HISTORY FEATURE: 120 years of St Paul’s connecting with community

HISTORY FEATURE: 120 years of St Paul’s connecting with community

By Gareth Dennison | 22/05/2022

HISTORY FEATURE: 120 years of St Paul’s connecting with community


THERE was a war on, but that was not going to stop the hardy bunch at St Paul’s in Masbrough from efforts to continue the church’s expansion build.

It was 1915, and this was the second time the money had run out in the ambitious scheme to create a place of worship and community befitting the growing community.

And the committed congregation was keen for its Grand Bazaar to be the major fundraiser which was desperately required.

The event was held over three long days, from April 15 to 17, with various activities running from 3pm until 10pm each time, plus nightly entertainments.

The extension scheme at St Paul’s was felt to be so urgent that delays could not be afforded.

Money was also needed for the cleaning of Kimberworth Parish Church, as noted in the Story of The Holmes, a history of the area published earlier this year.

The Grand Bazaar was held in the National Schools in Kimberworth Road, with most being run by women as the First World War raged on the continent.

Piano teacher Alice Lee arranged The Comets, a concert party of “novel and refined vocal entertainers”.

There was also a “high class” musical show, plus a humorous sketch on two of the evenings and occasional tunes played by Masbro’ Victoria Orchestra.

Each day had its own special ceremony, and the success of the ambitious bazaar was made all the more impressive given that many of the men were away fighting for the country’s freedom.

There had been reservations from Canon JW Goodall, who was vicar of Rotherham and rural dean, who felt fundraising during the war years should be curtailed.

But it showed what St Paul’s meant — and continues to mean — to the people of Masbrough and beyond.

The history of St Paul’s goes back to when it was on Midland Road as a mission church, dedicated by the Archbishop of York in November 1884.

This building had been designed by HL Tacon, who was well-known in the field, while the building contractor was Rotherham’s Richard Snell.

The mission church became the infants’ section of the National Schools three years later. An extension — amounting to a cloakroom and kitchen — was added in 1893.

Land was bought in 1898 for the new St Paul’s, on the current spot in Kimberworth Road. Designs included a large tower, and even at this early stage it was apparent that the ambitious design might mean the need to build in stages.

A temporary wooden vestry was built on the north side. Other extensions needed were an aisle to the south.

Ideas about the tower were climbed down from for now — a baptistry was constructed with a slight castellated exterior instead.

The foundation was laid in April 1901 by Miss Nutter, of Wanstead, Essex. She was not someone randomly plucked from the south of England but rather a close relation of the architect WH Stock, who had come up with the early designs, and the vicar, Revd FH Stock.

The church was consecrated by the Archbishop of York, Dr WD Maclagan on Ascension Day, May 8, the following year.

This ceremonial opening date was the one marked by the church this year, when it held a weekend of events celebrating the history and music of St Paul’s.

Organist Elliott Walker said: “This marked the church turning 120 years old. It’s a historical place, and has had a lot of architectural changes.

“When it was first completed... it was never actually completed, because they ran out of money, which is why there’s brickwork along one side.

“We had an afternoon showcase of music, a tour and a look at 120 years of music at St Paul’s.”

Alongside director of music Elliott, the events were organised by church wardens Ann Brown and Bev Smith, head server Alan Oxley and church council secretary David Selman.

“It was very much a great team effort by everyone,” said Elliott. “I think that was the greatest part of the event.

“I did some research into the composer Frederic James, who died in 1922. He was born in Masbrough in 1858 and he composed a few hymn tunes. I managed to find some of his organ music of his. One was Allegro Con Spirito, which he dedicated to Dr William Cresser, organist of Leeds Parish Church between 1880 and 1891.

“He was a Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music and I believe he acquired his other music qualification from Canterbury.”

Further additions and furnishings came in the years after the building debt at St Paul’s was cleared in 1927.

Distinguished stained glass windows, memorial screens for those lost in the Great War, a high altar, oak panelling, and other additions came to St Paul’s in the subsequent decades.

The organ was built by Henry Willis & Sons Ltd in 1936, and was dedicated by the Bishop of Sheffield.

Its opening recital was by George Charles Gray, who was by this time the organist and master of choristers at Leicester Cathedral but had started out as a choirboy at St Paul’s during his formative years at Rotherham Grammar School.

Gray is another who was celebrated at the 120th anniversary, thanks to the research of Elliott, whose masters is in English church music.

“The weekend was about keeping these stories alive,” said Elliott (24), of Kimberworth.

“It was a good chance to talk about how Masbrough has changed a lot since 1902 but St Paul’s continues to connect with the community and be a Church of England presence within the area.

“There’s so much to the story of St Paul’s, but I think a lot of the time you can drive past and never realise it.”

Gray had served with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry when the First World War broke out — joining underage, which was not uncommon at the time.

But Elliott said: “When it was found out he was underage he was sent back home from Flanders.

“Upon his return, and with an army grant, he was able to study under Edward Bairstow at the University of Durham.

“Bairstow at that time taught Gray and privately taught Gerald Finzi at York Minster. Finzi later became a prolific choral and ‘all genre’ composer.”

Gray’s career as a church musician saw him in posts at York, Leeds and Ipswich before he moved up to cathedral level in Leicester from 1927.

While there, Gray tutored many organists who went on to take prominent roles in other cathedrals.

He returned to St Paul’s, Masbrough, in 1936 when the new Henry Willis pipe organ was dedicated.

Elliott said: “The organ was formally blessed by the Lord Bishop of Sheffield, Leonard Burrows, and during the service, Gray gave a recital of English and French music on the new organ.

Gray died in Leicester on March 24, 1981, at the age of 84.

The instrument he played in 1936 is no longer at St Paul’s, but when the church moved onto its fifth organ in 2018, the plaque marking that day was proudly placed above the new one.

The Story of The Holmes, by John Roddis and Ian Tompkin, is available while stocks last for £9. Email jeroddis ashby@gmail.com to enquire and order.



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