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1928 Civic Service - Vicar's Lecture on Civic Duties

Stroud Vicar's Lecture on Civic Duties

On the last Sunday in October 1928 the Stroud UDC institued a Civic Sunday and presented themselves for Sunday worship at the Parish Church. The congregation also included Sir Frank Nelson, the then MP for Stroud and members of other public bodies. The Urban Council, devoid of even a chain of office for the Chairman, had chosen to add colour to the event by inviting the Mayor and Mayoress of Camberwell, who had attended, robed and preceded by the Camberwell Banner and the Mace and Macebearer spent the weekend adding colour to the weekend of events which included a Civic Dinner, The Mayor and Mayoress was robed and were preceded by the Camberwell Banner and the Mace and Macebearer.
The sub editor at the Liberal leaning Stroud Journal had headlined the report of the Rev, George Helm's sermon, in a somewhat understated way as "Outspoken". And even at the Council the sermon did not pass without comment as at the next meeting with Col Stuart suggesting that if the Council held another Civic Sunday "the Minister of Religion should be requested to preach a sermon and not give an address (laughter)".

Perhaps in today's multi-cultural society the idea of a Council setting out to to achieve Helm's vision "that those who bore office in Stroud would carryout the plan of God and work for the ideal City" does not sit well with meeting the needs of a multi-faith society, but Helm's critique of the political class in 1928 is pretty damning. Poor housing, no sports fields and a shabby town Library might not be a long list; But what Helm brings to the fore is the failure of the political class to help make Stroud Fit for its War Heros.

Hidden in the "Outspoken" sermon is the fact that its difficult to find land for housing and that Stroud has a poor water supply (at that time the water company turned the water off at night and it wasn't until 1931 that Stroud received a constant supply of water). In addition there was inaction with housing conditions as the council was negligent to sweep away the shabby back to back housing at the "top of town".

The "two nations" of local education are laid bare with the grammer and technical schools (the only secondary schools) having "ample" sportsfields and the elementary school children forced to use the common! The report is not explicit but it is assumed that this refers to Rodborough Common. Turning to the Library he castigates the Council for spending 120 a year on the Library. Here he suggests that even a penny on the rates would make a difference. No wonder he upset the Council! They had one mission in life keep the Tax down to the same rate as last year.

Grudgingly, Helm assesses the provision of 119 Council Houses in 10 years as "fair". One wonders what an excellent authority would have provided? This is by any stretch of the imagination far less than the number of war hereos who returned to Stroud and the promise of "a land fit for heroes" and perhaps it is this burning anger which drives Helm to castigate the political class for its acceptance of the status quo.

But who was this outragous cleric who sought to bang the drum for reform?

George Helm was born in 1883 , in Marazion,Cornwall, the son of a opthalmic surgeon. After attending a minor public school he went on to Oxford University before attending Theological College at Wells. He was ordained at Gloucester in 1907 and over the next 21 years served in six Gloucestershire parishes. In 1911 he became a Territorial Army Chaplain and, during the First World War, served with the 1/5th Gloucesters.The war diary of a brother officer records his arrival at the hurriedly mobilised Regiment “Rev. G.F. Helm joined the Battalion as Padre, complete with straw hat. Jolly good chap.1 In early 1918 he was awarded the Military Cross, which sounds a somewhat unusual feat for a Padre! In any military unit morale is a key issue. One of the aids to morale that Helm oversaw was the Trench Newspaper the 5th Glost'er Gazette, which was printed at or near the front throughout the war. Amongst the memorials of the dead and the gossip of the living it provided a voice for some of our famous War Poets iincluding Harvey, Gurney and Winterbotham. A question we should ask ourselves is would we have heard of them if it hadn't been for the 5th Glost'er Gazette?

To me the most poigent poem is the Cross of Wood by Leitenant Cyril Winterbotham who was was distantly related to Winterbotham – the Stroud Solicitor. He was killed the day after handing in his poem for publication. He died in in a battle to take a trench in the fields between the Thiepval Monument and a farm about half a mile away ('Mucky Farm') and was buried alongside the other 5 officers and men who died in the action (including Lt Apperly of Rodborough) who died and their common grave was marked by a wooden cross. Once verse of the poem reads:


Not now for you the glorious return
To steep Stroud valleys, to the Severn leas
By Tewkesbury and Gloucester, or the trees
Of Cheltenham under high Cotswold stern.


After the war Helm continued to be involved in the Territorials and by 1925 had risen to be the Senior Chaplain for the Southern Command. Later he was appointed a Cannon of Gloucester Cathederal and for a time was Honary Chaplain to the King(1938 to 1942) and Deputy Chaplain General for 2 years during WWII. Later he saw service back in Gloucestershire serving in both Dursley and Berkley. Helm was married to Margaretta Beufoy


Chas Townley 2006






Stroud Journal 2 November 1928

SUNDAY'S SERVICES

Vicar's Outspoken Sermon at Parish Church


On Sunday morning the Mayor's party from Camberwell attended in state the morning service at Stroud Parish Church, accompanied by members and officials of the Stroud Urban District Council , and of other public bodies and instituitions, members of the Stroud Rotary Club, the British Red Cross Society and the County Constabulary.


The Vicar (Reve G F Helm) conducted the service. The lessons were read by Sir Frank Nelson M P , and the Mayor of Camberwell.


