Dick Crowe's reminiscences written before and after his visit to Walsingham in May 2008
written before he went
My two daughters
“Susan and Sally” are taking my wife Joyce and I, on a pilgrimage
to Walsingham, on a trip down memory lane for my 81st birthday. I am really
looking forward to what will be my first proper trip to Walsingham in
sixty years and I must say I have mixed emotions, along with excitement
and sadness, as I think back to my time there. I realise that after such
a long time it will be a different place to the one that I knew way back
just before the Second World War in 1939. I was one of ten children who
arrived from Father Bernard Walke’s parish of St. Hilary in Cornwall
My two daughters had planned this return visit to Walsingham for my wife and I, without our knowledge. A revisit to the place I had left over 60 yrs ago. I was 12 years old when I arrived and during my time there I met and lived with many wonderful people who became friends and who influenced me. Let me remind you of a few ...
Father Hope Patten played a hugely significant part in my life and made me what I am today. Also Father Derrick Lingwood, such a kind man, who was always under great stress trying to raise money to pay for the running costs of the Shrine and the St Hilary’s Children’s Home, which had been transferred from Cornwall in 1939, with ten children of whom, I was one, along with a matron, Miss Treby. There was Brother Peter, later to become Father Peter Harbottle, a great organist, who I was to meet later in 1963 in St Michael, Edmonton. In addition, there was Miss Martin, a lovely lady, who was so easy to get on with, Miss Chadwick who was always busy in and around the Shrine, painting or drawing beautiful scenes and then there were the three Miss Bloxhams who ran the Knight’s Gate Café - three delightful sisters, whom I used to help to prepare the tables, when they were very busy with pilgrims. Nor can I possibly forget Miss Bacon, dear tireless Miss Bacon, always there when needed. I used to tease her and ask, “When are you going to get a boyfriend?” She would curl up with embarrassment. She was a lovely lady. I was told later, that she had married and moved to America, but I have since read in the OLM that she went to South Wales.
Lastly, but not least “Millie” (Miss Milliken), she was looking after us when I had to leave for the RAF in 1945. She used to tell me about her home town of St Leonards-on-Sea. Coincidentally, I now live just a few miles from there myself. I have fond memories of her; unfortunately, she had retired before I returned from the Services. One other person whom I was close to was George Long, who lived in the house next to the Vicarage along with his wife and daughter. George was our commander in the Home Guard. We would parade in the Market Place with broom handles for rifles, as the Authorities did not have any weapons to spare for our training. I have no doubt that Heaven was watching over us at that time.
I must mention the children, who came with me from Cornwall. I remember the boys, Peter, Victor, Dennis, Billy and the girls, Margaret, Olive, Jane, Katherine and her little sister. All lovely children who, for no fault of their own, had been taken from their families and put in a children’s home. These people all played a significant part in my early years and I will never forget any of them. Sadly, I fear that many may have passed on by now, but maybe some like me, I’m 81, may still be surviving. If they are, I wish them well.
When we arrived in Walsingham from Cornwall in 1939, we had our first meeting with the man who was to change our lives, Father Hope Patten. I remember a kindly man who put us all at ease. We were after all quite apprehensive about the person who was going to be the new Warden of the Home. For my part, I had never liked being at St Hilary in Cornwall, but from the moment I met Father Hope my fears were dispelled. He was so easy to get on with and so approachable. I took to him straight away and as it turned out he became the most caring person I had known since I had left London six years earlier at the tender age of 6 yrs.
When we moved into the Vicarage I think it had a profound effect on him as well as us. After all, he had been working and planning so hard and for so many years to complete the Shrine and here he was in 1939 with the Shrine open and now with a ready-made family moving into the Vicarage with him! However, I really do think he enjoyed it. I know that I had never been so happy as I was at that period of my life. He was always available if we needed to talk. I can recall going to his study and knocking on the door. “Who is it?” “It’s Dick” I would respond. “I’m busy writing my Sermon” he replied. “I will help you,” I would say. “All right, come in then.” And so I would go in and we would talk or he would teach me to play chess and show me opening gambits, which usually ended with me being ‘check mate’ within a few moves! He would chuckle every time this happened, but I enjoyed it tremendously and I’m sure he did too. He would then throw me out, saying in a stern but never meaningful voice, “I’ve got a sermon to write, go!”
I remember the times when the air raids were getting more frequent. When the sirens started, he would lead us in our pyjamas across the lawn and into the shelter, which was dug out under the slope of the lawn. He would then take us back to the Vicarage when the “all clear” sounded. This continued for a time until it was decided to fit bunk beds in the shelter with lights and we then used to go straight to the shelter to sleep every night, which was much better than getting up every time the sirens sounded.
