Oral Church History
TRANSCRIPT OF THE TAPE OF BRIAN PORTER’S TALK
WHITSTABLE URC WIVES’ GROUP
22nd JULY 1977
(Dr Brian Porter died October 25th 2015)
This is a history of the Whitstable Congregational Church, done through an account of its Ministers.
The Ministers’ Board gives the date of the beginning of our church as 1808. And you might ask, “Why should certain of the good people of Whitstable have founded a chapel in 1808?” It was not the first example of nonconformity in our town, because the Baptists had built a small wooden chapel there in 1792. But they seem not to have flourished, for it was this same chapel which the Independents (as the Congregationalists were known then) acquired and started with in 1808. But 1792 or 1808, the dates are close enough, and this was during the period of the Napoleonic Wars that nonconformity in Whitstable was getting under way. The question remains why at that period? Why particularly just then?
The answer I think lies in the religious and social character of the 18th century. The 18th century was not an especially serious century. The Aristocracy who governed it were for the most part a pleasure-loving and highly permissive lot, whereas many of its intellectuals like Voltaire or Gibbon were skeptical mockers of traditional values. The 18th century society was a rough, full-blooded society, without a police force and without much in the way of a social conscience. If any of you have seen the film “Tom Jones” you will get some idea of what the 18th century was like, although that was something of a send-up of it. It was an age in which people paid to gape and gawk at the lunatics in Bedlam, in which highwaymen infested the roads out of London, and public executions were among the most poplar of spectacles.
Not surprisingly, the established Church to some extent reflected the bucolic Hogarthian laxity of the age. There were, it is true, a few Anglican divines of great piety and learning, but these were exceptional. The general character of the 18th century Church of England has been brilliantly described by Lytton Strachey in his witty and superbly written book, “Eminent Victorians” and if you have not read “Eminent Victorians”, I strongly advise you to do so. It is one of the funniest books I have ever read. Strachey writes – and here I try to remember what page eight says, as my copy is in Aberystwyth.
For many generations the Church of England had slept the sleep of the comfortable. Portly divines had signed the 39 articles with a sigh or a smile; like gentlemen, they rode with the hounds in the morning and like gentle men they came back with their full bottles in the evening. Above all they were not ‘enthusiastic’.
‘Enthusiasm’ was strangely alien to the 18th century official temperament. By that I mean ‘emotionalism’. When one Anglican parson made his will, he desired that his headstone should be inscribed with the epitaph, that “For upwards of fifty years he had served his parish without enthusiasm”. Enthusiasm or emotionalism was thought to be very improper, and thoroughly lower class. Gentlemen were not enthusiastic, gentlemen were rational. This was the ethos of the age. Now we have gone away from that to some extent.
But lets get back to Whitstable. In the 18th century, Whitstable threw up one of the most extraordinary characters ever to have worn the cloth. He was Revd Thomas Patton, Vicar of Seasalter and Perpetual Curate of Whitstable. In those days the two parishes were combined. He had been appointed to the livings of Seasalter and Whitstable back in 1711 and he held them until his death at the age of 80 in 1764. Vicar Patton openly kept a mistress, never paid his debts, wore ragged dirty clothes, drove to church in a butcher’s cart and would suddenly break off the sermon and lead the whole congregation down to the Blue Anchor.
Patton habitually signed himself, “Bishop of Whitstable”. And when taken to task over this by the Archbishop of Canterbury, he openly laughed in that high dignitary’s face. Another of his characteristics was to make scurrilous entries in the parish register about the various persons he had married or buried. For example,
1735 Old Gammer Marlborough was buried. This old stunt was born in 1650.
1742 married at Seasalter Church after much ado Herbert Mysted, a sullen fellow, and gate-mouthed Ann Harris.
1744 John Halston, widower, a young gate-mouthed lazy fellow and Hannah Matthews, an old toothless wriggling hag married by license at the Cathedral of Seasalter.
