The Reverend Penwarden

Father Peter Penwarden was just 29 years old when he was inducted to the living of All Saints’ on Tuesday June 7th 1949. He had previously been Curate of All Saints’, New Eltham, where he had gained a special interest in the welfare of the young.  He had graduated with an M.A. from Keble College, Oxford, and, after leaving University, had studied for the ministry at Lincoln Theological College, finally being ordained in 1944. He was the youngest Vicar ever to have been appointed to a living by the present Bishop of Southwark – having been ordained for only five years and having held just one curacy.

He soon introduced a revised pattern of worship that he hoped would be suitable for all.  On Sundays there was Holy Communion at 8.00.a.m. and Sung Eucharist at 11.15.a.m.  Evensong followed at 6.30.p.m.  During the week the pattern of worship was set thus: – Tuesday’s Eucharist was at 9.00.a.m. with the intention that this should be a special Children’s celebration to which the pupils from the Haydon’s Road School would come week by week.  Father Penwarden hoped that this would be the most effective way of training them in the Church’s worship and a means of introducing them to the idea of eventually preparing for Communion.  Wednesday’s service was to be at 6.45.a.m – this being specifically for those on their way to work.  Thursday and Friday’s were at the more conventional times of 10.00.a.m. and 8.00.a.m. respectively and Confessions were to be heard twice a week, on Fridays and Saturdays.

There was also a set pattern for the various organisations that met regularly week by week. The Sunday Schools met every Sunday at 3.00.p.m. – the Infants meeting appropriately enough in the Infants School. Regular attendance here was rewarded with the opportunity to go on the Annual Outing, which in July 1949 took them to Littlehampton and a meeting with Father Torrance.  On Mondays at 6.30.p.m. the King’s Messengers met and, at the same time the following evening, it was the turn of the Guides.  Wednesdays was ‘Brownie night’ and every second Tuesday in the month the Mother’s Union gathered at 3.00.p.m.  Last, but not least, the Guild of Servants of the Sanctuary met on a Tuesday evening at 7.00.p.m.

During Fr. Penwarden’s incumbency the old vicarage and mission hall were both sold. A new vicarage was built in Deburgh Road and a new hall on the site where it was once planned to build a third aisle for the church. All Saints’ also celebrated it’s 60th Birthday in 1952 and two glimpses – one from the Parish Magazine and another from the Vicar’s report to the A.G.M. give a good indication of the church at the time. “A short time ago,” wrote Father Penwarden, “someone came to All Saints’ who had not come for some time and attended plain evensong.  Their comment was – ‘too high for me’.  The 8.00.a.m Communion Service and Evensong at 6.30.p.m. are ordinary Prayer Book services – nothing done that is ‘High Church.’  We know many people don’t like incense and prefer a ‘plain service’ so that is what, at both these services, we have.  But the church has the reputation of being ‘High’ and whatever happens the dog gets its name!  One Sunday the Vicar is going to come in grey flannels and in an open-necked shirt, conduct community singing and give a cheerful chat!  The comment will still probably be – ‘They are too High at All Saints!” . In his report to the A.G.M. Fr. Penwarden divided the church into two groups of people – 1) The stalwarts – those whose loyalty, generosity and co-operation could always be depended upon and – 2)Those attached to the church, but not always there, but often – not always working, not always giving, but responding when asked.  The first group had declined over the year by death or moving away, but the second group had increased and now needed attaching more closely and the Jubilee offered a great opportunity for this. 

The All Saints’ Jubilee eclipsed everything else in the parish.  The Wimbledon News gave a brief history of the church from its foundation to the present day, followed by comprehensive details of the Jubilee programme which began at 6.30 .a.m. on the 7th May with a Sung Eucharist – the day concluding with Evensong attended by the Mayor and Corporation who heard the Provost of Southwark, the Very Reverend Hugh Ashdown, describe the Jubilee as “a family event in the life of the parish.”  And so it was.  The parishioners of All Saints’ were part of a church once called the Cathedral of Wimbledon and many believed this still to be the case.  The Wimbledon News also reported that before the celebrations began “they decided to give it a ‘spring clean.’ So,” the report continued, “armed with mops and buckets of water, they set to.  Now the church stands open for all to inspect, and a sparkling challenge to any other church who would claim supremacy for beauty.”

A ‘Friend of the Church’ wrote this report on the Jubilee for the Magazine and I reproduce it here in full: – “The flag of S. George flying bravely from the church and school showed to the passers-by on May 7th that All Saints’ was holding its Jubilee.  During the week the sound of solemn music from the church, or revelry within the school hall, bore witness to the celebrations.  Festal Evensong, Sung Eucharist, Te Deum – and a party for the children and a parish supper as well!  On May 7th the Provost of Southwark preached in the presence of the Mayor and leading citizens of Wimbledon.  At the lovely service on Sunday morning, the Bishop preached and in the evening the church was crowded to welcome Father Potter, an old and valued friend to so many I these parts.  We shall all remember the beauty and dignity of these services for a very long time and, as the solemn procession moved round the church, the music, the vestments, the light and colour of flowers and candles combined with the thankful hearts of the congregation, to create an atmosphere of true worship.  For it was a week of thanksgiving for all this church has stood for in 60 years of work and worship, and as we sang the hymn ‘For all the Saints…..’ there can have been few who did not think of friends and kinsfolk who worshipped here once and who seemed very near to us in this hour of remembrance.  But it was also a week of fresh affirmation, of fellowship in the present, and renewed effort in the future.  It was in the spirit of a family gathering that All Saints’ held its rejoicings.  Particularly happy was the provision of a visitor’s book for all to sign who attended any service, so that old friends and well-wishers from other parishes were made to feel at home.  After the last Te Deum at which Father Roy Foster had bidden us still to let the trumpets sound, the congregation moved across to the school for a final hour of tea and talk, physically exhausted, but mentally and spiritually up-lifted and very conscious of themselves as a family as they looked back over a crowded week.  And as they recalled what each preacher had said to them in his different way, that they were the Church of Christ in this corner of Wimbledon, it was with a deepened sense of fellowship that they prepared to face the tasks and opportunities of the future.  It was a happy Jubilee indeed, to which all had given of their best. To be remembered in humility and gratitude for many years to come.”     

