The Vicars of Stockcross 1839 – 2009


NB The Reverend Nigel Sand's book ‘The Stockcross Story’ contains pen pictures of the Vicars of Stockcross. This article is taken from a talk given by Viv Wilson to SASHA and gives a biography of each.

Click on images to enlarge

St John’s Church has been served by four Curates and eleven Vicars since its consecration in 1839.and six of them are buried in St John’s Churchyard. This article covers all but Rev John Toogood, the current Vicar.

As the saying goes, number one son inherited, number two went into the army and number three went into the church. Although this is not always the case with our Vicars it is noticeable that the majority of the clergy appointed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries were from wealthy backgrounds.

 In the Beginning

Before all else it is important to mention The Reverend Henry William Majendie who was Vicar of St Mary’s church, Speen from 17 December 1819 until his death on 17 December 1869. He was a great influence in the area and due to an increase in population on the western end of his parish he decided that Stockcross needed its own church.

He used his own money to build St John’s on land that was almost certainly donated by the Hon Keppel Craven of Benham Valence. The foundation stone was laid on Queen Victoria’s Coronation Day 28 June 1838 and the completed church consecrated on 10 October 1839 by the Bishop of Oxford. At this time St John’s was rather like a sub branch to Speen so was initially served by Curates licensed to the Vicar of Speen (Majendie).

A house was built for the Curates behind what is now Stockcross House.

Rev Thomas Pearson Curate 1839 - 1846

Lived 1809 - 1864

The first Curate was Thomas Pearson. He was born in Sparsholt, Berkshire, in 1809.

Queen's College Oxford

He entered Queen’s College Oxford on 22 June 1826 aged 17 from Sparsholt where the college owned some land. Four days later he was made an Exhibitioner on the *Michel Foundation. He was elected a Michel Scholar in December 1830 after taking his BA and then a Michel Fellow in October 1833 after completing his MA. This gave Thomas a regular income.

The Michel Foundation was a charity set up by John Michel who in his will left land to Queens College that gave an annual income of £700 to be used to make four scholars each paid £30pa and eight fellows each paid £50pa They had to be unmarried to benefit.

It was common for scholars and fellows to gain permission to live and work away from Oxford. From 1832 -33 Thomas was working as a private tutor. From the following year he was away holding a Curacy at Speen and from 1839 Stockcross.

He lost his fellowship and the income derived from it on 24 January 1841 when he married Jane Dale, eldest daughter of Capt Dale RN.

1841 Census

The 1841 census shows the young couple in Stockcross. Whilst at Stockcross they had three children Frances Margaret b Nov 1841: Mary Ann b Jun 1843 and Jane Frances b Sept 1845. The first two were christened by their father at St John’s. However Jane Frances was christened by Rev Majendie and the reason for that maybe explained by the plaque on the church wall over the choir seating.

Sadly Thomas’s wife died on 3rd September 1845, highly likely due to complications from the birth of their third daughter and Thomas left Stockcross the following year.

From the Reading Mercury 20 June 1846:

‘With his usual eloquence (on resigning) he delivered a most impressive and appropriate lesson to a crowded congregation. Corinthians II Chap 13 final verse ‘Finally Brethren be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind and the god of love and peace shall be with you’. The Reverend gentleman was listened to with deep attention.’

The 1851 census shows him, a widow, living with his sister Elizabeth, his niece and his own three daughters in Fulham where he is Curate of All Saints.

In 1860 he re marries another Jane. Jane Sarel, daughter of the late Richard Sarel, solicitor of Berkeley Square. This probably improved his income and status.

Vicarage Market Lavington

He resigned from St Mary’s Church, West Brompton (Fulham) in 1861 to take up the position of Vicar of Market Lavington in Wiltshire. The 1861 census confirms he is living in the Vicarage there with new wife Jane, (at age 31 twenty years his junior) and his three daughters.

As an aside, His daughters were members of The Gosling Society set up by religious novelist Charlotte Mary Yonge to offer young ladies being educated at home more mental stimulation by writing two essays a month and sending them to her for assessment. She was known as Mother Goose and the Pearson girls were known as Double Daisy. It indicates that Thomas Pearson was progressive enough to encourage his girls in their ambitions.

Thomas remained at Market Lavington for twelve years until his death on 28 February 1873 aged 64.

Cross at Laverstock

He was obviously much loved by his parishioners. 349 of them contributed to his memorial cross made of polished scotch granite standing 6 ft 7ins tall.

His wife had a 16ft by 7ft  stained glass window erected over the west door in the belfry of the church in his memory.

His obituary in the Salisbury & Winchester Journal & General Advertiser Saturday March 8 1873 gives a description of the man:

‘He evinced that mixture of zeal and discretion which could not fail to promote his influence and usefulness among his parishioners. Beloved by his family and friends he was also most equally loved by that flock over which he had oversight. Conciliatory in his manner, unbending in his principles the work of the Church of England prospered in his hand. Since the Vicar’s death there has hardly been a house in Lavington that has not exhibited signs of mourning’

Pearson Inscription

Jane, his widow, moved to Bath and died in 1910 aged 90. She is buried with her husband.

Rev John Hemsted Curate 1846 - 1848

Lived 1817 -1895

Image courtesy of Stephen Hemsted Great Great Grandson

The Hemsted name originates amongst protestant refugees who fled France to escape persecution from the Duke of Alva in the sixteenth century and settled firstly at Norwich before spreading across the south east of England.

 John Hemsted was born in 1817 at Speen. His parents were Henry and Elizabeth Hemsted. The Hemsted family are well known to local historians.

B1985.36.1040 Dr Stephen Hemsted

John is the grandson of Stephen Hemsted, a doctor of East Ilsley. John’s father was a surgeon and coroner for Newbury. We know from Henry’s will that John had six siblings. Stephen, Henry, Tobias Rustat, Edmund. Mary Eliza and Frances. John is one of the youngest.