Personally, I find Vicar Patton a somewhat sympathetic character. But then I think that the 20th century is somewhat nearer in spirit to the 18th than to the 19th. But in the 18th century and particularly in its latter half, the 19th century was struggling to be borne: the Victorian age was in embryo so to speak. A new seriousness was abroad particularly in the lower middle class, and it was a seriousness which found a ready expression in the Evangelical Revival of John Wesley.
Now Methodism did not come to Whitstable until later in the 19th century. But in the founding of our church in 1808 we see an example of the same phenomenon and a new seriousness had entered religion. And with the French Revolution a new seriousness had come into politics also. Like the Russian Revolution in our own times, many liberal minded people began by sympathizing with the French Revolution. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive but to be young was very heaven,” wrote Wordsworth when the Bastille fell. This change in the psychological and social and climate of the time brings me to our first minister Revd. John Davies.
For some reason the newly founded church did not have a regular minister for the first sixteen years of its existence. Probably it was too small to afford one. And so it was regularly supplied from Canterbury and elsewhere by ministers and lay preachers. Two of these, a Mr. Andrews of Upstreet and his brother, a Mr. Andrews of Birchington were known as “the Lion and the Lamb” and one wonders whether it was their personalities or their voices that were being contrasted. But at last in 1824 the church was able to acquire a regular minister of its own and he was the Revd. John Davies.
Fortunately we have a picture of him. He was born as long ago as 1769 and resolved upon a clerical career, he first intended to enter the Church of England. But seeing some young ordinands engaged in fox hunting, he asked himself, “Are these to be my companions if I enter the Church?” It was a sentiment which would never have occurred to a man of Vicar Patton’s generation. He therefore obtained entrance to the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, and in 1792 was one of the first seven students for the ministry at Cheshunt College, Cambridge. He may even have been one of those who the following year who gave the trustees anxiety by sympathizing with the French revolution. At all events he was judged fit to leave the College in 1795 and the following year was ordained at Sparfields Chapel, London. It is well to remember that at the time of the French Revolution, nonconformists tended to be what we would call ‘of the left’, and they tended to sympathise with the French revolution at any rate to begin with. After ministering in Staffordshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, he came to Whitstable in 1824 and remained until 1829. He lived to the ripe old age of 92 and he died in 1861.
Twice in recent years has our connection with such a far off time been brought to light. In 1959 a descendent of Mr. Davies wrote to our then Church Secretary, Mr W. O. Bishop, asking if we had any records of his ancestor. And he was delighted and sent a donation to the church when we sent him a copy of a picture which had survived over a century and a half and which should be one of our church’s prized possessions. And there he is in the voluminous long sleeves and long Geneva bands of the day. The other connection is that his daughter, Maria, married a Whitstable dredgerman, John Jutson, and their descendents, John Herbert and Florence Jutson were worshipping in the church in 1909 and moreover a later member of the family, the Revd. Howard Jutson was appointed minister here in 1963 and only departed two or three years ago. There is thus a direct connection between our last minister and our first.
When Mr. Davies departed he was succeeded by the Revd. M. Tremaine. He is the most shadowy of our early ministers. All that is known of him is that he was previously connected with the Wesleyan Methodists and that he remained in Whitstable for only two years and then emigrated to North America. One can imagine him telling them about the new railway he had seen opened in Whitstable, several years before there was any such thing in America.
The next three ministers were all young, and all the products of Hackney College. The first of these was the Revd. William Francis, appointed on the 5th November 1831. During Mr. Francis’ first year there appears to have been some sort of crisis in the church for the following winter the neighbouring ministers recommended that the church should be formed anew. The Minute Book states that “this was decided upon, the church formed during the ministry of Revd. John Davies “having from various causes sadly degenerated.” Whether membership had been granted too freely, resulting in indiscipline or whether Mr. Tremaine’s ministry was unsatisfactory and numbers had dwindled, the record does not reveal. At any rate, in February 1833 the church was reconstituted: ten persons agreeing to unite as a church under the Revd. William Francis. One of the ten was unanimously chosen Deacon. And that is from that point that this Minute Book, the oldest Minute Book in our archives, dates.
