Twist of the Collar - Clerical Memoirs by Rev. L. E. A. Ehrmann
I - Early Days
[p9] In 1932 I commenced to write some memoirs, but had to abandon the idea for lack of time. Several friends often urged me to write something of a narrative of my life; and at last in my old age it seems possible.
It is my desire to leave out irrelevant matter, yet there are so many friends whom I feel bound to mention by name on account of their helpfulness to me. Here I am already digressing, for friendship. i.e., true friendship, after all is the most blessed possession of us all; without it many things in life would never be accomplished, and certainly no undiluted happiness could be enjoyed. As was once said "Man is a sociable animal" All through my life I have enjoyed the friendship of many persons and, if I might suggest it to my readers, cultivate this great gift as much as possible and you will never regret it.
Now for my story. I was born on 7th July, 1870, at Canonbury in North London. Of my infancy I need not weary my readers, though one or two incidents might be recorded. While quite a little fellow, a cousin of mine gave me a large "Noah's Ark," which contained amongst other things several black animals. We had a nurse in those days for me, and she frightened me very much regarding these black fellows. I was not of a nervous disposition, but my mother, when she heard of it, settled the matter by burning these black ones in my presence. That quieted me. My favourite walk was to Finsbury Park, of which I have been very fond all through my life. It is difficult to remember events so long ago, but an incident which shocked my dear mother may be mentioned. It was our lunch time and a lady visitor was talking to my mother rather lengthily when I quietly entered the drawing room. I smiled and said nothing until I was asked "What do you want?" 1 looked at the lady and said "When you have gone we shall have our dinner." My mother scolded me, but the lady took my part, saying I was "so honest about it." Needless to say I won my object for the lady departed promptly.
Three years after my birth, my sister appeared on the scene, and I remember that we two children had a very happy childhood. In the year 1877 we migrated to Clapham in South London, where we spent many happy years and made many friends. I should mention that my father graduated at Heidelberg University and qualified for the LL.D. degree. His parents wished him to be a lawyer but he never felt himself suitable for that profession, so he entered the commercial world instead, having an office at 34. Great Tower Street, London. This building was erected about 1670, after the Great Fire, and was the residence of a City merchant and is reputed to have been the home of Alderman Beckford, a famous Lord Mayor of London. The house had much fine panelling and beautifully carved mantelpieces. [p 10]
My education began through friendship. My parents soon became acquainted with the family of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred William Ingpen, who lived near us. Mr. Ingpen had four children; Alfred, the eldest son, and Roger, whose career began at Smith Elder and Co. and later on he became well known in the literary world, and The Times in 1936 contained an appreciative article after his death at the age of 67. It said "Mr. Ingpen was one of the best bibliographers of Shelley, and he published a number of books relating to the poet. He was also the author of many other books." There were two daughters also-Beatrice and Ethel.
It occurred to the kind-heartedness of Mr. Ingpen (who himself was a great scholar and an excellent father) that he would like to have one or two more children at his home so that he could teach us together with his own children. For some years I was educated by him, learning amongst other things Greek and Latin, and for this I was eternally grateful as in later years all I had to do was to revive the Greek which I had learnt from this kind friend, who refused to take any payment for the excellent instruction he gave me for several years. At length, he advised my parents that I should enter a Public School, and this eventually took place in 1883 at the City of London School.
I only did moderately well there except in Chemistry where I had a great rival, but managed to get full marks one term in a division of about 200 boys, chiefly for answering well on the manufacture of phosphorus. I was always fond of Chemistry, and with boyish impudence I remember inviting my mother and some friends to what I dared to call a lecture on Chemistry. It was in fact a series of experiments in making hydrogen and oxygen gas, changing the colour of litmus paper and many other "shows." I gave a grand finale (as I was not equal to making a final speech) by generating sulphuretted hydrogen gas ("rotten eggs"), which promptly caused my audience to retreat. Comment is needless!
My journeys to the City of London School took time, for, living at Lavender Hill, I had to walk to Clapham Junction and travel to Waterloo on the old South Western Railway and walk from there to the Victoria Embankment, Blackfriars, usually via Stamford Street, but when I had time, via Fleet Street and Waterloo Bridge; this I enjoyed specially on my way home, for I loved gazing at the shops.
On two occasions I was "detained" for one hour after School time. The writing master, Mr. Emery, rather of a peppery temperament, when sitting one day at my desk instructing me, dipped his "D" pen (I am not swearing, it was the quality of the nib) into my inkwell and out came a pea at the tip of it. I had not played [p 10] with peas, but Mr. Emery was annoyed and accused me roundly of it and detained me. My father was rather indignant about this and wrote to that effect in my Marks Register where the "Detention Order" was scrupulously entered by Mr. Emery. As to the other masters, I was on good terms, especially with Mr. Durham and Mr. Sharpe, the Science masters. What I loved more than anything else were the experiments in the splendid laboratory.
It was my mother's wish from this time that I should become a priest or else a doctor. The former would have been frustrated if I had been accepted at the Factory of Messrs. Burgoyne, Burbridge, Cyriax and Co., Chemists, but certain stipulations were made which I would not accept.
