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Hereford Times, 15 November 1930


Stormy Meeting on a Proposal to Unite Benefices

Place name:

Newton, Michaelchurch Escley, St.Margarets




The aged Incumbent of Newton Opposes a proposal at an Inquiry held at Vowchurch Hall

Determined opposition was made by the Rev. George John Tuck, perpetual curate of Newton Church since 1888, to the proposed union of the benefice of Newton with those of St.Margaret’s and Michaelchurch Eskley, at an inquiry by a Commission appointed by the Bishop of Hereford (under the Union of Benefices Act), and held on Monday afternoon at Vowchurch Memorial Hall.

The inquiry has occasioned the liveliest interest in all three parishes concerned, and it was evident that; the Vicar of Newton Church, who is over 80 years of age, has the whole of. his parishioners behind him in his stand against the proposed union.

The Rev.G.J.Tuck has held the living of Newton for 42 years, and called upon during the inquiry to give his opinion he spoke at considerable length in a very spirited manner, and at the conclusion of the proceedings, complained bitterly, that the proposal was not a fair one in any way; and left exclaiming, " Shame! Shame!" .

Mr.P.M.Burton, representing the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, conducted the inquiry, and others sitting on the Commission were. Mr. E. H. Wood, Whitehouse representing the parishes of St Margaret and Michaelchurch Eskley; Mr. John Lancaster, the Newton church-warden, representing the Patron and the Parochial Church Council of Newton; and the Rural Dean (the Rev. G. H. Powell, rector of Dorstone), representing the Bishop.

Others present included the Rev. H. Astbury, Clodock (patron of Newton), the Rev. E.H.Whitefield (Vowchurch and Turnastone), Dr.A.W.McMichael, and Mrs.McMichael (The Croft, Vowchurcb), Mr.A.Howard and Mr.P.Hatcher (Michaelchurch and St.Margaret’s churchwardens), Mr. and Mrs.T.Gwillim (the Villa Newton), Mr.Frank Watkins (Chapel House, Newton), Mr.S.Pritchard (Woodlands Cottage, Newton), Mr.Geo.Gladwyn (Yatt, Newton), Mrs A.Howard, (Michaelchurch  Eskley), Mrs. H.Williams, (St Margaret’s), Mr.J.Hughes, (Oaks, Newton), Miss R.Preece, (Shobden, St Margarets), Mrs C.Prosser, (Slough Cottage, St Margaret’s), Miss Realy, (Slough, St Margarets), Mrs. Reece, (Ladywell, Turmastone), Mrs. Balinger, (Vowchurch), Miss Smith, (Vicarage, Newton), besides many others.

The CHAIRMAN opened the inquiry by saying that both diocesan and local interests were represented on the Commission. The Church of England was a National Church and he asked all present to try to look at the subject to be discussed from a national point of view. Before going further he would like to clear the ground of two matters, usually very unpopular. First, they had no power to disturb any existing incumbent; their business was only with the future. Secondly, it was not usual in these cases to unite parishes, and he did not propose to do so. Usually the benefices were united, and in that particular instance if the benefices were united, when the union took effect the three churches would be served by one clergyman, but each parish would remain separate, the church wardens undisturbed, the parishioners would retain their own rights, and each Parochial Church Council would remain the same. The only difference  would lie in the fact that there would not be the same services in each church. Usually the incumbent of a united benefice or benefices submitted his service arrangements to the Bishop, and he decided what services would be held in each parish. There was a Diocesan Commission for the union of small benefices and they considered that this might be a suitable one. It had therefore been recommended as such to the Bishop.

Reasons for such unions were various. Since the war livings were not so valuable and fewer candidates were going into the Church. Consequently small livings were increasingly difficult to fill. By uniting the stipends they increased the salary: and the charge of two or even three parishes made more work and more interest, so that when a vacancy occurred it was more likely to be applied for by a keen man, as a keen man was more likely to take on a larger job. Many benefices had been united during the last few years, and in many cases they had worked very well. If the Commission sitting that day agreed to unite the three benefices under discussion even then the Bishop could veto their decision. But if they decided against it there was an end to the matter. According to the last census the population of St Margaret’s and Michaelchurch was 170; that of Newton 168. The living of the two first named amounted to £326, that of Newton to £293, and this last was made up by a temporary grant made by the Ecclesiastical Commission. He had before him a resolution from Newton Parochial Church Council meeting held in the Church Room there on 6thAugust protesting strongly against the measure on the ground that Newton Church would, if it was decided upon, lose its independence and part with its esteemed vicar. As he had before made clear, none had any power to disturb Mr Tuck.
The RURAL DEAN: If Michaelchurch became vacant while Mr Tuck was still at Newton, he could, if he so desired become incumbent to all three?
Mr B.M.BURTON: Yes, if his age did not go against him.

