Reverend Arthur Milner Pickering M.A. (Cantab) 1887-1902
First Mission Priest and subsequently Parish Priest of All Saints. His appointment was announced in June 1887. Previously curate of the Church of the Ascension, Balham Hill. On taking up his appointment he lived at 32, South Park Road, but later took up residence at "Rosary Villa", Hubert Road. He was actively involved, as were many priests of his era, in the social happenings of the day. He could not fail to be aware of how poverty, overcrowding and disease affected his daily work and worship, and he became a strong voice on the Wimbledon Board of Guardians, which body dealt with, amongst other things, the schools, workhouses and lunatic asylums.
He was a family man and, although his first child, Cyril, had died at a tragically early age, he was later blessed with another boy, Bernard, and was once again an expectant father in 1896 – this child being named Basil Horace, and himself later a priest. In May 1896, Mill Cottage, Wandle Bank, comprising more than one and a half acres of land and a cottage (93, South Road), was purchased as a permanent Vicarage. The estate was valued at £3,500, less £500 for dilapidations, and Mr. T.H. Coleman of Bedford was contracted to carry out the necessary work in the sum of £1,100 - a task which he commenced on August 24th. The eventual amount paid for the property was probably considerably less, a figure in the region of £1,800 being likely - this on account of the vendor being "of a charitable disposition!"
A supporter of Temperance, Pickering aimed to succeed in making people realise the terrible snare they had in their midst, but in 1897 he had been forced to admit that, in his own neighbourhood, temperance principles had not progressed as he would have liked over the last two years! But he always remained firm in his conviction that "nothing hindered the progress and welfare of England more than drink". Yet he did not want to stand accused of favouring the clearing of public houses simply in order to "fill his own shop"! He was quite prepared to see them open for one hour at dinner time and again in the evening, declaring his opposition to any law being passed that was contrary to public opinion.
He was also a great believer in a Christian Education and deemed that the religion taught in the state schools could never satisfy the principles of church people, and that they must be ready, if they valued Church Schools, to support them themselves. In March he wrote thus in the Parish Magazine:- "If parents would give one shilling for each child in attendance at the schools, over £150 would be raised......there are many more who could easily do more than this." He got little support for any of his ideas in the local press....."Easily - forsooth, let Mr. Pickering himself try with an income of say £1 a week, or less, which sum would represent the total earnings of many of those to whom he appeals. Working men would indeed be fools if they lent themselves to support in any way the present system of effete, inefficient and denominational education obtaining in Wimbledon. They have at least the right to FREE education and should not submit to any such extortion!"
In March 1897 his parish was reported as being overcrowded, in poor health and suffering from the "rapacity and extortion" of landlords. Cases of scarlet fever, diphtheria and typhoid were commonplace, especially amongst the young, where the infant mortality rate was running at an alarming 150 per 1,000. Conditions in South, Deburgh and Wandle Roads were likened to those in Poplar. Here occupants were living in rooms averaging 10' square, without benefit of either garden or bathroom. The law clearly stated that no more than two adults and two children should occupy any one room, but often two families shared the accommodation, thus destroying the fundamental principles of life in which a "man's home should be his castle." Indeed, at 87, Deburgh Road, six boys and girls shared a room 11' by 8' 6", and this was, by no means, an isolated case. The challenge for the parish church was prodigious and Reverend Pickering, given his first-hand experience, was chosen to represent Wimbledon at the Rochester Diocesan Conference on the question of overcrowding.
As to churchgoing he noted that:- "It is with much sadness that we note the growing tendency to use Sunday as a day for pleasure and amusement. We appeal most earnestly to our church people to discountenance Sunday excursions and pleasure parties. The inducement of a cheap railway journey to the seaside on a Sunday attracts many who would really prefer going on another day. Some, we know, have at first hesitated, but for want of a definite direction have yielded, and it is for this reason we venture to make a protest. Those who are indifferent to the obligations of religion one cannot expect to influence in this matter - there is little difference so far as religious duties are concerned whether they remain at home or go out on a Sunday. But it is reasonable to expect religious people to pause before they join the excursions on Sundays. We are aware of the arguments in favour of recreating on Sundays, but we ask - does not the Sunday Excursion tend to destroy the purpose and aim of the Lord's day?"
However, under Pickering’s leadership churchgoing was high enough to warrant a Mission Church in the north of the parish, which subsequently became the parish church of S. Peter’s. This new church was consecrated on Saturday 29th. June 1901, but one consequence was to put All Saints’ in debt for the first time. Nevertheless Pickering remained pragmatic. Speaking at the Annual Social Gathering, he said that the circumstances were such that the building of S. Peter's was absolutely necessary, given the abnormal development of the parish. They could not sit back "cock-sure", at ease with their work, and ignore their responsibilities. His view was clear:- "When a church stops advancing it is sure to go back. You are all partners and shareholders in the work, and it behoves you to do your best."
In May 1902 Reverend Pickering was able to report that there were no longer any children over the age of three in the Workhouse due to the adoption of the system of "Scattered Homes" - a state of affairs in which he had played no small part. The drive and dedication demonstrated both in his work for the parish and for the community at large could not help but attract attention elsewhere, and it was inevitable that, in the course of time, a new preferment would be offered. In early June 1902 "at the earnest and pressing request of the Bishops of Southwark and Rochester", he accepted the living of S. Paul's, Lorrimer Square, Walworth. S.E. London. The real advantage lay in that it offered him, in the Bishop's words, "a grand field for work, and ample scope for the energy and perseverance of which he is possessed to such a large degree." An illuminated address was presented to him on his departure:-
"To the Rev. Arthur Milner Pickering, Vicar of All Saints', South Wimbledon.
We, the undersigned, on behalf of your parishioners and the congregation of All Saints' and S. Peter's, on the eve of your leaving the parish, take this opportunity of expressing our affection and esteem for you, and our very deep regret at your departure.
We ask your acceptance of the case of vessels for the administration of the Holy Communion to the sick, and of the cheque which accompany this address.
We wish to record our high appreciation of the great work you have accomplished in the fifteen years since the formation of this parish.
Under your guidance not only has our beautiful church of All Saints' been erected and endowed, and a permanent residence provided for the Vicar, but also the manifold agencies for the spiritual and temporal welfare of the parish have been organised and effectively maintained by your energy and constant care.
By your forethought for the future needs of that part of the parish near Haydons Road Station a suitable plot of land was secured some years ago, upon which last year the temporary church of S. Peter was built and dedicated.
We desire to add that we are fully conscious of the debt we owe also to Mrs. Pickering for the kindly sympathy and ready help she has always bestowed upon the parish, and the accompanying silver tea service is given her in token of our gratitude and affection.
We unite in expressing our sincere hope that God's blessing may rest upon you in your work in the parish of S. Paul's. Lorrimer Square, Walworth, to which the Bishop has promoted you."