A decade of parish life: from the magazine, 1923-34
(1) Patterns of worship ~ church governance


Sunday worship
Despite the legacy of the Ritualism Riots, St George-in-the-East had long maintained the 'central' pattern of Sunday worship found in most 'town' churches: 8am Holy Communion, 11am Mattins, followed by Holy Communion at 12.15pm (later 12 noon) except on the first Sunday when Mattins was shortened and followed by a choral celebration at 11.30am, and Evensong at 6.30pm.  It had never followed the pattern adopted by some 'advanced' high church parishes of having as the principal Sunday service a sung eucharist (often called 'Solemn High Mass'), at which few received the sacrament (because of the rules on fasting) but made their communion at an earlier celebration. And it was not until Fr Groser took charge of the parish during the Second World War that it embraced the ideals of the Parish Communion movement ('the Lord's people at the Lord's table on the Lord's day' - often accompanied by a parish breakfast, and sometimes a midweek parish meeting to discuss contemporary issues: see Donald Gray Earth and Altar Canterbury Press 1986).

On arrival in 1925, Rector Beresford announced I gather that the need of a celebration of Holy Communion after Morning Prayer on every Sunday is not now felt. I therefore propose for the present to have only two late Celebrations in the month: one on the first Sunday (choral) and one on the third. Soon after, he introduced a monthly Children's Service at 3pm on Sunday, in place of Sunday School.

The magazine only records weekly communicant numbers, rather than total attendances, and they are very variable and surprisingly low, apart from Christmas, Easter, Harvest and immediately after a Confirmation. They are sometimes in single figures, and even on the first Sunday rarely exceeded 25. In Beresford's time, the number of communicants at festivals gradually increased, sometimes to a hundred or more, which often prompted him to write, somewhat unrealistically, wondering why so few came more regularly:
We cannot, I suppose, expect to see our big church full under present conditions of life down here, but I think that most of the people who came to the Harvest Festival services belonged to our own parish, and there seems no reason why they should not come regularly .... numbers are not everything, but there is something uplifting when a large body of people join together in worship (1925).

Things improved the following year: there were 101 Easter communicants, which was encouraging, especially as here has been no confirmation recently, and a few weeks later, on the Sunday during the General Strikethe largest number of communicants for a long time. Following the confirmation the next month, there were 74 communicants - a good example from the older folk, and perhaps the start of bigger numbers? And in 1928, despite the removal of some regulars, numbers were generally increased. But the Rector knows of 150, plus children, who attend occasionally. This is something to be thankful for. What an encouragement it would be if all these came always!

In Lent 1929 there was a lamentable falling off of communicants caused by severe weather and sickness; it was disquieting that on two recent Sundays there were only 9 communicants out of a possible 150. Earnestness soon dies down unless it is exercised in action, and the practice of only rarely making your communion soon leads to never making it at all. Let us all try to make our Easter Communion this year the beginning of better things!  In the event, Easter numbers were surprisingly good, since the fine weather drew many to the country or seaside. Again, in 1933, he reported that Easter was bright and happy; although many had gone away, numbers were up. That Christmas there were 127 communicants, but then came another marked fall-off because of illness and bad weather, and yet again he pleaded with everyone to do better. But communicant numbers on 'normal' Sundays only rose slightly.

The pattern of Christmas services was Holy Communion at 7am and 8am, Mattins and Choral Communion at 11am and Evensong, Sermon and Carols at 6.30pm. Beresford introduced a service of preparation for Christmas communion a few days beforehand, and there were carol services led by the various choirs of the parish,  as well as carol-singing by the parish choir - or in some years, 'choirboys and friends' - to raise money for the East London Hospital for Children in Shadwell. In 1924 this was on Christmas morning, though usually it was in the days immediately before Christmas.

