'The Birth and Growth of Hampton Hill' | 1. The Changing Face of Hampton Hill | 2. Village Amenities | 3. The Parish Church of St James's | 4. The Schools of St James's Church | 5. Social Life | 6. The War Years | 7. Personalities | 8. The Victorian Village | 9. Modern Trends | Chronological Annals | Acknowledgments
A cavalry officer, he had served with the Inniskilling Dragoons in the Crimea and later commanded the Cavalry Brigade at Aldershot, being Inspector-General of Cavalry 1879/84. He was also a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, of which he was president 1875/77. From 1885 to 1900 he was Member of Parliament for South Hampshire in which constituency Havant was then included. He was active in public life and took a benevolent interest in the affairs of the locality and we are told that the extensive grounds of Leigh Park were frequently thrown open to the public and there used to be numberless excursions from Portsmouth and the surrounding countryside to enjoy the amenities of the Park.
It was a favourite outing for Sunday Schools in particular and cricket was regularly played on the ground which General Fitz Wygram maintained there and it was doubtless here that our Vicar received his earliest tuition in the game.
Our informant from Havant tells us that “the regular annual contributions to the church of St. Faith by both Sir Frederick and Lady Fitz Wygram (on a generous scale) show the benevolent interest they took in church affairs. They were regular attenders and drove in their liveried carriage as was the custom.”
Sir Frederick’s memorial in Havant church, the handsome west window of two lights showing St. Gabriel and St. Michael, bears the words from the Acts, “After he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep and was laid with his fathers.” This was on December 9th, 1904, when he was eighty-one. His wife, Selina Frances, died fourteen years earlier, on April 17th, 1890, aged seventy-five, and her memorial is to be found on the north side of the chancel, a window of three lights showing Faith, Hope and Charity.
Their son and heir, Frederick Loftus, was born in 1884 and suffered so severely in the 1914-18 War that he died later of his injuries. His memorial, a window in St. Faith’s south transept depicts the Saints St. Michael, St. George and St. Hubert and bears the words, “In loving memory of Sir Frederick L. Fitz Wygram, Baronet, M.C., Major, Scots Guards, died from effects of Great War, March, 1920, aged thirty-five.” A sister continued to live at Leigh Park until the 1939 War when the family home was taken over by the Admiralty.
The family is mentioned in the book, “The King Holds Hayling Island” as having been responsible for certain enfranchisements, and certainly General Sir Frederick seems, in common with his younger brother, to have been a man of advanced ideas and with great concern for the well being of his tenants. The Surrey Comet, under the heading, “Noble Example” tells us that he entertained employees of his estate to dinner and urged them to join Friendly Societies to provide annuities in their old age. So anxious was he to recognise the services of those who had worked on the estate for forty years that he offered every one of them a cottage, rent free, for the rest of his life; and further undertook “to find a farm for any labourer on his estate who had saved a small sum sufficient to stock it.” Nevertheless, kind as he was to his staff, we are told that he controlled them “with a discipline that was almost military.”
The Leigh Park Estate has now been developed as part of Portsmouth’s “overspill” but the family is remembered by having several roads named after them.
Coming as he did from a family background of responsibility and concern for the working classes it is not surprising that the Rev. F. J. Fitz Wygram also became a local benefactor. After being educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, he took holy orders and began his clerical life at Sittingbourne, in Kent. In 1863 he was invited by the Rev. J. Burrow, of Hampton, to take over the new outlying parish of New Hampton and its new church, of which even the Bishop of London at the induction ceremony is reported as having said, “it is a barn of a church and a wilderness of a place.”
