Extracts from ‘From the crack of the pistol‘ (published c. 1952) by F.S. Horan, Vicar of Kingston from 1932-1938:
Quot Homines, Tot Amici
I found my Chilton experience of a country parish a help at Kingston. Muriel and I soon got going and found plenty to do, visiting the cottages, the school and the distant farms, of which there were several.
“What are the special needs of this place?” was a question I asked myself. It had a rather pleasant feudal atmosphere about it. Nearly all the men worked on the Encombe Estate. The polite manners of an earlier generation had not quite died out. ‘Sir’, ‘Mam’, capping and even a curtsey from an aged inhabitant, lent a nice touch of dignity to everyday intercourse; yet there was a delightful sense of cameraderie in all our relationships. The children under the care of Miss Broad and Mrs Cottrell, in our village (church) school, which I visited regularly, rose politely and gave me a cheery chorus of welcome when I appeared. Muriel, as always, was my great help in a hundred ways. She took over the Sunday School, and it was everything to me to have her opinion on the various village problems which arose from time to time. She was quick to help in any emergency of sickness or trouble.
Our great stand-bys in the village were Mr. and Mrs. Tom Joyce, and Mr. Gerald Loxton.
Joyce was the village blacksmith – a pillar of the church, and one of the nicest, friendliest, staunchest men who ever stepped. His wife was as nice as he was, gentle and refined. She had been the village school mistress. They both knew the village inside out, and were wise and understanding. It was a great help to discuss with them any plans or alterations that one might have in mind.
Sir Ernest was the Vicar’s warden, and Gerald Loxton, the People’s warden. Gerald could see further through a brick wall than most people and had a delightful, dry, Dorset sense of humour. I was very fortunate in having such men as Joyce and Loxton. They are proofs of what wonderful help laymen can be in a parish.
They weren’t the only ones I learnt to value and love at Kingston. We had so many willing helpers in all our plans and schemes for the good of the village. There was a keen spirit of co-operation – nearly everyone was glad to pull his weight in the village life. Some have passed on: I can see them now. Gilbert Dorey, the Estate woodman, with a natural musical talent and a wonderful mastery of the beautiful organ in the church, that he loved and played so well. Mrs. Orchard, the postmistress, our untiring helper in the W.I. and in all our socials, and in every project. Bill Hooper, our most reliable Captain of the Bells. George Hunt, always ready to help in anything, a very kind, open-hearted fellow. I salute them all!
There were a good many young men in the village who seemed rather at a loose end. I was keen to get into touch with them, and found the Boys’ Club Room helpful for this purpose. There we played games of an evening, and arranged cricket club fixtures and so on.
The Kingston Cricket Club was quite a going concern. A certain Ernest Hixson was Captain – a tricky left-hand bowler; and we had a redoubtable demon bowler in one of the Dorey family – Arthur. With a long run and a hop, skip, and jump, he would deliver a ball calculated, on a rough village wicket, to strike terror into the most intrepid batsman.
Ken Orchard (son of Charley Orchard and Mrs. Orchard the postmistress) was our champion heavy-weight slogger. He used to stride up to the wicket with his bat over his shoulder, a broad assured grin on his face – a Hercules, but for the leopard skin. Fielders fell back – he took his centre – and then with every ball bowled it was “six” or “out” with him. Ken certainly didn’t believe in slow cricket – he quickly brought any match to life. We had fixtures with most of the villages round and our Kingston boys generally gave a good account of themselves.
When the cricket season was over, I suggested play-acting during the winter months. How would they like to try a One-Act play as a start? At first they were shy; but I got them going. We started with Shivering Socks, an appropriate title for us at the moment! They came and rehearsed, undisturbed, at the Vicarage.
On a given day we gave the performance. The only place we had for such an outbreak was the small village schoolroom, where all socials and functions – even dances – had to be held. The audience, packed like sardines, too perspiring even to boo or cat-call – took it well on the whole and let themselves go at the end with a round of applause. Thus a Kingston Dramatic Society was started and on we went to further triumphs!
We found much unexpected talent among young and old. Little did we think that before long England – and even Canada – would lend an ear to us – that, in fact, we should broadcast! But so it proved.
We couln’t have done it without outside help. The person in the village to whom we owed most was Mrs. Fenwick-Owen. She and her daughter, Morvyne, were very keen on the dramatic effort: they loved acting, and realised what a good thing it is for a village to get people out of their shells and give them a form of self-expression combined with lots of fun. “Mrs. F-O” was untiring in the help she gave, and was always so jolly about it – rehearsing, producing and suggesting plays.
