A vicar’s dream fulfilled

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Written by Dr Jack Binns

When the Rev William Frescheville Ramsden retired from his post as vicar of St Saviour’s Gladstone Road church in 1935 his grateful parishioners made him a farewell gift. He was presented with a three-piece Chesterfield suite in uncut marquette, an oak sideboard and an illustrated, illuminated album listing the names of subscribers. He had served as Anglican priest in Scarborough for the past 38 years and was now nearly 80 years old. For those who believe that individuals can make a decisive difference to the course of events, the career of the Rev Ramsden is comforting to recall.

There can be no doubt that William Frescheville Ramsden was born in privileged circumstances. From Ashurst in Kent he went up to Eton as a boy and from there on to Christ Church at Oxford and finally Cuddestone Theological College. In 1881, at the age of 24, he took Anglican holy orders.

But not for him the customary comfort and security of a country vicarage in the rural south. From the outset, he chose the most challenging parishes of the northern, urban, industrial poor, first in Wolverhampton, then in Manchester and then in Leeds. People in such places were not always respectful of the clergy: on at least one occasion he had to ask for police protection.

Early in 1897, Ramsden turned up at Scarborough. At that time, All Saints’ parish supported a makeshift mission chapel called St Aidan’s: it stood in Bow Street, now part of Prospect Road, and had a maximum capacity of 70.

The rapid spread of housing westwards beyond Victoria Road, then Trafalgar Street West and now even beyond Gladstone Road and Columbus Ravine had greatly increased the extent and potential population of All Saints’ parish. In 1873, when All Saints’ had been granted parish status, Scarborough’s residents numbered about 26,000; by 1891, they had grown to nearly 34,000; and ten years later they would reach more than 38,000. So by the 1890s, there were thought to be as many as six or seven thousand people living in the north-west ward of the borough in the triangle between Victoria Road, the railway to Whitby and the cemetery who were unserved by any place of Christian worship.

It was as missionary to this “godless” community that the Rev Ramsden volunteered. Presumably he had private means because the curacy at St Aidan’s carried no stipend. But his long-term aim was to establish a new parish with its own new church eventually independent of All Saints’.

All he had was a bequest of £1,500 left by Mr Alfred Marriott, a former parishioner of his at Mirfield, to finance his ambitious purpose.

The only suitable site for Ramsden’s scheme was a vacant plot between lower Belle Vue and Norwood Streets fronting Gladstone Road, but lack of available funds meant that there could be only a temporary structure there made of iron on a brick foundation.

Accordingly, in October 1898, the archbishop of York came to Scarborough to consecrate Ramsden’s iron church, but instead of dedicating it to St Aidan it was called St Saviour’s. Unlike earlier mission chapels, St Paul’s in Regent Street, St John’s in St Sepulchre Street and St James’s in Falsgrave Road, St Aidan’s had forfeited its original dedication when it moved from Bow Street to Gladstone Road.

It seems that St Saviour’s was chosen by Ramsden or at least chosen as a recognition of his previous curacy at St Saviour’s in Ellerby Road, Leeds, where he had served for ten years before he came to Scarborough. According to one source, Ellerby Road was then a notorious district of “gross profligacy” where “brothels abounded”, not quite the same as Gladstone Road, and certainly a long way in many senses from the garden of Kent or the ivory towers of Oxford where Ramsden was born and had been educated. However, thanks mainly to the patience, industry and zeal of Ramsden, St Saviour’s stone church soon became a reality. In December 1901, the countess of Londesborough laid the foundation stone and in less than a year the dedication took place. To fulfil the terms of Marriott’s will and the hierarchy’s requirements, there was no time for delay and not enough money to complete the architect’s plans.

John Thomas Micklethwaite (1843-1906) was a leading church architect: by 1902 he was surveyor of Westminster Abbey and St George’s Chapel at Windsor. His book on Modern Parish Churches was the standard work on the subject. However, whatever Micklethwaite’s original design for St Saviour’s, only part of it materialised. The new church had no tower, no south aisle and what was intended as the north aisle in fact became the nave and chancel. Nevertheless, if the red brick exterior was modest and simple, the interior was beautifully furnished and decorated. Particularly impressive was the chancel screen, representing the figure of Christ in the centre flanked by St John and the Virgin Mary. Ramsden must have been delighted with a church which, at least on the inside, expressed the aspirations of the Oxford Movement.

Finally, in February 1904, the London Gazette announced that Scarborough’s St Saviour’s was now the church of a new parish separate from and independent of All Saints’ and the Rev Ramsden was its first vicar. His dream had been fulfilled, though it was not until 1916 that the iron church was demolished and replaced by a new and splendid church hall at the corner of Norwood Street and Gladstone Road. Built of the same bright, 
local red brick as the adjacent church, the hall’s stone dressings had come from Roche abbey and its roof was of Westmorland slate.

In March 1941, the Mercury announced briefly the death of the Rev WF Ramsden: the town was now pre-occupied with more urgent matters and there is no surviving evidence of a tribute being paid to his memory.