The Best of Vicars?

This article is about the clergyman who might win the contest for biggest impact on life in Tring Rural villages

If there were to be a retrospective contest for the clergyman who had the biggest impact on life in Tring Rural villages, a superficial appraisal might indicate the winner to be either The Reverend Hugh Marmaduke Rowdon or Father Eric John Anthony. Rowdon because he was the longest server as Vicar of Long Marston and district at 44 years (1884 – 1929); Anthony (1931 – 1962) because he seems to have been the most formidable character, well remembered by elderly residents who are still alive to tell the tale.

But this article is about neither of these long serving characters who will feature in subsequent articles. It is about the clergyman who might win the contest for biggest impact, even though he only served for 14 years (1871 – 1885); and that person is William Caldwall Masters. Masters arrived at Long Marston after achieving a Masters Degree from Oxford in 1871. He took over after the two previous vicars (Watson and Owen) had left after relatively short periods of service when little change seems to have taken place. By contrast, Masters was to make change a feature of his tenure.

He immediately introduced ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’ to the congregation and held three services each Sunday, two in Long Marston and one in Wilstone. He must have been a charismatic preacher because very soon the numbers attending church rose significantly.

Masters’ first priority

Masters soon displayed his skills as an exceptional fundraiser. His first major project was for a more satisfactory vicarage and he might have been criticised for this being his first priority had he not followed later with projects of more general benefit. He must have convinced potential benefactors of the need because within a year he had raised over £2000 for this purpose and had agreed contracts with architect and builders for a five bedroom house complete with stables and garage. He also persuaded Christchurch College Oxford to donate the land, now the site of Church View after the house was demolished in 1971.

A drawing of the vicarage this impressive building is shown below:

A project of more benefit

Having sorted out his own accommodation needs and displayed his ability to raise funds, Masters moved on to his second project, a new Village School for Long Marston. At this time the children were attending a Church School in Wilstone and Masters decided that this was not satisfactory for a village the size of Long Marston. He called a meeting of ratepayers in the village and they agreed unanimously to pay an extra shilling each.

Some land next to Loxley Farm was donated by Pendley resident Joseph Williams – whose family were long term landowners and benefactors to local villages – and further funds were contributed by Christchurch College, the Rothschilds and the Board of Education. The contracts with builder and architect were signed in April 1874 and the new school was opened a year later.

The parishioners then collected £5 and purchased a school bell which was presented to the school with the stipulation that it was to be rung at 12 noon in school terms ‘for ever’. Sadly this proved not to happen for ever because the school building was to be destroyed by a wartime bomb in January 1941.

Masters turns to Wilstone

As vicar of Long Marston, Masters was also Curate of Tring Villages, including responsibility for Wilstone. He decided that the next pressing need was for Wilstone to have its own church and encouraged residents to start a fund for which he became treasurer. Again the ubiquitous Mr Williams provided the land and made a significant donation of £597 towards the total cost of £1470.

The Church building was completed in 1877 and even though Masters had to regard services at Wilstone as secondary to his Long Marston commitments, he held when possible a Holy Communion Service at 8am each Sunday and Matins daily at 8.30am.

The Crowning Achievement

Masters’ final crowning achievement was to replace the original Long Marston Church – at the end of Chapel Lane – with a new building which still stands today. In 1981 he called in architects who told him that the existing building was so dilapidated as to be beyond repair and the site so saturated with water from the adjoining moat that further building was not possible. When, in 1882, Edward Chandler and Elizabeth Saunders were married, the structure was so unsound that only the vicar and the bridal party were allowed in.

Masters wasted no time and managed to persuade Sir Nathaniel Rothschild to donate the land and once again led a fund raising project. Within a few months £1500 had been raised and a cornerstone laid on the proposed site. Masters commissioned the same architect and a builder (H. Fincher of Tring) and took a close interest in the building design, purchasing at his own expense pillars and arches from Tring Church which was going through restoration at the same time.

The Church was consecrated in 1883 while still in an unfinished state and progress towards completion was halted by lack of funds, a further £1000 being required. Masters continued his fund raising efforts and by 1885 the requirement had been reduced to £200. He was not however to see the Church finally completed because in that same year he was appointed to the parish of Stanton Fitzwarren near Swindon where his brother in law was Lord of the Manor.

The new Church was finally opened for services in 1888, by which time Masters’ successor Hugh Marmaduke Rowdon was in place as the new vicar. A church tower on the west side of the church that had been in Masters’ plans was not built as the ground was judged to be too soft to support its weight. There were suggestions that the old tower might be transported to the new site but it was thought to be disproportionately small compared to the new building.

The picture below shows Masters’ original design drawing which includes the tower that never was:

Masters, not just a Master Builder

When reviewing this summary of Masters period in office it is tempting to see him as the Master Builder whose main priority was bricks and mortar rather than preaching to the flock. But it is also important to consider the personal skills and initiative that must have been necessary to raise the funds and drive forward the many parties involved in the construction work. It was also reported that, soon after his appointment, he delivered services that attracted between 100 and 150 people each week so that latecomers had to stand at the back.

If there were a contest for the best ever vicar of Long Marston, William Caldwall Masters would be hard to beat.

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