There was no service on Christmas Eve (crib services, and Midnight Mass, had not yet become common), but there was a Watchnight Service on New Year's Eve - something later mainly confined to nonconformist churches. In 1926 large numbers attended this, and there was hearty singing; the following year, despite heavy snow, 250 attended:  if only they would come regularly!

Holy Week & Easter
In Holy Week there was an early celebration and an evening meditation each day, but apparently no liturgical observance of Maundy Thursday - some years the evening service this day took the form of 'preparation for Easter communion'. On Good Friday there was Mattins and Ante-Communion at 8am, a Children's Service at 10am, Evensong at 6pm and, some years, a 'lantern service' at 8pm - children will not be admitted  unless they are in the charge of grown-up people. For some years after the War there was no 'Three Hours Service' (12 noon - 3pm) because Mr Pringle was invited to take it elsewhere, and in view of the small numbers likely to attend here he did not consider it fair to ask someone else to take a service at St George's - no light task, and involving much preparation. But in 1924 he announced we are going to be bold - he exchanged with another incumbent. Pointing out that there would be nine hymns, and it would be possible to enter or leave without disturbance, he said We know quite well that for many reasons very few people can come for the whole time, but do try to come in for part of it, even if it is only half an hour. Good Friday is, for Christians, the most solemn day of the year, and it is not unreasonable to expect people to spend part of it in Church. The next month he wrote that the experiment to some extent justified itself: the number present did not fall below 20 at any time, and 11 persons stayed throughout the time. 

His successor continued this pattern in the following years - it is not necessary, but profitable, to stay for it all - but led the service himself, except in 1929 when he lost his voice and cancelled the service at a few moments' notice. (Elsewhere, some churches had a so-called 'Liturgical Three Hours', based around Mattins, Litany, Ante-communion and Evensong rather than the sequence of addresses, hymns and silence described above. Until the liturgical revisions of modern times, the distinctive Liturgy of Good Friday was only found in a few 'advanced' churches that used or adapted Roman Catholic texts.)

There were no services on Easter Eve, but on Easter Day there was Holy Communion at 7am, 8am (with hymns) and a choral celebration at 11.30am after shortened Mattins; a Children's Service at 3pm; and Evensong at 6.30pm.

In 1924 St George's Day fell in Easter week (and coincided with 'Zee Brugge Day'); an evening service was followed by the Vestry and Annual Parochial meetings and a parish social - which must have been a long evening!

Harvest Festival was just as popular in the town as in the country, and services here were well-attended: it had long eclipsed Ascension and Whitsun as a major festival! Fruit and vegetables, and bread, were generally taken to the sailors' hospital at Greenwich, but there is no report of any harvest social.

Festival decorations in a large church and an area where few people had gardens was a challenge, and relied to some extent on wealthy well-wishers outwith the parish.  At Harvest 1923 the magazine pleaded corn, flowers, autumn leaves and berries, and bracken all make splendid decorations. If you have a brother or a friend going for a spin on a bike or coming back from the country, ask her or him to bring a branch or two of these along. It is a big church and it takes a tremendous lot of vegetation to make a show of it. At Christmas that year there was a really adequate supply of evergreens. And at Easter 1926 the church was reported to have had unusually lavish decorations - a friend in Sussex sent up from his country parish abundance of primroses, daffodils and other spring flowers, and has offered to do the same for all major festivals. (It was possible in those days to send wild flowers by post, but no longer - the service is no longer speedy enough, and the law prohibits picking them!)

Midweek services
Midweek worship was mainly held in the 'Morning Chapel', where heating arrangements were improved in 1924; the furnace chamber was made draught-proof, and it was reported in May that The stove there is now working admirably, and the Chapel is very warm and cosy without fumes of coke or other discomfort. In Pringle's time the pattern was Mattins at 9am on Mondays, Holy Communion at 7am on Tuesdays and saints' days, the Litany on Wednesdays at 8am and Evensong with an address (often a sermon course given by visitors) at 8pm, and Holy Communion on Thursdays at 8am. (Friday was presumably his day off.) In Beresford's time - when there were also curates - Mattins and Evensong were said most days at 8am and 6pm (and the Litany was dropped); in 1931 he added an additional Holy Communion on Thursdays at 11am for elderly people and invalids. Midweek communicant figures often equalled those for Sundays.

Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals
The number of baptisms had been in steep decline since the start of the century - from as many as 257 in 1902 to 35 in 1919 when J.C. Pringle became Rector. (He helpfully put candidates' surnames in bold block print in the registers - a sign of a well-organised man.) Numbers increased somewhat throughout the decade to 50 or so annually (reaching an untypical peak of 81 in 1928 after only 21 the previous year). Among those listed in 1924 is Edith Margaret Whiting of 33 Walburgh Street: Edith Wyeth was a pillar of St George's until her death in 2011. The sacrament (preceded by Churching) was administered at 4pm on Sundays and 7.30pm or 7.45pm on Wednesdays, before the midweek Evensong and Sermon, and the number of candidates on each occasion varied between one and nine.

Weddings in the 1920s were between 20 and 37 a year - again, rather fewer than before the war, but usually with 2 or 3 each month, peaking in the post-Christmas period when there were often as many as 10. There were a few involving church folk: for instance, the marriage in April 1927 of William Frederick Jacob Bullwinkle and Emily Annie Matilda Talmadge. The Rector wrote 

It must be a long time since St. George's witnessed a wedding that roused so much interest .... Both bride and bridegroom are so well known, and so associated with the life and work of the Church, that everyone was determined to mark the occasion as one of a special kind. The service was taken by the Rector and Mr. Ball-Knight, and the Choir was present in full strength. The bellringers made special efforts to celebrate worthily the marriage of one of their number, and the Church was well filled with friends. A very happy party met afterwards at the Rectory to offer their congratulations and good wishes to the newly married pair. Though the wind was cold, the sun shone brightly, and the garden came into good use. All sorts of photographic groups were taken and some of the younger guests amused themselves with 'dancing on the green'. The climx came with the departure of the bridge and bridegroom for their honeymoon. Their car had been secretly decorated with fantastic designs and inscriptions, and as soon as they were in, stalwart hands dragged it with ropes to the top of the road ....

Funerals were not reported, except when a member or former member of the congregation had died. Burials (and increasingly cremations, as the practice gained in popularity) took place elsewhere - principally the City of London Cemetery, Manor Park Cemetery and East London Cemetery. It would, however, be interesting to know how many were preceded by a service in church.

See here for details of confirmations in J.C. Pringle's time as Rector, and his comments. His successor, C.J. Beresford, presented 29 candidates at his first confirmation in 1926, at St George's; the following year five female candidates were taken to St Paul's Cathedral. In 1928 there were nine male and seven female candidates at St George's. In 1929 the Bishop of London confirmed two male and ten female candidates at St Mary Whitechapel, and the Bishop of Stepney two male candidates at St Mary-at-Eton the following month. St Mary Whitechapel was again the venue in 1930, with eight male and one female candidates. The next confirmation here was in 1931, with five male and seven female candidates (plus two females the following month at Whitechapel); in 1932 the service was at St Paul Dock Street, and in 1933 (with three males and seven females) at St Paul Shadwell. In 1934, 42 candidates from various parishes were confirmed here by the Bishop of Stepney, including six males and ten females from this parish - it was impressive, the church was full into the galleries, and many came to Holy Communion the next Sunday. (Confirmations in those days did not include a celebration of the eucharist, and in many places - not just here - a proportion of those confirmed never in fact made a first communion.) 

In 1933 Bishop Curzon invited all those whom he had confirmed in the last five years since he became Bishop of Stepney to a Service of Renewal at St Dunstan Stepney, to keep in some sort of pastoral touch with them, and to encourage them to hold fast to Christian Faith and Fellowship; he will himself in due time issue a Personal Call to each one of them.

