning was done in 1922.  That July the Vicar updated PCC on what would need to be organised, which would include house to house visitation, printing of leaflets, open air processions, and an “augmented choir”.

These were the days of formal missions, led by outside Missioners who did most of the talks, supported by local church people who did much of the visiting and other tasks. The mission must have been held that summer, because the Vicar reported to PCC in November that “the general results appeared to be successful both spiritually and financially. In order to carry on the good work it was suggested that services for men only be held on Sunday afternoon once a month.”

Targeting men was an interesting development because, whilst men were over-represented in leadership roles at St Thomas’ – the Vicar, Churchwardens and Sidesmen were all men, as were three-quarters of the members of PCC) – they were seriously under-represented in the church membership; there were twice as many women as men listed on the Electoral Roll.

The minutes of the 1923 Easter Vestry Meeting include a report from the Lancaster Guardian about a ten day mission which St Thomas’ had apparently run in March that year. It noted that

the services were well attended, especially on week nights. … [the Vicar] could not claim that the Mission resulted in any noticeable addition to their membership, but many people acknowledged they received help and inspiration. The Mission was their witness to the fact they were alive to the needs of the parishioners.”


School and Sunday School

The St Thomas’ Schools are not mentioned in the minutes of any church meetings during Robert Finlay’s, and only two minutes refer to the Sunday School.

The 1922 Annual Parochial Church Meeting heard that the Sunday School had 346 children and 35 School Workers. Two years later the Vicar reported to the 1924 Easter Vestry Meeting that “the work in the Sunday schools was well maintained, some 300 of all ages being under instruction every Sunday afternoon. They owed a great debt of gratitude to the 38 Sunday school workers …”


Resignation and departure

After ten years service as Vicar of St Thomas’, Robert Finlay announced at the PCC meeting held on the 24th of October 1924 that he wished to resign after the CPAS had offered him the benefice of Snettisham in Norfolk. When asked “whether anything could be done to prevail upon him to remain with us for some time yet, the Vicar intimated that after very earnest and serious consideration he had already decided to accept the invitation.”

PCC agreed to send a letter to the CPAS Board of Patronage thanking them “for having sent us our present Vicar and for the happy time we have had together for the last ten years” and asking them “to send us a similar man, one still possessing the health and vigour necessary to carry on the work, and one who would be interested in the young life of the Parish.”

A Special Meeting of the PCC on the 12th of November was attended by Bishop Stileman of CPAS who sought their views about the new appointment “and asked for their prayers for the Board of Patronage, who would meet on Wednesday, 19th November, for the purpose of choosing a new Vicar for the Parish.” The minutes of that meeting record the Council’s deep regret at the departure of the Vicar “for a new sphere of labour”, their “gratitude for and appreciation of his unfailing and tireless devotion to duty during ten years faithful ministry”, and their “prayerful wishes … for abundant happiness in their new home.”

In early December PCC discussed the matter of a farewell gift for the Vicar and his wife. They agreed to invite contributions – £106 [£4,700] had already been received and more was expected – and to give them an inscribed rose bowl and a cheque. There is no entry for Robert Finlay in Crockford’s Clerical Directory for 1934, so we must assume he had died by then.

Six months before he resigned, at the 1924 Easter Vestry Meeting Finlay had looked back on his time at St Thomas’ with a mixture of humility and pragmatism. He had noted how “the year 1923 was quite uneventful as far as their parochial life was concerned; they did not claim to have made history, but their organisations were in a distinctly healthy state, and financially the year was amongst the most prosperous in the history of the church.”

Fulfilling the hopes and dreams he had shared with the church soon after his arrival, particularly his desire “to see St Thomas’ Church … worthily filling its part in the church life of the town”, had proved rather difficult, particularly in an era overshadowed to such a great degree by the war in Europe.

One hallmark of Finlay’s spell as Vicar was the triumph of talk over action. A number of key matters (such as repairing the organ, abolishing pew rents, and reviewing the parish boundaries) were discussed in church meetings, but few of the discussions led to tangible change or lasting progress.


– o0o –

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12. Edwin Towndrow (1924-1929)

Edwin James Towndrow was born in February 1877 at Walton-on-the-Hill in Liverpool, and baptised the following month at St Saviour’s in Everton. He was the fourth child and second son of James and Mary Jane Towndrow, both of whom came from Manchester but were then living in Everton.

It was a family of hard workers; his father was a book-keeper, his older brother Walter is listed in the 1881 census as a clerk, and the 1891 census lists his sisters Edith and Laura as a shop assistant and dressmaker and fourteen year old Edwin as an office boy in the port. By 1901 James had died and Laura and Edwin were still living with their widowed mother in Everton; now twenty-four, Edwin is listed in the census as an assistant in a music warehouse.

Like Robert Finlay before him, Edwin Towndrow appears to have responded to a call into the ordained ministry in his late twenties, after a different early career. His entry in Crockford’s Clerical Directory is rather curious – it lists him as having been ordained deacon in 1905 and priest in 1905, in the Wakefield Diocese, and holding two Curacies (at St Andrew’s in Wakefield, 1904-07, and St Phillip’s in Cambridge, 1907-10) before 1910 when he graduated from Fitzwilliam Hall at the University of Cambridge with a BA (1913 MA). Quite where, when and how he trained for the ministry is not recorded.

After Cambridge Finley moved north to Leeds, where he served as Curate at the inner-city church of St Matthias in Burley between 1910 and 1912. By then he had married Miriam Stevenson from Chelmsford (six years his elder), and their son Joseph Edwin Howard had been born in Cambridge in 1907. He kept on the move, with posts as Curate at St Peter’s in Derby (1912-14) and Priest in Charge of St Saviour’s in Plymouth (1914-15), before working as Organising Secretary for the Northern District of the South American Mission Society (SAMS) between 1915 and 1919.

As an aside, it is interesting how many of the St Thomas’ Vicars over the years have worked for national or international missionary societies, including CPAS (Armytage, Ashton).

After working for SAMS Edwin Towndrow moved on to be licensed in the Diocese of Manchester (1916-19) and Vicar of St Aidan’s in Liverpool (1919-24), before being selected by CPAS in 1924 to follow Robert Finlay as St Thomas’ ninth Vicar.


Appointment and arrival

Towndrow’s arrival at St Thomas’ was overshadowed by controversy, the nature of which is spelled out in the minutes of the PCC meeting held on the 15th of December 1924. The minutes record that

A letter from Bishop Stileman to the Churchwardens was read with reference to the offer of the living of St Thomas’ to the Rev E.J. Towndrow, MA, of Liverpool. The Bishop stated that he had received a letter from Mr Towndrow that if he accepted the living he would be placed in financial difficulties by the [large] size of the Vicarage. The [Church] Council were asked if they would be willing: 1. For the Vicarage to be let or sold. 2. If they would undertake to have the Endowment Fund augmented, the Bishops saying the Church Pastoral Aid Society would meet any sum raised for that purpose with a grant. 3. If they would make themselves responsible for the payment of the rates on the Vicarage. 4. If they would undertake the annual payment for the dilapidation of the Vicarage. After a full discussion it was resolved that the Churchwardens be authorised to send the following reply: That the Council do not see their way to guarantee the payments which seem to be necessary for Mr Towndrow to accept the living.”

Despite the hint of a possible standoff between the incoming Vicar and his Church Council, he did accept the living and moved into the Vicarage in Queen Street with his family early in 1925.

Edwin Towndrow was instituted as Vicar of St Thomas’ on the 23rd of February 1925, and inducted ten days later. He chaired his first PCC meeting on the 3rd of April, and “expressed his pleasure at meeting the members of the Council and hoped we should get on well together, and that all would continue to work for the good of the Church as in the past.” He chaired his first Easter Vestry Meeting two weeks later, on the 15th of April.


Lancaster during his time

Towndrow’s time at St Thomas’ might have been relatively short, but it still saw changes occurring in Lancaster. Clearance of the overcrowded slum housing in the town centre continued through the 1920s and 30s, and people were rehoused on the new estates that sprang up on the Ridge and at Beaumont. The religious importance of Lancaster changed too, with the raising of St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church to cathedral status in 1925.



Edwin Towndrow had to fulfill all of the duties of Vicar of St Thomas’ without the assistance of a Curate. In fact he arrived not long after the start of a 43 year period without a Curate, after Frank Mansfield left in 1918.


Church Governance

In 1926 the Diocese within which St Thomas’ operates changed for the second time. The church started out in the Diocese of Chester and then six years later, in 1947, it became part of the new Diocese of Manchester.

When the new Diocese of Blackburn was founded from the Diocese of Manchester in 1926, it became part of that. The Blackburn Diocese was set up by the Bishop of Manchester, William Temple – who later became Archbishop of Canterbury (1942-44) – because (as the Diocesan website puts it) he “was concerned to emphasise Christian pastoral support for the expanding cotton towns.” Blackburn Cathedral was created eight years later, in 1934, in the time of Towndrow’s successor Samuel Latham.

One feature of church governance at St Thomas’, doubtless also true of many other Anglican churches, was the long period of service that some dedicated Churchwardens had given the church. Recall that John Hatch Senior served for 50 years, and his son John served for 33 years.

There was some discussion of the pros and cons of limiting the term of Churchwardens at the 1926 Easter Vestry Meeting, at which one long-serving warden noted that “if the office was passed around amongst the men of the church they would create an administrative body keenly interested in everything appertaining to Church affairs, and in the long run it would be much better for the Church.”

That would only work if there were men willing to take on the task, which was not always the case. At the 1928 Easter Vestry Meeting the Vicar highlighted the growing challenge of getting people to stand for Churchwarden, noting that “a large number of men fought shy of the wardenship for some reason. They were not ready to make the sacrifice entailed. In other cases there was a good deal of diffidence about holding the honourable office, but they hoped the day would come when they should have a queue waiting for the office of warden.”

Edwin Towndrow also recognised that time were changing in terms of women occupying leadership positions in the church. He reminded the 1927 Easter Vestry Meeting “that ladies were eligible for all offices in the church except that of clergy”, adding somewhat prophetically “and that would come”.


Parish boundary

A possible revision of the St Thomas’ parish boundary had been discussed briefly in 1915 in Robert Finlay’s time, but the population changes that prompted the discussion then had continued over the following decade.

The migration of people from the town centre towards the suburbs affected other Lancaster churches and not just St Thomas’. St Anne’s was also losing much of its resident population, and by 1926 it was threatened with closure. PCC discussed that proposed closure on the 6th of August 1926 and passed “a vote of sympathy with St Anne’s Church with the hope that the suggested closure might be put off indefinitely.” It was put off, for three decades, but it was eventually closed in 1957 and later converted to become the Duke’s theatre.

The threat of closure of St Anne’s provided a stark reminder to St Thomas’, if it needed one, that Anglican churches can be closed as well as opened. The prospect of St Thomas’ closing had by then not been openly discussed, but the matter of declining population within the parish could not be ignored. The Vicar told the Annual Church Meeting in April 1929 that “he felt that one of the things which would have to take place in the future would be the enlargement of the Parish owing to the gradual removal of the population to the outskirts of the town.” This problem was not going to go away!



Unlike some of his predecessors, Edwin Towndrow was able to enjoy a spell of sound church finances.

Soon after his arrival, the Treasurer was able to report to PCC in February 1925 that “they were in a very healthy condition. The total income for the year exceeded that of the previous year and was again a record, all the funds having credit balances.” The accounts for the year ending April 1925 showed a total income of £549 14s. [£24,450] – a record for the parish – and expenditure of £531 6s. [£23,600], leaving a balance of £18 7s. [£816]. The Parish Tea and Welcome to the Vicar had even made a profit of £5 19s. [£265], £3 [£133] of which was allocated to the Tennis Club Funds and the remaining £2 19s. [£132] to the Church Funds. Income was down the following year, at £528 10s. [£23,920], but expenditure was also reduced, to £518 16s. [£23,500], leaving a balance of £9 14s. [£440].

The next year’s accounts “showed that all our funds were again in a very healthy condition, each fund having a credit balance”, according to the PCC minutes for March 1827. Income was £525 17s. [£24,500] and expenditure was £519 3s. [£24,170], leaving a balance of £6 14s. [£310].

The story was much the same in 1928, allowing the Treasurer to tell PCC in March that “all the funds were in a very satisfactory condition, each fund again having a credit balance”. Income was £486 4s. [£22,850], expenditure was £480 16s. [£22,600] and there was a balance in the bank of £5 8s. [£254]. But there was no room for complacency, because the amount raised through the collections had fallen, and at the July PCC meeting the Treasurer voiced concern over the cost of running the Parish Hall, about £34 [£1,600] a year, towards which an income of only £6 [£280] had by then been received.

The accounts were once again in a sound state during Towndrow’s final year as Vicar. As reported to the Annual Church Meeting in April 1929, total income was £479 16s. [£22,750], expenditure was £463 14s. [£22,000], and the balance in the bank was £13 2s.[£620].

The minutes of church meetings suggest that only one Bazaar was held over this period, on the 5th of May 1926, in the Friends’ Hall. It was held in aid of the Endowment Fund, and raised a total of £257 4s. [£11,640]. The proceeds were £262 10s. [£11,880] and expenses were £5 5s. [£240]. Two days later PCC was given a breakdown of how the money was raised – some came from donations (£8 14s. [£395]), amusements (£2 18s. [£130]), a concert (£1 [£45]), a cake competition (£1 5s. [£56]), and admission fees (£3 18s. [£176]). Most came from the sale of items on the different stalls – Congregational stall (£61 5s. [£2,770]), Young Women’s Guild Stall (£60 13s.[£2,750]), Mothers Union Stall (£56 9s.[£2,550]), refreshments (£27 7s.[£1,240]), a pound stall (£33 4s.[£1,500]), ice cream (£1 10s.[£68]), and a sweet stall (£4 5s.[£190]).


Church fabric

Whilst the accounts might have been in sound shape during Edwin Towndrow’s five years as Vicar, there were plenty of calls on the budget, including maintenance of and repairs to the church buildings.

At its July 1928 meeting the PCC discussed a long list of needs, including repointing the west wall of church, decorating the porch, and fixing the roof of the Parish Hall. The list was extended at the October meeting, to include repairs to the roof, sink and fireplace in Church House at 4 Marton Street, repairs to the church roof over the Chancel, and rebuilding the church chimney (for the heating system). Most of these were done over the next six months or so. The following February PCC agreed that “six fire buckets be obtained for use in the Church and that the question of [fire extinguishing] appliances for the Parish Hall be left in the hands of the Vicar and Churchwardens.”

The organ and choir were still important elements in church services. The need for repairs to the organ had been discussed in 1921 and 1922, but left in abeyance in 1923. PCC had a further conversation about the condition of the organ in March 1927, but agreed to discuss it again at their next meeting. The choir’s seating arrangements had also been discussed in 1922 and PCC returned to the matter in January 1926. After a brief discussion about extending the choir stalls, it was agreed to leave the matter in the hands of the Churchwardens.



Edwin Towndrow was keen to improve the tone of the services, and at PCC in July 1927 he “raised the question of the behaviour of the boys in the Choir and suggested that a surplice choir would tend to more reverence in Church, and the Council was asked to consider the matter before the next meeting.”

Such a proposal would have made Rev Armytage turn in his grave, given his strong opposition to any hint of ‘Popery’ in the services of the Church of England. In October PCC “recommended that the question should be very seriously considered”, but there is no record of that having been done, certainly during Towndrow’s time.

PCC also had discussions about the books used in the church services. In April 1927 it decided against adopting the revised Book of Common Prayer, an update of the 1662 Prayer Book that included newer versions of services which churches could use if they wished to. Parliament also rejected the revised book, despite widespread approval of it across the Church of England, and the [_Alternative Service Book _]was eventually introduced instead.

In October PCC agreed to replace the hymn book then being used in church (The Hymnal Companion to the Book of Common Prayer) with a new one (Church Hymnal for the Christian Year), but not without some reservations. The minutes of a meeting of the Standing Committee held on 12th December 1927 note that “the Vicar said he had a feeling that certain members of the Congregation were not in favour of it, and he expressed his anxiety that their feelings should not be disturbed. It was left to the Vicar to have an interview with them.” It is not known whether the Vicar was simply expressing pastoral concern for the whole of his flock, or whether he was anxious that some wealthy individuals – perhaps traditionalists at heart – might move elsewhere (and take their money with them) if a new hymn book they didn’t like was imposed upon them.

The only mention of a communion service at this time comes in the minutes of the March 1928 PCC meeting, which agreed to purchase 800 hymn sheets for the service to be held in church on the 20th of March, in preparation for which it also agreed “that the Church should be specially cleaned for that occasion.” Quite what was so special about that particular communion service is not clear.


Electoral Roll

Numbers held up comfortably during Towndrow’s time, with an overall average of 224 a year, slight increases in some years, and an overall increase of thirteen percent over the five year period. The gender balance also remained much the same, with men outnumbered by women roughly two to one.

Between 1925 and 1929 the total number of names on the roll increased slightly, from 254 to 288, with women still out-numbering men by about 2 to 1.


Parish Hall

Recall from Chapter 11 that the church had apparently been renting a Parish Room on Queen Street since about 1914. Demand continued to rise for such flexible space, which could be used by a variety of church groups, and by early 1926 PCC had agreed to buy larger premises.

The Vicar reported to a Special Meeting of PCC on the 5th of February 1926 that “the Mission Room in Aldcliffe Road was vacant and that he had made an offer of it for parochial purposes for the sum of £100 [£4,500].” Latham (1947) described it as “an invaluable acquisition.” The Vicar told the next regular meeting of PCC, on the 26th of February, that the costs had very generously been covered by two parishioners, revealing that “the Misses Edmondson had entirely defrayed the cost of purchasing the building by sending him a cheque for £100 for that purpose.”

PCC agreed to formally open the building “towards the end of September at the commencement of the Winter’s Session”, and to write a letter of thanks to the Directors of Storeys to convey “the thanks of this Council for the easy terms on which they have allowed us the use of the ground for the room” (it seems that access to the building was only possible by crossing a strip of land owned by the Storeys). In a display of smart thinking and clever branding PCC also agreed to call it the St Thomas’ Parish Hall.

In August PCC agreed to revise the opening date to the 13th of October, close to the Harvest Thanksgiving Services. The plan was to serve tea and have some musical entertainments, to be selected by Dr Taylor.

The first formal church meeting to be held in the Parish Hall was the 1927 Easter Vestry Meeting, chaired as usual by the Vicar. He reminded those present that “they had to be thankful for the splendid gift of a Church Hall, which had been furnished in a comfortable manner. He was also thankful for the services which had been given in preparation for the hall, which had proved of great utility to the parish during the past winter in their parochial work.”



Edwin Towndrow proved adept at upgrading the church estate, and after securing the Parish Hall he turned his attention to the Vicarage on Queen Street.

In March 1928 he arranged for it to be sold for £1,000 [£45,000], and later than month later completed the purchase of a new Vicarage (the present one), a large terrace house called Belvedere, at 33 Higher Greaves. The house – which Latham (1947) described as “commodious and convenient” – was bought for £1,100 [£52,000] from the estate of Elizabeth Worthington, who had died on the 22nd of April 1927. The Vicar had alerted the PCC in July 1927 that some of the money from the sale of the original Vicarage grounds would belong to the Queen Anne’s Bounty, who had loaned the money at the time it was bought and would need to be consulted on how the money should be used.

The Vicar reminded the Annual Church Meeting in April 1928 that “when he first came to the Parish the Diocesan Surveyor said the Vicarage was too large for the Incumbent, and … he hoped to be able to enter into [the new one] about the beginning of May. It was expected there would be a substantial surplus from the transaction and the Queen Anne’s Bounty would invest the balance for the benefit of the endowment of the living.”

He told the Easter Vestry Meeting that month that “the new house is much more suitable in every way”, the Queen Street one being “too large and expensive for the income”.


Outreach and mission, Sunday School

There is no mention of outreach or mission activities, or the Sunday School, in any minutes of church meetings during Towndrow’s time as Vicar.


St Thomas’ Schools

The expansion of secondary education in England would through time force a change in the governance and use of the St Thomas’ schools, which had by then been an integral part of the church estate and its service to the community for more than sixty years.

As more and more elementary school pupils wanted to stay at school beyond the age of fourteen, new Central Schools, some converted from elementary schools, became part of the secondary school system. They were set up to provide an improved general education of a practical character, primarily to prepare boys and girls for employment, sometimes with a slightly industrial or commercial emphasis, for pupils between the ages of eleven and fourteen or fifteen. They had a lower leaving age and less academic curriculum than the Secondary Schools, and a lower age of admission and less vocational curriculum than the Trade Schools or Junior Technical Schools which had been set up in many towns and cities.

The Vicar advised PCC in April 1926 that “changes were likely to take place in the Church Day Schools of the Town and in that case our schools would probably become a Senior Girls’ Central School”, as part of that national movement.

The following March he told PCC that in preparation for the switch in the use and status of the school

the Education Authority desired that an entrance should be made to the School from Marton Street, and it would be necessary to take a strip of land from the Churchyard [church grounds] to make an entrance to the School by the passage used by the Caretaker, the same to be railed off from the rest of the Churchyard.”

The Vicar was pleased to report to the 1927 Easter Vestry Meeting that, with help from the National Society, the Church of England had managed to hold on to control of all of the Church Schools in Lancaster except those connected with St Mary’s, the Parish Church, which was now under the control of the local Education Authority. What’s more,

they had received promises of £1,420 [£66,100] towards the alteration of the premises in Marton Street into a Central School for girls above 11 years of age. While they had had to close their old style parochial schools, they had taken a larger view and now admitted girls from other parishes who were 11 years old. The infant system had been transferred to Middle Street School. The schools had done splendid work, as the reports of the Diocesan Inspector and the Board of Education proved.”


Resignation and departure

With apparently little prior warning, Edwin Towndrow announced to PCC on the 15th of February 1929 that he had resigned, after five years as Vicar. He said that “this was probably the last meeting of the Council at which he would be present before his renewal to the living of St Ninian’s, Douglas, Isle of Man …”

His final act at St Thomas’ was to chair the Easter Vestry Meeting that April. After thanking the two Churchwardens he said that the church was in a very sound condition financially. He regretted that their new Vicar was not present, and “as he himself was leaving to take up his new appointment in the Isle of Man next week, he found himself in a very difficult position of having to appoint a Vicar’s warden for another man.”

He appears to have spent just two years in the Isle of Man, because Crockford’s Clerical Directory lists him as Vicar of St George’s in Worthing, from 1931 to at least 1934. He is not listed in Crockford’s for 1947.

Towndrow’s time at Lancaster might not have been particularly exciting or dramatic, but he did at least leave a tangible legacy in the form of the new Parish Hall in Aldcliffe Road and the new Vicarage in Higher Greaves. Numbers on the electoral roll had held up and the church finances had been sound during his watch. He had also overseen the transition of the school into a Girls’ Central School.


– o0o –

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13. Samuel Latham (1929-1948)

Samuel Boyes Latham was born in Camberwell in Lambeth, London, in January 1881. He was the fourth child and second son of William Henry Latham (a commercial clerk in a Looking Glass Warehouse) and Lydia Elizabeth Boyes, who were both from Surrey.

Samuel studied at the London College of Divinity in 1907 and graduated from the University of Durham with a BA (1911) and an MA (1915). He was ordained deacon in 1911 and priest in 1912. His first clergy post was as Curate at St Paul’s in Stratford, East London (1911-14), after which he spent six years working as a missionary in Africa for the Church Missionary Society (CMS), based in Uganda. There he was a Chaplain in Entebbe (1915-16) and then Acting Principal of Mbale High School (1916-18), before serving as a Missionary in Iganga (1918 to 1920). On returning to England he held Curacies at St Matthew’s in Bayswater, London (1921-24) and St Saviour’s in Nottingham (1924-26), before becoming Organising Secretary of the National Church League (1926-29). He was appointed Vicar of St Thomas’ in 1929.


Appointment and arrival

Edwin Towndrow left for the Isle of Man in April 1929, by when CPAS had chosen his successor.

Samuel Latham was unable to be present at the Easter Vestry Meeting on the 3rd of April, but he was instituted as Vicar by the Bishop on the 8th of May and welcomed into the parish the following day. The minutes of the April 1929 PCC Meeting record the plan to hold the welcome “in the Parish Hall at 7.30 pm, to take the form of an entertainment and refreshments. The arrangements were left to the wives of the Councillors and the ladies of the Council … It was decided that a charge of 9d. [£1.80] should be made.”

Latham chaired his first PCC Meeting in St Thomas’ (when his wife was co-opted as a member) on the 29th of May 1929.


Lancaster during his time

Latham spent nearly twenty years in Lancaster, during the first ten of which the town saw some notable changes.

The tram services stopped in 1930 and were replaced by buses. In the same year the Ryelands council housing estate was built north of the river, near Skerton. In 1937 Lancaster was granted city status, on the coronation of King George VI. Two years later a new Bus Depot and Public (swimming) Baths were built in Kingsway, near the main bridge over the River Lune. The migration of people out from the town centre towards the new suburbs (particularly Bowerham, which was expanding rapidly) continued through the 1930s.


Events in Britain and Europe


The Royal Family

The Royal Family still held a special place in the heart of people in Britain, and the country took great pleasure in celebrating the Jubilee of King George V in May 1935. The PCC decided at its April meeting “to hold the form of Service appointed for the day” at 10 am on the 6th of May, and at the May meeting the Vicar “thanked all for their attendance at Church on Jubilee Day and commented on the splendid weather and the general feeling of goodwill and happiness on that day.”

However, the feel good factor was short-lasting because the King died eight months later, on the 20th of January 1936. He was succeeded by his eldest son Edward, who stood down in December 1936 to marry Mrs Wallace Simpson. The abdication came before the Coronation Service which had been scheduled for the following May, but the plans for it were not wasted – Edward’s younger brother George was crowned King George VI on the 12th of May 1937. In March 1937 PCC agreed “to use the special form of service provided by the Archbishop of York”, and at the Annual Church Meeting in April the Vicar noted that “the Coronation of George VI and Queen Elizabeth was full of significance and was in itself a call to all to dedicate themselves as the King and Queen were doing to the cause of the Christian Church.”


Church of England

In Britain the Church of England was facing a number of challenges. By the early 1930s the pull of the church was weakening and society was becoming more secular as more and more people were looking on Sunday as just another day in the week, a time for rest and recreation. How should the church respond?

Sunday opening was starting to become an issue, and at the Annual Church Meeting in 1931 the Vicar “spoke against legislation with the object of legalising the opening of cinemas and theatres on Sundays, and a resolution was passed to this effect to be forwarded to our local M.P.”

But the church at large faced a bigger challenge, which was how to make sure its voice was heard on social and moral matters; the ‘social gospel’ mattered, but the challenge was how to raise awareness of it. Samuel Latham told the Annual Church Meeting in April 1943 that

the leaders of the Church of England were asking people to lay more stress on social welfare – both Archbishops were urging the Church’s interest and care for the problems of the day. The Archbishop of Canterbury [William Temple, former Bishop of Manchester] wished it to be that it could no longer be said that the Church is not concerned with the present order of this world. Some Christians opposed this view. He personally thought we should try to obtain some clear view on the subject and that the Church should proceed carefully … its duty … was to carry out the great principles of direction in great moral truths.”

The Vicar clearly disagreed with the Archbishops. Two years later he told the PCC (April 1945) that “he was not very happy about the way the leaders of the Church – Free Church and Anglican – had gone out for the social gospel – political parties he thought did not need any reinforcement in this direction from the Churches – the church’s business was to concern itself with spiritual values”.


World War II

The church debates in Britain were to be heavily overshadowed by the Second World War, which began on the 1st of September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war against Germany two days later. The war ended on the 2nd of September 1945 when Germany surrendered after the Russians reached Berlin and Hitler committed suicide, although Germany had surrendered to the allied forces on the 7th of May.

Unlike the World War I, this time the enemy brought the war into the skies over Britain and the towns and cities across it. Almost the entire country got involved in the war effort. Conscription was introduced as soon as the war started, and many of the men who were not directly involved in the fighting in Europe signed up for the Home Guard (Local Defence Volunteers, popularly known as Dad’s Army). Many women joined the Women’s Land Army to work in agriculture and replace the men called up for fighting, and others learned to drive ambulances and work heavy industrial machinery. Families were encouraged through the Dig for Victory campaign to transform their gardens into mini-allotments to increase self-sufficiency in food supplies.

There were serious shortages of petrol and rationing of foodstuffs and other essential items, and a lucrative black market. Windows on all buildings had to be blacked out at night to avoid assisting German navigation during air raids. There was heavy bombing, great loss of housing and factories, and heavy human casualties caused by air raids. Children went to school carrying gas masks in case chemical bombs were dropped. Many children were evacuated to the country from large cities and heavy industrial centres which were prize targets for German bombers.

People danced in the streets on the 8th of May 1945 – VE (Victory over Europe) Day – though many men were still engaged in fighting in the Far East or interred as prisoners of war in Japanese prison camps. The war finally ended on the 14th of August.


Impacts of the war on Lancaster and St Thomas’

Stephen Constantine and Alan Warde (2001) describe the impact of the war on Lancaster.

Reservists were called up, initially to Bowerham Barracks, air raid wardens and fire watchers were appointed and the Royal Observer Corps took over Lancaster Castle. Brick air raid shelters were built for self-defence, and trench shelters were dug in parks and playing fields. Ripley Orphanage became an Army training centre.

Local industry contributed directly to the war effort – Waring and Gillows was involved in making aircraft, tents and camouflage netting; Storeys made black-out fabric, gas capes and waterproofs; Williamsons made munitions; and Armstrong-Siddeley moved some of their operations for making aircraft components from heavily-bombed Coventry to Lancaster, taking over Queen’s Mill on Queen Street. Scrap metal was collected for the war effort, including the railings and gates around Williamson Park. More allotments were created through the Dig for Victory campaign and school playing fields were given over the food production.

Many local women were involved in Red Cross work, including providing aid for troops in transit. Others were employed in the Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps that was based in Lancaster during the war.

By good fortune of location Lancaster was relatively safe from enemy air raids compared to most cities and industrial areas, and it became a centre for evacuees, which created a need to find housing and arrange schooling for working-class children. Most of the early arrivals came from Salford, but they were joined later by children from Barrow, South Shields and London. Both Grammar Schools had to share their classes and facilities with groups evacuated from elsewhere, including Salford Grammar School, in a two-shift system.

The impacts of war were soon felt in St Thomas’. The Vicar told the PCC meeting held on the 1st of December 1939 that “the Police had tested the Chancel lighting but could not agree to the holding of the early service on Christmas Day without some sort of effective screening, which they thought could be satisfactorily arranged [probably by attaching ‘funnel screens’ to the lights].” There is no record of whether or not the early service was held as hoped.

Within months the need for the church to be flexible in coping with uncertainty was becoming apparent. At the Annual Church Meeting in April 1940 the Vicar “referred to the very difficult time which all the churches had experienced during the past autumn and winter, owing to the war and the ‘black-out,’ and the disorganisation caused thereby. This was intensified by the abnormal severity of the weather and widespread sickness. The Lancaster Deanery Crusade had necessarily been postponed. He also referred to the great popularity of the United Services in the Odeon Cinema, and later on at the Town Hall. He said the greatest need of the Church was a real spiritual revival.”

Inter-church co-operation increased, not just through the United Services but by the sharing of facilities. In July 1940 PCC agreed to allow the Baptist Church to hire the St Thomas’ Parish Hall on certain nights during the winter for some events while their hall was being used as a Soldiers’ Canteen.

The war also created workload problems for St Thomas’, leading the Vicar to comment to PCC in April 1942 on “the increasing difficulties in the work of the Church – many men of the congregation away and many occupied as Homeguards etc.”

Coping with the ‘black-out’ constraints proved a lasting challenge. In July 1940 the PCC agreed to hold evensong in the afternoon during the dark winter months, to make it easier for people to get to church.

With the ever-present danger of enemy air raids came the risk of fire spreading rapidly across the town, and the minutes of the February 1941 PCC meeting note that discussions were then under way about a fire watching scheme to cover the church and school buildings, the costs of which would be partly met by tradesmen with premises near St Thomas’. The Authorities subsequently approved the scheme, and the Vicar told PCC in early May that the church had been “properly watched” since the beginning of March. The fire watching scheme (which had always been voluntary rather than compulsory) was to be short-lasting, because in May 1942 PCC agreed to discontinue it, presumably after reviewing the nature of the risk.

Although Lancaster was not an obvious target for enemy bombers, nothing could be taken for granted. PCC gave careful thought to the question of insuring the church and school buildings. In May 1941 it discussed a pamphlet issued by the Government which described the ‘War Damages Act 1941 Churches and Church Halls’, and agreed to insure “movable furniture” in the church to the value of £300 [£11,600].

St Thomas’ and its parish appear to have suffered no direct damage during the war, but many other churches elsewhere were not so fortunate. In December 1940 the Bishop of Blackburn set up a Fund for War Stricken Parishes and appealed for each parish in the Diocese to contribute not less than five percent of the total church expenses to it, the money to be invested in War Bonds for the duration of the War. PCC agreed to do that at its meeting in February 1941.

At the Annual Church Meeting in April 1941 the Vicar said that

although the war clouds were bigger they were not darker than at this time last year. He likened Germany to Napoleon and said he firmly believed that we should certainly triumph in the end. After expressing sympathy with all church people – ministers and congregations – who had lost their Churches through enemy action, he said how thankful we were to have been spared. Mention was made of the Bishop’s Appeal for Bombed Churches to which we had agreed to contribute. Thanks to the Free Will Offering Scheme church collections have been well maintained, although congregations have been somewhat smaller and the Vicar thought a spiritual revival was needed.”

The boundary of the church site had long been marked by metal railings, certainly on the Penny Street (west) and Thurnham Street (north) sides. In December 1941 the Vicar asked PCC “whether the Council would like to offer the railings facing Penny Street as national salvage. He merely asked the question without suggesting that the railings should be offered. In view of the likeliness of the front of the Church being made untidy or damaged it was decided not to make such an offer.”

Some months later the church received a typewritten letter from the Ministry of Works (archived in the Public Record Office in Preston) reporting that metal from railings, gates, and/or graves, had “been scheduled for removal, under the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939” and emphasising “the Country’s need for metal is greater now than ever before”. The government scheme involved requisitioning all railings, gates and grave railings unless

their removal would endanger life. … would allow cattle, etc. to start out from grazing lands. … they are of outstanding artistic merit or historic interest, and their retention has been approved by the Panel Architect appointed by this Ministry. … [for gates] If their removal would constitute the only break in the boundary. … [for grave railings] If the relatives of the deceased, or the Church authorities, specifically desire their retention.”

The church was given the right to appeal against the requisitioning, and if so to advise the Ministry of the grounds on which it based its appeal, within ten days of receiving the letter.

An emergency meeting of the PCC was held on the 22nd of September 1942 to consider “a Public Notice issued by the Corporation stating that they would commence the removal of all ‘unnecessary’ iron railings after September 28th.” After the options were discussed it was agreed “to offer the inside railings only and ask for the retention of all those outside.” One PCC member regretted that “the Council, in his judgement, had not acted rather more generously. The nation was fighting for its life, and the Church should not be backward in doing all it could to help.”

The following month the Vicar told PCC that he had received a letter from the Ministry of Works stating that the reasons they had given for retaining the railings around the church did not apply. In January 1943 PCC was told that the Vicar and Churchwardens had visited the Borough Surveyor to appeal but, on learning that the government decision was final, decided not to appeal. The railings must have been removed early in 1943; they were replaced by the church in December 1953.

At the Annual Church Meeting in April 1944 Churchwarden Mr Latham drew attention to a Government publication ‘Spiritual Issues of the War’ which was distributed weekly in Britain between 1942 and 1945 and gave an account of Christian work among the Army, Navy and Air Force. Latham talked about the ‘Padre’s Hour’ sessions which were largely attended, and said he hoped the Church would be able to satisfy those men on their return.

The Vicar spoke of the need “to extend the sympathies of the Church to the families of those who were prisoners of war” and reported that four shillings [£7] had been sent at Christmas to each member of the Forces connected with St Thomas’.

The Vicar said “there was too much speculation … on what the world would be like after the war. He could not see a near end to the war. The Church must just ‘carry on’.” Looking back over the year, Mr Latham said “the Church for the past year had ‘carried on’, to say more than that would not be justified. To carry on was, in his opinion, a fine motto; he did not think, considering the times, that from a human standpoint the church could be expected to do more.” This was another “keep calm and carry on” moment for St Thomas!

As the war dragged on thoughts started to turn to when hostilities might come to an end and how to cope with the aftermath of it. The church at large would face the challenge of deciding how best to serve and support the many people who had suffered during the war. The Vicar convened a special meeting of PCC on the 13th of June 1944, at the request of the Bishop of Blackburn, “to discuss ways and means of engaging the interest of young men and women in the Forces in the work of the Church and parish in which they lived, this being done with the hope that interest so fostered would bear fruit after the war – that the young people would become partakers in the church’s affairs.” PCC agreed to call a general meeting of the Congregation in order to enlist their help the visiting required by the proposed scheme. PCC agreed that “as it was a matter of some urgency, visiting ought to begin at once.”

Britain’s involvement in the war drew to a close on the 7th of May 1945 when Germany surrendered to the allied forces. On the 19th of June the Government began demobilising the many men who had been called up and the women who had voluntarily joined up.

The Vicar was pleased to report to the Annual Church Meeting on the 1stof May 1945 that “all members of the Church who had been held as prisoners of war in the Far East had returned except one, who had died as a result of an accident, we were very thankful for this, and only hoped that the health of one of them, Albert Hayle, would improve.” He reminded those present that

this was the first Annual Church Meeting since the end of the war, and that we were intensely grateful to God for His mercies during that dreadful period. He emphasised the great importance of church attendance, adding that the constant gathering together of Christians for fellowship and worship was a powerful testimony to God and the Kingdom of God. Church Services were in the nature of an advertisement for the Christian life and, as such, should be the best possible advertisement.”

The minutes of the PCC meeting held on the 3rd of October 1945 note that a request from the Church of England for contributions towards a £100,000 [£3.35 million] fund for reconstruction work within the Anglican Church in China was discussed, but there is no record of how PCC responded.

The Vicar told the December PCC meeting that year that plans would be made to hold a Social Evening for returned soldiers in October 1946.

There is no mention in minutes of church meetings of any plans to erect a memorial in church to those who died in the war. This is perhaps surprising given the careful thought given to the most appropriate form of war memorial after World War I.


Post-war changes

As church historian Paul Welsby (1984 p.3) puts it, a new post-war optimism

tempered by the huge task of rebuilding infrastructure and the economy, to say nothing about broken lives, would pose a serious challenge for the Church of England. When Geoffrey Fisher was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury in April 1945, he pointed out that ‘there is now a whole demon-ridden world to be reordered and everything of stability and high purpose which man can find will be needed for the task.’ [As well as the spiritual challenge this involved, it put a heavy toll on church finances.] In February 1945 the Church Assembly had accepted on behalf of the Church of England the responsibility of contributing £250,000 [around £8.4 million today] towards the national appeal for £1 million [£33.5 million], the sum to be divided between the dioceses. Church people were urged to regard this not primarily as a financial contribution but as a gesture of brotherhood and solidarity between Christians in Great Britain and those on the Continent. The money was used for training ordinands and for ministering to prisoners of war.”

Post-war Britain witnessed a growth in central control by a government convinced of the need for social planning and social justice. Thus, for example, legislation was introduced to nationalise the Bank of England, and the gas, electricity, coal and transport industries.

Other far-reaching legislation included the Education Act (1944) and the National Insurance Act (1946), which created a comprehensive ‘cradle to grave’ scheme for all people which covered maternity, sickness, unemployment, retirement, and death. Even more important was the National Health Service Act (1946) which provided a free medical service for all and nationalised the hospital system.

Post-war recovery was slower than many had hoped for – austerity and rationing continued until 1954, dissatisfaction with the nationalisation programme fuelled industrial unrest and led to power cuts and coal rationing during the 1947-48 winter, and there was a disruptive and costly dock strike in 1948.

The church was not insulated from these social-economic pressures, and despite a slight increase in church attendance at the end of the war church membership continued to decline, along with church income and influence. The voice of the church in politics and society was dimming, as was the church’s traditional role as a moral compass for the country. As Paul Welsby (1984 pp.44-45) has pointed out -

the effect of Darwin on popular thought, the misunderstanding of the results of biblical criticism and the comparative study of religion had caused a breakdown in traditional belief. The democratic fashion that everybody’s opinion was of equal weight in religious questions prompted suspicion of authority. Reaction to the widespread suffering in two world wars, faith in the power of social engineering, science, and technology to improve life, a break-up of old communities and the displacement of masses of people into new urban settings, all contributed to a weakening of the hold of religion on the nation.”



There was no Curate in place when Samuel Latham took over as Vicar, and there hadn’t been during the incumbency of his predecessor Edwin Towndrow. When Latham arrived in 1929 the church had been without a Curate for eleven years.

There was a long discussion at PCC in November 1933 about a bequest of £1,000 [£54,500] “made some years ago [by Miss Woods] to partially pay the income of a Curate”, after which the Vicar said “it was most unlikely that a Curate would be appointed in the future, at least for some time.” That “some time” would turn out to be nearly three decades, because the next Curate was not appointed until May 1961.


Blackburn Cathedral

The Diocese of Blackburn was founded in 1926, and at the same time the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Blackburn was raised to cathedral status. Eight years later, in 1934, the Blackburn Cathedral Scheme was launched to raise the estimated £200,000 [£11 million] required to enlarge St Mary’s into a fully-fledged cathedral. The former parish church now forms the nave of Blackburn Cathedral.

PCC discussed the Cathedral Scheme in May 1935 and agreed that “a Special Appeal Day be appointed for the reception of gifts for [it]. … The date suggested was May 17th. The Secretary reported the receipt of 100 tickets to be sold at 6d. [£1.35] each for the meeting to be held in The Ashton Hall on February 14th …”

Over the next few years PCC returned to the Scheme and how to fund it on numerous occasions. In May 1935 it agreed to change the date of the Gift Day to the 21st of June; the Scheme was discussed again in December 1935; in March 1936 PCC delegated to the Churchwardens responsibility to respond to a letter from the Secretary of the Deanery Cathedral Building Fund asking every parish to give the collection on every 5th Sunday in any month.

In November 1937 PCC agreed to hold a Cathedral Sunday collection on the first Sunday in December, after the Bishop of Blackburn had appealed for £35,000 [£1.76 million] in the next twelve to eighteen months to enable building work to continue. In February 1938 PCC was told that St Thomas’ had been asked to contribute £400 [£20,000] over the next three years.

The Cathedral Scheme must have raised enough money to at least begin the Cathedral building project, because the Vicar was able to tell PCC in May 1938 that the Duchess of Gloucester was to lay a foundation stone on the 13th of October “when she would also be prepared to receive gifts to the Fund of £5 [£250] upwards.”

In October 1944, after being told about the Bishop of Blackburn’s appeal to raise £270,000 [£9.2 million] over the next ten years, the PCC agreed to increase its annual £30 [£1,000] contribution to the Diocese.


Centenary celebrations (1947)

St Thomas’ was opened on the 14th of April 1841 and consecrated on the 14th of June that year, so 1941 would mark the centenary of the church.