In 1833 aged 16 John, with his father’s permission, signed Articles of Clerkship for a period of five years with Broome Pinneger , solicitors of Newbury to train to become a lawyer.

The articles were transferred to Stephen Garrard, a London solicitor in 1836.

However John never did qualify as a lawyer.

Infact he attended Magdelen College, Oxford from 1838 and gained his BA in 1841 and his MA in 1844. In 1841 he was ordained as a Deacon and then a Priest. He held a curacy at Speen with Majendie and then in 1846 was given St John’s at Stockcross.

On 25 August 1846 whilst at Stockcross he married Maria Tanner, daughter of James Tanner of Speen Hill and they had their first son, John Rustat in 1848.

St Mary the Virgin, Seagry

In 1848 he left Stockcross to become Vicar of Seagry, Nr Chippenham, Wiltshire. He was responsible for establishing a National School there which opened in 1850. He was also responsible for rebuilding the church and enlarging the Vicarage. The 1851 census gives an idea of why he wanted to enlarge his home.  It shows the family living at the Vicarage: John, aged 34, wife Maria, 37 with son John Rustat aged 3 and two more children. Edwin aged 2 and new baby Francis both born in Seagry.

In 1854 he became Rector of Gratwich and Perpetual Curate of Kingston, near Uttoxeter in Staffordshire. The 1861 census taken in early April shows the family still in Gratwich. John and Maria with children; Alfred aged 7 born in Seagry, Elizabeth aged 6 and Edith aged 5 both born in Gratwich. The three older boys are away at school.

1861 brought new challenges. His first born son John Rustat died aged 13. Within months John became Vicar of Ickford, Buckinghamshire (about 4 miles west of Thame on the Oxford border). JC Townsend is named as his sponsor (his brother married a Townsend which may be a connection).

Ickford vicarage

John spent the rest of his working life at Ickford and took on other roles within the diocese. From 1863-70 he was Rural Dean of Waddesdon and in 1870 was made Surrogate of the Bishops Court in the Oxford diocese.

The 1871 census shows John and Maria living in the Vicarage (see image) with daughter Elizabeth and two servants. The other children are away from home.

His wife died on 4th May 1873 and in 1875 her children arranged for a stained glass window by Heaton, Butler & Bayne to be erected within Ickford church to her memory.

John continued as Vicar at Ickford but he was often ill in later years and away from the parish.

According to the 1891 census he is residing at Ovingham, Northumberland. With him is a nurse, Maria Walker.

John Hemsted died aged 78 on 23 April 1895 at Hermitage, Whitchurch. There are many Hemsteds in Whitchurch so presumably he spent his last days with relations.

His obituary in the Bucks Herald Saturday 11 May 1895 remarks on his medical family background.

‘Rev Hemsted came from a medical family and was well versed in physic. He was indefatigable in bodily administrations to the sick not only in Ickford but also in the immediate neighbourhood. The country people looked upon him as a great physician, kind and ready at all times to give freely both medicine and advice. All country clergy are not so gifted nor would it be well for the clergy generally to risk the jealousy of the medical profession. The bells of Ickford church were muffled and rung both before and after evening service.’

Rev Thomas Clarke Curate 1848 - 1850

We know very little of Rev Thomas Clarke.

Rev Thomas Waters Burridge perpetual Curate 1850 - 1858

Lived 1820 - 1888

Thomas Waters Burridge was born in 1820 at Bradford on Tone, a village that lies between Taunton and Wellington in Somerset. His father, William was the Vicar of Bradford, a fine sportsman and a JP.

The entry in Crockford’s Clerical Directory of 1860 tells us that Thomas attended Magdelen Hall, Oxford, obtained a BA in 1848 and MA in 1850. He was ordained Deacon in 1848 and Priest in 1849.

He was already Curate at Speen before becoming the Perpetual Curate at Stockcross in 1850. We know this because he married Anne Elizabeth Catherine Owen at Middlesex on 4 October 1848 and their first child was born in Speen in 1849. He served at Stockcross until 1858.

An entry of February 1858 in the diary of Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, states: ‘Burridge resigning (Stockcross) to take his father’s living in Bradford’. So our longest serving Curate returned to his roots.

St Giles Bradford on Tone

The 1861 census shows the family living in Bradford. The church where he served was St Giles, Heatherton Park, Bradford. Thomas’s patron was Alexander Adair. The Adair family owned Heatherton Park Estate.

The London Gazette records that the Rev T W Burridge was appointed as a Chaplain to the Forces 4th Class* on 1 June 1861. He would have volunteered for this roll. He retired from the Chaplains’ Department on 26 July 1867.

*The system of relative ranks was fixed on 5 November 1858. A 4th class Chaplain was the equivalent to Captain and earned 10shillings a day. The Museum of Army Chaplaincy does not hold service records of individual chaplains.

 By the time of the 1871 census he was living in Folkestone with his wife, daughter and niece. He was employed as Curate at St Michael’s Folkestone.


Records show that from 1872 – 1884 he was Vicar of Catmore nr Wantage.

His last appointment was as Vicar of Eastbury in 1885. By then he was 65 years old and on 24 May 1888 he passed away. His wife Anne died just over a month later on 4 July 1888. They are buried together in Eastbury churchyard.

The announcement of his death in the Reading Mercury on May 26th 1888 said: ‘The Rev Gentleman was of a kind and genial disposition and was much esteemed.’

In 1889 a stained glass window was installed on the south side of the nave in his memory and paid for by parishioners.

Probate was granted to their only daughter, Mary Burridge.

Rev John Adams Vicar 1858 - 1877

Lived 1821 -1877

 The class of resident parish Priest or incumbent Curate known as a ‘Perpetual Curate’ disappeared in 1868, after which they could legally call themselves Vicars. John Adams is therefore entitled to be accepted as the first Vicar of St John’s.

Rev John Adams was born in Morwenstow near Bude in Cornwall in September 1821 to Henry and Ann Adams. Henry was a farmer and there is a reference to the young John ‘looking after his father’s flock’ when he saw a ship wreck that was to remain in his memory.

