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The Reverend John Richards 1956-1964

The Reverend John Richards 1956-1964

Khartoum, Assmara, Wuppertal, Hale. The next incumbent came to the Vicarage in Harrop Road by an unusual route.

Revd. John Richards was a West Countryman born in Bath. His first career had been with the Indian Army. He had joined the 8th Cavalry Regiment and rose to become Assistant Commandant with the Eastern Frontier Rifles. After leaving the Army and studying at King's, London, he became ordained and went as Curate to Canon Clare at Bridport in Dorset. He married the Canon's daughter, Stella and then arranged another marriage, between the two great loves of his life, the Church and the Army when he became an Army Chaplain. So it was that, after the tour described above, he came to St. Peter's, his first parish as Vicar, on May 16th 1956. He was warmly welcomed by his Parochial Church Council.

There is a saying, 'Never follow a success’, for, no matter how hard you try, you stand to lose by comparison. Whether by design or not, it was well that there was hardly any room for comparison between John Richards and his brother Padre who had been such a popular success. He took his services in a straightforward unspecta­cular way, his sermons, down to earth, simple and sensible, delivered in ringing, West Country tones. Behind the scenes and together with the PCC, he undertook five years of putting the house, the House of God, in order.

Heating, lighting, wiring, pointing, painting, paving - all were undertaken. Stained glass windows were double glazed to keep out the rain, and the organ, which was making a less-than-joyful noise, was ex­pensively rebuilt. A gift day for Church Funds raised £960 in 1959 and a Planned Giving Scheme in 1961 run by professional fund raisers, resulted in total income being raised to £8,500 a year. All this in addition to the first priorities of contributions to Missions overseas, to an increased Diocesan Quota and to the Bishop's Appeal for £1 million for new churches.

The church was in need of new hassocks and these were subscribed to by parishioners. The Garden of Remembrance was surrounded by a low stone wall and two crosses were installed - a stone one there and, within the church, a silver cross on the altar in memory of Revd. Ernest Milner Swift. In memory of parishioners who had died, the Book of Remembrance and the desk for it were dedicated.

In the Vicarage the kitchen was modernised, a cloakroom made and the study reno­vated.

With military efficiency, John Richards had ‘prepared his position’. If this seems to be coldly calculating, nothing could be further from the truth. A warm, jovial man, his passionate love of cricket earned him the approval of many of his flock and his un­swerving loyally to Lancashire (except when Somerset were playing), confirmed it.

The Parish ‘plant’ as it is known, was gradually being put into good order but its care was still the responsibility of one man. Ted Coombs, the Verger was finding it more and more of a burden. To ease it, it was decided to close the Assembly Rooms for a week at Christmas and Easter and a gardener was found to look after the church grounds. Mr Wright, the Organist resigned and a Mr. Trevelyan, his successor, was unhappy. Now, to assist with the conduct of worship there came, first, Duncan Eyre who was to remain Organist and Choirmaster for 23 years and Kenneth Thompson who was licensed as a Reader and who serves in that capacity still. Also helping, though for much shorter periods, were Douglas Jowett, a Reader from Birmingham who was licensed to the Parish, and Revd. W.W. Sutton.

April 1959 marked 21 years as a Churchwarden for Mr. Lewis Allen who was presented with a silver tea set and a hall chest and a book of signatures. He was to continue in office for a further four years.

With the building repaired and the staff in place, the main concern was now the building up of the congregation. In Lent 1961, a Mission to the Parish was led by a Chester Diocesan Missioner and in readiness for this, Mr. Kirby was appointed Parish Record Secretary. This also served as a basis for Mr. Charles Jones's 'Road Watcher" scheme, whereby new arrivals were visited and invited to come to St. Peter’s.

To try to adapt to a changing pattern of life, it was suggested that parents should be asked for their reaction to a proposal to move Sunday School to Sunday morning. They, and the Sunday School leaders were overwhelmingly in favour. As part of this new plan, Matins was to start at 11.00.

What added a certain urgency to the need to recruit and retain a large congregation was the proposal to build a permanent church in Hale Barns to which St. Peter's should relinquish that part of the parish east and south-east of Broad Lane. Fifty-three years previously Lord Egerton, as Patron, had overruled a proposal to extend Ringway parish to Broad Lane. Now, the PCC was in ‘profound disagreement’ with this plan to revive the proposal in favour of the new parish. The storm was to rumble on for a long time.

As to other activities, things were rather in the doldrums. St. Peters Club had been wound up for lack of support. The land given by Mrs. Gibson (really too far away to be of use) was sold to Hale UDC for £3,000 and the money formed the Gibson Trust. One good sign, though, was the founding of the branch of the Church of England Men's Society in 1964.

It was about this time that the ill-health which had dogged the Vicar culminated in an operation. It was successful but he fell that the burden of such a parish was more than he could manage and he accepted the living of Chumleigh in Devon.

As he looked around his church during his last service, on November 8th, he must surely have experienced a sense of achievement. The building he had restored was beautiful, the people he had appointed were all around him, the Men's Society told of renewed faith and the new Sunday School banner proclaimed the nurturing of all in the children of the parish.

The Bishop of Chester dedicated the organ before its new­found voice boomed out filling the furthest corners of the church, seeming to make the very walls to shake and leading the congregation in praise and prayer to God. To do that had been John Richard's aim for the previous eight years. He had succeeded.