Looking ahead to that auspicious occasion, the Vicar told PCC in March 1939 that he “felt that some sort of ceremony should mark the occasion. The Vicar suggested a week’s celebration that should include two Sundays, and thought it would be nice if we could persuade the Bishop to take one Sunday. The idea of opening a Centenary Fund was discussed.” The outbreak of hostilities in September 1939 put paid to those plans and any thought of celebrating the centenary had to be put on hold until after the war.

PCC could eventually return to the matter in August 1946, when it was agreed that the delayed centenary should be observed between the 8thand the 15th of June 1947. Various ways of observing it were considered, including a Garden Party, a Sale of Work by the Women’s Organisations, an evening Social Gathering, a Procession of Church Organisations, an Open Air Meeting, a Week-night Service (“preferably musical”), and a Children’s Party. As the date drew closer, given the tired appearance of the church exterior, an Emergency Meeting of the PCC held on the 11th of May 1947 agreed that “the outside of the Church and the Notice Board [should] be painted for the Centenary” at an estimated cost of £24 10s. [£725].

A copy of the Programme for the Centenary Celebrations 1841-1941, signed in blue ink by Samuel Latham the Vicar, is archived in the Lancaster Library Local Studies Collection, and it shows what the celebrations involved. They ran from Sunday the 8th to Sunday the 15th of June, as agreed by PCC the previous August.

There were four services in church on the first Sunday – Holy Communion at 8.00 am, followed at 10.30 am by Morning Prayer and Holy Communion, at which the Bishop of Lancaster preached; in the afternoon the Vicar preached at a Children’s and Young People’s Service at 2.30 pm, and there was Evening Prayer starting at 6.30 pm at which the Bishop of Blackburn preached.

A service for Day School Children was held in the church on the Tuesday morning, and between 6.00 pm and 9.00 pm on the Wednesday a Garden Party was held in Mr Loxam’s Field on Aldcliffe Road, opposite the Parish Hall.

On the Thursday evening there was Choral Evensong in church. On the closing Sunday Holy Communion was celebrated at 8 am, followed by Morning Prayer at 10.30 am (at which a Rev W.G. Swainson preached), and Evening Prayer and Holy Communion (at which Rev T.G. Mohan, Secretary of the Church Pastoral Aid Society preached).

Looking back on the centenary celebrations nearly a year later, the Vicar told the Annual Church Meeting in April 1948 that he thought they “had been very happy and successful, and most helpful to the life of the Church.” He reported that a total of £290 [about £8,000], including proceeds from a sale which were spent on robbing the choir.

In the Programme the Vicar described the need for further investment in the church buildings, even though some renovation work had recently been completed. He wrote (Latham 1947) that the church

is still in need of rather costly material improvements, and a Centenary Appeal for £500 [£14,800] is now made towards meeting part of the cost of these. The spire badly requires re-pointing; something should be done for the church bells; the seats should be carpeted and kneelers provided. Besides these, it is urgently necessary to provide far better equipment for youth work than we possess at present; the ground round the church should be asphalted, and our Parish Hall needs re-decorating. £500 will not, of course, cover the total cost of these, but it will enable some of the work to be undertaken. … Quite recently the Women’s Guild made the splendid offer to meet the cost of robbing the lady choristers, which was most gratefully accepted by the Church Council. The order was given, and it is hoped that the ladies will be robed in time for the Centenary Services.”

The Vicar also wrote about changing attitudes towards church, and emphasised the key challenges the church was then facing, noting that

St. Thomas’ was built in the days when it was considered ‘the proper thing’ to attend church on Sundays. Services were never shortened and children compulsorily received many hours of religious instruction every Sunday. The Church of England was not ‘dead’ in the early years of last century, as has sometimes been erroneously supposed. On the contrary, it was very much alive. New dioceses were formed and many new churches were built. The education of poor children was begun through the noble efforts of the National Society and the Society of Friends. The Church Pastoral Aid Society and a number of other Christian societies were formed during this period. Further, what is of supreme importance, missionary work abroad made great progress at the same time. For many years St. Thomas’ was, and happily still is, to the fore, in this, the greatest work of the Christian Church. In its early years the income of the Benefice of St. Thomas’ was largely derived from pew rents (these were abolished about 1935) and there was a ‘waiting list’ of those desirous of renting sittings. Today, as we all know, things are very different. Sunday has largely become a day of pleasure, and for a growing number, a day of work. Sunday is becoming like any other day. Vast numbers of people are without any definite religious or moral beliefs, and as an inevitable result our former standards of what is right and wrong are collapsing. Our nation is adrift.” (Latham 1947)

In terms of challenges, the Vicar wrote that

our greatest need is to recover the belief in the reality of God, and that we are responsible to Him, and to His laws. Only so can we recover and hold fast all that was best in our character and as individuals. The Christian Church must take its stand on the revelation of God and His will given in the Bible and in our Lord Jesus Christ. England must return to God or she will perish, which, may God forbid! Today the church in England, and that includes St. Thomas’, is faced with the task of seeking to win our people back to faith in God and His Christ. St. Thomas’ has always, thank God, stood for an Evangelical ministry, the proclamation of God’s redeeming and saving love through Jesus Christ. All who do not attend any other church are earnestly invited to St. Thomas’, where the services are truly ‘popular’ in character, as Church of England services should be, i.e., services in which all can join and take part. The times in which we live are dangerous and highly critical. Opportunity may be short. Every sincere worshipper in church helps not only their own soul, but helps to save the soul of England, and so enable the English people to be the people and do the work in the world God clearly wills them to be and do.” (Latham 1947)

Although his final sentence smacks of early post-war patriotism and jingoism, many would argue that the essence of his message remains just as relevant today as it was then.


Parish boundary

The matter of revising the boundary of St Thomas’s parish to take into account population changes, which had been discussed by PCC briefly in 1915 and 1929, resurfaced again in 1930.

Apparently, according to the minutes of the Annual Church Meeting held in late April 1930, by then “a Commission had been held to consider the parochial boundaries in Lancaster but that the report had not yet been received.” There is no record of who set up the Commission (presumably it was the Diocese), who was on it, what form it took, or what evidence it took into account; there is also no trace of the report it eventually produced.

The Vicar had already concluded and told the meeting that “it would be necessary eventually that our own boundaries should be extended owing to the migrating population, and he thought that it would be desirable that we should take in small portions of Christ Church, St Paul’s and St Mary’s parishes.”

The Commission would take some time to produce its report and recommendations. The Vicar could only tell the Annual Church Meeting the following March that it “had not yet come to any decision but he hoped by the time our next annual meeting took place that the boundaries of our parish would have been considerably enlarged.” Meanwhile the migration of people from the town centre parish out to the growing suburbs continued, and the Vicar advised the meeting that “our congregations had been much smaller recently as compared with the past few months before Christmas, and [he] said that the collections had also fallen off.”

The next Annual Church Meeting, in April 1932, heard that “the question of the extension of the boundaries of our parish was still in abeyance, [although] the Bishop favoured the extension, principally towards Scotforth, and was now negotiating with Mr Birney [Vicar at St Paul’s] with that end in view. The number of people in the Parish is at present 2,200.” In 1851 there were 3,285 people living within the parish; within eighty years the population had fallen by a third.

By early 1933 the Commission had concluded its work and reached its conclusions. The Vicar told the Annual Church Meeting in April 1933 that

after being sealed by the Privy Council, the boundaries would extend as follows: Mr Johnson’s Farm in South Road and a corresponding distance in Ashton Road on the East side only. Opposite Johnson’s Farm in South Road, the boundary would take in the late Miss Wearing’s house (Parkfield) taking in on its way Springfield Terrace, Springfield Street and Meadowside.”

The revised parish boundary came into effect in 1933.


Church relocation

The Vicar and his flock might have heaved a sigh of relief that eventually, after a long period of uncertainty, St Thomas’ now looked like it had a viable parish that would give the church sufficient parishioners and income to ensure it would survive. But that would not be the end of the matter; hopes would be dashed when it became clear that a sustainable future in that location could not be guaranteed.

Matters came to a head on the 17th of June 1937, when the Vicar drew the attention of PCC to “the possibility of the removal of the Church to a site in the Bowerham district. A long discussion took place, and there was no fundamental objection raised at the meeting, but it was decided to leave the matter over until Tuesday 22nd June 1937 at 7.30 pm, when another meeting would be held to give further consideration to the matter.”

The Vicar opened the discussion on the 22nd, “explaining fully his conversation with Bishop Pollard and the meeting of the Bishop, Churchwardens and himself. He also said that the Bishop of Blackburn, who said the legal aspect presented no difficulties, was in favour of removal. The Vicar went on to say that this was not a matter for a hasty decision, and he asked that careful consideration be given to it.”

Various objections occurred to him, he said, including “the question – Would the Church of St Thomas’ be forgotten if removed? Again, there would be considerable difficulty, on the part of at least 24 regular attenders, in attending at all if the Church were removed to Bowerham, and also would it damage the Evangelical cause?” He could see some benefits of moving to Bowerham, including “the fact that the resident population was gradually decreasing in the Parish and it was thought that in time – 25 years being mentioned by Bishop Pollard – St Thomas’ would be in very real danger of becoming redundant.”

Amongst the points raised in favour of moving were the fact that only about eleven percent of the congregation lived in the parish; a new parish in a growing suburb would probably attract new members to the congregation (although that hadn’t happened at St George’s Mission on the Marsh, which was surrounded by new houses); the number of children in the Sunday School was steadily declining and there should be more scope in another part of town.

The Vicar drew attention to the large number of churches in or around the town centre – St John’s, St Anne’s and the many Nonconformist chapels – which were all competing for the rapidly decreasing population. He pointed out that St Anne’s was then in danger of being closed down, although it would in fact survive a further three decades. One PCC member argued that “to remove would help us to sow the seed amongst children. All we had to do was go where there were children and to train them to become church-minded.” Another said that “he considered this to be a great opportunity, and hoped we would grasp it before someone else stepped in.”

Many PCC members spoke against moving. According to the minutes of the meeting “Mr Wrathall was very satisfied with the present position of things and pointed out that St Thomas’ today is in a favourable position in every way compared with other churches in the city, and he thought removal to a new site would be rather a dangerous experiment.”

Several members spoke about churchmanship, one noting that “as the recognised Evangelical centre we were correctly placed at present in the centre of the city.” Another said he “thought our present central position is better for drawing Evangelicals, who, in his opinion, and not likely to be found in the Bowerham district.”

Opinions were clearly divided, and one member “suggested testing the feeling of the congregation, but the Vicar asked that the whole business be kept strictly confidential for the present. It was then decided to adjourn, the next meeting being fixed for July 15th.”

The Vicar re-opened the discussion on the 15th of July and “once more made it quite clear that the idea [of relocating the church] did not emanate from the Bishop of Lancaster, but actually arose from a complaint by the Vicar [himself] concerning the Parish boundaries.”

New arguments put forward against moving included the likely loss of regular attenders, the difficult period of the rebuild and move, the loss of a central location for the church, and uncertainty about the costs of moving and the possible impact on church finances. In favour of moving was the argument that the church’s finances were steadily getting worse, and “it was fair to assume that the very nature of our services would attract” new members. Miss Hatch declared that “much as she loved St Thomas’ and its associations, she could not bear the thought of it dying where it stood but were rather it were moved so that it might live.” A suggestion that the congregation should be consulted about the possible move was rejected, the Vicar pointing out that “it was the duty of the Council to give the Congregation a lead.”

Churchwarden Mr Trafford proposed the motion “That this meeting of St Thomas’ Church Council gives its general approval to the suggestion of the removal of the Church Parish to Bowerham, and commends the same to the support of the Congregation, but the Council reserves full right to object to any particular details which may subsequently arise.”

After further debate John Dart proposed that the motion be put to the vote, but not before the Vicar summed up by declaring that

there was no doubt that the Ecclesiastical Authorities were not, as a whole, in favour of Evangelicals, and if in the future – say 1 to 15 or 20 years – the population of our Parish had so far declined as to be practically non-existent, then he feared that our church might well be closed down. But if we removed to Bowerham, we would have a large resident population, and the future of St Thomas’ would be safe for all time to uphold the Evangelical cause, in desirable surroundings.”

The Vicar was reframing the debate as a fight for a bigger cause – Evangelicalism – rather than just protecting St Thomas’s own interests. The motion was then put to the meeting and carried unanimously.

Things moved slowly, and there is no further mention of relocation in any minutes of church meeting over the next two years. At PCC in December 1938, the Vicar re-introduced the topic by revealing the financial costs involved. He reported that “the value of our present site of 1,488 sq yards in the open market is, according to Messrs Procter and Birkbeck, approximately £1,984 [£98,800] whilst for removing and rebuilding the Church Messrs Thompson and Morris give an estimate of £11,000 [£548,000].” The Vicar concluded that, “in view of the difficulty of obtaining a suitable site it was felt that removal at the present time is impracticable.” After further discussion it was agreed that he should write to the Bishop, setting out the case for extending the existing parish rather than relocating the church to Bowerham, and seeking his help in securing that.

The minutes of the February 1939 PCC contain the rather convoluted report from the Vicar that “he had received a reply from the Bishop and although the letter was somewhat indefinite in character it was nevertheless not unsympathetic.” Two months later the Vicar told the Annual Church Meeting that “with regard to the depopulation of the Parish, the Bishop says he is not in favour of extending the present boundaries as it would mean that the population would be away from the church, but he is considering the situation very carefully.”

The trail then goes cold as the war clouds gathered on the horizon and hearts and minds turned to more pressing matters. Whilst the topic disappeared from sight, it did not go away completely; soon after the war it would re-surface and continue to create uncertainty for the church and its people.



The church finances were in a sound state during the first few years of Samuel Latham’s incumbency. In 1929 the Church Levy to the Diocese increased from £28 [£1,300] to £31 [£1,470] a year, but the Treasurer was able to report to the Annual Church Meeting in April 1930 that the accounts “were again in a satisfactory condition, though the Parish Hall Fund needed special attention.” In May 1930 the PCC was told that the insured value of the church had been increased from £15,000 [£740,000] to £20,000 [£986,000].

But the “satisfactory condition” was to be short-lived, because the following November (1931) the Treasurer told the Finance Committee that

the Church Finances were not in a healthy condition, and that he anticipated we should be considerably behind at the end of the year. He estimated that we should need the sum of £76 14s. [£4,000] to clear us to the end of the year, and in that sum was included £14 [£735] for the Parish Hall. He thought the collections from now on would probably amount to about £23 [£1,200], which would leave a deficit of roughly £50 [£2,600]. After discussion it was decided to make a special appeal to all on the Electoral Roll for donations to a fund with a view to clearing off the probable deficit on the Churchwardens Account at the end of the year, and it was left to the Vicar and Wardens to draw up a suitable letter.”

This financial warning came at the time when plans were being made for changing the inside of the church, installing a new organ and building a Choir Vestry, which suggests that the leadership’s ambitions were running ahead of their ability to pay for them. It also contained a salutary reminder that the Parish Hall had always been a financial drain on the church, never fully covering its own costs (maintenance, cleaning, decorating and repair).

Between 1930 and 1936 total annual income rose from £477 [£23,000] to £354 [£19,785], while expenditure rose from £471 [£23,200] to £354 [£19,785]. Between 1930 and 1948, the balance on the annual accounts rose from £6 [£300] to £95 [£2,600].

Income was lower in 1932 than in the previous two years, and the Treasurer’s warning was taken seriously. At the October 1932 PCC meeting the Vicar “spoke of the poor state of the finances of the Church and suggested some ways of augmenting the funds, such as a Free Will offering scheme, a Gift Sunday or taking outside objects, but there was no definite support for any of these schemes.” He said that the Organ Rebuilding Scheme would probably have a deficit of £300 [£16,200] and the Churchwardens Account a deficit of £30 [£1,600], and “the Parish Hall was in need of help.”

A Sale of Work that December helped greatly, and in late February 1933 the Treasurer was able to tell PCC that the Churchwardens Account then had a balance of £40 2s. [£2,180] and the Parish Hall Account a balance of £41 19s. [£2,280].  As we shall see, a major conversion project was carried out inside the church between 1932 and 1933, which must have placed a particular burden on the accounts even though some members of the congregation were extremely generous in their giving at this time.

The biennial Sale of Work in December 1932 had saved the day, as previous ones had done over many years. Another sale in 1934 raised about £8 7s. [£450]. One at the end of January 1937 raised around £124 [£6,200] “in aid of Missionary funds and a percentage for Parish expenses”, with £60 [£3,000] going to the Church Missionary Society and £25 [£1,260] to the Church Pastoral Aid Society. A sale in February 1939 raised £150 [£7,250], of which £15 (£725) went to the Blackburn Cathedral Fund, £80 [£3,800] to the Church Fund and £55 [£2,700] to the Missions Fund. The late 1945 sale raised £51 12s. [£1,700], of which £10 [£330] was donated to the ‘Aid to China Fund’ and £40 [£1,340] went on the Diocesan Quota.

The Vicar was able to tell the Annual Church Meeting in April 1934 that “we were free from debt, but that probably it was a good thing for the Church to be in debt. Money after all was not the most important phase of the Church.”

The church might have been free from debt but the financial situation remained precarious. In October 1934 PCC discussed “how an increase in the funds not only of the Parish Hall but also of the Church organisations generally could be brought about”, after which it was agreed to once again hold a ‘Bring and Buy Sale’ on the 10th of December in the School.

But disquiet continued, and the Treasurer insisted to PCC in January 1935 that

“the constant appeals for outside objects [collections for Christian organisations and activities] had a very serious effect on the giving by the congregation to the Church Expenses Account and [he] stated that unless the collections increased considerably a sum of between £30 [£1,600] and £40 [£2,170] would be needed to balance the 1935 accounts.”

PCC agreed to hold a Special Appeal Day on the 17th of May in support of the Blackburn Cathedral Scheme.

The decision in 1934 by PCC to abolish pew rents was a bold one, given that they were then raising around £44 [£2,400] a year towards the running costs of the church. PCC approved the change in the hope that “seat holders would pay all or part of the amount of their previous rent to the Churchwardens to augment the collections.” This turned out to be a rather optimistic view, because the annual income fell by around £90 [£5,000] in 1935 and 1936 compared with 1934, although expenditure was trimmed back accordingly in order to balance the books.

The information given about the accounts in minutes of church meetings becomes patchy after 1936. No figures are available for the period 1937-40, and only balances are available for 1940-48.

The question of increasing income continued to challenge the church leadership. The Treasurer reported to PCC in February 1938 that, once again, “the church finances were in a rather unsatisfactory state.” PCC did not support the Vicar’s suggestion of a Gift Day for the benefit of the Churchwardens Fund but it agreed “that envelopes should be provided for irregular or non-attenders who would like to give their ‘collection’ each week.” In February 1939 PCC discussed ways of raising money other than by Sales of Work, and agreed to set up a committee to consider the possibility of “trying to get a certain number of worshippers to promise a regular weekly subscription”.

In March 1939 PCC approved an ‘Envelope System’ for regular giving, and one member asked “if it was possible to discontinue the practice of taking Retiring Collections, but the Vicar said he did not think they were altogether unpopular and pointed out that very few were taken in a year.”

World War II inevitably had an impact on church finances, because family incomes were down, costs were up, budgets were stretched, and minds were on more pressing things. The Treasurer told the Annual Church Meeting in April 1940 that

the usual income had almost ceased, owing to war-time conditions, whilst the expenses had been not much less than hitherto; in addition, a number of repairs had been executed. He further reported that the fabric of the Church was in good condition, with the exception of the bells and heating apparatus.”

Income and expenditure figures for the war years are not given in the minutes of church meetings, but with careful financial planning it was possible to build up healthy balances in 1943 and 1945 (no figures are available for 1944).

Despite the distraction of the war, the congregation at St Thomas’ continued to give generously both to the church and for ‘outside objects’. We see this, for example, in the budget that PCC agreed in January 1943, which approved a large number of special collections to be taken over the year ahead. Collections for internal use covered the Easter Offering (a gift to the Vicar), Parish Hall, Day School, Sunday School, Choir Fund, Sick and Poor Fund, General Purposes Fund, and the Fabric Fund. Collections for ‘outside objects’ covered the National Society, Queen Victoria Clergy Fund, the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS), National Assembly, Diocesan Fund, British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS), Church Missionary Society (CMS), Church Missions to Jews (CMJ) and the Commonwealth and Continental Church Society (now the Intercontinental Church Society).

By then St Thomas’ had a long history of generous giving to “outside objects”, which continues today. For example, in December 1938 PCC agreed to donate the retiring collections on Christmas Day to The Church of England Refugee Fund, for which the Archbishops of Canterbury and York were appealing for £50,000 [£2.5 million] “for relief work amongst the Non Aryan Christians in Europe, including 105,000 children.”

PCC minutes record Missionary Gift Days in 1942 and 1943 in support of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), which received 80 percent of the revenue, and the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS) which received the rest. Proceeds of a Missionary Gift Day in 1945 were split between CMS (50 percent), CPAS (25 percent) and the church (25 percent).

Some church activities made their own arrangements to generate income. For example, a Day School Festival was held on the 17th of November 1946 and raised about £18 [£580] for the Day School.

The Vicar’s personal financial situation was not forgotten about. His stipend in 1946 was £456 [£14,750], and in May the PCC was told about the so-called ‘K’ scheme, which was “the wish of the Bishops of the Church of England to bring all incumbents’ salaries up to £500 [£16,200] per year. The parish raised half the necessary increase and the Diocese, out of the increased Diocesan quotas, provided the other half.”

The church finances had been challenging through most of Samuel Latham’s time, and they were still like that in his last few years. The Treasurer told PCC in April 1947 that “the balance in hand [£25; £750] was rather low, that we were in fact in a parlous condition, and he hoped that the Centenary celebrations would help matters.”


Church fabric


Church renovation project

A major project for converting the church interior to make it better fit for purpose was launched early in 1931. This involved removing part of one Gallery to install the new organ, and building a Choir Vestry.

Minutes of a meeting of the Finance Committee held on the 29th of May 1931 show the estimated costs, which were £180 [£9,500] to remove the portion of the Gallery for the organ and Vestry, and £140 [£7,400] for the entire removal of the side galleries, “which had been suggested”. It was also recommended “that the Church be cleaned and decorated after the alterations, but not necessarily the Chancel.” There was also an initial discussion about what sort of organ to buy – a two manual or three manual one – but no decision was reached. In June the PCC agreed to appoint an architect for the work, and “that plans be obtained for the whole scheme, the removal of the Galleries, the construction of a Choir Vestry, with the necessary panelling on the opposite side.”

The question of how to significantly increase the Organ Fund was discussed. PCC considered holding a fund-raising Garden Party but decided upon another Sale of Work; the minutes record that PCC agreed that the Ladies’ Working Party be asked to consider the matter.”

Mr C.B. Pearson was appointed architect for the scheme and he presented his initial plans to the PCC on the 17th of July 1931. He offered three schemes for them to consider, each involving erecting a new organ chamber off the chancel to the south side at a cost of £500 [£26,250]. PCC asked him to prepare another plan “providing for the organ to be built inside the church on the south side and on the present site of the Font.” The architect reported back to PCC in September with the additional plan. This involved completely removing the Galleries and locating the organ on the wall on the south side, as requested, with a two-storey Vestry opposite. The estimated cost was £1,615[£84,800], including £150 [£7,900] for redecoration.

Two key matters were discussed at the September meeting – whether to remove all or just part of the Gallery, and on which side of the church it would be best to install the organ. PCC agreed that “the Galleries should not be removed except that part necessary for the erection of the organ and possibly the Vestry.” At this stage the preferred location of the Choir Vestry was beneath the Gallery, rather than a new-build extension, and PCC gave provisional approval to this, “subject to amendment in the future if thought necessary.”

In terms of the best location for the organ, the south side of church was not favoured “owing to the Sun’s rays pouring upon it” and “eventually the meeting decided that the organ be built on the North side, East end of the Church.” The organ was installed there, and only the portion of the Gallery needed to create space for it was removed.

Planning for the scheme continued, and in July 1932 PCC accepted estimates for work on the organ, removal of that section of the gallery, and cleaning and decorating the church afterwards. It also received estimates for installing a new lighting system in church but agreed “to get the Corporation Electrician’s Department to send a representative to advise us as to the best method of lighting the Church.” The Council agreed “to apply for a faculty for the removal and rebuilding of the Organ, cutting away of the Gallery, the removal and refixing of the Font, removal of memorial tablets, and the new scheme of electric lighting” but also agreed “that we do not start the work until we have some definite idea of how the balance of the money is to be raised.”

The faculty for the conversion work, dated the 21st of November 1932, seeks permission

To remove the Organ from the West End Gallery and to re-build same at the North East Aisle in the body of the Church, to cut away the Gallery and to remove certain seats in connection with this scheme, to form a new Platform in the Gallery with seating where the Organ has been removed, the old seating being transferred. To remove the Font from the South East corner of the Church and two seats in order to provide space for a Choir Vestry, to remove two seats from the South West Aisle to provide space for the Font. Also to re-decorate the Walls and Ceilings of the Church. This proposed work will cause the removal and reduction of the Seating accommodation of the Church by about 60 sittings. And it will also be necessary to remove three Memorial Tablets from the Walls which will be either placed in the Chancel or in the Body of the Church.”

The location of the Choir Vestry continued to exercise minds until the PCC agreed on the 9th of December 1932 “that it should be placed in the space in the West End Gallery [now the upstairs lounge in church] caused by the removal of the Organ, and further that the Font be not moved.”

When PCC met again two weeks later, on the 21st of December, the Vicar announced that “since the passing of the resolution at our last meeting about the position of the Choir Vestry, he had received an anonymous offer of £200 [£10,800] if the Vestry should be built in the Churchyard at the South East corner of the Church adjoining the present building [where it is today, creating the backdoor entrance into church]. This offer was conditional on its being acceptable to Church and Council Members and uniting all concerned.” The offer was accepted with gratitude. This is an interesting example of the old adage that “money talks”, because the donor dictated where the Vestry should be built and made the donation conditional on their choice being accepted.

The church was closed during the first three months of 1933 for cleaning, redecorating, and alterations related to the installation of the new organ. Services were held in the Girls’ School behind church while the church was out of use.

Securing the funding required to build the Choir Vestry was a great relief to the Vicar and Churchwardens. But 1933 got off to a shaky start when the Vicar reported to PCC in February “that dry rot has been discovered beneath the Reading Desk and the Choir Stalls.” The cost of fixing that was estimated at just under £20 [£1,000].

With some relief that the project was by then completed, the Vicar reported to the Annual Church Meeting on the 20th of April 1933 that

the chief event of the Church year was the Organ rebuilding, redecorating the Church, New Choir Vestry, new Communion Table, Prayer desk and other items all now completed. All are pleased with the result and especially with the surplicing of the Choir, which lent added dignity to the Services. The Church was now more beautiful and he hoped more worshippers would attend the Services.”

He expressed his thanks to members of the congregation who had generously donated items for the refurbishment, particularly

to the very generous donor of the new Choir Vestry, to Miss Hatch for the beautiful Communion Table given as a memorial to her father and mother, to Mrs Hartley for the gift of the Prayer Desk and hassock given in memory of her father, mother and brother, to Mrs Morris for work on the new covers for the Chancel Chairs, to Mr Morris for the furnishings of the Choir Vestry, the generous donors of the new carpet who, although not worshippers at the church, had contributed the amount through Mrs Latham [the Vicar’s wife], the Scholars of the Day School for the gift of two book markers for the Lectern Bible.”

Samuel Latham was later to describe (Latham 1947) how, in 1933

the church was entirely renovated, the largest item being the complete re-building of the organ – a large and very fine instrument, but then in a deplorable condition – and the placing of it in the east end of the church. This work alone cost nearly £1,000 [£54,500]. The present choir vestry was added by the late Miss Mary Simpson [the previously anonymous donor] at a cost of some £230 [£12,500]. … the male members of the choir were surpliced at the same time. In addition, the church was completely re-decorated, and altogether a sum of £1,800 [£98,000] was raised to meet the cost of the various improvements. The church was re-opened for Divine Service, the organ and Choir Vestry dedicated, and the holy table consecrated at a crowded service on March 30th, 1933, by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.”

This project was a major achievement and no doubt greatly improved the interior of the church in the eyes of the congregation and church leaders. It had cost a lot, at a time when the church’s finances were not at their best, but it also prompted great generosity by some members of the congregation.

The fact that the project coincided with the revision of the parish boundary in 1933 must not be overlooked. Here was a church confident about its past, present and future, and willing to step out in faith and “put their money where their mouth is” by investing heavily and visibly in the church as it was and where it was.


Other building matters

Things would go quiet on the buildings front over the rest of the 1930s, until PCC started wrestling with the matter of church heating in 1940. Heating must have been a problem ten years earlier, because the minutes of the July 1929 PCC Meeting note that “the possibility of holding services in the Parish Hall during the winter months was under consideration, but no decision was arrived at.”’

PCC had a long discussion about the coal-fired heating system in April 1940 but, concluding that the problems of a cold church were partly caused by “faulty stoking”, agreed to interview Mr Hargreaves the Verger. That did not solve the problem and PCC returned to the matter the following February, discussing the benefits of different types of heating system (gas, electric and oil) and agreeing they needed to find an answer before the next winter.

In May 1941 the PCC agreed for “electric heating units to be used as auxiliary to the existing scheme”, but the Vicar announced that “he was very disappointed in the attitude of the Council towards the heating question, and he registered his strong disapproval of the Council which he considers ineffective. Thereupon the meeting came to an abrupt close.” A frosty ending to a discussion about church heating!

After the war had ended and efforts were made to restore normality as much as possible, in July 1946 the PCC agreed to install a new coal-fired boiler for the heating system in church. The church had apparently got so cold during the winter months that services had to be held in the Parish Hall. When the Vicar announced the arrival of the new church boiler and the resumption of services in the church, at the April 1947 PCC meeting, he reported that “the enforced holding of services in the Parish Hall during the winter had been disappointing in some ways, notably in a reduce attendance and a diminished collection.”

PCC also had other building matters to deal with during the 1940s. In October 1942 it was informed about problems with the church roof (water was coming in near the organ) and floor (which was sinking under the heavy framework of the new organ). In January 1943 PCC was told that repairs to the organ and organ chamber had been completed.

In July 1946 they discussed the need for linoleum floor covering for the church, but agreed to wait until better quality lino became available after the war. In May 1948 the Council thanked Miss Lund “for her gift of linoleum to the Vestry and the Parish Hall.”


Steeple and bells

The organ and steeple had three things in common – each was funded by Colin Campbell; each had become an integral part of the church; and neither had been kept in a good condition.

Repairs to the steeple were often cheap and piecemeal. In April 1930, for example, PCC was advised that “rain was getting into the spire of the Church and was falling on the bell ringers when oiling the bells, and it was suggested that a supply of peat moss should be obtained [to plug the holes].”

The bells, rung to draw worshippers into the services and to mark important civic occasions, had also caused problems in the past. Recall that in 1908 serious thought was given to replacing the bell ringers with “a chiming apparatus” to save money, and in 1923 the bells had been repaired at a cost of £13 13s. [£600].

In December 1935 the Vicar told PCC of his concerns about the state of the timber frame within which the six bells were mounted, advising that “the carriages of the bells were, in his opinion, rather shaky. Mr Churchouse [one of the Churchwardens] had taken him into the Belfry and he thought the frames were not at all firm. The Vicar asked for expert advice to be taken”.

The chosen expert was Mr John Taylor of Loughborough, whose report, dated the 16th of March 1936, is archived in the Public Record Office in Preston. It clearly spells out the nature and scale of the problem, pointing out that the bells had never been turned since they were installed in 1853

and consequently the places where the clappers have been striking on the soundbows are now becoming badly worn; it is advisable that the bells should be turned so that unworn parts of the soundbows will be brought into use. … The timbers of the frame appear to be sound but the fault lies in the dimensions of the various members and in the general construction of the frame. … we are satisfied that it would be very unwise from all points of view to attempt to rehang the peal in the existing frame …”

The timber frame was badly designed and poorly built, and the bells should have been turned to spread the wear evenly.

The report was read to the PCC in March 1936 and “after much discussion it was decided to ring only one bell for the present.”

John Taylor sent a follow-up letter on the 10th of June 1936 (archived in Public Record Office in Preston), in which he emphasised that the design and construction of the frame were so seriously flawed that it would be very difficult to “put into absolutely perfect ringing order” so they “could not bring ourselves to submit an estimate for such a scheme.” He added that “naturally we could not quote for a job which would not be eminently satisfactory in its results as this would be bad for our reputation. It would be a tragedy if you were to spend say £100 [£5,300] and find that the peal was still in an unsatisfactory order from the ringers’ point of view.”

Apparently the bells were then silenced completely for some time, on safety grounds. In November 1937 the Vicar told PCC that “he thought it a great loss having no bells. Two firms had, however, reported unfavourably on their condition.” After some debate about how safe it might be to ring them, “the Vicar thought we might try one bell only at first” and it was agreed to put one of the bell ringers in charge.


Church grounds

We hear little about the church grounds through most of its history, but they do get mentioned a few times during Samuel Latham’s time. In June 1937, for example, PCC discussed “the unsatisfactory condition of the Churchyard” and left the matter to the Vicar and Churchwardens to deal with, not before suggesting that “Mr Stephenson [the Verger] be requested to put the Churchyard in order by a certain date, failing which the Wardens would get the work done and the amount expended would be deducted from the next payment made to the Verger.”

The PCC was advised in March 1939 “that the houses in Victoria Place are to be demolished” as a result of which they decided “to hold over the Spring Cleaning of the Church for the present.”

The removal of the church railings as scrap metal to support the war effort in 1943 created the problem of how to make sure the area around church was safe, particularly against children and adults falling over high drops. The matter was discussed at PCC meetings between December 1945 and August 1946, where various solutions were considered including putting a rockery around the church frontage, planting a privet or thorn hedge at an estimated cost of £25-28 [£840-940], replacing the railings at an estimated cost of at least £100 [£3,200], building up the wall on the Marton Street side, planting yew trees along Marton Street and putting railings in front of the Church. A maximum budget for the scheme of £20 [£650] was set at the July 1946 meeting, and in August PCC agreed to lay a hedge on the Marton Street side and a netting fence fronting Penny Street.



The huge organ in the West Gallery had played an important role in church services since it was installed in 1852 by Colin Campbell.

It had served the church well, but had been costly to maintain in a good condition, and had often been neglected for long periods. It had been restored in 1883, threatened with closure on cost grounds in 1898, in need of repair in 1905, threatened with replacement in 1908, cleaned and repaired in 1909, considered for being moved downstairs in 1918, in need of repair and cleaning (or possibly removal) in 1923, and still in need of repair in 1927.

Samuel Latham found the organ in a poor state when he started at St Thomas’ in 1929. The July PCC that year discussed what to do about it and agreed to seek expert advice and the opinion of local organists “and to obtain estimates for whatever was thought to be necessary and report to the next meeting of the Council.” In November 1929 PCC agreed to accept “the recommendations of the Finance Committee that the organ be rebuilt and removed to the east end of the Church and that a fund be opened for that purpose.”

Relocating the organ soon became part of a much bigger church renovation project, which is described below. In July 1932 PCC discussed whether to have a separate console (keyboard) but favoured one built into the rebuilt organ, and agreed “that we should have a medium diapason stop added to the Organ at a cost of about £50 [£2,700], as it was stated it would be a great improvement to the instrument.” In December 1932 PCC agreed to give the contract for moving and rebuilding the organ to Jardine’s.

By the mid-1930s the harmonium, which had been bought in 1924 to provide musical support in services when the organ was badly in need of repairs, had reached the end of its life. In November 1937 PCC were told that “Mr Lord had offered to give us an American Organ and the gift was gratefully accepted … The old Harmonium being of no use it was decided to give it away.”



Although sorting out the buildings, organ and bells was a challenge, the Vicar did not neglect the services. Three matters were discussed while Latham was Vicar – Prayer Books, Communion Services, and music.

In May 1929, soon after he arrived, PCC revisited the matter of the Revised Prayer Book which they had discussed and rejected two years earlier with Edwin Towndrow in the chair. This time they agreed that “a resolution against the revision of the Prayer Book be sent to the new Member of Parliament for the division, and that, if necessary, we should co-operate with St Paul’s Church in the matter.” Fourteen years later, in July 1943, PCC agreed to buy replacement copies of the [_Book of Common Prayer _]for the Church, “the present complete ones being badly damaged”.

In March 1945 the Vicar asked PCC to consider “a suggestion emanating from the Evangelical section of the Church of England – about occasionally holding a service of Holy Communion which would bring forward and emphasise the Evangelical and Protestant view of the Holy Communion. The suggestions included the singing of hymns, the bringing of the Communion Table into the body of the Chancel, a special loaf on the Table, and a sermon on some aspect of the Holy Communion.” Two months later, displaying a new sensibility about personal hygiene, the PCC agreed with Miss Swainson who “suggested the wiping of the Cup [between uses] in the Communion Service.”

In terms of music, PCC agreed in December 1932 “that a processional hymn should be sung as the clergy and choir walk up the aisle to their stalls.” Sixteen years later, at the Annual Church Meeting in April 1948, “Mr Dart brought up for discussion the advisability or otherwise of introducing new settings to canticles. It was decided to leave this over to the next meeting.” The next meeting was in May and the suggestion was “discussed but left over to be taken up again with the new Vicar.”



The choir had long played an important role in the church services, and during Samuel Latham’s time there were various matters to deal with.

One pressing matter was exactly where in church the choir should sit. They had long been seated near the organ in the West Gallery, but by 1929 they were seated downstairs below one of the Galleries. The suitability of this location was discussed by PCC in May 1929, “the general opinion being that the seats under the Gallery occupied by the Ladies were quite unsuitable.” It was agreed “that a temporary seat be erected on either side behind the present ones for the men to occupy, the ladies to take the men’s usual position and the boys in front.”

Two years later the debate shifted to the robbing of the choir and the provision of a Choir Vestry where the robes could be kept and the choir could get dressed. PCC agreed in April 1931 that the choir should be provided with robes and a Vestry, as part of the building project for moving and rebuilding the organ (described elsewhere in this chapter). In May 1934 PCC authorised the Churchwardens “to provide a surplice or surplices and cassocks for the choir as they deemed necessary.” Many years later, in December 1946, the PCC were told that “it was the wish of the Women’s Guild to robe the ladies in the Church Choir as their contribution to the Centenary – they were willing, it was said, to bear the bigger part of the cost.” The offer was gratefully accepted.

The question of the gender balance in the choir, traditionally dominated by females, was raised at the June 1937 PCC meeting. There “the Vicar drew attention to the lack of boys in the choir, and after discussion it was suggested that the ladies sit in the stall now occupied by the boys, and the boys take the place of the ladies in the front pews. Ladies not to be robed.”


Pew rents

The issue of pew rents had been raised at the 1924 Easter Vestry Meeting, where the Vicar announced that “they were steadily working to set the church free of pew rents”.

Nine years later, in November 1933, PCC agreed with the Vicar’s hope that “if the pew rents were abolished that seat holders would pay all or part of the amount of their previous rent to the Churchwardens to augment the collections. He felt that all seats being free would be a great help to the Church.” Pew rents varied from year to year, but in 1933 they raised about £44 [£2,400].

The Vicar’s wish soon came true. Although the matter of pew rents was discussed at the PCC meeting in March 1934, with no decisions being taken, the following month the Council voted to support “the decision of the Vicar and Churchwardens of the Parish (the sanction of the Bishop of the Diocese having been given) that all Pew rents in [St Thomas’] shall be abolished and that in future all sitting shall be free and open.”

PCC also agreed to delegate to the Churchwardens the responsibility for collecting outstanding Pew Rents, the money from which would be added to the Church Expenses Fund. The Vicar agreed to “interview seatholders other than those present, with a view to the continuation of the sums previously paid as pew rents as a free will offering to the wardens for the Church Expenses Fund.” To promote the change, PCC agreed that ‘All Seats Free’ should be painted on the Notice Board outside Church, and a notice fixed over the inner door of Porch announcing ‘All seats in this Church are free.’

Whilst the Vicar felt certain that abolishing Pew Rents was the right way to go, he admitted at the Annual Church Meeting in April 1934 that

in some ways he regretted this step, because it marked the passing of a custom and tradition which had always been very dear to him, namely, family worship. He felt, however, that there would probably be more worshippers at the church now all seats were free.”

As well as widening access to church services for those who could not afford to rent a family pew, the decision would also do away with the traditional hierarchical and socially-stratified nature of seating in the church, in which families’ status and standing were displayed for all to see by where they could afford to sit.


Church socials

Two main types of social event for church members and supporters were organised during Samuel Latham’s time. During the summer months it was possible to hold garden parties outdoors, “with games and stalls etc. … to defray miscellaneous parochial expenses.” Minutes of PCC meetings indicate that these were held in early July 1932, when “the event proved successful and resulted in the sum of £14 [£750] being raised for the Churchwardens’ Funds”, and in late June 1937. Both were held in the gardens and grounds of a Miss Dawson’s house near the canal.

During the winter Congregational Tea Parties were organised inside, usually in the school building. Minutes of PCC meetings record these having been held in early December 1929, with “tickets at 9d. [£1.80] each”, and on Shrove Tuesday in 1931, which produced a profit of £8 11s. [£460], £1 [£54] of which went into the Parish Hall Fund but most (£7 11. [£406]) was handed over to the Organ Fund.


Electoral Roll

Electoral Roll numbers were reported each year at the Annual Church Meeting, and are given for many years in the minutes of those meetings.

Between 1929 and 1947 the total number of names on the roll decreased intermittently from 288 to 257, peaking at 298 in 1933. Women continued to out-number men roughly 2 to 1.

The figures become a bit patchy after about 1940, but there is no evidence of a systematic drop in numbers through the war years. Variations in total numbers from year to year reflect the net effect of deaths, movements into and out of the area, and changing demographics (only those aged eighteen and over could be included).

The number of names on the Electoral Roll gives an idea of the likely size of the congregations, but not all Pew Holders (who probably had to be listed on the Roll) attended church regularly, and it is highly likely that not all regular attenders were on the roll. Strictly speaking, a person could only be listed if they were over eighteen years of age and lived within the parish, and we saw earlier that more than half of the congregation lived outside the parish.

The church was built to seat a thousand people, but by the early 1930s it looks as though there was more than enough capacity for most of not all occasions. This is apparent from the PCC’s willingness to remove the Galleries, or part of the North Gallery and the seating beneath it (for the organ), and seating beneath part of a Gallery, in order to create a Choir Vestry there as part of the 1933 renovation scheme.


Youth work

In Samuel Latham’s time we start to see the growth of youth work at St Thomas’, and it is interesting to see the prominent role that John Dart played in raising the profile of this.

John Dart is first mentioned in the minutes of the Annual Church Meeting held on the 5th of April 1937, which record that the Vicar “welcomed Mr Dart in coming forward and taking up the work of Mr W. Pennington who had gone to live in London. [he added that] Mr Dart would be a great help and his enthusiasm for his work amongst the young people was noted.” As an aside – this is the first mention in church minutes of anyone who was still alive and attending St Thomas’ at the time of writing (2014); John was then 101 years old, and very much the revered elder statesman.

Eight years later, at the end of the war, the Vicar told the PCC in April 1945 that he

agreed with Mr Dart as to our responsibility for the young people – the young people who would become the acting and deciding generation of tomorrow – and that we should try to show them the beauty and the glory and the strength of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to make them very welcome in the Church.”