We were greatly handicapped at Kingston for want of a village hall for social activities. When I went there I saw this was an urgent need. There were two churches – the new and the old. The old church, though it bore signs of its Norman origin in the walls, and had an Elizabethan bell, had been re-built only some fifty years before the new one arose.
The new one was almost a miniature cathedral, and stood upon a hilly eminence. It was built in 1887 by Lord Eldon (the father of Sir Ernest Scott), of Purbeck stone and marble, in the Gothic style. Street, the architect, was given carte blanche and made a wonderful thing of it. Grand and imposing, it cast the little old church – a stone’s throw away – into the shade. Our services were held in the new church: the old church was hardly ever used.
What a pity I thought, not to make some use of the old church? Could it not still serve a good purpose? Could we get leave to turn it into a Village Hall? I talked this idea over with Sir Ernest Scott and members of the Church Council, and they were quite willing for me to approach the Church Authorities at Salisbury with the suggestion. This I did, with the welcome result that permission was granted. The Union of Benefices Measure allowed such a change to be made where there was a redundancy of churches: so we obtained leave to transform the old church into a Village Hall.
It took time and effort to do this; but the great work was accomplished at last, thanks to the many willing workers in the village who came forward to give their voluntary help – especially the young men of the Boys’ Club. They took off their coats and slaved away in their spare time – reflooring the building, making a platform and doing a hundred things. So, by its own voluntary labour, Kingston had a village hall.
Some other places besides Kingston benifited from our labours. ‘Chaddy’ [Revd. R.M. Chadwick] was thankful to purchase the pews, stained oak, plain and good, for the chapel at Forres. He had them scraped and now they look beautiful in their new setting. The altar and fittings were given to the Infirmary Chapel at Wareham. The attractive candelabra now hang in Arne’s tiny church which survived the bombing there. Memorial tablets were transferred to the new Kingston Church.
The Village Hall has proved an untold boon to Kingston. Scouts and Cubs and Brownies, which we started, have functioned there. A flourishing Kingston W.I. which we also started, has had it for all their meetings and doings ever since. It has served for village dances, concerts, whist drives and shows of all descriptions.
When the Second World War came, I don’t know what Kingston would have done without it as a place for the flood of evacuated school children that descended on the village to be schooled, helped, entertained and catered for in all conceivable ways. Indeed, it came just in time for Hitler’s outbreak and its consequences!
The Village Hall was not only used for secular purposes. We sometimes had religious services there – especially in Lent – and lantern lectures on various subjects. It was quite invaluable to us. Through this strange metamorphosis the old church had come to life again and was able to do something for the new church which greatly needed help for there was no endowment for the upkeep of that majestic building. It wanted a better system of heating and lighting and the organ was crying out for repairs. Where was the money to come from?
The old church by becoming a village hall, where funds could be raised throughout the year by shows and sales and other things, was able to make some welcome response to the appeal of its new neighbour. More was needed however than it could manage so I got busy and staged a Fete on a large scale in the beautiful grounds of Encombe, by permission of Sir Ernest Scott.
Sir Ernest was dubious about it at first; thought it was a big undertaking and felt people would never want the long walk from Kingston down to Encombe and back again. But I advertised it terrifically. Went down to Swanage to broadcast it. Booked buses to run right down to Encombe. Went to great trouble with George Bartlett, the proprietor of the Eldon Arms, to get a licence to have a bar on the Fete grounds to give the villagers a chance of having their pint down at Encombe instead of leaving the side-shows to go back to Kingston for a drink.
The W.I. arranged for large numbers of teas (and how well they organized them!). We got a Band to play for us and to wind up the Fete with dancing on the lawn by moonlight.
The day came. It was August: there were many visitors about – and posters on all the hoardings. People came in flocks from Swanage, Langton and Worth Matravers, Corfe Castle and Wareham – from all round the countryside – had a great time and emptied their pockets for the benefit of our Church Fund.
We raked in £170, and the fete was such a success that it has become an annual affair. In August 1937 it was opened by Leslie Banks who had a holiday cottage at Worth Matravers, the charming little village on the coast near St. Aldhelm’s Head. He was always ready to do a good turn.
Our first ambitious venture in the acting line was a performance of the Morality Play, Everyman. We were fortunate in getting a talented actress, Miss Joyce Bailey, as our producer and to play the part of ‘Everyman’. Two artist friends of ours – near neighbours – Miss Jane Welsh and Miss May Wilson were our mainstays. Miss Welsh was assistant producer, and Miss Wilson was mistress of the robes – and much more besides. These two gifted people provided all the dresses and props and, with a wide experience of producing and acting, helped us in all our doubts and difficulties. Without them, our production could never have reached such a high pitch.