However, Mr. Fitz Wygram having fallen in love with, and married, a local girl, Alice, one of the daughters of Sir Henry and Lady Ward, regarded his new parish as fruitful ground. He was a man of considerable private wealth and he devoted himself to social reform in a most thorough manner. He was loud in his denunciation of drink—the local papers of the period record many cases of drunkenness—and he tried to abate this national curse by founding comfortable cottages for the working classes at rents they could afford. To do this he gradually bought up slum property in his parish, demolished it and replaced it by new houses. As has already been said, Cross Street, the old “Swindle Street,” through which only the policeman and the vicar dared to go alone, was entirely rebuilt by him, whilst School Road was erected by him to house some of the most “wretched” of his parishioners. The Fitz Wygram Coffee House and Social Club was built on the erstwhile site of a row of tumble-down cottages which he owned and was another of his social achievements, as were the church schools also, for Mr. Fitz Wygram took a keen interest
The Station Road School in Hampton was erected mainly at his expense to meet the demands of the Education Department and to obviate the necessity of forming a School Board. He also became a governor of Hampton Grammar School and saw the completion of the Sunbury Road building just before his death; his name may still be seen on the foundation stone.
His personality dominated the whole district. St. James’s Church was remodelled, with large contributions from his own pocket by the addition of the north and south aisles, a new sanctuary and vestry and organ.
He was a keen sportsman and encouraged his parishioners to start a football club and to play cricket. He was a popular figure both on the cricket ground, where the tram—now bus—depot stands at Fulwell, and the Saturday matches, played on the Vicarage Field in St. James’s Road, which were invariably captained by him and which were keenly looked forward to by the parishioners. In fact, his keenness on the game and his “modern” ideas were such that he encouraged his parishioners to play on Sundays provided that they attended at least one church service. These advanced ideas did not, however, prevent his appointment, even in Victorian times, as Rural Dean.
From his portrait we can see that he was a handsome, if delicate-looking man, with sensitive features; but we are told that “he was at all times a plain speaking man,” and there were doubtless some who resented this attribute since “he was not without detractors.” However we are assured that it was “indisputable that the great amount of good he effected in every direction most happily compensated for the little that some thought amiss.”
But “those whom the gods love die young,” for he was only fifty-four years of age at the time of his death, in the summer of 1881 there had been signs that his constitution was breaking. Those who were used to his familiar figure, always accompanied by a black retriever, were shocked at the suddenness of his death and the Surrey Comet of August 20th, 1881, tells us that “the Post Office was besieged with anxious enquiries as to the truth of the rumours” that had reached the village; for he was taken ill whilst on a visit to Ilkley, Yorkshire, on August 12th, and died the next day from an illness that modern medical knowledge could almost certainly have cured. His passing caused a great loss to the district, the Surrey Comet saying that “in him the parish had lost a great benefactor, and by his death a void had been created that, at present could hardly be realised.” Watching at the cross-roads for the master who never returned, his beloved dog, Scamp, lay for hours every day, and eventually died of a broken heart.
The Surrey Comet tells us that the services on the Sunday following Mr. Fitz Wygram’s death “were most affecting and were with much difficulty sustained.” “There being a general wish to take a parting look at the deceased gentleman, consent was kindly given, and a great number of people availed themselves of the opportunity on Sunday and Monday. The body was laid in the study. The features presented a most pleasant and peaceful appearance.”
An immense number of people came to the funeral, “giving affecting testimony of the deep respect in which the late Vicar was held,” and the church was packed with old and young, many being unable to obtain admission. We are told that “nearly all places of business both at Hampton and New Hampton were wholly closed for the occasion.” The majority present were attired in mourning, few could refrain from tears, and Mrs. Fitz Wygram was so overcome with emotion at the graveside that she had to be found a chair.
The Rev. Studholme Wilson, the curate, said “there has been but one feeling during the past few days, viz., that the principal source of strength to this church, a mainstay, a powerful influence for good has been taken away with the spirit of the departed saint. . . . His influence has not been confined to the few, and we are reaping, not only for a short period, the benefit of his Christian example. Ever since this Church was built he has been continually looked up to as a guiding spirit, a trustworthy friend, a safe adviser, the insight of whose opinions could never be dispensed with. Whatever has been done here that we can look back on with gratitude, owes its origin to him . . . he stood alone in the possession of faculties and experiences that we rarely see combined in a single character.”
