Beside the Sea-side
After almost 10 years at Woolston, the Bishop offered me a living in Bournemouth. When that town is mentioned, people think of holidays on the beach and hotels. St John's Moordown, however, had no hotels and was at the northerly end of the town. Oddly, the town had expanded in the 1930's, to take in what was part of Dorset. The Church, however, did not change it's boundaries, and we had the strange fact that four parishes in Bournemouth came under a different Bishop (Salisbury).
It was as far back as 1811, that Bournemouth was started. Between Poole and Christchurch was common land. During the war with the French, there were fears of food shortage, and an Act of Parliament was granted to allow buildings and agriculture. An earlier example of "Dig for Victory" (the World War 2 slogan). It was agreed there should be three "open" spaces to make up for the loss of common land. These were called Meyrick Park, Kings Park and Queens Park. (Two had excellent golf courses, which I enjoyed). Some of our congregation had taken part in the 1911 Centenary celebrations, and I was shown many pictures of the event. When the first Moordown Church was built, it was a few miles from the centre, and was called St. John the Baptist because they thought of it as in the wilderness. The original Church was still used as a showroom for a builder, but a new Church was built in 1874. The first vicar came from St. Mary's, Portsea, for at that time all Hampshire came under the Bishop of Winchester. (Portsmouth was formed in 1927). In the Lady Chapel there were three Saints associated with Hampshire. Birinus (The first Bishop) Boniface (from Nursling - one of my parishes) and Oswald (King of Northumbria, who married the King of Wessex's daughter and founded Lindisfarne, the island close to Berwick where I was a Curate).
The parish was a large one, nearly 10,000 inhabitants, and included part of Winton as well as Moordown. The older houses dated from Victorian times, though the main spread had been in the thirties. These were for the people who serviced the town, and who worked in the hotels and entertainment industry, as well as in the professions. The Church itself was a large Gothic building, with an impressive rose window at the West end, and a splendid screen at the entrance to the Chancel, and the South aisle, leading to the Lady Chapel. The parish had always had a reputation for being lively, I was looking forward to going, but I did run into a problem at the start. The previous Vicar, who had been there for nearly thirty years, had retired just outside the parish. I think he and the parishioners, felt he hadn't left, and he continued to visit the parish, as well as expecting to take the services for those whom he had known so long, and were his friends. So, I'm afraid I had an uncomfortable time, until things settled down.
The old vicarage was being knocked down to allow expansion of the Church School. The new vicarage was in the grounds of the old house, next to the Churchyard. There was no way of keeping the vicarage a secret, so we had a steady stream of "hard-up" people with a good yarn to tell. The school was the first Church School for me, which has "aided" status. That is, the Church had to contribute to its upkeep (a school quota) and in return I was Chairman of the Governors. Four of the Governors were from the Church, and two from the Local Authority. In my time, I had to appoint a new Head Teacher, as well as a few members of staff. In addition, I took assembly once a week, and took the top class for lessons about the teachings of the Church. As it was a very popular school, with good results, we always had many more applications to come to the school than we could take. We tended to accept those who were in sympathy with the aims of a Church School, but we were encouraged to accept others as well.
Attached to the Church were many youth organisations. A strong Sea Scout company, Guides, Cubs, Brownies, plus a large Sunday school. Church parades were usually on festival days, such as Mothering Sunday, Education Sunday, St. John's day and Harvest Festival. Together with the day school, these Sundays were always overflowing, with seats in the aisles. I had two excellent readers, one a teacher, the other the local hairdresser, who helped me in these services. The local hairdresser ran our youth club, which was known as Young Communicants. YC's. (not to be confused with a political group of those same initials). We met every Monday in the school hall. We kept it to those who had some interest in Church ways. There were plenty of open youth clubs about. As we looked in on all the youth groups, it was a very busy time.
The tradition of the Church had been "Prayer Book Catholic". It was literally that. All the services were from the B.C.P. with no extra prayers. Vestments were plentiful, and incense was generally used. We'd started united services with local nonconformists, and had all agreed that we would use our usual form of worship. We chose special days, such as Patronal Festival, Church Anniversary. When they all came to us, our tradition was Solemn Evensong. i.e. incense was used. On the first occasion our head server suggested we just swing the thurible but put nothing in it. When we passed the Methodists, they all started to cough. When we said it was empty, they all shared our little joke. It's all in the mind.
In a short while we went on to try Series 3, and used the ASB 1980 as soon as it came out. Rite B at 8am, Rite A at 10am, BCP at 6. 15pm. As the choir had sung many of the settings to the old words, we had to learn new settings. Some were difficult, and some easy enough for everyone to sing. We got up to eight settings, which we rotated regularly. I was fortunate enough to have a very large choir, and good organists and choir teachers. There were many Baptisms, and we had a few at the Eucharist, but settled later to have them separately. On the following Sunday, they came to the 10 o'clock, and I would introduce them to the congregation at the peace. In that way, everyone knew who had been christened. People were still getting married in Church, and after we decided to marry those whose previous marriage had failed, there were few Saturdays free.
I was to spend some time in hospital. We were involved in a car crash near Ringwood, when a van ran into the back of us. Mary was injured and I was semiconscious for seven days. I have no memory of that time, but it seems I was incoherent, talking about pre-war days. It took me almost six months to fully recover from the accident. A few years later, one of my hips needed replacing and I was admitted to St. Thomas' hospital in London. After some convalescence, I was able to carry on more or less as before.
We were able to continue our exploration of the country. Starting when we went to York, we liked to worship at the Cathedral on Sunday. Though we'd been there before, there's nothing like seeing the Church in action. At York, it was the day when the first women were made Deacons. Another Cathedral we remember was Chester. We were staying at a house on the walls, and after the service we went to the Blossoms hotel for lunch, a Georgian building inside the walls.
When I reached 65, the time came to retire. At the time, Kate lived in Southampton and Stephen in Portsmouth, together with their better halves and children. We chose Portsmouth because it was fairly new to us. We didn't have any property, and indeed no money to buy, but happily the Church Pension Board will rent houses to retired clergy. So we are glad to be here. In fact, in my early years here, I enjoyed taking services in the Deanery particularly Blendworth, when I took the interregnum between the Vicars, Rowlands Castle, Catherington and Clanfield. It was good to meet the clergy of the Deanery. Alas! Age takes its toll, and I had to stop a year or two ago, when I found it difficult to walk. It's a joy, though to sit in the pews here, and not to have to worry about the Church. I'm very blessed that Mary is still active, and looks after everything splendidly.
written by Father Ron Bowles
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