In his review of the past year, the Vicar told the Annual Church Meeting in 1948 that “one of the most encouraging features of the Church life was the Youth Fellowship”, which John Dart led.


Parish Hall

The Parish Hall in Aldcliffe Road continued to be a useful asset to the church, but at the same time it required regular maintenance and redecoration and was a drain on the finances.

In July 1930 PCC approved the painting of the outside of the timber-framed and corrugated iron clad structure; in December 1941 it agreed to install new gas heaters and repaint the interior; in March 1944 it granted the Churchwardens permission to spend up to £80 [£2,700] on the purchase of a piano rather than having to pay £2 [£68] each time one was hired for a function; and in May 1945 it approved expenditure on painting, installing ventilators in the roof, and replacing a lot of broken crockery.

Most years the income received from renting it out to non-church groups barely covered the running costs, so in November 1930 PCC agreed that “in future, if any organisation uses the Hall for any purpose such as a concert, jumble sale etc at which a profit is made, they should make a contribution towards the expenses of the Hall.”

The minutes of the May 1939 PCC meeting include an enigmatic entry about the Parish Hall. It says “acting on a report from the Parish Hall Committee, it was decided to invite members of the Tennis and Badminton Clubs to a meeting of the Parochial Church Council in order that the affairs of the clubs should be thoroughly discussed.” PCC was told at its next meeting, in late July, that “the property of the Tennis Club belongs to the members, as they claimed. … Mr Wrathall [Churchwarden] said he thought it was a pity to lose the young people, but the Vicar pointed out that the members of the club were not our people at all, excepting in one or two instances.”

Quite why “the affairs of the club” were “thoroughly discussed”, and what caused the loss of “the young people”, remain mysteries, but the Vicar’s apparent disinterest in people who “were not our people at all” is quite telling.


Outreach and mission

The scale and significance of the 1933 renovation project raises a question about the extent to which the church at this time was focussing more on plant than on people, and driven more by a concern for maintenance than for mission.

To his credit, the Vicar did emphasise to the Annual Church Meeting in April 1933 that

now that the material side of the work had been executed, the great need of more spiritual effort was essential to all. The Mission recently concluded [presumably the CMS mission in October 1932, described later] had been very helpful, and the numbers quite encouraging.”

We find two other pointers to the Vicar’s concern about the spiritual state of the church almost buried in minutes of earlier PCC meetings.

In July 1929 PCC agreed to set up a Spiritual Committee, of elected members, “to help the Vicar in spiritual matters connected with the Church”, although it is never mentioned again. That November PCC agreed “to make the Prayer Meeting on Friday November 29th of a special character for the purpose of asking divine guidance as to the decisions to be come to by the Congregation on December 4th.” The minute is rather enigmatic and exactly what “the decisions” related to remains unclear; there is no record of any meeting being held on the 4th of December that year.

Samuel Latham was something of a new broom when he arrived, bringing new ideas and priorities into St Thomas’. One of these was the importance of ministering to men and youths. We have already seen evidence of the growth of youth work. When the Vicar asked PCC in July 1929 for suggestions on work among men and youths “it was felt to be unwise to launch out in too many directions at once, but eventually it was decided … that a Men’s Class should be held once a fortnight in the Parish Hall on Sunday afternoons from 3 to 4 pm, to commence in the Autumn.”

The Vicar was also keen to grow his congregation. He emphasised to the Annual Church Meeting in April 1932 that

we needed to make the Church attractive both inside and outside. Visitors to the Church should be welcomed, and also into the life of the Parish, he asked that all should help and especially with the newly confirmed; he said we could only prosper as we all worked together.”

Two years later, at the annual meeting, he stressed “the need of increased regular attendance for divine worship.”

One way of increasing numbers is through holding missions in the parish. In July 1932 PCC proposed to hold a Church Missionary Society (CMS) mission during the last week of October 1932, but it is not mentioned again after that. The Vicar read a letter from the Bishop to PCC in July 1934 on “how best the members of St Thomas’ can help to increase the number of attendances”, and mentioned that “a special missioner was coming to conduct services during the last week in September, and hoped that all present would attend some of the meetings.” The Vicar emphasised that “the Schools belonging to St Thomas’ were a great influence and we should always try to get parents to send their girls to these schools which at present had vacant places.”

He suggested that ladies could probably do a great deal of good by regular visits to their acquaintances and by trying to interest their friends in St Thomas’ Church.” This approach was typical of the time – mission was about bringing in an outside missioner rather than a core task for the Vicar, and it was mainly women’s work.

The services that the missioner conducted in September were described in the minutes of the October 1934 PCC meeting as “the Missionary School”. A total of 32 people attended all or part of it, although it is not known how many of them were existing church members. The Vicar felt that “it has helped to enlarge their view of the church and their outlook on Christianity as a whole.”

By the mid-1930s the continued migration of families from the parish to the suburbs was taking its toll on St Thomas’. Although numbers on the Electoral Roll were holding up, income raised through collections and the number of children attending the Sunday School and the Day Schools were falling. The Vicar told the Annual Church Meeting in April 1935 that

the work of all was necessary to strengthen the Church and for the Kingdom of God. The Church Army had visited the parish and done much good, and he was sure that a spiritual blessing attended their labours. The primary duty of the Church was to get the people together for worship and to help one another.”

He pursued the same theme the following year, reporting that

St Thomas’ was holding its own as a town parish but the collections were down but they could always rely on balancing their affairs through sales of work and special efforts. … In this non-church-going era it is a call to all to rectify or remedy this defect. We ought to progress and not be satisfied that the church is holding its own.”

Talk of mission returned in December 1938, when the Vicar announced to PCC that “the Deanery have decided to hold a Crusade or Mission from October 20th to October 31st 1939. There will be one Leading Missioner but each Parish will make its own arrangements and appoint its own Missioner. Our Missioner will be Rev A.G. Lea, Vicar of Rawtenstall, who has conducted missions in China. In reply to Mr Dart the Vicar said the Mission will be Evangelistic in character, although it might be possible to hold teaching classes.” In February 1939 PCC set up a small committee, chaired by the Vicar and including both Churchwardens and four others, to oversee the arrangements for St Thomas’.

The outbreak of the war in September 1939 made it necessary to postpone the Lancaster Deanery Crusade until the beginning of May 1941, and each parish was asked to arrange its own programme to run between the 3rd and the 10th of that month. The PCC was told in December 1940 of the plan to open and close the Crusade with large public meetings in the Ashton Hall, which it was hoped would “give the Campaign something of the nature of a ‘Religion and Life’ week.” There is no further mention of the Crusade in the minutes of other church meetings in St Thomas’.

A further opportunity to reach out beyond the walls of the church was presented in 1943. The Vicar told the Annual Church Meeting in April about a United Church’s Campaign being planned in Lancaster to start “the first week in June, to last a fortnight, one week of open air meetings and one week of mass meetings in the Ashton Hall. On June 6th an interchange of pulpits was planned. It was hoped to see from this effort an increased interest in spiritual affairs.”

A similar Campaign was run before April 1944, but it is not known exactly when. Looking back on both, the Vicar advised the Annual Church Meeting in 1944 that “the first campaign … he felt had been helpful, and, outwardly, at least, had been successful. He was not so happy about the second campaign, he felt the results had been disappointing. He had been asked to take part in a third campaign this year, ‘Faith for the Times’ – it was a purely evangelistic effort and he wished it success but he did not feel led to take any active part in it. The campaign, he said, opened on the 1st May.”

By the mid-1940s, with the war still under way, church attendance declining across the country, secularism and materialism on the increase, the Church of England was facing challenges on many fronts.

In 1945 its Commission on Evangelism published a report entitled Towards the Conversion of England that, as Paul Welsby (1984 p.45) puts it, was “as much concerned with the need to strength the spiritual life of the Church itself as with reaching the unconverted”. The report deplored the influence of humanism, secular education and the scientific approach to life. It called for a renewed emphasis on evangelism in order to “present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church.”

The last we hear from Samuel Latham about mission is his statement to PCC in April 1947 that “the Christian church today was in a minority – virtually a missionary church in a pagan world. It was important that Christian witness should be strong and clear.” … although he made no suggestions about how that should happen.



There is little to report on St Thomas’ School during Samuel Latham’s time other than his report to PCC in July 1937 that “a re-organisation of Schools was to take place and that St Thomas’ would be involved.”

In 1947 he wrote in the Programme for the Centenary Celebrations 1841-1941 that “to-day the school, under the headship of Miss Fearing and a very capable staff, is a girls’ modern secondary school, and on a number of occasions has received warm praise from the Local Education Authority. … A definitely Christian and church ‘atmosphere’ is a marked feature of the school.”

Looking ahead he reported that “under the new Education Act [1944] the school will eventually be united with the Boys’ National School in a new building, to accommodate also possible borders, to be erected in the Ashton Road between Ripley buildings and the Royal Infirmary.” That prediction eventually came true in 1966, as we shall see in Chapter 15.

By this time St Thomas’ School was still technically a Church School but overseen by the Local Education Authority. The Diocese was growing concerned about the future of the Church Schools and the provision of religious education. In May 1947 PCC was told about the Bishop’s Appeal for £100,000 [£2.9 million] towards the costs of the Church Schools in the diocese, and agreed to ask the Bishop to send someone to speak to them about the matter.

In response, the Bishop of Lancaster addressed a Special Meeting of PCC held on the 23rd of September and told them “the Church Schools of Lancaster, under an almost unique and certainly a very comprehensive scheme, were safe – the money for them was secured. The appeal was for the church schools of the diocese.” He shared his view that

it was the right of every child to be provided by the state with the religious education required for it by its parents. Religious education was not based on a syllabus only, but on a creed, and dependent for its success on belief in that creed by the teacher. All true religious education is not only based on a syllabus, but must be connected with a living, worshiping (church) community. True education must have infinite variety of treatment and method and complete freedom.”

The following month PCC discussed how best to raise money for the Bishop’s Appeal and agreed “to raise at least £100 [£3,000] in three years and as much more as possible.”

In January 1949, when Samuel Latham’s successor was in post as Vicar, PCC were told that £110 [£2,900] had been raised in eighteen months. It agreed to do nothing more in support of the Bishop’s Appeal.


Resignation and departure

Samuel Latham resigned at Vicar of St Thomas’ in April 1948, having served the church through nineteen difficult years.

It is perhaps fitting that the last words we hear from him are recorded in the minutes of the Annual Church Meeting held on the 14th of April, where he reminded his listeners that “the church is the Society of believers and not a company of ministers or clergymen.”

In his absence one of the Churchwardens took the chair for the next PCC meeting, on the 5th of May, where it was agreed to open a subscription list and seek contributions from “all church members and friends” towards a farewell gift to him, “the presentation to take the form of a cheque and an illuminated scroll.” PCC also agreed that Mr Dart should write a letter on their behalf to the CPAS Board of Patronage “about certain qualifications they would like the new Vicar to possess.” Unfortunately no copy of that letter has survived so we are unable to learn what these “certain qualifications” were.

The Vicar must have left Lancaster after early June, because he was back in the chair at the PCC meeting held on the 8th of that month.

Samuel Latham moved south to become the Rector of Maresfield in Uckfield, Sussex, between 1948 and 1954. He is listed in Crockford’s Clerical Directory for 1967 at Ellesborough Manor in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, presumably retired because by then he would have been 86 years old. He died in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, in June 1979, aged 98.

He had a longer and more eventful incumbency of St Thomas’ than most other Vicars before or since. Amongst the highlights of his time were the renovation of the church interior, relocation and rebuilding of the organ, and building of the new Choir Vestry in 1932-33, the revision of the parish boundary in 1933, the abolition of pew rents in 1935, and the delayed celebration of the Church Centenary in 1947.

Whether he would have described the Second World War as a highlight is debatable, but he certainly kept the church going through tough times. He also did his best to deal with the first wave of an emerging post-war culture marked by growing disinterest in church, organised religion and all matters spiritual.


– o0o –

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14. Harold Wallwork (1948-1957)

Harold Wallwork graduated from Oak Hill Theological College in London in 1937 then studied at St John’s College in Durham, graduating with a B.A. 1941 and an M.A. in 1944. He was ordained deacon in 1941 and priest in 1942, and served his first Curacy at St Thomas’, Blackpool (as did Cyril Ashton twenty-two years later) between 1941 and 1944. He moved south to serve as Curate in Charge of Great Houghton in Northamptonshire (1944-46), before becoming Chaplain and Tutor at Bible Churchman’s College in Bristol (1946-48).

In 1948, after the resignation of Samuel Latham, Harold Wallwork was appointed Curate in Charge (1948-51) and then Vicar (1951-58) of St Thomas’. He was the church’s tenth Vicar (but ninth person, allowing for Joseph Armytage being appointed twice). The reason why he arrived as Curate in Charge will become clear below.


Appointment and arrival

The interregnum must have lasted about four or five months, because Latham chaired PCC on the 8th of May and Wallwork chaired his first PCC at St Thomas’ on the 11th of October 1948. There was no Curate in post at that time and we have no information about who looked after the church during the interregnum.

But things did not stand still; the minutes of an Emergency Meeting of PCC on the 27th of August 1948 record a discussion about the repairs and redecoration needed at the Vicarage and note that PCC agreed to get estimates for the work. A welcome evening for the new Vicar and his wife was held in church on the 18th of October 1948.

Wallwork’s first Annual Church Meeting was held on the 26th of April 1949, where as Curate in Charge he had the uncomfortable task of chairing a discussion about a proposed re-organisation of the church and parish boundaries.

By late August 1948 CPAS – the church’s patrons – had selected Harold Wallwork to succeed Samuel Latham as incumbent, but his status (as Curate in Charge rather than Vicar) and the terms of the appointment were dictated by uncertainty over the future of the church. At an Emergency Meeting of PCC on the 27th of August 1948 “Mr Dart spoke about the present position of the Church and a lengthy discussion followed. It was thought that the Council should meet Mr Wallwork before he took up his appointment as Vicar and Mr Dart offered to write suggesting an interview.”

Wallwork took up his appointment as Curate in Charge, the living (incumbency) having been suspended. He told his first PCC meeting on the 11th of October that “as the situation stood, absolute freedom of the Church was denied to the Vicar at the moment – that because of future proposed re-organisation in the parish, the dictatorship of the Vicar and the Freehold was reserved at present.”

He was inducted as Vicar on the 22nd of May 1951, more than two and a half years after his arrival, after the matter of the parish boundary (detailed below) had been resolved. At a PCC meeting that day John Dart proposed “the best wishes of the PCC to the Vicar on the position of the Church being regularised, [and] he pointed out how much was owed to the Vicar for his clerical work and for wakening the authorities to the real facts of the case. It was a pleasure to the Council that we were now a parish fully recognised as such. … In reply the Vicar said he was grateful to the Council for its loyal support; the matter he reported was to go before a re-organisation committee to consider the enlargement of the parish, to include Ripley Hospital and the Infirmary.” This new extension would come from part of the parish of St Mary’s, the Parish Church.


Lancaster during his time

St Anne’s Church on Moor Lane (1798), which had gradually lost most of the population from its parish and had been threatened with closure in 1926, was eventually closed in 1957 and was converted to become the Duke’s Theatre. The timing, coinciding with the threat to close St Thomas’, was no accident; both discussions were part of a wider review of the sustainability of Anglican churches within Lancaster. St Thomas’ emerged a winner but unfortunately for St Anne’s it emerged a loser. St John’s survived for a time but would eventually be closed in 1981.

These were not the only changes in the religious landscape of Lancaster over this period. In Bowerham St Bernadette’s, a Roman Catholic chapel-of-ease based in a barn, which opened in 1948, was replaced in 1958 by a large stone church with the same name. The following year the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Main Street, Skerton, closed and was later demolished, the congregation having joined the Wesleyan Methodists.

Further changes occurred in the mid-sixties. In 1964 the Primitive Methodist Chapel on Moor Lane (1895) closed, and after being used as a furniture store it was converted in the 1990s into a Youth Arts Centre as part of the Duke’s theatre. That year a striking new Anglican church with a distinctive spire - St Chad’s - was opened north of the river to serve the nearby Rylands estate and other local housing.

In 1965 the St Nicholas’ Unitarian Chapel (1687) was closed and demolished to make way for the development of the St Nicholas Shopping Arcade. The following year the Unitarians built a small chapel on Scotforth Road opposite the Boot and Shoe Inn, which closed in 2006 and the building was enlarged to create a Freemasons’ Lodge. The Church of the Holy Spirit, a mission church from Christ Church, was closed in 1966 and the building has been demolished.

In the late sixties Christ Church gave up its large Gregson Institute in Moor Lane, which had been founded in 1899. After serving as the school hall of Christ Church Primary School, the building stood empty for several years until it was bought in 1984 by a community group based in the Freehold area and is now The Gregson. The Centenary Congregational Church in St Leonardsgate (1817) was closed in 1967, and after being used by the University of Lancaster in its early days it was converted in the 1990s into a pub, now called The Friary.


Events in Britain

Thankfully Lancaster did not face the serious problems encountered by some other towns and cities across the country in the immediate aftermath of the war.

As Paul Welsby (1984 p.28) points out “while the nation was meeting the challenge caused by war damage and the need for a vast increase in the housing supply, the Church of England was faced with the restoration of bombed churches, parsonages, and church halls and with the provision of buildings for the new housing areas.” The Church of England wrestled with a number of serious challenges in the early post-war period. Its own financial resources were stretched so it could only pay relatively small stipends to incumbents.

Things were improved by the creation of the Church Commissioners by combining the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (established as a permanent body in 1836 to augment the endowment income of poor benefices) and the Queen Anne’s Bounty (established in 1704 for the purpose of augmenting the maintenance of the poor clergy); it began to invest in industrial and commercial shares which yielded much higher returns than bank savings accounts, which allowed stipends to rise.

The Bishops were also concerned about the shortage of parish clergy and the small number of people – men only in those days – being trained for ordination, which in turn threatened the sustainability of many parishes. This in turn constrained the ability of the Church to reach out to those beyond its existing congregations.

In 1948 the Anglican bishops called on the whole Church to increase its evangelistic effort in order to “win the nations of Christendom back to the knowledge of God, and to take the good news to those who have not yet heard it”. Roger Lloyd (1966 p.517) pointed out that

the parishes in 1948 were not well placed to respond to evangelistic appeals. … they did respond as best they could, even heroically … Every year which passed made more plain the … fact that in every industrial centre, whatever the parish church did, whatever experiment it tried, however the sacrifices of its people, the mass of the ‘working class’ would quite certainly and depressingly fail to respond in any significant way.”

The cause of evangelism was helped by the arrival on the scene of American Baptist evangelist Billy Graham, whose first nationwide crusade in Britain in 1954 became headline news, drew huge crowds and captured the popular imagination. As Paul Welsby (1984 p.48) reports

Dr Graham caused many people to face the challenge of Christ and made parishes more aware of their responsibility to preach the Gospel. Moreover, he insisted that his evangelism musty be linked with the Church and every enquirer without a Church allegiance was commended to a local church. As a result of the campaign some were brought to a new faith, many had their faith renewed, and a number found a vocation to the ordained ministry.”

Probably the most high-profile event during Harold Wallwork’s time as Vicar of St Thomas’ was the death of King George VI on the 6th of February 1952 and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on the 2nd of June 1953 – the day that the first successful ascent of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay (on the 29th of May) was announced to the world in The Times.

Queen Mary, George VI’s mother, had died on the 24th of March 1953, but the minutes of the PCC meeting held two days later record that the Vicar “reported that the flag was not flown on the death of Queen Mary; this was due to the fact that the flag was damaged”, and the Council agreed to buy a replacement flag. PCC had earlier agreed (on the 2nd of February) to hold a “Coronation Field Day in St Thomas’ Parish … on Saturday 30thMay at Aldcliffe [Hall] with the kind permission of Mr M. Airey”, and to engage the Storey’s Band for the occasion.


Parish boundary

Harold Wallwork arrived at St Thomas’ facing the very real threat of it being closed or at least losing its status as a church with its own parish and instead becoming part of St Mary’s - the Parish Church from which it had emerged just over a century earlier - at least until a sustainable long-term solution was agreed.

This cloud would hang over his head and the risk of closure would dominate the whole of his time at St Thomas’. Indeed, it would continue to hang over the heads of the next two incumbents, as we shall see.

The precarious state of St Thomas’ as a separate parish church was not new. Recall that there had been discussions about revising the parish boundary in 1915, 1929, 1930 and 1933, and about the possibility of relocating the church on a new site in Bowerham in 1937. What was new was the urgency of the situation, which first became apparent in the final days of Samuel Latham’s time as Vicar.

Latham had received a letter from the Church Pastoral Aid Society shortly before he left and his replacement was chosen. His resignation provided the church’s patron with an opportunity to review the status and prospects of St Thomas’. The letter, which apparently arrived unexpected, dropped like a bombshell on the church and its leadership.

Samuel Latham announced to PCC on the 8th of June 1948 that he had received the letter from Mr Mohan, the Secretary of the CPAS,

to the effect that a Commission had been sitting and considering the re-organisation of Lancaster Parishes, and that under the Suspension of Presentation Measure, the Bishop was advised to put St Thomas’ Church under the patronage of the Priory Church for five years, it eventually to be transferred with its endowments to another site.”

The minutes of that PCC meeting record that

Council expressed great surprise and indignation at this proposal, and after much lively discussion Mr Dart, seconded by Mr Buckley, proposed this resolution: ‘That this meeting of the PCC of St Thomas’ Lancaster, has heard with deep consternation and pain of the proposal to apply the Benefices Suspension of Presentation Measure to this Parish and to place it under the jurisdiction of the Priory Church, thereby depriving it of an Incumbent. We regret that a Commission has reported on the future of this Church without consulting either the Incumbent or the PCC and without their being aware of this Commission’s existence. The PCC express their willingness to give evidence before this Commission and to discuss with them any alterations in the boundaries of the parish. The PCC express their complete confidence in the CPAS Board of Patronage Trust and feel that any change in trusteeship might endanger the evangelical doctrines and worship of the Church and the contribution it has made and still makes to the life of the Church in this city. They feel that St Thomas’ is an active church, raising considerable sums of money for overseas missions every year, and possessing active church organisations touching all sections of the community. Accordingly, they hope that the appointment and institution of an Incumbent will be proceeded with without delay, and without prejudice to any future plans for the Church. This resolution was carried unanimously, seventeen members of the PCC being present. It was suggested that a copy of this Resolution be sent to the CPA Board of Patronage Trust but to no one else at the moment, or unless developments called for action, and that with this Resolution be sent a note giving the result of the voting.”

The church and its new incumbent were caught up in a serious planning blight, and the future looked far from bright. Harold Wallwork pointed out to PCC in October 1948 that the Commission “had in mind the parish as it was before it was extended in 1933. [because] The Diocesan Authorities had failed to register the extension. The Vicar suggested that a circular be sent to all the houses included in the Parish after the 1933 extension to ascertain the number of people in each house, and so the real extent of the parish.”

The minutes of the PCC meeting held on the 10th of January 1949 record that the Council agreed with John Dart’s proposal that the Secretary should write a letter to the Bishop “expressing the dissatisfaction of the PCC with regard to this matter, and suggest[ing] that in view of the changed circumstances i.e. reversion of boundaries 1933, a re-consideration of the case be asked for.”

The letter challenged the information on which the decision to suspend the living had been based, reminding the Bishop that

recently the Priest in Charge of this Church, the Rev Harold Wallwork, called your attention to the fact that the extension of the boundaries of this Parish, authorised by Orders in Council in 1933, was almost certainly not known to the Committee considering the question. Further, a survey of the Parish recently undertaken by members of the Church has shown that the population of this Parish is 4,500+, which is slightly more than double the figure quoted in the last issue of Crockford[‘s Clerical Directory]. In these circumstances, therefore, we would like you to reconsider your previous decision, and suggest that Mr Wallwork be instituted as Vicar as soon as you find conveniently possible. The matter has caused considerable regret to many in the Congregation, and we feel that if you had been in possession of these facts in the first place, the Commission would not have made the recommendation and you would not have applied the Measure. We await your reply.”

Discussions about the parish boundary and status of the church and incumbent continued over the next two years. The outcome was a positive and very welcome one for St Thomas’ – the church and its parish would survive, and the Curate in Charge would be inducted as Vicar.

The induction would benefit not just the Vicar (who would have his authority and security restored) but also the church because, as the minutes of the PCC meeting on the 30th of April 1951 note, it “would establish the position of the Church for some time, so the fabric of the church and other like matters which had been temporarily shelved, could now be faced. It was decided that the outside of the church needed first attention.”

The church leaders were under no illusion that this outcome was conditional and would not be permanent; they might have won the battle but the war was clearly far from resolved. The Vicar named ‘the elephant in the room’ at the Annual Church Meeting on the 26th of April 1949, where after outlining recent developments concerning revising the parish boundaries he spoke about

a problem which has to come up within the next five years – the question of whether the church be closed and moved to Bowerham, or whether it be retained and a small mission church erected in the new area, gradually bringing a new church congregation into being.”

Discussion of any re-organisation of the church and parish boundaries then appears to cease, in public at least, for some time, and the trail seems to go cold. It opens up again seven years later, when PCC agreed in January 1957 that “the [Diocesan] Pastoral Re-Organisation Committee should be reminded of the need to extend the boundaries of the parish.”

It turns out that the Vicar negotiated a solution locally rather than having one imposed by the Diocese. He explained to PCC the following month “his plan which was agreeable to the Vicar of [St Paul’s] Scotforth.  … [Council agreed] that the Vicar should write to the Archdeacon approving the proposed scheme.” In March the Vicar reported to PCC that “the Archdeacon has expressed his approval of the proposed new extension of Parish Boundaries, [and] official confirmation is now awaited.” Hopes, having been raised, were soon dashed because in May the Vicar had to tell PCC that “the Scotforth PCC have rescinded the Minute approving revision of the Parish Boundaries. The Vicar advised that there should be a period of waiting of from six to twelve months.”

Uncertainty about the parish boundary and the future sustainability of St Thomas – indeed potentially its very survival – was to persist for many years and cast a long shadow over the church’s ability to plan its own future.



Like his predecessor, Harold Wallwork had no Curate to support him in his ministry at St Thomas’. The church’s finances were certainly not in a strong position, so funding a Curate would have been a challenge. With a national shortage of trained Curates there would have been strong competition to attract one even if funding had not been a challenge. As a Curate in Charge he might also have been ineligible to supervise a Training Curacy during the first three years of his time at St Thomas’.


Church Governance

Harold Wallwork had few issues relating to church governance to deal with at St Thomas’. At its May 1949 meeting PCC agreed to his suggestion that “various sides of church needs and activities [should be put] into the hands of small sub-committees, responsible to PCC for finance and general policy”, as a result of which a Church Fabric Committee, Parish Hall Committee, Entertainments Committee, and Seasonal Sale Committee were set up.

It did not accept his suggestion in April 1950 that St Thomas’ “might do as some other churches did and adopt a three year plan for PCC – one third of the Council resigning each year for one year.”

In May 1950 PCC agreed to mark Mr Fallowfield’s eleven years as Warden and Treasurer, “years which included all the difficulties of war time”, by presenting him with gifts that were typical of the time but would be frowned upon today – “a pipe, a pouch and some tobacco” – “as a token of the Council’s personal appreciation …”

PCC also considered the question of lay ministry. At its May 1957 meeting, in the context of discussion about the Representation of Laity Measure and Parochial Church Powers Measure 1956, the Council agreed to purchase a copy of the report The Layman in Church Government. But its deliberations were shaped by a view of lay people as helpers rather than potential leaders; “after discussion it was emphasised that all who were to be nominated as Sidesmen should understand and be willing to fulfil all the duties of a sidesman.”



The minutes of church meetings during Harold Wallwork’s incumbency contain little hard information on financial matters, so few conclusions can be drawn about this aspect of the health of the church.

The figures that are available suggest that at least in some years the accounts closed with comfortable balances; in April 1949 the balance stood at £98 18s. [£2,600] and in March 1951 it was £315 14s. [£8,000]. The Easter Offering appears to have held up, too; in 1949 it came to £31 [£820] and in 1952 it was nearly £38 [£850].

In terms of income, regular giving through “the envelope scheme” appears to have remained buoyant. In May 1950 PCC heard that “steady giving through the envelope scheme ought to cover the ordinary repairs and needs of Church”, and the Annual Church Meeting in April 1952 was told that “collections were now averaging £15-£16 [£340-£360] per week.” Sales of work continued to be a popular way of raising money; the customary bi-ennial sale evolved into an annual Christmas Market, which was held in November 1948, 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1956.

In 1948 and 1950 it was agreed in advance that twenty percent of the proceeds would go towards the Mission Support Fund and the rest towards church activities. The target in 1950 was to raise £300 [£7,900], from which the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS), Bible Churchman’s Missionary Society (BCMS) and Church Missionary Society (CMS) each received £26 [£680] and £238 [£6,300] was kept “in hand for the decorations of the Church”.

The 1952 sale included a wide variety of stalls, including Fruit and flowers, Hardware, Handkerchiefs, Fancy Goods, White Elephant, Books, Jumble, Cakes, Face cloths, Embroidery, Scent cards, Bran tub, Groceries, Haberdashery, and Refreshments. The 1956 sale of work, which raised £360 [£7,000], was a very welcome addition to the budget but fell far short of the sums the Bazaars had raised in the earlier decades of the century. A Gift Day was held in church on Saturday the 22nd of October 1955, ten percent of the proceeds from which were divided equally between CPAS, BCMS and CMS, with the remainder forming “the nucleus of a Parish Hall Extension Fund”, according to the minutes of the May 1955 PCC meeting.

In terms of expenditure, several new items were added to the budget during the Wallwork years. One of these was travelling expenses for the Vicar; in March 1956 PCC agreed “an allowance [later fixed at £26 [£500] a year] to cover the cost of petrol used by the Vicar for Church business.” The Council had agreed three years earlier to contribute to the cost of the Vicar’s new bicycle (paying the difference between what it cost him and what he sold his old bike for), as a thank-you for the “tremendous amount of work and time put in by the Vicar during the renovation of the Church.”

The church had long held money in trust for St Thomas’s School, but after responsibility for maintaining the school was transferred to the Local Education Authority in 1947 that money could be released for other purposes. In December 1955 PCC agreed to the Vicar’s proposal that “any money held in trust for St Thomas’s School should be released for the Barchester Scheme [run by the Diocese of Manchester to help fund the building of new Church of England primary schools].” Five months later, in May 1956, PCC agreed to augment that donation by devoting the collections from church services on one Sunday to the Barchester Scheme.



Once the status of St Thomas’ had been resolved early in 1951, PCC could make progress in dealing with repairs to the fabric of the church which has been put on hold during the period of uncertainty.

The Annual Church Meeting on the 19th of March 1951 was told that “the fabric generally was in a fairly good state – that which needed to be done was damage caused by leakages in stone gutters …”. At an Emergency Meeting in mid-October the PCC discussed the need to repair and re-slate some sections of the roof and sort out some of the stone gutters; we can only assume that the work was done. Other external works, including repointing of the outside walls and replacement of some roof tiles, were discussed (and presumably agreed) by PCC in late December 1953.

There was also a backlog of internal work to clear. An Emergency Meeting of PCC was called on the 1st of December 1952 to discuss “the question of decorating the Church”. It was agreed to accept a quotation of £320 [£7,200] for two coats of paint on the inside of the church, repairs to the plasterwork around some windows after some had been repaired and some replaced, and some other small jobs to be done at the same time. The original faculty for this programme of work is dated the 9th of March 1953. As well as decorating the interior of the church, altering the heating system, and removing the back pew, it covers installing “an amplifier and speaker equipment with a transformer attached” and making safe “the platform on which the seats in the body of the church are fixed”.

PCC also approved other internal improvements including installing two fire extinguishers (June 1954), building wooden cupboards with sliding doors in the Choir Vestry (September 1955), and installing a 15 amp electric supply with sockets (November 1955). In May 1955 it discussed the need for carpet for the aisle and better lighting in the Vicar’s Vestry, but there is no record of those having been done.

As well as keeping the church in good repair, the Vicar was keen to have the church open for people to enter and in June 1955 the PCC agreed to pay the Verger 5 shillings [£5] a week “for keeping the Church open daily.” Twelve months later the Vicar told PCC that “as damage has been done on three occasions the Church is at present closed.”


Steeple and bells

The Vicar was also blessed with an easy passage in terms of the steeple and bells. In October 1954 PCC was told that “the loud speaker in the belfry was not satisfactory and it was proposed [and accepted] that a weather-proof loud speaker be purchased.” Recall that many years earlier the bell had been declared unsafe to ring, so the church had resorted to playing a recording of bells from inside the steeple instead. In November 1955 the PCC agreed to buy “two new records of bells”.


Church grounds

The ‘kerb appeal’ of St Thomas’ – its attractiveness to people passing-by, including potential members of the congregation – has long posed a challenge.

Efforts were made to improve the general state of the grounds. In July 1949 one of the Churchwardens (Mr Armitstead) told PCC that “it would cost £10 [£270] to dig up the church frontage and plant it with polyanthus roses”; PCC agreed to do that. In September 1956 PCC agreed to obtain estimates “for gravelling and four-foot flags or concrete for the North and East sides of the Church”; it is assumed that work was done.

The need to improve external lighting was also accepted. In October 1952 PCC agreed “that a light should be fixed outside the clergy vestry to illuminate the Marton Street entrance, and also that the outside lights at the coal tip and over the church porch should be restored and improved.” The following December it agreed to install lights on the front steps of church.

In Wallwork’s time the loss of the iron railings around the front of church for the war effort was still being mourned. In December 1953 PCC discussed the matter (the minutes record it as “Church Railways”), having received estimates for erecting replacement railings, and agreed to go ahead with the work “subject to a Sub-Committee being satisfied with the manner and quality of railings being erected at Preston by Mr Whitham of Morecambe.” In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the railings approved at that meeting must be the ones we see in front of church today.


Church heating

Samuel Latham had struggled with the church heating system (recall that he had overseen the installation of a new coal-fired boiler in 1946-47), and Harold Wallwork fared little better.

In January 1949, having received complaints about the heating and cleaning of the church, PCC agreed to ask the School Managers to “deal with the caretaker”, who had already been warned twice about the quality of his work. It looks as though he was relieved from duty in the Parish Hall, presumably to focus his efforts more on the church itself. Things seem to have improved for a number of years, but when complaints about the church being cold during services began again in September 1955, PCC decided to change its approach from stick to carrot. It agreed that “if, from the beginning of December to the end of March the temperature of the Church reached 60o at 10 am on Sunday, the Caretaker [who had to run the coal-fired boiler in the basement] should receive a bonus of £5 [£100], to be reduced by 10 shillings [£10] for each occasion on which this temperature was not reached.”

PCC subsequently turned its thoughts towards the possibility of replacing the church heating system with a more efficient and effective one. In October 1955 the Vicar told PCC that the Churchwardens, having studied the booklet The Heating of Churches, concluded that “the present heating is the most satisfactory type apart from the use of a gas boiler which may need to be considered at a future date.”

The following summer, in July 1956, the Vicar explained to PCC that oil heating is the cheapest method of heating the church, but that December the PCC minutes note that “because of the Suez Emergency the Vicar had postponed the installation of oil heating.”

The church and school shared the same heating system, so any decisions about changing it would have to be approved in advance by the Local Education Authority. In October 1956 the Vicar read a letter to PCC from the Chief Education Officer stating that “the cost of such [oil] heating would have to be borne by the Church and Governors of the school. He announced that the Ripley Trust are prepared to share the cost of installing oil heating. It was proposed … that the new heating be installed at a cost of £142 [£2,750] to the Church. This was carried.”

The Vicar was able to report to PCC in September 1957 that “50 percent towards the installation of oil heating is now forthcoming from Governors of the School, and the work is proceeding.”



Harold Wallwork had an easy time compared with many other Vicars at St Thomas’ when it came to the church organ. The organ was in good condition throughout his time, and in May 1955 PCC agreed to accept a new maintenance contract with Jardines at a cost of £15 [£300] a year.

It looks as though the Vicar was more troubled by the organist than the organ, because in June 1952 PCC agreed that “this Council recognises the loyal and faithful service of our organist but feels the time has come when a younger person would be better able to discharge the duties of organist and choirmaster.” In October that year PCC were told that “Mrs Kyle tended her resignation to take effect three months from September 15th.” Her replacement was Miss Nora Elizabeth Taylor, who had been the organist and choirmaster at St Luke’s in Skerton.



Services progressed much as usual during Wallwork’s time. In April 1949 PCC agreed that “in the Te Deum there be a break at ‘everlasting’ … and instead of a Vesper on Sunday evenings there be a final recessional hymn, and a prayer of dismissal …”. In May 1952 PCC agreed “to ask the organist to appoint someone to be responsible for the decent appearance of surplices”, and to buy a second-hand one for the Vicar who needed another one. In December 1955 the Vicar wrote on behalf of the PCC to the Bishop of Lancaster, who was due to conduct a Confirmation Service in church, asking him “to respect the strong evangelical tradition of St Thomas’s.”

Audibility of the services must at times have been a problem, because PCC agreed in June 1952 to equip the church with a microphone at a cost of £55 [£1,200] and in January 1957 to buy an amplifier – presumably a replacement one – at a cost of £20 [£370]. Some form of hearing aid system had also been installed in church during 1952, causing Mr Kirkbride to express his appreciation of it to PCC in October, adding that “he wished to make a donation towards its cost.”



The life of the church choir at this time was dominated by matters of resources, judging from the few minutes of PCC meetings that contain any mention of the choir.

Proper attire was important and in April 1949 Council heard that “at the moment, black bows and studs were unavailable for choir boys [for their formal shirts]. Miss Richardson proposed that until these things became available, ruffles (of which the church had a supply) be worn. … It was also announced that many cassocks [black ankle-length garments] and surplices [loose white gown worn over the cassock] were worn out. [and agreed] that the costs of these things be brought to the next meeting.”

In May 1949 PCC agreed to buy two linen surplices for clergy and two cotton ones for choir men. In June 1954 it agreed to replace the choir boys’ robes, purchase six boys’ and three men’s surplices, and three boys’ and three men’s cassocks.

Hymn Books were also important. In December 1950 PCC agreed to buy 24 new Cathedral Psalters and 24 Keswick Hymn Books because “the old Cathedral Psalters were now out of print and the choristers needed to learn the new pointing.”

At its December meeting three years later (1953) the Council agreed to a request from the Church Organist for £2 [£44] “from Church Funds to be a member of a Music Library which would enable the Choir to have a loan of music copies when required.” For some reason that is not recorded, PCC decided in February 1956 “to discontinue the library subscription.”


Church equipment

The early post-war period saw the church investing in two useful pieces of equipment.

One was a “lantern and film-strip machine” for showing slides and films, which PCC decided in July 1949 to put on hold given that it would cost £30 [£800]. Six years later the Vicar suggested to PCC (March 1956) that it “should consider the advisability of purchasing a strip projector”, and in September PCC agreed to purchase a filmstrip projector. In January 1957 he was pleased to announce to PCC “the purchase of a sound projector from the Salvage Fund for £50 [£940]. … Each church organisation will be charged 5 shillings [£4.70] for each showing of a film to cover the cost of repairs. Outside organisations will pay £1 [£18.70].”

There was also a need for office equipment. In December 1949 PCC had agreed purchase a duplicator (probably for printing the church newsletter which was distributed around the parish, as well as for internal church uses) at a cost of £5 10s. [£150], but we hear nothing more about that until January 1957 when PCC agreed “that a rotary duplicator should be purchased at a cost of £5.” It’s not known whether or not a duplicator was bought then; the next mention of a duplicator in minutes of PCC meetings comes seventeen years later in 1974.


Electoral Roll

Overall the number of names on the Electoral Roll were significantly lower between 1951 and 1957 than during Samuel Latham’s time, which were generally over 280 each year, before, during and straight after World War II. The sudden drop to the low 200s in the early 1950s seems to be clear evidence of the continuing drift of people away from church with the spread of secularisation and changing attitudes to organised religion.

The sudden large drops from one year to the next, for example between 1952 and 1953, and again between 1955 and 1956, with sharp increases straight after, are a little difficult to explain. It is not recorded in which years new Electoral Rolls were made, but it seems unlikely that these two changes are simply the result of a revision and updating of names.

Some of the apparent changes are likely to be genuine and mark a dramatic fall in numbers over short time periods. Neither death rates nor rates of out-migration would usually vary so sharply from year to year, so the changes could well be people leaving the church rather than the area.

The numbers rose sharply between 1956 and 1957; the total of 292 for 1957 is “three short of the highest previous total which was in 1921” as was pointed out to the Annual Church Meeting in April 1957. As we shall see, there was a local outreach initiative in 1957 – Operation Firm Faith – but that is unlikely to be the cause of the sudden jump.

A more likely explanation is the change in age qualification for inclusion on the Electoral Roll. As the Vicar pointed out to PCC in December 1956, from the 1st of January 1957 anyone over the age of 17 was eligible, so the reported increase will doubtless include some older teenagers who would previously have not been eligible (when the age qualification was probably 21).


Church House – 4 Marton Street

The church leadership had to deal with some issues concerning Church House at 4 Marton Street, located behind the school building and fronting onto Marton Street.

Recall that Colin Campbell Senior had bought and paid for two houses behind the church in 1846, one for the School Master and the other for the Organist. Both – numbers 2 (nearest church) and 4 Marton Street – were still standing in the early 1950s, but there is no record of which one belonged to which person. Recall that Number 4 had needed repairs in 1928.

By the early 1950s Number 4 was rented out, but it soon started to create problems. The Vicar told PCC in September 1953 that “the tenants of No 4 Marton Street were sub-letting part of the dwelling house and this naturally would have to stop as no permission had been given by the PCC.” That was easier said than done and the next PCC meeting was advised that “this was a difficult matter to deal with and it was felt at the moment nothing further could be done.”

In October 1955 agreed that, “in view of a report from the Sanitary Inspector of No 4 Marton Street pointing out necessary repairs, it was decided to ask Mr Pardner to undertake these repairs. The future of the property will be discussed at the next PCC meeting.”

Two months later, in early December, PCC agreed “to approach the Corporation with a view to selling this property.” In February 1956, after a letter had been received from the Town Clerk stating that “the Council were not at present interested in acquiring property on the South Side of Marton Street”, PCC agreed to offer the property to the Ripley Trust. The following month PCC was told that “Ripley Trust are to consider the purchase of this property at their April meeting.”

We don’t know the outcome of the Ripley Trust discussions, but it is clear that the church still owned 4 Marton Street in late 1956. That September the PCC were told by one of the Churchwardens that, “as the tenant now owes £20 [£390] for rent and a sum of £38 [£740] has been spent on repairs, he had put the matter in the hands of a solicitor.”



Recall that the Vicarage at 33 Higher Greaves had been bought in 1928 to replace the original much larger one at 12 Queen Street that was costly to run. As was customary, the Vicarage had been repaired and redecorated in 1948 in advance of the new Vicar’s arrival.

Six years later, at the PCC meeting on the 1st of November 1954, the Vicar raised the question of a new Vicarage. As the minutes of that meeting record “he pointed out that the present Vicarage required some immediate attention and in addition the Diocesan Surveyor had reported that the property had been placed in ‘C’ class.” He invited open discussion of the matter, as a result of which the Council agreed that “a committee … be formed for the purpose of examining any sites or suitable property for a Vicarage.”

