Chapter Ten

 

                                   1936 - 1957

This approximate time span of some twenty years was to be a turbulent period for both the new and the old churches of St George.  Over this relatively short period, Old St George's would change their incumbent four times, whilst the neighbouring new church would only see two new incumbents but nonetheless go through a period of continual change. 

 

It was in 1936 that the Revd Stanley B Stirrup was inducted as incumbent of the New church in succession to the Revd Rupert Kirk.  The Revd Stirrup, like the author, was a former curate of the church of All Saints in Stretford and Mr Stirrup was to remain at the church for fifteen years. 

 

Whilst the Old church continued under the ministry of the Revd Whitehead for a further twelve months, Mr Stirrup had ideas for changing the church of New St George.  As the photograph shows (taken in approximately 1906 at a Harvest Festival) at the time when Mr Stirrup arrived, the church had a rather fine Victorian chancel screen which stretched between the two major supporting pillars at the end of the choir stalls.  This, among other things, was one of the "progressive changes" which the Revd Stirrup was to undertake during his turbulent ministry. 

 

Mr Stirrup had been at the church for less than 2 years when he applied for a faculty which was sought to remove the chancel screen, alter the chancel by extension, add new windows to the north and south walls of the sanctuary, replace the existing pulpit with a new one, add a lectern and prayer desk, build a plain oak screen between the arches of the south and north aisles to produce a chapel in the south aisle and a similar building construction in the north aisle to produce a children's corner, thus tunnelling the whole church.  This faculty was granted on the 24th August, 1938 but not put into practice because objections from the parish were expressed very firmly, and money to complete the works could not be obtained.  This did not stop the rather enthusiastic, and some would say, insensitive Mr Stirrup.  With the aid of his churchwarden, Stanley Stirrup "set about" the chancel screen one Saturday morning totally demolishing it and destroying what was a rather beautiful feature of the church.  He certainly did not stop there. 

 

In the same year of 1938 he took exception to a statue of the Madonna and child which used to stand in the south side of the sanctuary.  This monument was erected around 1856 in memory of Mr Ralph Ousey, a prominent businessman of the area.  In a letter to the Diocesan authorities in which he indicated his growing discontent, Mr Stirrup wrote: "It is a large ugly stone figure of a woman, facing East.  No relatives remain and no faculty exists for it being erected within the church.  We propose re erecting it on the south wall, near the west door, facing east: just forward of the present position of the font.

 

That seemed to me to be the most suitable position.

Yours sincerely

S B Stirrup"

 

Faculty or not, the removal or re-positioning of such a monument would need an Archdeacon's licence at the least, and most probably a faculty to complete it.  Stanley Stirrup was not a man to stand and wait for red tape and diocesan procedures, and again on  a Saturday morning with the aid of his warden, "he set about" the statue "re-positioning" it into a pile of rubble.  Stanley Stirrup clearly had no intention of moving it in any careful manner - the monument was reduced to a mass of broken stone and he simply concreted over the hole where the figure used to stand.  This same concrete remains visible to those who attend the church to this day. 

 

Mr Stirrup certainly was a progressive man and had very clear ideas of what the church needed, despite what the laity might have believed.  After demolishing the chancel screen and "re positioning the statue from within the sanctuary", he attempted to put into practice his original concept with regard to the chancel itself.  Just beyond the position where the old screen used to be, there were two full width marble steps ornately decorated in red and black.  These would certainly have proved to be a great problem in any attempts to move them forward and so Stanley Stirrup and his ever useful wardens decided to overcome the problem by simply concreting over the top of what were rather valuable pieces of marble.  The task took over a week and the extension was some six feet further forward than the old chancel steps used to be.  He then "acquired" two stalls one for himself as vicar and one for a potential curate which he hoped might soon be at the church.  The local newspaper reported these changes as great improvements and in a sense this was true, but it is very sad that such an ornate victorian screen should be demolished and a nineteenth century statue simply smashed to pieces, when careful re-positioning of them would have enriched the general appearance of the church. 

 

One change that Stirrup brought about and which everyone agreed was a great advantage, was the addition of two windows in the sanctuary in the north and south walls.  The sanctuary was a particularly dark area with a completely leaded and stained glass window at the east end.  These two windows made a considerable difference to the light within the sanctuary area, so much so, that the local newspaper waxed lyrical about the whole church on a particular Sunday afternoon.  It said: "It is on sunny days that the church seems most beautiful for then the sunlight comes streaming in through the windows and

"with gorgeous hues the window glass

seems suddenly to glow

And rich and red and streams of light

Down through the chancel flow"

 

By 1948 Stirrup had hoped to complete the majority of his changes and wanted to put into action the second stage of his great scheme to re order the church.  This was to provide oak stalls for the choir, replacing the existing ones of pitch pine, and to erect a new screen at the west end to improve the entrance.  The choir pews remained pitch pine and the west screen was never completed.  He also began the idea of creating a Lady Chapel and was fortunate to have a rather active Mothers' Union who would in fact bring that into being within the relatively near future. 

 

Stanley Stirrup was clearly a man of ideas and firm intention and simply got on with what he believed was right despite the feelings of many around him.  One would think that this would produce a man despised in the area, but this was not the case, and, though many were confused by his physical changes to the church, he was a man respected and missed by many when he moved from the church in 1951 to begin a new ministry elsewhere in the Diocese.

