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From 1914 to 1924

Hale Red Cross Hospital in St Peter's Assembly Rooms, 1914From 1914 to 1924

Opening his Annual Report for Easter 1915, Mr. Brunskill wrote:

"The list of names ... shows that the call to take up arms in what we believe to be the cause of right and justice has met with a ready response on the part of those eligible to active service. Although most of these are still under training, they are gradually being sent to the front and the next few months must be a time of great anxiety for many.'

There were 162 names on that list.

 

As so often happens, a 'time of great anxiety' was passed as much as possible with an outward appearance of normality. No bombs were to fall on Hale. It must have seemed as quiet a place as ever, perhaps even quieter if the absence of those men was to leave an unaccustomed space behind a counter, on a cricket team or at the bar in the Bleeding Wolf. And, of course, it would be about just such everyday situations that those who were away would be longing to hear in letters from home.

Always great fund raisers and organisers, the people of St. Peter's were now involved in new efforts.

'Much valuable work is being done,' wrote Mr. Brunskill, 'in providing articles of needlework, in min­istering to the sick and wounded and in serving on [War] Relief Committees.'

Something which brought the War home very clearly was also mentioned in the Report:

'When, in August, we agreed to lend St. Peter's School for use as an Emergency Hospital in connection with the Red Cross Society, the likelihood of its being so required seemed very remote. In the middle of December the building was handed over and has been found to admirably adapt for the purpose.'

Ada Pearce remembered this very well:

‘I had just left school. I remember offering packets of cigarettes to the men who were strolling around in their 'hospital blue' suits with the red ties. We used to pass the cigarettes and other gifts over the hedge.'

These men were war wounded.

Lending the Schools deferred the problem of paying the estimated £500 to extend the building. Instead, for the time being, 10/- per week was to be paid for the hire of St. Baldred's Hall (now Hale Conservative Club) for the use of the Sunday School.

The replacement of the organ could not lie delayed. Made up of three old organs. the instrument had become increasingly temperamental and frequently broke down. A three-year fund raising plan had been put into action, beginning with an approach to those who might be expected to contribute. Any reluctance they might have felt about doing so and, especially, any temptation to do so sparingly was no doubt influenced by the knowledge that their names and contributions would be circulated - in de­scending order! The new instrument was dedicated on March 17th by the Archdeacon of Macclesfield.

With the organ filling the north side and the new oak screen with its door to the Parish Room filling the south, the chancel looked much as it does today, even to the memorial tablet to Canon Gore. The west end had the Clerk's (Verger's) desk, a gift from a parishioner who was leaving the district.

The Revd. C.D. Lewis left to take charge of St. David's church at the Hermitage, and Revd. H.V. Aspinwall came in to take his place, though for some time, Mr. Brunskill had to cope on his own. Although the Council felt that the church could not con­tinue to pay for the upkeep of the Schools (which the Red Cross agreed and undertook to do), the level of giving in other ways was very high. War Relief Funds and hospitals were predictably supported but so, too, were Christian causes such as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and Diocesan Societies.

At the end of his report, Mr. Brunskill wrote:

‘That Almighty God may in His good Providence so order and dispose the issue of this war that we may be brought through strife to a lasting peace and that meanwhile we may one and all respond to the call of our Country according to our several powers must be our heartfelt prayer.'

As St. Peter's approached its 25th anniversary (June 17th, 1917) the ranks of those who had done so much to ensure its creation and survival were thinning.

Mr.Statham, the Reader and Sunday School Superintendent, died a year after ill-health had forced him to resign. Another loss was Mr. Alfred Berry whose name features in reports and minutes from the earliest days. His memorial is the Sanctuary rail he donated. Mr. Megson, Organist and Choirmaster from the beginning, resigned and was succeeded by Mr. H. Gibbon.

The parish very nearly lost the Vicar himself: at the Annual Vestry Meeting in 1916, it was announced that Mr. Brunskill had declined an offer of preferment, choos­ing, rather, to remain at St. Peter's, a choice greeted by the meeting with a "hearty response'.

An instruction was read out at a meeting as to 'what to do in the event of an air raid during a church service'.

From the Front came news that 16 more lives had been lost. These were the darkest days.