But not only had the human church degenerated, the physical church in the shape of the little chapel, built forty one years earlier and known as “Wooden Meeting” was also in decay, and so it was resolved to build a larger, brick chapel. The first stone was laid in March 1833. There was a celebration and a large number of the Sunday School children were regaled with cake and wine. This strikes an odd note, and brings to mind that the total abstinence movement was largely a Victorian development and in 1833 we are still in pre-Victorian almost Regency times. And so we have this delightful picture of Sunday School kids reeling home from their Sunday School treat!
Nevertheless, piety and discipline were strict. On the 28th June 1837, the following rules of discipline were agreed to:
1. That no person shall be admitted to membership of this church but such as give scriptural evidence of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. That any person occasionally at Whitstable belonging to another church desirous of communion with us at the Lord’s Table may obtain permission by applying to the Minister.
3. That no member shall absent himself from the Lord’s Table for three succeeding months unless in case of illness or absence from home without being liable to reproof ,and if any such member after being reproved shall persist in such neglect he or she shall be dismissed from the privileges of the society; and any member removing from Whitstable to reside in another place shall be expected to connect himself by recommendation from us with some Christian Church in the locality in which he resides within twelve months from the time of his removal. If he neglects to do so he forfeits his right to membership unless special permission is granted by the church.
As in the best constituted churches, offences and scandals will sometimes arise, so we believe that Christ has made it the duty of every church to correct these evils by spiritual remedies pointed out and described by Himself. The rules are admonition and separation. Admonition is the reproving of an offending member in order to his conviction to be administered in case of private offences according to the rule in Matthew 18:15 to 17; and in case of public offences according to the rule laid down in 1 Timothy 5:20. If these scriptural means succeed in restoring an offending brother by penitence and confession all further censure shall cease. But after these means have been used he remain obstinate and impenitent the church shall declare itself as discharged from all further relation to him.
Well, theses rules were not a matter of form, and so we find 31st July 1839:
Resolved that the Pastor and one of the Deacons be deputed to visit Mrs. Graves and to expostulate with her on the impropriety of her conduct in neglecting the means of grace.
And on the 28th August:
The Pastor stated that he and Mr. J. Holden had visited Mrs. Graves, and after expostulation had left her another month to consider on the subject.
Then 29th September:
The Pastor stated that Mrs. Pugh having excluded herself from membership by non-attendance on the means of grace, having been absent from the Lord’s Supper five months successively, and present at other services only two or three times during the same period. Exhortation and prayer by the Pastor.
And 2nd February 1842:
The Pastor announced that Mrs. Goldfinch had excluded herself from membership by absenting herself from the ordinances of the Lord’s Supper for more than three times successively without any reasonable excuse.
The Pastor stated that he with one of the Deacons had visited Edward and Mrs. Warnick concerning certain improprieties of conduct and they had withdrawn from membership.
So there was a pretty tight control over the members’ religious duties and social conduct. This is quite outdated now, though it lasted some time longer in Scotland. It is in fact an aspect of Calvinism, which I suppose you could say was the theological heritage of nonconformity. It is a concept of the Christian life which is akin to monasticism in the medieval world. Everyone was expected to conform to rigorous standards as in a monastery or be excluded. And it is quite different from the comprehensive character of Catholicism. The Catholics would take the line: “You are in the Church, you cannot be anywhere else.” And that is really the difference between Catholicism and Calvinism. Calvinism would take the line, “You are in the Church but you can be somewhere else, and unless you come up to the mark you will be excluded from the Church.” The Catholic tradition has largely passed into Anglicanism. Where Calvinism did become the Established Church as in Scotland, standards could only be enforced by the most thorough-going discipline, like in the Communist Party in Russia today.
Discipline was one feature of early Congregationalism; piety was another. And on the death of the third minister, Revd. William Francis, when he resigned in September 1833, through ill health, the record states this:
The Revd. William Francis was compelled on account of ill health to relinquish his ministerial duties in September 1833. He retired to his native place near Saffron Walden, Essex, where, after lingering for several months and exhibiting in a pleasing manner the power of his principles and the effect of comforting grace , he sweetly breathed his spirit into the hands of Jesus, June 4th 1834. Funeral services were preached for him both at Whitstable and Saffron Walden.
