Pictures from an early pilgrimage

Some years ago, we first featured the photos and story below, believing that we had discovered the existence of a St Faith's Walsingham pilgrimage half a century or so ago. Since then, doubts have been cast on the identification of the event - and research in the parish magazine archives in the local library have made the doubts even stronger! See below for the original posting, the first doubts and the latest findings.

The discovery of a packet of small, mostly black and white, Ilford 'snaps' dating, apparently, from the summer of 1958, has established the existence of an event hitherto seemingly unknown to the 21st century pilgrims of Saint Faith's.

It was in 1958, it now appears, that the first Walsingham pilgrimage by members of our church took place. The photos, about which we hope to discover more soon, show the then vicar, Fr William Hassall, and what was probably his curate, with a group of some twenty or so pilgrims, mostly women.

The pictures, and the information pencilled on the back of many of them, paint a fascinating picture of that expedition of nearly half a century ago. The journey across England in the vintage Blundells charabanc must have seemed very long, especially on the roads of the 'fifties'.. It was broken at Bottesford, Lincolnshire, where some of the photos were taken. The party clearly stayed in Walsingham, whose shrine buildings, gardens, streets, abbey  and friary ruins, together with a view of the unrestored nearby Slipper Chapel, now the R.C. pilgrimage centre, are familiar landmarks to those of us who have been there in more recent years. They must have stayed for several days, for some of the photos are of visits to churches at nearby Houghton, to Blakeney on the coast  and South Creake. The latter forms the background to the entertaining photo of the ladies of the party, in plastic macs against the rain.

The young lady featuring in several of the pictures is identified regularly on the pictures as being Dot (the late Dorothy Simpson, a member of St Faith's congregation who lived with her sister in Birchdale Road, Waterloo); she is seen in one picture at Bottesford with 'Rosemary and Joan of St Faith's', and also, in colour, at the bus stop outside St Faith's waiting to go on pilgrimage, with the old and substantial premises of Cameron's garage as the backdrop and an empty Liverpool Road running past. It was following Dorothy's recent death that the photographs came into the possession of her nephew, James Firth.

The only other named figure is claimed to be the late Jim Burgess, long-serving and last verger of St Faith's, seen turning to the camera as he prepares to enter the shrine with some of the other pilgrims. This picture is one of three in colour: possibly hand-tinted. No-one else is named, but we hope that some may be recognised and identitied from these expanded and enhanced pictures.

The package, and two of the pencilled captions, give both 1948 and 1958 as dates of the pilgrimage. But enclosed with them is the August 1958 obituary of Fr Hope Patten, restorer of the Anglican shrine at Walsingham, and it seems certain that this was in fact the year that St Faith's began a tradition which was to lapse for over forty years until Fr Neil revived it at the beginning of this century.

Postscript ... All our Yesterdays

The cutting carrying the obituary of Fr Hope Patten records his lifetime of effort in restoring the Walsingham Shrine, installing the Holy House and establishing the tradition of pilgrimage. It may well have come from the Church Times, mouthpiece of the Catholic wing of the Anglican Church. The reverse side of the clipping carries adverts for positions and vacancies, clerical and lay, which give a fascinating flavour of the church of the day.

Gloucester Cathedral is short of a bass-baritone, while St Clement Dane's is offering a verger £500 p.a.  'Will someone offer work to Licensed Reader?' is the plea of a man who describes himself as 'Interested in youth, with musical qualifications, a conversationalist, theoloigcally minded and who likes walking'. The Church Army offers 'work on mission vans, in parishes', but only to the physically fit.

A 'Lady Help' declares herself as being 'capable, cheerful and adaptable'. Another, more informative, 'Adaptable Lady'  says she is a good plain cook and is seeking a happy post with her self-supporting son (18) - both are animal lovers! A little further on we read that the Bursar of Pangbourne Nautical College urgently requires an assistant stoker/handyman, while an 'active elderly lady' near Market Harborough, and who has an 'excellent daily maid', now wants a 'Companion-Chauffeur'. Whoever gets the job of cook at a County Secondary School will rake in £7 6s 3d per week 'less £2. 8s for board, lodging and laundry'.

So much has changed since Blundells' chara trundled over to Walsingham with that first party from St Faith's. But some things remain the same. A 'Married Couple' sought for apparently identical jobs as residential staff at a school for educationally sub-normal boys in Bedfordshire are not to be identically paid. He will get the princely sum of £8. 3s a week, less £2. 9s 3d board and lodging. She gets £6. 2s 3d a week, less £2. 8s for her keep. Nearly fifty years on, decimalisation has swept away shillings and pence, but such discriminatory differentials have certainly not disappeared!

Chris Price

Footnote February 6th...

Since posting these pictures here and at the back of church at Saint Faith's, one or two of our people with longer memories have cast doubts on them.

So far, no-one has said for certain that they remember there being a St Faith's Pilgrimage in 1958, and the identification of Fr William Hassall and, in particular, Jim Burgess has been questioned. Fr Hassall was, it would appear, entirely bald in 1958, and Jim Burgess is said never to have slept outside the parish in his life!

However, the existence of St Faith's member Dorothy Simpson (and her sister) is confirmed, and she certainly features in the gallery outside our church and at Walsingham. We are not at this moment able to be certain about what event is actually pictured on these 'snaps', but it is possible that the pilgrimage was organised by another like-minded Anglican church (possibly St Stephen's, Grove Street, now defunct, especially if it also had a more or less bald incumbent in 1958!)), and that Dorothy and other members of St Faith's congregation made up the numbers.

Research is continuing. Watch this space!

February 14th: What the Archives Revealed

... or rather, what they DIDN'T reveal!

The excellent local history resource in the Reference Section of Crosby Library holds most of St Faith's parish magazines from a century ago to the present day. My search of the bound volume for 1958/9 (and also that for 1948/9, since the inscriptions on the package of photos mention both dates) has failed to show up any reference to a pilgrimage to Walsingham - or indeed to anywhere else. The magazines of the Forties and Fifties carry relatively little news (mostly consisting of lists, adverts and insets), and many areas of church life of the time don't seem to get mentioned at all. However, something as significant as a first pilgrimage would surely be recorded at some stage - and it certainly isn't.

It seems increasingly likely, therefore, that the pictures posted above are of another church's pilgrimage and that, in all probability, one or more members of St Faith's congregation went on that expedition. If anything else materialises, we will add more to this intriguing saga. If not, then we may never find out why these pictures were so confidently labelled as being of our church and people, nor indeed, who exactly all but one of the people in the picture gallery were. They are thus consigned to the margins of Saint Faith's archives and, after this brief hiatus, it can once more be stated that our congregation had to wait until the 21st century for the first chance to visit the Walsingham shrine...

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