Mr. Studholme Wilson went on to say that Mr. Fitz Wygram had brought “his energy, his liberality and excessive care to foster any scheme that might add to the spiritual welfare of this parish or make this temple a more worthy dwelling-place for the most High.”
The Archdeacon of Middlesex said that Mr. Fitz Wygram had been “indefatigable in caring for everything in his parish, the centre of work and life to his Rural Deanery . . . thoroughly interested in, and thoroughly acquainted with the duties of his office . . . there was a genuine Christian courtesy about him and in him, and it influenced all who came within its reach.
“No one was more careful than he to screen his own liberality, no one shrank more completely from any form of human praise. Why do we feel that he was such a pillar of strength to the Church? Was it wealth, was it knowledge, was it experience that made his influence felt through the whole community? No, they might have assisted him— no doubt they did—no, the great secret of his strength was the penetrating force of a consecrated life, a pure motive, the glory of God. There was no compromise with the world, no fear of sacrificing time, money or convenience if he thought there was anything to be done for God and His cause.”
The Archdeacon went on to say that Mr. Fitz Wygram had certainly had the benefit of “wealth and opportunities not available to many” but these had not been the secret of the strength the village had lost, but rather “singleness of purpose, disinterested love and desires sanctified in a growing realisation of Christian Service.”
The address ended with the prayer that the strength of the Christian example shown by the late Vicar should rise again to help those left behind on their way, to encourage them in their work, and to consecrate their lives more thoroughly “in the ranks of the Church militant on earth.”
The Rev, and Hon. Henry Vesey Bligh, son of the Earl of Darnley, of Cobham Hall, near Gravesend, was Vicar of Abingdon prior to his appointment to the living of St. James’s. At his induction, the Surrey Comet, of October 22nd, 1881, reports that he “formally took possession and rang the bell furiously for some time, after having been led to the door-step by the Archdeacon.”
He was not as wealthy as his predecessor, but nevertheless both he and the Hon. Mrs. Bligh, who was a granddaughter of Lady Ward, gave generously to all the various parish subscription lists, and we are told that during the hard winter of 1891, when some workpeople who had lost their employment because of the severity of the weather applied to him for aid, he gave them ten shillings each and set them to lay the path which runs from the “kissing gates” by Burton’s Road railway bridge to what was then Slade’s Farm but now is Fulwell Golf Club; meeting the not inconsiderable expenses incurred out of his own pocket.
We notice that our vicars were able to leave their parish for long periods in those days, for in 1888 Mr. Bligh sailed for Naples in March, popped back for some personal business in May, and then went back to Italy until August. In 1891 he was suffering from overwork and went to Cairo for three months.
Nevertheless, in spite of these absences he appears to have been extremely popular, and when in 1893 he decided to leave Hampton Hill for Fareham, considering that the climate there would be better for his wife’s health and that “the duties would be rather less exacting than the very numerous offices that fell to his lot at Hampton Hill” we are told that within three days over a thousand parishioners had signed an appeal for him to reconsider his decision. The Surrey Comet considered this “a remarkable demonstration of the esteem in which the Vicar is held, not only by his own congregation, but very generally by non-church goers also.” The appeal was described by the Surrey Comet as “a Valentine from the good people of Hampton Hill to their Vicar which said with a thousand tongues ‘Don’t Go'.
“In an address given by the Churchwarden, Mr. W. C. B. Hall, a further earnest appeal was made to him to remain. . . . “During the period of more than eleven years here, the whole system of parish organisation has worked smoothly and efficiently; more than £2,500 has been raised for the Church fabric; the Organ has been improved at an expense of about £230; the School Teachers’ houses have been built, and the Schools efficiently maintained. As President of the Hampton Total Abstinence Society you have co-operated with non-churchmen, thereby greatly advancing the cause of temperance in our midst.” We are told that this address received “a prolonged ovation” and that Mr. Bligh answered “with great emotion” to this “spontaneous expression of the affection and goodwill of his parishioners” and told them that he would “pray to God to aid him to make a right decision.”