The Pastor mentioned the account that has arrived of the death of the Revd. William Francis near Saffron Walden. Great feeling was manifested and satisfaction evinced at the peaceful and happy manner in which their late minister finished his course. The unanimous desire was ‘Let me die the death of the righteous and let my departure be like his.’ It was resolved, in order to recognize the esteem in which Mr. Francis was held, that the pulpit be covered in black cloth and the expenses defrayed by the members.
The Revd. Hugh Seaborne, also of Hackney College, followed. He too suffered from ill health and indicated that he was unable to preach three times on the Sabbath and in consequence of that, afternoon sermons were discontinued. In 1836 he was unanimously invited to a church in Suffolk and seeing no prospect of improved health at Whitstable decided to resign.
Whitstable and Seasalter in those days was undrained marshes and no sewage system, were appallingly unhealthy and what gave Vicar Patton his rugged independence. They knew that they would be hard put to replace him.
After those very brief early ministers, we come to one which is much longer and I suppose that this is the first of what we may call ‘the great Victorians’, the Revd. David Harrison. He came to the church from Hackney College in 1836. His eighteen years as minister was an outstanding period under his fine leadership. After he had built up the church into a really thriving church, disaster struck on 5th of October 1854.
A fire broke out in a stable and coal store probably from some pipe embers that had been knocked in the straw. The straw and coal quickly igniting, the blaze soon reached the thatched roof and rapidly extended to the adjoining wooden houses. From these it spread to Zion Chapel. When the building was well on fire Mr. James Holden senior rushed in to snatch the Bible from the pulpit, shouting, “If there is anybody inside, come out, as the roof is falling!” The wind was blowing strongly and the chapel burnt with such fury that houses across the High Street (Mrs. Cavenders’ presumably) began to catch fire but were fortunately saved after great exertions.
Although the Zion Chapel had cost £800 pounds to build it was insured for only £600 and still had a debt of £300 upon it. The difficulties to be faced with building a new chapel were great but the immediate problem was to find a place in which to worship. The Vicar of Seasalter came to the rescue and allowed them to use the Trust School for services and the first service was held there on the Sunday following the fire. That’s rather exceptional, I think. In those days, there was usually great antagonism between nonconformity and the Church of England. Mr. Morris must have been rather a friendly Vicar to have done that.
Well, owing to that disaster, David Harrison threw himself into the struggle to raise funds to build a new church, the church that we have now. During the winter of 1854 to 55 (it was a hard winter, the winter of the Crimean War) he spared no efforts in the task of raising funds for a new building, and it was while he was engaged in this in London that he was taken seriously ill, and after a few days he died on Sunday April 29th 1855 at the home of his brother. The sad news reached Whitstable on the same day and was given out at the evening service in the Trust School. So much did the members feel their loss, the place was likened to Bochim (see Judges 2, verses 4 to 5). Indeed, the Revd. David Harrison was beloved by all who knew him, by ministers of the Established and Free Churches in the town and around. His tomb in All Saints shows that he was fifty when he died. He had been minister for over eighteen years – longer than any other before or since.
Despite this tragic blow, the work of building the new chapel proceeded and in August 1855 after costing £1100, it was opened and dedicated. Although it has been subsequently enlarged this is the building we use today [Editor’s Note: the reference is to what is now the Playhouse Theatre on the High Street]. Well that is the account of Mr. Harrison and how he built the new chapel and raised money for it. This reference to Bochim in Judges reads “ And it came to pass that when the angel of the LORD spake these words unto all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice, and wept. And they called the name of that place Bochim.” How well they knew their Bibles – even the book of Judges!
