A GREAT centenary year for military historians is drawing to its
close; but in Essex and "London over the Border", local church
history has quietly enjoyed its own bonanza, thanks to another
momentous event of 1914.
The foundation of the diocese of Chelmsford, with the raising of
Chelmsford Parish Church to the dignity of a cathedral, has not
gone unnoticed; and no doubt there is as much to be said for
looking back over a whole century of worship and mission, in its
social context, as for turning over the ever-fertile soil of the
Western Front again - although I would say that, since
Chelmsford was my home town.
That was in the days when Edward Heath came to lecture on the
Brandt report on the global "North-South divide", Canon Gordon
Hewitt wrote his A History of the Diocese of Chelmsford,
to mark its first 70 years, and a cathedral server, Gerard Hockley,
wrote an entertaining booklet of reminiscences - not least about
the tussles that had ensued when, under one of the diocese's firmly
Evangelical diocesan bishops, a like-minded Provost, William
Morrow, was appointed in the 1920s to a cathedral regarded by the
servers and clergy as steadily on the "up".
Hockley had a good tale, if I recall, about how it was said
that, as the retiring Provost's car rolled out of his drive, a
server was already up a ladder putting the disapproved-of candles
back on to the riddel posts at the corners of the high altar. This
may have been hyperbole, but in the C of E you never know.
But seriously . . .
THAT story doesn't get into Tony Tuckwell's centenary history of
Chelmsford Cathedral, but perhaps it isn't quite grown up enough
for a book entitld Coming of Age*.
Nor should I be too cheeky about it, since he was once, for
about a year, my headmaster. He limbered up for this magnum
opus with the writing of the school's history.
I would say that Coming of Age, begun at the request of
the last Dean, takes a broader approach, fitting the cathedral's
life into the history of Church and nation; so that we learn how
the bishops and cathedral staff responded to the great events of
the past century, and the challenges of a new and developing
diocese, as well as the problems of balancing the books, and
providing worthy music without a choral foundation. Jolly
sidelights include the threat posed in what was still a rather
sleepy market town by the General Strike - to the Sunday-school
treat of 1927.
Then there was that extraordinary period in the 1980s with,
among others, Provost John Moses, who went on to be Dean of St
Paul's, and Canon Wesley Carr, who went on to be Dean of
Westminster. Out went those riddel posts and much, much else; and
while Mr Tuckwell (as I have to call him) gives an idea of some of
the tensions in the Chapter, for example, he does not quite evoke
the shock to many a conservative Chelmsfordian's system which was
delivered by seeing the cathedral for the first time in its new
John Trillo, the diocese's first mitred bishop, was one of the
fans of the transformed interior, however. He found the
refurbishment "courageous" (a word to put one on one's guard in the
C of E, I sometimes think), but, in its overall effect,
*Coming of Age: The life and times of Chelmsford Cathedral
1914-2014 (XLibris, £26.99 hbk; 978-1-4797-7747-1; £16.99 pbk;
Britannia or Becontree?
A SLIMMER volume is the Ven. Michael Fox's Chelmsford
Diocese: The first 100 years*, acknowledging his debt to Canon
Hewitt, but taking his own very different slant, that of a boy from
Barking who later became Archdeacon of Harlow and then of West
Archdeacon Fox's book-blurb states that his only qualification
is 70 years of experience of the diocese. But to an insider's view
of the history of diocesan strategy, and a command of this large
diocese's sociological facts and figures, and its deep contrasts,
he adds a commentary on what was happening and in people's minds at
This can be quite startling, as, for example, when you come to
more recent decades and move from "Cool Britannia" via the National
Institutions Measure to the revelation of the Darlow review that
Chelmsford's most impoverished "London over the Border" boroughs
merited far more of the Church Commissioners' dosh in the late
1990s than they were getting.
My disqualification for reviewing this book formally would be
that its author prepared me for confirmation; but long before that
event, he was a curate on the Becontree Estate, built during the
episcopate of Bishop Warman. And there is more to the tale of
churchmanship divisions than candles.
The Community of the Resurrection offered to treat the whole
estate as one mission parish. But the parishes were, in patronage
terms, put out to tender, so that the northern two-thirds of the
estate became five Evangelical parishes, while another, whose
church was paid for by the Mothers' Union, was in the Bishop's
gift. "A few years on, and a ninth parish, St Peter's, was carved
out to cope with relocated East End Anglo-Catholics. It was just a
couple of roads wide and over a mile long."
I suppose it might work for processions. You couldn't make it
*Chelmsford Diocesan Board of Finance, £5 incl. p&p from
Diocesan Christian Bookshop, 53 New Street, Chelmsford CM1 1AT; or
email email@example.com; or phone 01245