by Caroline Hands (circa 1947)
(What follows is the text of a typed manuscript kept in the Church Records)
In 1947 St. Thomas’ Church celebrated it’s Centenary, and as a part of the Celebrations, an old parishioner, Miss Caroline Hands, wrote a pamphlet describing life in Keresley Parish in the last Century. She based it on her memories, and those of other elderly parishioners; and also on the memories of her mother, who died in 1934 aged 99 years, and who was a girl of 12 when the church was opened.
We know something of Miss Hands - you may find her as a child in the 1881 Census and you may also find the entry for her parents marriage in the parish register. The inscriptions from the family grave are in Source book 5. The soldier, William Hands, mentioned in one of the graveyard inscriptions as having been killed in the Crimea may have been Caroline’s uncle.
The following passages are extracted from her pamphlet - omitting references to 20th Century developments.
The building - which stands by the side of the Tamworth Road - is built of local sandstone, which, with the ground it stands on, was given by T.B.Troughton Esq.
It was designed by an eminent architect, in the Early English or ‘13th Century’ style. In the original plan a vestry south of the chancel was shown, but funds did not permit, and it has never been added.
Alterations have taken place inside during the last half century. The pulpit and reading desk have been moved , opening up the chancel and sanctuary, prayer desks and brass lectern taking the place of the square reading desk.
The desk on the south side of the chancel was given in memory of Mr.G.F.Twist, of the Moat House, who for many years was a worshipper here.
Mrs.G.F.Twist also gave the red altar frontal, the white altar frontal was given in memory of Mr.John Rotherham of Keresley Grange, and the green material one was purchased with money belonging to the Sunday School Teachers in 1914 and made by two of the teachers in memory of the Sunday School boys who went to the 1914-1918 World War. The purple frontal cloth, curtains etc. were also made by the same two Sunday School Teachers.
The white pulpit hanging was given by an old parishioner Mrs Hands in 1911.
The sanctuary curtains were given by Mrs.John Rotherham shortly before her death in 1884.
The chancel and sanctuary floor were laid with tiles representing implements of the Crucifixion, the cost being defrayed by money raised at a ‘Sale of Work’ in 1886.
Originally the Choir sat in the gallery, music supplied by string and wind instruments. Next they moved into the chancel, an harmonium provided the music, then in 1897 an organ was placed in the gallery and the Choir moved back there.
The post of organist was connected with the headmastership of the Church of England School. Mr.G.R.Nevey and Mr.H.P.Lossby sharing about three quarters of the century between them.
The peal of five bells was erected in 1848. One third of the cost was defrayed by Mr. Edward Phillips of Whitmore Park.
The Churchyard was very small at first, but was made a beautiful little ‘God’s Acre’ with a carpet of crocuses near the door in Spring, and an encircling fence of rhododendrons round the inside walls. An enlargement was made in 1886. Mr.John Rotherham paid for the erection of the wall in memory of his wife. In resent years it has again been enlarged, as a gift, by the late Mr.Edgar Turrall of Coundon Hall. Elm trees which stood in line with the Church Tower became dangerous and had to be cut down, and rhododendrons dug up, and most of the prettiness has departed, except for the piece in front on which the War Memorial stands.
The Schools were built in 1852. Previously a school was held in cottages on the opposite side of the road, in the early 1840’a a Mr.Forster had a small school somewhere up that way. Messrs. Jones, Harper, Arthurs, Nevey and Leasby were headmasters, and with two exceptions spent long terms here.
For many years a treat was given to the scholars at Keresley Grange by Mr John Rotherham. Tea, and a good programme of sports with prizes made a very enjoyable time. The band of the Green Gift - Coventry Drum & Fife - attended. For many years an entertainment was given at Christmas in the schools, sometimes on two consecutive nights. This was arranged and given by members of the Rotherham family and their friends, the singing of Miss M Ratcliff sounding in our memories still.
The very first Vicar - Rev. William Thickens - was curate of Exhall, before being appointed here, and doubtless knew many of his future parishioners. He was much loved, and a real shepherd of his flock. He lived in Keresley House on the boundary of Corley Parish, and is still affectionately remembered by the very few who were children in the Schools when he died in 1873. The stained glass windows in the East End of the Church are in his memory.