Mr.TUCK said that at his church he conducted Morning Service at 11 a.m. At Holy Communion there was 20 regular communicants. Evensong was held at 3.30 in winter, and 6.30 in summer and on those occasions the church was full (it held 80 persons). At special times they had to put forms for the people. Winter and summer the attendance was much the same. The average attendance at Easter Holy Communion was at least 30.
Asked for his views MR.TUCK said he would rather “St Margaret’s spoke first” but upon being reminded that he was the senior he began by emphasizing the fact that what he had to say was not from any personal motive, but solely on behalf of Newton as a parish. The status of Newton differed from that of other parishes in that it was an ecclesiastical parish resting on an Order in Council which secured it as  separate and distinct. He contended that the inquiry sought to upset this.
Mr.BURTON: But there will be no union of parishes, only benefices.
Mr.TUCK: Some years ago Parliament passed an Act  against uniting benefices. I should like to know what advantage it will be to St Margaret’s and Michaelchurch to take on Newton. Michaelchurch embraces 4,500 acres: St Margaret’s 2,500 and Newton about 2,000. This makes 9,000 acres, a large tract of country for one man to cover, over 14 square miles. How is one man to manage it?
Mr.BURTON: But the population is very small.
Mr.TUCK: Yes, but if he is to do the parish work at all he must visit the houses. Look at the record of Michaelchurch and St Margaret’s! They say a vicar ought to have a car. Rather hard to make a man have a car whether he wants to or not. But a car can only go on the high roads. There are many farms far from the high roads, only to be reached by narrow lanes, deep in mud in the bad weather, and it means a tremendous lot of work to get to the houses. I should have thought two parishes  would have been enough for any man. Look at the record. I say. Newton has had one vicar in 42 years. St Margaret’s and Michaelchurch during that time have had half a dozen. And they tell me  these resigned because the work of the two parishes had been too much for them. Certainly one vicar of Michaelchurch did not leave through overwork for a prominent parishioner told me the people only saw him once a week on the Sunday! If parsons have to be fetched to visit the sick, is this the way to treat the people? One might say “He’ll have to have a curate!” But curates won’t come to the amalgamated .parishes. The work s is too hard.
Mr.BURTON: There’s such a shortage of clergy, curates can’t be got
Mr.TUCK: No and if they could, how is one going to be paid in this case? Curates in towns get from £200 to £300 a year.
Mr.BURTON; In the large cities there is only one clergyman to several thousand parishioners. So no separate parson should be appointed to less than 200.
Mr.TUCK: Michaelchurch and St. Margaret’s have as much as they can do. Why add on another parish? I cannot understand it at all. Five or six years back the Bishop thought of joining Newton to Bacton. The churches were sounded out and the Bishop told me it would not be feasible.
Mr.BURTON: That question is not before us to-day.
Mr.TUCK: If it is not feasible to, join Newton to Bacton, why think of joining St.Margaret’s and Michaelchurch to Newton? When I came there 42 years ago the church was practically dead, and it has taken all these years to work it up.
Mr.BURTON: Newton is only worth about £300 a year. The question is. Will anyone be found to carry on the work?.

