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St James's groups through the years
The early history of both St James's Church and the village of Hampton Hill are inextricably linked. The first vicar, Revd Fitz Wygram, saw his role as improving both the spiritual and social conditions of the new parish, and this included developing a wide range of social organisations. Some of these were explicitly religious, some were secular in their activities and others bridged the gap between them. However, all were based on his sense of Christian responsibility towards fellow human beings at a time and in a place where there were no other authorities able to take on the task. Over the years, many different groups came and went, and those not directly organised by, or associated with, the church took on a separate life of their own much as they have today.
At the beginning of the 1880s he started a Working Men’s Club and Coffee House, the village’s first community centre, with the parish library being housed in its club room. The club was where the men could play chess, draughts and dominoes, read the daily papers and buy reasonably priced refreshments. This is described by the local historian, Ripley, as “a commodious block of buildings” which is “replete with every feature essential to the edification and amusement of the working man, and is an institution of which any village might be proud.” The Surrey Comet stated that it was established mainly “to encourage habits of temperance and to counteract the evils of strong drink". A new temperance organisation, the Hampton Total Abstinence Society, held weekly meetings in 1884. The cause of temperance gained ground rapidly with twenty seven people subscribing to the Pledge in one evening alone. Read the articles Total Abstinence Society, The Total Abstinence Society and the Temperance Cause and Women and the Temperance Question Even as late as 1903 a local branch of the Church of England Temperance Society was formed and showed signs of "considerable vigour".
Revd Fitz Wygram was a keen sportsman, encouraging his parishioners to start the Hampton Hill Football Club and to play cricket in the St James’s Cricket Club of which he was president. However, even though leading churchmen were great supporters of the sports clubs, they were not actually run by the church. There was a New Hampton Quoits Club and the Fulwell Football Club. The Lawn Tennis Club, established May 1st, 1880, was started “to enable the middle-class to indulge in this favourite exercise".
Communicant Classes were held once a month. About these the November 1884 magazine reported: “Their object is to help Communicants to be regular in their attendance at the Sacred Feast, and to induce others who are not yet Communicants to become so. They are also meant to be an assistance in the due preparation which is required of all those who come to the Lord's Supper. It is intended that there should be a class within reach of all those who have been confirmed.” The Communicants’ Association, later known as the Communicants’ Guild, flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was supported by many adult churchgoers. In addition to its regular meetings it held an annual tea which was later replaced by an annual general meeting.
By the mid 1880s, in the absence of perhaps more suitable premises, the public houses became the meeting places for a number of these classes, clubs and societies. There was also a local branch of the London Needlework Guild and the Middlesex Bee-keeper's Association and Institute. The village possessed its own brass band which was much in demand at public and church functions. In 1885 the band had an annual income of £37. The Orchestral Society flourished in the early 1900s, performing Handel’s Messiah in 1909, and the village brass band continued to flourish. The "Lend-a-Hand" Musical Society, conducted by a Mr Phillips, was started in 1905 and developed into a Choral Society.
A Married Women's Club, with Mrs Fitz Wygram as the Lady Superintendent, was formed in 1885, and three separate Mothers' Meetings were held in different parts of the parish. The mothers brought their work and their babies and an interesting book was read to them. There was a religious reading and the meeting closed with prayer and the singing of a hymn. “Occasionally the ordinary routine is interfered with by the introduction of a cup of tea.” Read the article Mothers' Meeting Supper. A local branch of the Mothers' Union was formed in 1897 with about forty members. Pledged to defend the principle of the lifelong sanctity of marriage, it soon became the dominant voice in many parishes. It held monthly meetings, sometimes with distinguished speakers, amongst them, in December 1902, the wife of the Bishop of London, an annual general meeting and a supper in February. Read the article Mothers’ Union Service and Meeting. At the same time, a more informal ‘Mothers’ Meeting’ started up and continued until the 1930s. A comparable society for men did not appear for some years, but in January 1910 a branch of the Church of England’s Men’s Society was formed. Within a few months it had a full programme, including a social evening, a slide show and a lecture on church history. This varied type of programme continued for many years with a regular service each month. Read the article Church of England’s Men’s Society.
A Men’s Society was formed in 1951 with Revd Brunt as president and all men were encouraged to join. "It's good to be in at the start!" In the same year the Mothers' Union decided to have an extra women's monthly meeting. This resulted in one meeting a month being devoted to MU business and the other meeting open to all women of the parish who would like to join. The second group was called the 'Women's Guild', but it was hoped that members would attend both sets of meetings.
