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Public-schoolboys and Pompey’s souls

20 June 2014

This is not the history Winchester College Mission merits, says Bernard Palmer


Wykehamist's memorial: statue by David Wynne of St John the Baptist, in memory of Anthony Carrick (1949), for St John's, Rudmore. It is now in Portsmouth Cathedral

Wykehamist's memorial: statue by David Wynne of St John the Baptist, in memory of Anthony Carrick (1949), for St John's, Rudmore. It is now in Ports...

Uncommon Partners: The Winchester College Mission and Portsmouth
Paul de N. Lucas and Richard Eckersley
Paul de N. Lucas £14.95 (plus £2.50 p&p)*

TO STUDENTS of Victorian church history, the Winchester College Mission is associated primarily with the ministry of Robert Dolling at St Agatha's, Landport, from 1885 to 1896 - a ministry immortalised in Dolling's Ten Years in a Portsmouth Slum. He was one of the "Reverend Rebels" who crossed swords with episcopal authority and whose exploits I described in my book of that title, published in 1993. It is, therefore, surprising that Dolling's work should have been relegated to an appendix in the book under review rather than to an invigorating opening chapter.

Although the Lucas/Eckersley book claims to be a history of the Winchester College link with Portsmouth, it concentrates on the period 1908 to 1924, when the missioner was Bertie Lucas ("Lucky Lucas"), who worked in the district of Rudmore. The pre-Dolling history is assigned to a second appendix by Lady Laura Ridding, whose husband was Headmaster of Winchester at the time the mission was established. Its later history is summarised in a few pages after Lucas's departure in 1924. The brevity of the account of his successors - Guy Hanbury and Norman Coley ("Holy Coley") - is ascribed to inadequate sources of information.

Lucas was an Oxford college chaplain when he moved to Rudmore; and, from the accounts given in the Winchester College magazine and in letters to his brothers, he appears to have made a success of his new job - though not perhaps to quite the same extent as Dolling. He certainly succeeded in getting to know the senior boys, inviting them down to Portsmouth for the weekend and enlisting their support in innumerable ways. The result was to draw the school as a whole into understanding of, and sympathy with, Rudmore's parishioners. Of course, class differences were never glossed over. At one point, we find Lucas referring to the ways in which "the feelings and opinions of the lower classes differ from those of our own."

The character of Rudmore changed over the years. Its capacious church was built only at the beginning of the First World War, was hit by incendiary bombs in the Second, and was restored and rededicated in 1951. Two years after Coley's retirement in 1959, the church was closed after the demolition of many houses in the parish to clear the decks for a motorway and ferry-port. The mission was transferred to a large new housing estate on the outskirts of Portsmouth.

With its vivid contemporary descriptions, this book is very much a period piece. Its format is unusual, with two columns of print to a page. The book has plenty of illustrations, but would have been improved by being split into chapters and given an index. Moreover, with the earlier years consigned to appendices, the later years dismissed in brief summaries, and only the Lucas ministry covered in any detail, it cannot really be described as a history of the Winchester College Mission. That is a task awaiting some future historian.

Dr Palmer is a former editor of the  Church Times.

*This title is available from the publisher, Paul de N. Lucas, 11 Fisherton Island, Salisbury SP2 7TG; email plucas@mybroadbandmail.com.

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