Sunday, 15 May 2016

Smethurst Window

To the greater glory of God and in loving memory of Joseph Smethurst JP who entered into rest March 21st 1908 this window is dedicated by his affectionate wife and daughter.  At rest.

Last week, I noticed for the first time the burial entry in St Michael’s registers for Maria Isabella Smethurst of Radwinter (a village in north Essex).  It is dated 23rd October 1917.  Probate information shows she died at Radwinter Rectory (which turns out to be her daughter’s home) although her own home was 20 Cornwall Terrace, Regents Park (a terrace which I find has been remodelled recently into eight of the most expensive houses in London). 

It prompted me to look for her grave, which, as one would expect, she turns out to share with her husband Joseph.  I can’t think why I hadn’t sought it out before.  It is immediately outside the window which she and her daughter had given in his memory following his death eleven years earlier.

There is a simple outline story of the development of Grimsby’s fishing industry which begins with fishermen in and near the Medway who took their boats on seasonal trips along the south coast to places like Brixham and some of whom then moved in numbers in the middle of the nineteenth century to places like Grimsby. 

Her story appears to be a textbook example.  Her father was born in Margate (his parents were a Waghorn and a Twyman, both Kent regional surnames) but married a girl who was born in Broadhempston (a village seven miles inland from Paignton); they had their daughter Maria in 1845 in Ramsgate, but by 1851 they were living in Hull, where by 1861 he is a smack owner employing twenty-five people, all of which placed Maria in position to marry a Grimsby rope manufacturer in 1869.

The rope manufacturer was Joseph Smethurst.  He was born in Market Rasen although his parents had been married in Grimsby and this is where he was brought up. 

His Smethurst grandfather was actually born in Oldham (Smethurst is a Lancashire regional name) and was a hawker who worked his way across the country to Bottesford in Leicestershire (where Joseph’s father William was born) and then to Grimsby (where William's older brother Henry was to become a leading figure in the growing businesses on the docks and eventually Mayor, ending up being commemorated by a memorial in People’s Park).

Joseph’s other grandfather (Joseph Tomlinson, after whom he may have been named) appears in the first surviving census returns (1841) as Grimsby’s gaoler. 

By 1861 Joseph’s father (previously recorded as a ‘roper’) was a ‘twine spinner’ employing six men and eight boys, a business Joseph himself was carrying on ten years later with thirteen men and twenty boys, by then living with his wife Maria of three years in Kesgrave Street very close to a large Ropery on the docks. 

He prospered and was living at Norman Villa, Bargate by 1881, which is where they had their only child May in 1884 (or perhaps they had already had others who died young?) and then, by the time of his death, at The Acres, Welholme Avenue.  Probate information shows that he was then worth £51 000, which would be several million in today’s values.

Since I pray in front of their window so often, it is nice for me now to know something about them and to know that they are just the other side of the window, albeit in a rapidly deteriorating grave.

But none of this easily explains how Joseph came to be buried at St Michael’s in the first place and then to have what was the main East Window of the church erected in his memory. 

The date of his death (1908) is the year before that of the Joseph Chapman who left the huge legacy by which the church was extended.  It is a further year before the first housing began to be developed in the extreme north-eastern corner of the parish where Little Coates School was soon to be built to cope with the growing population.  In other words, St Michael’s was still a small unremarkable church in a rural parish whose sparse population lived in only a handful of cottages.

The clue turns out to be the reference to Maria Smethurst dying at Radwinter Rectory.  The Rector of Radwinter in 1917 was the Revd Edward Bullock - who had been the Vicar of Little Coates in 1908.  I hadn’t realised that Joseph and Maria’s daughter May had married the Vicar, thus ‘the affectionate daughter’ of the memorial tablet was also the Vicar’s wife. 

The marriage actually took place in London less than six weeks before her father died.  Perhaps (this can only be a guess) Bullock had previously had an aspiration to have something more fitting than a plain East Window at St Michael’s and his new mother-in-law may have welcomed the opportunity for his new father-in-law to be buried in a country churchyard and to have a memorial window erected?

Edward Bullock was the priest appointed by Bishop Edward King in 1898 to succeed Canon Peter Young as Vicar of Grimsby.  This was at the remarkably young age of 31; his five year first incumbency in the challenging inner city parish of St Jude’s, Liverpool must have indicated promise for such a major appointment. 

He had taken on the small additional responsibility of being Vicar of Little Coates only in 1906 following the death of Bartholomew Blenkiron, who had been the non-resident Vicar for over sixty years.  Bullock’s responsibility for Little Coates might not have extended much beyond sending one of his Curates to take the occasional service here.

I'm told he informed St James' of his engagement in 1907 and offered to resign - much more likely to do with his change in status after ten years than the fact that his marriage at the age of 41 was to a women eighteen years younger than himself.  I'm told they congratulated him and asked him to stay, although I'm not clear where the record of this would be as there were not yet Parochial Church Councils.  Either way, they did move to a parish in Camden Town soon after their marriage, and then to what looks like the family living at Radwinter eight years after that. 

He then died in 1925 aged 58, leaving Joseph Smethurst’s affectionate daughter a widow at 41; she was to survive her husband by nearly fifty years.  The altar rails in what is now called Grimsby Minster are given in his memory, an interesting tribute to someone who had actually ceased to be its Vicar sixteen years before he died (unless, of course, they were simply the gift of his family).

They had two sons, the elder of whom would have been 13 when his father died and who was to be killed in a Japanese atrocity in the Solomon Islands in 1943.  He went to Christ Church, Oxford as I did and at one time I must have walked past the name Edward Bullock on the College War Memorial as often as I now walk past his grandfather’s memorial tablet.

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