Project Canterbury

A Life in Order: The Memoirs of Brother Francis SSF

Brisbane: The Society of Saint Francis, 2003

[30] Chapter Four: Glasshampton

I was now asked to go back to Hilfield to help Algy with the novices. Fr. Silyn, a widowed Welsh priest, and Br. John, a railway man from Derby, were my first novices. I lectured to them on Church history, especially the history of monasticism and the spirituality of the religious life. It was a very harsh winter with much snow on the ground. Our recreation room relied on a big wood fire for warmth as did other rooms. Trees on the hill behind the Friary had to be cut down, sawn up and slid down the hill over the snow. Silyn especially found it very hard going and nearly gave up his novitiate. Stephen had also returned to the Friary at Hilfield, and to the regime which had been drawn up to suit war conditions. So we produced a manifesto, suggesting various changes. For instance, during the war, Matins was held in the evenings after compline. This did not please Algy, as he liked to rearrange everything himself. So I felt I was out of court for a while (See Fr. Denis' Biography of Algy, page 132, Community Notes.)

As the noviciate grew, Algy, who had been novice master for ten years, felt the time had come to have a separate house for the training of novices, especially as he was so often away. Fr. Northcott advised against this, as he felt it was better for the novices to live in close contact with other members of the community. However, Algy still felt that the novices should have a period of quiet enclosure to deepen their prayer life, and time to consider carefully their vocation. So he, with I think, the advice of Fr. Gilbert Shaw, went to Fr. William's monastery, Glasshampton near Worcester to see if it would be suitable place for the novices' retirement period. He decided it would and asked me if I would go there to take charge of the novices in their withdrawn period.

It was during this time at Hilfield that Brother Stephen and I led a walking pilgrimage from Winchester to Canterbury, along the old Pilgrim's Way. There were ten of us, including a French member of the Compagnons de St Francois. It was on the same lines as the York Pilgrimage and we played Laurence Houseman's Sister Gold as before in the villages as we went through, ending up in the cloisters of Canterbury Cathedral. Here we were entertained splendidly by Canon [30/31] Bickersteth of the Cathedral staff. We were rather beset by reporters at the beginning of the pilgrimage, hiding in ditches to get snapshots of us. The Times printed a big photograph on its back page of us, led by Brother Stephen, carrying the cross. Algy was not too pleased about the advertising of the pilgrimage!

Glasshampton took its name from the first manor that was built near the village of Astley about ten miles from Worcester. For a time it was the farm house of a group of French Benedictines and known as Astley Priory. After passing through many hands, in the eighteenth century it became the property of a curate of Astley Church, the Rev. D.J. Crookes. It was a house of great magnificence, having, it was said, as many windows as days in the year, as many doors as weeks, and as many chimneys as weeks. Crookes restored the whole structure, making it still more magnificent. He added the stables for his horses, which Fr. William S.D.C later turned into a monastery. In the spring of 1810 it the house was burnt to the ground through the carelessness of a workman dropping his cigarette ash. It was rebuilt, but was burnt down again, just before there was to be a house warming. It was never to be rebuilt. The stables were built in the form of a quadrangle, but when Fr. William got there, only one corner of the building was habitable. William, who had been superior of the S.D.C., had long wanted to live the contemplative life on a strict Benedictine model. He moved into the habitable part of the building in November 1918, just after the war, to live a very austere contemplative life, hoping for recruits, but without success. He lived in complete poverty. In the course of time, with the help of benefactors, he turned the horse boxes into cells, and built an enclosed cloister round the quadrangle with lawn and a Calvary in the centre. And he planted fourteen rose trees round the garth, which were sometimes used for a Stations of the Cross. Under one of the two towers of the building he built a chapel, under the other a library. Next to the main chapel was a small chapel for the Blessed Sacrament, dedicated to St. Bernard, but now turned into a sacristy. The big chapel was dedicated to St. Mary at the Cross, which became the name of the monastery. William was buried in the garth with the help of his friend, Lord Baldwin, the Prime Minister, who lived nearby. He died in March 1947, after a time in a nursing home for priests. The next year the monastery was bought by a trust, which included Fr. Gilbert Shaw and Mother Clare of the Holy [31/32] Name, Burnham, who was a great devotee of Fr. William. For a time during the war it was occupied by some nuns as a retreat house, and then by a Quaker home for evacuated children who smashed some of the images!

