Friday, 11 July 2014

Vicars

Readers who have been following my jottings will be aware the church played a significant part in village life during my childhood. The village school was a Church of England School, many children, probably most of us, belonged to the Sunday School and church choir at some time or other. Village events were quite often arranged by groups which included contingents from the Church. This is not to suggest that we were all deeply religious, certainly in my case and many of my friends, this was not the case at all. We attended the various church functions because they were available and, in the absence of anything else, that is what we did. It was also the case that if your friends went you did as well, so I suppose, peer pressure played a part in all of this. Anyway, as a result of the various church activities, I and many of the other village children came into contact on a regular basis with the vicars who served Kingsley.

For most of us that contact would have begun with the visits to the school made by the vicar, during the week, for prayers before lessons began. I don’t recall now how many days a week this occurred, I have a feeling it was probably twice, but it could have been more. It was also common practice then for the vicar of the day to visit parishioners who were sick either at home or in hospital. He, for in those days it was always a male, would also visit the bereaved. I have no idea if this still happens, but it did then.

There was a period during which the village had no appointed vicar and the parish was served by a series of stand-in vicars whom came out of retirement, from Bordon I think, to cover services etc. until a new permanent vicar was appointed. Not having kept a record of the dates, I now have no idea when this was and I am not sure which vicar it was that was eventually appointed. However, during this period there was one vicar that I remember well. He was a little balding man, he wore glasses and was obviously getting on a bit. The reason I remember him was due entirely to his particular style of preaching. He was from, what then, would have been known as the hellfire and brimstone school. His sermons were nothing, if not impressive, and ensured that those present in the congregation listened to what he said. No dozing in the pews when this man was in the pulpit. His sermons could reasonably be described as a bit of a rant but actually I found his presentations quite interesting and he succeeded, well as far as I was concerned, in making the listener think. In preaching terms I imagine that is the objective and therefore he could claim to have done his job well. I have long forgotten this good man’s name but I have often thought of him over the years. So, the period of visiting vicars came to an end and a new incumbent arrived, and here I have a problem, because I don’t recall which of the two village vicars that was. For the most part during my links with the church there were two vicars one was the Rev. Barras,(?)not sure of the spelling, and the other the Rev Jones. Guessing, I tend to think they served in that order but in any event parish records will guide anyone who wishes to establish this point. I will deal with the two of them in the order I have suggested and in the hope that it is the right way around, although, the interest in these two is concerned with the men not the dates when they served.

The Rev. Barras, a bachelor, arrived in Kingsley with his mother whom I think was a widow. She was a pleasant kindly lady and, as would be expected, a regular church attender. The pair took up residence in the vicarage which was opposite and just below the Cricketers. It quickly became clear that the Rev Barras was rather more High Church than his predecessor. I clearly remember the wagging tongues of condemnation amongst the adult community which I came into contact with. Many of whom, it must be said, seldom entered the church. Kingsley, like hundreds of similar rural villages of the time was rather conservative and not a little staid. Therefore the Reverend's form of conducting church business was not universally well received. Indeed, I heard it referred to as "bowing and scraping!. In real terms, it would have been noticed, that the new vicar tended to kiss things around him rather regularly and introduced the incense burner which he waved around during services causing a heavy perfumed smoke to waft all over the place. Previously and for as long back as could be remembered proceedings had been conducted along what was referred to as "Low Church", an all-together more sombre way of doing things and far less theatrical. There were even those that were heard to suggest that things had become rather Catholic and, some I could name, were not impressed. Be that all as it may, the vicar seemed to settle nicely into the village community and its way of life. I learned during my recent visit to the village exhibition in the old school, that he had been instigatory in raising money to provide for new school toilets. No doubt a very well received and welcome contribution at the time. I don’t recall how long Rev. Barras served as the Kingsley vicar but his downfall and departure were as dramatic as they were swift.

Reportedly, the Rev entered a toilet in Alton which had a certain reputation for "goings on". Inside he was said to have propositioned a man who turned out to be an undercover police officer engaged, in what would today, be known as a sting. Arrested and brought before the Courts, the Reverend was in disgrace. I seem to recall a custodial sentence and, of course he was defrocked. It should be remembered that until 1967 when the Sexual Offences Act was passed, all forms of homosexuality were against the law. Not having researched those murky waters in any great depth, I can only imagine that such behaviour in a public toilet would still be against the law. From the start of my life in Kingsley until I left in the late sixties I cannot recall another incident that caused such an overwhelming sense of shock and disgust in equal measure. The matter was to be heard on most peoples lips and there was also a general sense of sorrow and sympathy for the vicars mother, whom I believe, was very much liked and respected.

The Rev Jones followed, he was an older, married man. He and his wife quickly settled into village life and involved themselves in most aspects thereof. As I write this piece I am becoming more confident that I have reported these two vicars in the correct order. It occurs to me that I was confirmed during the Rev. Jones’ time and since, by then, I would have been a teenager the Rev Jones was probably the last vicar that I had any contact with. I also recall that I used to wash the vicars car each Friday evening. A large black Rover, which the vicar liked to be highly polished, I was paid half a crown for each wash. My father, for quite a long time, looked after the vicarage gardens and grounds. In those days there were quite large flower beds, large expanses of lawn and a good sized vegetable plot. I well remember father having an ongoing battle with the ground elder which was widespread in the gardens then. It was during the Jones’ time at the vicarage that the village fete was held within its grounds. The couple remained until the vicar retired and were very well regarded in the village. It is quite possible that during my time in Kingsley there were other vicars, if there were I don’t recall them. If they appeared as I moved through my teens, I would not have encountered them as my visits to church ended. Although, for most of my life since leaving Kingsley, I have lived in villages which had parish churches I have never felt the need to engage with them other than to attend weddings, funerals and christenings with the occasional harvest festival thrown in. Our daughters were both christened and confirmed and in turn our grandchildren have been christened. Both daughters were married in church but that was their choice and had nothing to do with any influence from me. Although I support village events and quite like the Church as a village institution, my days of church life in Kingsley did little or nothing to make me a great follower and religion holds no attraction for me. Perhaps, not least, because as a result of a career of over thirty years in the Prison Service, I encountered a high number of religious men, vicars, priests etc. from all sorts of denominations which were locked up. For the most part they were locked up for offences of a sexual nature which often involved children and young people. But, of course, that is another story for another day!

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