Morwenstow was home to the eccentric and opium taking Rev Robert Stephen Hawker, who wrote the Cornish anthem ‘Trelawney’. To listen to Trelawney:

Smugglers and wreckers were apparently numerous in the area. A contemporary report says that Morwenstow wreckers ‘allowed a fainting brother to perish in the sea without extending a hand of safety.’ All this was an influence on John Adams long after he left Cornwall.

From 1847 he studied at Magdelen Hall, Oxford and in that year he won the prestigious *Newdigate prize.

*This is awarded to students of the University of Oxford for the best composition in English verse by an undergraduate who has been admitted to Oxford within the previous four years.

In 1848 he achieved his BA. In 1849 he was ordained a Deacon and Priest and was appointed Curate at South Cadbury, Somerset. The following year he returned to Cornwall as Curate at Creed, Grampound. The 1851 Census shows him as a clergyman visiting an Inn at Old Town Plymouth. Interesting considering his later views on the demon drink.

Now we come across a connection between our Stockcross incumbents. On 22 May 1856 at St Mary’s Church West Brompton(Fulham) John Adams married Catherine Rose Dale, youngest daughter of the late Captain Dale, Rev Thomas Pearson officiated. This meant Thomas, Curate of St John’s from 1839 – 46, and John became brothers in law. Thomas had been married to Jane Dale, Catherine’s older sister, until her death in 1846.

On 12 May 1858 John Adams was nominated by Rev Majendie to become the Perpetual Curate (later Vicar) at St John’s Stockcross. It seems likely Thomas Pearson had recommended John for the post.

From the Diocese Books of Samuel Wilberforce Bishop of Oxford 1845-1869 we get a flavour of John Adam’s character. Extract 22 May 1858

‘John Adams from Exeter Diocese (Grampound Curacy) comes on H Majendie’s nomination to be licensed.

A somewhat heavy eyed man but well reported of. I hear that John Adams has dropped the daily service. Majendie advised he has Wednesday and Friday prayers with catechising and will prefer daily service when in his own house near the church. Seems quite high minded.’

John Adams was obviously not going to live in the existing Curates’ house. Instead he commissioned the building of a new Vicarage (that is now Stockcross House) at an estimate of £995. The costs were split between Adams and Majendie. The builder was George Adey and the architect possibly Thomas Hillyer of Ryde, Isle of Wight.

1861 Census

The census of 1861 shows the Adams family at the new Vicarage. Rev Adams, wife Katherine and son John H just nine months old. There are also two servants in residence.  Baby John was christened at Stockcross on 25 July 1860. They had two more children, Herbert  christened on 30 November 1861 and Alfred christened 11 October 1865.

The 1871 census shows the family at the Vicarage with three servants but only two of the children. This is explained by the entry in St John’s burial register recording the death of John Henry aged just two years old on 30 August 1862. Also at the address on the night of the census was Louisa Dale, sister b Speen age 58 and Jane Pearson visitor, b Stockcross aged 25 (Rev Thomas Pearson’s daughter).

Rev John Adams was intelligent and enthusiastic. He loved science and nature and was a founding member of the Newbury and district Field Club.

He wrote poetry and had published a compilation of poems in 1876 entitled ‘St Malo’s Quest.’ One of the poems ‘Lines on the Crew of the Caledonia’ refers back to his sighting of that terrible shipwreck whilst living in Morwenstow. He comments: ‘….shipwrecked on the coast of Morwenstow in the night storm of September 8th 1842 one only of the crew of nine men escaped death. He was thrown on a ledge of rock, and scrambled up a precipice so steep and rugged that no human being would have attempted to climb it in broad daylight. I found him, a few hours after the wreck, speechless and covered in bruises, in a gully a quarter of a mile from the sea and had him conveyed on a stretcher to my father’s house, where he was tenderly nursed for several weeks.’

You can read the poem by clicking Here.

He kept his love of Cornwall and wrote the ‘Chronicles of Cornish Saints’ for the Royal Institution of Cornwall.

He seems high minded. He started legal actions against those who had damaged or stolen his property. There is a case re damage to shrubs and also against a 13 year old Fanny Preston who stole a bible. He was also involved in a libel case whereby he was accused of staining the character of a Mr Whitely. Mr Whitely seems to have had a drink problem and attempted to force himself on a local lady. What the outcome of the case was remains undiscovered. We assume that Rev Adams was cleared of libel.

The Sutton Hall today

He was of the view that poverty and all the effects of poverty stemmed from the drinking of alcohol. He was a member of the Alliance for the Suppression of the Liquor Traffic, and the Temperance Reformation. He started the Stockcross Working men’s Club (now The Sutton Hall) in 1875 to encourage men away from the drink and pubs and this endeavour was held up across the country as the way forward in the war against the working man’s curse.

He was also a Guardian of the Poor for the Newbury Union.

Rev Adams was a great traveller around Europe and beyond. He was on a tour of America with Edward Sutton (Sir Richard’s brother) and staying at the magnificent Southern Hotel (see image) in St Louis on 11 April 1877 the night a fire broke out in the hotel basement. Twenty people were killed, including Rev Adams. Many more were injured and the hotel destroyed. It was a horrific event that made national headlines.

A memorial plaque to the Rev John Adams is in place above the choir stalls within St John’s Church, Stockcross. He was survived by his wife and two children.

In the 1881 census Katherine was living in Great Bedwyn with her son Herbert, an undergraduate at Oxford. Herbert was buried at St John’s church Stockcross 12 April 1883 aged just 21. By 1891 she was with her only surviving son Alfred in Hampstead.

When Katherine died on 21st September 1893 she was buried at Stockcross near to her two sons.

Rev Theodore Francis Vicar 1877 - 1904

Lived 1830 -1904

Theodore Francis was born in Middlesex on 11 January 1830. He was the son of Edward Francis a wealthy merchant.

