George Frederick Graham

George Frederick Graham

In late 1929 the Diocesan and the Reverend Lucius P. Smith – Vicar of S. Barnabas, Sydenham - recommended Mr. George Frederick Graham, presently at Kings College, London, to All Saints’ as an Assistant Curate. With willing members of the congregation participating in a scheme to give one shilling per month towards his stipend, and the South London Church Fund renewing its Grant of £90, the Vicar was in a position to offer Mr. Graham a Tithe at an initial stipend of £260 p.a.  By March 1930 he had signified his acceptance and was Ordained  Deacon on Sunday 21st September, his duties in the parish commencing the next day

Father Graham soon became renowned for his vocal as well as his priestly talents and quickly became involved in the training of the choir and with the music in general. Indeed, relatively early in his ministry the church correspondent of the local paper thought it fit to report that at the11.00.a.m. service on Christmas Day 1930. –“ The assistant Deacon (Reverend Graham) sung the Epistle and Gospel. He has a rich and musical voice and his rendering of two passages from the liturgy for Christmas Day was one of the best I have ever heard.”

Reverend Torrance was also very grateful for the valuable support of his new curate, even accepting Fr. Graham’s idea of a “fresh-air campaign” with regard to the services – something that the curate saw as a means of getting rid of the ‘conservative spirit’ 

Fr. Graham also instigated new ‘People’s Services’ and designed and produced posters which were placed in each road in the parish. One thousand special service orders were printed on thick card, and some five hundred papers distributed in the Sunday Schools for the first of  these which took place at 7.00.p.m. on Sunday, October 4th. 1931. The liturgy followed the Mirfield Mission Book and, although there is no record of the attendance, the effort put in by the parish certainly deserved a positive response.

As to the day-to-day worship in the Parish Church, Fr. Graham also put forward that the Liturgy proposed in the 1928 Prayer Book should be adopted, thus giving greater latitude for the Anglo-Catholic practices and doctrines that had been largely welcomed by the ordained.

In a further exercise, groups were set up at the suggestion of Fr. Graham to discuss and prepare for a Missionary Exhibition, planned for 1934 by the Ruri-Decanal Missionary Committee. Twelve members of the P.C.C. attended a special meeting at Diocesan House - six subsequently giving summaries on the various areas of work covered in the Missionary Council’s Statement.  Miss. Claydon reported on South Africa , Mr. Howe on India, Burma and Ceylon, Mr. Austin on the Far East, Miss. Hutchings on Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, Miss. Monger on Canada and Fr. Graham himself on the West Indies and South America. 

Fr. Graham continued to work hard throughout his ministry at All Saints.’  He had plenty to say on many matters, and anything that concerned the music concerned him! At one stage the organ was in urgent need of repair and restoration – the estimated cost of which was £140.  The Vicar, aware that such an amount was impossible to find immediately, requested that the Organ Builders – Messrs. Hill – accept payment by instalments. In response they agreed to a payment of £50 on completion of the work, followed by £44 after a further six months and another £44 after twelve months, with any remaining balance being subject to interest at the rate of 5 percent. Even this generous offer was held in abeyance and the subject was still being discussed some months later, when it was recommended that an electric blower should be installed at an additional cost of around £43.  All this was clearly too much for Fr. Graham whose considered opinion was that parts of the present instrument should be sold and the proceeds used to buy a smaller organ.  Once again the matter was held over and we still have the organ today! 

A friend told me many years ago that Fr. Graham also had a wicked sense of humour, at one stage referring to the Misses. Hutchings and Monger - regular purveyors of sweets on the All Saints’ Society stall and stalwarts of the congregation - as the ‘Acid Drops’! – a very pertinent description I understand.

Most of Father Graham’s work however was centred on the Mission Hall where, despite a shortage of men helpers, he continued to work tirelessly, taking the services, arranging various activities during the week and on Sunday evenings after the 7.00.p.m. service, as well as producing the occasional tableaux for the benefit of all. That is not to say that all was ‘plain sailing’.  He noted that he had had a “certain amount of trouble with the more boisterous lads of the neighbourhood”; some of whom had broken into the hall on the occasion of a social event.  The Wimbledon News commented: - “Mr. Graham dealt with them appropriately and they all came along again the following week, but only one of them caused trouble this time.  Mr. Graham is a practical man as well as a spiritual guide, philosopher and friend.  He spends a large part of his time in himself repairing windows and roof slates which have been damaged in one way or another.”

He was also a very generous man in other ways and when All Saints’ were in financial difficulties – as they often were – he regularly gave 10% of his salary to the funds.

Sadly, in the early years of the war, the Mission Hall became a victim to the bombing, with one side being shifted off its foundations by blast. This no doubt saddened Father Graham coming as it did just as he tendered his resignation to the Vicar in early February 1941.  “How ardently and devotedly had he laboured during the ten years of his ministry, especially in the Mission Hall District,” wrote the Reverend Torrance on his departure.  His loss would be greatly felt by many, but the church of S. Andrew’s, Porthill would no doubt benefit in equal part as Father Graham began a new phase of his ministry there.

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