Everyman has a big cast, so that friends from round about and many of our own villagers were roped in for the parts. I was ‘Death’. Muriel, ‘Faith’. Skrimmy was ‘Goods’ and was brought onto the stage in a wonderful chest, out of which he emerged with arms and face covered in gold paint – from which he suffered afterwards. Sir Ernest Scott started the play off by reading the prologue from the stage.
It was a great success at Kingston and also at Swanage where we played it for two nights at the Mowlem Theatre. It was felt to be an exceptional production for a small village. So the Kingston Players had made a good start.
This was only the beginning of many plays that village talent provided. Those who didn’t act themselves were only too ready to help behind the scenes. Ken Orchard (the Hercules of the Cricket Club) was our lighting expert and he never failed us. The plays we did after Everyman were generally produced by Mrs. Fenwick-Owen and gave scope for all and sundry, both male and female, to show their capabilities.
We were keen to do a Dorset Dialogue play – so one day Mrs. Fenwick-Owen and Muriel returning from a W.I. meeting in Dorchester, called on Mrs. Thomas Hardy at Max Gate to ask if her husband had ever written a short play suitable for village acting. She at once gave them a privately printed copy of The Three Wayfarers – a play adapted from one of his Wessex Tales which, she said, was very dramatic and would be most suitable. So we got going on that and performed it with success both at Kingston and at the W.I. Drama Festival at Dorchester.
This was the play we were asked to broadcast. Francis Dillon of the B.B.C. Western Regional saw us do it at the Dorchester Festival and arranged with Mrs. Fenwick-Owen, who produced us, to broadcast it from our Village Hall. We were naturally elated.
Francis Dillon came and stayed in Kingston for a week, and put us through our paces for the broadcast. We were tremendously interested in the arrangements for it, especially for the “noises off” which were done direct from Bristol and made to synchronise exactly with our spoken words. It seemed wonderful! We had many rehearsals through the week. On the day, it went without a hitch and, so far as we know, was heard by listeners from John o’Groats to Lands End, and certainly in Canada by the relations of some of our broadcasters. It was a Red Letter Day for the Kingston Players.
We once made a new departure, and tried our hand at a … Minstrel Show – male and female … It took some doing to collect good jokes and patter. Muriel went about with a red note-book and wrote down all she could get hold of. Then we had to fit them in with the songs and dancing. We had full audiences at Kingston, Corfe Castle, Langton Matravers and Swanage. Sir Ernest, in the audience at Kingston, was absolutely convulsed with laughter. He himself supplied one of our best jokes.
For a time much interest was taken in Folk dancing. Miss Ruth Dawson came over from Langton Matravers to teach us. Several of the older people were beautiful dancers – George Hunt and Mrs. Senneck especially.
I could count on those who helped most in social activities to help in religious activity too – as sidesmen, choirmen, bell-ringers or anything connected with the Church. We were all good mixers. I think our strenuous work in creating a Village Hall had helped us in this: it had drawn us together in a very matey way.
One Lent we had a Village Mission taken by the Diocesan Lay Missioner, Mr. C. S. Agar. It was very well attended and we had special meetings for men, women and children, besides the daily Mission Services. The Mission was a help to many. It was to Muriel and me.
On Good Fridays we generally had a Sacred Cantata in the evening, such as Stainer’s Crucifixion, Maunder’s From Olivet to Calvary and Darkness and Dawn. These were arranged by our good organist, Gilbert Dorey, who took infinite trouble over the practices. We had an augmented choir for them – Muriel, and Morvyne Fenwick-Owen (who had a charming voice which she later took on stage proper), and several other women from the village were in it, as well as extra men. The Cantatas were very much appreciated by the village and many who came from outside.
One Good Friday morning we had a Procession of Witness through the village, with hymns and a short address, which I have on the rising ground opposite the Post Office. Sir Ernest Scott, the Choir, and a number of others joined us in the witness. Our Easter services were always delightful, full of life.
After his ordination ‘Chaddy’ came up several times of a Sunday and preached at Evensong. Sometimes we exchanged and I went to Forres Chapel.
Muriel found some good helpers among the girls for her Sunday School work – especially Irene Sansom (now married with two little boys of her own). For a time Miss Joan Muspratt kindly came up from Swanage to take the class of older girls.