The Vicar took as his text "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts . They shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very(sic assume every) age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof "(Zechariah 8 3 and 4). Old Stroud, he said had not yet become the new Jerusalem, but the presence that morning of the Chief Magistrate for the Borough of Camberwell, their own Urban District Council and other officers of public bodies, officially there in the Parish Church of Stroud showed quite clearly how anxious there were that the walls of the city should be built in righteousness and that its gates should ever re-echo to the honour, glory and praise of God. He would like that morning to encourage thebuilders of their city, the members of the Urban District Council, whose responsibility was so grate. Their work was not confined to keeping the streets clean. In the past years, he was told, there had not been that unity of purpose, that cohesion, nor that co-operation which should mark the affairs of a place like Stroud to do its best for the town and its inhabitants. Other small towns had outstripped Stroud because there had been a greater sense of unity. He wished the councillors “good luck in the name of the lord” more strength to their right arm, and better backing form their fellow townsmen. As they knew they were face to face with many problems which would brook no delay and which demanded solution at once. He need hardly say that the most important problem which awaited them to-day was the housing problem. Stroud had built 119 houses during the past few years, and this was must be regarded as fair record when they considered the scarcity of proper building sites and the difficulty of their water supply. Sometimes people would say “Look at those dreadful houses; why doesn't the Council do something?” It might perhaps be a could of houses in a bad state of repair. But if they made enquiries they might find they belonged to an aged widow, whose whole subsistance was the rents and who had no money to put them in repair. But on the other hand there ws the monstrosity – totally absent from Camberwell, as he knew full well – of twelve houses built back to back, conceived in greed and built and built in lust that many might twist the poor and get double from the ground he had got. People who lived at the “top of town” all their lives might not want to live in Stratford Road, and if th Council razed these rookeries to the ground, as he hoped they would, accommodation must be found elsewhere for the people who had lost their homes. If the Council only had the sites they could put up houses to-day at 7/9 per week, rent and rates2 included, and these would be welcome. Not in every case did the bath tub become the potato bin. Everyone in Stroud realised the very hard task in front of the Council with the housing problem. Oh! That the civic sense of pride would burn within them all and that they should demand the Council to raze the rookeries to the ground and mop up all those styes that mand had had the impudence to to build and the impertinance to let. Tuberculosis and mental deficiency fostered there. There recruits were found for the mental deficient and the their noble C33 youth learned to lean against the bulging wall. Members of the Council knew the powers they possessed and again he said, more strength to their right arm. People in that church had, prayed that they might “love their neighbours” and if only civic consciousness burned within them they would demand that these rookeries should be razed even if it meant an extra sum on the rates. It was fro the homes of men that towns were built , and not for confines in which to toil; that men and women should sit at their cottage doors , and boys and girls play in the streets and parks. The second burning question was that of playing fields. A few years ago the Council had the opportunity of buying a field in the Cainscross Road for £2,000. He wondered why they failed them. Possibly they had not the courage and most likely they had not the backing of the people. While their secondary schools amply provided with playing fields, their elementary children were told to climb 600 feet on to the Common and play there. He had been in six parishes during the past twenty years, and Stroud was the first parish in which the church had no cricket team. Why? Because it had no field. A boy without a football field was the father of the man without without a job. But not yet had this country seriously taken the matter to heart. Stroud Councillors would shelve this question of playing fields at their deadliest peril. Let them make no mistake about that. The third and and last buring question – and they might make a bonfire of this – was the Library. They were slowly starving their Library and he might add their librarian. A miserable £120 per year for the Library: £4 spent on books. What a difference an extra ½ d4 rate would make. But someone would say “How about the people at the 'Top of Town'? How would they like that?” There were many folks at the “top of town” who would welcome new and better books and a fresh catologue. Today they were simply starving the minds of the people in Stroud by their refusal to spend more than £120 per year on their library. It was merely a lumber room for old, worn out, and decaying books.

Proceeding the Vicar said he had tried to put before them three of the burning questions facing them, but the citizens of Stroud of Stroud could not expect the Council to carry out extensive schemes for the equipment of a decent Library or for property playing fields unless they showed quite clearly that they were backing them. Members of the Council held a great position and had a great responsibility and they must give an account of that, not at some polling booth, but at the last Great Assize. To the people of Stroud he would say that if they were content to live a life of ease and only bestirred themselves to pay their rates on the last possible day, “Woe unto you if you do not listen to the needs and sorrows of the town that gave you your birth and most likely spreads your bread and butter.” People were demanding a new world and they were expecting the delivery of the goods daily, but if they desired this they must mend their hearts. To risk themselves and to spend themselves in the service of others was the essence of Christianity. The place of the Church today was not with the baggage waggons or with the RAMC5 picking up the wounded, but picking out the targets on which all the heavy artillery of the love of God could be trained upon, to smash up all that marked the rule of man and not the will of God. God grant that from that day henceforth Stroud would burn with civic consciousness and respond to the ideal which God had placed before them, and that those who bore office in Stroud would carryout the plan of God and work for the ideal City where the old men and women could sit at their cottage doors and the boys and girl play in the streets and parks.


1J G Wood, “With the 5th Gloucesters at Home and Overseas” Backbadge 1934-38 available on the web at http://members.tripod.com/~Glosters/1st5thdiary1.htm

2A traditional form of funding for local public services based on the rentable value of property, taken away by “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher” who re-introduced the hated “Poll Tax” which had not been used since 1381 Her successor John Major scrapped it and introduced the unfair and Unjust “Council Tax” system which is really a moderated Poll Tax which continues to overtax the poor

3This is assumed to refer to standards of men for military service

4Old form of currency of £ (pounds) S (shillings also known as a 'bob') and d(pence). There wre 12 pence to the shilling and 20 shillings to the £ with 240 pence the pound.. On first introduction the 1 bob coin and the 2 bob coin was the same size and value as the 5p and 10p coins.

5RAMC Royal Army Medical Corps


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