Hymnbook, and Organist
One of C.J. Beresford's first acts as Rector, in 1925, was to get the church council to agree to a 3-month trial of the English Hymnal in place of the Hymn Book now used. We can do this because we already have enough copies to supply every member of the congregation. This change will not mean giving up all the familiar hymns, but I hope we may be able to learn some fresh hymns which we shall come to love as much as those we now know. I hope from time to time to hold congregational practices after the services on Sunday evening.....

The English Hymnal was first produced in 1906, by a team led by Ralph Vaughan Williams (who was an agnostic) and Percy Dearmer (Vicar of St Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill). Because it included much material for saints' days, and plainsong - as well as lots of folk tunes - it became regarded as the 'high church' hymnal. In fact Vaughan Williams and Dearmer also collaborated on the much less churchy Songs of Praise of 1925, widely used in schools as well as a few parishes, as well as a second edition of the English Hymnal in 1933. Records do not show what the previous hymnal at St George's was, but it was probably one of the versions of Hymns Ancient and Modern, first published in 1861 (and itself regarded at the time as 'high church'!) and revised with various supplements and appendices ever since. Nowadays, St George-in-the-East uses the New English Hymnal of 1986, together with hymns and songs from various other sources.

In November 1934 the Rector wrote The news that Mr H.J. Govett has found to necessary to resign the Organistship will be received with universal regret. He came in to fill a gap ten years ago and has served us faithfully, to our great benefit, ever since. But the constant Sunday journeys are trying and he does not feel able to face another winter of them. He actually finished his engagement with us on June 30th, but has most generously carried on his work voluntarily until a successor could be found. Mr K.T. Scovell, A.R.C.O., has now been appointed Organist and Choir-master, and hopes to begin his work on November 1st.  [Was he perhaps the son of Charles Percy Scovell, an Edinburgh-based organ builder?]


In 1919 the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act - known as the 'Enabling Act' - had created a degree of self-government for the Church of England, with a Church Assembly, including for the first time elected laity, empowered to pass 'Measures' which after ratification by Parliament had the force of statutes. This was the precursor of the General Synod. 

At Easter 1924, prior to the Annual Meeting, the Rector - who unlike some clergy was committed to this process - emphasised the importance of revising the parish's Electoral Roll to give church members the elected voice to which they were entitled: The House of Laity of the Church Assembly completes its first five years of existence in 1925, and a new House will be elected in that year. Work of vital value in Church Administration and Reform has already been done by it, and the elections to the new house demand the attention of all the lay people of the Church of England. He gave full details of the procedures, emphasised that enrolment involves no pledge, but confers a right, and referred readers to a leaflet 'What the Church Assembly has already done', before concluding Lend your aid to a great movement for establishing the Kingdom of God through our National Church.

Electoral Roll numbers for this parish in the early 1920s were between 100 and 120, rising over the next ten years to over 150. In March 1934 Rector Beresford - who seemed less enthusiastic than his predecessor on the subject - wrote 
The election to the Church's Parliament is not so simple as elections to the National Parliament. What happens is that the electors in a Parish elect some of their members to go to the Ruri-decanal Conference; then the Ruri-decanal Conference elects some of its members to go to the Diocesan Conference; and then finally the Diocesan Conference elects some of its members to go to the Church Assembly, which is the Church's Parliament. This seems a very complicated method of election, and that perhaps is why some people do not trouble to see that their names are on the list of electors in a Parish.  Yet it is important that they should be, for the number of representatives that a Diocese can send to the Church Assembly depends upon the total number of electors in all the parishes. For this reason Parish Councils in London are being specially urged this year to make their lists as complete as possible. London seems to have fallen far behind some other Dioceses in this, and in consequence is not so fully represented in the Church Parliament as it ought to be ...

Back to History page  |  A Decade of Parish Life (2)  |  A Decade of Parish Life (3)  |  A Decade of Parish Life (4)  |  A Decade of Parish Life (5)