The Reverend Faithfull-Davies

Reverend Richard Mervyn Faithfull-Davies 1911-1914

Richard Mervyn Faithfull-Davies – was born at Thornton le Fyde, Lancashire, and was christened in the village church of Christchurch on 3rd October 1872. 

His father was also a clergyman – Robert Venn Faithfull-Davies M.A., Corpus Christi Cambridge – and his mother Ellen Harriet Stevenson. He had two sisters – Violet Mary b.17.2.1874 and Margaret Ellen b. 28.5.1871, the latter of whom became an author and wrote books on Christian Architecture.  His father too was an author, writing Christ in the Lenten Gospels 1904, Christ in the Lenten Epistles 1909, The Gift of the Holy Spirit – a tract for Whitsuntide – 1901 and Words on work 1897.  When his son was born he was also Preparatory Master at Rossall School before moving to Bromley in Kent. 

In the early 1900’s, Richard Mervyn Faithfull Davies B.A, A.K.C, enjoyed great success at Richmond, where he had built up a strong Mission Church in the North Sheen District, in an area known locally as “no man’s land”. He was married to Olivia and they had one daughter in 1911 – Diana Rosemary. Faithfull Davies had also experienced ministry abroad as chaplain to the Bishop of Melanesia, and had served for some time in the diocese of Sydney. He and his wife arrived in June to find the streets of South Wimbledon bedecked with flags and illuminations as the people prepared to celebrate the coronation and on Friday, June 16th 1911, at 8.15 in the evening he was, “with full ceremony and due solemnity, instituted to the rights and appurtenances of the church and vicarage”, by the Right Reverend Dr. Hook, Lord Bishop of Kingston. The Bishop envisaged a programme of house-to-house visiting and a concerted effort to get to know and attract the people into church. It was appropriate, he felt, that the induction of the new vicar fell within the octave of the Feast of S.Barnabas who, when he preached at Antioch, gathered many together. It was his wish, as Bishop, that Rev Davies might emulate this saint’s achievements and gather in many to worship at All Saints’ – work that meant the laity standing by their priest, sinking all little differences and working unitedly to forward the spiritual and temporal welfare of the people.

Reverend Faithfull Davies can never have imagined that his task, and that of his parishioners, would be effortless. The church building needed attention and there was currently no assistant priest to help him minister to a poor and needy parish. The Additional Curates Society were petitioned for a grant, but there was no guarantee that this would result in immediate help. Work with the young however, soon began in earnest. It was proposed that a Boys Club be started, and that a special day at the seaside should be provided for the children of the Sunday School the following summer. Also , in addition to their normal use as a venue for the ever-popular Summer Garden Parties, the Vicarage grounds were laid open to the Scouts of the 6th Wimbledon Troop in August 1911 – to whom the Reverend Faithfull Davies became chaplain and a guardian of their welfare.

The north end of the parish was also a concern during Faithfull-Davies’ incumbency. In 1912, he and his illustrious predecessor, Reverend Pickering, joined in the procession of clergy and listened as the Registrar recited the “faculty” creating the new and separate parish of S. Peter, South Wimbledon. As had been the case with All Saints’ some twenty years previously, the church remained unfinished, and retained, for the present, the old temporary building. Architecturally designed by Messrs. F. H. Greenaway and J. E. Newberry of Westminster, it was described as “an attempt to carry on the traditions of the 13thC. or ‘lancet’ period of English architecture”, but, at the same time, an endeavour that sought to fashion a building expressive, not only of its purpose, but also of its date. Of lofty appearance inside, the unbroken lines extending from floor to ceiling, and the great length of the east window, served to accentuate its height. Built for approximately £5,000, heated by a low pressure hot water system, and lit by electricity, it utilised much of the technology of the age and, when completed, promised to be a substantial building. Similar thoughts had once been expressed at All Saints’, yet now, some twenty years on, the original grand design still languished incomplete.

With S. Peter’s now a separate parish, the provision of a Mission Hall in the northern part of the All Saints’ district took on a new urgency and by October, a sub-committee had been formed specifically to deal with the Garfield Road project and a plan, presented by the Vicar, envisaged the construction of an iron building measuring 70′ x 36′ and costing in the region of £350. At its meeting on 28th November 1912, the Parochial Church Council made the following propositions. A “Garfield Road Mission Hall Committee” was to be formed and an additional Executive Committee, appointed by the council, was to prepare plans and draw up estimates. Already an initial plan and rough estimate, drawn up by Mr. Burges, was under consideration and gave some indication of the task they were undertaking, and the money that would be required to meet the expense.

