Pitlake’s poetic priest and his Edwardian Coronation Ode

SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: Croydon Minster’s archive also serves as a library for its parochial reports dating back into the 19th Century, which help to reveal much about the area’s history, says DAVID MORGAN, pictured right

The yearly Parochial Reports from the 1890s, stored in the archives of Croydon Minster, are a rich source of information. For the local historian, they provide a wealth of names, places and dates; for the family historian they can unlock the search for an ancestor; and for the social historian they reveal much about life towards the end of the Victorian era.

Rich source of history: the Croydon Parish Church’s Parochial Report

The name of one of the assistant curates listed in the 1893 report was Rev Stephen Hughes-Games.

The vicar of Croydon, Rev Geoffrey Fisher, welcomed Hughes-Games to be part of the ministerial team of four assistant curates to work across the parish. The rapidly expanding population of Croydon saw new churches open in the second half of the 18th century.

Pitlake Mission was one of them.

Pitlake had been without a priest for a while after the resignation of Rev Walter Taylor. Hughes-Games’s arrival was a relief and a blessing to those who had borne the responsibility of keeping the Mission going in the meantime.

I don’t think the parishioners of Pitlake Mission, though, quite realised the calibre of the man who had come to minister to them.

Hughes-Games was born in Liverpool in 1862, but grew up on the Isle of Man. His father, as well as being an ordained priest, was the principal of King William’s College on the island from 1866 and, naturally, Stephen Hughes-Games went to the college as a pupil.

Famous descendant: TV naturalist Martin Hughes-Games is the Pitlake priest’s great-grandson

On leaving school, Hughes-Games went to study at Worcester College, Oxford.

The lure of the island, though, was still strong after his graduation and Hughes-Games returned in 1883 to lecture in the Sodor and Man Theological College as well as being the curate of Kirk Andreas under his father.

In 1888 Hughes-Games was promoted to the post of domestic chaplain to the Bishop of Sodor and Man, as well as being made the Diocesan Inspector for Schools, although there were not many schools to inspect.

One year later he was appointed as principal of Bishop Wilson Theological College, again on the island. Hughes-Games was gaining a great deal of experience, was being promoted regularly and he was not yet 30.

As well as all of his work in churches and schools and on top of the preparations and studies to run a theological college, Stephen Hughes-Games was also writing poetry.

He wrote a verse about Bishopscourt, where the theological college shared a building with the bishop’s official residence.

Oh fair green lawns, by rippling water lined,
O’er watched by tower and fane and ivied walls,
How softly on you now the evening falls
And wakes your leaf-crowned aisles with whispering wind.

It sounded an idyllic place to live and work!

Manx idyll: Bishopscourt, home of the Bishop of of Sodor and Man, and the subject of Hughes-Games’ poem

Hughes-Games’s poetry writing continued over the years, even after he left the Isle of Man. He came to London and was appointed curate at St Giles, Cripplegate, in 1890.

With new and very different vistas in the capital, he wrote a poem A Summer Dawn in London:

Dawn on the dreadful city!
And waking thus, I feel
The far white wonder gradually steal
O’er dome and tower and spire with lingering pity.

Rose in the dim grey sky-
Last eve all flame and gold,
Once more cloud-pinions East and West unfold
Above the streets that in strange quiet lie.

Their sin is all asleep:-
One moment all at rest:
One moment men forget their haggard quest-
Too like the hush of death this silence deep!

Nay, after night the morn!
Sunset and sunrise meet;
And Hope puts forth a hand Despair to greet;-
And lo, for all another day is born.

Hughes-Games’s writing was always beautifully descriptive, often with a Christian message woven into its words.

After three years at St Giles, Hughes-Games came to Croydon.

Indeed, 1883 turned out to be an eventful year for him. As well as having a new post here, Hughes-Games was awarded his MA from Oxford and, on April 27, he got married to Elsie.

Hughes-Games’s poetry skills were in evidence for the wedding, as he composed a hymn for the occasion. The opening verse was as follows:

O love that lit with glory
Fair Eden long ago
O love, the star and story
Of life above, below.
Thy light it sprung from Heaven
It flashed in fulness down,
God born, God-blessed, God given
Of all God’s gifts, the crown!