Harrow School

Theodore was educated at Harrow and admitted to Christ’s College Cambridge in 1849. He obtained his BA in 1853 and MA in 1856.

He was ordained Deacon of Rochester in 1854 and ordained a Priest in 1855. From 1854 – 58 he was Curate at Great Dunmow, Essex. In 1860 he became Curate at Ickford, where, incidentally, John Hemsted was to become Vicar in 1861.

His marriage to Harriet Elizabeth Burdett on the 4 November 1860 must have enchanced his financial and social status. Harriet was the daughter of Sir Charles Wentworth Burdett, 7th Baronet of Birthwaite, and Yorkshire.

Over the next seventeen years Theodore held various appointments within the church. Throughout that time Harriet was kept busy with a growing family.

1860 -67 Curate of Milton and four children born. Theodore 1863: Harriet 1864: Amy 1865: Emily 1867

1867 -70 Curate of Churchill Nr Chipping Norton and two children born. Edward 1868: Alfred 1870

1870 -73 Rector of Cornwell, Nr Chipping Norton and two children born. Richard 1871: George W 1873

1873 -77 Vicar of Shippon, Abingdon and two children born. James 1875: Edith 1877

Rev & Mrs Francis

By the time Rev Theodore Francis arrived at St John’s Stockcross in 1877 he was 47 and had ten children.

Whilst at Stockcross two more children were born, Phillip 1879: Arthur Burdett 1880.

Harriet died in February 1891 and was buried in the churchyard. The census taken in April of that year shows Theodore staying with his sister Ellen at Farm Hill House Waltham Abbey. With him are four of his children, Amy, Alfred, Richard and Edith.

Four of the other children remained at Stockcross Vicarage, Harriet, Emily, George and Arthur. Also staying there is Rev J H Stamp, Curate of Waltham Abbey who was taking services at St John’s throughout Easter in the absence of Rev Francis.

Rev Francis had served Stockcross for twenty seven years when he died on 14 January 1904. He had recovered from an attack of pleurisy only for his heart to give out. He was of a retiring nature but always willing to associate himself with any movement to relieve the monotony of country life or to benefit his poorer neighbours. He had served as Chair of the Parish Council for a short time and was also associated with the Stockcross Social Club but his work was mainly confined to the activities of his sacred office.

He was buried on 19 January with his wife. Probate valued his estate at £20501 (1.8 million in 2012).

The whole village put on outward signs of mourning. Large numbers gathered in the churchyard. The coffin was borne by members of the adult choir. Hymns included Rock of Ages. The organist played the Dead March at the end of the service. His grave was lined with moss, chrysanthemums and violets by Mr Howard of Benham Park Gardens. At the head of the grave was a bundle of Chrysanthemums and ferns. Amongst those attending were Lady and Sir Richard Sutton, teachers and pupils from school, the choir and representatives of the Workings Men’s Club.

The font was dedicated to Rev Francis by parishioners and friends and a plaque erected on the church wall.

The Francis family grave can be found in the churchyard. It now remembers not only Theodore and Harriet but also six of their children: Arthur Burdett Killed 1917 at Vimy Ridge : Theodore Burdett died South America: Edward Charles  & brother George Wyndham both died on 6 September 1933 in British Columbia: Alfred Jeremy died 16 December 1933: Edith P S Francis died 1926.

There is another grave nearby for the Francis children Amy 1935: Emily 1936: James 1937 and Phillip 1950. St John’s death registers also record the burial of Harriet in 1929.

Rev Charles McMahon Ottley Vicar 1904 - 1912

Lived 1841 – 1914

Charles McMahon Ottley was born in Preston, Lancashire in 1841 to Charles Saxton Ottley and Kate Ottley.

His father was born in Dublin and was an engineer employed by the Irish Board of Works on drainage schemes. He also worked in England. A copy of the first volume of the Civil Engineer and Architects’ Journal is inscribed ‘Chas Saxton Ottley. Preston 1841’ on the flyleaf. This explains why Rev Ottley was born in Preston not Ireland.

However the family returned to Dublin in 1859 and Charles attended Trinity College Dublin and obtained his BA in 1865.He then spent some time at Cuddeston Theological College nr Oxford and was ordained a Priest in 1865. He obtained an MA from Trinity in 1875.

1865 – 1868 Curate at Fenny Stratford , Buckinghamshire

1868 – 1873 Curate at Aylesbury

In the 1871 census he is unmarried and living in Aylesbury with his widowed mother Kate and his spinster sister Mary Adelaide Ottley aged 18 and born in Ireland.

1873 -75 Curate of Upminster

Then in 1875 he was appointed Vicar of Newport Pagnall where he remained for twenty nine years until 1904.

His parishioners called him ‘the Good Shepherd’ which gives an idea of his nature.

He never married and his mother and sister continued to live with him. His mother died in 1876.

He was Chaplain of the Newport Union 1875 – 1904. Brother Ottley was also a Freemason and Chaplain of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Newport Pagnall.

From 1890 – 1892 his Curate at Newport Pagnall was a 26 year old W H Elkington and he never forgot him.

When he came to Stockcross in 1904 he was 64 years old. Whilst at Stockcross many improvements were made to the church and services became more attractive, always with a choir. His sister Mary died in 1907 and is buried in the churchyard, the officiating minister was Rev Elkington of Elsfield, Oxfordshire.  Rev Ottley never got over the death of his sister and retired in 1912 due to ill health. After retirement he was often seen in Newbury in a bath chair and spoke kindly to all. He died at Meadowhurst, Craven Road, Newbury in May 1914 and was buried with his sister.

Rev Trower (Vicar 1912-1931) spoke of the loss of Rev Ottley in his sermons ‘In Charles Ottley your beloved Vicar you saw love and the light of the Holy Spirit and the right judgment of things. God grant we may live so well here that we may meet him again in Heaven above.’

