Friday, 1 March 2002

The reminiscences of Revd SB Priston

Vicar of Worsborough Dale 1942-55

The hand written account which is reproduced here was written by Mr Priston himself for Arthur Wright and used as a source for his ‘Short History of St Thomas’ Church’.
The Revd SB Priston came to Worsboro’ Dale in 1942 after 5 years in the large and very busy London ‘working class’ parish of Walham Green – 12 years of varied experiences in many parts of South Africa, three years of further varied experiences in South America and 16 years in a typical English country parish.  He had also done much School Teaching, School Examining and School Inspection.  But, with all this varied experience, he was hardly prepared for the problems of Worsboro’ Dale in Wartime!
The earlier records of the very long incumbency of Canon Banham, and the consequent difficulties encountered by Mr Appleton will have indicated that Worsboro’ Dale with its awkward shape, strong Nonconformist tradition and rapidly increasing population could be a very hard parish in which to begin the complete reconstruction which became more and more obviously necessary as the tremendous impact of the War on Social and Religious life in the West Riding began to take effect.  Fortunately, Mr Bowden had laid a solid financial foundation and had given sound Catholic teaching, even if this were not altogether appreciated or understood by the Congregation.
In the post-war Worsboro’ Dale there was no longer a strong nucleus of fairly rich, highly educated, socially prominent, leisured and zealous Church people, to help the Vicar and Church Officials in the Parish Organisations and in support and maintenance of the Church Schools and Sunday Schools.  It became necessary for the whole body of Church members to make new plans and schemes in many directions.  And there were now very few helpers with the leisure, technical knowledge, and financial ability to implement these schemes.
The financial situation rapidly deteriorated, firstly because although rather more actual money was being raised, the income needed in post-war inflation was more than three times in actual cash what would have been sufficient when the pound sterling still had its pre-war value.  Conditions were made even harder because really all the Church and Parish Investments presented by former parishioners or accumulated in more prosperous times, had unfortunately been invested either in Railway Stock or War Loan.  Both these sources of capital and income began to lose their former cash value at an alarming rage.  Parish Capital was reduced by more than £1,000 and Church income decreased by more than £60 a year.  Allowing for the much lower value of money in the 1950’s, it might be said that the Church lost in all several thousand pounds.  However, the new Vicar felt that financial matters were really the business of the Parochial Church Council, and tried to encourage them to deal with all these perplexities.
Meanwhile, as Parish Priest, Mr Priston turned his attention to those matters which were his own special concern – the adapting the Teaching, Services, Music and Ritual of the Church to the completely changed circumstances of Post-War Yorkshire.
The first improvement that became obviously necessary was to adopt the ‘Sung Parish Communion’ as the chief morning service.  The reasons for doing as thousands of other parishes were doing at this time, were thoroughly explained to the Congregation, and a large majority eventually voted that the change should be made.  Unfortunately a few of the old members of the Church were upset by the change and some of them left the Church.  But, on the other hand a considerable and increasing number of young people who, in the absence of teachers, could no longer be provided for in Sunday School or Bible Class, were brought into the ordinary services of Worship with the rest of the Congregation.
During and just before the War, the Church had become exceedingly dirty.  A big campaign to raise £650 for a through cleaning and redecoration was started.  The work done by the very skilful and understanding decorators, Messrs Kirkland Bridge, was most successful and much admired.
The next matter that worried the Vicar and those Church people who understood that position, was the lamentable neglect of proper dignity and reverence in connection with the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  It became evident that not only was much careful and very simple teaching necessary, so that people should understand the tremendous solemnity of the Baptismal Service; but it was also clear that the method of administration needed to be brought into obedience to the plain words of the Prayer Book.
There was at first considerable opposition from those who had formerly regarded Holy Baptism as a purely private and personal concern, those who had regarded it as a kind of magical mumbo-jumbo – and those who had no idea that it had any meaning at all.  But eventually with the loyal co-operation of the Organist, Mr Alfred Wright, the Choir and the Servers – and the use of the Baptismal Cope which had originally been presented for the baptism of the Vicar’s son Christopher – a beautiful, dignified and impressive ritual and ceremonial in strict accordance with the Book of Common Prayer, was evolved.  Baptisms, from that time onwards, always took place as directed by the Prayer Book, at one of the ordinary Sunday or Holy Day Services.
The Vicar and his wife (formerly on the stage) had had considerable experience in organising and producing Church Plays.  It was not easy to do this at Worsboro’ Dale, as the Church Hall was utterly unsuitable, and there were considerable prejudice and other difficulties about using the Church.  But, by the enthusiasm of the Church Officials and many young people, these difficulties were overcome; and some really magnificent Church Plays were eventually presented to the Glory of God and in the presence of crowded congregations on three or four days in each of the years: 1953 – ‘On the Road to Bethlehem’, 1954 – ‘The New Crusade’, and 1955 – ‘The Gladdening Light’.  The two latter had to be largely re-written by Mr Priston in order to make them intelligible to and suitable for Worsboro’ Dale people.  This was necessary because the main purpose of the plays was to teach both the players themselves, and the Congregation a great many things about the Bible and about church History, which they badly needed to know, but had hither to very little opportunity to learn.
Coincidentally with these Church Plays, the Church was also discussing and preparing for the reconstruction of the Chancel.  St Thomas Church was the one and only Church designed by its architect.  While he was surprisingly successful in regard to its outward appearance, which is beautiful and much admired, he was not so successful with the interior.  He was hampered, of course, by the prevailing ‘Imitation Gothic’ tradition of the early Victorian era.  Then, his already far too narrow Chancel was further obstructed by the enormous pulpit set up by someone’s misguided generosity.  Here again the Vicar wished to follow the modern – and most ‘evangelical’ – trend, which seeks to place the altar where it can be plainly seen and easily approached by all members of the Congregation.  Suitable plans were drawn up by the very distinguished Diocesan Architect, Mr George Pace.  An Aumbry for the ‘Reserved Sacrament’ was also provided by a bequest of Miss Harriet Banham, daughter of the first Vicar.  Most of the rest of the money came from bequests of Mr A Waterton and Miss E Elmhirst.  These plans were finally accepted by the Congregation and approved by the Bishop and the result is undoubtedly a great improvement.  The reconstruction entailed the removal of the Choir to the West End.  That is the proper place for a choir; but it is unfortunate that it was not possible to remove the Organ also.
The Revd SB Priston, having reached the age of 75, was finding the burden of the growing parish too heavy.  When it was proposed to add St James Church and most of its Parish to Worsboro’ Dale, he felt that it was time to accept an offer from his old College of a country parish, and in July 1955 he left Worsboro’ Dale for Marwood in Devonshire.

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