Electricity fascinated me immensely. Looking back, I can see the enormous strides this science has made. Now we have railways driven by electricity and much machinery as well as electric lighting, heating, and all the wonders of radio, etc. When I was a boy there was nothing of the kind. I also gained several prizes for French. As to Gymnastics, I was evidently a very poor specimen, for I remember on one occasion when Mr. McWhirter, the master, complaining that I was not doing my best, another boy told him "Well, Sir, he is very good in the Class Room ". This fairness of a schoolfellow was rather cheering, it being quite spontaneous. The boy in question was the son of a Baptist Minister in Battersea.
These were the days when we children valued pennies, and used them fairly wisely. I had a certain fascination for books, as my mother had also. She would say sometimes that while other people preferred to spend money on sweets, she liked to buy books, often second-hand ones.
I must write a few lines here about Religion. My father was not a Churchgoer until a short time before his death, though a strong Protestant; but my mother was most regular at Church. She and we children used to attend St. Matthew's, Chapel of Ease of St. Mary, Battersea. The priests in charge were the Rev. E. A. B. Bockett, the Rev. C. Witherby, the Rev. C. T. Burges, and the Rev. B. A. Cartwright respectively in my time.
Concerts, of which children were frequently the performers, interested us very much, and both my sister and I sometimes appeared in the programmes. Afterwards, Mr. Witherby became Rector of St. Paul's Old Charlton, near Woolwich, Mr. Burges became Rector of Fyfield, near Oxford, and Mr. Cartwright, Vicar of Christ Church, Battersea.
I cannot pass on from writing about St. Matthew's Church without bearing testimony to the wonderful work done for Battersea by Canon John Erskine Clarke. He was Editor of Chatterbox for many years. He built St. Mary-le-Park, St. Luke, Nightingale Lane, and St. Matthew's. I was confirmed in 1886 by Bishop Thorold in St. Luke's Church.
Clapham Common in my early years was a natural open space [p 11] with ponds, ditches, etc., and we children loved it. But in later years it lost its rural character and became more like a park. Estates were being bought up for building purposes, like Lavender Sweep, etc., and rather small suburban houses were erected. Lavender Hill, the main road, had many beautiful mansions in my early days, but these gradually disappeared and shops, the Chief Post Office, Library, Shakespeare Theatre, and Town Hall took their places.
At Clapham Junction, the entrance to the Station was by a path through a vegetable garden from the "Falcon" Inn, outside of which there was a large tree and a goat. Of course, all this disappeared.
My religious ideas at this time had not been formed, though I loved the Church services and as far as I remember I did not miss a Sunday. I never went to Sunday School.
My father was a great musician, playing the violoncello admirably, and he did his best to teach me, but in later years I had to drop it, owing to long hours of work, as will be related in the next chapter.
Altogether I had a very happy childhood, I loved my home, and in those days cinemas and other crazes for pleasure did not exist, though outdoor games were indulged in. My chief delight was to watch the Trains, and I can remember often standing on the bridge at Clapham Junction, and on one occasion, regardless of a sharp thunderstorm, watching train after train entering and departing from which, even in those days, was considered a large station. Now it possesses several more platforms, and the bridge I used to frequent has become a covered way, so no boys of the present generation can share my delight.
My father died suddenly in June, 1890.
Before I close this chapter, it is worth mentioning that my father was a keen swimmer, who taught us to swim. He loved sea bathing and when we became acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Mason, at first of the Grove Farm, Elmstead (Essex), we used to take excursions to Walton-on-the-Naze for bathing, or else at Alresford Creek on the River Colne. The friendship of the Masons continued throughout my life. When the family moved to Brightlingsea, I became acquainted with the Rev. Arthur Pertwee, Vicar there. If anyone could be called a saint, then he was one of them. I remember very well how he was held in deep respect by his parishioners. For a country parish he was regarded as "high Church," but I never heard a word of criticism about him, partly because of his tact and also his inherent goodness. Here is a true story to substantiate my remarks. One of his parishioners was down with an infectious illness (smallpox I believe), isolated on a ship in the harbour. The Vicar heard that there was no-one to care for him, so he at once did the work of a truly good ‘Samaritan.' His fame, after that kindly act, which lasted many days, spread rapidly.
[p 12] It was in these years that I took a keen interest in Plainsong. I joined the London Gregorian Choral Association and became a friend of the late Robert Alderson Turner, the General Secretary. it was my delight to secure members for the Association, and the Rev. A. Pertwee was one of them. I was generally present at St. Paul's Cathedral, where the Association had its Festal Anniversary Evensongs. A banner was first used in the Cathedral I think in 1890. How different things are now!
When I was at Hindhead in 1927, Mr. S. Royle Shore and I became very friendly. He was a great authority on Plain Chant, and showed me an excellent edition of Merbecke for the Sung Eucharist, which I am very glad to find my successor at Lynsted is using now.
I was always very fond of Margate and I remember, as a lad, I sketched out a letter on the Jetty for The Church Review appealing for a Guild of Servers, which did not then exist. The matter was taken up by others, but I was present at the inaugural meeting held in London. For many years I was a member of it - it was called the Guild of Servants of the Sanctuary.