Rev Ottley’s young Curate whilst at Newport Pagnall, Rev WH Elkington and his wife, attended the funeral and alongside the Ottley grave is a tablet inscribed ‘In affectionate memory of Rev W H Elkington & RE Teacher’

Rev Cuthbert Fetherstone Trower Vicar 1912 - 1931

Lived 1861 – 1931

 Cuthbert Trower was born in 1861. His father was George, a merchant and his mother Beatrice. He had eight siblings one of whom was Katherine Cecil Annette his twin. The family lived at 33 Hyde Park, a prestigious address that suggests wealth.

He entered St John’s College Oxford in 1881 and acheived a BA in 1886 and an MA in 1888.   He was Curate of Alford, Lincoln from 1887to 1889. Whilst there he was initiated into the Freemasons at Hamilton Lodge, Alford.

The census of 1891 shows him and his brother Lionel, a stockbroker, as visitors at Ashdown House, Nr Lambourn.

It seems he was appointed as private Chaplain to Evelyn, DowagerCountess of Craven in 1890 and became resident there as by the 1901 census he is living at Ashdown House and remained there until 1912. Evelyn was the wife of The 3rd Earl, George Grimston Craven, who had died in 1883. Craven A cigarettes were named after George Craven after a rolling tobacco blend originally made personally for him by the Carreras Tobacco Company

At the age of 51 in July 1912 he became Vicar of St John’s Stockcross. He was especially noted for his interest in children and young people. He founded the Stockcross Scout Troop and during the early years of World War 1 spent a lot of time with the soldiers of the Artillery Regiment stationed in the village.

An exceptionally kind hearted man he took a sympathetic interest in everyone and his presence was welcomed wherever he went. He joined in with everything. He was particularly keen on the church choir. He was very musical and loved good music yet was not above singing a humorous song, a man of the people. Services were made more attractive and the church beautified during his incumbency.

His twin sister Katherine, widow of Colonel Arthur Morris 160th Rifles, came to live at the Vicarage but died in December 1929. Her death was a great blow to him. She was buried in the churchyard at St Johns’.

He had not been in good health for sometime but even so died suddenly on 2 February 1931. He had taken Sunday services morning and evening. His Housekeeper saw him last in his study on Sunday evening. He intended to sit up and make the most of the fire. Next morning she entered the room and found Rev Trower lying unconscious on the floor.

Dr Hemsted was summoned but the Vicar died about midday without recovering consciousness. Cause of death as a seizure.

The account of his funeral in the Newbury Weekly News has a headline ‘Remarkable Attendance at Funeral Stockcross Church not large enough.’

An appreciation of Cuthbert Trower was included and offers an excellent description of the man.

He was buried with his twin sister in St John’s churchyard. Later the new chancel screen was dedicated to him.

Probate was granted for £12369 14s 6d (approx £800000 in 2017) to George West, Sutton’s Agent and Ernest Brown, Parish Clerk and church organist.

Rev George Jameson Chitty 'The Vicar that never arrived'

On the 11 May 1931 under the Benefices Act 1898 the Bishop of Oxford proposed to licence the Rev George Jameson Chitty MA to the Benefice of Stockcross. The copy is signed by the registrar of the Benefice and J A Francis Churchwarden at St John’s.

Rev Chitty, an assistant master at Eton College, was to be the replacement for Rev Trower but he never took up the appointment.

A letter dated 17 June 1931 explains that he had withdrawn and given his resignation to the Bishop stating unforeseen difficulties. In fact he took up the post of Rector at Worplesdon in 1931. The advowson for Worplesdon, Nr Guildford, was granted to Eton College in 1690. So with his Eton connections maybe he had a better offer?

Rev The Hon Leopold Colin Henry Campbell Douglas , 6th Baron Blytheswood Vicar 1931 – 1938

Lived 1881 – 1940

 A brief history of the Blythswood Baronetcy

Baron Blythswood, of Blythswood in the County of Renfrew, was a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created on 24 August 1892 for Sir Archibald Campbell, 1st Baronet, and the former Member of Parliament for Renfrew. He died childless and so the title was to pass to his brothers and their heirs

  • Archibald Campbell, 1st Baron Blythswood (1835–1908)
  • Sholto Campbell, 2nd Baron Blythswood (1839–1916), brother of the above
  • Maj GenBarrington Bulkeley Campbell, 3rd Baron Blythswood (1845–1918), brother of the above
  • MajorArchibald Douglas, 4th Baron Blythswood (1870–1929) son of the above
  • Barrington Sholto Douglas Campbell/Campbell, 5th Baron Blythswood (1877–1937) brother of the above
  • Leopold Colin Henry Douglas Campbell/Campbell, 6th Baron Blythswood (1881–1940) brother of the above
  • Philip Archibald Douglas Campbell/Campbell, 7th Baron Blythswood (1919–1940) son of the above.

The title became extinct on the death of Philip.

Lord Blytheswood Vicar 1931 - 38

Our Vicar was born on March 3 1881 at 13 Manchester Square London the son of Barrington Campbell and Mildred Catherine (daughter of Sir Joseph Hawley) His name at birth was Leopold Henry Colin Douglas Campbell

Barrington Campbell served with the 1st Battalion Scots Guards. He was promoted to Major-General in 1898 and served in South Africa from 1900 till 1902, during the Second Boer War. In 1908, his name was legally changed to Barrington Bulkley Douglas Campbell-Douglas. On 30 September 1916, he changed his name back to Barrington Bulkeley Douglas Campbell when he succeeded his brother, Reverend Sholto as Baron Blythswood.] He inherited Blythswood in the County of Renfrewshire at that time.

Leopold Campbell was educated at Eton and from there entered Trinity College Cambridge in 1899. He achieved a BA in 1903 and MA in 1906. He was ordained Deacon 1905 and Priest (London) 1906.

His appointments within the Church were many and varied.

1905 -1908 Curate at St Michael, Highgate. Whilst there he married Mabel Dumbleton

1908 -1912 Rector of Great Elm Somerset

1912 -1917 Rector of Didmarton Gloucestershire

1917- 1919 Chaplain to the forces in WW1. His son Phillip was born in Axbridge Somerset in 1919.