He later replied to the pleas of the village, in the Parish Magazine, saying how touched he was at such expressions of good feeling but “after prayerful consideration felt they must leave, albeit with a hard wrench to their feelings and a deep sorrow to depart.” He was welcomed back with affectionate demonstrations when, in response to the parish’s invitation, he returned for the inauguration of the clock and bells, which was the culmination of the ambitious project, instigated by him, that started with the erection of the Victoria Tower and Spire.
In 1904 Mr. Job paid a visit to the Holy Land and Egypt, having been asked by the Directors of the Orient Shipping Company to give a series of lectures. He wrote about Tangier in the Magazine: “The Moors are lively and noisy, the Jews look cunning and sad; the Negroes look as if they find life hard, for many of them are slaves.” He concludes patriotically, “that there is no better place to live in than England, and no rule better than English rule.”
Mr. Job’s sojourning in foreign lands led him to visit Belgium (in company with eight other Hampton Hill residents), as well as Switzerland, Italy and also Canada, when he took charge of three hundred immigrants; he used to show lantern slides of the scenery, the natives and the towns he had visited.
Mrs. Job worked hard for the S.P.G., sending boxes of clothing and games abroad. She seems not to have accompanied her husband on his travels and so was available at home to attend to the affairs of the parish and to assist the sick.
Like the first vicar Mr. Job was a keen sportsman and was President of the Football Club. He also enjoyed quieter pursuits and liked to contribute an occasional article to “The Church Monthly.”
We are told that the whole Job family suffered grievous losses during the 1914-18 War, the Vicar himself losing two sons.
Mr. Job left Hampton in 1914 to become Vicar of Bengeo, in Hertfordshire, exchanging parishes with Mr Coad-Pryor. His congregation was so sorry to bid him farewell that they presented him, not only with a purse full of sovereigns, but with “an illuminated testimonial” signed with the names of nearly six hundred of his parishioners. It now hangs in the Vestry having been returned to St. James’s after his death. The parchment is beautifully decorated with designs embodying shells—to illustrate his pilgrimage to the Holy Land—and with clusters of grapes and vine leaves. A meticulously executed water colour of St. James’s occupies a place of honour above the illuminated words, while below are two pen and ink representations—one of the church interior and one of the old vicarage—his home for twenty-one years. The words chosen by his parishioners give us a good insight into Mr. Job’s character: “The whole parish very deeply regrets your impending departure from Hampton Hill after your long service of twenty years as Vicar of St. James’s, and we, whose names are appended desire to record our esteem for you, and our profound appreciation of your wide sympathy and interest in our local organisations, for the spiritual, physical and social welfare. Your unfailing wisdom, tact and sound judgment in all your many difficult and multifarious duties will always be gratefully remembered."
Of the curates of St. James’s, it seemed that most of them were here for short periods only—up to four years, with one notable exception, the Rev. E. S. Phillips, who was curate from 1897 to 1912. He had, before being appointed as curate, read the lessons in church for three years. A man of varied talents he helped with aspects of parish life varying from the Church Lads’ Brigade to carving at the various “Supper Do’s.” He was also Vice-President of the Football Club, of which Mr. Job was President. In 1906 he received a Christmas gift of £20 from the parish as a mark of its appreciation and in 1907 the Rev. C. R. Job mentions that some members of the congregation made a most suitable present in the form of a bicycle to “my most valued colleague, Mr. Phillips.”
In 1907 he produced a sacred cantata for the “Lend a Hand” Society who gave their conductor a silver-mounted ebony baton which he probably wielded at Crystal Palace when he conducted the singing, by the choir of the Hampton Hill branch of the Church of England Temperance Society, of the song entitled, “Empire and King,” Written and composed for the occasion by him. That year he received a further £10 as a Christmas gift.