The committee explored various options for a new Vicarage. One was to build on the Ripley School site, but the Vicar told PCC in October 1955 that “a Sub-Committee of the Ripley Trust recommended that a Vicarage not be erected”. Their attention then moved to another possible site, but in May 1956 PCC was advised that “the site offered for a Vicarage was considered unsuitable. It was decided the leave the matter in abeyance for twelve months in the hope that a house in Meadowside would soon be made available.” No further progress was made in finding a suitable site for a new Vicarage while Harold Wallwork was Vicar.


Parish Hall

The Parish Hall in Aldcliffe Road continued to serve a variety of needs during Harold Wallwork’s time, but the need to keep it available for church-based activities was recognised. In July 1949 PCC agreed that, “because of the church’s own needs, we [should] cease regular sub-letting to outside organisations – that the Secretary serve three months notice to the Madrigal Society and Youth Hostellers at present using the hall.” The same meeting was told that the metalwork needed painting, alterations to the stage area were needed, and the building needed a new sink and improved ventilation. In April 1952 PCC agreed to buy fifty tubular chairs and collect “chair donations from the congregation”.


Outreach and mission

Despite its evangelical origin and emphasis St Thomas’ had no tradition of engaging in local mission and outreach. Harold Wallwork was to see more direct action in this area than most of his predecessors, even though he was Vicar for only nine years.

His engagement began in December 1950 when he asked members of PCC “to prepare themselves for the proposed Evangelistic Campaign of Lent 1952” which would be overseen by the Deanery and involve each parish. Further details were given to PCC in May 1951 who were told that the Campaign would begin with a Service for Missioners at the Priory, after which each missioner would work within their own designated parish. The Vicar added that “The Rev Herbert W. Cragg, Vicar of St James’s in Carlisle, was the appointed missioner for St Thomas’s Church. It was urged that the congregation must be active in the campaign – as background and support.”

The plan was to deliver a series of leaflets to houses throughout the parish, from the 6th of October onwards. Six leaflets, common to all parishes, were issued – 1. Which is the hypocrite? 2. Invitation from Bertrand Russell. 3. Letter from the Diocesan Bishop. 4. Letter from the Vicar to our own people. 5. Letter from the Missioner himself. 6. List of Services.

No minutes of meetings in St Thomas’ record how the 1952 Campaign went or what impact it had, but it seems to have started the ball rolling on local outreach in Lancaster. In September 1953 PCC agreed to give £100 [£2,200] towards the cost of another evangelistic campaign that involved a number of churches in Lancaster, and in May 1955 there was discussion about a possible Children’s Mission. It might also have been the catalyst for discussions in PCC about holding Guest Services in church, because the matter was raised at the Annual Church Meeting in March 1956, where “after some discussion it was [agreed] that the question be placed before the Parochial Church Council for consideration.”

In July PCC agreed to hold the first Guest Service on the first Sunday in September, and to order five hundred CPAS Service Cards for it. Again we have no record of whether it took place, how it went, or what impact it had.

The mid-50s was clearly a time in the life of St Thomas’ when local outreach was gaining traction. This is well illustrated in a new initiative called Operation Firm Faith, although it is not clear whether this was a national, Diocesan or St Thomas’ initiative. The Vicar explained to PCC in December 1956 that it had “as its aim the reviving of family worship”. He commented that “with the Children’s Church we have travelled some way on family worship, but there are still many families in the parish to be approached” and PCC agreed with his suggestion that “during Lent one night each week should be used by each organisation in turn to draw in the family.” PCC also agreed to have invitation cards printed in order to “draw in outsiders to the Guest Services”.

Plans for Operation Firm Faith were outlined to PCC in January 1957, where the Vicar announced that “the special evenings in connection with Operation Firm Faith will be 11th, 19th and 27th March, and 4th and 12thApril. The aim throughout will be to stress the obligation of the family as a whole to come to Church, but the emphasis will be on one particular section of the family each week.” At PCC on the 4th of March the Vicar expressed the hope that “although Operation Firm Faith is aimed at encouraging worship on a family basis, all members of PCC would give it their support.”

Unfortunately, as with the other outreach activities, we have no record of how things worked out on the ground, or whether Operation Firm Faith led to any lasting numerical or spiritual growth at St Thomas’.


Sunday School

In October 1957 PCC agreed to give the Sunday School a grant of up to £10 [£190] for the purchase of new Hymn Books.


Resignation and departure

Harold Wallwork resigned as Vicar in July 1957 on being appointed Vicar of Christ Church, Addington, in Durban.

He told the PCC meeting that month that he was “going to South Africa in the Autumn”, and the Council gave him a vote of thanks, saying “We recognise with gratitude to God the blessing that has come to this Church through the ministry of the Vicar and Mrs Wallwork, through their example of whole-hearted service and deep personal devotion. We assure them of our love and gratitude and best wishes in the new sphere of service.” PCC also agreed to send a letter to the Church Pastoral Aid Society “pointing out the needs of the Parish.”

The Vicar was still in Lancaster in early September 1957. He chaired the PCC meeting on the 2nd of that month where it was decided “after a long discussion that the Vicar’s Farewell should take place at the Harvest Supper, to be held this year in the school. There should be light refreshment and a silver collection. The actual programme should be planned by the Wardens.” The October meeting of PCC agreed to his request that the presentation to him be made on Sunday night in the school after the evening service, with the Harvest Tea held the following day. It also expressed its gratitude to the Vicar and his wife for “their generous gift of a carpet in the Church.”

Harold Wallwork served as Vicar of Christ Church in Durban between 1959 and 1962, and then returned to England to serve as Rector of Grendon Underwood with Edgcott, Warwickshire from 1962 to 1965. He then went back to South Africa, as Rector of Richmond in Natal (1965-70), before returning to England once again, this time as Vicar of Bispham in the Blackburn Diocese (1971-82. He died some time before 1995.


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15. Stanley Duthie (1958-1973)

Stanley Duthie was born in May 1908 at Wavertree, Liverpool. He was the third child and second son of James Taylor Duthie, a joiner and builder born in Liverpool, and his wife Elizabeth, who was born in Scotland. Stanley married Gladys Watterson (also from Liverpool) in 1940, when he was 32 years old.

He graduated from Bible Churchmen’s College (later renamed Tyndale Hall), an evangelical Anglican theological college in Bristol (now part of Trinity College, Bristol), in 1934, so his path overlapped with that of Harold Wallwork, who was Chaplain and Tutor there between 1946 and 1948. He was ordained deacon in 1934 and priest in 1938.

Stanley Duthie served in a number of churches before arriving at St Thomas in 1958. His first Curacy was at St Mark’s in Preston (1937-38), followed by Curacies at St Clement’s in Higher Openshaw, Manchester (1938-41) and Bucknall with Bagnall in Staffordshire (1941-43). He then became Rector of St Bartholomew in Salford (1943-46) and Vicar of Burlingham St Edmund with Lingwood, Norwich (1946-50), before returning to his birthplace in Liverpool as Vicar of St Philemon in Toxteth Park (1950-52) then Curate in Charge of St Silas, also in Toxteth (1952-58).


Appointment and arrival

The new Vicar and his wife arrived in Lancaster early in 1958. He was then fifty years old and had served in seven churches, mostly in the North West of England. The Vicarage had been decorated in preparation for their arrival, half the cost of which was met by the Church Commissioners according to the minutes of the October 1957 PCC meeting.

Harold Wallwork had left Lancaster for South Africa in September 1957. In the absence of a Curate it looks likely that the Churchwardens looked after the church during the four month interregnum. PCC meetings over that period were chaired by John Dart.

Stanley Duthie was instituted as the eleventh Vicar of St Thomas’ on Thursday the 2nd of January 1958 at 7.30 pm. He and his wife were welcomed to the church straight afterwards at a reception held in the school, with refreshments “arranged by the ladies of the Committee” as PCC had agreed on the 2nd of December at a meeting which Stanley Duthie and his wife attended by invitation. He chaired his first PCC meeting on the 3rd of February, announcing that “he wished the Council to be democratic and he hoped for the co-operation of the Council in the whole of the work of the parish, not merely the financial side.”


Lancaster during his time

Lancaster saw some notable changes during Duthie’s time at St Thomas’. Furniture production in the city ended in 1962, the same year that the Carlisle Bridge which carried the railway over the Lune was rebuilt in steel. Green Ayre railway station, on the Leeds-Morecambe line, was closed in 1966, and in 1972 the adjacent railway bridge over the Lune was converted to road use as Greyhound Bridge.

The local economy would benefit from large-scale investment in higher education, which would also provide outreach opportunities for churches in Lancaster. In 1964 Lancaster University was founded on a green-field site, formerly the Bailrigg estate, two miles south of the town centre; in the same year St Martin’s College (initially a teacher-training college, later to become the University of Cumbria) was opened on the Bowerham Barracks site. The Barracks had closed in 1959 when the King’s Own merged with another regiment and National Service (conscription) was ending, reducing the need for training camps, and the Church of England bought the site in 1962.

A salutary reminder of the precarious nature of some parishes in Lancaster in the face of declining population in the city centre came in 1971 with the closure of St Anne’s Church in Moor Lane.


The wider picture – the 1960s

Like all other churches across the land, St Thomas’ was not immune to the sweeping social and economic changes that radically changed life experiences and expectations for many people during the 1960, or to a series of major changes within the Anglican Church of which it was a part.


Changes in society

The sixties was a time of rising prosperity for most people. Income per head almost doubled between 1952 and 1960, which led to a big rise in the sale of consumer goods (such as cars, television sets, refrigerators and washing machines) and widespread adoption of materialistic life-styles. Many people, particularly the young, felt liberated from family and societal expectations and enjoyed the freedom to “do their own thing”, reflected in the emergence of new music, fashion, sexual ethics and behaviour, recreational drugs, and the quest for exotic spiritual experiences.

It was also the decade of “big causes” – including Race, Ban the Bomb, Vietnam, Oxfam, War on Want, Save the Children, Christian Aid, Voluntary Services Overseas – and more permissive legislation dealing with abortion, divorce, sexual offences, obscene publications and stage and theatre. Capital punishment was abolished in 1965, homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967, abortion was legalised in 1967, theatre censorship was abolished in 1968, and the divorce laws were reformed in 1969.

During that decade many people questioned and some abandoned traditional values, including the Christian understanding of morality, meaning and purpose, making church even less popular than it had been in the preceding decades. Like government and parents, the church was widely seen as conservative, traditionalist, overly controlling and a needless constraint on the freedom of the individual.

As Paul Welsby (1984, pp.103-4) put it, “with such a vision for the future, the Gospel message of discipline, sacrifice, and sin cut little ice.” Organised religion was on the decline and the Church was losing its confidence. It was also facing calls to re-organise its structures and forms of worship, reappraise its theology and ethical teaching, engage more openly with the world around it, develop new forms of ministry appropriate to the times, and search for greater church unity.

Alongside this, there was a ‘crisis in belief’ and a high profile debate about God, triggered in part by the publication in 1963 of the book Honest to God by Dr John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, which proposed a controversial new way of thinking about God as ‘the ground of our being’ and sold over a million copies. The sixties also saw the re-emergence of spirituality, partly through the search for transcendence that took many different forms, some of them (such as Eastern mysticism, the psychedelic and the occult) intentionally exploring opportunities far beyond the established church.

Secular, materialistic and naturalistic worldviews had already been widely adopted and by the sixties they were becoming the default for most people. Science and technology were developing apace, giving humans increasing mastery over the world around them and new ways of understanding and explaining ‘the human situation’. What need for God, and an absentee God ‘up there’ at that, when things are viewed from this perspective? What need for church when satisfying forms of spirituality can be explored and experienced comfortably beyond it?


Changes in the Anglican Church

Within the Church other forces were at work. One, informed by the insights emerging from the ‘new theology’ and the ‘new morality’, was a debate on ‘the ministry of the laity’ from the early sixties onwards.

Welsby (1984, pp.140-41) offers four reasons why this debate was, as he puts it, “inevitable” -

First, the laity had begun to share in making decisions which had formerly been restricted to the bishops and clergy. … Secondly, there was greater involvement of the laity at parochial level as laymen and women began to take a share in liturgical and pastoral activities which had formerly been regarded as the preserves of the clergy. Thirdly, one of the consequences of the liturgical movement was the recovery of the theological truth that the celebrant at the Eucharist was the whole People of God in a particular place and that the priest was the president. This was given practical expression by increased participation by the laity in the conduct of the rite. Fourthly, there was a proliferation of accredited lay ministries – readers, licensed lay workers, the Church Army, Church social workers, parish elders, etc. … Many clergymen and laymen welcomed and encouraged this lay involvement, but there were still too many parishes where lay initiative was discouraged or where the laity themselves were content to remain passengers in an ark whose captain was the authoritative incumbent.”

A second process at work was an updating of church services to make them more accessible and relevant to people. This included the revision of the Anglican liturgies and the [Book of Common Prayer _](1662) on which they were based, and the publication of new versions of the Bible in more contemporary language such as the _Revised Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New English Bible, and the Jerusalem Bible, which were all authorised for use in Anglican services.

It also included the adoption of new forms of church music and worship. During the sixties the traditional format of organ and choir was still the norm, but more modern forms of music – typically using vocal and instrumental (usually guitar) groups to lead worship, using choruses like ‘The Lord of the Dance’ and ‘When I needed a neighbour’ – were starting to become popular.

A third process was a new commitment to search for ways of bringing about church unity. It led to the Anglican-Methodist Unity Scheme which was launched in 1964 under the auspices of the British Council of Churches and challenged the Churches in Britain ‘to covenant together to work and pray for the inauguration of a union’ by Easter Day 1980. One visible sign of this movement was the spread of ‘areas of ecumenical experiment’, where local congregations could try out ways of working together in a spirit of ecumenical co-operation.

Despite all these changes and adaptations within the Anglican Church all the signs were of numerical decline, particularly in the number of people attending church and children attending Sunday School. Rapid expansion of the number of churches in the second half of the 19th century, to meet the needs of growing populations in the towns and cities, had created too many to fund and support in a time of declining attendance and giving, as a result of which church closure became more common.



When Stanley Duthie arrived in St Thomas’ the church had been without a Curate for 40 years. Frank Mansfield (1913-18) had been the last one, and the four Vicars after him – Finlay, Towndrow, Latham, and Wallwork – had had to cope on their own, often through difficult times.

Duthie’s hopes must have been raised in April 1961 when he received a letter from the Bishop of Blackburn suggesting the possibility of providing a Curate for the parish. This was discussed by PCC that month, which decided to make no decision until the next meeting on the 1st of May. At the May meeting the Vicar read out the Bishop’s letter, stating that “he thought the appointment of a Curate would be helpful. Grants available from the Diocese would leave the Parish £165 [£2,800] to find.”

The Vicar pointed out that “with the help of a Curate it would be possible to carry out more visiting, to give more attention to the School, and to take some responsibility from the Lay Readers.” The Vicar then retired from the meeting, and a long discussion followed, after which PCC agreed to appoint a Curate. They must have moved forward quickly because within five months a Curate had been appointed; the minutes of the October PCC meeting note that it agreed “to pay the expenses of the Vicar and the Curate for the forthcoming Clergy Conference.”

The new Curate was Colin Arthur Powell, who had graduated from the University of Durham with a BA in 1953 and from Oak Hill Theological College in London in 1956. He was ordained deacon in 1958 and priest in 1959, and served his first Curacy at St Andrew’s, Leyland (1958-61). St Thomas’ was his second Curacy, which he held between 1961 and 1964. He must have arrived in St Thomas’ late in 1961, and in March the following year the Vicar told PCC that “Mr Powell was now giving most valuable service in the Parish.” His contribution to the work and ministry of the Church was greatly appreciated, and in October 1962 PCC agreed to increase his stipend from £465 [£7,630], the minimum point on the Diocesan scale, to £625 [£10,260], which is where he should have been.

It was normal in those days for a Curacy to last two years. In April 1963, after a lengthy discussion “on the question of appointing a successor to Mr Powell”, PCC agreed that “for the duration of the present Council no successor be appointed.” The question became more urgent the following year, and in May 1964 PCC agreed that, “as Mr Powell has now completed his two years as Curate … he be invited to stay here until he gets the opening he wishes.” In September the Curate reported to PCC that “he had been on the short list for a living in Kent, but not being married had gone against him. He was however to attend an interview on Thursday of this week with regard to a position as Prison Chaplain.” Nothing came of the Prison Chaplain opportunity, but the Vicar told PCC on the 2nd of November that Colin Powell had been appointed a Curate in Birkenhead and that the 29th of November would probably be his last Sunday at St Thomas’.” After Lancaster he moved south to serve as Curate of St Catherine’s in Tranmere, Merseyside (1964-65), then became Rector of St Luke’s in Cheetham, Manchester (1965-81) and Team Vicar in Oldham (1981-86) and Rochdale (1986-97). He retired in 1997.

The question of a successor resurfaced at that PCC meeting, where one member proposed the appointment of another Curate, but it was agreed to discuss the matter more fully at the next meeting later that month. On the 30th of November 1964 PCC agreed that “there should be no Curate at present. The situation could be reviewed at the first meeting of the new Council.” That review must have decided against the idea, and Stanley Duthie had to manage for the rest of his time at St Thomas’ – another nine years – without the assistance of a Curate.


Church Governance

The life of St Thomas’ during the sixties was heavily influenced by the big changes running through the Church of England that we looked at above.

The need for the church to be more proactive in reaching out to those beyond its walls was recognised. The minutes of the January 1962 PCC meeting record that the main theme of the Diocesan Clergy Conference was ‘Our Vocation’, and “it was emphasised that the main concern of the Clergy is to take the Gospel to the people.” The previous January PCC had agreed that “Mr Lowden should be the Church’s Publicity Officer and supply reports to the press.”

But most of the key changes were inward looking rather than outward facing. One was “the need for a great increase in the lay ministry of the Church”, which the June 1965 PCC was told was a key theme at that year’s Diocesan Conference. In June 1972 PCC agreed to pay for two representatives from St Thomas’ to attend a two-day Lay Conference to be held at St Martin’s College that September, on a non-residential basis.

A second challenge was posed by a 1967 report [_Partners in Ministry _]which among other things recommended the abolition of benefice and patronage and centralisation of authority in the hands of the Diocese, for example to make appointments and assume ownership of Vicarages. This was discussed by PCC in July 1969.

A third key change was the Synodical Government Measure 1969, which among other things established a framework for Group and Team Ministry (discussed by PCC in June 1969) and increased the importance of the Electoral Roll because the number of people on it would determine the number of representatives to the Deanery Synod (discussed by PCC in January 1970).

A fourth matter was a Church and State Report (1972) which recommended that General Synod should be given permanent powers to order forms of worship in the Church of England, whilst at the same time protecting the status of the 1662 [_Book of Common Prayer _](discussed by PCC in February 1972).

One slightly enigmatic minute of the September 1963 PCC meeting records that “there was some discussion about the secrecy of PCC meetings” but no decisions were made. Unfortunately no information is given about what led to the discussion or why the issue was regarded as important enough to discuss.


Parish boundary

The matter of the parish boundary and the sustainability of St Thomas’ parish, which had hung over Harold Wallwork’s incumbency, spilled over into Stanley Duthie’s time. Recall from the last chapter that in May 1957 the PCC of St Paul’s, Scotforth, had pulled out of an agreement to allow St Thomas’ to take over part of their parish, and Harold Wallwork had advised his PCC to let the matter sit for up to twelve months. Wallwork left Lancaster five months later, and Duthie arrived four months after that, during which PCC did not return to the matter.

The theme was re-visited in February 1959 when PCC agreed that, “subject to the Bishop’s approval having been obtained, efforts should be made to settle this matter.” That October PCC considered a letter from the Archdeacon about the parish boundaries, and agreed that “the Vicar should confer with the Vicar of St Paul’s, Scotforth, on the matter.”

The next month (November 1959) the Vicar told PCC that “the time is not yet opportune to discuss parish boundaries”, but the PCC minutes say nothing about why that was the case. Progress was very slow and sporadic. The Vicar told PCC in March 1960 that “the subject of the extension of the Parish boundaries has been re-opened, but because of the death of the Bishop and the change of Archdeacon was temporarily in abeyance.”

Two years passed before PCC was reminded in January 1962 of the need for the question of the parish boundary to be resolved, and was told that “this was now under discussion.” Again, progress was slow. The Vicar reported to PCC that May “on the visit to the Archdeacon of the Standing Committee about the question of parish boundaries. Any revision is dependent on the agreement of the incumbent and PCC of parishes concerned. The Archdeacon had agreed to write to the Vicar of Scotforth with a view to arranging a meeting to prepare a scheme.”

A breakthrough came in July 1962, when the Vicar told PCC that he had received a letter from St Paul’s PCC “offering to transfer to St Thomas’ Parish some 800 houses. It was decided to thank St Paul’s PCC for the offer, which would make a useful basis for discussion.”

Serious negotiations between St Thomas’ and St Paul’s could now begin, and in September PCC agreed to “ask for a development area, Bowerham Road, to be extended to the boundary to include Newlands and Chequers Avenue. The area north of Bridge Road and Newsham and Wellington Roads would be a logical addition to the Parish.” The suggestion was turned down; in October the Vicar updated PCC, reporting that “the Scotforth PCC was not prepared to go further than the original offer.”

After discussion it was agreed that the correspondence from Scotforth PCC should be sent to the Archdeacon. The Vicar sent it and received a reply from the Archdeacon who, as the November PCC minutes record, “suggested that St Paul’s offer should be accepted and the Pastoral Committee would then decide whether the proposal should be sent to the Church Commissioners for approval.”

St Thomas’ PCC must have accepted the Archdeacon’s suggestion, because in April 1963 the Vicar told PCC that “he thought it was time to make plans for the forthcoming extension of the parish.”

The Diocese continued planning for the boundary changes, and in October PCC discussed “the map and new proposals for the extension of the Parish Boundaries submitted by the Church Commissioners”; it agreed unanimously to accept the proposed changes. Stanley Duthie appears to have adopted a rather passive approach to embracing the new extension to the parish, advising PCC in November 1963 that, “in view of the expected extension of the Parish Boundaries, there will be extra magazine distributors and the cost of increasing the size of the magazine is to be explored.” He also suggested that “new members of the Parish should be visited.”

But at last the revised parish boundary was agreed and formalised, being approved by Her Majesty the Queen on the 27th of November 1963.

Full details of the revised boundaries of the parish were published in The London Gazette on the 29th of November 1963. In legal jargon, it defines “the territory to be annexed to the parish of St Thomas, Lancaster” as -

1. All that part of the parish of Saint Paul, Lancaster, which is bounded on the west by the parish of Saint Mary, Lancaster, on the north by the parish of Saint Thomas, Lancaster (detached portion), and on the remaining sides by an imaginary line commencing on the boundary of the parish of Saint Thomas, Lancaster (detached portion), and the parish of Saint Paul, Scotforth, at a point in the middle of the branch railway line which leads northwards from the main Preston to Lancaster railway line of British Railways (London Midland Region) to Lancaster Old Station Goods Yard and extending thence southwards along the middle of the first mentioned railway line to a point in the middle of the bridge which carries the said railway over Brunton Road, thence southwards along the middle of Brunton Road to its end and in a straight line continuation thereof to a point in the middle of Ashton Road, thence northeastwards along the middle of Ashton Road to the boundary between the parish of Saint Paul, Scotforth, and the parish of Saint Mary, Lancaster.

2. All that further part of the parish of Saint Paul, Scotforth, which is bounded on the west by the parish of Saint Thomas, Lancaster (detached portion), on the north by the parish of Christ Church, Lancaster, and on the remaining sides by an imaginary line commencing on the boundary between the parish of Christ Church, Lancaster, and the parish of Saint Paul, Scotforth, at the point on the western boundary … where it crosses the middle of Burrow Beck and extending thence southwestwards along the middle of Burrow Beck to a point in the middle of the culvert which carries the said Beck under Bowerham Road, thence northwards along the middle of Bowerham Road to a point opposite the northeastern end of the boundary between the house and premises numbered 56 Bowerham Road and the garage and premises situate at the corner of Bowerham Road and Avondale Road, thence southwestwards to and along the last mentioned boundary to its end, thence southwestwards in a straight line to a point opposite the northwestern end of the northeastern boundary of the house and premises numbered 4 Avondale Road in the middle of the roadway or lane situate between the houses and premises on the northwestern side of Avondale Road and the houses and premises on the southeastern side of Somerset Avenue, thence southwestwards along the middle of the said roadway or lane to its end at the junction of Lonsdale Place and Parkfield Drive, thence southwestwards in a straight line to the northeastern end of the northwestern boundary of the house and premised numbered 30 Lonsdale Place, thence southwestwards along the last mentioned boundary to the boundary between the parish of Saint Paul, Scotforth, and the parish of Saint Thomas, Lancaster (detached portion).”

With the new parish boundary now operational, by late 1963 St Thomas’ was responsible for serving the new territory and incorporating it into its thinking and planning. In December 1963 PCC agreed to print an extra 800 copies of the Parish newsletter, and “to ask for volunteers to visit the new area, and to hold a meeting to brief the volunteers.”

The next month the Council agreed to design “a four-page leaflet, similar in size to the Parish Newsletter, on a good quality paper”, for visitation on the Parish Extension, and to print up to 1,000 copies of it. The Vicar agreed to hold the briefing meeting for ‘Visitors’ to visit the new area on Monday the 27th of January 1964. PCC also agreed to pay the fees of £15 15s [£246] owed to the Diocesan Registrar for his work on the boundary changes.

Stanley Duthie and his Churchwardens must have heaved a sigh of relief that the long-running saga of parish boundaries was at last completed and they could devote their time and energies to other matters. But their relief was short-lasting because the border zone between St Thomas’ and St Paul’s would remain contested, and the question of parish boundaries would resurface seven years later.

In July 1971 PCC was told that “acting on the advice of the Deanery Synod’s Standing Committee Representative for the working party on needs and resources in the deanery, the Vicar of St Paul’s Scotforth had requested a meeting with reps of St Thomas’ about parish boundaries.” It was agreed that the St Thomas’ Standing Committee should ask for a meeting with the St Paul’s Standing Committee in September. On the 20thof September John Dart report back to PCC on the joint meeting of the two Standing Committees, noting that “there was discussion of the suggestion of a new church and parish of St Thomas’.”

This is the first time in twenty-three years that the idea of relocating St Thomas’ had been mooted, certainly in public, and it opened up a new front in the parish boundary discussions.

PCC had a lengthy discussion on the future of the parish at its November 1971 meeting. St Paul’s Standing Committee had made a suggestion about parish boundaries – we have no record what exactly it was, but it seems likely (given what was discussed in the following months) to have been about St Thomas’ relocating further south and including within its new parish the Hala Estate and the new housing then being built to the south of it. PCC agreed to report back to St Paul’s advising that their suggestion “was received with keen interest … and we are actively engaged in collecting further information.”

As a way forward, PCC suggested that “a joint working group, consisting of a few members of each Council [the Churchwardens and Vice-Chairman], should be set up to investigate all relevant issues and to report from time to time to their respective Councils.” The following month PCC was advised that St Paul’s had agreed to set up the joint working party and arrange for it to meet in the near future. In February 1972 PCC was told that “at the joint working party meeting with St Paul’s Scotforth, it had been suggested that there should be a general revision of boundaries. It had also been agreed that the [Diocesan] Synod be asked to consider buying of the old Congregational Church on Hala Estate.”

Scotforth Congregational Church on Lentworth Drive had been associated with the United Reformed Church in Bowerham, but by the early 1970s its congregation had dwindled to the point of being unsustainable. In March 1972 PCC was advised that “the City Council were showing some interest in the Hala Congregational Church”.

The City Council must have bought the site because soon afterwards the church was pulled down and council flats built there, adjacent to the arcade of shops. Many years later, in 1985, St Paul’s built the Hala Worship and Community Centre adjacent to a block of new sheltered housing in Hala Square, Beck View.

Relocating St Thomas’ to Bowerham was ruled out, but the prospect returned of it losing its status as a separate parish church as a result of a Lancaster Deanery Survey that recommended that it should become part of a Group Ministry with the Priory, St John’s and Christ Church. In April 1973 PCC “was unanimous in wishing to protest strongly about the suggestion.”


Church unity


Discussions about Anglican-Methodist unity

One hallmark of the 1960s was a greater openness in the Church of England to seriously explore ways of re-uniting with the Methodist Church, which had separated from it back in 1795.

Local evidence of this can be traced back to a Diocesan Conference held in Blackburn in June 1964 that dealt with a report on the discussions between the Anglican and Methodist Churches about joining together. According to the minutes of the PCC meeting the following month, a key proposal was proposed and seconded; it said “This Diocesan Conference welcomes both the majority and minority Reports in ‘Conversations between the Church of England and the Methodist Church.’ It is prepared to accept it as the basis for unity between the Church of England and the Methodist Church.”

Although full unity proved a step too far and was ultimately rejected by the General Synod, those reports provided impetus to strengthen and deepen ecumenical relationships at the local level. As Paul Welsby (1984 p.174) points out -

the growth of ecumenical relationships throughout the country led to the emergence of three demands. The first was that intercommunion should be officially authorised, the second was that the sharing of church buildings should be made legally possible, and the third was that machinery for establishing areas of ecumenical co-operation on an official basis should be established.”

One vehicle for promoting ecumenical co-operation was a programme of study called The People Next Door that was launched by the British Council in 1967, one purpose of which was ‘to test the relevance of the ecumenical insights in the local church situation’.

The minutes of the July 1966 PCC meeting record that “the Vicar had had some correspondence about this scheme but did not think a [study] kit [for it] should be purchased at present.” The Vicar’s reluctance to commit unreservedly to ecumenical initiatives in Lancaster becomes clear over the following three years, in matters of finance and joint services.

In May 1967 the Vicar told PCC that an Ecumenical Centre had been proposed at the Wesley Methodist Church in Sulyard Street. It had been suggested that St Thomas’ contribute £30 [£412] towards the costs, but after a lengthy discussion it was agreed that “a token payment of three guineas be made in view of our very heavy present and future commitments.” PCC revisited the cost of the Centre the following April, after being asked to contribute £25 [£330] that year towards the running costs. Once again the Council agreed that “as we still have very heavy commitments … we again send a token payment of three guineas in addition to the Annual Subscription of two guineas.”

The Ecumenical Centre was keen to offer joint Anglican-Methodist services, and when PCC were advised in July 1967 that one was being planned for the 22nd of October their response was lukewarm and cautious; they agreed “to send representatives to the service but [insisted that] St Thomas’s Church should remain open as usual.” There was no doubt a collective sigh of relief when the Vicar told PCC in September that the proposed Joint Service had been postponed.

The Joint Service might have been postponed but no further mention of it can be found in the minutes of church meetings. There is a minute of a joint meeting of the PCC and Sulyard Street Leaders, held at Sulyard Street on the 2nd of December 1968, at which “the organisation of the two churches was explained by the Minister of Sulyard Street Church and the Vicar of St Thomas’s. The effects of the proposed union of the respective churches were then discussed.”

The last we hear of Anglican-Methodist proposals during Stanley Duthie’s time is a minute from the January 1969 PCC meeting which notes that “a ballot vote will be made on these proposals, by members, at the Diocesan Conference to be held on the 18th January 1969.” Unfortunately we have no record of how that Diocesan vote went, but proposals for union were rejected by the General Synod of the Church of England in 1972.


Evangelical groups and organisations

Whilst the Anglican-Methodist ‘conversations’ continued during Stanley Duthie’s time, and ultimately led to little change on the ground in Lancaster, the leadership of St Thomas’ took a much more lively interest in engaging with evangelical groups and organisations, reaffirming the church’s evangelical roots and consolidating its evangelical style of churchmanship.

We see this particularly in the decision by PCC in October 1958 to join the Evangelical Alliance, noting that it “is for the promotion of Christian unity.” The following year it agreed to continue the subscription, at one guinea (£1 1s [£26]) per year, and in July 1965 it agreed to subsidise three members attending the Alliance’s National Assembly in London in late September to the tune of £5 [£74] each. In the event two people went, and they reported back to PCC in October that “it was the first time that evangelicals of all denominations had met in such a conference, and that the sense of unity and fellowship was very marked.”

The 1965 London Assembly was followed by another one in 1966, and it gave rise to the National Evangelical Alliance Congress (NEAC) which was held at Keele University in Staffordshire in April 1967. In June 1966 PCC agreed to order a Christ Over All study kit for a Study Group to work through in preparation for the Keele Congress. PCC was told in October that the studies would be held monthly in the Parish Hall, beginning on the 19th of October at 7.30 pm, and would be led by John Dart. The Vicar told PCC in January 1967 that he would attend Keele “unless Mr Dart wishes to attend”.

The Keele Congress is, as Andrew Atherstone (2011) points out, “widely acknowledged as a major watershed for the evangelical movement in the Church of England.” As a result of detailed archival research, he has concluded that “there was a decisive attitudinal shift at the congress, driven especially by the younger generation – from piety to policy, conservatism to radicalism, homogeneity to diversity, and exclusivism to ecumenism.” He believes that “the Keele Congress established a new agenda for Anglican evangelicalism, a legacy which still continues today.”

A further National Assembly was held at Church House in Westminster in October 1968. PCC had agreed in April that “Mr [Jim] Newsham and his wife should attend this Conference, if it is convenient for them to do so” but later agreed that the Vicar and Miss Richardson should go instead “because of Mr Newsham’s work”.

A different indicator of the leadership’s uncompromising commitment to the evangelical cause comes in the PCC’s agreement in July 1969 that “the Secretary should write to Latimer House, the Church Society, the Fellowship of Evangelical Churchmen, and to the Bishop of Blackburn, stipulating that only ministers who subscribe to the 39 Articles and who hold to their doctrinal teaching as embodying the essence of the gospel, should be appointed.”



There is only patchy information about the annual accounts and budgets in the minutes of PCC meetings during Stanley Duthie’s time, so it is not possible to build a very detailed picture.

The financial situation in St Thomas’ appears to have varied through time over this period. PCC was pleased to hear in February 1960 that the accounts showed an overall balance of £1,593 [£28,000] “the largest to date”, yet in April 1970 the Treasurer reported to the Annual Church Meeting that “the church was running at a loss of about £150 [£1,750] per year at the moment.”



In terms of income the church relied heavily upon the weekly collections of cash and gift envelopes to cover basic running costs, but these varied from year to year. PCC was told in July 1965 that average weekly giving in cash during 1964 was £6 17s. [£101] and by envelopes it was £9 17s. [£145], and the annual total had risen by £34 [£500] and fallen by £60 [£885] respectively. In November 1969 PCC expressed some concern “about the disappearance of the half crown which is very popular in the collection.” In May 1973 the Council noted that “collections at present do not meet expenses.”

In 1962, as a result of their discussions about Christian Stewardship (see below), PCC agreed to introduce a covenant scheme in which donors commit to donate an agreed amount of money on which the church can then gain tax relief; this was the forerunner of the Gift Aid system we have today. As well as increasing the income through tax relief, a covenant scheme makes financial planning easier because that income stream is more predictable and secure than cash giving with or without envelopes.

In February the Council proposed that “further information regarding a covenant scheme be obtained”, in March “the adoption of a scheme for the use of Deeds of Covenant by members of the Church was mentioned as a possibility to be discussed at the next PCC meeting”, and in May it was agreed that “arrangements be made for Deeds of Covenant to be made available to those members of the congregation who are willing and eligible.” The covenant scheme was introduced, and in June 1964 the Treasurer told PCC that he intended to claim back the Income Tax paid on money donated through the Covenant Agreement on all claims once each year.

PCC continued the policy of looking to sales of work as a means of raising money during Stanley Duthie’s time, holding them most years, usually in November. Most were held in the Parish Hall, but somethimes (such as 1968, 1972 and 1973) the sale was held in the Lower Town Hall. This continued to be an effective way of generating income. The sale in November 1961, for example, which was held in the Parish Hall, raised a total of £420 15s [£7,150]; the following month PCC agreed that £100 [£1,700] should be allocated to the Curacy Fund, £42 [£714] should be divided amongst the seven missionary societies the church supported regularly, and the rest should go to the Church Fabric Fund. The 1965 sale raised £548 11s. [£8,100], from which £23 [£340] was deducted for expenses.

This form of fund-raising benefited both the church and the missionary societies it supported. Five missionary societies (CMS, SAMS, BCMS, CPAS, and CMJ) were each allocated £25 [£370]. Quite why only five societies are listed as having received money from the sale in 1965 remains a mystery, but in 1967 money was given to the usual seven (CMS, SAMS, BCMS, CPAS, CMJ, C&CCS, and B&FBS). In July 1971 PCC agreed that ten percent of the proceeds from the sale of work that year should go to six missionary societies (CMS, SAMS, BCMS, CPAS, B&FBS, and Wycliffe Bible Translators), and the balance used to cover church expenses.

Special collections were used mainly to raise money for missionary groups, but sometimes part of the money received was used for the church’s own activities. For example in May 1970 some money from a special collection helped to fund the Sunday School Anniversary and a choir outing, and the choir was allocated £25 [£200] from the special collection in May 1974.

PCC also recognised the value of holding occasional Gift Days in church to raise money for particular causes. The Gift Day held in November 1958 raised £175 [£3,150], but there is no record of what that was used for. The November 1962 Gift Day raised £229 [£3,760] that went towards the Parish Hall Fund. In July 1968 PCC agreed to hold a Harvest Thanksgiving Gift Day, “the proceeds [to] be used to open a fund for the new building needed to replace St Thomas’s School.” In October 1972 PCC agreed “to have the month of November for gifts towards the heating system: envelopes to be labelled ‘My thanksgiving to the church’.”

The gift collections were not confined to church. In November 1966 PCC agreed to hold a Gift Month, inviting contributions from people living in the parish. This was done by delivering to each house, along with the Parish Magazine, an envelope with the words “My Christmas Gift to the Church. Please bring or send to the Church during December” printed on it. There is no record of how much money was raised in this way.

The church also relied on occasional gifts and donations for particular projects. The Vicar told PCC in October 1968 that an anonymous donor had given £234 [£3,000] towards the cost of building and repair work associated with the Church. He told PCC in May 1972 that a donation of £400 [£4,000] towards the cost of a new church heating system had been promised, and the diocese had given a grant of £100 [£1,000] and had offered an interest-free loan of £300 [£3,000] repayable in three equal annual instalments.



One major item of expenditure was the annual Diocesan Quota, which in 1962 was £135 [£2,200]. In October that year PCC agreed, given “the discrepancies in quotas required from parishes”, to “withhold payment until the basis of assessment had been ascertained.”

The following month the Council was told that “the Diocesan Quota was based chiefly on the number of Easter communicants.” A new Quota system was introduced in June 1964, under which “each Parish will be expected to contribute fifteen percent of its annual income. Allowances would be made for Capital Commitments and donations to Missionary Societies.”

Insuring the church buildings and content was another annual outlay. PCC discussed the matter in July 1962; the last re-assessment for insurance purposes had been made three decades earlier, in 1933, when cover for £22,000 [£360,000] was arranged. It agreed that “the insurance should be increased to £63,000 [£1 million]”, and this was done within two months. The minutes of the November 1963 PCC meeting give details of the breakdown of the insurance cover – the organ was insured for £12,500 [£202,000], the pews for £7,500 [£121,000] and the building for £50,000 [£808,000]. Ten years later, in November 1972, the church and contents were insured for £136,250 [£1.36 million], with an annual premium of £164.74 [£1,650].

Clergy stipends and expenses also had to be paid. The Vicar’s actual stipend is not known, but it was some way below the sum recommended by the Diocese, which in July 1961 PCC heard was “a minimum basic figure of £750 [£12,750] per annum with family allowances.” The stipend remained relatively low for many years.

In September 1971 PCC discussed the Clergy Stipend Report and agreed to inform the Deanery Synod that “St Thomas’ PCC would endeavour to raise as much as possible of the required amount to bring the clergy stipend to £1,500 [£16,000], but we cannot guarantee the full amount.” The following October PCC had to notify the Deanery Synod that it had not been possible to increase the Vicar’s stipend to the recommended minimum or pay in full his office expenses “and that they would not be able to implement the Report in full this year.” In November 1970 PCC had agreed to increase the Vicar’s expenses allowances for telephone by £10 [£116], for car by £20 [£230] and for postage by £10 [£116]. Funds were also required for the Curate, and in December 1962 the Vicar told PCC that “£116 10s. [£1,900] was still needed for the Curacy Fund” and he agreed to “contact individuals who wish to contribute a small weekly sum to the Curacy Fund.”



Stewardship can be defined as “the intentional act of taking responsibility for and protecting something considered worth looking after”. As Paul Welsby (1984 p.101) points out “it was in the sixties that Christian stewardship of time, money and talents became the official policy of the Church of England and the Central Board of Finance began its campaign for the teaching and acceptance of its principles.”

To his credit, Stanley Duthie quickly came onboard the Anglican Church’s push to introduce Christian Stewardship into all of its parishes, at least in terms of ‘talking the talk’. In June 1959 he explained the principles of Christian Stewardship to PCC, defining it as “the utilising of our time, talents and money as a gift from God to be used in His service.” He outlined four principles that underlie it -

1. A Church should never beg for money; the Church should give.

  2. Every family has a responsibility to the Parish Church.

  3. Giving generously is essential to the individual’s spiritual welfare.

  4. Giving should be on a basis of equality of sacrifice and not equality of contribution.”

The trail then goes cold for two years, but PCC then discussed it again at some length in June 1961.

The discussion was informed by a presentation by a Mr Lund who emphasised “that what the Wells Organisation [a church fund-raising company originally based in the USA which by then had expanded to cover Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand, and was gaining ground in England] does at great expense Church members should be able to do for themselves.” The following month PCC agreed to introduce an ‘envelope scheme’ (for collecting donations to be used for church expenses) by the end of September, and to discuss a “letter asking for increased giving from parishioners” at their next meeting.

The Vicar told PCC in June 1964 that he and his wife, Curate Colin Powell, and the Churchwardens had been invited “to a Parish Supper in the Ashton Hall on Friday 12th June, in connection with the St Paul’s Stewardship Campaign.” PCC agreed that “they should go as observers”, but the minutes give no clues as to why they felt the need to have PCC backing to accept the invitation.

It seems that other Anglican churches in Lancaster were also challenged by the Stewardship movement. At the same meeting the Treasurer told PCC that “St Chad’s had been drawn in against their conscience by the decision of St Luke’s. Two campaigns had been held, one run by the Wells Organisation, and the other by the Parish. While the first cost £800 [£12,500], the second cost only £70 [£1,000], and the income from this was slightly up. The Diocese now had men who were able to lead campaigns, and he urged the Council to use them.”

Questions were asked about the advisability of holding a Stewardship Campaign in the parish, and PCC was advised that the experience from other churches in Lancaster suggested that annual income could increase by at least a third. As the minutes of that PCC meeting record, “misgivings were expressed as to the effect of such a campaign on Social Activities and Missionary Giving. Mr Jackson felt that people outside the church should be asked to contribute, as this would create an interest, and be a first contact with them.” Summing up the discussion, the Vicar -

stressed his acceptance of the principles of the Stewardship of Time, Talents and Money, but felt that two evils had to be avoided: 1. That people should give everything directly to the Church. This would impoverish many Missionary and Charitable Societies. 2. Such gifts could be a sop to people’s consciences. Particularly in the new area of the Parish, it was essential to evangelise first.”