You can certainly imagine the congregation singing this heartily to the tune Aurelia, which is usually used for The Church’s One Foundation.

I wonder if verse writing extended to Hughes-Games’s speech at the reception?

I can find nothing to suggest that Hughes-Games wrote any new verses to be sung as hymns during his time in the pulpit.

Pitlake perseverance: the 1895 Parochial Report details the bust schedule of Hughes-Games at the Mission

Hughes-Games and his wife worked immensely hard during their time in Croydon. They lived at No6, The Waldrons, and in their three years here had two sons. Guy was born in 1894 and Claude in 1896.

The Parochial Report of 1896 showed just what they achieved at the Pitlake Mission.

A minimum of two services were held on a Sunday with two sessions of Sunday School, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The average attendance for the mixed Sunday School was given as 176 in the morning and 210 in the afternoon. Hughes-Games had a team of 25 volunteers who taught in the Sunday School.

There were also Bible classes. Hughes-Games led one on Sunday afternoons at 2.30pm for young men in the “Iron room”.

A Miss Johnson led a similar class for young women at 3.30pm. The average attendance given for the men’s class was 25 and 16 for the women’s.

Every second Sunday evening of the month at 8pm there was a young communicant’s class.

Hughes-Games could rely on an organist for the services, Mr Todhunter, while Mr Houlder was the choirmaster and there were six choirmen and 12 boy choristers.

Sunday would have been an exhausting day.

There was a Mothers’ Meeting every Monday during the winter months at 2pm, the Band of Hope met every Thursday at 6pm, the Temperance Society were active and there was a group called the Sons of Phoenix.

Then there was the visiting. The church had a number of visitors organised to go into particular streets and knock on doors to see how folk were getting on. You might imagine the scenario.

Visitors’ list: Rev Hughes-Games had a well-organised platoon of neighbourhood visitors

“Who’s that knocking at the door?”

“It’s the vicar’s wife, dear, she’s just popped by to see if you are feeling better and she hopes to see you in church again soon.”

Indistinct muttering. Then a call from upstairs… “Tell her I’ll be down in a minute.”

All Hughes-Games’s work for the Pitlake Mission came under the umbrella of Croydon Parish Church, where he would also have been expected to attend meetings and take some services. Eventually, Pitlake Mission became St Edmund’s Church, close to today’s Wandle Park, which was closed down in the 1960s and eventually the site sold off.

Stephen gained promotion to become a vicar in his own right in 1896, down in Doddington, Kent.

He still continued to write his poetry. In 1904 he published his own collection, Thelka and other poems. In 1913, his poem In Memoriam T E Brown was chosen to be included in A Book of Manx Poetry.

This poem was especially striking for the stanza;

Poet and Patriot, strong
Tender, wise.
All notes were in thy song
Mirth in thine eyes.

There were national events, too, for Hughes-Games to write about, including the Coronation of Edward VII in 1902.

The opening verse of his Coronation Ode reads thus;

Ye strains that lord the lyre
Awake and sing;
Today some trumpet-breathing harmony inspire
On organ, hautboy, clarion, flute and string:-
Solemn and bright.
Your interwoven notes unite
In intricate sinuous swell of roundelay
To meet and greet the King who goeth on his way;
A crown to wreathe about his brow this day,
An Empire’s sceptre sway.

I wonder how many “Coronation Odes” will be penned this year for the coronation of Charles III?

Stephen Hughes-Games held other church appointments after leaving Doddington, including in Thanet. He died, aged 61, on May 16 1923 in Bristol.

And if you thought that the name Hughes-Games was familiar, then you probably enjoy nature programmes on television.

In four generations the family have gone from worship to wildlife. His great-grandson Martin Hughes-Games was a presenter on BBC nature programmes such as Springwatch.

Previous articles by David Morgan:

  • David Morgan is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers tours or illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups

To read all his previous articles on the history of Croydon Minster and the people connected with it, click here

If you would like a group tour of Croydon Minster or want to book a school visit, then ring the Minster Office on 020 688 8104 or go to the website on www.croydonminster.org and use the contact page

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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