Mr.TUCK: Whether I’m there or not matters little. What I want to make clear is that the church will go down if it is neglected. The parishioners have worked hard for it. But they won't work for it if it is joined to another parish. There was absolutely no church life in Newton when I came to the place. A man told me the last vicar used to pay the people three pence a time each to get them to go to church so as to get a congregation. Now we get the church full. But I have worked it up from one or two worshippers. Why should it be let down, and joined willy nilly to another parish? We have a steady band of communicants, a large roll-call, a contented congregation an active Church Council, and, a loyal band of workers. They have made great sacrifices for their church, but they will cease if it is united to another.
Mr,BURTON: There will always be a resident clergyman in Newton, it is the only one of the three with a parsonage.
Mr.TUCK: I built the vicarage at Newton, and I would never have done it had I known it would ever be used for any other parish.
Replying to a remark. Mr.BURTON explained that the Union of Benefices Measure overruled all former .Acts of Parliament with regard to benefices.
Mr.TUCK (heatedly): But you can’t do illegal things, and this is expressly forbidden.
The Rev. W.J.BROOME (vicar of St.Margaret's with Michaelchurch Eskley) said the services at Michaelchurch were: Holy Communion every first Sunday in the month, Matins at 11 a.m., and Evensong at 6.30 p.m. The congregation at the 11 o'clock' services numbered about 50 persons or 60, choir included; at Evensong about 70. The number of Communicants at Easter was 27. At St.Margaret's, Holy Communion celebrated every second Sunday. Matins at 11 a.m., and Evensong at 3.30.The number of communicants was 16, and at Easter about 30. He thought he would be quite able to do the work of the three parishes. Services would be held morning, afternoon and evening alternately, or by arrangement with the churchwardens at times to suit the parishioners. There was quite a good road between the churches. He had no special point to stress. But he would like to point out to Mr.Tuck that the probable reason Michaelchurch had had six or seven incumbents during Mr.Tuck's 42 years of office was that they were married men, and Mr.Tuck was a bachelor, He (Mr.Broome) did not pretend to know why his predecessors, had resigned. He had only been in the parishes for 12 mouths. He felt he was expressing the views of the people in all three parishes when he said they would resent anything that would disturb Mr.Tuck.
Mr.BURTON then appealed to the Rev. H. Astbury saying they quite appreciated  Mr.Tuck’s keenness on his church. and it did him credit, but there were only 188  people in the parish, and it; was not a good living. Was it likely they would get anyone to take Mr. Tuck's place when he went?
The Rev.H.ASTBURY replied in the negative, saying in such small parishes the difficulty was very great.
Other opinions being applied for, a lady parishioner of Newton said she thought Mr. Tuck had said all there was to say.
Mr.TUCK Not a single person in Newton is in favour of it
Mr.BURTON acquiesced, but said he had known cases where the  Commission. had been vetoed; a vacancy had later occurred, and it was impossible to secure a new incumbent
Mr.J.LANCASTER; asked whether if the living of Newton became vacant would it be possible to get the stipend increased to £300 a year, or could anything be offered to supplement the living?
Mr.BURTON replied that the only endowment was £80 a year. It was made up in consideration of Mr.Tuck's splendid services. It was not considered proper in these days to offer £300 to small livings as they were not considered a full time job. Parishes with several thousands of parishioners would not get anything near the proportion
Mr.TUCK: When the last vicar of Michaelchurch resigned the living lapsed, and the Bishop had to fill it. This would be again piling up the work.
Mr.BURTON: Yes, but we make a better living,.always a resident parson.
The RURAL DEAN : No one would take the living of Newton as it is. It would be quite likely to get a man to take the augmented living. He hoped Mr. Tuck would live for years, but it would be quite impossible for the church to find a separate parson for Newton alone. There would always be a resident parson in Newton, because there was a parsonage house. Things had come to such a pass for lack of money it simply could not be done
The Rev.W.J BROOME here: volunteered the fact that it would be quite impossible for him to carry on if he had not a private income.
Asked for his opinion Mr.A.HOWARD said personally he was not in favour of the idea, but he quite understood the difficulty. Newton was the best attended church in the district, and he suggested taking a show of hands.
Mr.BURTON declined, saying that though the wishes of the parishioners had great weight, still they did not rule.
A parishioner reminded the meeting: that when the living of Michaelchurch and St. Margaret's fell vacant there was more than one applicant
Another voice: But having no house was the great block.
A third: No clergyman could possibly do three parishes properly; and yet another stated Michaelchurch and St. Margaret’s had better copy Newton and build a house.
Dr.McMICHAEL: appealed to by the Chairman as to whether or not there were houses in Newton one could not get to by car, said there were certainly some. But doctors covered a big area by car, and so could parsons if they wanted to. A man with a small car could do it, but it would be hard work.
Mrs.HALLIDAY asked what advantage it was going to be to Newton which had its own church activities. Michaelchurch had none, nothing beyond the Sunday services, and she contended parishes needed something beyond just that today, especially among the young lads and girls. If the present parson of Michaelchurch and St. Margaret’s could not do it now, how would he do it when he also had Newton?
Mr.BURTON: Mr.Broome has only been in charge a year, and then there is no house.
Mr.BROOME: And no Church Room.
Mrs.HALLIDAY: There is a good school.
Mr.TUCK: It seems to me the parsonage is the main difficulty. There is one at Newton, but none at Michaelchurch.
Mr.A.HOWARD: Would it be possible to unite Newton with some other parish?
Mr.BURTON replied that the present proposition was considered the most feasible.
A parishioner: Bacton is now held alone.
Miss SMITH: But there are terrible hills between Bacton and Newton.
Mr.BURTON: Probably that is why the union is not advised.
Mr.HATCHET: Gave it as his opinion that no one person in his parish was in favour of the union.
The public inquiry was then closed, but Mr.Tuck to the end expressed himself as extremely dissatisfied with the way things had gone. He left the hall followed by his supporters exclaiming “Shame, Shame!”
The Commissioners afterwards deliberated in private to decide upon their report to the Bishop.


On 30th October 1934, George John Tuck, Vicar of the Parish, was buried at St. John’s Church Newton. He was aged 81.

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