Taking the risk of visiting the victims of smallpox was the very essence of the ideal parish priest in the mid-nineteeth century - whether he survived (like the Curate of Wheatley near Oxford in the 1850s – the future Bishop of Lincoln Edward KIng) or he died (like the Rector of Stow in the 1870s).
So I was not surprised when my introduction to one of the heroic parish priests of Grimsby was to find that he was almost best known for his ministry during the 1871 outbreak here.
I was given a copy of the Order of Service used when St Barnabas’ church was closed in 1954 when the area it served ceased to be residential. ‘I’ve had this a long time and thought you’d be the one who’d like to have it,’ I was told, and she was right. The Order of Service included some historical notes.
But let us first go back a bit. The foundation of the ‘Oxford Movement’ – the beginning of what developed High Church Anglicanism into modern Anglo-Catholicism – is most often pinned to a single sermon in Oxford in 1833. The preacher was John Keble, the best-selling religious poet of his time, who a couple of years later began long service as Vicar of Hursley in Hampshire.
Keble had a Curate at Hursley called Peter Young who had been ordained deacon, but the Bishop of Winchester was such an opponent of what the Oxford Movement stood for that he refused to ordain him priest. This story of Keble's Curate is part of the founding legend of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism.
Now this Peter Young had a son also called Peter Young. This second Peter Young trained for ordination (at a Theological College of which Edward King happened to be Principal at the time). I now learn that this second Peter Young then came to be a Curate in St James’ parish in Grimsby, where he stayed (first as Curate but then as Vicar) for over thirty years. When he died in 1900, St James’ Lady Chapel was built in his memory soon afterwards.
Almost his first sphere of work in the parish was to look after the Haven area which quickly became the St Barnabas’ district of the parish. He founded the congregation in 1867 and served it for the first twelve years of its life. At first it met in a school but then in a temporary church building (which was eventually replaced by a permanent church building dedicated by Bishop Edward King in 1900).
After Young became Vicar of the whole parish a further twenty-five different Curates looked after St Barnabas’ in turn, each serving for an average of three years, culminating in Peter Clarke who was there when it closed – and, although this was six years before I was born, I can remember Peter Clarke as an elderly retired clergymen in Lincoln in the 1990s.
Next time I collect a parcel from the Royal Mail offices next door to the surviving redundant St Barnabas' building, I shall think of all those links back from Peter Clarke to the smallpox-visiting exemplars of ministry and the beginnings of the Anglo-Catholic movement.
Meanwhile, I already knew that the choice of St Mark for the dedication in 1960 of the new church in the then newly growing residential area of the same parish was deliberate – Mark is traditionally thought of as Barnabas’ nephew; so St Mark’s is a further on-going living link in the same chain.