The record is then silent for a further seven years, until a Mr Walker explained to PCC in June 1971 that “stewardship of all we have is part of the teaching of Jesus as for example in the giving of the loaves and fishes. He explained how a stewardship campaign could be started and run in a parish.”

This implies that, despite the PCC’s good intentions back in 1961 and 1964, and although an ‘envelope scheme’ in church services had been introduced in about 1962, a broader parish-wide campaign had not in fact been launched by St Thomas’.


Mission Support

St Thomas’ had a long tradition of generous giving to organisations involved in mission work, both at home and overseas, and this continued during Stanley Duthie’s incumbency.

Rather than being an in-built part of the annual church budget, as it is today, missionary giving (now mission support) was funded mainly from special collections taken in church services. This, of course, meant that the amount any particular organisation would receive varied from year to year, including nothing some years, making long-term planning difficult for them.

For example, in May 1958 PCC agreed to hold collections for the following organisations – Bible Churchman’s Missionary Society (BCMS), British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS), Church Mission to Jews (CMJ), Church Missionary Society (CMS), Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS, the church’s patrons), and Commonwealth and Continental Church Society (C&CCS). In May 1961 PCC agreed to hold special collections for BCMS, BFBS, CMJ, CMS, CPAS, C&CCS, and a new one the South American Mission Society (SAMS). Wycliffe Bible Translators were added to the mix in 1974.

In April 1973 PCC agreed to hold a retiring collection for TEAR Fund (The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund) after both the morning and evening services on the 29th of April. This is the first mention of TEAR Fund, to which St Thomas’s has a long-standing commitment, in any minutes of church meetings. The 1973 collection raised over £11 [£100].

Other means of raising money for mission organisations included the regular sales of work – the November 1958 PCC agreed “that 10 percent of the Sale of Work proceeds [will] be allocated to CMS, BCMS and CPAS” – and collection boxes – in May 1971 PCC agreed “that a general missionary box should be used during Lent and the proceeds divided among CMS, BCMS, CPAS and SAMS.”

As well as being generous in its giving to mission organisations, St Thomas also directly supported an individual, Martin Leigh, who was working as a Wycliffe Bible Translator. In October 1966 PCC agreed “to have our own Martin Leigh Sunday on the 13th of November, Remembrance Day”; in November 1967 it agreed to hold a Martin Leigh Sunday on the 14th of January 1968; and in May 1970 it agreed that Martin Leigh should receive £50 (£580) of the proceeds of a special collection. In April 1971 he described to the Annual Church Meeting “his work and difficulties during his second missionary trip in Nigeria with Wycliffe Bible Translators.”


Church fabric

One small visible change inside the church was the addition in 1962 of an oak prayer desk on the north side of the sanctuary, near the altar, bearing the inscription ‘In memory of Frederick William Hartley, 62 years a Choir member. Thanks be to God.’

A number of maintenance projects were carried out in the church. Some involved small-scale repair work; for example in July 1958 PCC agreed to repair the main church doors at a cost of £65 [£1,170]. Other projects took longer and were more costly; for example in December 1958 PCC discussed an Architect’s Report on the need for repairs to the church roof.


Steeple and bells

One of the more expensive projects was to repair and make safe the steeple. Recall that after the bell frame had been declared unsafe in 1935 it was agreed “to ring only one bell for the present”, and by 1954 a record player and loud-speaker system had been installed in the steeple. That solution was continued in Stanley Duthie’s time, and in November 1962 PCC agreed to “purchase a long-playing record of Church Bells to replace to one at present in use” and the following July to buy new styluses for the record player. That solution did not deal with the bigger problem of the fabric of the steeple.

In September 1960 PCC agreed to seek advice from a firm of steeple-jacks about the condition of the steeple, but after that we hear nothing until 1967 when momentum built over a number of PCC meetings. In June PCC was told that “the belfry badly wants cleaning out and one window covered so that the rain and pigeons will be unable to get in. … the Steeple needs pointing outside.” Mr Airey, one of the Churchwardens, asked if the bells were safe and he was told that if left alone and not rung they would hang for a long time. PCC agreed to arrange for a team of cleaners to clean the inside of the belfry on the 20th of June 1967, and the Vicar agreed “to get in touch with the Health Department to send a man to clean [out] the pigeons [and their droppings].”

In July PCC was told that the belfry had been cleaned out, and the estimated cost of repointing the steeple was £384 [£5,270]. In September it agreed that “1. The bells be sold in accordance with the best estimate. 2. Instructions be given … for work on the steeple to proceed according to the revised estimate of £685 [£9,400].”

PCC then applied for a faculty to allow it to repair the steeple and remove and sell all but one of the church bells (the smallest bell was to be kept ‘for tolling’). A copy of the faculty, dated the 29th of December 1967, is archived in the County Record Office in Preston. In early January 1968 PCC was told that the faculty had been received so the work could go ahead, and it agreed to accept quotes for the removal (£175) [£2,300] and transport (£20) [£260] of the bells, and accept offers of £150 [£2,000] “for the bells if delivered at their foundry” and £685 [£9,000] for work on the steeple.

The Vicar was able to tell PCC in September that “the outside pointing to the steeple had been completed”, but extra pointing work was required which would cost an estimated £107 [£1,400]. PCC agreed that the extra work should be done. The following March (1969) PCC heard that all of the steeple repairs had been completed, at a total cost of £792 [£9,900].


Heating system

Stanley Duthie had inherited a church with long-standing heating problems, and he got off to an unfortunate start with the new oil-fired heating system. Soon after his arrival he told PCC in December 1958 that he had received a letter from the Diocese (probably because the boiler had been put in without full permission) advising that “as the oil-heating system had already been installed it was agreed that the circular letter on the matter be accepted and nothing further done.”

Two winters later there were problems with heating in the church, school and Sunday School, and in October 1960 PCC was concerned to make the most economical use of the oil-fired boiler, at a time of rising oil prices worldwide. In February 1970 it was still eager to get advice on heating costs, but that December the discussion switched to exploring the cost of installing a new, bigger boiler.

PCC was advised in January 1971 that the existing boiler was unlikely to last more than another five years, but the matter became more urgent two months later when it was told that “two sections of the boiler had collapsed and a new boiler would be needed”, as a result of which it was agreed “to hire four gas convectors to give heat temporarily.”

A whole year and a cold winter passed before PCC returned to the matter, agreeing in March 1972 to seek independent advice about the size of boiler that was needed. Things then speeded up. In May PCC agreed to install a new boiler (with a capacity of about 300,000 BTUs) and two additional radiators on the side aisles of the church, at a likely cost of up to £800 [£8,000]. The same month a faculty was applied for from the Diocese to remove the old boiler, disconnect the school heating system, install a new boiler, and add two large radiators on the existing pipes in the side aisles.

Half of the money had been promised by an anonymous donor, and PCC heard in June that the Diocese had given a grant of £100 [£1,000] and had offered an interest-free loan of £300 [£3,000] repayable in three equal annual instalments.


Repairs and redecoration

Dry rot was discovered at the main entrance to church in June 1958 and PCC agreed to get estimates to fix it. In May 1958 PCC was told that fungus had been reported underneath the Churchwarden’s pew. More dry rot was found at the south west end of church in 1962, but the July PCC meeting was told that steps had already been taken to put the matter right.

In December that year PCC accepted quotes for dealing with the dry rot, at a cost of £814 6s. [£13,360], and associated repairs (eg fixing guttering) at a cost of £228 11s. [£3,750], making a total of £1,042 17s. [£17,110] plus architect’s fees of around £50 [£820]. In April 1963 PCC was told that “the repairs to the inside of the Church were now completed apart from the replacement of a few panes of glass and an electric light fitting. Outside work is to be done in May.”

Early in 1970 damp was discovered above the balcony on the south side at the back of church, and in February PCC agreed to get it fixed. Early in 1972 wet rot was found in some timbers below the church floor, and in May PCC heard that by then some had been replaced and the timbers treated.

Parts of the church interior had to be redecorated, particularly after repair work had been done. In May 1960 PCC agreed “to make an effort to touch up the paint in Church now that the damp is cleared, before Confirmation.” After further work inside church, in October 1968 PCC gratefully accepted the offer by members to decorate the Vestry, noting that “washing of the paint work be left to the ladies” and agreeing that “although it was felt that the chancel should be decorated as soon as possible, no further plans could be made at this stage.”

The following June PCC discussed an estimate for painting the chancel and church, including the porch and staircase but excluding the ceiling beams, at a cost of £700 [£8,800]; the chancel alone would cost £150 [£1,900] “for scraping and three coats of flat paint.”

Estimates for painting the porch, east wall, chancel and Vicar’s Vestry were discussed in May 1970, in June PCC agreed to redecorate the whole church at an estimated cost of £805 [£9,400], and in July it applied for a faculty to decorate the whole of the interior of the church and all outside painting, the job to be completed ideally by early September.

In May 1969 PCC agreed to rewire the church and upgrade the electric fittings. Five months later, in October, it accepted a quotation for the work of £658 [£8,200], broken down into £450 [£5,600] for the installation and £208 [£2,600] for fittings. In February 1970 it agreed to rewire the lights at the front gate, and that April it was told that the rewiring was complete and had cost about £700 [£8,150].

During the interregnum between Stanley Duthie retiring and his successor arriving, in July 1974 PCC agreed to get estimates for pointing and timber work and for installing a new toilet in church, and to consider a new gate for the Marton Street entrance.

There were also issues beyond the church buildings to deal with. In June 1961 PCC agreed to clear the weeds around the church grounds and clean the railings ready for painting, and discussed the growing problem for both the school and the church of car parking on Marton Street.



The organ continued to play a central part in church services during the 1960s, although for many decades before Stanley Duthie’s arrival it had proved costly and difficult to maintain in good working order, and had over the years exercised the minds of many Churchwardens. Very soon after he arrived, in June 1958 PCC discussed “the question of cleaning and renovation of the organ” but agreed that “in view of the present conditions [not specified, presumably lack of finance] … the matter be left in abeyance.”

Ignoring the problem did not solve it, and PCC returned to the matter of the organ four years later in 1962. In July the Vicar reported that “the organ is in need of a complete overhaul” and in September PCC agreed to get an estimate for the cost of doing that.

The estimated cost of £730 [£12,000] for repairing and cleaning the organ was discussed in October, when PCC agreed to launch an Organ Fund, and in December when suggestions included holding a Gift Day and/or a Sale of Work, and asking the 300 members on the electoral roll to give £1 [£16] each. The following December (1963) PCC was told that a total of £218 [£3,400] had been contributed towards the cost of the repairs and another £35 [£546] was set aside from other accounts, and it agreed to get the work done, starting on the 20th of April 1964. The work took eight weeks to complete and ended up costing £786 [£12,260].

Then all went quiet on the organ front until January 1969, when PCC was told that “when the organ was examined recently it was found that it had been damaged by a heavy fall of plaster.” The damage was inspected by Jardine’s, the organ company, who reported back to PCC in March “that more than 1,000 pipes will need to be removed, cleaned, repaired, and returned. This will cost £210 [£2,600]. Plastering will also need to be done when the pipes have been removed.” PCC decided to notify the church’s insurance company before proceeding further.

That June PCC considered a report from another organ building company, Henry Willis and Sons, which pointed out that “there is rot under the organ and they do not consider it worth repairing. It would cost £8,000 [£100,000] to rebuild. A new organ with two manuals would cost £3,000 [£37,500].” The next month (July 1969) PCC agreed to seek expert advice on how best to treat the boards beneath the organ, where the rot was probably caused by age and damp, having previously “decided against the purchase of an electric organ.”

The search for a cost-effective solution to the problem of the organ continued for many months. The Vicar reported to PCC in April 1970 on “investigations into the cost of organs or repair of the present instrument”, and in June PCC discussed ongoing correspondence with Jardine’s over the cost of tuning, maintenance and repairs. In July it agreed to partially clean the organ, at a cost of £238 [£2,800], then redecorate the church, ideally before early December when the Keswick in Lancaster Convention had booked to use St Thomas’ as a venue.

That work was presumably done, though there is no record of it in the minutes of PCC meetings, but within two years the organ was causing problems again. PCC was advised in May 1972 that the organ had been badly tuned and the firm who did it had submitted a large bill for the work done.

Keeping the organ in good working order was proving to be a major challenge, but the church also faced the challenge of finding and keeping a good organist. In September 1970 PCC agreed that the organist’s stipend should remain at £75 [£870] “but with up to 12 Sundays covered by Council for the service of a deputy organist.”

Miss Bell resigned as organist in April 1971 and, according to the minutes of the September PCC meeting, was presented at the Harvest Evening Service with “a well-printed Prayer Book” and £15 [£160] in appreciation of her service. In April PCC had agreed to advertise for another organist in the Lancaster Guardian in the first instance, but in June the Vicar reported that “four four weeks advertising in the Lancaster Guardian had brought no enquiries.” The Vicar also told PCC that the Deputy Organist (Mr J Blacktop) had resigned, having been appointed Deputy Organist at the Moor Hospital.

An update on the search for an organist was given to PCC in July – no applications for the post had been received but John Blacktop and Kenneth Bell “might be available to help if needed.” By November a student (John Beckett) had been appointed organist and PCC was told that he was proving very satisfactory but could not always attend choir practice and would not always be available in the vacations.

In November PCC agreed “to pay the organist 75p [£8] for each service and 50p [£5.30] for choir practice”, but the following month, “in view of the fact that Mr John Beckett did not wish to take a fee for Sunday work, it was agreed to pay him £1 [£10] per week for choir practice. Others who helped occasionally were to be paid 75p [£8] per service.”



Stanley Duthie put great store on the quality of the church services, and PCC regularly discussed different aspects of the services and how they were organised. Comfort and audibility were taken into account too. In June 1963 PCC agreed “not to use the centre light during the sermon if it causes annoyance”, although annoyance to whom (the speaker or the listeners) is not recorded.

When the new Vicar arrived there had been some form of hearing aid system in the church for about five years, but he told PCC in July 1958 of “a shortage of earphones. [and] It was decided that a maximum of five [should] be purchased.”

Problems continued and in October 1960, after “the earphones in use in Church were reported as being unsatisfactory”, it was agreed to make necessary alterations. In December 1971 PCC accepted an offer from Mr Ford (one of its members) “to examine the loudspeaker system, particularly the amplifier” which had been installed in 1957.


Format of services

In 1965 the Church of England was engaged in liturgical reform, one outcome of which was granting permission to churches to try out different forms of service (known as ASB Series 1 and 2 from the Alternative Service Book). John Dart told PCC in May 1966 that “these aimed to resolve to tensions between different forms of churchmanship and to get rid of as many rubrics as possible. With the approval of the PCC and the sanction of the Bishop an alternative form of service can be used, provided it is used regularly for at least two years.”

The following month the Vicar told PCC that he had received a letter from CPAS (the church’s patrons) “requesting the Council to make its views known on the proposed forms of service” but it was felt that no action could be taken until all members had studied the services.” Nothing more about this is recorded until the PCC meeting in April 1967, where the Vicar “mentioned the new forms of service but deplored the obligation to try them for two years.” Things moved slowly on this front during Stanley Duthie’s incumbency.

Some PCC discussions centred on the format of the service. For example, in January 1971 the discussion centred on “the series of sermons, hymns and their times, a young people’s service, and how the choir should process at the beginning of the service.” In March 1973 PCC agreed “to continue to take the collection during a hymn”, and in November 1973 the Vicar “mentioned various matters including the tidiness of the church, welcoming visitors, behaviour and noise in church.”

Sometimes the focus was on the length of the service. In March 1961 there was “some discussion about the most suitable length of services in Church”, but no decisions were made. In December 1970 “it was requested that the addresses at the Christmas Eve Communion Service and also at the Carol Service should be short” and PCC was told the following month that both services “were considered to have been of appropriate length.”

Discussions about hymns and singing in services pop up frequently in minutes of PCC meetings … debate about sung worship is by no means a new phenomenon. In September 1958, for example “opinions were expressed that many hymns were too long and many chants dreary. It was agreed that where the Recessional Hymn was long it should be restricted to certain verses, and every effort should be made to ensure the continuance of congregational participation in the singing.” In June 1969 PCC discussed which parts of the services should be sung or said, and in November it recommended that “the Creed be said and not intoned [sung].”

Some discussions were very specific. In September 1960, for example, PCC agreed that “the Vesper [the singing of the Magnificat in the evening service] be omitted pro tem as an experiment … subject to a review at a later date.” The next month PCC was told that “younger people were satisfied without [it] but that older people prefer a Vesper or short recessional. After discussion it was decided to try said instead of sung amens after the third collect, as an experiment.”

The suitability of services for different groups of people was also considered. One such group was the young people, and in October 1965 “Miss Richardson requested that the form of service on Church Parade mornings should be suited to young people.”

After a delay of four years, in June 1969 PCC agreed that “a Guest Service arranged and run by the young people should take place as soon as possible (probably in July).” July came and went, and at PCC in late October it was suggested that a Young People’s Service be held soon. One was held although we have no record of when, but the Vicar told the Annual Church Meeting in April 1970 that “the Guest Service run by the young people had been successful.” That’s the last we hear of youth services during Stanley Duthie’s time.

Another group was families, but again the response was sluggish. The Annual Church Meeting in April 1970 asked PCC to discuss the question of a Family Communion Service at its next meeting. In June PCC “agreed to leave this question over”, and the following month it agreed “to experiment with simplified morning prayer on Parade Sundays, ie on the first Sunday in the month, beginning in September. The address to be ‘child orientated’.” In February 1972 PCC agreed to hold a Family Service on the morning of Mothering Sunday, but it looks like that was a one-off event.

Carol services were held in church most years during the week running up to Christmas. In 1966, for example, a carol service was held on the Sunday before Christmas, and PCC had agreed in October that “each organisation is to be asked to choose a member to read a lesson for the Service. It was also mentioned to have as many carols as possible for the congregation to sing.” In 1970 a carol service for Bowerham Junior School was held in church on the 14th of December.


Hymn Book and Prayer Book

Prayer books and hymn books were very important in the days when the liturgy had to be followed meticulously and parts of the service were said aloud by the congregation, and before projection equipment was installed in church.

It was important to ensure that enough good quality books were available in the pews for the congregation to use during services, and from time to time new ones had to be bought to increase the number and replace damaged ones. Thus, for example, in January 1961 PCC agreed to order 24 Prayer Books, 12 Hymn Books and 6 large print Hymn Books, and in June 1963 it agreed to purchase 36 Prayer Books.

A new Anglican hymn book (Hymns of Faith) was published in February 1964. In June 1965 PCC, cautious as ever, agreed “to purchase a specimen copy”, and that September the Vicar said he would check on the price of multiple copies for the church. Three years were to pass before PCC eventually agreed in September 1968, after a lengthy discussion, to buy copies of Hymns of Faith to replace the Anglican Hymn Book in use up to then. A new Youth Praise Psalms was published in 1973 and launched in Manchester that September. The same month, when it was known that the Vicar was shortly to retire, PCC considered the cost for words and music versions, “but it was suggested nothing be done about them until the new Vicar arrived.” Nonetheless, three months later in December PCC agreed to buy 150 paperback versions of the words and twenty of the music, at a cost of £48 [£440]. The books arrived within a month.

New versions of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, called the Alternative Services Series, were also becoming available at this time; Series 1 in 1965, Series 2 in 1966 and Series 3 from 1971 onwards. In March 1972 PCC agreed that the Churchwardens should get a sample of the prayer books and spend up to £50 [£500] if the sample was satisfactory. The price was 50p [£5] per copy and later that month PCC agreed to order sixty copies, which had arrived by early September. In October PCC agreed “to petition for review of the 1662 Prayer Book”, suggesting that they were not entirely happy with the Alternative Services Series.


Communion  services

Communion services have long held an important place in the life of Anglican churches, and PCC discussed a range of aspects of them during Stanley Duthie’s time.

Some discussions were based on small and local issues. For example, in October 1963 “Miss Donohue raised the question of the provision of non-alcoholic wine for the Communion Services. After discussion it was decided to take no action.” In November 1964 Mr Airey, one of the Churchwardens, suggested that “regular evening Communion Services, possibly on the fifth Sunday in a month, should be tried instead of Evening Prayer” although there is no record of the outcome.

PCC was comfortable in sharing Communion with members of other churches and denominations, and in October 1965 it was happy to follow the suggestion made by CPAS that it record in its minutes that “it has been our practice to invite to the Lord’s Table those members of other denominations who love the Lord and are accepted members of their own Church. Our unanimous desire is that this should continue.”

In 1966 the Anglican Church authorised a new Holy Communion Service (as part of the Alternative Services Second Series) which churches could use if they wished to, and in January 1968 PCC agreed to try it out by allowing the Vicar to “conduct a service for the PCC some Monday evening, the service to be followed by discussion.” In April it set the date for “the experimental service” as the 10th of June, and agreed to invite the Bible Study Group along too.

The minutes of an Extraordinary Meeting of PCC held straight afterwards record that “all approved the saying together of the Prayer of Humble Access, and the shortening of the Commandments. Most approved the simplified form of the Confession. There was some comment on the inconsistency of using you, thou and thee. … In answer to a question the Vicar thought that this service should be used occasionally, but should not entirely replace the 1662 version. … Mr Dinwoody deplored the alternative prayers with which evangelicals could not agree. It was decided to use this form of service … not oftener than once a month.”

The Anglican Church authorities were apparently keen to get user feedback on the new service and in January 1969 PCC agreed that “50 copies of the questionnaire should be ordered … to be completed by members of the congregation, particularly younger members, as well as representatives of the PCC.” There is no record of what views were expressed in St Thomas’ through this consultation process.

The matter of Communion and how it should be celebrated had long been a concern for evangelicals, anxious that it should remain free from Catholic influences and practices. The leadership of St Thomas’ had since 1841 been eager to ‘keep the faith’ by resisting any creep or drift in that direction. This resolve was tested twice during Stanley Duthie’s time.

The first test came in May 1964 when the Vicar told PCC that “a measure to legalise Mass vestments is shortly to come before Parliament.” The Council agreed that cards should be sent to MPs condemning the measure and that “the Vicar and Lay readers should request an interview” with the local MP.” PCC noted in April that it “had objected against the legalising of Mass Vestments but with no result.”

A much bigger test came six years later, in 1970, when PCC learned that a Roman Mass was to be celebrated in the precincts at Canterbury Cathedral that July, for the first time since the Reformation. PCC discussed this in May and twice in June. On the 23rd of June it agreed that

a protest [should] be sent to the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury stating that ‘We, the members of the Parochial Church Council of St Thomas’ Church in Lancaster in the Diocese of Blackburn, deeply deplore the decision of the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral in making arrangements to observe the 800th Anniversary of the death of Thomas à Becket by acting as hosts and giving permission for the Roman Mass to be celebrated in the Cathedral precincts on July 7th. We believe this to be a matter of grave concern as being tantamount to an utter repudiation of the reformed teaching of the Church of England. And in view of the fact that this mass is due to be held in the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion it is our firm conviction that it should never be allowed to take place.’”

An article in The Times on Tuesday the 6th of July reports that police “would be in force at Canterbury Cathedral tomorrow in case of Protestant demonstrations against a Roman Catholic Mass in the precincts. Hundreds of Protestants … are expected.” But in a letter in The Times the previous day a group of leading evangelicals in the Church of England had spelled out why they were concerned but condemned any form of disorderly protest and urged critics to “find a more constructive way to witness the truth they believe.”



Like the organ, the robed choir still played a central role in the church services during the 1960s. A number of issued relating to the choir were discussed by PCC during Stanley Duthie’s time.

One was the standard of singing. As part of a PCC discussion about the Harvest Supper in October 1958 “after certain [unspecified] aspects of the choir had been considered the Vicar stated that he would discuss these matters with the Organist and suggest that the choir boys should have special training and opportunities to show their progress.”

Another issue was the choice of music. In February 1966 PCC was advised that “the the Choir had acquired a lovely Cantata to be sung at Easter. Palm Sunday was the day mentioned for when the Choir would like to sing it”, and the following month it was agreed that the Cantata should be sung on the first Sunday in May.

The matter of choir clothing was taken seriously. For example, in November 1966 PCC agreed that “the choirboy’s collars should be thrown out” and in October 1969 the choir requested financial help from PCC to buy new robes. They needed “6 cassocks, 6 surplices, 12 Oxford caps and possibly 6 ladies’ Collars and Jabots [ruffles]. They had raised £19 [£237] at a Coffee Evening, foregone their annual outing for which a grant of £20 [£250] was given, and so out of a total of £64 10s. [£800] … a further £30 [£375] was asked for from Council Funds.” PCC agreed that budget, but the following month it turned down “a request from the choir that red cassocks should be purchased … on the grounds of an unjustifiable expense.”

It was thought that paying young members of the choir to attend rehearsals and services would increase their commitment, and in May 1974 PCC agreed that “the young members of the choir were to be paid 2p [£0.16] per attendance and were to be given a book annually up to the age of 16.” Two months later the Choirmaster asked that the younger members of the choir be paid more for practice than for the services, and PCC agreed to pay 3p [£0.24] for practice and 2p [£0.16] for each service.


Church opening times and cleaning

In June 1962 a member of PCC “raised the question of leaving the Church open [during weekdays]. Before making a decision it was decided to make inquiries about churches which are open.”

The following month the Vicar reported that he had made enquiries about the daily opening of local churches, and discovered that “Christ Church remained open until some weeks earlier when warning was received from the Police to the effect that the Church should be closed. Scotforth Church is open when the Vicar is in residence. St John’s Church is also open. It was decided not to proceed further until a more satisfactory insurance cover is arranged.”

In September 1970 PCC agreed to increase the stipend for the Verger (caretaker) £60 [£700], and that December it agreed to present Mrs Birkett with a Bible and a cash gift of £25 [£290] in gratitude for her 22 years service as Verger. The church cleaner, Mrs Witts, resigned in June 1973, PCC agreed to put an advert in the Lancaster Guardian for a replacement with a salary of £2 [£18] a week”, and a new cleaner had been appointed by early July.


Church Hall/church conversion project

One development that started in 1971, in the latter stages of Stanley Duthie’s incumbency, was to set in motion a chain of events that would have a significant and enduring impact on the life and work of St Thomas’ over the following decade.

The initial spark which would ignite a period of major change and growth in the church took the form of a discussion by PCC on the 1st of March 1971 informed by a recent Deanery Synod Report, after which “it was agreed to take advice on the possibility of altering the church for use as a dual purpose building”. Little could they then see the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead. Recall that, at this time, discussions about parish boundaries were ongoing with the Deanery and St Paul’s 

Thus began a season in the life of St Thomas’ that would turn out to be as important and enduring as Colin Campbell Junior’s stewardship of the church buildings had been more than a century earlier. The launch of this transformational period can be dated to the March 1971 PCC meeting, but its roots can be traced back through five sets of PCC discussions from the late 1950s onwards. These focussed on – the parish hall, the two church houses (numbers 2 and 4 Marton Street, the old school building, the former school playground, and the need for a new ‘church hall’.


Parish Hall

The Parish Hall was used for many things, including band practice for the Boys’ Brigade, to whom in September 1958 PCC granted permission to use it “with the hope that near neighbours would not be unduly disturbed.”

It was kept in a reasonable state of repair. In March 1958 PCC agreed that it should be renovated, and the following month it agreed to do external repairs first and postpone decorating the interior for the time being. In September 1966 PCC agreed that “there should be a Coffee Evening and a Bring and Buy Sale for the re-opening of the newly decorated Parish Hall”, probably in late October.

Further repairs and improvements were necessary. A new side door and framing costing £15 [£150] was approved by PCC in May 1972, and in July 1974 the Council accepted an estimate of £105 [£840] for work on the guttering and windows, leaving a new sink for the kitchen and repainting of the outside to be considered later.

The Hall in Aldcliffe Road had served the church well since it was purchased in 1926, but it was not in the most convenient location (a fair walk away from the church site), the old building was proving costly to maintain, and there was limited potential to develop the site.

By the mid-sixties thought was being given to finding a more suitable site closer to the church. The first mention of this in PCC minutes comes in July 1965, when Mr Airey, one of the Churchwardens, suggested that “if the school was to be demolished, the Church should have first option to buy the land, for future site of Parish Hall.”

Two years later, in October 1967, the Vicar told PCC that “the building adjoining the Church was for sale so he had written to Canon Carroll regarding purchasing it to enable us to build a Parish Hall on the site, also advice on a loan for the same.”

There is some irony in the fact that the church was now considering buying back the very building it had originally funded and built, and had run as a very successful school for boys and girls before the sweeping educational reforms of the 20th century.


School Cottage and Church House

Recall that the church owned two terraced houses behind the school, joined at the west end to the outer wall of the school, fronting onto Marton Street (where the Vicar’s car parking space now is).

Colin Campbell had bought numbers 2 (School Cottage) and 4 (Church House) Marton Street a century earlier for use as housing for the Schoolmaster and Organist. Both were small, cramped and dilapidated but remained in use, certainly through Stanley Duthie’s early years, number 4 being rented out to tenants as a dwelling and number 2 used for some time for paper baling.

Church House was not a success as a rental property. PCC was told in March 1958 that although tenants had been living there, “no rent had been received for twelve months for the property” and it was agreed that the Churchwardens “should take what action they consider necessary to deal with this matter.”

Thoughts turned to selling the property, but PCC heard in May that “no progress has yet been made as the deeds have not been found.” This would turn into a long-running saga. In October the Vicar reported to PCC that a Mrs Wilkinson had offered £200 [£3,600] for the property but “since the deeds have not yet been found the matter is in abeyance. In the meantime enquiries as to the value of the site will be made.”

The following month PCC was told that the deeds had still not been traced, but “the house is scheduled to be acquired by the Council [probably for demolition] in two and a half years time when it should be bought at the market rate.” In February 1959 the Vicar reported that the deeds were lost and “it was decided to take the necessary steps to evict the tenants.” The threat of eviction seemed to work because two months later he reported that “£27 [£480] arrears of rent have now been paid for No 4 Marton Street.” But that was by no means the end of the matter, because the Vicar told PCC in October 1960 that “a Wilful Damage notice had been obtained for the cottage.”

In April 1961 PCC were informed that “a notice had been served on the trustees that No 4 Marton Street is unfit for habitation. The estimated cost of essential repairs is about £240 [£4,000]. If a bathroom was installed a rent of 26 shillings [£22] per week would be required.” PCC agreed to leave the matter in the hands of the Churchwardens who would consult with the church’s solicitor and have power to co-opt as necessary.

The following month Council heard that the group that was dealing with the matter had met with the Sanitary Inspector, and “the trustees had given an undertaking not to let the house as a dwelling house until it had been put in order. … the [City] Council would re-house the present tenants. [and it was agreed] that the house should be boarded up as soon as it became vacant.”

Thought was then given to renting out the house as offices, and in November 1961 PCC agreed that “enquiries should be made from the Health Office about the possibility of converting No 4 Marton Street to office premises and that the premises should be advertised.” The following month it was reported that “the property had been advertised in TheLancaster Guardian but there had been no reply” and PCC agreed that “it be disinfected and no further action be taken at present.”

A year later, in December 1962, PCC was told that an inquiry had been received from the Farmer’s Auction to rent the premises for offices. It is not known whether the Farmer’s Auction did rent the building then, but in June 1964 PCC agreed to rent it for £1 [£15.60] a week plus rates to a Mr Marsden for storage space, who also promised to repair the roof. He clearly did not keep his promise, because in November 1965 it was reported that the next tenant “Mr Hodgson will pay a rent of 15s. [£11] a week until the roof repairs are carried out, then the rent will return to a £1 [£15]. He also agreed to pay rent quarterly in advance.” This time PCC agreed (in July 1966) to pay for the roof to be repaired, at a cost of £77 13s. [£1,100]; the work had been completed by early September. That November PCC was told that “Mr Hodgson has paid £43 10s. [£615] rent for the Marton Street house. He wishes to buy the house but has been informed that it is not at present for sale.”

In July 1969 PCC agreed to “the conveyance of No 4 Marton Street to the Blackburn Diocesan Board of Finance under the PCC Powers of 1956.” The house was conveyed in October 1969, and demolished some time before the start of the Renewal Centre Project (described in the next chapter) in the late 1970s.

The north side of Marton Street, opposite the church, was dramatically altered in the early 1960s, after old Victorian terraced housing was demolished to make way for the new Police Station fronting onto Thurnham Street and a new public house fronting onto Penny Street.

In May 1964 Mr Airey, a Churchwarden, had “expressed the view that plans for new Police buildings in Marton Street should be studied with a view to avoiding unsightly building.” Beauty is clearly in the eyes of the beholder, but it is not recorded what he thought of the building that was put up on the site.


Paper baling

In March 1960 the Vicar told the Annual Church Meeting that “this has been a record year for the baling of waste paper.” He was referring to a project housed in School Cottage (2 Thurnham Street) that involved church volunteers helping with the baling of waste paper that was sold to a local recycling company to raise money for the church. Where the paper came from is not recorded (it may well have been donated by church members); it was sold to a paper recycling company on the quay.

The “record year” was only the second year of operation; PCC was told in July 1959 that, “as the School Cottage was to be used for paper baling, it was thought that there would be no rates.”

The enterprise proved to be a challenge from the start. In April 1960 PCC discussed “paper baling and the shortage of helpers … at length” and the supervisor agreed “to arrange rotas for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.” The next month it was reported that “paper baling was now working satisfactorily”, but in September PCC was told that, “as reinforcements are needed to deal with the large quantities of paper, it was decided to ask for volunteers.” In January 1961 PCC heard that “there were difficulties over paper baling and that the question of whether or not to continue must be considered”, and the Annual Church Meeting in March was told that “the present position was unsatisfactory because there were too few helpers. Mr Lowden [Church Treasurer], after pointing out that sixpence [£0.45] extra per week from eighty people would make up any loss of income, proposed that baling be discontinued. … It was decided that baling should finish on 28th April. Any paper left after that date should be given to the School.”

That June PCC was given an update; “as the paper baling scheme has now come to an end it was decided to keep the lamps for the Boys’ Brigade and the Guides. The baler is to be kept for the time being. The windows of the cottage are to be boarded [up].” In May the next year (1962) PCC agreed to delegate to John Dart responsibility for responding to a request which “had been received from High Street Congregational Church to borrow the baler which belongs to Storey Brothers.”



When Stanley Duthie arrived in Lancaster in 1958 St Thomas’ Schools for boys and girls were still open but managed by the Local Education Authority rather than the church.

Within a few years the Government would introduce radical changes in secondary education, designed to improve opportunities for children who did not pass the rigorous entry requirements for the grammar schools, and church schools would be restructured as part of these initiatives. With that in sight, the Vicar pointed out to the Annual Church Meeting in March 1960 that “it will be necessary to consider the future of the building of St Thomas’s School.” He proved right, and over the next three years various schemes for re-organising secondary education in Lancaster were considered.

PCC was told in May 1963 that the ”present plans were that Ripley School should be closed and St Thomas’s should become a mixed school, and that these plans were to be put into operation as soon as possible”, but those plans were soon to change. In June the Vicar reported that “at the request of the Governors of St Thomas’s School, Canon Carroll was to meet the staffs of St Thomas’s and Ripley Schools in the near future”, and the following month it was reported that “Canon Carroll spoke to the Day School Staff. There would be no change before September 1964, and the school would still be of use for some years.” A joint meeting of the Governors of St Thomas’s and Ripley Schools was held on the 10th of September 1963.

By mid 1965 the decision had been made to create a new joint Ripley and St Thomas’ Church of England Secondary Modern School. An Emergency Meeting of the PCC held on the 11th of October was informed that two governors of the new school would be appointed by PCC, though not necessarily from the PCC, and the Vicar would also be a member of the Governing Body. In 1966 the Ripley Boys’ School and St Thomas’ Girls’ School amalgamated to become Ripley St Thomas Church of England School, which is now Ripley St Thomas Church of England Academy.

Once the decision had been made to create a new school on the site of the former Ripley Hospital (orphanage) south of the Royal Lancaster Infirmary along Ashton Road, it was only a matter of time before the St Thomas’ School building behind the church - then owned by the Ripley Trust - would become redundant. This created a potentially serious problem for the church - where would the Sunday School and youth activities take place? The Parish Hall was too far away from the church, not large enough and difficult to modify adequately, so the search was on for a suitable building or site close to church. Churchwarden Mr Airey suggested to the July PCC 1965 meeting that, “if the school was to be demolished, the Church should have first option to buy the land, for the future site of a Parish Hall.”

PCC discussed the matter again in June 1966 and noted that “as it is unlikely that St Thomas’s School will still be available for the Sunday School and Youth Organisations in two or three years … the provision of suitable accommodation would exceed £2,500 [£35,360]. The Vicar is to enquire from the Ripley Trust whether it will be possible to purchase either the School or the yard, and to find out the exact situation from the Church Pastoral Aid Society.”

The Vicar made those enquiries and reported back to PCC on the 11th of July that “he had corresponded with the Rev W.B. Cummins [Diocesan Director of Education] about a future youth centre building. To qualify for grant such a building would [have to] cost more than £6,000 [£84,870] and would have to be available for youth organisations as required.”

After consulting with several PCC members the Vicar “felt this would be impracticable in view of the needs of other organisations and would not pursue the matter further.” He added that the question of the school building was to be discussed by the Ripley Trust on 21st of July and “the Secretary of the Church Pastoral Aid Society has no record of the terms on which the school was handed to the Ripley Trust.”

PCC was advised in September 1966 that “no arrangements can be made at present on the site of the school, there are too many complications. The Vicar is to ask Swainsons the solicitor if they know the whereabouts of the Deeds of St Thomas’ School, also the Blackburn [Diocese] Office.” Based on information contained in a letter given to the Vicar by the Treasurer of the former St Thomas’s Day School Governors, PCC was told in late November that “on the 11th May 1949, the Rev H. Wallwork had handed to Mr Sturton, the Clerk of the Lancaster Ripley Education Trust, the Title Deeds of St Thomas’s Schools.” The Vicar reminded PCC in early January 1967 that “the premises are now the property of the Ripley Trust. He had made an appeal for the use of the site for Church activities, and this would be put before the next meeting of the Ripley Trust.”

Two months later he briefed PCC about a meeting he had had with Canon Carroll, Mr Sturton and the Vicar of Lancaster about the future of the school, saying that “Canon Carroll was sympathetic to the needs of the Church and the Ripley Trust was anxious to sell the site as soon as possible.” The next piece of news was not quite so optimistic; the Vicar told PCC that “it is anticipated that a developer will buy the whole site. Such a developer might build a hall to be used possibly for Youth Organisations during the week and for the Church on Sunday. Providing a hall might be included in the contract. It is not expected that the school building will be required after September 1968.”

PCC accepted John Dart’s proposal that a solicitor – Mr Swainson, the Diocesan Registrar – should be asked to advise it on the appropriate course of action. The Vicar told PCC in early May that “legal matters arising from future plans for the Marton Street School would be in the care of the Diocesan Registrar. Mr Swainson will examine the valuation at the right time, but it would be premature to take any action at present.”

By early 1967 the question of where the Sunday School could meet when the school ceases to be available was becoming pressing, and at the Annual Church Meeting in April the Vicar “emphasised the need for a building as near to the Church as possible.”

By mid-1968 the prospect of being able to buy and convert the former school building was looking poor, and thoughts turned to a new build somewhere near the church. In July 1968 PCC agreed to hold a Harvest Thanksgiving Gift Day, the proceeds from which should “be used to open a fund for the new building needed to replace St Thomas’s School.” The key question then was – where to build?



Time was passing and whilst a number of possible schemes had been discussed little tangible progress had been made on any of them.

The Vicar told PCC on the 3rd of July 1967 that “the building of a new Church Hall, to be available from September 1968, is our main requirement. The cost was thought to be in the region of £20,000 [£275,000]. Inquiries are to be made about the availability of an interest-free loan.”

The most obvious site for a new building to meet the church’s needs, with the school building unobtainable, was the school playground. It was a large flat site, conveniently located a stone’s throw away across Victoria Place to the south, safely away from the main roads.

The Vicar had told PCC in November 1967 that Mr Matthews, the Diocesan Surveyor “did not consider the building next to the Church worth £5,000 [£68,700], and that the playground would be a suitable site for a hall. A statement … from Mr Matthews … [would] be discussed by the Standing Committee with a view to a meeting with the Archdeacon and the Ripley Trust.”

In January 1968 Mr Matthews advised PCC to approach the Archdeacon (Canon Tomlinson) with a view to purchasing the playground and classrooms on it. Shortly after that PCC made an offer to the Ripley Trust to purchase from them the playground, two former classrooms on it, and access to it, for £525 [£6,500] plus Church House (4 Marton Street) which the church still owned.

That November PCC were told that the Trustees of the Ripley Trust had agreed to accept the offer and “the matter has now gone before the Ministry of Science and Education” for approval given that the Trust was willing to sell the property to the church for less than the market value of between £1,200 [£16,000] and £1500 [£20,000]. PCC purchased the playground in October 1969, and Ripley Trust subsequently conveyed 4 Marton Street to the Blackburn Diocese.

In January 1970 Ripley Trust sold the school building and School Cottage (2 Marton Street) to Lancashire County Council for £11,975 [£139,000].

With an eye on getting good value for money with a new build on the playground site, Mr Airey the Churchwarden asked members of PCC in September 1969 “to see the Bowling Club Pavilion in Palatine Avenue to consider whether this type of building might serve as a church hall.”

In early 1970 the former school building was used by the Education Authority to temporarily house Newton Primary School, whose own site on the Newton Estate between the canal and Caton road (long since demolished and houses built on it) was then being redeveloped. In February PCC agreed to a request from the Education Authority for permission to use the playground and toilets for one year, under the following terms -

[1] the playground and property to be maintained by the Education Authority and returned in good condition;

[2] the premises to be vacated within six months of the date of being asked to do so;

[3] the property to be used only as a playground and for children’s activities;

[4] the expenses of the agreement should be entirely met by the Education Authority; and

[5] the playground and toilets should be leased to the Education Authority on a yearly rental of £80 [£930], payable in half-yearly instalments.

This was a valuable income stream for the church, particularly while it worked out how best the use the playground site for the proposed new-build Sunday School and Youth Centre. PCC was advised in May 1970 that the Education Authority felt that the fee of £80 [£930] a year was “excessive and suggested £50 [£580] as more reasonable”, but the Council “instructed the Secretary to write stating that St Thomas’ PCC did not think it possible to reduce the fee below £80.”

Lancashire County Council had bought the school building from the Ripley Trust with the intention of converting it into an Adult Education Centre, but that plan was not followed through and the Centre was eventually developed in a former mill building by the canal at White Cross, which was much larger and offered more potential.

With the school closed and nothing yet built on the former playground the church had to look elsewhere for a place where it could hold the Sunday School. A temporary solution was reported to PCC in November 1972; “arrangements had been made to use a room at the Alexandra Hotel for one hour each Sunday morning and one hour in the afternoon at the cost of 25p [£2.50] per session. The Secretary was to write to the Education Office to state that the school building was not needed on Sundays at the moment.”


Build a new church hall

PCC was still eager to build on the site of the playground, and the Annual Church Meeting in April 1970 agreed that “a meeting [should] be called in order to form an action group to go into the whole question of providing a church hall.”