The chapel that was burnt could seat 350 people. There were probably two to three hundred members at that time. [Editor's Note: A photograph of six ministers including David Harrison was shown]
The next minister was Mr. John Clarke. He was minister from 1855 to 1867 and he looks rather like an Old Testament prophet. One of the events which occurred during his ministry was distress in Lancashire. On page 102 of Minute Book dated July 30th 1862:
It was resolved and carried that the entire amount of the collection at the Lord’s table next Lord’s Day be given to the fund for the relief of the distressed Congregationalists in the counties of Lancashire and Cheshire.
And on December 3rd of that same year:
The Pastor announced that the contribution for Lancashire distressed amounted to £12. ( c £240 in 1977) Also that he had forwarded two packages of clothing.
Now that requires a word of explanation. It was during the years of the American Civil War, and most of the raw cotton which Lancashire used to make cotton cloth was imported from the Southern States of America, and, owing to the blockade of the Civil War, that cotton could not be brought into the country. And so there was widespread unemployment and distress in Lancashire. But because the working people of Lancashire broadly supported the North, they were prepared to put up with this hardship for the cause of the Civil War. So funds were opened for them throughout the country to try and relieve some of this distress, and it is interesting that our church should have played some part in that.
In 1859, there seems to have been some sort of imbroglio or quarrel and there is a letter in the church Minutes from Mr. William Gann. March 14th 1859 and it is to the Minister:
More than nine months since you told me that the Building Committee was to cease with the debt of the chapel, I was surprised to find that that committee cobbled together when I was from home and passed resolutions to squander the public money on nothing but extravagance for which by virtue of my office I am responsible. I have been responsible for other people’s actions long enough. I shall cease all connection with Zion from this day.
Yours truly, William Gann
Well, I had always been brought up to regard the Ganns and the Reeveses as the Montagues and Capulets of the Congregational Church. Except, I think, there has never been a Romeo and Juliet. And I wonder if this was perhaps the beginning of their famous rivalry.
At all events, William Gann was a man of notorious obstinacy. Around that time or perhaps shortly after, he anchored his vessel – he was a ship owner – on the oyster beds and it was customary for ship owners who did this to pay a fine of one shilling. (I suppose that some of the oysters may have been destroyed by the anchor.) And this he refused to pay. And so he was taken to court by the Whitstable Oyster Company, who won the case at Canterbury Petty Sessions. William Gann appealed to the Quarter Sessions at Maidstone and won. The Whitstable Oyster Company then appealed to the Court of Appeal and they won. William Gann then went to the House of Lords, and after about eight years and the cost of some £20,000, I forget whether he won or lost! All over the cost of a shilling!
There were four brothers: Thomas Gann who built Seasalter Manor House, William Gann whom we have been speaking about, James Gann, the butcher and John Gann who lived in Vine Cottage from whom Lianne and I are descended. So William Gann would have been something like a great, great uncle of Lianne and me. And he lived, I think, in the house next to the one where the cockatoo was, in Canterbury Road where Dr. Saville lived [and Nick Carter] – a red bricked house, that’s where he lived.
Well, when he left the Congregational Church he played a leading part in founding the Wesleyan Church in Argyle Road. He had a dog with a collecting tin on its front and they raised money for founding that church then. I think that church was built in the 1860’s.
Well, after Revd. John Clarke comes Mr. Andrews, another characteristically looking Victorian, and after him Mr. Barham, who later became a lawyer and was reputedly a great preacher – so much of an orator, that the church was filled to overflowing. They had to bring in chairs to put in the aisles, something which I suppose we have not seen for some long time! After Mr. Barham who resigned in 1889, came Mr. T. Clare Jones, another Welshman like Mr. Davis. Wales seems to export nonconformist ministers like Ireland exports Roman Catholic priests.
Well, the end of Mr. Clare Jones’ ministry was rather dramatic. He had a wife and from accounts I’ve heard from very elderly members who have now passed away, she was not the sort of wife one would expect a minister to have. She looked something like an actress. I don’t know if this had anything to do with it whatsoever, but in the later 1890’s, Mr. Clare Jones began preaching against women in his sermons. Not simply preaching against them, fulminating against them! And people began to get rather uncomfortable. One of those to leave was Mr. Fred Goldfinch, or “Biscuits” as we used to know him, who said that he was always rather partial to the fair sex and that he couldn’t stand any more of this. So they called a Special Church Meeting and told him he had better stop this. But he continued to do so, to fulminate against women. So they called an Extraordinary Church Meeting and decided to dismiss him from the pastorate. He then set up a sort of rival congregational church down in the Assembly Rooms and took some of the members with him.
