The Parson, the Pub, and the Pictorial
Rev. Child was Rector of Cranford in 1938, an Anglo-Catholic notable of the time. He had held the position since 1935, continuing a long career as an advocate for the High Church branch of Anglicanism.
Cranford is today in the London sprawl, near Heathrow. It was then in the country, fairly isolated, but Child was a sophisticate when he arrived to take the rectorship under patronage of Lord Berkeley.
He had travelled widely earlier in life, for the church and personally – he participated in the exploration craze – and always maintained a residence in London. He had a reputation as a bon vivant, the term flamboyant was sometimes used in his regard.
An image below appears in Shutterstock (used here for editorial and educational purposes only).
During his career he held high-profile positions such as Secretary of the Church Union and of the Anglo-Catholic Congress. His influence far exceeded the backwater of Cranford, Middlesex, in other words.
Further bio on Child can be gleaned from Michael Yelton’s 2009 study of rural Anglo-Catholicism, Outposts of the Faith: Anglo-Catholicism in Some Rural Parishes.
His chapter on Child includes a telling description of his village youth in an established Anglican family. The village counted a high proportion of public houses with a wide patronage.
Yelton suggests that Child early acquired an ease and familiarity with the public house environment. Yelton does not address Child’s opinion of the public house in relation to housing estates, but his description of Child the man assists greatly in my view to understand the latter’s perspective on the matter.
Child was known for a generous entertaining style, in which the rectorship wine bin often figured. He was not independently wealthy but at times benefited from patronage according to Yelton. He also invested in realty, which produced further income, and left a good-size estate.
He died after a fall sustained at a 1950 dinner party.
A man of many facets, he is best summed up perhaps in John Betjeman’s (1994) Letters, Volume One: 1926 to 1951, ed. Candida Lycett Green:
Maurice Child made… worldliness and Christian piety meet and was the acknowledged leader of the baroque Anglo-Catholicism movement which tried to restore baroque decorating, music, ceremonial and liturgy.
Diffusion of Child’s Views and Reaction
The vicar’s 1938 letter in The West Middlesex Gazette on pub and church was reprinted in a swath of the provincial press including in Cleveland, Bradford, Birmingham, Hartlepool, and Shields.
It appeared as an article (not in letter form) in the Sheffield Independent on September 7, 1938, on the front page.
I identified four types of commentary on Child’s letter. A social worker, plain (unaffiliated) citizen, a second cleric, and newspaper commentary are each represented.
Each was favourable to him, yet some (public) commentary even in his lifetime suggests his views were not always received uncritically.
The Sunday Pictorial Orates
The London-based Sunday Pictorial (later Sunday Mirror) on September 11, 1938 contained this endorsement of Child’s view (via British Newspaper Archive):
A PARSON WE ADMIRE
A CHURCH, a pub, and a few cottages… that is the typical village of this countryside of ours.
It’s been like that for centuries.
The church and the inn. The two social centres about which the life of the whole village revolved.
But as the towns and cities eat their way steadily into the countryside, we are fast losing that happy state of affairs.
Thousands of people are living on housing estates and in suburbs where there is no church and no inn.
And so we get our suburban neuroses, and our lonely families.
Now along comes the Rev. Maurice Child, rector of Cranford, Middlesex, who says that although we need more churches we also need more inns.
We must get back to that combination of church and inn, he says. The two can work together for the common good.
There’s money to build inns, but the licensing authorities are too often a barrier.
But there isn’t always the money to build churches.
Mr. Child thinks that if we could build more inns that would give the Church a foothold.
Very true, Mr. Child.
The Church must come out and get right next to the people.
The modern pub is no longer just a drinking place. It is a haven where men and women may meet, talk, play games in happy, clean surroundings.
Mr. Child wants to see more and more of those inns. He himself uses a public house assembly hall for his church social events. That is the right spirit.
This complete endorsement no doubt satisfied a good many readers of the widely-read, popular-oriented paper.
Child was more nuanced than the Fourth Estate, noting that his village idyll applied “at its best”, but fine distinctions were not the province of the Sunday Pictorial.
Impact of the Publicity
Unquestionably, or in my view at least, the publicity Child achieved fostered an envionment in which bureaucrats and builders favoured inclusion of a pub in new housing estates.
As to Child’s motives, conscious or otherwise, I suspect a variety of factors applied, including his upbringing and lifestyle preferences.
Yet, he could have indulged his “playboy” lifestyle (see my Part I) without taking a formal stance on the role of pub in new satellite communities. That he did so suggests commitment to the notion per se.
My next parts will discuss voices who joined him, as well as voices critical or impliedly so.
Part III follows.