I became a server at the Shrine and at St Mary’s Church and was kept very busy. On some days serving Mass, Sung Mass and also Evensong and when I started work in Fakenham, I would quite frequently serve at Mass at 7.30am and then cycle to work. I remember I would tease Father Hope when I was serving by pouring too much water in the Chalice and only a little wine. He would discreetly push the water cruet away and hold the wine cruet firmly with his finger while I tried to pull it back. What he must have thought I can’t imagine, but I was never reprimanded.
Another task I had on certain occasions was to pump the organ at St Mary’s parish church, a hard task for a youngster of 14 years old. At Sung or High Mass the organ was used quite extensively and it required continuous pumping to keep up with the then very good organist. I remember one time while Peter Harbottle was playing I let the air pressure fall, which caused the organ to squeal and go off key. He frantically kicked the bottom panel to get me pumping again. After the service he came into the Vestry and asked, “What happened?” “Not my fault” I said innocently, “You must have played a wrong key!” Dreadful behaviour, I agree, but Peter never really minded. Father Hope thought I might follow in Brother Peter’s footsteps into the College, but I didn’t think it was the right path for me and he never tried to persuade me.
I recall going to Grasmere in the Lake District with Father Hope and we stayed at a hotel by the lake. It was the first time I had ever been on holiday and I thought this fantastic. He showed me Wordsworth’s cottage and we walked in the hills and sat by fast flowing streams and waterfalls. He loved to talk and would tell me about his future plans for the Shrine and College. I was fascinated by it and used to let him talk uninterrupted. Looking back I think it was his form of escapism from detractors and financial worries.
Unfortunately, the War brought his plans to a temporary halt. I went into the RAF in 1945 and I was away for three years. By the time I got back things had changed and I decided to go to London to seek out my own family, who I had not heard from for 14 years. I had many unanswered questions, which needed resolving. When I eventually returned to Walsingham, I was told of Father Hope’s death. Totally shocked I got back into my car and left for London, never to return, until now 50 years later.
In conclusion, my time at Walsingham with Father Hope Patten was one of the best times of my life. He had a huge influence on me and under his guidance he helped to mould me into the person I am today. He changed my life and in my view the miracle of Our Lady of Walsingham is Father Hope Patten, because without him none of it would have happened.
I must visit Father Hope Patten’s resting place, I did not know at the time that he had died, so regretfully I missed his funeral. Therefore, I must pay my last respects and thank him for everything that he did for me and the other children who were with me during those difficult war years.
written after the visit
So now here I am, with my family in Walsingham, standing in the High Street for the first time since I left in 1945 to join the RAF. It is amazing, nothing appears to have changed, but then why would it. I doubt it has altered in hundreds of years. I notice that some shops have closed and others have changed trades, but that is all.
We head towards the Shrine of Our Lady, I am very excited at the prospect of seeing it again, this is where I grew up from the age of 12 yrs. I stand outside with my wife and two daughters looking at the Shrine that I had spoken about when they were growing up. With my eyes closed, I can recall the procession of pilgrims coming down the road, past the Hospice where the Sisters lived in those days and I can hear them singing “Ave Ave Ave Maria.” “Dad!” I was jolted back to the present. “Are you going inside?” My family are getting impatient.
As we enter,
I notice that it is much lighter than I remember. Isabel explains it is
the new cloisters that are letting in the extra light. The
Shrine inside is as beautiful as I remember it to be and the extra light
from the cloisters in no way detracts from the air of mystery and holiness,
which Father Hope Patten always wanted to maintain within the church.
Isabel points out the Chapel dedicated to St Hilary, which is of particular
interest and significance to me. All the Chapels are equally beautiful
and yet each is different, with various murals, many painted by Enid Chadwick,
who always seemed to be painting
in the Shrine during my time there. As we move on towards the Holy House
I notice the Hope Patten Memorial with his effigy, he looks too severe.
Had he changed so much in the thirteen years, since I had last seen him,
in 1945 until his death in1958, I don’t think so.
Isabel takes us out into the Shrine gardens, this area has totally changed. The Hospice, which the Sisters lived in, had its own lawned garden separated from the Shrine garden and accessed only by a pathway, which led to the original Refectory and was used to take food there for the pilgrims when they visited. Now it has been opened up to encompass the Stations of the Cross, Calvary and on the other side, the new Pilgrims Refectory and Cafeteria. The Sisters have been moved to a new Priory Building behind the new Refectory. These are huge changes to the way it was in my day.
One last place at the Shrine I wanted to see and show my family is St Augustine’s. I used to live there in 1943 with Father Hope Patten, after he vacated the Vicarage. It is wonderful to see it again now completely finished. I used to live in the corner cottage next to the Old Refectory, at the time when the rest of the buildings were derelict, but now the College and priests quarters are all completed. It is a lovely quiet corner.