What was now being referred to as ‘the New Church Hall Project’ was discussed again by PCC that June, where the Vicar – in a hitherto largely hidden sign of his own faith – emphasised the need for prayer for the whole matter, and appealed to all concerned to look directly to God in the matter of raising the money. PCC agreed a specification for the project – “the need of church was for a hall (to hold 150 people) and two large rooms, two smaller rooms, a kitchen and toilets. This specification to be changed if necessary and to be extendable at a later date. The figure to aim at was considered to be at least £10,000 [£116,400]. Facts about local buildings to be found.”

In June 1970 PCC set up a sub-committee “to co-ordinate the money-making activities, to co-ordinate prices and quotations to present to the PCC, and to act as a publicity committee on the whole matter.” The next month it approved the composition of the sub-committee, which would include one representative from “the women’s organisations and one representative of the youth organisations” as well as the Churchwardens, Treasurer and PCC Secretary ex officio.

The sub-committee seems to have got off to a shaky start; the minutes of the October PCC meeting note that there was “a vote of confidence in the Church Hall sub-committee … other [unspecified] criticisms were also discussed.

Despite the Vicar’s unusually strong public display of faith, it was widely recognised that funding a Church Hall building project would be a real challenge. PCC was advised in April 1971 that the Church Hall Account had a balance of £500 10s. [£5,350] as well as £50 [£530] of interest-free loan, and was told in March 1972 that only £76 [£760] had been raised in the first three months of the fund-raising.

That was not a particularly promising start, but within a year the funds had risen to nearly £1,000 [£9,200]. A number of events were organised to help with raising funds for and awareness of the New Church Hall Project, including a concert in the autumn of 1970, a Coffee Evening in June 1970, and a Musical Evening in March 1973.


Convert the interior of the church

Here we come back to the ‘spark’ mentioned above that through time would give rise to a major building project – the agreement by PCC in March 1971 “to take advice on the possibility of altering the church for use as a dual purpose building.”

But that was only one of three options on the table. That October PCC agreed that “the New Church Hall Committee [should] be asked to submit a timetable and costing for: [1] a hall on the playground; [2] the classrooms as a basis of the new hall; [3] the church converted to a multi-purpose building.” In November 1972 PCC agreed to approach the Diocesan Architect and Surveyor “for advice about the need for a Church Hall or dual-purpose building.”

A curious item appears in the minutes of that November 1972 PCC meeting, which reports that “the Education Authority would not consider any proposal for purchasing the two classrooms and the rest of the playground.” This minute is curious because minutes of earlier PCC meetings had stated that the church had bought the playground and two classrooms on it from the Ripley Trust in 1969, but mention of the church not owning the whole playground or the two classrooms re-appears in the minutes of PCC meetings held on the 2nd of September 1974 and the 22ndof March 1976, after Stanley Duthie had retired.

The idea of converting the church into a dual-purpose building - church and church hall - was discussed by PCC on the 5 th of March 1973, the same meeting at which the Council was “unanimous in wishing to protest strongly about the suggestion” that St Thomas’ should become part of a Group Ministry with the Priory, St John’s and Christ Church (discussed earlier).

At the end of March the Diocesan Surveyor told the Standing Committee that the dual-purpose plan was quite feasible provided there was a budget large enough to cover it. He thought the idea of dividing the church was a good one, and suggested extending the floor of the West Gallery (the former Organ Gallery above the front entrance to church) to make an upstairs room. He also suggested that creating a new entrance from the Marton Street side would be costly and unnecessary. Casting his eyes around the interior of the church he also commented that the organ was too big and suggested moving the pulpit and the Holy Table and leaving the pews as they were for now.

He reminded the Standing Committee that any alterations to the fabric of the church would need the consent of the Diocesan Board, via a faculty. He returned to PCC early the next month, advising that “the alterations should be kept to a minimum.” The suggestion that a church hall be fitted into the rear part of church was discussed at the Annual Church Meeting later in April.

The idea of converting the church rather than a new build was gathering pace. It was warmly supported by one particular member of the church, a Dr Catchpole, whose letter was read out to PCC in May 1973. He agreed that the separate church hall scheme should be abandoned as too costly for available funding, adding that “it must surely be right in the present situation for churches in general to avoid the liability of extra plant” and “the prospect of years of money-raising without predictable end of such activity is hardly attractive as a long-term policy for a Christian community.” He suggested that the playground site could perhaps be used as a factory site or for car parking, and asked the New Church Hall Committee to draw up modified plans – “In these the first stage was to be capable of standing on its own feet. It was to be along the lines suggested by the Diocesan Surveyor with the wall right across the church and the kitchen and toilet facilities downstairs.” Phase 2 could then include the upstairs main hall and Phase 3 the North Gallery.

New plans were drawn up which PCC considered in June. It agreed that Phase 3 should be put forward as the final hall scheme for the church and hall, and asked the Secretary to forward the plans to the Diocesan Advisory Committee for their consideration. That December PCC was advised (by whom is not recorded) to exercise caution “in reducing the size of the church to produce a church hall”, but the New Church Hall Committee told PCC that it had recently visited two converted churches “and had been much encouraged by what they saw.”

Discussions about the proposed new Church Hall continued during the interregnum after Stanley Duthie’s retirement. According to the minutes of the September 1973 PCC meeting, the Churchwardens’ letter to CPAS on what St Thomas’ needs in the new incumbent mentioned that “we are giving consideration, as a matter of urgency, to a plan to turn part of the Church into a Hall where the Children’s Church, Sunday School and other organisations can meet. Our present hall is too far away from the Church for the first two organisations, and is not well equipped in any case.”

A curious minute from the PCC meeting held on the 25th of February 1974 records that enquiries had been made to Proctor, Birbeck and Batty about the playground and “the asking price for the whole transaction (school, cottages and playground) was around £20,000 [£160,000]. The firm would notify Mr Airey [Churchwarden] when the playground was actually on the market.” That minute is curious because previous PCC minutes had made it clear that the church had already bought the playground from the Ripley Trust, and the Trust had sold the school to Lancashire County Council several years earlier.

Ownership of the playground seems to have been beyond doubt when the Annual Church Meeting in April 1974 was told that “plans for a parish [church] hall at the rear of the church have been submitted to the Diocese. A sub-committee is dealing with the question of the playground and the two classrooms.” The following month PCC agreed to make enquiries with the Lancaster city authorities to see if the playground could be used as a car park.

From this outline of how ideas about a new church hall evolved it becomes clear that the thinking progressed through several phases. The earliest idea (around 1965) centred on demolishing the school and building something new on the site. That was followed (around 1968) by the idea of building something from scratch on the former playground, which in turn gave way (around 1973) to thinking about converting the inside of the church to make it dual purpose. Phase four in the thinking – covered in the next chapter – was to buy the former school building and convert it. The initial idea was to convert the school it into a new Sunday School and Youth Centre, but with fresh vision and input from a new Vicar the idea evolved into creating a multi-purpose Renewal Centre.

Little of this would be realised in Stanley Duthie’s time as Vicar, but the seeds were sown then and the longer-term vision started to emerge, albeit slowly and at times almost imperceptibly.


Electoral Roll

The number of people listed on the Electoral Roll, as reported at the Annual Church Meetings each Easter, remained above 300 throughout Stanley Duthie’s time, sometimes well above 320, with a peak of 376 in 1965. Recall that the numbers during the early 1950s were in the low 200s. It was estimated that about 200 of the 376 people listed in 1965 were active members.

The numbers recorded on the electoral roll are net, taking into account additions (new people, who were easy to count because they filled in a form) and subtractions (those who had died or left, the latter often not notifying the church of their departure) each year, so it is no surprise that not everyone listed was an active member.

This made it necessary from time to time to scrap the list and start again with a reliable up-to-date count. It looks as though this happened in 1966, judging from the sharp drop in numbers. It definitely happened in 1972, under the Church of England’s new rules on synodical government which were introduced in 1970. That church legislation also defined the criteria for including people on the roll; as PCC was told in January 1970, “persons on the electoral roll had either to reside in the parish or to have been habitual worshippers for six months.”


Church socials

Two types of social event were organised in church during Stanley Duthie’s time – Parish Fellowship meetings and Harvest Suppers or Teas. We hear little about the Parish Fellowship meetings, other than the fact that in May 1963 PCC agreed with the Vicar’s suggestions that the evening meetings should be “staggered” and that September it was told that the first meeting was to be held on Tuesday the 17th of September.

Harvest Suppers or Teas were organised most years, usually in mid to late September, suppers in the evening and teas in the late afternoon. Entertainment was provided. For example the Male Voice Choir was invited to sing at the tea on the 26th of September 1966, and those who attended the tea the following year were treated to a slide show by Mr Ford.

1969 was a particularly good year. PCC agreed on the 8th of September that “tea would be served from 5.30 pm onwards, followed by an auction of any produce left over after distribution in the parish. At 7.30 pm, a concert would be given by the Lancaster Male Voice Choir.” The sale of produce raised £20 [£250]. In 1973 the Harvest Tea was held on the 1st of October, the day after the Harvest Festival; looking ahead to it, in May the PCC agreed “that a sub-committee [should] be formed to arrange the entertainments.”


Parish Newsletter

The Parish Newsletter had long been an important way in which the church kept in touch with the people who lived within its parish, even though a good proportion of the congregation lived outside the parish.

By the early 1970s questions were being asked about its usefulness and sustainability, although in July 1973 PCC agreed to postpone a decision on its future “though the feeling seemed to be that the Parish News should be continued in its present form if possible.” That September PCC was told that “Mrs Dennison volunteered to look after the distribution but an editor, typist and business manager were also needed. There should be further discussion in October.”


Parish visiting

The practice of visiting people who lived in the parish has also been an important part of the church’s pastoral care for its congregation and its outreach. Like a growing number of things in St Thomas’ during the latter part of Stanley Duthie’s incumbency, PCC discussed it but did little if anything about it. Thus at the October 1968 PCC meeting, “after some discussion about the need for regular parochial visiting, it was decided to give the matter further consideration at another meeting.”

In November 1972 PCC was told that “Miss Richardson [had] suggested the formation of a Sick Visiting Team and agreed to act as co-ordinator to start it off”, though no further mention of the Team can be found in minutes of church meetings.


Outreach and mission

A number of outreach activities were carried out during Stanley Duthie’s time, and whilst we can find information about what was planned and when it happened, there is no comment in any minutes about how successful or effective the activities might have been.

A Teaching and Evangelistic Campaign was first mentioned at PCC in February 1958, and the following month the Vicar suggested it should be held in the Spring of 1959. He undertook “to find out whether a Diocesan Campaign is arranged for that time. … [and] The need for adequate preparation was stressed.”

As often happened during Stanley Duthie’s time, the months slipped by and it was a year before PCC returned to the subject, when the Vicar told them in March 1959 that the parish mission would be held in May 1960. In November 1959 the Vicar introduced to PCC -

“[_ Mr Lucas who, it is hoped, will lead a Teaching Mission in the Parish. Mr Lucas … explained the purposes for such a Mission:- 1. To evangelise the occasional church-goer and outsider; 2. To edify church-goers, especially young Christians; 3. To equip Christian workers. He stressed the importance of adequate preparation. He said that church-goers must be fully informed, and outsiders brought in. He recommended the informal House Meeting.” _]

PCC agreed that the Mission should be held from the 5th to the 16th of May 1960.

The plan included a Children’s Teaching Mission, which the Vicar outlined to PCC in April 1960 when he “asked for full support from the Council.” John Dart echoed the need for PCC support when he emphasised to PCC the following month that “the success of the Mission would depend on the encouragement of the PCC. Members of the Council would be welcome at the children’s meetings. It was agreed that a donation of three guineas should be made to Storey’s Band.” The mission must have gone ahead as planned, because the Vicar announced to the Annual Church Meeting in March 1961 that “the most important event of the year had been the Teaching and Children’s Mission in May.” Unfortunately that is all we are told about it.

The second outreach initiative was a multi-church Lancaster Crusade planned for October 1965. The Vicar explained to PCC in September 1964 that the Crusade, “probably the largest ever held in Lancaster, would last for 17 days, from Saturday 2nd October to Thursday 18th October 1965.” A Steering Committee had been formed to organise it, and it was hoped to hold the first set of meetings (2-7 October) in the Methodist Church in Sulyard Street and the rest (8-18 October) in the Ashton Hall. He pointed out that “there was a possibility … that Sulyard Street might not be available, in which case would the Church agree to St Thomas’ being put at the disposal of the Crusade? It was [agreed] that the Church be put at the disposal of the Crusade should they require it, and that full support should be given to the undertaking.”

PCC discussed the Crusade again in March 1965, when the Vicar asked for their full support and said that “helpers were required for visiting and that training classes for Counsellors were being arranged.” As with the Teaching and Children’s Mission in 1960 there is no further mention of the Lancaster Crusade in any minutes of meetings at St Thomas’.

Three years later a third project was launched, this one for Anglican Churches only. This was the Bishop’s Call to Mission and the Vicar told PCC in January 1968 that it would run from the 6th to the 9th of May that year. The Council discussed the question of open-air meetings but no decisions were made. The Vicar told PCC in February that the meetings would be held in Sulyard Street Methodist Church, starting at 7.30 pm nightly. Once again, nothing more is heard about it.

Another multi-church outreach initiative, called Contact 69, was planned for late September and early October 1969. The Vicar explained to PCC on the 8th of September 1969 that this was

a campaign to help the churches to get in touch with people outside the churches, particularly those in industry. It would begin on Monday 22ndSeptember and end on Sunday 19th October. The campaign would help by [1] Home meetings; [2] Contact with groups of workers; [3] Guest services. St Thomas’ would have a Guest Service with Rev G. Bartlett as the preacher on Sunday 19th October in the evening. There would be ‘Teach-In’ sessions for St Thomas’ and the Baptist Church on Thursday 25thSeptember and 2nd October.”

This PCC minute is the only mention of [_Contact 69 _]in the church records.

A fifth outreach initiative, this time regional in scope and Anglican in origin, was planned for Lent 1973. The first PCC heard of the [Call to the North _]was in July 1971, but the following March it was told that a public meeting about the mission was planned for the 13th of March at Sulyard Street Methodist Church, and the Bishop of Coventry would shortly visit Lancaster “to meet church representatives in preparation for his coming in Holy Week 1973”. In May 1972 PCC was told that “in order to help finance the [_Call to the North _]in Lancaster a sponsored walk was being held on Saturday May 20th” and advised that “several young people had promised to walk.” In June PCC agreed to order fifty prayer cards in support of the _Call to the North.

Detailed plans for the [_Call to the North _]were explained to PCC on the 4thof September 1972. These included forming housegroups in local churches; holding a General Meeting in Lancaster for planning purposes; running training sessions for group leaders; holding a General Meeting in Preston for everyone involved in the Call; organising an Act of Christian Witness on the 23rd of December in either St Nicholas Square or Market Square; running a Day Together at Lancaster University Chaplaincy Centre (on the 20th of January); organising an exchange of pulpits for clergy (on the 14th of January); and holding Guest Services during Lent and Holy Week 1973. PCC was told that “the Bishop of Coventry will be bringing two assistant missioners with him – Canon L. Jackson who will act as ‘compere’ for the Ashton Hall meetings, and Rev J. Moore, warden of Lindley Lodge, a centre for training in Christian leadership in industry. He will be particularly concerned with the special Youth Evening.”

In January 1973 PCC was told that volunteers were required for visiting houses during the mission, and “there would be an appeal for helpers from the church.” PCC agreed to contribute £10 [£100] to the Call to the North Fund.

Further details were given to PCC in March, including details for Holy Week and subjects for the Tuesday Lunch Hour Services. PCC agreed “to hold a half-hour service at 6.30 pm on Palm Sunday and then to process to the Ashton Hall for the Rally. House-to-house visitation with two lots of publicity and St Mark’s gospel was being undertaken.”In July PCC agreed to obtain material for use in the various church organisations during the mission. As with the other outreach activities, there is no record of how things went or what the public response was.


Student ministry

The demographics and character of Lancaster were to change irreversibly in 1964 when two higher education campuses opened in the city. St Martin’s College, initially a teacher training college and since 2007 the University of Cumbria, opened on the site in Bowerham of the former army barracks. The University of Lancaster was initially based in temporary accommodation in St Leonardsgate while the first phase of the new campus was being built on a greenfield site at Bailrigg, on the southern edge of the city.

Like other churches in the city, St Thomas’ was keen to play it part in reaching out to the students and providing pastoral support for the churchgoers amongst them. The first trace of activity in St Thomas’ was a report by the Vicar to PCC in September 1965 advising that “Dr J.I. Packer of Latimer House Oxford [an evangelical Christian research centre; now the Latimer Trust] is coming to our Church on the weekend of 4th and 5thof December.”

The Vicar suggested that a letter should be sent to all students at the College and the University inviting them to a buffet tea in the school building on the Sunday afternoon, which “would help the students to mix more with Church members, and feel more at home”. The Vicar left it to Dr Packer “if he wished, to give a small address at the end of the meal.” The following month PCC were told to expect up to 150 students at the Student’s Tea, but in late November it was reported that “the Student’s Tea arranged for 5th December has been cancelled”, with no reason recorded.

A second attempt to reach out to students was made the next year. The Vicar told PCC in March 1966 that he had written to Professor Anderson of London University “asking if he would attend our proposed Student Sunday on June 12th.” Professor Anderson had accepted the invitation, St Martin’s College were willing to co-operate, but he was awaiting a reply from Lancaster University.” The date of the Students’ Service was later brought forward a week to the 5th of June. There is no record of whether the service actually happened and, if it did, what the University’s attitude to it was.


Keswick in Lancaster

St Thomas’ was happy to host the Keswick in Lancaster Conventions on numerous occasions during the sixties by letting them use the church for their September meetings. The thanks of the Council of the Convention are recorded in PCC minutes in 1959, 1960, 1965, 1966 and 1968.


Sunday School

Sunday School continued through Stanley Duthie’s time, but the only mention of it in minutes of church meetings comes in November 1972, when it notes that the church was temporarily hiring a room at the Alexandra Hotel (now the Revolution bar and restaurant) at the top of Penny Street after the school had closed down.



Not long before Stanley Duthie arrived at St Thomas’ PCC had started the search for a site on which to build a new Vicarage, the existing one on Higher Greaves requiring attention and only being graded ‘C’ class by the Diocesan Surveyor. That search was not continued after the arrival of the new Vicar.

There is no mention of any repairs or improvements to the Vicarage until October 1963, when PCC agreed to get estimates for installing a central heating system (gas, solid fuel, and electric). In May 1967 PCC discussed some essential repairs and treating dry rot, at an estimated cost of £475 [£6,500], of which the church would have to pay £165 [£2240] and the Church Commissioners the rest. It is assumed that this work was done.

As usual, attention was focussed on the state of the Vicarage when the Vicar made it known that he would soon be leaving the church. In November 1973, after considering the report of a visit by the Diocesan Surveyor, PCC agreed that “measures should be taken to bring the Vicarage up to Diocesan Standards.”

Plans for the work were drawn up to send to the Diocesan Surveyor, and in December PCC agreed that “the parish could meet a maximum [cost] of £2,000 [£18,300] raised on loan for the improvements.” The following month PCC agreed to the proposed plan of work, which would cost an estimated £7,310 [£58,280] in total. The Annual Church Meeting in April 1974 was told that “grants of £4,000 [£31,900] had been allocated from the Diocese and further applications to the City and Marshall’s Charity are being considered. Over £5,000 [£40,000] had been received in donations.”

PCC was advised in early July 1974 that work on the Vicarage was almost complete and a grant of £1,500 [£12,000] towards the cost was expected from the Church Commissioners.

In February 1974, during the interregnum, an issue arose at the back of the Vicarage which would spill over into the early years of the next Vicar. PCC was concerned about a stone wall that had fallen down at the back of the Vicarage garden, but it was also keen to buy a strip of land behind the house next door (number 35 Higher Greaves) to create access to a proposed new garage behind the Vicarage. The following month PCC was told that “the owners of No 35 were prepared to sell a strip of land to make a way in to the Vicarage garden.”



Stanley Duthie retired late in 1973, having served as Vicar for fifteen years. At its December meeting PCC agreed to present him with an inscribed Library copy of the New English Bible and a cheque, and his wife with a bouquet of flowers, after the Carol Service in church on the 23rd of December, as a sign of their appreciation for all they had done in and for the church.

The search for a new Vicar began in September 1973, with a discussion by the PCC chaired by John Dart. Members of Council were told that the Churchwardens “had already written to CPAS in accordance with the Benefice Right of Presentation Measure. They had put before the patrons the condition, needs and tradition of the parish and this was agreed by the PCC after discussion.”

The Churchwarden’s letter to CPAS is detailed and it makes interesting reading as an overview of the state of St Thomas’ at that time. It is reproduced here in full, transcribed from the minutes of the PCC meeting held on the 3rd of September 1973, when Yvonne Phythian was PCC Secretary:

The resignation of Mr Duthie leaves the parish facing a number of problems, in some ways similar to those facing it before the appointment of Mr Wallwork in 1948 – but with certain important differences.

1. There is a move afoot suggested by the Deanery Synod Standing Committee (majority decision) for a group ministry embracing four City Churches, Priory, St Thomas, St John’s and Christ Church. Such a move would end CPAS Patronage here, since the Priory would be the dominant Church. The present Vicar of Lancaster is genuinely anxious to preserve the evangelical tradition of St Thomas’s – but this could change with a new Vicar there.

2. At one time we had a flourishing youth work here, but this has dwindled in terms of young committed Christians. Only the Boys Brigade is well staffed with officers – but very short of boys. The Guides and Brownies have officers from outside the Church. The Sunday School has few younger teachers and is short of pupils. The Children’s Church, started by Mr Wallwork, is well attended but handicapped by lack of suitable premises. The Young People’s Fellowship is also down in numbers and not all attend Church.

3. We are giving consideration, as a matter of urgency, to a plan to turn part of the Church into a Hall where the Children’s Church, Sunday School and other organisations can meet. Our present hall is too far away from the Church for the first two organisations, and is not well equipped in any case.

4. Smaller congregations have meant that money has been hard to come by. Only the Sale [of Work], every two years, has enabled us to balance our books.

5. On the credit side, we have benefit from our proximity to the Lancaster University. A number of students attend the services, and two of them have given great help to the Church. One is the Organist.

6. Adult organisations are still fairly strong. However, they have only a few young members. There is now no men’s meeting. There is a Bible Study with an attendance of about ten, and a Prayer Meeting [with] still fewer attending.

7. There is considerable [overseas] Missionary interest in the Church, though confined to a relatively small part of the congregation. We have Missionaries from the Church serving with Wycliffe Bible Translators and C.M.S. (Nigeria). Another member is considering SAMS. We have an interest in CMS, BCMS, SAMS, BFBS and Com and Con. Members of the Church include the Chairman, Lay Secretary and Treasurer of the CMS Auxiliary for the three Deaneries, and the Secretary and Treasurer of the BFBS of the local auxiliary. The Church is represented on the Deanery Synod Standing Committee (two members) and on the Diocesan Synod. The Church was actively linked in the Call to the North.”

A typed note in the PCC Minute Book says

Parish makes considerable demands on the incumbent and his wife. Someone experienced with and sympathetic to young people is urgently required. Especially in view of our contacts with University Students, we feel that someone capable of clear and concise teaching will be needed. [added in handwriting …] ‘but at the same time be capable of holding the interest of the other members of the congregation’. As you know we are a conservative Evangelical Parish by long tradition, and the Parish as a whole would certainly want to maintain this.”

Stanley Duthie chaired his last PCC meeting on the 12th of November 1973 and the Vice-Chairman (John Dart) chaired the PCC meetings between December and July 1974. At the December 1973 meeting John Dart “reminded the PCC of the importance of prayer during the interregnum”; in March 1974 he “asked that comments on the services should be passed to him”; and in April he “paid tribute to all who had helped in the four difficult months since Mr Duthie left and appealed for continuing prayers at all times.”

PCC had been told on the 8th of October 1973 that “the first man who had been asked to consider the benefice had declined. A second man and his wife were coming to view the parish and to meet the wardens and standing committee.” That couple were Cyril and Muriel Ashton, who must have impressed the wardens and standing committee and seen potential in the church because Cyril accepted the invitation from CPAS to succeed Stanley Duthie as Vicar of St Thomas’. They were presented to PCC on the 25th of February 1974 and, according to the minutes, “a very happy discussion followed.”

Stanley Duthie died in September 1982, aged 74, in the Blackpool and Fylde area. On hearing of his death, PCC agreed in October that “Mr Tate [PCC Secretary] should write to Mrs Duthie and send a donation [in his memory] to Gideon’s International.”


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16. Cyril Ashton (1974-1991)

Cyril Guy Ashton was born in Coxhoe, County Durham, in April 1942 at Coxhoe. After training for the Anglican ministry at Oak Hill Theological College in London (1964-1967) he was ordained deacon in 1967 and priest in 1968. His first church appointment was as Curate at St Thomas’, Blackpool (1967-70), after which he followed in the footsteps of Joseph Armytage – the founding Vicar of St Thomas’, Lancaster – and worked for the Church Pastoral Aid Society (patrons of St Thomas’) where he served as Vocations Secretary from 1970 to 1974.

In 1974 he moved further north to become St Thomas’s twelfth Vicar, moving into the Vicarage in Higher Greaves early that summer. They arrived in Lancaster with four children – Jonathan (born December 1967), Elizabeth (April 1969), Simon (September 1970), and Timothy (May 1972) – who all went to local schools.


Appointment and arrival

Stanley Duthie retired in December 1973 and Cyril Ashton was inducted on the 19th of July 1974. There was no Curate during the seven month interregnum. Indeed when the new Vicar arrived the church had been without a Curate for ten years, since Colin Powell had left in 1964. The new Vicar chaired his first PCC meeting on the 2nd of September 1974.


The wider context

It is true, as John Donne said, that “no man is an island”. It is equally true that “no church is an island”, and during Cyril Ashton’s time what happened at St Thomas’ was inevitably shaped partly by what was happening in the world around it.


Socio-economic change

Some of the socio-economic changes that had helped shape post-war Britain were still under way in the second half of the seventies and during the eighties. One was the relentless pursuit of material prosperity, reflected in people’s growing expectations of the right to higher wages, a higher standard of living and more comfortable lifestyles, and the quest for personal happiness.

Another was economic and thus political instability, reflected in the fact that there were five governments in office between 1970 and 1979. Inflation was high, trade unions campaigned aggressively for wage increases and to protect their member’s conditions, there was much industrial unrest, and unemployment was as high in 1983 as it had been during the slump of 1929. There were concerns about the impacts on Britain’s economy of membership of the EEC (European Economic Community; now the EU, European Union).

There were also broad changes in the religious landscape of Britain. A renewed interest in spirituality – triggered by what Grace Davie (1994) has called “the re-emergence of the sacred” – brought both opportunities and challenges for the Church of England, which reacted with what Michael Austin (2001 p.284) describes as “a period of reaction, consolidation and reform.”



There are a number of strands in the Church of England’s response that directly influenced the life and work of St Thomas’ over this period.

One was a renewed interest in making worship more accessible and relevant to ordinary people. After years of liturgical experiment the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure, which allowed the form of service used in a parish to be the joint decision of the incumbent and the PCC, was approved by Synod in February 1974. The Alternative Service Book, written in modern English, was published in 1980. As Paul Welsby (1984 p.239) has pointed out, critics argued that using modern English – addressing God as ‘you’ rather than ‘thou’ – “stripped the liturgy of mystery, relegated God to terms of human discourse and relationships, and was unworthy to stand beside the great prose of Cranmer” in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.


Evangelism and mission

The Church of England showed a renewed interest in exploring the relationship between evangelism and mission and a fresh search for appropriate methods for promoting its mission.


The purpose of mission in a pluralist and increasingly secular society was debated – some saw its primary purpose as to influence the structures in society that shape people’s lives; others insisted that Christian witness should focus on caring for and serving others; yet others maintained the traditional view of mission as the proclamation of the gospel and the winning of souls for Christ.

Different forms of ‘proclamation’ mission were also emerging, along a spectrum from local initiatives embedded in the day-to-day life of a church, through local short-term missions, to nationwide campaigns (such as those run by Billy Graham). Some local mission initiatives were ecumenical in character, involving several churches working together. This period also saw the emergence and growth of housegroups as effective vehicles for providing pastoral support and discipleship within the local church, with housegroup meetings sometimes providing ‘frontline’ opportunities for local outreach and evangelism.


Charismatic Renewal

One development that was to have a transformational effect on St Thomas’ was the charismatic renewal movement that swept through many denominations and across many countries starting in the early sixties.

Its origins lay in the Pentecostal Revival which began in America in the early 1900s, but as Austin (2001 p.296) points out, from the early seventies onwards it divided opinions

between those who welcomed the uninhibited enthusiasm of the charismatics with their emphasis on healing, speaking with tongues and the immediacy of the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit, and those who believed them to be wrong in their theology of baptism, in their lack of intellectual rigour and in their seemingly scant respect for church order.”

The first signs of charismatic renewal in the Church of England came in about 1962 when a small number of churches – including St Mark’s in Gillingham, Kent (the church to which Peter Guinness, Cyril Ashton’s successor, would move as Vicar after leaving St Thomas’ in 2010) – became known for ‘speaking in tongues. David Watson had been a Curate at St Mark’s before becoming Vicar of St Michael-le-Belfrey in York, which had been on the verge of closure before he arrived but was quickly transformed and renewed and became a hub of renewal in Britain.

By the mid-seventies it was estimated that half of the people then studying in theological colleges had been influenced by the renewal movement, which transcended differences in theology and churchmanship.

The growth and consolidation of the renewal movement in Britain was greatly assisted by visits from John Wimber and teams from the Vineyard Fellowship in the USA, who worked closely with English church leaders like David Watson at York and David Pytches, Vicar of St Andrew’s in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire. Landmark Vineyard events in Britain include the 1984 ‘Signs and Wonders’ conference in Westminster Central Hall, London, and a 1985 team visit to Sheffield that included a visit to Lancaster by a Vineyard group.

Paul Welsby (1984 pp.242-244) outlines the main characteristics of charismatic renewal and its

high doctrine of the gifts of the Spirit and in particular those of speaking with tongues and healing. The experience of being so overwhelmed by the power of the Spirit led many to speak of it as ‘baptism of the Spirit’, which enabled them to witness freely to others, to express their love to each other and to speak naturally and freely to God in prayer. Coupled with this was the expectation that God would work visibly in, for example, healing and deliverance from the power of evil. Wherever charismatic renewal occurred there was nearly always an increase in fellowship and prayer, a deep evangelistic concern, growth in the number of communicants and a greater giving to the Church at home and overseas. Through its meetings for prayer and worship, the renewal introduced Anglicans to forms of praying, praising, singing, and sharing which most of them had never experienced before. Chorus singing, the use of gesture and dance, ministries of healing and deliverance carried out in the middle of the congregation, gifts of tongues and interpretation, prophecies and singing in the Spirit – all these are characteristics of charismatic worship.”

Welsby also points out some important “weaknesses and excesses” of charismatic renewal, including

a tendency to pietism [an emphasis on emotion and personal experience] and a reluctance to grapple with the social and other problems of the world. … [it] can also result in the abdication of hard theological analysis in favour of uncritical pietism. In certain parts of the movement there has been a dangerous over-dramatization of the demonic and the ministry of deliverance. Perhaps its greatest weakness, however, lies in the danger of divisiveness, springing from a feeling of spiritual elitism which can too easily result in a sectarian attitude towards fellow-Christians.”

Church congregations have often been seriously challenged, disrupted and divided by this ‘greatest weakness’, which has caused some groups who have had an experience of the Holy Spirit to separate from those who have not, and set up a new ‘church’ on their own.

This gave rise to the House Church Movement, in which break-away groups started meeting in private houses to enjoy the freedom of new forms of worship. Many of these groups subsequently expanded, set up camp in larger premises, and joined networks of ‘new churches’ outside the traditional denominations.


[_Evangelicalism _]

A fourth strand of change over this period was a revival in the confidence and influence of the evangelical wing of the Church of England, which was emerging as less defensive, more willing to co-operate with others in evangelism and in the ecumenical movement, and with a less parochial orientation than earlier in the century. This revival owed much to the preaching and teaching of John Stott who was Vicar of All Souls, Langham Place in London from 1950 to 1977, and a gifted Bible teacher, prolific writer and effective evangelist.

One reflection of this new confidence was the National Evangelical Alliance Congress (NEAC) held at Keele University in 1967, which attracted a thousand delegates. After Keele, as Welsby (1984 pp.214-5) points out, “evangelical parishes became some of the most vigorous in the country with large congregations, flourishing Pathfinder groups for young people, house [groups], Bible study groups and determined efforts to meet the uncommitted and the deprived. These parishes have produced many ordination candidates and missionary volunteers. Evangelicals thus became a vigorous group ready to seize fresh opportunities wherever they might be found in the Church of England.”


Lay ministry and the ordination of women

A shortage of trained clergy, and a renewed interest in “the priesthood of all believers”, made the Church of England more open to sharing ministry with lay people and encouraging them to undertake spiritual and pastoral duties, through lay ministry and lay leadership. The Church was also starting out on the long and winding road that would lead to the ordination of women, the General Synod having accepted in 1975 that there were no fundamental objections to women priests. Since the late sixties women had been playing an increasing part in worship – conducting services, reading the scriptures, preaching and assisting with the administration of Holy Communion.


Lancaster during his time

The face of Lancaster changed a little during Cyril Ashton’s time. For example, in 1985 the Old Custom House on the quay was turned into a Maritime Museum, and in 1989-90 the St Nicholas area of the town centre was redeveloped as a shopping centre.

There were changes to churches too, a number of which closed. In 1976 the Wesleyan Methodist church on Owen Road in Skerton was abandoned after vandals had damaged it and lead had been stripped from its roof. In 1980 St Luke’s in Skerton had to sell the brick church hall they had built in the centre of the parish in 1956. In 1981 St John’s Church on Chapel Street (founded in 1755) was closed and placed into the care of the Redundant Churches Fund (now the Churches Conservation Trust); the building is still occasionally used for concerts. In 1983 the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Sulyard Street (founded before 1879) was closed and converted internally into sheltered accommodation. In 1984 the Independent Methodist chapel in Nelson Street (founded before 1849) was closed and shortly afterwards was consecrated as the Polish Church of Our Lady, Queen of Poland, to serve the Polish Catholic community which had settled in the area after World War II.

It was not all bad news, however, because two ‘churches’ were opened during this period. In 1984 St Paul’s Scotforth funded a small worship and community centre within its parish, on the Hala estate in Scotforth. In the 1990s Lancaster Free Methodist Church took over the former Presbyterian Church on Queen Street, which had been closed in 1972 following the formation of the United Reformed Church and had later been used as a Centre for the Blind.


Parish boundary

Recall that the parish boundary had been enlarged and redefined in 1963, taking in part of what had previously been the parish of St Paul’s in Scotforth. Population changes within Lancaster continued over the following two decades, and by the late 1970s the Diocese had recognised the need to revisit the distribution of parishes within Lancaster, particularly with the declining congregation of St John’s in the city centre.

PCC was advised in July 1979 of the latest thinking in Deanery Synod, which suggested that “if and when the parishes of St John’s and Christ Church were united, the Primrose area, currently in Christ Church parish, would become part of St Thomas’ parish.” Three months later, on the 1st of October, a letter from the Diocesan Secretary was read out to PCC, announcing the decision that

the area of Christ Church present parish known as Primrose, together with St Martin’s College and Storey’s Works [White Cross] to be added to the parish of St Thomas’. The boundary would run from the canal, up the centre of Quarry Road, continue up the track to Scotch Quarry and around the boundary of St Martin’s College till it reaches the present boundary along Coulston Road (leaving Anderson Close within Christ Church parish).”

The minutes of that meeting record that “PCC were very happy with the suggestions, especially with the possibilities of [outreach] work at Storey’s [maker of PVC, then Lancaster’s largest employer with 2,200 staff] and St Martin’s. Mr Tate [PCC Secretary] was asked to send a letter of approval to the Diocesan Secretary.”

In October 1981 PCC was told that “incorporation of Primrose areas into the parish had been made official on the 28th August 1981”, St John’s having been closed that year.



Cyril Ashton arrived with a vision of spiritual growth, both personal and corporate, and that vision evolved through time and informed many of the developments that followed.

He had set out his stall when he had first been introduced to PCC in February 1974, advising them that “his ministry would be of the New Testament pattern as described in Acts 2: 42”, which describes the early church where “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

On his arrival he envisaged a new season for St Thomas’, with a new sense of purpose and direction, which is clear from the “guidelines for forward planning” he presented to PCC at the first meeting he chaired on the 2nd of September 1974. Basing his ideas on 2 Corinthians 4: 1-6 he said that “the spiritual function of the PCC is leadership and as ministers of the gospel. ‘We desire to preach Jesus Christ crucified’ and should all be evangelists as we accept the challenge of partnership in the gospel.”

He spoke about the potential and opportunities of the parish and of the student work, the need of a church hall, and the need for regular prayer and to commit the future to God. He wasted no time in putting flesh on the bones of these initial ideas.

Two months later he outlined to PCC a four-to-five year plan, emphasising the importance of using homes for evangelism, the value of parish visiting teams, the need for Guest Services, the prospect of a Children’s Mission, and the intention to have a Parish Mission in three years time.

The forward thinking quickly gathered momentum, and in June 1975 he shared with PCC some thoughts “about the future ministry of the church. He believed God was calling us on and had given us £10,000 [£62,750] to make a more effective building for His use. He asked for prayers and thought, and a readiness to share at the [PCC] Quiet Day planned for Saturday the 7th of June at Capernwray Hall.

The workload facing Cyril Ashton, given the many initiatives under way during his incumbency, was significant. The Churchwardens were concerned to make sure that his work-life balance was not completely abandoned, and in April 1975 they appealed to PCC “to help Mr and Mrs Ashton to take one day off a week, by keeping phone calls to urgent ones only, and not to stay unnecessarily late at the Vicarage after meetings.”

Despite his drive and commitment, the Vicar also recognised that there were limits to what he could commit to. He told PCC in April 1987 that he had been invited to take on the role of Hospital Chaplain at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, but would only be able and willing to do so “if he was allowed to do it on a team basis involving the Visiting Team and Pastoral Auxiliaries.” There is no further mention of the Chaplaincy in PCC minutes.

Conscious of the need not to overburden their Vicar, in January 1983 PCC granted him a three month sabbatical - after ten years in post - to be taken between Easter and Summer. He said that “would stay in the parish and devote his time to refreshment, study and visiting communities around the country.” John Dart, the Vice-Chairman of PCC, chaired the Council meetings between April and September. On his return, Cyril and Muriel told PCC on the 5 th of September that “the sabbatical had begun a time of a closer working relationship for them. They had visited several churches in renewal and communities at the Hyde and Briarcliffe.”

Cyril Ashton was eager to deepen his understanding of Christian ministry, and in 1984 he registered to study part-time for an MA in Modern Roman Catholic Theology (to better understand the process of renewal within the Catholic Church) at Lancaster University. At PCC in November 1986 Grant Ashton, the Curate [no relative], congratulated him on gaining the degree. The Vicar told the morning congregation soon afterwards that, being married to Muriel Ashton, he was not the first MA in their household.

He was also keen to share that understanding and his experience of ministry with a wider audience, which he did partly through the Renewal Ministry he developed but also through writing books which were well received and widely read. His output over a ten year period was impressive – he wrote Baptism: The Promise of God (1986), Servant Spirit, Serving Church (1988), Church on the Threshold: Renewing the Local Church (1991), Threshold God: Discovering Christ in the Margins of Life (1992), and with Jack Nicholls A Faith Worth Sharing? A Church Worth Joining? (1995). All but the last book were written while he was at St Thomas’.

Recall (from the previous chapter) that in 1971 PCC told Deanery Synod that they were not in a position to pay the Vicar the recommended minimum stipend of £1,500 [£16,000], but after Cyril Ashton arrived the Council agreed in September 1974 that “the church should make it up to the agreed diocesan minimum. This would entail putting £210 [£1,670] from church funds for this purpose.” That November PCC also agreed an increase in the Vicar’s expenses, including a £150 [£1,200] car allowance, and the full cost of phone rental and all parish calls and of postage and stationery for parish work. In October 1975 it agreed to increase the stipend to £2,200 [£13,800; ie less in real terms] a year by adding £12 [£75] a month from church funds. From the 1st of April 1976 the Diocesan minimum stipend was raised to between £2,400 [£13,000] and £2,750 [£15,000], as a result of which PCC had agreed in February to increase its share by £96 [£520]. PCC also agreed to increase the Vicar’s travelling allowance by £300 [£1,600] to £450 [£2,450] and give him allowances of £120 [£650] for heating and £24 [£130] for postage.

PCC was keen to increase the Vicar’s stipend, which had long been below the Diocesan minimum, so in February 1977 it agreed to raise the church’s annual contribution by £65 [£310], and in March 1978 it agreed to contribute £1,164 [£5,000] towards his stipend and stop the long-standing practice of presenting the Easter offering to him. In January 1979 it agreed that the church should provide £1,800 [£6,700] towards the stipend and that the expenses be raised to £900 [£3,600] a year.


When Cyril Ashton arrived in St Thomas there was no Curate in post. Indeed, the church had been without a Curate for a decade since Colin Powell left in 1964.

Things started looking up when the Vicar explained to PCC in February 1978 that “the Bishop of Blackburn had asked the church to consider whether it was able to take a Curate for training. It would be necessary to provide half the stipend and housing. The young man who was considering coming was to be in the parish with his wife for the weekend 18-19 February. There was to be a PCC meeting on the 20th of February to consider this matter again after more members of PCC had met the young couple.”

After discussing the situation at an Emergency Meeting on the 20th of February, PCC agreed that “Richard and Kay Barron should be sent a firm offer inviting Richard to come to the parish as Curate. There was some consideration of the financial implications. It was suggested a Gift Weekend might be held to provide the money for two years of ‘ministry’.” Hopes, having been raised, were dashed when PCC was told on the 6th of March that “Richard and Kay Barron had written declining the offer of a Curacy at St Thomas’s.”

A year would pass before the next prospective Curate came along. The Vicar was able to tell the Annual Church Meeting in April 1979 that “there was a possibility of having a Curate, and Peter May was coming to look at the parish.” He told PCC in May that “he and the elders believed that Peter May was the right person to come to St Thomas’ as a Curate”, and he outlined Peter’s background – he was 36 years old and married with two children; after a career as a civil engineer he was training for the ministry at Trinity College in Bristol (from where Stanley Duthie had graduated 46 years earlier); he “had been a Christian for more than ten years and had been ‘released in the Spirit’ in 1974”. PCC agreed that the Curacy should be offered to Peter May, and a small group was set up “to help [him] with the question of housing and any other practical arrangement.”

Things moved fast, because PCC was told in June that Peter and his family were expected to move to Lancaster in August, and they were seeking to purchase a house in the locality but nothing suitable had yet been found.

Peter was ordained deacon in 1978 and priest in 1979, and started as Curate at St Thomas’ on the 30th of September 1979, the day after having been ordained at Blackburn Cathedral. PCC was told in September that the diocese and the church would each contribute £1,200 [£4,500] towards his stipend of £2,400 [£9,000]. Before the payments started at the end of the month he was living off unemployment benefits, and PCC agreed to make that up to £50 [£190] a week as an ex-gratia payment. When told that Peter May would have to rely on the Family Income Supplement to balance his budget, they agreed that his stipend should be more than was necessary just to break even; the matter was left with the Treasurer and one of the Churchwardens to sort out.