Then there was the whole business of getting him to give up the manse. They threatened court action before he handed over the key and then he did give up the manse. Well, all of this was rather amazing and rather sad.
So now the church was without a minister, and I don’t know how this came about, but a rather pious body of people called “the Pentecostal League” recommended for the serious consideration of the members a certain Dr. Morrison who they said was a splendid chap. And Dr. Morrison came down and he bowled everybody over with his preaching. They had never heard such preaching as came from Dr Morrison! He soon packed out the church and was full of new ideas. He had a penitential pew right out in the front where people confessed their misdoings amid much weeping and so forth.
Now what was his appearance like? He was stocky, he had ginger hair, and most surprisingly of all, he had one thumb missing. This intrigued people, what had happened to this thumb? But he told them and explained how when he was a missionary his thumb had been bitten by a snake, and to save his life, he had hacked it off with a knife! Everyone was aghast at this. What an incredible man they had got for their minister, missionaries who hack off thumbs! and what a wonderful orator he was!
Once when he was preaching – I suppose the Post Office was rather more effective then than it is now – I think it must have been a Sunday, a telegram boy entered the church and handed up a telegram to Dr. Morrison while he was preaching. He broke open the envelope and he read the telegram and said that he had to leave immediately, because he had just heard that his wife, who was still in London, had suddenly died. Of course, the church was horrified by this news, and so they rapidly clubbed together and they bought him a beautiful wreath to take back for his dead wife.
This wreath was found the following day on the railway embankment somewhere up at Seasalter. Meanwhile, some church member who lived up in London had been apprised of the sad news of the death of Mrs. Morrison, and went round to the address – I think it was in the East End – and this member took with him a wreath, too, to the house, and knocked on the door. A boy of about ten opened the door. The church member said, in a rather doleful voice, “This is for Mrs. Morrison”. At which the boy turned round and shouted up the stairs, “Ma! Some flowers for you!”
Well, it turned out that the Revd. Dr. Morrison (the only Dr. the church has ever appointed) was not a minister. He was in fact a convict and a bigamist. He had a wife in London and another one I think in Liverpool. When he left – he had been staying with my great aunts, the Misses Gann – and when he suddenly left, somebody tied crepe on their knocker! Ironically, I think, because they were always completely gone on any new minister! And now their minister had gone! Well, he was later arrested; although when the police came to arrest him he was conducting a prayer meeting and bellowing out these prayers in order to drown out the noise of the knocking of the police.
Well when I was asked to write the history of the church about twenty years ago, I absolutely got terribly enthusiastic about this story. I had never read any story like it! And to my amazement, some of the more elderly members were horrified that I should put this in the history of the church. I did not discover why, until a bit later. Their parents had been married by Dr. Morrison! And they feared they were all illegitimate! (In fact, Fred Amos and Gertie Gann had been married by Dr. Morrison. . . . I think it would have been marvellous to have been married by Dr. Morrison: I mean, if the marriage went well, it was all right; if it went badly, you could just walk out!!)
The next minister was Mr. Edward Austin. Isn’t he the father of an elderly man who was a former missionary, who has preached at our church and who is still alive? He is the son of Mr. Austin who was minister from 1898 to 1902?
He was followed by the Revd. Henerie Allen, who was a Welshman, during the Edwardian period. Afterwards he became a missionary in Jamaica. He returned sometime during the First World War on a preaching visit, and it so happened when he was preaching on this occasion that the congregation of our church was largely made up of Welsh fusiliers who were stationed in the town at the time. He got so enthusiastic in his patriotic Welsh fervour by this fact, that he asked all church members to take a fusilier back home with them. And bang went the week’s meat ration, so I am told.