In the interim, the Vestry of 1912 debated the question of the proposed Disestablishment of the Church in Wales – a subject that had already been aired as far back as 1893 during Reverend Pickering’s incumbency. Then, as now, the proposals were fiercely opposed. The council passed a resolution protesting against the legislation – copies to be forwarded to the Right Honourable Mr. Asquith and the Member of Parliament for Wimbledon – it read as follows:- “The parishioners of All Saints’ in Easter Vestry assembled, strongly protest against the proposal to dismember the Church by cutting off from the Province of Canterbury the four Welsh Dioceses and to despoil it by designating to secular use the endowments sacred to the service of God; and the Vestry further urges upon all Christian people, irrespective of political party, to unite in permanent resistance of any Bill embodying such proposals.”  They did the same in 1913, but recent parliamentary legislation ensured the Bill’s inexorable progress. 

By early winter 1913 Rev. Davies had two curates (A.W.Beake and George Potter) and the Garfield Road Mission Project was complete. The hall itself was a plain, unassuming building, constructed of wood and corrugated iron, and capable of seating some 400 people. It did, however, boast electric light and a hinged altar that folded flat when not in use. There was a stage area, a “green room”, kitchen and toilets. It was dedicated on a Monday afternoon, in October 1913. Large numbers assembled both inside the hall and out as the procession, including the Bishop, clergy and choir, made its way to the hall from All Saints’ Church, along streets lined with children from the Haydons Road Girls and Infants Schools. After a short service of dedication the Bishop addressed the congregation citing the occasion as another step forward in the life of the parish. He prayed that the Mission Hall would be “a wonderfully beneficent thing and a wonderfully useful and beautiful piece of work.” He thanked God when he saw the building, for it reminded him of all the services, and all the good and useful work that would go on within its walls. Once again All Saints’ had a firm foothold in the northern end of its parish.

But the church was in debt, so much so that a somewhat forceful letter from the Finance Committee appeared in the Parish Paper: –“Many habitually pass the bag and contribute nothing. These people are apparently content to avail themselves, Sunday by Sunday, of the ministrations and services of their Church at the expense of their fellow members. Old fallacies and misconceptions die hard. Can it be possible that there are some amongst us who still imagine that, somehow or other, the State pays for our Churches?….And if any member is inclined to think that 6d. per week is too much to expect from some of our people, your Committee would probably reply that there is probably no Nonconformist community which does not expect, and receive, from its members, a considerable larger contribution than this.”  

If however, the congregation had been rocked by the broadside delivered over finance, then the Vicar’s intention to resign, announced to the P.C.C. at their meeting on 18th December 1913, must have come as a bombshell. Reverend Faithfull-Davies explained that the Bishop of Southwark had appointed him to be the Clerical Secretary of the Southwark Diocese and South London Church Fund, a decision which had taken him completely by surprise, but one which he felt duty bound to abide by. The Bishop, in his turn, aware of the suddenness with which the announcement had come, wrote personally to the Churchwardens stating that he “would give the matter his most earnest and prayerful consideration, and would do his best to make such an appointment as would ensure continuity in the work of the parish and in the working of the Church.”

The Vicar made his final farewells at an informal party on Wednesday 22nd April 1914. Musical entertainments, some including the illustrious clergyman himself, took up much of the evening, and it was not until the proceedings were well advanced that Reverend Faithfull-Davies made his farewell speech. He declared himself rather sad to be leaving the parish just when the spiritual standard was at an all-time high, but said he was glad to be able to hand the reigns over to their new Vicar under such circumstances. He thanked them all for the way in which they had always responded to his calls for support and for the kindness they had always shown to him and Mrs Davies. He prayed that every blessing would rest upon the parish, not only as to the Church work, but as to the work in the homes in which they had tried to play some part.  His incumbency had lasted a little under three years – that of his successor was to continue ten times longer and encompass two world wars. 

Richard Faithfull-Davies was a relative of Marianne Faithfull – the singer. He died on 24th September 1954 at Reigate.        

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