Bertie Wells was born and brought up in Walsingham. His
father was the draper and outfitter serving Walsingham, where he had his
shop, and the outlying villages in quite a wide area. They lived in what
is now the Post Office, opposite the Abbey gateway. He was educated at
the local primary school and Fakenham secondary school.
family were Methodists, but at the age of 11 Bertie and his brother Bill
joined the Scouts attached to the parish church. There he came under the
influence of the vicar, Fr. Hope Patten who prepared him for confirmation.
He became a server and Fr. Hope Patten had high hopes for his protégé!
However it had always been understood that Bertie would eventually take
over his father’s business so, on leaving school, he was sent to
live with an aunt in London while he was trained in all aspects of the
business at Selfridges.
In 1939 when he had returned to Walsingham war broke out and, as he was
21, he was called up into the army, where he served for the entire war,
mainly in India and Burma. It was when he was confronted by the extreme
poverty and suffering of the homeless in India, that Bertie felt strongly
that he must return to serve them as a missionary. On being demobbed he
broke the news to his horrified parents. However he was sure of his vocation
and, having saved what he could of his army pay, he paid for his own training
at Lincoln Theological College. While there, his father became ill, and
Bertie realised that he couldn’t leave his parents to go abroad.
At the same time Fr. Algy S.S.F. came to talk to the ordinands about the
work of the recently formed Anglican Franciscans who worked with the poor
and homeless in this country, Bertie saw this was to be the way forward
He was ordained by the Bishop of Manchester in 1948 and served his title
at Leigh Parish church in Lancashire, before joining the Franciscans in
Dorset as Fr. Oswald. As a friar he served in various parts of the country
where there was need, including 7 years in the East End of London where
he became priest in charge of St Philip’s, Plaistow, a parish staffed
by the S.S.F. brothers. He became known as a popular preacher, missioner
and retreat conductor and was in demand all over the country. He also
had a wide ministry as a spiritual director.
In 1959 he was elected Father Guardian of the S.S.F. and moved to the
mother house in Dorset.
At the end of 7 years he was increasingly aware that he had strayed from
his original conviction to be an ordinary person working alongside the
poor and outcast. He resigned from S.S.F. and as Guardian of the Shrine.
He went to work in London with the many vagrant alcoholics and other homeless
for the Borough of Camden Health Dept. Though he started at the bottom,
his worth and experience were soon recognised, and he was seconded to
take a post graduate diploma in Applied Social Studies at London University.
He was subsequently appointed Welfare and Training Officer in the London
Borough of Newham. After a year or two he was appointed Area Director
of Social Services in East Ham and Manor Park, where he stayed until his
retirement in 1983.
He then returned to part time ministry as an Assistant Priest (N.S.M.)
in his local parish of St John the Baptist, Loughton, Essex, until his
death in 2001. He left a widow and married daughter.