Having seen the Shrine, I am keen to visit the Vicarage. It was here where I lived with Father Hope and where I first met him in 1939 when we arrived from St Hilary in Cornwall. I have always had fond memories of this lovely house, with its lawns and tennis courts, so I am anxious to see it again. On our way, we meet Father Aquilina with his wife and two children from the parish of St John’s Sevenoaks who were returning from their visit to the Vicarage. The news isn’t good; it is being redeveloped into apartments. My heart sinks, what are they doing to it? As we turn into the driveway, I am appalled at the scene of devastation. The drive is cluttered with builders vans and materials and is reduced to a muddy track. The once beautiful lawns are now just a tangled mess of weeds and undergrowth, with not a blade of grass to be seen. This beautiful house with so many memories has had its heart ripped out. Is this what they call progress? It is a tragedy. We have managed to get permission from the Site Manager to have a look inside just before the new owners move in (perfect timing). Although it has been considerably altered, the basic layout remains unchanged. I am still able to find Father Hope’s study, where I had spent many hours talking with him. He loved to talk and discuss various subjects in this room. Isabel is pleased too that I am able to identify it. My wife and daughters are very busy taking numerous photographs. [see Fr Aquilina's blog, scroll down to 28 May 2008]
I, meanwhile, am anxious to find the air raid shelter on the far side of the original lawns. At first, we used the cellar, but it soon became obvious that, due to the lack of windows, there was very little air down there, so it was decided by Father Hope that we should use the underground garden toolshed.
This was a quite spacious area and was soon fitted with bunk beds and lights and was fairly comfortable. When the air raid warning sounded, Father Hope rounded us all up and took us across the lawn, down the slope to the hollow where the fish pond was and there was the entrance to the shelter built under the lawn. However, imagine my dismay, when I saw the whole area completely overgrown and although we tried to find the entrance, it was just impossible, it was like a jungle, with nettles branches and weeds everywhere. These used to be beautifully kept lawns and gardens.
I leave the Vicarage with great sadness. It had once been a very great house that had homed and entertained many great people. What a pity these beautiful houses cannot be protected from the inevitable onslaught of the building site.
There were still two more places I wished to show my family, before we had to leave. The first is The Falcons; this is the house where the children's home was established, when Father Hope Patten left the Vicarage and moved into St Augustine’s. It was situated on the Wells Road, accessed by a rough pathway running up through a field at the top of which, was the house. I knew exactly where this path was, so the following day we set off to find it. When we arrived at the place I am unable to find neither the path nor the Falcons. I am certain that I was at the correct spot, but no, it was nowhere to be seen. My daughters decide to call Isabel on her mobile and she delays her journey home and drives round to the Wells Road to find us. We are in the right place, but the rough pathway and large field as I remembered have now been replaced by a new wide road with houses built on both sides, Cleaves Drive. At the top is The Falcons, now renamed St Hilary’s, hidden behind a row of trees.
Phillip, who is now the owner, very kindly lets us take a look inside. It has not changed very much since my time and is still a very nice house with many of the original features still in place. It is good to be able to show my family where my bedroom was in this house, when I lived there in 1944-45.
Just a few doors away, we find Stanley Smith. He also lived at the Falcons and was one of the younger boys who arrived just before I left to go into the RAF. He became the Shrine Bursar, after Father Derrick Lingwood left to go to a parish in Devon. We have a nice chat about old times, but are unable to stay too long, as he has been unwell of late, so we bid our farewells and leave to complete the final item on our itinerary, which for me, is the most important part of our visit to Walsingham. Something that I have needed to do since 1958.
As my family and I drive along the Sunk Road, I can see the parish church of St Mary, with the cemetery reaching down towards the road. How many times have I ridden down this road on my bicycle, on my way to serve at Mass or to pump the organ. As we turn the bend, there are the steps leading up to the church porch. As I climb the steps I am gripped by feelings of guilt and sadness. Guilt, that I had not returned to Walsingham after I left the RAF, and sadness that I had not been there in those difficult times after the war, when things were starting to go wrong for Father Hope and his health was failing and consequently I was not there when he died and I missed his funeral. As I stood by his grave, with my wife Joyce and my daughters Susan and Sally and with my little grand daughter Scarlett, I silently prayed for his soul and asked for his forgiveness. We planted a lily on his grave.
This was something I have wanted to do since his death. It has taken a long time and I have no excuses for this, but I am glad it is now done. God bless him and may he Rest in Peace.
We entered the church, I wanted my family to see where I used to serve at the High Altar and also the vestry and where I had sometimes pumped the organ at Sung Mass, but as a result of the fire in 1961 these have all gone and the lovely old church has been replaced with a modern interior which, whilst very nice, in my view does not replace the church taken over by Father Hope Patten all those years ago, when he first came to Walsingham.
For different reasons this had been a wonderful journey into the past for us all. As we walk back to the car for our journey home, I can only reflect on the people who were part of my life at that time. People who were really important to me and made Walsingham the place that I still remember today.
|2008 photographs © R P Crowe; other photographs from the archives|