I was anxious that, with all our considerable social activities, we should put first things first, and I think that everyone knew I was keen on this: while at the same time I did not wish to draw a hard and fast line between secular and sacred – bearing in mind the words of Archbishop Magee: “There is nothing secular but sin”.
We had a strong British Legion contingent in the village, and we made much of every 11th of November. On the Saturday evening before Remembrance Sunday, we assembled in force at the Eldon Arms (now the Scott Arms). There we had a truly wonderful Dinner – with Sir Ernest Scott in the Chair. With speeches and a sing-song we kept it up pretty late. My usual song was Father O’Flynn. It was a most enjoyable re-union. Mrs. Bartlett, the Proprietress, excelled herself each year with her marvellous Roast beef, roast fowls, plum pudding and apple tart and other things. She was a striking old Victorian character immensely respected and very dignified in her glossy black silk; rather grim till you got on the right side of her – but she certainly delivered the goods.
On Remembrance Sunday we always had a packed church for the Service. Our British Legion men came in force, and the Swanage Legion Band. They were marshalled and paraded to church by our Charley Orchard, who had served in the Dorsetshire Yeomanry, and now marched in front of the Ex-servicemen like a Drum Major.
Inside the Church we had a moving Service – the Silence, the special hymns, the Bugle Calls sounded by Gerald White (our gardener), the placing of a wreath against the War Memorial Tablet, and at the close, the March off to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers” played by the Band.
The congregations at our usual Sunday morning Services were greatly helped by Oldfield (Co-educational) and Spyway (Preparatory) Schools, who came along and added considerably to our numbers. When Forres Chapel was built, Oldfield missed the schools’ service I had taken at All Saints’, Swanage, and which was discontinued; so they came up to Kingston in buses on alternate Sundays all the time I was vicar there. The Hicksons of Oldfield and the Warners of Spyway, were long-standing frends and we were always very glad to see them with their bus loads of boys and girls whom they brought along because they liked our simple short service.
St. James was our patron Saint – one of the “Sons of Thunder”. Our Cathedral-like Church, dedicated to him, lent itself well to services on special occasions, such as the Remembrance Service and Harvest Thanksgiving and the big Festivals.
In the Summer months, too, it came into its own with Summer visitors, and Scouts and Guides from camps near by. So then we had very good morning congregations and hearty services and were glad of the size and beauty of St. James’s Church. It was an impressive and worshipful place.
The Church Tower commanded a grand view towards Corfe and Poole Harbour beyond. It had a fine peal of eight bells, and we had a hefty team of keen bellringers under the Captain of the Bells, Bill Hooper.
Every New Year’s Eve was the occasion of another dinner at the Eldon Arms, with Mrs. Bartlett going strong as ever in the matter of beef, puddings and apple tarts. This was the Choir and Bellringers’ Dinner. It was kept up with song and merriment till about 11.15pm when we all adjourned to the Belfry where we rang the Old Year out and the New Year in, had a prayer, and then closed with the hymn “Father, let me dedicate all this Year to Thee”.
During my time at Kingston I was much indebted to the Agent of Encombe Estate, Mr W. E. Candy, who invariably gave his willing help and co-operation in all that was undertaken for the good of the Village. He was one of the School Managers, served on the Parochial Church Council and on the Village Hall Committee; and gave valuable help as Hon. Treasurer of the Fetes we had at Encombe. If I was ever in any difficulty I could always count on his sound advice.
Mr. Candy had entered the service of the third Lord Eldon (Sir Ernest Scott’s father) as long ago as 1890, and continued to serve the same family when Sir Ernest Scott became the owner.
Sometimes in the summer we let the Vicarage and trekked off for a holiday. In 1935 we let it for some weeks to a Mr. and Mrs. Milligan and their young family. We went to Chagford first for fishing … From there Muriel and I set off for the Shakespeare Festival at Stratford-on-Avon. We did some sight-seeing too …Then we turned our faces towards home and this time, as the Vicarage was still let, we parked ourselves in a wizard little stone cottage on the cliffs above Dancing Ledge , called “Sea Spray”. This enabled me to do the duty at Kingston and make arrangements for the Encombe Fete and Flower Show.
Here we were joined again by Editha Roupell … She brought her young nephew and niece … They brought a tent with them … and pitched alongside “Sea Spray” … We mealed together in the cottage – or more often on the terrace, and had a great time, lots of fun. So did the two Kingston girls, Margaret Senneck and Edna Turner, whom we brought along to work for us.