As we shall see, because of his experience as a civil engineer Peter May played very significant roles in the two major building projects – the church conversion project and the Renewal Centre project – undertaken by St Thomas’ during Cyril Ashton’s incumbency.

Towards the end of his five years as Curate Peter spent a month at the Priory Church, broadening his experience, after which he told PCC in December 1984 that “he was impressed by their commitment to prayer, particularly for local affairs.” At that meeting “the Vicar and the PCC thanked the Rev May for his work, care and support during his time with us, and wished him well for his future ministry in Darwen.” After St Thomas (1978-85) Peter May served as Vicar of St Barnabas’, Darwen (1985-91), Chaplain at Lyon with Grenoble (1991-92) then Lyon (1992-94), and Team Rector in Horley (1995-2002). He retired in 2003.

It was not long before the Vicar was able to welcome the new Curate (William) Grant Ashton (no relation) and his wife Mary to St Thomas’. Grant was born in 1957, graduated from the University of Durham (BA 1979) and Oak Hill Theological College (BA 1985), and was ordained deacon in 1985 and priest in 1986. At the Annual Church Meeting in Easter 1985 Cyril Ashton praised him for “the significant contribution he had made in teaching and the church.” PCC was told that September that the new Curate’s salary would be £5,945 [£13,300], split 60-40 between the church and the diocese. The PCC minutes over this period reveal few details about Grant’s ministry at St Thomas’, but in January 1989 it was announced that he would be leaving the church on Easter Sunday, having served for four years. Grant returned to the St Thomas’ family in June 1991 to speak on ‘Pressing on towards the goal’ at the Church Weekend at Kinmel Hall in north Wales. After St Thomas’ (1985-89) Grant was an Army Chaplain with the Ministry of Defence (1989-2013), retiring in 2013 as Assistant Chaplain General for Operation and Training and an Honorary Chaplain to the Queen. By then Mary had been ordained, served a Curacy at Whitewater near Winchester, and been appointed Vicar of All Saint’s in Guildford.

The gap between Curates was once again relatively short. It was announced to PCC in January 1989 that a new Curate and his wife, David and Judith Grundy, would move into the Curate’s House when it had been renovated, and would be joining the church in September. David was ordained deacon on the 9th of July 1989 and priest on the 1st of July 1990, and the Vicar welcomed him to his first PCC meeting on the 4th of September 1989. As with his predecessor, the PCC minutes tell us relatively little about David’s time at St Thomas’, but amongst other things he did ‘keep the show on the road’ during the interregnum between Cyril Ashton and Peter Guinness in 1991. David and Judith left Lancaster in May 1992. Following in the footsteps of Mary Ashton before her, Judith Grundy was subsequently ordained and in 2014 was Vicar of St Mary’s in Denver, Norfolk; David was Rector at All Saints’, Fring in Norfolk.


Curate’s House

The Bishop’s request early in 1978 that St Thomas’ should consider taking on a Curate raised the question of where one would live, and an Emergency Meeting of PCC late February discussed the matter of a Curate’s House and agreed “to inspect three properties on the market for ideas as to what might be suitable.”

By June 1979 it was known that Peter May had been appointed, and in July PCC discussed a plan for the Curate to buy a house in the area and be paid an allowance by the Church to cover the cost of the mortgage. This would allow the church to get no return on its investment and would mean starting the process again when the Curate left, so a co-ownership scheme (involving sharing legal costs, purchase costs, improvements and an eventual selling price), which Peter May had already experienced elsewhere, was favoured.

PCC was told that a house – 80 Aldcliffe Road – had been bought for £26,000 [£97,300], with the church owning a thirty percent stake and Peter May’s parents willing to lend the money to the church. Annual maintenance costs including rates and insurance would be between £360 [£1,300] and £400 [£1,500]. The church set up a Curate’s House Fund with a target of £8,000 [£29,950], and in October 1979 PCC was told that by then £8,013 [£30,000] had been raised, on top of which PCC had provisionally promised £2,000 [£7,500] and a collection that month had raised an extra £500 [£1,900].

Three years later, in September 1982, PCC agreed to Peter May’s request to buy the house outright by taking out a mortgage of around £10,000 [£26,200] to buy out the church’s share in the property. The Curate’s allowance was increased to cover the cost of the mortgage, and PCC discussed how best to use the £10,000 released to it. That was not enough to buy another Curate’s House outright, although thought was given to buying a house and renting it out to students until it was needed for a Curate. PCC continued that discussion in October and in December it was told that the £10,500 [£27,500] had been deposited in the Curate’s House Fund, the Vicar noting that “no decision could be made about the matter for several months.”

By March 1983 the Fund had grown to £13,000 [£32,250], and by March 1985 it stood at £16,000 [£35,900]. In January 1985 PCC had given serious thought to releasing that money and giving it to the Manna House project (discussed later), to pay off the mortgage on that property.

Two months later, in March 1985 – after Grant Ashton had been appointed Curate – PCC agreed to purchase another Curate’s House, “preferably within the parish, at a cost of between £20,000 [£44,800] and £22,000 [£49,300] approximately.”

By late April 1985 a suitable property – 77 Ulster Road – had been found and PCC were awaiting a surveyor’s report. In June the house was bought for £23,500 [£52,700]. The shortfall between the cost price and what was in the Curate’s House Fund had to be covered by the PCC, although a joint Gift Day held in May for the Curate’s House and Manna House raised £8,600 [£19,300], with an additional £2,000 [£4,500] covenanted over the next four years. Three years after buying the Curate’s House, in September 1988 PCC agreed a budget of £600 [£1,160] for painting the outside of the windows and to fix some damp problems, and up to £1,700 [£3,300] to install gas-fired central heating. In November PCC agreed to increase the budget for repairs to £1,500 [£2,900].

In June 1989, after the appointment of David Grundy to replace Grant Ashton but before the Grundys arrived in Lancaster, PCC agreed to further improvements in the Curate’s House, up to a maximum of £5,000 [£9,000]. In July 1991 the Council agreed to let the Grundy’s “have a student lodger if they so wished”, to help cover the cost of living there.


Church Hall/church conversion project (1975-76)

A quick recap (from the previous chapter) … in March 1971 PCC had agreed “to take advice on the possibility of altering the church for use as a dual purpose building”, to incorporate a church hall as well as the church itself. As we saw in the previous chapter, after exploring various options including buying the old school, converting two disused classrooms or building a new hall on the former school playground site, in March 1973 PCC discussed in some detail the viability of converting the church.

By the time Cyril Ashton arrived in 1974 the idea of converting the interior of the church to make it dual purpose, creating space for the Sunday School and youth work, had been discussed over a number of years. But nothing tangible had been done or planned that would turn the idea into reality, and he reminded PCC in October “of the need for prayer” about the new church hall.

He added a new sense of urgency to the discussions, and life was soon breathed into the project. After hearing that the two classrooms were no longer available, in early November PCC approved “the principle of going ahead with interior conversion of the church” and it agreed to “meet the Diocesan representatives to discuss the situation. … [and] to call a meeting of the whole church as soon as there was something definite to show.”

The pace quickened and by January 1975 Bob Hepple had been selected as architect for the project; his “fees were expected to be not more than £600 [£3,800].” It was agreed that Mike Norbury would oversee the project on behalf of the church. Bob Hepple and his associates were appointed, and in March he told PCC that drawings were likely to be ready within two to three weeks and “the whole project might be complete in about eight months.” The architect showed the plans to PCC early in April and explained various challenges associated with the project, and PCC agreed to meet again in church a few weeks later to discuss the matter on the ground.

An Emergency Meeting of PCC was held on the 19th of April and, after listening to suggestions from Bob Hepple and Mike Norbury and viewing the church from the balcony and ground level, the Council agreed “that the architect [should] proceed to draw up plans with the upstairs hall from the third pillar [from the west wall of the church] but with the downstairs lounge from the end of the window, ie with four pews removed.” PCC also discussed the position and size of the kitchen proposed for downstairs, and the type of wall that would be needed upstairs between the new ‘hall’ and the balcony - the remains of the West Gallery - in front of it. The Standing Committee agreed a week later to send two versions of the architectural drawings for discussion at the Diocesan Planning Committee on the 9 th of May, one with the wooden balcony facing replaced and one without.

The Vicar spoke about the new church hall project at the Annual Church Meeting towards the end of April in 1975, and “appealed to the meeting to pray, to give and to believe that God would provide.” In May a faculty was applied for to divide the church in order to provide a hall with lounge, kitchen and cloakroom facilities.

From mid-1975 onwards what had been referred to as the New Church Hall Project was called the Church Conversion Project, cementing both its location and purpose. PCC was told in mid-July that the drawings had arrived and the project would be put out to tender, with the deadline for the return of tenders expected to be around the middle of September. The project was becoming more ambitious, because the minutes record that the Diocesan Registrar had granted the church “permission to experiment with the East End”, referring to a proposed re-ordering of the chancel and area around the front of church (including the organ, then located at the east end of the North Gallery). PCC also agreed to make enquiries about using the Lower Town Hall for Sunday services while the building work was going on.

At the beginning of September PCC was advised that tenders were likely to be in by the end of October, with the work probably starting at the beginning of January 1976 and the church being out of use for about three Sundays. It was agreed that a working party of men from church should remove the pews and the wooden floor under part of the back of church ready for the contractors to fill the void with hardcore at a cost of around £1,800 [£11,300]. In early October PCC was given a revised start date of the 12th of January.

By early December 1975 there were concerns about the budget for the project, given the state of the church’s finances. After much discussion PCC agreed that “work on the West End [church hall] should be separated from the East End work [chancel and organ] so that progress could be made.” The Northern Building Company won the contract for the ‘West End work’.

PCC was told in January 1976 that the overall project was going well but “a hold-up was now likely to be because no decision could be made about the organ.” There were good reasons for moving the huge organ, partly to create more seating (particularly if the portion of the balcony, which had been removed when the organ was built in 1931, was restored) and to open up the front of the church and make it lighter, but also because the use of music in worship was changing and the organ, which had always been difficult and expensive to maintain in good order, was slowly being replaced by the guitar, violin and flute.

Tenders were sent out for the ‘East End work’ in late March 1976 and were expected back by late April. On the 22nd of March PCC was told that “the contractor would be on site about June 14th, and the time for completion of work would be 5½ to 6 months. … The choir vestry would not be available for use during the alterations.” In May a faculty was applied for to remove the organ provided it was properly stored, and the following month another one was applied for to raise the floor in the chancel, remove the choir stalls there, remove the pulpit, the old communion rail, the large reading desk and the font, and move the Communion Table and two clergy desks.

In early June PCC agreed to accept a fixed price tender of £31,943 [£173,800] submitted by the Northern Building Company – “plus an additional payment of £500 [£2,700] to the company”, to remedy an oversight in the initial tender bid – for resiting the organ and doing the work listed in the second faculty.

A month later PCC applied for a faculty to install the pipes on the new West Wall in front of the new ‘hall’ “for a new manual organ with a detached console in the East End of the Church”, and agreed to employ the Lancaster Organ Company to do the work at a cost not exceeding £4,000 [£21,800]. It also agreed “to look into the cost of building up the two bays where the organ had been.”

PCC was told in October 1976 that the building programme was behind schedule but might be finished by Christmas. It agreed to redecorate and consider carpeting the inside of the church, but not to sandblast the exterior at that time. Discussions started about the levels of the gallery floor and the visibility of the main body of the church from the balconies, which were to run for many years without the problem being fully resolved, even today.

In late October the Standing Committee met to consider a request from the Northern Building Company for the contract and agreed budget to be reviewed in light of the fact that “they expected to come out of the job with a loss. It was agreed they would submit a programme of works as soon as possible. Extensions to the contract were mentioned (church re-decoration, the balcony levels etc).” The following month PCC applied for a faculty “to redecorate the church. To adjust the balcony levels for better visibility.”

With the building work nearing completion – the contractors were expecting to be finished by Christmas – thoughts turned to how best to use the new space, and the Vicar asked PCC in November 1976 “for prayer about the use of the redesigned building. Such things as a coffee lounge would be considered, and other evangelistic uses.” Audio equipment had been ordered for the church and it was agreed to repaint the Royal coat of arms which had been installed at the front of the West Gallery in 1852.

The Bishop of Blackburn had accepted the invitation to re-open the church on the evening of the 30th of January 1976, in preparation for which it was agreed that the floors needed to be cleaned before the 19th, when the carpets would arrive, and the pews would need to be put back on the 22nd. The Standing Committee met several times during January to sort out a range of snagging issues that typically arise after major building projects.

The minutes of the PCC meeting held on the 7th of February record that the opening service “was considered excellent. Tapes were available. There was a collection of £200 [£960].  It was agreed it should be divided [between three missionaries the church then supported] as follows – Martin and Pat Leigh £100 [£480], Alan Russell £50 [£240], Hazel Collins £50 [£240].” At that meeting PCC also agreed “to present Mike and Jean Norbury with a gift as a token of appreciation for Mike’s work on the church conversion. This was to be done in the service on a Sunday as soon as possible.” It was reported that the coat of arms “had been painted with gold leaf after a donation to cover this was promised.”

The church had been out of use for eight months while the building work was going on, during which time Ripley St Thomas School kindly allowed the services to be held in the school chapel, starting on the 6th of June 1976. In April 1977 PCC agreed to make a gift to the school “in appreciation for use of the chapel”, and in July it agreed that the gift should be “the two doors which had been removed during the alterations and £50 [£240].”

PCC had been warned in January 1977 that the total cost of the church conversion project was likely to be around £2,000 [£9,600] more than the original contract figure of £32,440 [£155,300], which “included about £1,000 [£4,800] for redecoration of the church, which had not been planned originally. There had been delays in delivery early in the contract period.” After the final accounts were received, PCC was told in December that “the contractor had asked for an ex-gratia payment of £1,126 [£5,400] to be considered. Council asked for time to consider this.” When it met at the beginning of February 1978 PCC agreed to pay £1,000 [£4,300] towards the contractor’s loss.



Fund-raising for the building project began on the 13th of January 1975 when PCC agreed to hold a Gift Weekend with the target of £10,000 [£62,750], and to explore possible funding from the Ripley Trust and the Education Authority.  

At an Emergency Meeting held two weeks later PCC agreed the date of 3-4 May for the Gift Weekend, and members agreed “to pray about it for a week and to be prepared at the next meeting to write down anonymously the amount each could promise” and put the promise into a closed box. At the next meeting, on the 3rd of February, the box was opened and money promised by PCC members counted – a total of £2,820 [£17,700]. The minutes of that meeting record that “a period of praise followed, concluding with a singing of the hymn ‘To God be the Glory’.”

The next stage was to organise the Gift Weekend. PCC agreed at meetings in March and April to circulate 2,500 addressed letters around the parish with the Church Newsletter, including details of how cheques should be made out. It also agreed that “the the Vicar should mention the possibility of lump sum covenanting. This was a way of giving to the Gift Weekend for those who paid standard [rate] income tax so that the church would benefit over the next seven years.” On the Sunday of the Gift Weekend, the 4th of May, PCC agreed “amid much rejoicing that the Vicar had stirred us into action and that it had indeed been a God-inspired weekend.”

Money also flowed in from other sources. PCC learned in June that the Diocesan Board of Finance had approved a grant of £500 [£3,100] and an interest-free loan of £2,500 [£15,700], repayable in half yearly instalments over five years. In November it heard that “there had been a further gift of £1,000 [£6,300] for the church conversion. There was a very real possibility of a trust of £10,000 [£62,750] being set up to provide some or all of the following specific items – carpeting for the church; removal of the organ; chairs; and a new pulpit.”

In April 1976 the Standing Committee met to consider the tender price which the Northern Building Company had submitted; their fluctuating price tender was £30,876 [£168,000] and their fixed price tender was £31,943 [£179,300]. Standing Committee discussed possible savings that might be made, and how to finance the project. When PCC met on the 11th of May “there was much discussion about the financial implications of the Northern Building Company’s tender. An extra £5,000 [£27,200] was needed immediately, with a further £5,000 [£27,200] to return borrowed money and a further sum to provide an organ. Cash in hand is £17,000 [£92,500], Reserve Fund £2,500 [£13,600], Diocesan grant £500 [£2,700], Diocesan loan £2,500 with the possibility of a further £2,500 loan, making a total of £25,000 [£135,000]. After much discussion it was agreed to leave the organ for the moment and to consider selling the school yard [playground]. … Various savings were agreed – foundation work £95 [£520], carpet £300 [£1,600], front door £75 [£400], ceiling £100 [£550], reduction in contingency sum £250 [£1,360] – but against this was an extra amount of £230 [£1,250] for electrical work.”

The Standing Committee met twice in May to discuss the tender which had not included a price for demolition of the gallery or a wage increase, but “the firm were prepared to stand by their price but asked that a contribution [of £500 [£2,700] probably made as an ex-gratia payment] be considered.” It was agreed to accept the fixed price tender.

PCC also agreed in May “that a Gift Weekend with a target of £12,000 [£65,300] be held on June 12th and that the contract be signed in faith. This would be preceded by PCC promises handed in this Sunday morning. Promised money would be due in by the end of September.” The following month PCC were told that their pledges amounted to £6,050 [£33,000], half of the target sum and a generous response from members who had already given £2,820 [£17,700] only sixteen months earlier in February 1975.

By late 1976 the church conversion project incorporating the long wished-for church hall was nearing completion, and the Bishop of Blackburn had agreed to re-open the building on the 30th of January. At PCC in November the Vicar “asked for prayer about the use of the redesigned building … [and said that] Such things as a coffee lounge would be considered, and other evangelistic uses.”


Making use of the new facilities

Recall (from the previous chapter) that the initial driver for the church conversion project had been meeting the need for a new church hall, closer to the church than the Parish Hall in Aldcliffe Lane, which could be used for Sunday School and youth work. The project became more ambitious than originally envisaged, being extended to include a remodelling of the chancel and a resiting of the organ. But the remodelled space at the West End of church – with a large lounge upstairs and a kitchen, lounge and toilets downstairs – opened up other new possibilities too.

In March 1977 PCC agreed to make use of the downstairs lounge and kitchen as a coffee bar, accessible from Penny Street, “to be opened for coffee between 10 and 12 each weekday with a rota of helpers.” The project was slow to get off the ground; PCC was told in April that arrangements to open the lounge each morning for coffee were not yet complete, and in May that “a leader was needed to take charge of the opening of the church for coffee each morning.” PCC heard in June that “several people had expressed interest in helping with the scheme to serve coffee in the Lounge between 11 am and 1 pm on weekdays. It was agreed to give £10 [£48] to buy tea and coffee to start the scheme.” The Coffee Bar was opened on the 18th of July 1977. Two months later PCC was told that the £10 float had been returned and average daily take had been about £5 [£24]; “it was agreed to sell biscuits.”

The upper lounge was used mainly for Sunday School and youth work, but in January 1977 PCC agreed “to allow the use of the hall [for weddings] if one of the partners was on the electoral roll. Alcohol for toasts only would be allowed. There would be no hire charge. These conditions to be altered at the discretion of the PCC.”

The upper lounge was also used for the Harvest Supper. PCC agreed in September 1979 to buy stacking tables for it with a budget of up to £300 [£1,100], but the following month the Council was told that the twelve tables had cost nearly £400 [£1,500] including VAT and delivery.


Outreach, mission and evangelism

Cyril Ashton had nailed his colours firmly to the mast at his first PCC meeting in September 1974, when he emphasised that “’we desire to preach Jesus Christ crucified’ and should all be evangelists as we accept the challenge of partnership in the gospel.” That desire and commitment shaped and coloured the whole of his ministry at St Thomas’.

From the outset he promoted and supported outreach. For example, he spoke to PCC in January 1975 about a forthcoming Guest Service “when we should be trying to bring someone who didn’t usually attend. There would be an evangelistic address. There must be continual inviting of people to services and visiting of homes. The members of PCC were asked to spend a minimum of one hour a week visiting. Lunch-time services were mentioned.” In March he stressed to PCC “the importance of individuals as witnesses.”


Parish Worker

Parish visiting was an important element in the emerging thinking about outreach, and in May 1975 PCC agreed to appoint a Parish Worker to help develop that work in the parish.

Veronica Nobbs was appointed to work on a voluntary basis from September 1975 to July 1976, being given £4.50 [£28] a week “pocket money”, and board and lodging within the parish. PCC was told that “the Diocese were unable to help with finance. CPAS had granted £100 [£627].” In July PCC agreed to cover the cost of board and lodging, at £8 [£50] a week. Veronica arrived in Lancaster on the 27th of September, and PCC agreed to send her £25 [£157] towards the travel costs.

Having a Parish Worker as an assistant member of staff was a win-win; the church gained extra help with the outreach work, and the Worker gained valuable experience in Christian ministry through what today would be called an internship scheme.

The Vicar was keen to develop the role, and in March 1976 – while Veronica was still in post – PCC agreed that he “should continue to explore the situation with Rebecca Kenyon [later to marry Phil Onyon] as to whether she should work in the parish next year.” He was also hoping to involve Capernwray students regularly in the parish, and suggested that after their exams “a team of students could live in the parish and be involved in practical ministry and evangelism.” In April 1976 PCC agreed that Rebecca Kenyon should be “invited to become a lay assistant for twelve months”, and in June it was told that she would start work in July. The following July, as she was about to leave, PCC was told that “Elizabeth Gordon was to be offered the post of lay assistant for one year” but they heard in September that she had started a midwifery course and would not be coming.

There was no Parish Worker between July 1977 and September 1979, when Dawn Backhouse began a twelve month appointment. That month the Vicar explained to PCC what was expected of her

She would attend the PCC as an observer and go to the Visitors’ meeting, from which would derive her main ministry. She would also attend the parish fellowship, housegroup and probably the Dance Group. Mondays, hopefully, would be free. She would be paid £10 [£37] per week and would live as part of a Christian community in Kensington Road, Lancaster. The members of the household would pay Dawn’s household expenses. Her holiday times would be flexible but four weeks had been suggested.”

The living arrangements had much in common with how David Watson and his family were living in York – they shared their large rambling Vicarage with a group of fellow Christians, effectively living ‘in community’, with everyone contributing to the household expenses. Dawn was appointed on a twelve month contract but stayed for nearly thirty months, and in March 1982 PCC agreed “to obtain a gift for Miss Backhouse to mark her marriage and departure from the parish.”


Vision and growth

At the January 1976 PCC meeting Cyril Ashton “gave his vision for the ministry of the church in 1976 based on Acts 2: 42.” He welcomed the appointment of the first parish worker, encouraged members of PCC to engage in the parish visiting. In March he told PCC that there would be occasional Guest Services, and “there needed to be men ministering to new male contacts and to the ‘fringe’ men of the church.”

Looking back over 1975, the Vicar told PCC in April 1976 that “it had been a demanding year with about 50-60 conversions and a warm, loving, outward-reaching fellowship was growing. There had been developments in ministry and united working, with everyone a servant of Jesus was to be our aim. The total ministry should demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Already, after less than two years with Cyril Ashton as Vicar, there was evidence of both numerical and spiritual growth, the fellowship was on the way to becoming a mission-driven Christian community, new ministries were beginning, servanthood was becoming a core value, and early signs of charismatic renewal and a desire to go deeper into it were becoming apparent.

The mid-seventies were a time of both numerical and spiritual growth at St Thomas’, prompting prayer and discussion about how best to cope with it and nurture it. In October 1976 PCC had a lengthy discussion about evangelism and ministry, after a recent PCC Quiet Day. The Vicar suggested that “prayer was needed before considering whether the church needed a full-time evangelist and that those with the gift of evangelism were needed so that the church would be bringing people to Christ.” The discussion included parish visiting, assistance from Capernwray students, and the possibility of setting up housegroups as local bases for fellowship and discipleship.

In April 1977 the Vicar spoke about the need to extend the leadership within the church, possibly including an eldership scheme, and said that he expected “a year of growth when small study groups would be formed for evangelism and teaching. The Vicar longed [that] all would have a fuller appreciation of the Holy Spirit and be freed to seek God, and that the worship would flow out in a ministry of love. He prayed that many would be led to Christ and that the church would be built up.”

By this time the developing ministry of outreach and evangelism was being informed, challenged and energised by the spiritual renewal which was manifestly taking place within St Thomas’; the two developments went hand in hand and supported each other.

Growth and change continued during 1977. The church was encouraged and inspired by what was happening elsewhere in the country and eager to learn from others. Thus, for example, John Dart attended the National Evangelical Alliance Conference (NEAC) in Nottingham on behalf of PCC, and reported back at its May meeting. Later in the year PCC continued its discussions about coping with growth.

In September the Council discussed “the teaching and preaching in the present growing situation” and the Vicar “requested prayer for the situation and for guidance about the teaching programme and what should be happening generally.” Family Services were discussed, and plans were well advanced for housegroups to begin soon. In December “there was discussion about the areas of the church’s work where help was particularly needed. … PCC pledged themselves to look for and pay for an evangelist (while bearing in mind pastoral care, youth work, administration, etc).”


Evangelism and renewal

The Vicar reported to PCC in April 1978 that “there had been developments in eldership and in the housegroups and continually the leaders were looking out for full-time ministry from some within the church. He said the church should be preaching and living renewal, expecting to become a renewal centre for the area, and should be winning souls and lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ in everything.”

New forms of outreach were also explored, including an “open air witness” in Market Square on the 29th of July which included music and dance, as well as a talk.

By 1979 reaching out to others beyond the church was becoming a priority for St Thomas’, and the Vicar reminded PCC that December that “we … must get involved with the city as well as within our own church. Let it be a challenge to us to widen our forms of evangelism. Let us take the initiative and be open to what the Holy Spirit commands.” PCC agreed a statement suggested by Mr Dart that “Our church is committed to evangelism by the power of the Holy Spirit by all means which He opens to us.”

By early 1980 renewal was giving rise to a greater emphasis on evangelism, which was prominent in PCC discussions that year. In a discussion of evangelism in the church, in February, “the importance of communicating the gospel with love was emphasised. The Vicar said that the life of the church was itself a powerful demonstration of the gospel.” PCC agreed that “the field of evangelism was one’s environment – work and neighbours” and considered having more Guest Services “to bring people to church.” In March the Vicar said that “Holy Spirit was stirring the whole church in evangelism … a vision on evangelism was needed and if conversions were expected they would occur.”

The church was already engaged in a range of forms of evangelism including open air meetings, prison work, the coffee bar in the church lounge, and Friday lunch-time services. Further afield, St Thomas’ had been asked to help with visiting on the Ridge estate and in Westgate, Morecambe. The Vicar said that “the idea of some city-wide evangelism had been floated with other Christian bodies in the city but little response had been met.”

At the Annual Church Meeting in April 1980 the Vicar reflected on “what the Lord was doing in the church”, and he emphasised the maturing ministry, teaching and worship and underlined the need “to discover more and more of what the Lord had in store for us in deeper love and worship.” He described his desire to see many more people coming to Christ, and said that he “had two main aims which he believed were consistent with the Lord’s revelation – that the whole Church of England be renewed, and that the country be converted. He believed that the church had seen enough of the Lord’s grace already to know that this could be done.”

Minutes of PCC meetings record a number of evangelistic initiatives during the early 1980s, including a coffee morning on the Primrose estate in October 1982, and an Open Air in town in September 1983.


Training in evangelism

By late 1983 thoughts turned to adopting a more structured approach to outreach, and in early October the Vicar shared with PCC “his vision for a pattern of regular evangelism.”

Key to that was training and equipping people to act as evangelists, and the Vicar announced that an Anglican mission specialist Bob Hopkins would be coming to St Thomas’ on the 1st of November

to train the elders, evangelists, visitors and housegroup leaders … in aspects of personal evangelism. These individuals could then train others. … [and] a practical session in the town could be held on the night if the session ended early enough. The Vicar encouraged housegroup leaders to consider Spring and Autumn evangelistic attempts.”

In November PCC was told that about fifty people had attended the training session and agreed that “a further seminar from Bob Hopkins on door-to-door work would be useful. The evangelists met every Sunday for prayer.”

In December the Vicar advised PCC that “Bob Hopkins would be visiting the church on Saturday January 14th [1984] to conduct a seminar on open air evangelism and parish visiting. There would be a practical session in the town centre in the afternoon.”

The training was soon put into effect, and in March 1984 PCC agreed to support and pray for an evangelistic outreach in the Bowerham area of the parish in June. In April the Vicar suggested to PCC that the outreach should be underpinned by “prayer meetings, morning and night, in the last week of May.”


Billy Graham Mission England (1984)

The American evangelist Billy Graham had organised one of his campaigns in England during 1984 called Mission England, and he was schedule to speak at Anfield on the 16th of July.

At the end of April PCC discussed whether to hire a coach to take a group from St Thomas’ to hear him, but “finally agreed to support the Brookhouse [Methodist]’s step of faith in booking four coaches a night. It was agreed to subsidise the church youth trip to Anfield.”  In June PCC was told that the people involved in the Bowerham visiting scheme would be distributing invitations to hear Billy Graham at Anfield, and it agreed “to pay the cost of anyone contacted by the visitors who wanted to go.”

The previous January (1983) PCC had been briefed about [_Mission England _]by John Stanier, the local organiser. He explained that a number of events were being organised in and around Lancaster in preparation for the Anfield mission, including a course on caring for new Christians, a day retreat for women and one for men, a regional clergy conference, and an open meeting in the Ashton Hall. Students from Capernwray would be working with about twenty local churches during February 1984 “to help in the work of evangelism.” The Vicar told PCC in November that “a number of students would need accommodation in the parish for a while and would be involved in door-to-door work, our own members would also be involved in this work.” He advised PCC the following month that the students “could be used by housegroups in evangelism and door-to-door work.”


Local outreach

The outreach in Bowerham went ahead as planned in June 1984. PCC was told at the beginning of July that “results from the visits so far were encouraging, but more people were needed to do the second [follow-up] visits”, and was reminded in October that “some of the visits made in summer were being followed up, but more people might be needed to do this.” Outreach in the town centre later that year took the form of an “open air witness” in the Market Square on the 22nd of December.

In January 1985 PCC agreed that “this year’s door-to-door outreach will take place in May. This will allow follow-up visits to be made before the main holiday period begins at the end of July. The time between Easter and May will be used for prayer preparations.” The Vicar told PCC in March that “the area to be visited would be Bowerham, including Bowerham Road, Havelock Street and Golgotha Road. Initial visits would be in May, with follow-up in June-July. Open air and Guest Services had also been arranged.”

A training day for those taking part in the visiting was held in April, after which the Vicar told PCC that “50 people had attended … [and] 20 couples would be visiting door-to-door in the parish this month.” The Vicar also reminded the Annual Church Meeting that Easter that “developments in the Renewal Centre over the past year, with the opening of the Coffee Bar and Craft Aid Shop, were providing a shop-window into the community, showing love and friendship to people.”

As the Renewal Centre ministries (described below) continued to develop they opened up new opportunities for reaching out to people with particular needs. PCC had “a lively and useful discussion” about this in February 1986, focussing on “people suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, parents of teenagers, increasing the scope of hospital work (particularly the [private] Nuffield Hospital), going into public houses, involving other churches in the Craft Aid Shop, and continued support of The Granary [coffee bar].” The evangelism work was going well – PCC was told in May that “the present door-to-door visiting was encouraging. Several children in Junior Church had become Christians, and the youth work was encouraging” – but some felt that it lacked focus and cohesion. After a long discussion the Council agreed in May “to streamline the programme and thinking in evangelism towards a strategy for development over the academic year 1986-87.”

The church leadership was open to seeking advice from other churches that had particular experience of effective evangelism. In November 1985 the Vicar reminded PCC that Trevor Dearing of Ichthus Fellowship (a House Church in London led by Roger Forster) had been invited to visit St Thomas’ from the 14th to the 16th March 1986, and that members of Ichthus would be visiting the church from the 18th to the 20th April 1986 “to give practical evangelistic training.” In February PCC was advised about the programme for Trevor Dearing’s visit which was co-ordinated by Curate Grant Ashton; “Friday 14th March: teaching session for elders, housegroup leaders, ministry groups and people in the church who are interested; Saturday 15th March: two teaching sessions in the morning; topics to be decided by Trevor Dearing; worship meeting with ministry in the evening; retiring collection. The meetings on Saturday will be open to other churches, but not the Friday night meeting.” The Vicar stressed to PCC “the importance of members attending both the Friday evening and Saturday morning sessions if at all possible.”


Staff evangelist

Cyril Ashton believed the time was right to appoint an evangelist to the church staff, and was much impressed by the emerging ministry of Tim Dobson, a young physics teacher at Ripley St Thomas School and son of Chris and Rosemary Dobson (who had worked hard to consolidate the healing ministry in the Renewal Centre; described later).

In May 1986 PCC discussed the possibility of employing Tim to work part-time in the church and part-time in teaching during 1986-87, with a view to him working full-time in the parish after that. Negotiations opened and Tim was interested in exploring the idea. The Vicar told PCC in June that “it was probable that Mr Dobson would start full-time in the church from 1987”, but also that he wished to join an eight month evangelism training course run by Ichthus in London. The Vicar asked PCC to pray about the matter and he repeated the request in November, advising PCC that discussions about a start date at St Thomas’ were still ongoing.

The Vicar updated PCC at the beginning of December, reporting that he “had seen Mr Dobson, with a view to him starting work as an evangelist in the parish next summer, and deferring the Ichthus training for a year or two. Mr Dobson was still considering this.” Tim and his fiancée Beverley Sallis attended PCC in early January 1987 to discuss “their plans, thoughts and views on their future”, and in June PCC was told that they had been accepted for training at Ichthus from September 1987 to June 1988. The following month PCC agreed to offer them financial support of up to £1,200 [£2,470] if requested.

After training Tim moved to Bristol to work full-time in Christian ministry. He is now leader of The Community Church at Greenway in Southmead, which is part of the Woodlands Group of evangelical churches in Bristol.

Despite the disappointment at not being able to bring Tim Dobson onboard as an evangelist, the Vicar remained upbeat about the outreach work and 1987 proved something of a turning point in the life of St Thomas’. By then it was clear that the church needed to broaden the focus of evangelism to also include spiritual growth and discipleship. The Vicar told PCC in December 1987 that “we already have plenty of new people coming to our services. These people must be helped to belong, for example by joining the groups for enquirers, new Christians and housegroups.”

Two particular developments during 1987 consolidated the church’s commitment to local mission - a children’s mission, and a new focus on door-to-door visiting within the parish.


Children’s Mission (1987)

In November 1985 PCC agreed to hold an evangelistic mission aimed at children aged between seven and eleven, from the 11th to the 18th of January 1987. It would be led by Ralph Chambers and Irene Wardle of the Children’s Christian Crusade (CCC), and would cost between £200 [£430] and £300 [£650].

Preparation meetings were booked for the 30th of April, 11th of September and 3rd of December. PCC was told in February 1986 that primary schools in the area had been contacted and John Dart outlined the aims, programme and needs of the mission, as reported by Ralph and Irene at the April preparatory meeting.

PCC were given an update in early October, hearing that “preparations were now well under way and offers of help [had been received]. … Letters had been sent to Heads of local schools and Junior Organisations about the Crusade.” A month later PCC was told that there was a need for “more offers of help both during the crusade week and for the follow-up work”, and the Council agreed to hold a Day of Prayer for the mission on Saturday the 10th of January between 9 am and 4 pm. It also approved a budget of £50 [£100] to cover the cost of publicity and posters. At the beginning of December PCC agreed to ask members of the congregation to link up as prayer partners, and agreed to hold daily prayer meetings after each CCC meeting during the week of the mission.

After the children’s mission, at the beginning of February 1987 John Dart told PCC that he had “received a bill of £324.40 [£667] for travelling expenses and material costs but did not include any amount towards personal cost/salary contributions. After discussion it was agreed to give CCC a total of £1,000 [£2,050].” Looking back on the event, the Vicar told the Annual Church Meeting that Easter that “the Children’s Christian Crusade, though run by people of whom we knew little and who come from a different denomination, was … a fruitful time and … shows how we can learn from other denominations and … be more open to what’s happening to them.”

In October 1987 PCC were happy to accept the suggestion that CCC should be invited back to St Thomas’, ideally in the summer of 1989. The earliest date that Ralph and Irene were available was May 1991, and in April 1988 PCC confirmed a provisional booking for a return visit by CCC.

The second CCC children’s mission was held in church between the 12thand the 19th of May 1991, after PCC had agreed in March to give Ralph and Irene £1,000 [£1,570] for expenses and towards their income, and agreed that parents should have an opportunity to contribute towards a retiring collection for CCC. Two months later PCC agreed to give Ralph and Irene £800 [£1,260] towards their general income, their expenses of £554 [£870] having already been paid.


Parish Visiting – Streetwise

The Vicar outlined the outreach plans for 1987 to PCC in March, emphasising that “the usual outlets for evangelism would continue … [but] the aim this year is to hold a wider range of activities” under the umbrella of a scheme called Streetwise. The programme would begin with a time of preparation in April, the visiting would take place in May, and “follow-up work” would be done in June and July.

PCC reviewed the visiting programme at the start of June, noting that “many people had been contacted and invited to the Coffee Bar and other activities [including Guest Services], although many visitors [the people from church who did the visiting] had found the experience demanding. [Some] suggested parish homes should be visited more often. Contacts will, we trust, be fruitful later. Some people who were visited in 1986 have now made commitments, and some Children’s Christian Crusade contacts have re-appeared.”

The [_Streetwise _]scheme continued for the rest of Cyril Ashton’s time and beyond. He told the Annual Church Meeting in April 1988 about “the fruits of practical evangelism with more people coming to the morning services as a result of the continuing Streetwise programme.”

Streetwise _]was put on hold in 1989 to allow the church to focus its efforts on the Billy Graham [_Livelink Mission, but it returned in 1990, when PCC was told in June that “the church had visited almost all of the parish and the visitors had enjoyed going out. The policy of a complete low-key coverage of the parish had been well received within the church. The Guest Services had been well attended.” In 1991 the visiting was scheduled for the first two weeks in June, with Guest Services on the 16thof June and the 7th of July.

The evidence suggests that the ‘season’ for [_Streetwise _]had peaked by 1991. PCC discussed it several times that summer – in June “the value of the visits last year was [questioned]” although “it was pointed out that [_Streetwise _]creates new contacts and renews existing contacts with the church”; in July it was noted that “there had been [fewer] visitors than in recent years”; and in September it was reported that the visiting “had not been supported so well this year. The summer had been very busy because of the CCC meetings.”

PCC reviewed the [_Streetwise _]scheme at its September 1991 meeting, where it considered possible improvements including “a shorter visiting period, training for visitors, literature to share with the people visited, and an advance letter from the Vicar.” The discussion covered objectives as well as practicalities. PCC noted that

any visiting activities need to be integrated with the rest of our church life with more people involved. It was asked if visiting is worthwhile and, if it is, should we try to visit everyone in the parish? One reply was that visits leave people with favourable impressions of the church, even if some members find witnessing to their friends more to their liking. … It is possible that some church members consider that a full church has no need of further members. However, evangelism should be about sharing Christ rather than filling our buildings. It may be necessary to soon reconsider the idea of a second morning service. Much evangelism doubtless goes on unobserved. Nevertheless a fresh, active vision, which is central to the church’s life, is vital. The challenge remains of involving everyone, not just the church leaders.”


Faith in the City

The late 1980’s also saw St Thomas’ broaden its perspective by engaging with the Church of England’s national outreach to cities, arising from the 1985 report Faith in the City: a Call to Action by Church and Nation. The report was written by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas which had been set up “to examine the strengths, insights, problems and needs of the Church’s life and mission in Urban Priority Areas [UPAs] and, as a result, to reflect on the challenge which God may be making to Church and Nation”.

One of its recommendations was that partnerships should be developed between Anglican churches in UPAs and those outside UPAs. The key points in the report were outlined to PCC in May 1986, as a result of which the Vicar asked members “to pray about linking with a UPA church in the diocese.” John Dart took the lead in progressing the idea, and he reported back to PCC in December 1987 “on the outreach of the Church of the Redeemer, Blackburn, to a parish housing estate. It was agreed to invite representatives of this church to the next meeting to share information about their challenging initiative. The idea of ‘twinning’ with the Blackburn parish was well received.”

The Vicar of the Church of the Redeemer (Rev McMullan) attended PCC in January 1988, with church worker Tim Horobin. He explained that their parish “is far from homogeneous and includes an inner urban area, high-rise and deck-access flats. The parish has recently been obedient to a new vision for the needy residents of the deck-access flats and has appointed Tim … to work there. Tim described the many activities at their non-residential centre in the flats – discussion meetings, meals followed by worship and counselling, craft teaching and much more. They have been well aware of the spiritual warfare involved and shared examples of lives changed. The project costs about £10,000 [£19,350] per annum, largely funded by the parish during 1987. It is planned to continue the project for another three years.”

During a discussion of possible future links Cyril Ashton identified three ways to proceed – through prayer, fellowship and finance. John Dart reported to the Annual Church Meeting in April 1988 that “the church is developing links with the Church of the Redeemer, Blackburn, a small, inner-city church working with deprived people living in poor housing.” The [_Faith in the City _]report also recommended that “a Church Urban Fund should be established to strengthen the Church’s presence and promote the Christian witness in the urban priority areas.” In May 1989 PCC agreed to contribute £1,500 [£2,700] to the Fund, which was to be launched on the 16th of September.


Other outreach initiatives

Another outreach initiative, on a much smaller scale, was the invitation by PCC for the King’s Coach to visit Lancaster. The Coach was a converted bus containing evangelistic material and places for people to sit and talk, operated on a non-denominal basis by a London house church.

The idea was first suggested to PCC in October 1987, and in December the Council was told that there had been “a positive reaction to the idea of inviting the coach to Lancaster. [PCC agreed] to contact other churches in the town with the objective of the coach coming for a week next summer.” Twenty seven local churches were invited to join St Thomas’ in the initiative and PCC was told in March 1988 that the Coach would be in Lancaster between the 4th and the 8th of July, and “we should start to think of a follow-up fortnight in May or June 1989.”

In September 1987 PCC agreed to organise a Family Dinner “involving those in need of seasonal hospitality” in the Renewal Centre coffee bar, on Christmas Day. This was to be a one-off event.

The following month Council agreed to pay the costs of the Vicar, the Curate and John Dart to attend the Third National Evangelical Anglican (NEAC) Celebration in Norfolk between the 28th of April and the 2nd of May 1988.

At the PCC meeting in July 1988 the Vicar raised the matter of welcoming visitors and new people in church, speaking about

his embarrassment at receiving a number of comments and complaints from visitors who had not been spoken to during their visit to the church, and he encouraged the PCC to take the lead in welcoming new people. It was also agreed that some suitable prompt for others to do so should be out in the weekly notices, and people visiting or here for the first time might be asked to identify themselves during family spot.”

There was also a growing awareness of the need to reach out to men and to engage them in church. In December 1989 members of PCC “reiterated the importance of evangelising men on the ‘perimeter’ [fringe] of the church”, and a small team was established to organise a quarterly series of events aimed specifically at men.


Mission ’89 – LiveLink

A further opportunity for St Thomas’ to work with other local churches in promoting and engaging with a national Billy Graham evangelistic mission arose in 1989.

