The First Vicar
The First Vicar - The Reverend John Brunskill
The sepia photograph of Mr. Brunskill in the clergy vestry at St. Peter's shows a serious, thoughtful looking man with an air of quiet determination and yet seeming shy, almost lonely, one might imagine. By all accounts, the camera did not lie.
Ada Pearce retained a growing and very mischievous child's impression of Mr. Brunskill:
'He was a dear, pedantic bachelor. He was a very fine clergyman I'm sure, but he was absolutely no use whatever with children... Tom [her brother] and I used to play Mr. Brunskill up like anything... And he never spoke to a girl. He never asked the girls a question. He gave a little talk on something- He wasn't at all interesting - and then he'd ask the boys questions. Never asked the girls, never.
He was completely frightened of girls. So we had a lovely time!'
Mrs. Lovitt remembers him as:
‘..a bachelor and a shy man. He seemed rather stand-offish to those who didn’t know him, but a lovely man when you go to know him. He was very dignified and… a typical Victorian clergyman.’
In 1895, Punch published a cartoon that was to become part of the folklore of this country:
Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones.”
Curate: “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent.”
It is difficult for us to imagine the awe in which a curate would hold his Bishop at that time, even more for us to realise that the style of expression of the time had been so brilliantly captured. Did the clergy really talk like that? Mr. Brunskill did.
Ada Pearce recalls his coming to tea with her mother and her asking him:
‘Will you have another scone, Mr. Brunskill?’
and his reply,
‘No, thank, Mrs Peace. I have enjoyed all that I have partaken of.’
The phrase was to become a family joke with young Ada and her brother
Amusing in everyday conversation, such a style belonged to the Victorian pulpit. In that style, in his Reports, Mr. Brunskill couched his message to his flock.
In his thanks for the Easter Gift, 1894: 'I feel it must exercise a stimulating and encouraging influence on my labours amongst you.’
Those early years, when he was Priest-in-Charge, were a time of accumulation. More and more gifts were being given to the new church. Filling it out was clearly great fun. Even then, he seemed to realise the danger of that becoming an end in itself. Well-loved treasures, long familiar to us were new and exciting additions in 1894: six of the ambulatory windows, the carved oak chair (used by the bishop at Confirmation), a Communion paten, an alms dish and the Angel Lectern. In 1898, the last remaining ambulatory window was filled and the West Window installed. The following year the Baptismal shell and the oak hymn boards were donated. The small, round table in the Baptistry was made by Mr. Toft, the Verger, from an oak felled in Tatton Park. Mr. Toft had been a cabinet maker on the estate.
St. Peter's was an active church. As the arcading in the chancel was panelled (the gift of Isabella Brunskill, Mr. Brunskill's aunt who looked after him), the choir which sat in front of it was growing in number. 'Men Only' at that time, but a Ladies' Choir was also formed - the ‘Saints’ Day Choir’ who were to sing on Holy Days. The St. Peter's branch of The Mothers' Union was formed. However, St. Peter's was not endowed and the offertory alone was not enough. It needed to be £5 per week. In fact, it was usually £4. While those who had been stalwart supporters of the church were moving away from the district, newcomers were not coming to church. The vital thing was to have it endowed. Mr. Joynson offered to give £1,000 if the parish would match it with an equal amount. The parish would then offer the £2.000 to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and ask for a permanent annual grant towards the incumbent's stipend.
Financial problems are not usually visible though and a visitor to the parish would have seen an increasingly integrated community. Putting on the Sales of Work, with the long hours of sewing and working to prepare the items for sale, threw people together. Those who had had to move away were the losers. In the summer of 1896, they missed a congregational excursion to Chester and a trip on the river Dee. At Christmas there was a Children's Party in The Drill Hall. Perhaps the new atmosphere was magnetic because the next year more people came.
Although we take it for granted today, those who had had the task of selecting the site for St. Peter's were relieved to realise that their choice had been completely vindicated. That was cheering. So was the news that several Rummage Sales had cleared the deficit. Even the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' refusal to accept the £2,000 in return for a stipend grant was not going to dampen buoyant spirits. The cause for those was something else, something far more important. In this year, 1897, St. Peter's Church was consecrated and, as was said at the time, 'A new chapter begun'.
With consecration came the authority to publish banns and celebrate marriages and the requirement to appoint church wardens. They were going to be busy. In his Report for 1898, Mr. Brunskill wrote to thank them for their ‘... indefatigable labours, whose office in an unendowed church like ours is no sinecure’. Should it seem strange that a parish as wealthy as St. Peter's should be short of money to meet expenses, the point to remember is that the people who gave were usually the same people, and they could only be expected to give so much. Moreover, as far as Mr. Brunskill was concerned, the needs of mission and of those in trouble always came first. In 1898, generous gifts were given, among others, to the Clergy Sustenation Fund, to the Distress in Armenia Fund and to the Indian Famine Fund. Nevertheless, more money than ever was soon to be required because it was essential to build a proper, separate Sunday School.