The Encombe Fete and Flower Show was again a huge success. We had lovely weather. All the entrance tickets were sold, and about a thousand people came, including many Scouts and guides. Our Church Funds benefited very considerably. We were fortunate in having many good helpers …
Towards the end of 1936 we were much saddened at Kingston by Tom Joyce‘s failing health – he had been such a good friend to us. Some internal trouble developed and caused him a good deal of discomfort and suffering. He was taken to the West Hants Hospital at Boscombe, where I visited him several times. I remember him smiling up at me after a talk – it was my last visit, I think – and saying, “I’m having a rough passage, Vicar”. It was over for him just after Christmas. His wife did not long survive him. She passed on the following summer. In them we had lost two whom we could ill spare.
Dr. Dru Drury of Corfe Castle and his daughter were special friends of ours. He has an extensive practice there and in the surrounding villages, including Kingston. He is a man of many parts, a great supporter of the Church and a keen archaeologist.
Janet, living in such surroundings, could not fail to have both the historic and histrionic sense. She roped in many of us at Kingston for various plays and pageants. She now runs an amateur troupe known as “The Purbeck Players” and regularly carries off bouquets at the annual Dorset Drama Festival.
She produced The Tempest at Corfe Castle, and Kingston, and in the grounds of Encombe. I played ‘Prospero’ which meant much memorizing, but was well worth it. A Kingston girl – Dulcie Curtis, made a charming little ‘Ariel’, and Morvyne Fenwick-Owen played ‘Miranda’ with much feeling. … Encombe afforded a beautiful outdoor setting and we had a large and appreciative audience there.
Janet, now Mrs. Wilson, is an exceptionally able and imaginative producer and gets the best out of a cast. Her “Purbeck Players” today are highly skilled. They have performaed a variety of plays .. Some outstanding acting has been shown in these productions by Dulcie Curtis as ‘Velvet’, Syd Payne as ‘The Farmer’, Gerald Loxston as ‘Churdles Ash’, Mrs. Elford as ‘Araminta’ and Mrs. John Lawrence in several parts, to take but a few instances.
In July 1939, just before the awful cloudburst of World War II, a wonderful Dorset Pageant was performed in the grounds of Lulworth Castle (by permission of Colonel Weld). Many Dorset W.I.’s contributed episodes to illustrate historic events in Dorset from earliest times. It fell to the villages of Worth Matravers, Kingston and Corfe Castle to act an episode entitled Benjamin Jesty, the discoverer of the use of cow-pox injections against the small pox. For Jesty lived at Dunshay in the parish ofWorth Matravers, and his tomb is in the churchyard of Worth’s ancient and lovely little church.
Janet Drury produced our episode. My part in it was to make a speech in honour of ‘Jesty’. A Mr. Drew drove on with Muriel in a dog-cart as “parson” and “parson’s wife”!
A date that stands out in my Kingston period is May 12th, 1937 – the day of the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. In the morning , we assembled in the Church to listen to the broadcast of the Service from Westminster Abbey – very moving and impressive.
For the rest of the day we flag-wagged, junketed and racketed: sports and races for both children and grown-ups; a fancy dress procession; ‘cakes and ale’, tea and buns for anyone and everyone; fireworks and a bonfire after dark; a dance in the Village Hall to finish with. A day to be remembered!
In August this same year a word began to echo in my mind, and a wish in my heart – “Retirement”: not from active service as a “Sky Pilot”, but from being restricted to one place for my efforts. I had now been forty years in orders, and I began to feel I should like to cut adrift from the daily humfdrum routine of parochialities and be a free-lance – free to give what clerical help and assistance I could in the neighbourhood and diocese, unfettered by a parish.
When I sent my resignation to Sir Ernest Scott, I received a charming letter from him, regretting my decision, thanking me for my work at Kingston, and saying how sorry the people would be to hear that I was leaving, for it was, he said, ‘a case of Quot homines, tot amici‘.
I could not have had a nicer nor kinder patron than Sir Ernest – always willing to help and co-operate in any way he could. He was a good sportsman, a most considerate landlord to the people on his estate and a friend to all.
My last Sunday as Vicar of Kingston was July 10th, 1938. For some weeks previously Muriel and I had been busy paying farewell visits, always a sad business: but we were cheered by the thought we were only going to live a short distance away and would often see our Kingston friends. We had an extremely happy and interesting time there and were genuinely sorry to leave. I was succeeded by the Rev. M. de Burgh Scott, long well-known to us in Swanage.