1919- 1923 Vicar of Padbury Bucks

1923 -1926 Curate of St Luke’s Victoria Docks, London

1926- 1927 Vicar of North Cave with South Cliffe, Yorkshire

1927- 1931 Vicar of Ringmer, Sussex

In 1929 he changed his name (a seemingly regular occurrence within his family) to Leopold Colin Henry Douglas Douglas-Campbell which is how he was known when arriving at Stockcross in 1931.

He was a prolific letter writer and a kindly man. He was partial to Ovaltine as there are many invoices for it signed by him still held in the church archives.

His older brothers, Sholto (4th Baron ) and Barrington (5th Baron) had produced no male heirs. So when Barrington died Leopold succeeded him as 6th Baron Blythswood on 3 March 1937. He resigned from St John’s Stockcross in 1938.

Blytheswood House

The new Lord Blythswood could no longer live at Blytheswood House, the family seat, as it was demolished in 1935. Instead Leopold and his wife went to live in Great Bookham Surrey (1939).

He died suddenly on 8 February 1940 at Marsham Court Westminster aged 58.  His funeral was at Inchinnan, Renfrewshire and his coffin carried from the church to the family vault by estate workers and tenants. A memorial service was held for him at St John’s Church Stockcross.

Tragically his only son Phillip (7th Baron) was killed on active service with the Scots Guards on 14 September 1940 aged just 21. He was also buried at Inchinnan. The Peerage became extinct on his death.

Rev Canon Owen Spearing Vicar 1938 – 1946

Lived 1876 -1946

Owen Spearing was born in 1876 in Catford, Kent to Owen and Louisa. His father was a shipbroker. He had two siblings Helen and Ethel.

He studied at Keble College Oxford and Cuddesdon College. A keen cyclist in 1901 there is an account that  ...’Harry Ronson and Owen Spearing summoned for riding bicycles on the footpath at Headington’

He gained his BA 1902 and his MA 1905. In 1903 he was ordained Deacon and 1904 Priest.

From 1903 -1912 he served as Curate at Abingdon.

Then in 1912 his life took a very different turn when he became an overseas missionary.

He became a member of the Assyrian Christian Mission at Qudshanis on what is now the Turkey/Iranian border.

From 1913 – 1915 he served at the English Mission at Urmia, Persia (now Iraq).

This was at the time of what is known as the Assyrian genocide during WW1.

The Assyrian genocide refers to the mass slaughter of the Assyrian population of the Ottoman Empire and those in neighbouring Persia by Ottoman troops during the First World War.

 War caused the temporary abandonment of the Christian mission and acting on his own Bishop’s suggestion Rev Spearing returned to England and served as Senior Curate at St Giles in Reading from 1915 – 1917.

It was in 1917 that he became Vicar of Great Marlow All Saints and served there for twenty one years. He was also Rural Dean of Wycombe from 1932 – 1938.

He was a kind and caring man. Janet Smith, a member of the Local History group of the Marlow Society recounts her own father’s association with Rev Spearing.

‘When the Vicar came here in 1917 he began to visit men who had been invalided out of WW1. One of them was my grandfather, who had been a Territorial Army Bandsman and stretcher bearer on the Marne, until chronic damage to his knees saw him medically discharged. Like many returning troops he suffered from what we now recognise as post-traumatic stress disorder. Never the less he became friendly with the Vicar and when he died of pneumonia in 1921 he asked Rev Spearing to give an eye to his only child.

Rev Spearing offered my father, in the top grade of the elementary school by the age of 11, a scholarship in his gift to the local grammar school. When my grandmother decided that she could not afford to keep him in school until he was 16, he was bidden to visit the Vicarage twice a week; once to learn mathematics and once to read English literature with Rev Spearing. My father was also in the parish choir and the bible class. I still have the set of Victorian compasses which the Vicar gave to him’

Here is another quote from an earlier local historian at Marlow who would have known Rev Spearing:

‘…..A kindly man, who with his aunt and sister became involved in many church and town activities. ….Parishioners still remember him with gratitude, especially two who would not care for me to mention their names, and whom he took into his family after the death of their mother. A keen mountaineer, tackling anything from a day’s excursion walking through the Alban Hills to climbing the Alps’

In 1938 he became Vicar of Stockcross and lived at the Vicarage with his sister Ethel. He was Hon Chaplain of the Royal British Legion Stockcross branch and manager of the local school.

In 1938 he was made an Honorary Canon of the Church. This is given to clergy whom it is desired to honour because of their service to the diocese. They have stalls in the cathedral for their use when attending particular services.

He served Stockcross throughout the difficult years of WW2 and then retired in October 1946.

An extract from an article in the Newbury Weekly News November 1946:

‘ Shortly after his retirement he was visiting his sister at Oxford, whom he was soon to join in their new home, when he met with an accident, being knocked down by a car while alighting from a bus. He was taken to hospital suffering from shock and broken bones but he did not recover.

He was greatly liked at Stockcross where he worked quietly but unceasingly and wholeheartedly for the good of all, as was shown by the tributes paid to him when on October 4th he and his sister Miss E M Spearing were presented with a cheque for £100 5s 6d together with a list of 206 subscribers and well wishers’

Those same people gathered again for Rev Spearing’s funeral at Stockcross. In attendance were many clergy, parishioners and representatives from the various groups within the village. He is buried in the churchyard with his sister Ethel Mary who died in 1951.

The epitaph on the grave reads:

‘Owen Frederick Spearing Priest 27 December 1876 – 24th October 1946. Hon Canon of Church Oxford 1937 – 1946. Vicar of this parish 1938 – 1946. His servants shall serve him and they shall see his face.

Also his sister Ethel Mary Spearing 23 December 1878 – 31st August 1951 Jesu mercy.’

A stained glass window was paid for by his sister Ethel in memory of Owen Spearing however it was not installed until after her death and so parishioners added her name.