 

In the Old Church Frank Whitehead was succeeded in 1938 by the Revd Reginald Hugh Cadman who was to stay a relatively short period of only seven years.  The Revd Cadman lived almost next door to the church and was a bachelor who lived with his mother.  His ministry was neither exciting or eventful and he appears to have had rather a quiet time at the church, seemingly biding his time.  Parishioners describe him as an uninspiring man who simply went about the business of doing the various things required of him as incumbent, but not necessarily bringing any new or innovative ideas into being.  At the end of his seven years he left to go to the Diocese of Truro and lived and in fact retired in Cornwall.  It should be remembered that the ministry of Cadman took place during the whole of the Second World War and consequently a time of great upheaval where little could actually happen and where ministers throughout the whole country simply bided their time and maintained their churches in the best way they could.  I think it would be better to record his ministry as one of maintenance giving security to those who waited for loved ones away in the war.

 

Reginald Cadman was succeeded in 1946 by the Revd Charles James Saunders who moved to the parish from Holy Trinity, Bardsley.  The Revd Saunders had spent a great deal of time serving in His Majesty's Forces during the First World War and was decorated with the Military Cross.  Though there are no records to prove that Mr Saunders was a sick man, it is believed by many that he was a casualty of the war.  Shell shock was very common amongst the soldiers and many of the parishioners of Old St  George's felt that their new incumbent had suffered this particular kind of psychological stress.  Charles Saunders' ministry  lasted only two years and ended tragically in his suicide on 2nd June, 1948. 

 

It was not long after he had arrived at the church that many of the parishioners who had been lifelong members of the church and community, began to receive rather defamatory and insulting letters concerning their personal lives.  Though none of the accusations were true, they caused great turmoil amongst the congregation and initiated a police investigation.  It was determined that some of the letters sent to the parishioners were typed on a particular typewriter that gave an offset on one of the letters, and this was the downfall of the vicar of the parish.  Subsequent police investigations showed that the letters had been produced on the typewriter of Mr Saunders and that others which had been written by hand matched the handwriting of the incumbent.  Detective Sergeant Charles Mitchell interviewed the vicar on Saturday 29th May and explained the situation.  Mr Saunders replied when it was suggested that he might be involved: "Do you think a man in my position would do that?"

 

The police produced a prima - facie case against the vicar but they chose not to arrest him at that time.  Mr Saunders knowing all of this, decided it was best to go away on a holiday with a friend of his to the Lake District.   Whilst on holiday, Mr Saunders became quite ill and visited a local doctor complaining of chest pain.  The doctor diagnosed a mild heart attack and prescribed Aspirin asking the vicar to return the following day so that he could be admitted to hospital.  The following day he was dead.

 

The Coroner did not express any opinion concerning the letters, but heard evidence to suggest that the incumbent was under considerable stress as a result of the police investigation.  The Coroner recorded a verdict that, "Mr Saunders committed suicide whilst the balance of his mind was disturbed".  He had died as a result of Aspirin overdose.

 

The death of Charles Saunders obviously affected the whole parish and community alike and it was nearly a year before a successor could be appointed.  The Revd William George McGowan was appointed in 1949 and was warmly greeted by all concerned with the hope that they could look once again to a more stable period.  This, however, was not to be the case and though Mr McGowan was a "much loved and admired vicar" his ministry was to last only four years which really gave the parishioners no time to re adjust to this new man and the situation.  His reasons for leaving the parish are unclear and from the end of his ministry and the appointment of his successor in 1954, the church began to hear of the disheartening moves toward a closure of the building. 

 

The Revd John Penrose was appointed in 1954 but only remained three years.  He had a very uneventful ministry.  People were discontented and began to leave the church.  Talk of closure was commonplace and the feelings of the people were at a very low ebb.  The building had fallen into disrepair and cracks, presumably caused by subsidence, had begun to appear in the north and south east walls of the church.  Architects' reports on the building showed that there was a serious problem and this is perhaps one of the reasons why John Penrose left the church. 

 

It would be true to say that the new church fared little better.  For in 1952 the Revd George Leonard Eakins succeeded Stanley Stirrup as incumbent of New St George's.  He too was to remain until 1957 and came to a church that was very much in spiritual turmoil after the hectic ministry of Stanley Stirrup.  Leonard Eakins was no match for this volatile situation for he was a very sick man.  He complained frequently of extreme headaches and was constantly unable to attend to his business within the parish. 

 

He did have a particular interest in education and was an exceptionally intelligent man.  School teachers of the time speak highly of his commitment and his interest in the schools and of the considerably able contribution that he made.  Sadly his illness continued and he was persuaded to reconsider his ministry and perhaps move to a less demanding post. 

 

1957 was to be a watershed for both the churches.  It was a time of looking ahead to a different kind of future than had been understood by anyone before.  The church of Old St George was now in physical decay and people were no longer flocking to be part of the worshipping community, though the school continued to thrive.  The New church had had an eventful time with Stanley Stirrup and a rather sad time with his successor, and so both churches hoped for a new beginning in that year of 1957.