Fr William had asked Fr. Algy to join him, when he returned from India, but he did not visit until he came with Brother Michael in August 1947 to prepare the way for my arrival in October. Unfortunately, I came by a train to Worcester later than I was expected. I took the bus from Worcester, and then started the mile long track up to the monastery in the dark! Eventually the monastery appeared, a long building with a clock tower rising up in the centre. There was a wire railing and a hedge. I could not find an opening until someone heard me call and showed me the gate. Algy was not very pleased with my late arrival! Later that week, three novices arrived for their nine months' withdrawal period. David Lyth, who had been in charge of the Wayfarers hostel at Sherborne, was sent to be my steward. He brought with him a slightly retarded young man and a dog. David had stayed with Fr. William sometime earlier, and was keen to keep us in line with the regime as Fr. William had known it. They both lived in the guest wing. Algy supervised almost every detail of our life, even the daily menus, arranged on a fortnightly basis. The daily timetable was much the same as that of Fr. William, except that we had our first Office at 6 am instead of 4 am, as William did for Matins and Lauds. After Matins we had Mass and breakfast, then an hour of silent meditation, followed by Terce and the Chapter of faults. Sext and lunch were at noon, followed by an hour's solitude, and then None at 2 pm. At 4 pm we had a cup of tea in the guest wing or, if fine, in the garden. After tea I generally gave a lecture on one of the gospels of Luke or John. When Barnabas Lindars was with us as a novice we studied St John's gospel. He was intending to write a commentary on it one day, but he was very reserved about sharing his opinions! The lecture might also be on the Rule or on the Religious life. Tea and the lecture was the only time that silence was broken except for work during the day. Evensong was at 6 o'clock, followed by a time of devotion in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. Compline was at 8.30 pm. On Sundays talk was allowed in the guest wing, and at 4 o'clock we had tea and toast. The radio and piano could be played, but pop music was not encouraged. It was pretty cold there [32/33] in the winter, the only heating being a long series of water pipes stretched round the whole building, and heated by a coke boiler. Because the track up to the monastery was so rough, the coke for the whole winter had to be brought to the monastery before the winter, and it had to last out until the spring. We had two sources of water. There was a water tank above the chancel, which disturbed us sometimes during the offices with the water pouring into the tank. The other source was a machine, called a ram, which was supposed to bring water up from a small stream, but it sometimes got blocked with leaves and mud. One day at lunchtime on a Sunday a man arrived saying "Would we come and help him?" He had a grand piano in his van for us, but he could not bring it over the last bit of our road because it was too rough. So we all had to go down and carry the piano up to the monastery. The grand piano had been sent without notice by Brother Douglas. He had been given it for his chapel at the Services Hostel at Westminster, which he was now leaving. Of course it was a delight for me, but I only allowed myself to play it after tea on week days and on Sundays.

Some of the novices experienced a certain crisis, when they came to know God better and themselves more deeply during the silences. I used to have a talk with each novice once a week. At least two of them have since adopted the solitary contemplative life, Brother Aelred at Mailing and Brother Harold at Shepherd's Law. Brother Ramon, now deceased, had a hermitage at Glasshampton, where he wrote several little books. I myself found great help from books left in the library by Fr. William by his friend. Gilbert Shaw's books of devotion had already led me through an affective way of prayer Then there were Dom Cuthbert's Spiritual Letters, which taught me a more silent waiting on God, trusting him to give me the kind of prayer needed for my spiritual growth. There was also the great book of Baron von Hügel, his Mystical Elements in Religion in three volumes. This laid a firm intellectual basis for my spiritual growth. I found also in the library a Latin copy of Bonaventure's spiritual writings, some of which I translated into English, but only one was published by Mowbray's: The Mystical Vine (on the seven words of Jesus on the cross). I had talk with Mr Todd of
Longman Darton and Todd, but their reader said my other translations were too Latinised!

[34] I was allowed to have three months off from July till September. One month I went to Cable Street, Stepney, to give Neville a chance for a holiday - a sharp contrast from Glasshampton. The second month I had a holiday somewhere, sometimes at St. David's in Wales or at Iona in Scotland. The third month I joined the mission to the hop pickers at a farm at Paddocks Wood in Kent. It was run by Br. Kenneth and Brother Peter. There came with us a group of students, men and women from Oxford and Cambridge. We stayed in a farmhouse barn and had a hopping bin of our own for six hours a day to help pay expenses. Round it we had great theological and other discussions. Among our team were some of later fame such as David Edwards the historian, Barnabas Lindars, and Ronald Bowlby, who became a bishop. In the evenings we went in groups to visit the hop-pickers in their huts. There we held little services if asked, a hymn, a talk and a prayer. On Saturday evenings we went round the pubs, much to the disgust of the Salvation Army, who were also there. But we did not allow ourselves more than one pint! We used to drive ourselves from Hilfield in an old London taxi. It was the season when the apples were ripe, a great temptation for the hop pickers' children. So the wily farmer put up a notice saying 'BEWARE OF THE HYDRANGER', which effectually stopped them thieving the apples. The third month of my absence from Glasshampton allowed me to have as holiday somewhere, sometimes to Iona and the west coast of Scotland or to the Snowdon Mountains in North Wales, or to S. David's in South Wales I would drive sometimes with my brother, if he was available.

Several times I was asked to preach at Holy week services, at St. Matthew's Westminster and St. Mary's Kenton in London, St. German's Roath in South Wales, All Saints Middlesbrough (twice) and St. John's Kidderminster. In those days people were encouraged to make their confessions as a sign of their repentance.

I was always glad to get back to the silence of Glasshampton, but I was also chaplain to the Tertiary clergy. I arranged a conference for them in Oxford at the Pusey house. Bishop Oliver Green Wilkinson was there and it was the first time he suggested to me that I might come out to Northern Rhodesia, as it was then called, to help some young priests who were feeling after some sort of community life. I had been nine [34/35] years at Glasshampton, and he thought I might be ready for a change. The conference was rather noisy, as there was a rather rowdy May Day fair going on in the street outside Pusey house at the time. It was in 1950 that I went on the second of Barbara Simmons's ecumenical pilgrimages to Rome which will be described in the next chapter.

However Algy thought it was time for me and perhaps for Glasshampton to have a change, so I was sent to the Wayfarers Home at Goodworth Clatford, near Andover, to look after Brother Douglas and to be warden of his home there.

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