The Sunday afternoon Children's Services in the church were a great success but overcrowded. The youngsters were causing a distraction and were moved to the Parish Room, now the Choir Vestry. It was 1899 before a suitable site was acquired and six more years before the Parish Rooms, our Assembly Rooms, were opened. There were delays in the conveyancing and, again, a shortage of money, not least because something else now had first claim on heart and purse strings - The Boer War Relief Fund.
Viewed with hindsight, the years that saw the birth of our parish and the end of the century seem to have run their course smoothly and with an inevitable success as far as St. Peter's church was concerned. In fact, the way was by no means smooth and there was nothing inevitable about the success. That came through the steady, often dull and plodding work that must under-gird any parish, work that began in the meetings of the Church Council. Held in St. Peter's Church Parish Room, they were chaired by Archdeacon Gore, Vicar of Bowdon. Here are just some of the topics discussed and decisions made, dated and recorded in the Minutes.
Nov. 7th 1392.Agreed - To form a guarantee fund to provide a stipend for a Resident Clergyman, the gentlemen present to become guarantors. A Church Council to be formed, members to be elected at the next meeting.
Nov. 12th 1892.The following to be elected members of the Church Council. Messrs. Guest. Johnson, Berry, Wild, Megson, Burgess, Shaw, Worthington, Toft, Plant and Dr. Donald. Two Treasurers and two secretaries to be appointed to act as wardens until Easier 1893. Messrs. Guest and Johnson appointed Treasurers. Messrs. Berry and Wild appointed Secretaries.
Dec. 9th 1892.Agreed - That the accounts of St. Peter's Church be kept separate from those of Bowdon. The Guarantee Fund had raised only £80 which was insufficient so discussion was postponed. Dr. Donald asked if the Archdeacon could allow the Guarantors a voice in the selection of the Clergyman. Archdeacon Gore said, "No."
Jan. 20th 1893.Archdeacon Gore announced that Rev. J.R. Brunskill would take charge of the parish from March 19lh. Agreed - That (13 named) be asked to guarantee £5 per annum for 2 years towards the stipend of the Curate in charge.
March 30th 1893.New organ has been installed at a cost of £220. First Annual Report of St. Peter's agreed. Boards arc to be placed in the porches announcing that 'Seals Arc Free'. Organ recitals to be given.
April 21st 1893.Agreed - That the organ-blower's salary he £3 per annum, paid quarterly, for Sunday Services and Choir practices. Mr. Toft (Verger) to fix a looking glass to the organ as requested by Mr. Megson (Organist & Choirmaster)
June 29th 1893.Agreed - Thai all books in the church be counted once every month.
August 2nd 1893.Agreed - That as from October, the Church Council will meet on the 1st Wednesday of each month at 7.15. Any member absent for 3 consecutive meetings without explanation will be con-
Nov. 1st 1893.Agreed - That Mr. Toft's salary (Clerk, i.e. Verger) be increased from £25 to £30 per annum. Mr. Toll be reimbursed 30s for an Apparitor's Gown; Mr. Megson engage Gallison the Painter to cover the roof of the organ chamber with Cartridge Paper and to varnish same; The offertory at the early services be placed at Mr. Brunskill's disposal for the Sick and Needy, or any other charitable purpose.
Feb. 13th 1893.Agreed - Thai the Council consists of 12 members of the congregation to be elected by the adult members of the congregation, 4 to retire annually; there be 2 Honorary Treasurers and 2 Honorary Secretaries, not more than one of each to retire annually.
March 18th 1894.Special meeting. Agreed - That any bona-fide male member of St. Peters, being a communicant, shall be eligible for election as a member of the Council.
[This seems to be a panic meeting convened in a hurry. Why? Because by giving all adult members of the congregation a right to vote for the Council, they had given the vote to all women members. Perhaps the women had assumed that this meant that they could be elected to the Council as well and some had put themselves forwarded to be elected. After all women householders could be elected or co-opted to serve on local councils - some of them served as mayors. 'The Church Council wanted to make sure that St. Peter's was not about to be a vanguard of the women's suffrage movement - in any case probably the women had influence enough on the council members through the Ladies Guild, which seems to have had a hand in most important church matters.]
February 9th 1898.Ladies Guild thanked for the gift of an 'American Organ'. Offertory on Sunday, March 13lh to be given towards the bicentenary of the SPCK (founded March 8th, 1698). Concern expressed re: the consumption of gas in lighting the Church. The suggestion of an electric bell to communicate between the clergy vestry and the belfry was rejected as being too expensive.
After expenditure on such a grand scale, it seems a strange economy.