Rev Canon Alfred Gerald Bisdee Vicar 1947 – 1964

Lived 1881 – 1964

Alfred Gerald Bisdee was born in January 1881. He was only 2 months old when the 1881 census was taken. His parents Alfred James, a doctor aged 26 born in Tasmania and his mother Emily Jane aged 27 Born in Helston, were living with the baby’s grandparents Alfred Henry aged 62, head of the family and Sarah aged 60 at the family home, Hutton Court, Somerset. They had four live in servants.

Hutton Court

Hutton Court, a 15th century manor house, was bought in the 1850s by his grandfather’s brother Edward Bisdee (1802-1870) a native of Oldmixon nr Hutton who made his fortune abroad and then invited his brothers (including Alfred Henry) to join him in Tasmania. This explains the birth of Alfred Gerald’s father in Tasmania. Members of the Bisdee family lived at Hutton Court for 80 years.

Felsted School

There was no shortage of funds. However money did not compensate when in April 1888 his mother died and Alfred aged just seven was sent off to board at Felsted School, Essex.
His father remarried in 1890 to Emma Turner and in the 1891 census Alfred’s younger sister and brother, Elsie and Harry, were living with them in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. However Alfred now 11 was living with his grandparents, his aunt and her children at Hutton Court. Perhaps he was just visiting on the night of the census, it would be sad if he was not with the rest of his immediate family. In June 1891 Alena May, a half sister to Alfred was born in Hoddesdon.

There is no trace of his father’s family in the 1901 census; it may be he was abroad at the time. The Bisdee family generally were keen travellers. Alfred Gerald was staying as a visitor in Willesdon. His occupation given as undergraduate Oxford. Other undergraduates and students are at the same address. The date of the census indicates that it was the Easter break before the start of Trinity Term at Oxford.

Alfred attended Keble College Oxford and Cuddesdon College. He obtained a BA in 1903 and MA in 1912. He was ordained Deacon 1904 and Priest (London) 1905.
From 1904 – 1908 he was Curate at All Hallows East India dock and from 1908 -1917 Curate at St Matthews, Westminster.

Then in 1917 he was appointed Vicar of St Barnabus, Oxford and there he remained until 1947. He also became Hon Chaplain to the Bishop of Oxford and Hon Canon of the Church of England, Oxford in 1940.

Young Rev Bisdee

During his years at Oxford he worked continuously to bring the people of Oxford and the University closer together. His great integrity, self discipline and many interests helped him with this. He travelled widely in Europe and was an expert on the Alps and alpine scenery. He was an accomplished organist and church musician. He made a special study of the music of Wagner and was also an authority on 13th century stained glass windows.

When he arrived in Stockcross in 1947 he was 66 years old. Until his 80th year he had a full and active life at Stockross. A Victorian in many ways he had a good sense of humour and was young at heart. His lasting contribution to St John’s was musical. As an accomplished conductor and choirmaster he built a choir of men and boys unusual in a country church. He took an active interest in young people and helped with the work of the Mothers’ Union. He was manager at the parochial school.

By 1964 he had been contemplating retirement for some time and with that in mind he spent a few days at Dormans the home of St Barnabus for retired clergy. He was taken ill during early morning service before returning to Stockcross. He died on 24th January 1964. If he had lived until the 31 January he would have completed 60 years in the ministry.

Rev Canon Bisdee is buried in the churchyard. The inscription on his grave reads:

‘Of your kindness pray for the soul of Alfred Gerald Bisdee Priest. Vicar of St Barnabus Oxford 1917 -47. Vicar of this parish 1947-64. Hon Canon of Christchurch who died on 24th January 1964 aged 82 years. JESU MERCY

Rev Ronald Chapman Barras Vicar 1964-1972

Lived 1913-1972

Ronald Chapman Barras was born on 26 November 1913 in Bradley, Doncaster to Cyril Boaz and May Barrass. Unlike previous vicars he was from a middle class background. His father was a bank clerk and later a bank manager with Westminster Bank. He had an older sister and brother, May born 1901 and Richard born 1905.

Little is known of his early life but he attended Lincoln College Oxford and St Stephen’s House from 1933. St Stephen’s House was founded in 1876 by members of the Tractarian movement who sought to align the Anglican Church with Catholic ideals. The teaching and practices of the movement are maintained in the High Church tradition within the Church of England. This implies that Rev Barrass was that way inclined as do some of his appointments.

He was ordained Deacon in 1938 and Priest (London) 1939.

1938 – 1944 Assistant Curate at St Anselm Hayes - St. Anselm's belongs to the Anglo-Catholic tradition of the Church in the Willesden Episcopal Area of The Diocese of London, and offers Pastoral Care to its parishioners and the wider community.

1944 – 1952 Assistant Curate at St Mark Swindon in charge of St John the Evangelist who state ‘We are what is known as an ‘Evangelical’ church. That means that we base our teaching and lives firmly on the Bible and try to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all our activities.’

1952 – 1956 Vicar of Kingsley with Oakhanger, Hampshire

1956 – 1958 Unknown

1958 -1961 Assistant Curate St John Divine Stamford Hill (Haringay)

1961 – 1964 Assistant Curate of St Peter & St Paul, Wantage

In 1964 he became Vicar of Stockcross. However he was delayed moving into Stockcross Vicarage because he was unable to get the mains water connected.

Rev Barrass on left

According to a report in the Newbury Weekly News on 20 Aug 1964:

‘….the contractor was ready to lay 150 yards of pipe from the Vicarage to the Water Board’s main but had been unable to obtain from the Board an indication of where the connection to the main could be made and so the contractor did not know where to dig his trench. So far the Vicarage has been supplied with water from a private supply.’

Eventually Rev Barrass and his widowed mother May, moved into the Vicarage in time to be instituted as Vicar of Stockcross on 3 September 1964.