By the beginning of 1918, with the end of the War in sight, a sub-committee was appointed to discuss a suitable War Memorial. A suggestion of a stone cross in the church grounds was laid aside in favour of the scheme to be seen today around the Baptistry walls. Mr. Pearce, designer of the clerestory windows, was the artist whose poignant illustrations provide the setting for the names of the fallen.

As hostilities ended and the country returned to its peaceful pursuits, the Council began picking up the threads of plans abandoned at their outbreak. The Red Cross undertook to return the Schools to their former good condition but the estimate for the extension to the building, originally £500 was now £2,000.

In March 1918, Mr. Aspinwall departed to be replaced as Curate 18 months later by Revd. J. Mills. He came just in time. At the beginning of 1920, Mr. Brunskill was very ill. There can be little doubt that the strain of the previous five years had taken their toll.

In his absence, with Mr. Mills the Curate in the Chair, the details of the new Enabling Bill were discussed. This was to become the Act requiring each Parish to have an Electoral Roll and a Parochial Church Council.

Ten ladies of the Ladies' Guild and the District Visitors undertook to canvas the local roads and collect signatures. The result was a count of 786 residents, 116 non­residents, a total of 902. The new PCC, meeting for the first time in May 1920 consisted of two clergy, two wardens, three lay representatives on Deanery and Diocesan conferences and 10 elected members including four ladies to represent the Ladies' Guild, the Sunday School, the Mothers' Union and Foreign Missions. (Women over the age of 30 now had the vote, which may have been part of the reason to allot four places to these ladies.)

Mr. Brunskill returned in April, to a warm welcome but to no lessening of prob­lems.

The churchyard gates were in need of extensive and expensive repair, more money was needed for other church expenses and the huge cost of extending the Schools was once more an urgent and a worrying item on the agenda. Money was needed. A scheme of Free Will Offerings was suggested and an Endowment Fund was opened.

The young pupils in the Schools were, of course, in blissful ignorance of these problems (though several were to be much concerned with them themselves in the years ahead). One of those pupils was Lewis Allen:

'I was baptised in St. Peter's by Mr. Brunskill and prepared by him for Confirmation. I went to the Sun­day School, the Kindergarten in the Assembly Rooms. The partition was drawn across the big room to make two. The Superintendent at first was Mr. Statham, the Reader to Mr. Brunskill. After him, Mr. Aspinwall took over, then a Mr. Simpson who was Superintendent for about 20 years, then Mr.Mead, another Curate. I left Sunday School to go into the Choir. After I left the boy choristers, I joined the young mens' Bible class. Mr. Holdgate, a Churchwarden, started it, and Charlie Jones (later to be Sunday School Superintendent). We met in that little room behind the stage. I went into the Sunday School to teach and then back to the choir as a man singer. I joined the PCC as representative of the Sunday School and later I was Secretary of the PCC for about nine years. Eventually, I became a Churchwarden for 25 years.'

It must have been a fine school to have inspired such involvement and such loyalty.

At the Second Annual Vestry and Parochial Meeting in April 1921, there was good news to be told. The Electoral Roll now numbered 1027, the Free Will Offerings totalled £325 and the Endowment Fund £500, doubled to £1,000 by the gift of Mr. Ed­ward Jones.

Earlier, Mr. Brunskill had purchased 50 Westgate to serve as a residence for the Curate. It was conveyed in trust to Chester Diocesan Finance Association. The Churchwardens would collect rent and defray expenses. Four per cent of his outlay was to be paid to the purchaser during his lifetime but then the income from the property would go to the stipend of the Curate.

Now it was the turn of his parishioners to show him something of the affection with which he was regarded. Knowing that he had by no means recovered from his illness and was in need of a proper holiday, they had subscribed to a steamship and rail ticket to Alberta, Canada which he was to visit for three months. They promised him that St. Peter's would carry on in his absence as he would have wished and wished him 'Bon Voyage’.

He returned in September to bid farewell to one Curate and to welcome back another. Mr. Mills was resigning through ill-health and Mr. Aspinwall, who had been Curate from 1916 to 1918 had applied to return.

On January 18th 1922, Mr. Mills was presented with a handsome illuminated address, a book with the names of subscribers and a cheque for £70, at the Parish Tea Party.

