An impression of Rev T J Ward-Davies, the fifth Vicar of Stonnall, 1956-78
The Vicar, My Kind of Clergyman
The Vicar of Stonnall looked out over his silver framed glasses and gave that mischievous twinkle of the eye. "Well it may be that the Virgin Mary had been a naughty girl, but what does it matter?" The Rev. T.J.Ward-Davies had been the Vicar of Stonnall since 1956 and had been moved to the rural village following a health problem brought on by the stress of running a major fund-raising appeal to erect a new church building at his previous Potteries Parish of St Werburgh's, Burslem. He also took on the duties of St John's, Wall, a small adjoining parish.
Source: Desmond Burton
The Vicar was a medium-height, jovial character with a circle of white hair and a few wisps that crossed from one side to the other side of his head, but above all he had the most wonderful deep voice of a Welsh preacher.
The Rev Tom Ward-Davies was a great orator in the tradition of hell-fire and damnation and the texts of his sermons would remain with you for a long time after their presentation. At this time there were no microphones and he could be heard loud and clear in every corner of the Church. It was wonderful to see that, after conducting two services in Stonnall, he would climb into his immaculate pale green Jaguar and set off to take services in Wall. Then back to Stonnall for lunch a short rest before Evensong at St Peter's.
Whenever you mentioned another vicar to him, his regular reply would be to ask "And what does he do for a living?" and the Vicar was a man of his word, working during the day as the Deputy Head of a Department at Walsall Technical College (now part of the Walsall campus of Wolverhampton University) where, no doubt, he used his considerable experience from his previous career where he had been a qualified metallurgist.
Tom Ward-Davies had entered the Church late in life and maybe as a result of this was very much his own man. Perhaps because of this his church career did not blossom in the way that a more pliant man may have done, so the powers-that-be left him well alone and he returned the compliment to a clergy that he felt were largely out of touch.
It would be wrong to call him eccentric. True, he drove an immaculate pale green Jaguar but I suspect that this was one of the great joys that he had in life that came in return for the hard work that he did with a full-time job and two parishes to run.
The day we first met him followed our purchase of a derelict cottage next to the church on the edge of the village. Gay and I had completed the purchase in June and planned a wedding to coincide with the half-term school holidays in October. At this stage we had not made any arrangements for where we would have the ceremony. Gay had been active in her local Church in Kibworth her home village in Leicestershire but, as she had no surviving close family and had not lived there for many years, so this was not an automatic choice.
Without a moment's hesitation, the Vicar stepped in. "You are making a new life in Stonnall, so why not be married here?" Things were different in those days and try-before-you-buy living together was not the same then as it is today. "Won't the records show that we were living together before we were married" said Gay. "What's it matter? In 40 years' time who will care?" came the reply in his wonderful soft Welsh accent. And now, 40 years on, who cares?
So come the big day and Gay climbed the steps that went from Church Cottage to the front of the church. The sun shone on a beautiful October day. We were surrounded by many friends and family. The Rector from Kibworth shared the service with the Vicar. George Huxley the Jazz soprano saxophone player performed Just a Closer Walk with Thee from the balcony and we were married. (Forty years later, George again brought his band to Stonnall and played at our anniversary party.)
On many occasions the Vicar would call in to see us and, whenever we offered him an alcoholic drink, he would insist that he did not drink spirits but perhaps a little cherry brandy would not go amiss. Several glasses later and after happy discussions putting the world to rights, he would take the short walk back to the vicarage emitting a gentle glow.
There were many changes coming about in the Church of England in the early 1970s: new words for the Lord's Prayer, revised formats for services and we were all being encouraged to embrace the new ideas and make the church more welcoming to a new generation. I suppose that we were all being sold on the aftermath of the 60s revolution and looking to bring the Church up-to-date. Perhaps this was the beginning of the "happy clappy" movement that may well have brought in a new thinking, but it also left many people isolated from their faith.
© Julian Ward-Davies
In Stonnall this did not happen. We carried on in our happy traditional way and I believe retained the true meaning of our services as the seasons past. At this stage, I had become secretary to the PCC and I mentioned to the Vicar that he always greeted attendees at services at the door at the end of every service but didn't at the midnight service on Christmas Eve. His response was typical. "Well," he said, "nobody wants to talk to me at midnight. They want to get home and go to bed." But this year he dutifully greeted everyone with a cheery smile and a hand shake. What he didn't say was that he was suffering from a growth on the joint of his thumb and endured extreme pain all over Christmas as a result of many enthusiastic handshakes.
Whether this was linked or not we shall never know but, shortly afterwards, he suffered a stroke and was rushed into the Walsall Manor Hospital. He received the best emergency treatment and was admitted to the stroke ward to lie and contemplate his future. It was now well past midnight. The family had all been sent home and the lights dimmed and he gazed at the ceiling trying to call out but no sounds would come out.
A young man came to his bedside, his face looked familiar but in his confused mind there was no clarity just a race of wild thoughts that he tried to grab hold of but kept slipping from his grip. What was the youth saying? Nothing but abuse, no one had ever spoken to him like that. What right had he got to use the language of the gutter about him.
The abuse got worse and his mind began to clear. "Just you wait till I can speak again I will give you what for" he thought, as the anger began so swell up in him. The barrage went on for what seemed like hours. The winter sun began to set up a glow through the ward window and with it the foul abuse came to a crescendo. "What right have you got to speak to me like this?" the Vicar screamed out in in his clear Welsh voice.
The voice of the abuse changed to sobs a past student had fulfilled his wish and brought the sick man back from his lost world. No words were exchanged. The Vicar knew who the lad was and placed his hand on the boy's thick blonde hair. "I must go now my next shift is about to start.
Several weeks later, a now recovered Rev Ward Davies stood on the edge of the road in front of the Church looking out across a frozen view of Stonnall and out to the white trees on Castle Hill thinking how fortunate he had been to have a second chance to put some of the things in his life to rights, when he saw a man wrapped up in an overcoat scarf and hat walking his dog.
"Beautiful morning." he said to the man. "Yes." he replied "What a pity our Vicar can't be with us to see it; he's near death and not expected to see the day out."
"Perhaps then, we should say a little prayer for him." And that beautiful endearing smile passed across his lips.
© Cllr David Smith 2012, revised January 2019.
Design, image editing and programming are the work of the editor, Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons.
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