In 1909 we read of him giving an illustrated talk on “Gipsy Life” and in 1911 he conducted Stanford’s “Revenge” and received a presentation of a travelling bag and an electric reading lamp. Under his leadership the Messiah was performed. He also taught drawing at Pembroke House School.
He left Hampton Hill in 1912 to go to Devon. He was presented with a study chair, a purse of over £70 and a silver salver from Temperance people outside the parish. He was so much esteemed by the people of St. James’s that they asked for his return as their Vicar on the death of Mr. Coad-Pryor.
During the war he took up the cause of married men who were called to the colours knowing that their wives and children had nothing on which to rely but the inadequate Government allowance. He was essentially a kind man and in 1922 we read in the Vestry Minutes that a vote of thanks was proposed to him “for the excellent way he had carried out his work in the parish, for the intimate knowledge of the genuine cases of distress and wise help he gave in relieving them.” He was a man who loved children and he used to write a special letter in the Parish Magazine for them, inviting them to write back to him on various topics.
On his sudden death in 1923 it was said of him that he was one who “had endeared himself to the whole congregation by his scholarly and helpful guidance which he always expressed in terms appropriate to the occasion and his listeners; whose ministrations to those in sickness or travail were always rendered promptly and with a full and sympathetic heart to all parishioners alike, quite irrespective of whether they were regular church people.”
In his time the Churchyard was again extended and the Parish Hall was acquired. There was fresh dissension when Mr. Harvey declared his intention to sell the Vicarage grounds which bordered on St. James’s Road and with the money gained from the transaction to demolish the old, rambling and uneconomical Vicarage and build a new one more suitable to the times and to his purse.
Most of his incumbency was overshadowed by acute money worries. The parish could no longer afford a curate and dilapidations to the church accrued until the most urgent ones—much needed repairs to the spire— were carried out as the result of a parish-wide collection in 1947.
Mr. Harvey revived the Communicants’ Guild, instituted a freewill offering scheme and constantly reminded his dwindling flock to attend the church festivals. Mr. Harvey’s wife and four daughters worked very hard in the parish as Sunday School teachers, guide captains and social organisers. His only son was killed in the Second World War.
He was a kindly, comfortable, pipe-smoking man—a familiar short, stocky, figure as he cycled about the village waving genially to his parishioners as he met them. From the late 1940’s his health deteriorated and a great deal of the work of running the parish fell on the laity and in June, 1950,. after a long period in which he had been unable to carry out his duties, he retired, to be replaced after a somewhat lengthy interval by the present Vicar, the Rev. Rupert Hoyle Brunt, B.A., A.K.C.
The Rev. R. H. Brunt has been with us since March 16th, 1951. How will posterity see our Vicar? Even the most rosy-spectacled local historian could not report that he inherited a prosperous or live parish, yet, in his first two years the great Renovation Drive—when he turned out amongst his parishoners to push a barrel-organ round the village— raised more money than ever since St. James’s most “palmy” days; the Old People’s Welfare Committee was set up and the flourishing Young Wives’ Group was inaugurated—the latter due to the enthusiasm and personality of Mrs. Brunt. “Wayside” was bought and has proved a sound investment, having provided the Church with meeting rooms and having materially increased in value. The immediate vicinity of the Church has been protected from undesirable development. In the face of much opposition and due to Mr. Brunt’s convictions and perseverance, the Christian Stewardship Scheme was started, with the result that, for the first time in its history, St. James’s Church has an assured income instead of an irregular and miserably inadequate pittance. The many and truly varied social functions which we now enjoy, without the lurking feeling that we must build up some fund or other, the good fellowship discovered in working hard for the church, are the direct result of a reawakening of the laity to a realisation of their importance and necessity to the vitality of the Parish. Not a bad start as St. James’s enters confidently into its second Century!
|Personalities 2 - The Leading Laity|
The Parish Church of St James, Hampton Hill, TW12 1DQ
Main site: stjames-hamptonhill.org.uk