Many parochial organisations were started, Clothing Club and Blanket Club in connection with the Schools. A ‘Male Friendly Society’ and ‘Female’ were for many years very flourishing. These commenced their Annual Feast Days with a service in Church. The men were usually preceded by a brass band, and carrying staves tipped with brass, made a dazzling procession in the sunlight of Whit Tuesday. The women met later in the year, and their tea was followed by a dance. Both held their ‘feasts’ in the School.
The services in Church were well attended. Evensong was held in the afternoon, baptisms taking place after the second lesson. The Sunday School children were also catechised each Sunday afternoon.
Before the Day School was opened the Sunday School was held in the cottages where Mrs.Rowe now lives.
The Vicar presented many of the older women with bright scarlet cloaks, which they wore when attending Church services and sitting in the middle aisle, they must have made a bright splash of colour. He also gave purple frocks to the older school girls.
Communion Service was held after Morning Prayer on the first Sunday and on Festivals, and after Evensong on the third Sunday.
A retiring collection was taken, churchwardens holding plates at the door as the congregation went out.
When Mr.Thickens died his body was carried from Keresley House, through the grounds he loved so well, and then down the 1 1/2 miles of road lined by parishioners who joined the procession, and later filled the little church. He was laid to rest by the side of his wife, who had been a helpmeet for him. His favourite hymn ‘Abide with me’ was sung at his graveside.
The second Vicar, Rev.G.Deer, came in 1874 and was Vicar for 32 years. When he came the church was lighted by candles, and these, I think, are a symbol of the church life here in those days. They still shed their light around. Very few, if any, of the church activities were allowed to deteriorate, the light from the church burnt steadily.
Old parishioners passed away, new ones took their place. Keresley Grange was built and Mr.John Rotherham and his family came to live there. Later his brother Mr. Alex Rotherham came to Coundon Hall, and with his family made a big difference to the size of the Sunday congregations and to the work of the Church.
I have mentioned Mr.John Rotherham; Mr.Alex was churchwarden for several years, as was his oldest son Mr.Kenneth Rotherham, whilst his daughters were Sunday School teachers.
The Blanket Club had fallen on bad days, Mrs.A.Rotherham revived it. When she left the parish Miss Helen Rotherham - our Miss Rotherham- took on the work with Mrs.Deer and kept it up for many years. Mr.G.R.Nevey followed Mr.Deerr from Wolston, as headmaster in the Day School. He was also Superintendent of the Sunday School, and the work there was kept up.
The Sunday School teachers in those days joined the Choir in their Annual Outings, and first visits to the sea, and to London, were Red Letter Days.
When Mr.Nevey left, Miss Deerr bravely shouldered the responsibility, and later Mrs. Deerr took it on.
The candles in the church were still burning.
Ill health caused the resignation of Mr.Deerr in 1905 and the third Vicar - Rev. Walsingham Cook Kerr - curate of St. Mark’s, Coventry, was appointed Vicar in October 1905. He was young and enthusiastic and changes became the order of the day.
‘Ringing for Christmas’. About eight weeks before Christmas the ringers gathered in the belfry on two evenings a week and rang the five bells -1 2 3 4 5 5 4 3 2 1
Ding - el - ding - dong - bell - Christ - mas - will - come - again.
for an hour or so. The outbreak of War in 1914 stopped this. Tolling the bell on the death of a parishioner was another custom the last World War stopped. By the number of strokes commenced with, the sex of adults, or if a child, was made known.
A midnight peal to welcome Christmas morning and the New Year was rung, and on Boxing Day, after a short peal, the ringers visited most of the big houses begging for money for a supper, and to some of the smaller homes of old parishioners, with greetings and accepting from some a mince pie and a glass of ale. These visits were looked forward to by ringers, and those whom they called on.
The post of ringer ran in families - Ensor, Oughton, Jones, Osborne, Harrison - son succeeded father to the third generation.
Carol singing was by small parties for individual gain until the early part of this century, when choirs were trained and the amounts put to some special object. One party of widows were called the Golding Party. They received 2/6d from every house they called at. I think the amounts were pooled.
Another old custom was ‘Maying’, although not actually a custom started by the Church, it was a pretty custom, and during the time the Rev.W.C.Kerr was here, the school children were trained by Miss Lloyd and teachers at the Infant School, and on Ascension Day after a short service in Church, marched down to Keresley Grange and gave an exhibition of Maypole and other country dances on the lawn there - by kind permission of Mr.Hugh and Miss Helen Rotherham.