Hearing that prayer groups could be one way of strengthening parish life, six parishioners started meeting regularly in 1950, praying together for the parish, for people known to be sick, and for other parishes, people and interests. They came to value this fellowship and welcomed new members and the new ideas they would bring with them. Read the article The Beginning of a Prayer Group. In 1957, there were monthly meetings of a different Prayer Group, which was first intended mainly for streetwardens, who brought to it the needs of different sections of the parish. But its scope changed and it became a group of people seeking to learn more of prayer for its own sake.
Lent Groups started in 1952 and by the 1960s the Parish Weekend made decisions and arrangements about these Lenten studies and projects. Read the article Parish Weekend. By 1964 a 'Circle of Prayer' developed and grew rapidly as it was found to supply a very real need. Read the article The Prayer Circle. It provided a constant link around the parish with people praying in their own homes for those in any sort of need. "The MRI Group and the Prayer Circle are doing much to add to the spiritual life of the church" and the February 1968 Spire reported: "Those who attended the special meeting of the Prayer Circle found it so rewarding that it was unanimously decided to hold regular meetings at which the Vicar would again be present to help and advise and to join in discussion of people's difficulties, perplexities and experiences."
The production of the play, 'Mystery of Christmas', in 1951 was a "grand effort of team-work" which sprung spontaneously from a group providing stewards for the Missionary Exhibition. Those involved so enjoyed the experience of acting together that they decided to form a Drama Group in the parish. They started with play readings and very simple acting but also arranged theatre outings. The following year the group read a Passion Play in church "as an act of worship, and as a way of conveying something of the greatness and dignity of our Lord in His Passion". Due to its great success a junior section was formed and the group continued for quite a few years eventually being merged with the Council of Churches’ Group, with performances such as 'Christ in the Concrete City'.
The Young Families Group was held in Wayside and the St James's Young Families Group Pram Service was held about four times a year in church. "Whilst we sang, our offspring seemed to be stunned into silence, which was quite magical. The power of music is quite remarkable."
During the sixties and seventies other groups were started, like the Tuesday Club in 1968 for discussion on a programme of current or topical interest with a speaker invited once a month. Among others there was a Ladies Afternoon Choir, Keep Fit Club, Badminton Club and the Young Families Group, 'Bib and Sucker', the latter being a young-member group of the Mothers' Union, but run completely independently.
Open House took place in church on Monday mornings from 10.30 am to 12 noon, for a drink and biscuit with a chat. "The north aisle of the Church provides a very pleasant and comfortable meeting place - and our charges are very modest!" The group moved to the new church hall at the end of 1994.
During the 1980s Quiet Days became quite popular, being "an opportunity to spend more than the ususal amount of time we allow ourselves not only for 'our' prayer but for listening deliberately to God speaking to us in the silence". Read the article Quiet Day. The Parish Weekend, often held at Fairmile Court in Cobham, was always popular and was held for several years.
The Julian Group, primarily a prayer group formed in 1983, continued. A further study group was started in 1994, meeting in the church hall on alternate Tuesday evenings. The group was led by its own members and consisted of some prayer time, Bible study and discussion. The Nurture Group began in September, 1997. It met fortnightly and was a structured but informal group with time to worship, study, discuss and grow, both in commitment to each other and in discipleship.
There were several changes to parish groups in the 1990s. Parish
house groups were set up in 1990 and followed a programme of Christian
Learning called ‘New Concourse’, essentially comprising
open-ended questions for stimulating discussion. The Young Families
Group and the Tuesday Club were closed down due to dwindling numbers.
The Mothers' Union continued for a while and celebrated its hundreth
anniversary in the London Diocese during 1990. Following its closure
at the end of 1991 it was felt that there was a need for a wider group
within the church to strengthen faith, stimulate minds and help people
to play their part in the life and work of the church, so a new Women’s
Forum was started with a variety of speakers, talks and discussions.
However, by the end of Revd Leathard's incumbency, most of the above-named
groups had closed down due to so many other activities available in
the then changing social climate. Read the articles Do
we value the Women's Forum? and Tuesday
The Parish Church of St James, Hampton Hill, TW12 1DQ
Main site: stjames-hamptonhill.org.uk