[p20] I was now 35 years of age, and therefore not a chicken when I came to South Bermondsey in my first curacy. The Vicar needed an assistant very badly, as he had a population at S. Bartholomew’s of some 10,000 people and the one who was to have come had been “ploughed” in the Bishop’s Examination. I knew nothing of Bermondsey. I had lived all the time in the neighbourhood of Clapham Common and did not relish working in what people told me was “dirty old Bermondsey.” Yet. I never regretted going there. I had an excellent Vicar and the people were charming.
Moreover, it was not such a dirty parish after all, although there were one or two sombre-looking places. In one road, Verney Road, there was a small Mission Room where a Lay Reader held services. We nick-named it the “Vermin Mission” for we sometimes came away with more than we possessed on entering it. The children were very nice and clustered round us, but alas! they were not always very clean. This bordered on the Old Kent Road.
Mr. Richards soon started forming a “Guild of Perseverance” for the Young Communicants, which he at once left entirely in my hands. It was no easy matter to provide a meeting weekly; once a month a Devotional Meeting, and then once monthly a Lantern Lecture, then a talk by friends on some useful subject and so on.
[p 20] The attendance was excellent, and all the five years I was in the parish those young people whom I loved greatly were the main stay of the Congregation.
After I had left the parish for Catford I had several requests to officiate at their marriages, for they had moved out by that time to Catford, Honor Oak Park, Forest Hill, etc. Some people called the Guild a “Matrimonial Agency.” If such it was surely right for Church lads to know Church girls. One of the members has never failed to write each year to me on my birthday.
The Vicar allowed me to write a short letter for the Parish Magazine on starting work after Ordination in which I said:
“I have recently been in Leeds and have seen some of the large towns of the north, yet I belong to South London, like yourselves, and this fact will, I trust, help to promote a good understanding between us.”
The kind folks there never failed me and the best testimonial I ever had was when the Vicar, just after my ordination to the priesthood, wrote in the January, 1907, magazine:
“I should like to say what a great comfort to me it has been during the past year to have had the valuable and loyal help of Mr. Ehrmann.”
I must not quote the rest of his remarks, but I mention this for I loved the Vicar immensely, and great was my regret when he decided to leave the parish. I always kept in touch with him until he died a few years ago.
S. Bartholomew’s was in Mr. Richards’ days a thoroughly organised parish. He had a simple Choral Eucharist each Sunday without Vestments, and his sermons, which were usually of a practical nature, attracted a body of loyal church people. There were many organisations, such as Mothers’ Meetings, Band of Hope. Tea for Old People once a year, Girls’ Guild of the Good Shepherd, C.E.M.S., Alliance of Honour, Servers’ Guild, etc. On Good Fridays we had outdoor processions and addresses at several stations.
There was a Mission Church in the parish—S. Mary’s in Erlam Road, which was rather a “thorn in the flesh” to the Vicars. The Rev. B. S. Maltby, a most saintly priest, was of the very extreme type of churchmanship, and sometimes incurred the displeasure of the Bishop but he remained there until his final illness. The Church was built largely by his own exertions and I think also by grants from the South London Church Fund. Miss Maltby, his sister, was a great help to him. He gave me The Priests’ Book of Private Devotion upon my ordination to the Priesthood in 1906, which I have used ever since. While I was in the parish I saw a good deal of him, for his lovable character appealed to me, and at times he would preach at S. Bartholomew’s. He was in every sense a true priest.
Canon Paul Petit, General Secretary of the A.C.S., was a great [p 21] friend of mine for many years until his death. Mrs. Petit is now the Secretary of the Ordination Candidates Exhibition Fund, in which the Canon was so intensely interested.
In 1907 the Vicar encouraged me to start a Co-operative Bank for the parishioners. Mr. Henry C. Devine, of the Urban Cooperative Bank Movement, helped us greatly and for a few years it was a great success until a later Vicar squashed it altogether. Several of us subscribed £1 which yielded 5 per cent. interest. This Capital was used for making loans (usually without security but upon recommendation) to those who needed cash. For instance, a milk roundsman, getting a new job, had to make a deposit. He received from us an advance of say £3, which cost him only £3 3s., which he paid back in weekly instalments of 1s. for each pound. In 21 weeks the loan was paid off, and so the Capital could be used easily twice over each year, hence 5 per cent. for the shareholders and 5 per cent. for book-keeping expenses, etc., was assured. We thus endeavoured to save the people from the clutches of the moneylenders, who had no scruples in charging exorbitant rates of interest.
In August. 1907, John Arthur Richards left South London for Maryport. It was a sad time for us all, and I regretted not being able to accompany him. Yet I did not like the idea of leaving the dear people, and I also felt it a duty to remain in the Southwark Diocese. The new Vicar was the Rev. F. H. Taylor, from Maryport, Cumberland, who also wished me to remain in the parish. Nothing special occurred during his Vicariate, except that I married Miss Eleanor Austin in November, 1907, and the following was written in the Parish Magazine:
“At a large gathering of parishioners, the Vicar presented to Mr. Ehrmann on the occasion of his marriage a handsome Communion Service as a token of the affection and esteem in which he is held by the people of S. Bartholomew’s.” A warm welcome was also extended to my wife.
At this time the Pan-Anglican Congress took place. Not many people will say that it was a great success! This parish received much financial help and a great deal of kindness from friends in Reigate. Merstham, etc., some of whom were District Visitors in the parish.
Mr. Taylor’s vicariate did not last long for he left in the early part of 1909.
Two matters may be of interest. The one is that every year a most successful and well-organised “Fancy Fair” was held in the Parish Room, which helped to provide funds for the Church, and the A.C.S. generously paid my whole stipend, through the good offices of the late Canon Paul Petit. The other matter was that Mr. Taylor, who was away from the parish on Maundy Thursday morning. 1908, wrote to me that he would not be back till Easter Day, and would I give an address (Holy Communion Preparation) [p 22] that evening, and also conduct the Three Hours’ Devotions the next day, which was Good Friday. I had never done anything of the kind before, but he added that if I liked I might close the Church. Of course, that was unthinkable, and I tried to do my best, sitting up nearly all night on Maundy Thursday to make some notes. I believe all went off moderately well, but it was indeed an ordeal. For several years I was a manager of the L.C.C. Schools in the district.
The new Vicar, Rev. W, F. Deey, who came from Carshalton, seemed to show little approval of what had previously been built up in the parish, and, on his first Sunday, he wore coloured vestments at the Holy Eucharist without a word of explanation to the people. This upset them very much, and I was not surprised. I remained with him as long as possible, but in 1910 I left Bermondsey, still winding up the affairs of the Co-operative Bank. Thus my work at S. Bartholomew’s extended over five years, and I had three Vicars during that time. It was rather unusual for an assistant curate to be the permanent priest!
I must not forget to mention the valuable work done for many years here by Mr. T. J. Hollands and his sister. Mr. Hollands is now a Canon of the Scottish Episcopal Church and Rector of Laurencekirk.