The following year there was the Coronation to celebrate – another busy time for the Vicar who visited as many of the many Coronation parties as he was able.  “South Wimbledon should be proud of itself,” he said, “the streets looked as jolly and gay as any that could be seen and the parties all went with a swing and were wonderfully organised.”  The same could be said for the church services, for which a special pamphlet was issued detailing the Order of Divine Service for Trinity Sunday, 31st May 1953 – that being the Sunday preceding Her Majesty’s Coronation.   The National Anthem was to be sung at the beginning or the end, and any collections were to go to central or Diocesan Funds for Training for the Ministry.  There were Orders for Morning Prayer, Communion and Evening Prayer as well as special prayers, thanksgivings and hymns.  The collections at All Saints’ – themselves seeking a new ordinand for a curacy in the parish – realised nine guineas, which equates to about £221 in today’s money.

In 1954 Fr. Clifford Hendy arrived as Curate and soon he would be involved in the full round of activities planned for that summer and beyond.  A summer fete, the parish outing to Cambridge on September 25th – requiring two coaches that year! – Gift Day (£79 10s) and Harvest on October 3rd, and the Annual Sale of Work on November 20th. He would also have got to know the district around the church which continued to change as the year progressed.

There were 306 people on the electoral roll in 1955 and excitement was mounting as plans were submitted for their new hall. In June 1956 it was decided that Howard Bros and Strong were to build a hall fifty-three feet long and twenty-four feet wide and to demolish the existing church house – this to be replaced with vestries as previously planned.  But it was not until May 1957 that the hall was finally opened.

It should not be forgotten that Father Penwarden also gave much of his time to the school. A talk entitled “How to help our children have the gift of faith” was attended not only by parents, but also by school staff and members of the P.C.C.  Father Penwarden spoke of faith as a belief – not a feeling.  “It was, he said, “like a plumb line to help keep the child’s life straight and true as he grew up, and it was an armour against adversity.  We do know,” he continued, “that life is not going to be easy for our children.  We know that they will have to face sadness, pain and hardship.”  He went on to emphasise that faith was a corporate thing and not a matter of individual opinions.  And he gave three ways in which parents might help their children into the way of faith – by helping with their prayers and by seeing that they attended both church and Sunday school.  This, he said was of the utmost importance, for a child brought up in a family where there was no faith would certainly encounter great difficulties and might be deprived of faith altogether. His address made a deep impression and interesting questions followed as parents asked about the religious training of their children.  The headmistress – Miss E. Bromage – referred to the great benefits brought to them all in the fact that they could meet together as a family in the church and promised that the school itself would continue to do all it could to help the children take the right path. 

Father Penwarden’s incumbency ended in June 1961 when he left to become Vicar of All Saints’, Benhilton.  Now aged 39, he was chairman of the governors of several schools including All Saints’, Queen’s Secondary, Garfield, Wimbledon Park County Primary and the Wimbledon Day Commercial School, and had also been Diocesan Inspector for Religious Education. He was leaving a church in a fair and sound financial position.  The outstanding debt on the re-decoration was down to £200, collections were up, as were the takings from the Summer Fair and the Sale of Work, and there was a balance in hand of £180. Work was in hand for the re-installation of the boiler house, and the main entrance steps were also scheduled for renovation. Mr. Sydney Green was now Lay Reader and continuity during and before the interregnum was assured with the continuance in service as churchwardens of Messrs. Seaborn and Lovegrove.  To the future Father Penwarden accepted that “although it would be a wrench to leave,” they should carry on what they had begun together.   “I shall,” he said, “always remain part of it, and All Saints’ will always be part of me.”

After leaving Benhilton he became Vice-Provost of Southwark Cathedral in 1971.  It was said that he never let anybody down and at Southwark he began a campaign to raise a million pounds to restore and extend a great church which had grown dirty and inadequate. And he lived to be rewarded. Inch by inch, the historic fabric was cleaned and beautiful things added. A restaurant, meeting places, vestries, offices, toilets, arose between the church and the river bank. Concerts and meticulously organised services for national or local bodies became regular. The consecrations of bishops held there were reckoned to be not only better but also quicker than elsewhere. The choir rose to very near the level expected in much richer cathedrals. And the heart of this life was the Eucharist – every Sunday for a gathered congregation, every weekday  lunchtime for those working nearby or visiting.

He spent his retirement in a flat with a view of Salisbury Cathedral, sipping dry sherry and sharing his dry humour with friends as he delighted in the well-manicured lawn. He died in  Salisbury on 25th  March 1995


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