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12 December 2014


Essex centenary

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 guise.

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, uplifting.

*Coming of Age: The life and times of Chelmsford Cathedral 1914-2014 (XLibris, £26.99 hbk; 978-1-4797-7747-1; £16.99 pbk; 978-1-4797-7746-4; www.xlibris.co.uk).

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 Ham.

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 the time.

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 up.

*Chelmsford Diocesan Board of Finance, £5 incl. p&p from Diocesan Christian Bookshop, 53 New Street, Chelmsford CM1 1AT; or email bookshop@chelmsford.anglican.org.uk; or phone 01245 294405.

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