From the Newbury Weekly News 10 Sept 1964:

‘…..A large congregation that included a coach-load of parishioners from Wantage gathered at St John’s Stockcross….Among those present were many local clergymen and lay readers. The Institution was carried out by Rt Rev H J Carpenter, Bishop of Oxford, whose address was an enlargement on the theme ‘Pray more for your clergy pray for more clergy’ ……a sweetly sung solo verse by Miss Wendy Roussel was the highlight of some excellent singing by a full adult choir accompanied by Mrs Pengelly on the organ. Teas were served at the village hall afterwards’

It seems Rev Canon Bisdee’s musical legacy was welcomed on the day and the Bishop’s address was certainly relevant and a sign of the times. Due to a lack of clergy The Church of England began to form churches into groups. Whilst Vicar at Stockcross the Lambourn group of churches was formed and Rev Barrass took regular services at Great Shefford. He was also chairman of the Clergy Chapter of the Lambourn Parishes.

Rev Barrass never married and rumour has it he was partial to the odd tipple. His mother May lived with him after she had been widowed in 1951 until her death in February 1970. She is buried in the churchyard

On 24 June 1972 Rev Barrass died in his bed. He was found by a doctor he had telephoned earlier to say he was unwell.

He is buried in the churchyard; his grave marked by a flat gravestone with engraved cross inset into the lawn and inscribed ‘Rev Ronald Chapman Barrass, Vicar of Stockcross died 24th June 1972 aged 59 years.’

Rev Geoffrey Nigel Marsh Vicar 1973 – 1980

Lived 1938 – 1997

 Geoffrey Marsh was born in December 1938 and it was registered in Sheffield. We have not had access to more information than that.

In 1960 he obtained a BD (Batchelor of Divinity) from Kings College London and trained as an RE teacher. In 1961 he was ordained Deacon and 1962 a Priest.

1961 – 1963 Curate St Paul Teddington

1963- 1966 Teacher Brierly Hill, West Midlands

1967 – 1969 Assistant master Borough Green School, Bracknell

He married in 1968, Lesley Bickley at Cannock in Staffordshire and had two daughters, Sarah born 1972 and Jessica born 1975.

1969 – 1973 Curate in charge of Bracknell

1973 Vicar of St Marys’ Speen

In 1973 the Parish of Stockcross became a United Benefice with Speen and Boxford and the Marsh Family moved into Stockcross Vicarage. For the parishioners having a young family at the Vicarage was a new experience since the last family to take up residence was Rev Francis in Victorian times.

Rev Marsh served all three churches and was also Chaplain at The Watermill Theatre. He was very involved and interested in Stockcross School.

In May 1980 he resigned from the Benefice to take up a teaching post at Truro Cathedral School in Cornwall.

At his leaving do at The Sutton Hall he commented that he would especially miss the Watermill and the school.

1980 – 1982 He was Chaplain at Truro Cathedral School and Priest Vicar at Truro Cathedral with special responsibility for teaching choral works. However the school was closed in the summer of 1982 due to lack of funding and he moved to Hereford Cathedral School.

1982 – 1996 Hereford School

1996 Due to ill health he retired to become Chaplain at *The Beauchamp Community, Worcester. He had a long history of illness.

*The Beauchamp Community is a retired one of about 50 people aged from 60-92, some are retired clergy. It is an Anglican foundation in a definitely Catholic tradition. Most of the Community buildings cluster around a beautiful central green. The Chaplain’s House is part of that cluster and is really a cottage next to the church. The Chaplain is responsible for the various service within the church and chapel and the spiritual and pastoral care of the residents and staff.

 Rev Geoffrey Marsh, whose marriage had been dissolved, died alone on holiday in Asissi in 1997 aged just 59.

His funeral was held in the glorious chapel at the Beauchamp Community

Beauchamp Chapel

Rev Nigel Colin Sands Vicar 1980 – 2009

Living 1939 –

(Please advise any discrepancies or additional information)


Nigel Sands was born in 1939 at Sanderstead, Croydon to Ernest George Allan and Sylvia Sands.

He attended Durham University and obtained a BA in 1964 and MA in 1968.

He also attended Oakhill Theological College 1965. This is in North London and trains men and women for ministry in the Church of England and other spheres of Christian service.

Nigel was ordained a Deacon in 1967 and Priest in 1968.

1967-71 Curate St Paul’s Skelmersdale

Whilst at Skelmersdale he married Dorothy in 1969.

1971-72 Curate Childwell Liverpool

1972-78 Vicar of St Bridget’s Wavertree, Liverpool

In 1978 he came to Wickham Rectory as Vicar of Welford with Wickham and Great Shefford.

The United Benefice of Boxford, Welford, Wickham, Stockcross & Great Shefford was created in 1980 following the resignation of Rev Geoffrey Marsh and that is when Nigel took up the reins at  St John’s Church Stockcross.

Stockcross Vicarage was sold off in 1980 and so for the first time since 1839 St John’s Incumbent was no longer resident in the Parish. Nigel and his wife remained at Wickham Rectory.

Rev & Mrs Sands

Rev Sands played an active part in Stockcross School. He was a keen football supporter and was Chaplain of Crystal Palace FC and Swindon Town FC. Woah betide anyone daring to get married on a cup tie Saturday!

Rev Sands had a knack of making everyone feel comfortable whether they were regular churchgoers or those who had entered St John’s on that one day for a wedding, baptism or funeral. The Carol Service always attracted a large congregation.

Nigel was much loved in Stockcross and parishioners liked to believe he was very fond of them too. He was the author of two editions of ‘The Story of Stockcross’.

When he retired in 2009 he had become the longest serving Vicar of Stockcross at just under 30 Years. A large gathering to say farewell was held at The Sutton Hall.

Rev Sands and his wife Dorothy now live in Hungerford and he is still sometimes asked by local families to take a funeral or baptism service.

2009 and Beyond

St John's Stockcross is now one of 12 churches in the East Downland Benefice and the Vicar, Rev John Toogood, lives at Chieveley.