At the end of January it was announced to PCC that “we are co-operating with thirty or so churches in the Lancaster areas for a week of mission in June centred on a [live satellite] link to Billy Graham’s mission in London. The Lancaster Mission will be held in the Ashton Hall.” The Vicar told the Annual Church Meeting that Easter that “the LiveLink Mission will be a major event for our church and the area, a focus for evangelism and a demonstration of a new work by the Holy Spirit in drawing together many churches.”

Cyril Ashton led the local organising committee and Chris Park worked closely with him on the practical arrangements. Chris updated PCC in May, “mentioning the involvement of 58 churches locally, 500 people attending Christian Life and Witness Classes, 150 trained Discovery Group leaders and around 150 counsellors; about ¾ of the budget has already been pledged or donated, and prayers were still needed about the seating capacity of the venue (Ashton Hall).”

After the event, which the Vicar described as “a splendid event”, Chris told PCC in early July that “the Lord provided every need. Nearly 6,000 people attended the meetings and about 400 came forward for counselling. All involved had been blessed, and the training programmes had made a lasting contribution to the church’s effectiveness. … [Peter] Hopwood described the arrangements for follow-up, based on four groups. The LiveLink budget was reported to be facing a £2,500 [£4,500] shortfall; the PCC has given a further £250 [£450]. Looking to the future we are challenged to continue the evangelistic impetus that has been shared by so many churches.”

In September PCC agreed to hold a Thanksgiving and Celebration Service for the Livelink Mission in church on the 27th of that month. In October PCC agreed that “any surplus funds will be donated to the North West Evangelistic Trust. Our church will organise a day of teaching on 17thMarch 1990, provisional title ‘Structuring for Evangelism’. This is intended for all the local LiveLink churches.” The day of teaching was later renamed ‘On the Move: Strategies for Evangelism’, and in February PCC encouraged members of the congregation to attend both that and a diocesan evangelism training event to be held at Lancaster University on the 12th of May led by Gavin Reid (then working at CPAS, later to become Bishop of Maidstone from 1992 to 2001).


Coping with growth

The Vicar reminded PCC in March 1989 that “the church can seat 300 people downstairs and 180 upstairs [although it was designed in 1841 to seat 1,000, in pews and on benches]. It is often full in the morning. About half the morning congregation are children or their teachers. Further growth could lead to decisions such as: two morning services, opening a new centre [church plant] in the parish, or encouraging support for other churches [congregational plant]. The first possibility received little support. The PCC is urged to pray about the best way forward.”

He told the Annual Church Meeting the following month that “the church is in an exciting situation after a period of considerable growth. Decisions will need to be taken about the best way to manage further growth.”

This is the first mention of creating two morning services, starting a church plant, or arranging a congregational plant (in which some people move to another local church which is struggling), but in the decades ahead each option would be reconsidered, and more than once.


Decade of Evangelism

A further opportunity to raise the profile of local mission in Lancaster came with the decision by the Church of England to declare the 1990s a Decade of Evangelism.

The 1988 Lambeth Conference (an assembly of Anglican Bishops from around the world, held every ten years) called upon the Anglican Church, in cooperation with other Christians, to make it a time of “renewed emphasis on making Christ known to the people of his world”, and in October 1989 Cyril Ashton told PCC that he had “offered our help for this to the new Bishop of Blackburn.” The following April he advised the Annual Church Meeting that “the Decade of Evangelism will be an important phase for our church and our involvement in the diocese is likely to increase over the next few years.”

Within a matter of years that “involvement in the diocese” was to lead to Cyril leaving St Thomas’ for a Diocesan post as Director of Training. His successor Peter Guinness was Vicar during most of the Decade of Evangelism.



St Thomas’ was among a small group of Anglican churches in England that experienced charismatic renewal in the late 1970s, through which it became well-known in charismatic circles.

It was in good company – others included St Michael-le-Belfrey in York (led by David Watson), Holy Trinity Brompton in London (led by John Collins and Sandy Millar), St Nicholas in Durham (led by George Carey), St Thomas’ Crookes in Sheffield (led by Robert Warren) and St Andrew’s in Chorleywood (led by David Pytches). Many of these churches have developed well-deserved reputations for their ministries, outreach and willingness to share their experiences with others.

The roots of renewal in St Thomas’ can be traced back to the earliest days of Cyril Ashton’s incumbency. Recall that he advised PCC at his first meeting with them in February 1974 that “his ministry would be of the New Testament pattern as described in Acts 2: 42”. That this ‘direction of travel’ was quickly established is evident from a letter sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury in early December 1975 by David Dawson, on behalf of PCC. The letter was sent

to express our unequivocal support for your recent statement concerning the spiritual and moral condition of our country. You will be encouraged to hear that at St Thomas’s, as we seek to follow the injunction of Acts 2: 42: ‘and they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer’, so we are experiencing wonderful gifts from God, both individually and in terms of a great increase in numbers in our fellowship. This is also happening in other churches in this area. If our society is to be made whole, then it can only be through the conversion and deepening commitment of individual people to Christ.”

Within a year the Vicar was reminding PCC (in September 1976) of “the four priorities of the church – teaching, fellowship, worship and prayer. When these priorities are observed and acted on Christians come to maturity, begin to have an impact on the community, and bring people to Christ.”

He emphasised that “the church should be praying for renewal, and for the young people, and to be engaging in active evangelism. There was discussion particularly about the teaching on Sundays and Wednesdays, and about the content of the Sunday worship.”


David Watson

The minute in the September 1976 PCC meeting is the first mention of ‘renewal’ in the minutes of any church meetings at St Thomas’, but it seems clear that the process had already started and the Vicar was keen to develop it.

He reported to PCC in November 1976 that “David Watson had said there was the possibility of his bringing a team for a long weekend in 1977.” Watson was a pioneer in the Anglican charismatic movement in Britain and was championing pioneering Christian ministries in his own church in York; he was the obvious ‘go to’ man to help guide the leaders at St Thomas’ as they sought to journey deeper into renewal.

In February 1977 PCC were told that Cyril and Muriel Ashton had visited David Watson in York, and that he and a team would visit St Thomas’ in February 1978. In preparation for that visit, PCC were advised that October that John Dart and Yvonne Phythian had attended a Renewal Weekend at St Michael-le-Belfrey.

The visit to Lancaster of David Watson and his team was to be a major milestone in the progress of renewal within St Thomas’, and it was eagerly looked forward to. The format of the weekend was outlined to PCC in December:

This would be from February 24-26 and David Watson was bringing a team of twelve others with him, arriving for lunch on February 24th. The programme would be as follows – Friday 7.30 pm Worship meeting; Saturday 9.30 to 12.30 Workshops in evangelism, ministry, music, drama, dance; Saturday 7.30 pm Renewal meeting possibly with the title ‘Be Filled’ or ‘Being Filled’. Sunday David Watson would preach twice. The morning worship would be a family service.”

PCC agreed to set up a planning committee, chaired by the Vicar, to sort out practical matters such as catering, accommodation, transport, and furniture, and “there was the possibility of inviting representatives from other churches to participate in the weekend.”

Further details were presented to PCC on the 1st of January 1978; “The York team would arrive for lunch at church on Friday February 24th. There would be twelve in the team plus David Watson, and accommodation was needed in pairs. The team would stay for possible continuation of workshops on Monday morning (February 27th). A hand-out about the weekend was being prepared. There would be no crèche for the weekend. Rooms at the Baptist Church would be used for two of the workshops.”

In early February PCC were told that “the planning was going well. The Bishop of Lancaster was hoping to be at the ‘welcome lunch’, the seminars and possibly on Sunday evening. It was agreed to buy a screen for use with the overhead projector costing possibly £70 [£300].” A team was brought together to clean the balcony ahead of the weekend.

The weekend went ahead as planned, and afterwards Cyril Ashton told PCC on the 6th of March that he had received “two very encouraging letters” from David Watson, who “had encouraged the church to go ahead as a ‘Renewal Centre’, by which he meant serving as a hub that would reach out and help other churches undergoing renewal.

This is the first time either the idea or the name Renewal Centre is mentioned in any minutes of church meetings at St Thomas’, and PCC adopted both the name (for a major building project; described below) and the ministry (also described below). PCC also explored the possibility of holding a Renewal Weekend in the Autumn, and agreed to pray about the renewal ministry at St Thomas’.


Preaching and living renewal’

Cyril Ashton told the Annual Church Meeting in April 1978 that “there had been numerical growth and growth in depth. … He said the church should be preaching and living renewal, expecting to become a renewal centre for the area, and should be winning souls and lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ in everything.”

By this time the leadership was sensing a call to share the church’s experiences in renewal with other churches through a Renewal Ministry, doubtless encouraged by the visit by David Watson and his team. PCC had a long discussion that May “about the future role of the church particularly in relation to other churches. Helping other churches understand about renewal by holding weeks or weekends of renewal was discussed. It was suggested that teams of people might in the future go into other parishes to give help over a longer period. PCC was asked to continue to pray about ‘renewal’ in this context and about the need for more full-time workers.”

A growing openness to being guided by the Holy Spirit is clear the declaration to PCC in September that “the church needed to hear the voice of God through the preaching and teaching and through prophecy.” Looking back on 1978 at the Annual Church Meeting in April 1979, Cyril Ashton reported on what he called “demanding and exciting year particularly with regard to the renewal ministry of the church. … It was our duty to build up the church, and to develop ministries, and to go out in evangelism. Above all obedience to the Lord was required.”

The Renewal Ministry (described below) continued to grow, prosper and bear fruit, but the Vicar pointed out to the Annual Church Meeting in April 1981 “the needs of the church for a deeper prayer life. He emphasised the real importance of intercessory prayer, the need for more effective and spirit-filled evangelism, with a continued emphasis on caring for one another.”

A broadening in the focus of renewal at St Thomas’ is apparent at this time too, with the Vicar reporting to PCC in April 1982 that “he was considering a time of Renewal for the church on its own and possibly bringing in an outside team to lead it.” He reminded them that “renewal was a continuous process, but it was necessary to move on from emphasising worship and the gifts, to accept them as normal and important but to concentrate on other areas of renewal such as preaching, liturgy, sacraments, evangelism, Christian unity and sociological issues such as unemployment.”

In 1982 a new national organisation, Anglican Renewal Ministries (ARM), was set up “to encourage renewal within the Anglican system”. The Vicar pointed out to PCC in February 1983 that “it depends entirely on gifts to meet its running costs” and he “called on the PCC to pray about the ARM having a regular place in the church’s giving.” PCC minutes record that the church sent £250 [£620] to ARM in 1983, £200 [£450] in 1985, and £300 [£650] in 1986. In 2004 ARM became part of a new body called ReSource whose vision is “to help build a Church which is diverse, local, confident, renewed in the Spirit and effective in mission.”

The Vicar told the Annual Church Meeting in March 1983 that “he had seen a growth in the life of the church and more confidence in healing. The ministry of renewal remained a central issue in the church. There were meetings on renewal with a growing number of churches in Preston, Colne and Bolton. The completion of the Renewal Centre was on the horizon and [he] outlined the ministries that would go on there.”

Cyril Ashton was on sabbatical in September but he reported to PCC that he and Muriel had visited several churches in renewal and communities at Hyde and Briarcliffe, and drew attention to a booklet of ideas he had written “on the future of the church … emphasising especially the role of in-depth evangelism in the parish and the training of the church for this.”

The following year (1984) the Vicar told the Annual Church Meeting that “the Renewal Centre [described later] was not yet finished. It had been held up for important reasons as ministry developed.” That was a healing ministry led by Frank and Judy Dowthwaite who had moved into the upstairs of the Centre. “The next stage would see people joining [them] in community. There was a need to develop the healing ministry as part of the church’s work.”

The Renewal Ministry [described later] at St Thomas’ was growing, with teams visiting churches in Colne, Preston and Haydock. It was also deepening and maturing, a process which would be greatly assisted by planned visits from Bill Burnett (Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town in South Africa and a leading figure in charismatic renewal), Michael and Jeanne Harper (Michael had been a Curate at All Soul’s, Langham Place in London, where John Stott - the leading evangelical Anglican of his generation - was Vicar and later left to set up the Fountain Trust as a means of promoting the charismatic movement) and a team from John Wimber’s Vineyard Fellowship at Yorba Linda in California.

Cyril Ashton closed the 1984 meeting “by stating his belief that more and greater things are to come.” In 1988 he emphasised to the Annual Church Meeting that “we need to hear what the Holy Spirit is telling the church about many aspects of our life. … [and] We should continue to pray for the ministry of renewal.”

This was clearly a season of growth in the life of the church, its Vicar, leadership, and its people.


John Wimber and the Vineyard Fellowship

In the early 1980s John Wimber - an American pastor, former manager of the Everly Brothers and seminary teacher - was developing an effective ministry of healing and prophecy, and a successful track-record of church growth and planting, based in California.

He would become well-known in Britain particularly through the book Power Evangelism: Signs and Wonders Today (1985) which he co-wrote with Kevin Springer, but his influence in Britain started to grow in 1982 when a team from his church at Yorba Linda – which became the Vineyard Fellowship – came over and led teaching and ministry workshops in a number of churches here. He also developed a close and effective working relationship with David Watson in York, which opened doors for him to reach Anglican churches that were then starting to experience renewal.

Against this background we can appreciate the significance of Cyril Ashton suggesting to PCC on the 7th of June 1982 that as many of them as possible should attend a meeting on healing and prophecy being run by a visiting Vineyard team at Ansdale Baptist Church two weeks later on the 19th of June. In early July several members of PCC shared their experiences at Ansdale Baptist Church and “many favourable comments were made. The Vicar said that the question of whether to invite the group from Yorba Linda to our church was still under consideration. Other points on how the Lord was leading the church were shared.” At the beginning of November PCC were told that “the elders were meeting with Nigel Wright of Ansdale Baptist Church to further pursue the possibility of inviting a team from Yorba Linda to minister to the church”, but the trail then goes cold for more than two years.

In May 1985 the Vicar told PCC that “a team led by John Wimber would be visiting Birmingham from 23rd to 27th July 1985. He asked members to pray about the possibility of using it as a church holiday. There would be a series of rallies in October of this year, with the possibility of follow-up teams visiting locally in November if sufficient interest is shown by local churches.” St Thomas’ certainly did show “sufficient interest”, as a result of which a Vineyard team agreed to visit the church between the 4th and the 6th of November 1985. In September PCC agreed to give the team £200 [£450] “to cover transport costs. This amount would be paid back to PCC from a retiring collection.”

The Vineyard team came as planned and members of other churches in Lancaster were invited to join those from St Thomas’ in the evening worship, teaching and ministry sessions held in church. More than a few lives – including the author’s – were touched, blessed and transformed by the Holy Spirit in powerful ways over that three day period. Looking back on the event in November, “members of the PCC felt that the visit had been very encouraging and had raised our own level of expectancy of the Lord’s work within the fellowship here, especially in the area of praying for one another.”

A return visit to Lancaster by a Vineyard team in 1986, this time meeting in the Great Hall of Lancaster University, also attracted many people from churches across the North West. Again lives were changed, and some of those who had been blessed in St Thomas’ the previous year shared in the prayer ministry at that event.


Renewal Weekends

By the late 1970s St Thomas’ was experiencing the refreshing touch of the Holy Spirit through renewal, which was transforming many people’s faith and lives, enlivening and enriching worship, revitalising personal and corporate prayer, and giving a new momentum to evangelism and outreach.

An important element in Cyril Ashton’s vision for renewal, both in St Thomas’ and wider afield, was developing and sharing a more informed understanding of renewal, what it meant, how it worked, what it looked like, and what it implied for church ministries.

PCC gave its full support and encouragement in helping to fulfil that vision, starting in May 1978 with “a long discussion about the future role of the church particularly in relation to other churches”. The discussion focussed on “helping other churches understand about renewal by holding weeks or weekends of renewal … [and] It was suggested that teams of people might in the future go into other parishes to give help over a longer period.”

Momentum quickly gathered, and the following month PCC agreed “to plan for a weekend of renewal next Spring. Churches with who we were already in contact would be invited. … The Vicar was also free to offer the help of the church to other churches, for example to help in visiting or ministry etc.”

In July 1978 PCC agreed to hold the first Renewal Weekend in St Thomas’ on the weekend of the 16th to the 18th of March 1979. The format and content were also agreed -

There would be a welcome and worship time on the Friday evening, Saturday morning seminars with a Renewal theme in the evening. On Sunday, those on the weekend would share in the worship. Subjects suggested for seminars were – pastoral ministry, leaders, evangelism, music/drama/dance, family worship, children’s and youth work, relationships, and praying together. It was stressed that subjects presented should be within the bounds of our own experience. Delegates would stay in homes in the parish.”

In October PCC agreed to make a charge of £5 [£21] for individuals and £7.50 [£32] for couples, and that children would not be invited. David Dawson organised the accommodation for visitors, and PCC was told in early March that 43 people needing accommodation had booked for the weekend, and others living locally had also booked for the seminars. A half night of prayer was held in church on the Wednesday before the weekend.

Below, in full, is the text of the promotional leaflet for the Renewal Weekend. Text in square brackets is the leaders’ notes.


Weekend of Teaching and Sharing on LOCAL CHURCH RENEWAL

March 16th – 18th 1979 at St Thomas’ Church, Penny Street, Lancaster


AIM: To deepen the work of renewal by the Holy Spirit in our churches. The weekend is an opportunity to share with other Christians a vision for what the Lord is seeking to do with the church. We believe the renewal of the church by the Holy Spirit is essential before any progress in evangelism can be made.


Music: Music in renewal, its function in the Body of Christ – bring your instrument.

Dance: Biblical basis. The use of dance in worship and evangelism. [music and dance seminars to be taken by the leadership of those groups]

Ministry: Shared ministry – development of Gifts – evangelism, healing, teaching, pastoral care, building up the church, using the gifts of the Spirit, services. [introduced by the Vicar using perhaps 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 and Romans 12. Applying this to the local situation. Teaching – groups [John Dart], church plan, personal teaching. Pastoral and Evangelistic Ministry – Yvonne Phythian. Use of gifts, services, healing – David Dawson]

Leadership: Shared leadership, elders, housegroup leaders. Lay training, discipleship. [introduced by the Vicar. Working it out. Shared leadership – Jim Newsham and John Dart. Youth Work – Andrew Collins. Housegroups – Jeff Parkin and some housegroup leaders

Sunday afternoon: Probably an open session for questions, happening at the same time as counselling. Elders and Housegroup Leaders to be available.



Friday 16th, 7.00 pm Arrive for meal with host. 8.30 pm Welcome and introduction in church, ‘The Church’s Priorities’. [from Acts 2: 42]

Saturday 17th, 9.15 am Music seminar, Ministry seminar. 10.30 am Coffee. 11.00 am Dance seminar, Leadership Seminar. 1.00 pm Lunch with host. Afternoon free. 7.30 pm Renewal Meeting, ‘Rivers of Living Water’. [It would be a time of worship and ministry, possibly with testimonies. Preaching by the Vicar, based on John 7: 37-38]

Sunday 18th, 10.30 am Family Worship ‘Coping with Change’ (John Dart; Testimony by Mark Airey]. 3.00 pm in church, Open session and personal counselling. 6.30 pm Holy Communion, ‘Led by the Spirit’ [Vicar].


PCC felt that the Renewal Weekend had gone well, and it noted at the beginning of April that “again it had been shown that when the church was obedient to the Lord, there is no need to fear.” The Vicar told PCC later that month that “it was our duty to build up the church, and to develop ministries, and to go out in evangelism. Above all obedience to the Lord was required.”

In April PCC agreed to run another Renewal Weekend later in the year, on the weekend of the 12th to the 14th of October. It was told at the beginning of September that the Baptist Church had been booked to provide extra space for workshops, and more than 750 leaflets and booking forms had been sent out. Thirty people booked in for the Weekend and many others attended the seminar sessions, and PCC was informed at the beginning of November that “there were good reports from visitors. The services had been outstanding times of fellowship and worship.”

In November 1979 the Vicar asked the Council to pray for discernment about how many Renewal Weekends to run in 1980, and the following month it was agreed to run only one, early in the year, on the weekend of the 7th to the 9th of March. The Baptist Church was not available that weekend, so the Town Hall Banqueting Suite was booked instead.

At the beginning of March 1980 the Vicar “called on PCC members and housegroup leaders to make themselves available for the Sunday afternoon open session in church, if this was possible.” At the end of March, after the Weekend, the Vicar told PCC that “this had been a valuable time of ministry, and that the church had matured through it. The high quality of the productions by the music, dance and drama groups was commented on. The large groups from some churches and the high number of churches represented was also noted.”

The success of that Renewal Weekend encouraged PCC to hold another one later in the year, on the weekend of the 10th to the 12th of October. At least 45 people booked in for it, and whilst it ran smoothly it was described to PCC on the 3rd of November as “a quieter time of blessing.” Undaunted, PCC agreed to organise another Renewal Weekend in mid-March 1981. It did so and was told a few weeks afterwards, in early April, that feedback on it had been “generally favourable.”

There are signs of tension within PCC that some ministries were being privileged over others (the minutes record that “a few members of the PCC suggested that wider aspects of the church’s life, in particular the more practical ministries, be included in future”) and that members of the church were not supporting the weekends as fully as they might (“It was also pointed out that the congregation be encouraged more to join in the seminars”). Nonetheless, PCC agreed in April to organise another Renewal Weekend on the 24th and 25th of October 1981, although in May the date was revised to 9th to the 11th of October because the Keswick in Lancaster Convention – in which the Music Group would be heavily involved – would be held in church the week before the original date. PCC met on the 12th of October, and “the music was again highlighted as a source of blessing” at the Renewal Weekend.

At a time when many members of the church were committing huge numbers of hours to working on the Renewal Centre building project (described below), there were calls in PCC in April 1982 for a Renewal Weekend for St Thomas’ only, to provide “needed refreshment”, and Dennis Tate said “he was encouraged by the fresh outpouring of the Lord’s power at a time when it was needed.” PCC agreed to hold another open Renewal Weekend on the 15th to the 17th of October, after which it was told at the beginning of November that “comments … were favourable.” Council discussed the balance of teaching and ministry in the seminars, and the format of the Sunday evening communion, and agreed to hold a further Renewal Weekend between the 18th and the 21st of March 1983.

At this time (November 1982) the Vicar told PCC that “a time of specific renewal ministry for our church was a possibility. A time away together was difficult but a church camping holiday might be possible. Michael Harper had been invited to minister to the church at some time in the future, and the elders were meeting with Nigel Wright of Ansdale Baptist Church to further pursue the possibility of inviting a team from Yorba Linda [Vineyard Fellowship] to minister to the church.”

There is no record in minutes of PCC meetings during 1983 of how the March Renewal Weekend went, or whether another Weekend was held in October as in recent years. The next Renewal Weekend mentioned in PCC minutes was in March 1984, after which PCC was told that “once again visitors had given favourable comments. … a seminar on youth work was suggested, a better position for the bookstall was needed, and more members of our own congregation should attend seminars.”

By early November 1984 some members of PCC “thought it right to wait upon the Lord for the date of the next Renewal Weekend and asked about the possibility of having a Renewal Weekend for the church. … The Vicar saw no problem with the regularity of Renewal Weekends but as next year it would be the seventh since Renewal Weekends began in the church, it could possibly be a sabbatical. The elders would be meeting to consider the matter.”

The following month PCC agreed to run the next Renewal Weekend in October 1985, with the possibility of a Renewal Weekend for the church early in the year. In January 1985 PCC agreed to use the time set aside in March for the church Renewal Weekend “to pray through the church’s commitment to Renewal Weekends, and to pray for the increased opportunities for outreach to other churches.”

Trevor Dearing’s visit in March 1986, “to give practical evangelistic training”, was also described by PCC as a Renewal Weekend.

PCC had a broad discussion about the direction of the church in September 1986, which focussed on “the importance of ongoing growth and maturity of individuals and their quality of life within the church” and “the development of the church’s ministry in signs and wonders.” That is the first and one of very few uses of that Vineyard expression – “signs and wonders” – in minutes of meetings at St Thomas’; it refers to ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit as a key element in charismatic renewal, as experienced in the early days of the Church as described in Acts. The Vicar insisted that “the vision of the church remains unaltered, being the winning of our country for Christ and the renewal of the church. All agreed that love continues to be the main element in all of our ministry.”

Another Renewal Weekend was held in October 1986. PCC was told in early November that it had “had the lowest number of bookings, although this was not reflected in the number who attended. Reports were again favourable and encouraging.” Suggestions put forward to consider for future Renewal Weekends included “the possibility of a seminar on youth work, and a double session on spiritual warfare.” There was some discussion but no decision about turning at least one of the Renewal Weekends into a Renewal Day.

At the beginning of December PCC agreed to change the established annual pattern of Renewal Weekends, “to retain the October weekend as previously, with a wide invitation, and for the one in March to be for local churches, with seminars on the Saturday morning and a renewal meeting in the evening, but with no formal offers of accommodation.”

By 1987 questions were being asked about the usefulness of the Renewal Weekends and how they fitted in with the other established and emerging ministries at St Thomas’. The Vicar reminded PCC that July that “our aim continues to be to help, teach and encourage local churches desiring to learn more about the Holy Spirit.”

PCC was told at the beginning of October that twenty two people had booked for the Renewal Weekend on the 16th to the 18th of October, thirteen of whom would require accommodation. Council had a wide-ranging discussion about the need to better promote the Renewal Weekends, which included the “effectiveness of publicity, possible need for closer targeting of advertising to specific groups, contact with other churches (eg via students), and the possibility of running a Renewal Day in the future.”

There is no further mention of Renewal Weekends or Renewal Days in minutes of PCC meetings after October 1987, and their season had clearly come to an end. Thoughts about running Renewal Days for church members turned to the possibility of organising church weekends away (described later).


Renewal Ministry

Cyril Ashton felt very strongly that St Thomas’ was being called to share and nurture renewal with other churches, and he took a lead in doing that by taking teams from church with him to visit other churches to which they had been invited, where they engaged in worship, teaching and ministry about the nature and work of the Holy Spirit.

The Renewal Ministry can be traced back to 1979. That April PCC was told that the Vicar had recently led a weekend in Grange-over-Sands for a church from Manchester, and he had partnered with a Roman Catholic Abbot to lead a Charismatic Weekend in Dumfries. In May Cyril Ashton “reported on the visit to [St Mark’s] Haydock, which had seen an eventual breakthrough and great blessing in the evening service.” In June he told PCC about his visit to

a free church in Birmingham, the lack of real leadership there, the need for reconciliation, and how the Lord had brought about a great healing of relationships on the final evening. It was essential to follow up these visits to other churches and this was a prime reason for our church to have another Renewal Weekend. Churches such as the one in Birmingham could come to us and see how we put into practice what was said.”

In November 1979, he told PCC that “the elders were going to Blackburn at the invitation of the Bishop, to discuss the ministry of healing with him. [He] said he would take the opportunity to approach him for his blessing on the idea of making an evangelistic team available from St Thomas’ for use in other parishes.”

The Bishop’s blessing must have been granted because in the years ahead Cyril led teams from St Thomas’ to visit many churches throughout the North of England, sharing the Renewal Ministry with them. PCC minutes record that in 1982, for example, teams went to St Bartholomew’s in Colne, a church in High Wycombe, the United Reform Church in St Helen’s, and a meeting of Stafford Council of Churches, and the Vicar led a House-party in Scarborough for St Thomas’ Crookes, Sheffield. A team from St Thomas’ helped to lead a Conference on Local Church Renewal at Swanwick in December 1984 that PCC was told had been “encouraging for the team … [and] an important time for those attending.”

In 1985 teams visited Revidge Fold United Reformed Church, Christ Church in Moreton, All Saints in Marple, Scargill (for St Margaret’s in Durham), and Kinmell Hall in North Wales (for Holy Trinity, Stalybridge). In 1986 teams visited churches in Halifax, Wolverhampton, Ireland and Scotland.

Cyril Ashton told the Annual Church Meeting in 1987 that the “work of renewal … was continuing to develop, with visits this year to Creift, Nottingham, Northern Ireland, Wolverhampton, Torrisholme, Quernmore Priory, Thring, Cheltenham, Halliwell and Normanton in Wakefield [where his successor Peter Guinness served his Curacy, 1982-87].”

By October 1987 team visits from St Thomas’ to other churches, as well as Renewal Weekends in St Thomas’, appear to have come to an end.


Tensions and change

By 1991 tensions had started to emerge in both the eldership and PCC over the pace and direction of change arising from the renewal of the church itself. Some individuals felt that the use of the Gifts of the Spirit in worship and ministry at St Thomas’ wasn’t going far enough or fast enough, and after a great deal of soul-searching some (including the Dowthwaites - Frank was an elder, and he and Judy had spearheaded the initial healing ministry in the Renewal Centre) left the church to set up a House Church, initially known as Lancaster Christian Fellowship, which evolved into King’s Community Church.

This was an unsettling case of history repeating itself, with distinct echoes of Joseph Armytage and his supporters leaving the Priory Church over a major difference of churchmanship in the late 1830s in order to set up St Thomas’. Rumblings of discontent must have been apparent earlier that year, because in his report to the Annual Church Meeting in March 1991 the Vicar had “reminded the church that uncertainty had and would again lead to growth. He had complete confidence in the church’s leadership.”


Developing a Christian community (1977-81)

During the late 1970s a number of Christian communities had been established around Britain, typically based in a large former country house, where a group of people would live full time “in community” committed to a common rule of life and service (like the monasteries of old) and others would join them for short-term visits in the form of spiritual retreats, conferences, workshops and times of ministry. Two of the best known and longest established were Scargill House in the Yorkshire Dales (established in 1959) and Lee Abbey in North Devon (established in 1945).

Cyril Ashton told PCC in June 1977 that “many times in counselling people [he] had felt the need of a Christian community (of the pattern of Lee Abbey or Scargill). He asked for prayer and thought about … community before the next meeting.” At the next meeting, in early July, “it was decided to continue to pray about the need for a ‘community’ and to be open to the Lord’s leading in this.”

We hear nothing more about the idea for the next two years, until the arrangements for the new parish worker (Dawn Backhouse) were outlined to PCC in September 1979; “She would be paid £10 [£37] per week and would live as part of a Christian community in Kensington Road, Lancaster. The members of the household would pay Dawn’s household expenses.”

This was eighteen months after David Watson and his team had visited St Thomas’ to teach and minister on renewal. Cyril Ashton was not the only Anglican Vicar impressed by the commitment of the Watson family to share their large Vicarage in York with members of the congregation to form a small residential community that lived and prayed together, and shared finances and friendship, and supported one another.

The Watson ‘community’ in York was not without its tensions and challenges, but the model looked promising and worth pursuing. At the beginning of October 1979 Cyril Ashton “made some suggestions regarding a Community Centre for the consideration and prayer of the PCC. He raised the possibility of the church owning or renting a property that could be used as a community renewal centre. The centre would be based around a Christian family, and Mr and Mrs Dowthwaite were very interested in this. … Four or five single people would also need to be involved, and a further dozen people committee to ‘relief duty’ when required.”

The question of where and how to develop such a centre inevitably surfaced, and the Vicar stressed that “a large building would be needed”. He expressed an interest in “a vacant property in King Street, a derelict property opposite church, and the school next door. He said that £50,000 [£187,000] might be needed for such a scheme.” A new purpose-built building was another option, and one member of PCC questioned whether a dedicated building was necessary, rather than rooting the ministry in a group of families in their own homes. The Vicar concluded the discussion by emphasising the need “to get a group of people together first before decisions about property etc could be made. He called on the PCC to pray about [this].”

Within a month the possibility opened up of buying the former school behind church, which was then disused and badly neglected, and converting it for use by the church. This marks the start of what was to become the Renewal Centre project (described below). The elders had agreed to have a half day away together on the 8th of December “to pray about guidelines for the scheme”, discussions having begun in PCC three days earlier. In response to comments about the huge demands that would be placed on the people involved, and questions about the need to develop good links with social services and medical back-up, the Vicar stressed that “the scheme was planned as a renewal centre and not a place for psychiatric counselling”; in practice, as we shall see below, it turned out to be difficult to keep a sharp boundary between those two objectives.

PCC agreed that “a need was there but the financing of the scheme was as yet unsure. … However, before the question of accommodation could be tackled the community itself had to be settled and at least two other people were still needed. More thinking and prayer on the matter was called for.”

Converting the old school building remained one of several options for developing the community at St Thomas’. In January 1980 PCC agreed to pay for the Vicar and Judy Dowthwaite to attend a gathering of charismatic communities at Scargill, and the following month the Vicar led a wide-ranging discussion in PCC about Community Ministry. He said he believed “the way forward was to encourage the development of extended families. In particular there was a need to pray for single people coming forward to join Mr and Mrs Dowthwaite in their plans. The Vicar said that some property would have to be purchased, and he suggested that individuals could put their own money into the scheme with Mr Dowthwaite.”

He stressed that “the people had to be found before the property was obtained. This was a gradual thing with the Lord leading the church, step by step, and calling us to greater maturity. The Vicar called for the PCC to pray for the people to come forward to join Mr and Mrs Dowthwaite and also that a property would be found for the enterprise. He urged everyone to seek the Lord for His direction of our resources, that this might lead to deeper commitment to one another.”

Two months later, in March 1980, Cyril Ashton told PCC that “he felt it right that the PCC consider making an offer to purchase the old school next door. This could be converted into a two-storied building with a large hall downstairs and a centre for community upstairs.” The story of what happened next is sketched out below.


Renewal Centre Project (1979-84)

The church conversion project, between 1975 and 1976, had galvanised the church not only into action, but to trusting in God to guide them and to release the funding required. It was a major turning-point in the life of St Thomas’, and it paved the way for an even more ambitious project whose roots overlap with those of the original ‘church hall’ project. In the early days of the ‘church hall’ project, the possibility of buying and converting the former school building had been explored, but at that point in time it was not available.

In December 1970, back in Stanley Duthie’s time, PCC was told that Lancaster County Council had purchased the former school premises from the Ripley Trust “for use as an Adult Education Centre”. Three years later, in December 1973, the Blackburn Diocesan Registrar had received a letter from the County Estates Surveyor advising that “the County Council now proposes to sell the whole of their land in that immediate area, including the old school and two houses in the open market with vacant possession.” In March 1974 PCC wrote to Leslie Ranson, the Diocesan solicitor, expressing their interest in buying the land.

A Certificate of Conveyance, dated the 20th of March 1975, that describes the old school site and adjacent playground and mentions a sum of £20,000 [£125,500] is archived in the Diocesan Registrar’s office. It refers to -

that plot of land with the building previously used as St Thomas Church of England School situate at Marton Street in the city of Lancaster together with the yard and buildings erected thereon situate immediately behind the school building and fronting to Victoria Place Lancaster. Secondly all that plot of land to the rear of the property first described fronting to Victoria Place aforesaid formerly used as part of the school playground with the classroom block erected thereon. Thirdly all that plot of land adjoining the property secondly described and situate in Victoria Place aforesaid with the cottage thereon and including and belonging thereto. Fourthly all that plot of land with the cottage thereon known as Number 2 Marton Street Lancaster aforesaid and adjoining the property first described. Fifthly all that property known as Number 4 Marton Street Lancaster aforesaid adjoining the property fourthly described.”

The existence of this 1975 Certificate of Conveyance is curious, because (for reasons unrecorded) the sale did not go through then; as we shall see, the minutes of PCC meetings five years later reveal that by then the school site was in private ownership.

In November 1977 PCC agreed to rent out part of the playground which they then owned (the western two-thirds of the present car park, furthest from the ramp) to a local garage – Glanfield Lawrence (Lancaster) Ltd, formerly referred to as Atkinsons Garages – for £500 [£2,400] a year “for the storage of new motor vehicles”.


Ownership of the school site

Two years after the completion of the church conversion project, in 1979 PCC turned its attention to the old school building behind the church, which by then was disused and falling into serious disrepair. The question of ownership resurfaced.

PCC Secretary Dennis Tate told the Council in June that “he had looked through the church records and found mention of the whereabouts of the school deeds and the deeds for the site. The Vicar said that the school had been built, owned and maintained by the church but then handed over to the Ripley Trust in the 1940s. It had subsequently changed hands and that a Mrs Dixon was the present owner. The church had had no opportunity of re-purchasing the site and the Vicar said that the church had not received the consideration it deserved when the property was disposed of. … The Vicar said that it was a very valuable site next to the church and Mr Airey [Churchwarden] reported that it might well be coming up for sale as he had seen men surveying it.”

Understandably, PCC was keen to establish how and when the school site – which it had funded, established, and managed – had passed out of its ownership. In July the Secretary told PCC that “he was attempting to trace some of the ex-managers of the school. He hoped to arrange an appointment with the solicitors who negotiated the transfer of the school to the Ripley Trust.” In September he “reported on his meeting with the solicitor who negotiated the transfer of St Thomas’ School to the Ripley Trust. He outlined how the St Thomas’ School had been run by a trust [back in Colin Campbell’s day] and how the Trust had amalgamated with Ripley Trust in 1958. The exact relationship between St Thomas’ Church and the original St Thomas’ Trust was unknown.”

PCC was told in January 1980 that the search for information on when the school passed out of the church’s hands was continuing, and the following month Dennis Tate came back with the answer – he said that “he had obtained a copy of the 1948 scheme concerning Ripley Trust and St Thomas’ School. Part of this said that the deeds of St Thomas’ School were repealed and the provisions of the Ripley Trust substituted for it. This meant that whatever role the church had had in the building under the original deeds had gone then, and there was nothing the church could do about it now.”


Buying the building

By late 1970s, as we have seen, the Vicar and church leaders were thinking seriously about setting up some form of Christian community, and the old school building offered a tantalising prospect … if it could be bought, restored and developed to help achieve that goal.

Buying it would be expensive, and would require great commitment, generosity, and carefully choreographed fund-raising. Restoring it would also be expensive, but also time-consuming and difficult, particularly given that – as Frank Dowthwaite reported to PCC in November 1979 – “it was in poor condition, especially the roof and the upper storey which was collapsing.” Developing it would require great vision, determination and support from the whole church … none of which turned out to be in short supply.

Undaunted by the challenges, the Vicar told PCC in March 1980 that “he felt it right that the PCC consider making an offer to purchase the old school next door. This could be converted into a two-storied building with a large hall downstairs and a centre for community upstairs. The suggestion was greeted with some enthusiasm. Rev May [the Curate, an engineer by training] said that although the roof was in poor condition the building looked repairable. The Vicar said that a shared vision for the enterprise and tremendous giving would be needed. He called on the PCC to pray about the matter.” This was the first tangible step on a long journey towards developing what would become the Renewal Centre, a building that would serve the church in many important was in the years ahead.

By late May 1980 the lady who then owned the school building had been contacted, and the Vicar told an Emergency Meeting of PCC on the 24ththat she had said that “a half reasonable offer would be received [accepted].” He asked all members of PCC to pray about whether an offer for the school should be made, and if so how much it should be.

No time was wasted in developing the thinking about how the building might be bought, restored and used. Peter May’s engineering experience proved invaluable, as did Mike Norbury’s project planning and management experience, and both swung quickly into action and spearheaded the project.

At the PCC meeting held on the 2nd of June –

Rev May outlined the condition of the school and informed the PCC that he and Mr Norbury had produced a provisional estimate for making the building safe and secure and for setting up the ground floor. The ground floor would be used for community ministry and for church use. Later, when all the ground floor was required for church use, the community could be established on the upper floor. The estimate of £35,000 [£110,000] assumed that the church did the design work and some clearance. It also did not include the purchase price. There was a long discussion on a price to be offered for the old school. … PCC agreed in principle to the purchase of the old school and empowered the Vicar and Messrs Airey and Newsham [Churchwarden and Treasurer] to proceed with negotiations.”

An Emergency PCC meeting was arranged for Sunday the 29th of June 1980, after the evening service, to agree how much money was needed for the project and how the funding should be raised. It was told that “the elders had met with the directors of the firm who owned the old school and the directors had held out for £10,000 [£31,300] for the property. They had informed the elders that, had it been a commercial undertaking, they would certainly have asked for more. They asked that, if the church bought the building, it would be used for church purposes only, and that two memorial stones be retained. The Vicar and several of the elders gave their opinion that the directors would not lower their asking price. There was some discussion about purchasing the property, and it was pointed out that [not if] the Lord wanted us to have the building and He would provide the money. It was proposed by Curate Peter May and seconded by Ken Mansley that the church [should] purchase the Old School for £10,000 [£31,300]. This resolution was passed with one abstention.”

The sale was agreed without delay, allowing the Vicar to report to PCC on the 7th of July that “the church’s offer for the school had been accepted and contracts were being drawn up.”


Funding and scheduling the work

A project on this scale would require careful planning and management, in both building and financial terms, and PCC set to work on both without delay.

At the July 1980 meeting PCC discussed whether to raise the money and do the work in stages, acknowledging that a staged project would face the challenge of inflation (then running high in Britain) and delay the establishment of a community. The Vicar said that “the whole church should be encouraged to pray about the work and to face the challenge of giving. He suggested that the money be raised in one effort.” Raising such a large amount in one go, from within the church, would inevitably be a major test of faith, collective and individual.

PCC made a number of key decisions at that July meeting. The most important financial decision was that a Gift Weekend should be held to raise the money, on the last weekend in October. PCC also agreed that donations for the project could be accepted from July onwards, that a special account should be opened for it at the National Westminster Bank, that Roland Lowden be designated Treasurer of that account, that the use of a tax-efficient covenant scheme should be encouraged, and that the possibility of grant support from the Council should be investigated. PCC also agreed that the elders should “produce a broadsheet as soon as possible outlining the practical details and sharing the vision for the work”, and to set up a sub-committee “to decide what work could be done by the church and what needed sub-contracting, the plans for the work, and to estimate a figure for the cost of the work for the Gift Weekend.”

In September PCC was informed that “the contracts for purchasing the school were about to be exchanged, although there was a hold-up due to a query over planning permission for change of use. However no objections were expected and no repairs were possible until contracts were exchanged. The PCC agreed to go ahead and exchange contracts as soon as possible.” This was another major test of faith, because by this time the funding had not even been promised, let alone raised.

It was difficult for PCC to agree a budget and schedule for the project without firm estimates of the likely labour costs involved, which would depend on how much work could be done by volunteers from the church and how much would have to be done by paid workers.

At the September meeting PCC agreed to ask church members to pledge both their time and their money at the Gift Weekend, which would allow the amount of time and the money to be assessed and a final scheme adopted. This was another really important meeting and test of faith for the PCC, who “met in prayer and worship whilst the church fellowship prayed in the Upper Lounge [in church]. Members of the PCC then wrote down what they intended to give and what commitments they could make in time. The amounts were added [up] whilst the PCC continued in worship. The total came to £26,865 [£84,130] with 200 hours of work per month. … The PCC felt led by the Lord that the Gift Weekend should have a target of £75,000 [£235,000]. The PCC then joined the rest of the church to share in praise and worship.”


Clearing the site

Work on the building started soon after the contracts were exchanged and the school belonged once again to the church.

Frank Dowthwaite gave a progress report to PCC on the 6th of October 1980, noting that “the building was now half cleared and a lot had already been saved on labour costs. The men had worked hard and there had been good fellowship in it. At the present rate the clear-out could be complete by the end of November, ready for the contractors to work on the damp course, dry rot and roof. The information leaflet was now ready for the congregation. … [it was] said that the idea of community was still not widespread in the church … [and] that there was a need to encourage the idea. It was suggested that the building be known in future as the Renewal Centre. The project was then committed to the Lord.” This is the first record of the name Renewal Centre, by which the building would be known o