The next minister was Mr. Wood who was minister from 1913 to 1917 and later became a doctor. I expect he has died now, but when we had our triple jubilee in 1958, he came. He was one of those former ministers who came back and preached.
And then comes a much lived figure whom Greta [Woodman] will remember the Revd. Tom Hilton-Smith whose ministry was from 1918 to 1931, the longest ministry after the Revd. David Harrison. He happened to have Christened me although I barely remember him. Everybody speaks most highly of him, and I think it was his personality. which was so outstanding and so rare. He was one of these people – you don’t often encounter them – but when they are talking with you, they make you feel you are the only person in the world who mattered. Everybody loved him and when he left in 1931 everyone was so sorry to see him go. I think he went to Gravesend and he died early in the war.
Then came the Revd. Cuthbert Batten from 1932 to 1937, who later became a vicar in the Church of England and Rural Dean of Tamworth. I think he died last year. After him the Revd. Peebles-Fleming, a Scotsman who was minister during the war. Then Mr. Cyril Harvey 1943–47 who married Doris Allen, the church’s Assistant Secretary.
Then Mr. Wilkinson. I don’t know if any of you remember him, he was a tremendous character, a live wire, full of new ideas: he used to devote the evening service to not simply a service, but to anybody speaking about a subject of current interest. I remember he had politicians speaking in one Sunday evening service. Another departure of his was to get – and this was long before ecumenicalism got started – to get religious representatives of other denominations, Quakers, Roman Catholics were invited, Anglicans and so on, to speak about their particular branch of the Christian Church. He was not everybody’s cup of tea, but I liked him immensely, I think he was very refreshing. And he later left for Corby, an industrial town in Northamptonshire.
Then came Mr. Cater, a former missionary, who did not stay too long, he stayed two years. He had an interesting or rather exciting background: he had been torpedoed during the war with his family off the coast of Nigeria, one of the children was a baby in arms. He had been among witch doctors in the South Seas. After he left Whitstable, he emigrated to Australia, taking the church at Calgoorlie, one of the gold-producing towns in Western Australia, and then moved to Sydney – I believe he is still in Australia. He came back to visit us three or four years ago.
It was during his ministry that Mr. Goldfinch who had left the church over that business of Mr. Clare Jones and the women, rejoined us sixty years later. And he struck up a great friendship with Mr. Cater. It was not long after Mr. Cater left that Mr. Goldfinch sadly died.
Another great veteran was in our church at the time, Mr. Castle, who almost reached the age of 103, and he was really fascinating to talk to. He too died in 1959.
After Mr. Cater came Mr. John Fletcher, who sadly died last year. And then Mr. Jutson and then Mr. Wood.
From the Questions Afterwards:
Q: Why was Mr. Goldfinch called “Biscuits”?
A: All old Whitstable people had nicknames. There is one story that he was a prominent member of the Whitstable Yacht Club and at one of their prestigious dinners they went up to the Strand Hotel or the Grosvenor and everybody was ordering things like caviar, and when they came to him, he ordered biscuits.
The other story is that he was a grocer and if the last biscuit tipped the needle beyond the pound he would break the biscuit in half. I’ve heard it said that his father used to do that with currants, but I find that difficult to believe!
He left a large sum of money to found the Whitstable Museum. There were three trustees. I think Mr. Wallace Harvey is the only one left.
Q: When was the church built?
The present church building [Editor’s Note: Now the Playhouse Theatre] was built in 1855 and was enlarged at the pulpit end. If you look up at the ceiling you’ll find that the ceiling is quite different. There is a bit of wall that cuts into the gallery which used to be the back wall of the church, so between there and the apse is an addition. What was original was the first two thirds of the church and the façade, which is mentioned in Pevsner’s Buildings of Kent as being in the Italianate style. The vestibules are much more recent. They were put up, I think, in the 1920s. Before that, the entrance to the church was right in the middle. There was a big door, which you had to approach up some steep steps. And I think people found these steps inconvenient. They bought some cottages either side of the church and built the two vestibules.
The tape was produced by Ken Turner in 1977; transcript by Revd. Rodney Wood in January 2016.