These tea parties were jolly events, which had been sus­pended during the War but resumed in 1920. Mrs. Lovitt remembers them:

'We used to have lovely tea parties in the Assembly Rooms, with trays being pushed through the hatch at the front of the stage [the kit­chen was underneath the stage in those days].’

The tea party was in January. Summer had other treats. Mrs Lovitt again:

'When I first joined the Mothers’ Union, we used to have a garden party and a strawberry tea every summer.'

Not, however, with­out first 'standing up and being counted’.

'On Mr. Brunskill's orders, we assembled al the church, got our banner and marched in procession to Mrs. Minto's house where the garden party was held. They lived at a house called Merrivale on Bank-hall Lane. [The house has been pulled down and a small road called The Merridale with about four houses now stands on the site.] My mother, Mrs. Shaw, as one of the older members, carried the banner. We always felt a bit ridiculous marching behind our banner and rude boys shouted insults.'

Mrs. Lovitt's parents were among the very first members of St. Peter's and, like Lewis Allen, she had been baptised, confirmed and married there.

By the time of the next tea party, there had been another change: Mr. H. Gibbon, the Organist and Choirmaster for the previous seven years, resigned to be succeeded by Mr. Skinner. Before he left, though, Mr. Gibbon look part in what must have been a deeply moving service, the Dedication of the Processional Cross, the memorial for members of the Choir who had lost their lives in the War.

Mr. Brian Slater (who appears in the photograph on the opposite page walking behind the Crucifer, Mr. Wilkinson) was Head Boy in the Choir on that day.

Recently, he returned, one weekday, and sat in his old seat in the choirstalls.

‘There, in the empty church,’ he said, ‘I could see, in my mind's eye, all the people who used to sit in the various seats, for they all had their regular places. It was a strange experience.’

He also remembered Mr. Brunskill's kindness. ‘My father had left to go to sea. Just before the evening service, Mr. Brunskill asked me if I was alright and told me that we were going to sing 'For Those In Peril On The Sea' especially for my father. I was deeply touched.’

Perhaps the greatest break with the past came with the retirement of Mr. Toft, Clerk (Verger) since the church had opened 31 years before. His successor, Mr. Coombs (father of Ted Coombs), sadly died after only two years of his appointment. Mrs. Coombs was appointed School Caretaker and given the occupancy of School House.

With the need for the Schools' extension still urgent but prohibitively expensive, other cosily problems began to arise. The organ needed overhaul, there was a leak in the roof just in from of the pulpit and the lower had dry rot in the floor and supports, the heating needed to be extended to the Sanctuary and Chancel and 100 new prayer books were needed. All these things were duly attended to, as they always are.

Then came news that caused consternation. Mr. Brunskill was resigning the living. The PCC minutes recorded 'profound regret and heartfelt appreciation and gratitude for his faithful and loving service to the congregation and parish during the 32 years of his ministry.' Mr. Brunskill died 24 years later, in 1948. Only then, it is quite possible to believe, did the whole parish, especially those who remembered him when they had been children, realise the true measure of the man and his achievement. With the benefit of hindsight, the proof of time and his own keen perception. The Revd. Eric Jones wrote this loving - and even-handed - appreciation.

‘In Hale, his gifts matched his opportunity. Called to build up a parish, he was a gifted organiser with a flair for finding the right man for the job. He was privileged to see a community grow up before his eyes, but a most acute memory enabled him to recall every individual in the days when families were families; and that the personal interest of the true pastor never flagged in each one was shown, time and again, in the First World War as the dreaded telegrams came.

‘His business head served the young church well. He was entirely devoid of musical sense. He was not a great preacher but his Sunday evening sermons, when the sincerity of his spiritual experience most freely found expression, have made an ineffaceable impression on many. All his life he was reserved and this, combined with a formal politeness, not to mention an inflammability of temper, made him an object of awe to the younger generation and created a barrier through which only a few penetrated to find the humble, affectionate character within. He never spared himself and took it hardly when others failed to reach his same standard. A less reserved, less humble man might have avoided those later years when having devoted the best of his life to St. Peter's, he was indifferently relegated to minor roles in the church.'

St. Peter's was his life and we still see, as things which have endured with his impress, the absence of extremes in our worship, and the emphasis on the worldwide work of the Church.